Reflections from the Edge

Today I made my very first guest contribution to The Wild Hunt in which I examine the sociopolitical realities of marginalized identities at the intersection of spirituality. I share the impact that those realities have had on my spiritual path within Paganism, up to and including the deities and spirits with whom I work. My  identity as a Black Bisexual Woman is central to my discussion. Respectful thoughts and comments on the piece are welcome.

Reflections from the Edge can be accessed here!

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Gerdr, She of the Sacred Enclosure

condesign/ pixabay.com

condesign/ pixabay.com

Gerdr is attested in the Poetic Edda and Prose Edda, as well as the Heimskringla. She features prominently in the Skirnismal contained in the Poetic Edda. In that lay, Freyr sits upon Hlidskjalf, Odin’s High Seat, and stares into Jotunheim where he catches sight of Gerdr within her father’s hall. Gerdr’s beauty is undeniable and Freyr is immediately love struck. Determined to wed Gerdr, Freyr sends his aid, Skirnir with many gifts to woo the fair-armed etin woman. Skirnir arrives and attempts to entice Gerdr one by one with rich and shining offerings of Freyr’s love. She declines each and every treasure and does not accept Freyr’s hand until Skirnir threatens her with a dark fate wrought by Skirnir’s own powerful rune magic. Then she offers Skirnir a horn of mead and agrees to meet Freyr at Barri – a sacred grove or island – in nine nights where they will be wed.

There are a few theories about the significance of Gerdr’s change in attitude toward Freyr following Skirnir’s threats. I prefer readings of the myth that suggest Gerdr made a choice, less compelled by Skirnir’s threats than by the future she planned for herself. I am also fond of the idea that Freyr’s nine-nights of waiting are analogous to Odin’t nine-nights hanging, i.e., an initiation. In any case, Freyr and Gerdr marry. Their myth is typically understood as a metaphor for the breaking of the cold, hard winter earth with the plow in order to sow seed and make the earth fertile in spring.

Skyrnir and Gerda (1920) by Harry George Theaker

Skyrnir and Gerda (1920) by Harry George Theaker

Generally, it seems that Gerdr is most often perceived as an earth etin, which is consistent with the lore we have about her. Her name appears to be closely related to the word garth and may mean something akin to “sacred enclosure”. Drawing upon this possible meaning of Gerdr’s name, her might may be interwoven with the claiming, settling, and cultivation of land. In the lore, Freyr seems to be the force, via Skirnir, appealing to her to choose the path of fruitfulness by actively cooperating in the process of settling and cultivation. Freyr is no bandit come to rape the land and make off with her resources; I think that this can’t be stressed enough, for Freyr has never made a woman cry according to the Lokasenna. No, Freyr is come to join with the land in partnership. He has no rights to the land, only privileges that she eventually grants, and that she may rescind at any time.

In my encounters with Gerdr between the worlds, I often experience her as self-contained and content with simple pleasures. I do not perceive her as glamorous but she is undeniably beautiful. Her will and might are palpable in each interaction I’ve had with her. When I come upon her, she is often tending her garden which is filled with an array of medicinal, magical, and simply beautiful plants and flowers. When Freyr seeks rest and calm support, he comes to Gerdr’s gardens, to the enclosure of Gerdr’s arms.

Gerdr has taught me a great deal about boundaries over the years. As Lady of Sacred Enclosures, she is quite concerned with what’s in and what’s out. During my time with her, I have adopted that same concern. Gerdr’s might says that it is not only fine but down-right good and necessary to have clear borders. Hers is might that has taught me when and how to establish and enforce boundaries, and with whom to establish plain old sky-high walls. I discovered great power in choosing who to allow and who to bar, who to partner with and who to send packing: Gerdr taught me well. She teaches me still. I shudder to think of Skirnir’s fate had Gerdr been less swayed by his “argument”.

In addition, Gerdr has taught me what it means to live in my own skin and take up my own space. I have been described as many things and reserved is often near the top of the list. At times I thought I needed to be more “out there”. Of course in some ways I could benefit from that change in behavior, but my reserved nature is by no means a failing. My reserved nature is very much interwoven with my introversion among other things. With that said, I am at home within my garden, and Gerdr helped me learn how to accept that important and powerful part of my personality.

And so I say hail to you, Gerdr, Lady of the Sacred Enclosure!! May your blessings grow well in the capable hands of those willing to cultivate your mysteries.

Dream Note: The Mead of Change

Last night I went to bed with Freyr on my mind and had yet another colorful dream. In it I was attempting to facilitate a blot for Freyr for an increasingly large group of folks (first about 5 then 20 then like 60). The blot never even began. Some of those gathered were distracted and/or fairly unruly. Each time I tried to call the folk to order many would attend to the task at hand for a few precious moments and then wayward others would descend again into disarray. When I first woke up from the dream I thought that it might have been a bad omen for a future ritual in honor of Freyr but as I reflected on other parts of the dream, I realized that might not have quite been the point of the strange dream.

A large part of the dream involved explaining the process of toasting the gods, drinking from the horn, and passing the mead onto others gathered. As a prop for my explanation I had a very large, very heavy, wooden horn. The horn was not properly shaped to be a drinking vessel. It looked more like a large and awkward version of an early trumpet-style hearing aid. Despite it being a hearing horn rather than a drinking horn I had filled it with golden mead from a bottle marked Svipal. As you may know, Svipal is actually one of Odin’s heiti meaning Changeable One. I have read through Odin’s praise names in the past but I have not studied and worked with Odin in even 80% of his aspects so the name Svipal meant little to me in the dream; I had not recognized it as a byname for Odin at the time, but I knew that it was important. It was after Googling it this morning that I situated its significance.

The horn was overflowing with the Svipal-mead I had poured in. Not only was the bottom dripping but the wide end of the horn was spilling a narrow steady stream of mead as well. I quickly tried to catch the spilling liquid with my mouth. I drank some in but I ended up with mead all over me as well. I remember feeling like I had something meaningful and valuable to share and that a subset of those gathered wanted to receive that gift, but others were not their for that purpose. During the dream the Svipal-Mead pouring everywhere just seemed like a big mess, but this morning I think I understand the nature of the mess. I think the mead was a loud indication that it is time for something to change in my ritual practice in general or perhaps in my blot facilitation in particular. In the dream while my attention was on Freyr the background clamor seemed to stress that I needed to change my perspective and change my approach in some way. Some were indeed there to honor Freyr and some were there for maybe unrelated reasons. Actually I recall two major groups of distracting elements. One was a group of women talking, laughing, and reading divination, and the other was a sprinkling of men beyond the main circle whispering to others within the main circle.

Maybe the rogue ones need to be addressed and specifically asked to join or at the very least not trouble the blot and its attendees. I have participated in rituals in the past (about three or four years ago) that attend to this sort of politicking but I have not integrated such a practice into my own work. Perhaps this dream connects with my previous reflections on the Jotnar. I am reminded of a common verse from Apple Branch Protogrove ADF rituals that I attended before the protogrove disbanded some years ago:

“All you of the Primal Dark,
Outsiders, Nightmare spirits, banes –
This tithe is yours, this offering yours.
Leave us be, pass by in peace, and trouble us not in our working!”

Perhaps with some minor modification to make it a bit more congenial it could fit snugly into my blots as a way to acknowledge the Jotnar and their might, show respect for their Work, but also invite them to pass by (or join in) in peace!! Thinking of it that way the gods’ presence in the dream makes sense, with Freyr the God of Frith, and Heimdallr as he who hears and sees all stirrings in the Primal Dark and border places, and of course Odin Svipal who adapts in all ways that are needed to stay The End.