She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes;
Thus mellowed to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.
While the subject of Jotun-worship still remains a controversial and polarizing issue within modern heathenry, there is some evidence of it being part of elder heathen practice. The most famous mention of Gerda is of course the account of her marriage to Frey as given in Skirnirsmal as well as the Prose Edda. I personally believe Gerda is one and the same as Thorgerdr Holgabrudr, sister of Irpa, a goddess mentioned in three different Sagas.
Earl Hakon said: "It seems to me that the battle is beginning to go against us. I had thought it a bad thing to have to fight these men, and so indeed it turns out. Now this will not do. We must bethink ourselves of some wise course. I shall go up on land, and you are to look after the fleet meanwhile, in case they attack." Thereupon the earl went up on the island of Prim signed, and away into a forest, and fell on his knees and prayed looking northward. And in his prayer he called upon his patron goddess, Thorgerd Holgabrud. But she would not hear his prayers and was wroth. He offered to make her many a sacrifice, but she refused each one, and he thought his case desperate. In the end he offered her a human sacrifice, but she would not have it. At last he offered her his own seven-year-old-son; and that she accepted.
Then the earl put the boy in the hands of his slave Skopti, and Skopti slew him. Afterwards the earl returned to his ships and urged his men on to make renewed attack; "for I know now surely that victory will be ours. Press the attack all the more vigorously, because I have invoked for victory both the sisters, Thorgerd and Irpa." Then the earl boarded his ship and prepared for the fight, and the fleet rowed to the attack, and again there was the most furious battle. And right soon the weather began to thicken in the north and the clouds covered the sky and the daylight waned. Next came the flashes of lightning and thunder, and with them a violent shower. The Jomsvikings had to fight facing into the storm, and the squall was so heavy that they could hardly stand up against it. Men had to cast off their clothes, earlier, because of the heat, and now it was cold. Nevertheless, no one needed to be urged on to do battle. But although the Jomsvikings hurled stones and other missiles and threw their spears, the wind turned all their weapons back upon them, to join the shower of missiles from their enemies.
Havard the Hewing was the first to see Thorgerd Holgabrud in the fleet of Earl Hakon, and then many a secondsighted man saw her. And when the squall abated a little they saw that an arrow flew from every finger of the ogress, and each arrow felled a man. They told Sigvaldi, and he said: "it seems we are not fighting men alone, but still it behooves us to do our best." And when the storm lessened a bit Earl Hakon again invoked Thorgerd and said that he had done his utmost. And then it grew dark again with a squall, this time even stronger and worse than before. And right at the beginning of the squall Havard the Hewing saw that two women were standing on the earl's ship, and both were doing the same thing that Thorgerd had done before. Then Sigvaldi said: "Now I am going to flee, and let all men do so. I did not vow to fight against trolls, and it is now worse than before, as there are two ogresses."
[All of Earl Hakon's enemies flee.] Then they weighed the hailstones on scales to see what power Thorgerd and Irpa had, and one hailstone weighed an ounce. -The Saga of the Jómsvíkings, Chapter 21
Earl Hakon was atttending a feast a Gudbrand's home. During the night, Hrapp the killer went to their temple. Inside it, he saw the statue of Thorgerd Holgi's-Bride enthroned, massive as a fully-grown man; there was a huge gold bracelet on her arm, and a linen hood over her head. Hrapp stripped off the hood and the bracelet. He then noticed Thor in his chariot, and took from him another gold bracelet. He took a third bracelet from Irpa. He dragged all three of the idols outside and stripped them of their vestments; then he set fire to the temple and burned it down. [...] Early that morning, Earl Hakon and Gudbrand went out to the temple and found it burned down, with the three idols lying outside stripped of all their riches. Then Gudbrand said, 'Our gods are powerful indeed. They have walked unaided from the flames.' 'The gods have nothing to do with it,' said Earl Hakon. 'A man must have fired the temple and carried the gods out. But the gods are in no haste to take vengeance; the man who did this will be driven out of Valhalla for ever.' -Njal's Saga, Chapter 88
Of Sigmund it must be now told that he fell to talk with Earl Hacon, and told him that he was minded to leave warring and hie out to the Fareys [...] And when he was fully bound, Earl Hacon said to him, "One should speed well one would fain welcome back." And he went out of doors with Sigmund. Then spake Hacon, "What sayest thou to this? In what dost thou put thy trust?" I put my trust in my own might and main," said Sigmund. "That must not be," the Earl answered," but thou shalt put thy trust where I have put all my trust, namely in Thorgerd Shinebride," said he. "And we will go and see her now and luck for thee at her hands." Sigmund bade him settle this matter as he would. They set forth along a certain path into the wood, and thence by a little bypath into the wood, till they came where a ride lay before them, and a house standing in it with a stake fence round it. Right fair was that house, and gold and silver was run into the carvings thereof. They went into the house, Hacon and Sigmund together, and a few men with them. Therein were a great many gods. There were many glass rooflights in the house, so that there was no shadow anywhere. There was a woman in the house over against the door, right fairly decked she was. The Earl cast him down at her feet, and there he lay long, and when he rose up he told Sigmund that they should bring her some offering and lay the silver thereof on the stool before her. "And we shall have it as a mark of what she thinks of this, if she will do as I wish and let the ring loose which she holds in her hand. For thou, Sigmund, shall get luck by that ring." Then the Earl took hold of the ring, and it seemed to Sigmund that she clasped her hand on it, and the earl got not the ring. The Earl cast him down a second time before her, and Sigmund saw that the earl was weeping. Then he stood up again and caught hold of the ring, and now, behold, it was loose; and he took it and gave it to Sigmund, and told him that with this ring he must never part, and Sigmund gave his word on it. With that they parted. -Færeyinga Saga, Chapter 23
Furthermore, it says in Skaldskaparsmal:
They say that a king known as Holgi, after whom Halogaland is named, was Thorgerd Holgabrud's father. Sacrifices were offered to them both, and Holgi's mound was raised with alternately a layer of gold or silver-- this was the money offered in sacrifice-- and a layer of earth and stone.
It should be mentioned that Halogaland is in northern Norway, and Halogaland is one of the lands noted by the Liljenroths where the Hel-folk likely lived (http://hem.passagen.se/helandia/index_en.htm), and it seems likely that in a drowned coastline containing extensive mountainous fjords and islands, there would indeed be a cult of mountain Jotnar. "Thor" is closely related to the word "thurse" (and indeed, often an epithet for "giant") and in this instance would mean "Thurse-Gerda" or "Giant-Gerda" and would thus point to none other than the giantess Gerda, wed by Frey. As Gerda is said to be one of the mountain-dwelling Jotnar, origins in mountainous Halogaland would be in keeping with this gnosis. Her sister, Irpa, has a name equivalent to the Old Norse word jarpr, or "brown", and from here we can see her relationship with Gerda, whose name means "yard" and is related to "garden" – they are both Jotynjar directly connected with Earth, Irpa as the soil, Gerda with its cultivation. Irpa would most likely be "elder sister". It is also said that Thorgerd was the "wife" of Earl Haakon, and H.R. Ellis Davidson mentions that Olaf I of Norway dragged out an image of Thorgerdr after Haakon's death and had it burned next to an image of Frey, which would suggest that Thorgerdr was beloved to Frey, and one and the same as Gerda. It is also telling that in heathen lore, Frey is the only god explicitly known to take a human spouse (the priestess-wife mentioned in the Saga of Gunnar Helming), and if Gerda took Haakon as mortal consort, this would indeed be an evenly matched pair.
In any case, I believe Thorgerd is evidence of Gerda's cultus in heathen times, but short of building a time machine and going back into time there is no way to know for certain. Even if it were not true, there are people giving her honor now. Too many refuse to honor Gerda at all – at least one heathen has said in my presence that Gerda is "hostile" and "tricked Frey with seiðr" – and those who do hail her often dismiss her as Frey's consort and nothing more. Yet she is much more of that.
If we see her as the same as Thorgerd, she is a powerful goddess in her own right, bringer of thunder and lightning, fierce in battle, bestower of power and authority. "Holgi" comes from the Proto-Norse hailaga meaning "holy"; Thorgerd is the holy-bride, and being called Shine-Bride relates to the mythos where Frey saw her light and fell in love with her. I think of this as being like light through the storm clouds, and tenebrescent clouds are in my opinion one of the most beautiful wonders of the natural world, and relate to Frey's role as Light-Bringer; Gerda is the strength that supports Frey in his work of bringing light and life to the land, the love that makes him feel whole, and inspires his love for all life.
In my personal gnosis, the light that Frey saw in his vision on Hlidskjalf, Odin's high seat, was of the light within Gerda's soul, her essence being almost blinding in its brightness, and Frey knowing that he had to have it, that she would complete him -- and their entire exchange of love is based on an exchange of light and darkness. Frey is a Light-Bringer, and filled with light of his own. But he needs a continual source, and Gerda is his light (rather like Sigyn is the innocent joy to Loki that inspires his humor and playfulness), her support of him in her quiet dignity, with meaningful words and even more meaningful touch, is what keeps Frey going. On those rare instances that her calm cool exterior is broken to flash a smile or break out in wild laughter, Frey feels most alive, and is able to take the love between them and give it to the committed lovers of Midgard. Gerda also sees the moments that very few humans are ever able to see: Frey filled with pain, weeping, seeing the struggles of people in Midgard, and the senseless wars between the Jotnar and Aesir. Frey wants so very badly for everyone to have a good quality of life, and he takes it personally if there is suffering. Gerda's embrace gives him solace, and gives him the darkness he needs for his light to rest and regenerate. And indeed, Frey would not have pledged himself to someone unworthy; to dismiss Gerda is to dismiss Frey's choice.
Those who have dealings with Gerda have remarked amongst themselves that Gerda is quiet. It is not something to take personally. Gerda's quiet is not so much based in shyness as it is in dignity: She feels that only fools talk to hear themselves talk, and that words should be reserved for something of meaning. Much more can be conveyed in body language, or a touch, or just noticing something, than actually speaking. Gerda's quiet also extends to attire - she is not glamorous like Freya, or stunning like Sif, but has her own understated class. Gerda's modesty in attire is also based in her attitude that there is more to her than her body, there is a mind full of wisdom that should be known and explored... and then only for those who she deems fit. There is a corroborated gnosis that Gerda can teach about working with plant spirits, and the act of working the soil to be a grounding experience, and noticing the subtle growth of herbs and other garden plants as a mindfulness exercise. To notice the small details is to notice the health and well-being of a person or situation, when so many are focused on the bigger picture and their castles may fall apart due to the weakness of a few bricks. Gerda tends to the plants as lovingly as she would children – in fact, it could be rightly said that the greenwights are Gerda's children, the only children she will ever have. I have had visions of Gerda being something akin to the archetypal hedgewitch, working in her enclosed garden, communing with the plant spirits, singing to them, and being rather solitary -- and fond of being solitary -- but open to those who could earn her trust with these secrets. Gerda's solitary and wise connection to the Green World compliments Frey's role as God of the World, giver of prosperity and fertility to land and people – Frey directs it outwardly from land to people, and Gerda directs it in reverse, from her own self (or her laying with Frey) to the land. Frey is generous and gregarious, but needs a quiet space to recharge in order to keep giving of himself, and Gerda is his quiet space, his refuge – and moreover, the love that she gives to Frey, holds the power of her role to the Green World, allowing Frey to carry it with him when his wain goes forth.
I feel that it is impossible to honor Frey without understanding the goddess who owns his heart, who compelled him to "sell out" the fate of the Aesir by giving up the most powerful sword in the Nine Worlds. When Frey gave his sword to Gerda's family, both were aware of the costs involved: that if it should come to Ragnarok, the lines are already drawn and Frey will not survive. However, they also understand Ragnarok to be just a prophecy, and the course can change. Frey giving up his sword was the manifestation of the desire to, on his part, end the fighting and hostilities between the Jotnar and Aesir, and try to weave frith between the two tribes, rather than continue the fighting. And so Frey tries to teach the people of Midgard about tolerance and acceptance, and Gerda does as well, in her own quiet, understanding way.
I have included Gerda here among the Vanir because even though she is Jotun-born, she was accepted among Frey's people – to marry a citizen of Vanaheim is to become a citizen yourself – and her sphere of influence with the Green World is very Vanic, as is the way she quietly works to promote peace and understanding alongside of her husband. She is worthy of honor and respect, and while she is not easy to approach or get to know, with time, effort, and patience, she may let you in to her secret garden, and prove herself to be a loyal friend, even one who will be a lethal foe to protect what she holds within the walls of her heart.
-from my book, Visions of Vanaheim (paperback | PDF)
This week brings us the lovely frog goddess Heqet, whose message is:
"Fertility surrounds you in numerous forms. Open your eyes."
It seems appropriate that Heqet comes into our live as the damp winds of spring begin to blow across much of North America, as we begin to plow our fields and gardens, plant our seeds, look forward to the coming germination and blossoming. Heqet speaks to the power of moist earth, smelling of life, of rushing creeks, of the transformations that take place below the soil and in the lakes and ponds, of creation.
Some questions I'll be considering this week, and which I hope you'll consider with me:
Where do I have a sense of my life being infertile, barren, or fallow?
How can I begin to see these areas as filled with fertility and potential instead?
What am I planting, creating, or transforming right now?
How can I support that creation, growth, or transformation?
How can I ask others to support me in my creation, growth, or transformation?
How can I support others in their creation, growth, or transformation?
In what areas of my life do I have trouble seeing fertility? What areas do I have trouble nurturing? What can I do to change that?
What am I in the process of birthing? What makes me feel pregnant with possibility?
As always, this card is drawn from The Goddess Inspiration Oracle by Kris Waldherr.
As Thanksgiving draws near here in the U.S., many people are getting ready to travel (myself included). Hopefully, we’re all also spending a little bit more time on gratitude each day; it’s a great time of year to count our blessings, and even though I do try to keep an attitude of gratitude throughout the year, I love overloading on thanks almost as much as I love overloading on turkey. In the spirit of the season, here’s one of my favorite methods of giving thanks.
The A to Z list!
I first encountered this idea when I was teaching middle school, and it’s something I’ve returned to every year since; write up an alphabet of the things and people you are thankful for. But don’t worry; I won’t simply be posting a litany of thankfulness today. Since this is the Goddess Travel page, I thought I would share my A to Z list of goddesses whose presence I am grateful for.
*Rolls up my sleeves*.
A is for Athena’s wit and Aphrodite’s charm.
B is for Brigid, keeper of the flame.
C is for Changing woman and her rainbow.
D is for Durga’s fierce strength.
E is for Ereshkigal, the shadow sister.
F is for Freya and spinning mother Frigg
G is for Gaia, the earth beneath my feet.
H is for Hathor’s musical dance.
I is for Isis, my lady, my patron.
J is for Juno, the starry queen.
K is for Kuan Yin and Kali, light and darkness.
L is for Lilith, dark woman, dark force.
M is for Mary, robed in blue light.
N is for Nut and her dark daughter, Nepthys.
O is for Mas Oya and Oshun.
P is for Persephone, dressed in red.
Q is for the Queen of Heaven, in all her names.
R is for Radha, radiant one.
S is for Saraswatti, lady of letters.
T is for Tefnut, great mother of dew.
U is for Uraeus, the sacred serpent.
V is for Vesta, keeper of the hearth flame.
W is White Buffalo Woman, she of strength.
X is for Xochiquetzal, lady of flowers.
Y is for Yemaya, whirling in the wind.
Z is for the Zorya, ladies of light.
I am thankful for all these goddess, and more. How will you express your thanks in this season and beyond?
Earlier today I found out that the founder of Fellowship of Isis (FOI), Lady Olivia Durdin-Robertson died yesterday. A full bio of her may be found here. http://www.fellowshipofisis.com/oliviarobertson.html. She was 96 and died peacefully in her sleep surrounded by her family.
Lady Olivia was a remarkable woman, a gifted artist, mystic, and writer. She confounded FOI in 1976 as a multi-religious and multi-cultural order devoted to veneration of Goddesses, as many Goddesses as one could name. She also created two other FOI societies: Druid Clan of Dana and Noble Order of Tara. The focus of FOI was consistently on direct experience of the Divine and FOI liturgy was written with a grace and joy that I have seldom seen equaled. Reading her official biography, I learned a couple of things that I never knew about her: she served as a VAD nurse during WWII and it was right after the war in 1946 that she received her first calling by Isis. This woman lived the better part of her life serving her Gods and when I think about how much the world changed during her lifetime, how it transformed and how Paganisms and Polytheisms began to grow during the latter half of the 20th century, I can't help but stand in awe of her work. She was whimsical and eccentric and never quite seemed fully rooted in this world and she founded an order devoted to the Gods that, in her lifetime, spread across the globe. There are FOI centers in the Americas, Russia, every country in Europe, Japan, and Africa to name but a few.
I mourn the passing of this elder, even as I celebrate her return to her ancestors. FOI and Lady Olivia's work was foundational for me. It was by the grace of the Gods that I stumbled into Iseum of the Nine Muses in the very early nineties and much of what I learned there was a lifeline, sustaining me as my Gods came calling. Everything I learned there about ritual, piety, love of the Gods, and the joy of celebrating Them has stayed with me over the years and I seriously doubt that I would A) have survived in this work and B) be doing this work now were it not for the foundational stones laid in the scaffolding of my spiritual life so long ago. I will be lighting candles and making offerings tonight for the passage of this elder, and laying myself down before my altar in reverence, with prayers to Isis that the Goddess she loved so dearly, fervently, and well see her safely home.
(the photo of Lady Olivia here is from my personal collection).
It all began like this...
The phone call was innocent enough. “Hey Julia. Can we meet for lunch or something? I have an idea I want to float by you.”
Tara, a dear friend, and I met over pub food--hearty sandwiches and dark beer in a historic part of Spokane one slushy January afternoon.
She told me a story about her hometown where a group of women friends gathered every month near the full moon. She recalled how they told enthusiastic stories about drumming, singing, celebrating but never once invited her to participate. The exclusion was deliberate and undeniable for reasons she couldn’t understand. She eventually moved away, knowing that one day she’d find a tribe of like-minded women with whom she could celebrate lunar energy.
Tara, excited, bubbling with vision said, “Julia, we could get together every month near the full moon and I don’t know, do your fairy rituals. I could read astrology charts. Maybe SoandSo could drum and I could sing. The full moon is such a great time to get together because the energy is so powerful. I don’t think I’d have enough space at my house, so if we could find a place that was big enough…maybe even outside somewhere when the weather is nice.”
I played with my pasta salad. “Tara.” I began slowly. “Are you trying to ask me if I would host a monthly full moon gathering at my farm?”
“Uh. Yeah. I am.” She said, satisfied, taking a bite of her sandwich.
“So. Let me make sure I get this. You want to create a women’s group that would gather at the farm once a month. Something all-inclusive as opposed to what you experienced. Who do you have in mind to run it?”
She smiled this up-to-no-good almost shit-eating grin that I find absolutely irresistible and said, “Um. Yeah. An open group at your place and I think you should do it. We could make it potluck and have it for a few hours. It could be a time when women get together and learn about…I don’t know! Learn about whatever it is that we need to learn. You’re the one that knows ritual and feminine spirituality. And with my knowledge of the stars and world religion, it could be an awesome group. What do you think?”
I took a long savoring drink of my Irish Death and smiled. “When do we start?”
Two weeks later the first No Worries Farm Full Moon Goddess Gathering came to life. Seven women friends, some with children to play with my three little ones, sat together telling story, drinking wine, and eating delicious food. What we originally thought as a gathering lasting a few hours turned into a 5 hr affair ending with us standing in a circle. Our awareness elevated to the sacredness of being together.
I've pondered the deeper meanings of deity often, as I think you must if you are to travel a Pagan path at such a level. Does deity have existence outside of human belief? Are they just energy forms? Is it not presumptuous to just 'pick and choose'? (My answers, briefly, are 'Yes', 'Not exactly', and 'It depends who's doing the choosing'...)
But recently, the multifaceted nature of Goddess has been on my mind. From the sad passing of my oldest animal friend into the arms of Bast, to the focused dance of the Morrigan, via the peaceful mysteries of Kuan Yin, this week has seen many aspects of my Lady pass through my life.