Truly, the Old Gods are everywhere. You can't escape them.
I had been listening to Bach's Goldberg Variations on the radio. “That was American pianist Simone Dinnerstein,” said the announcer.
Dinnerstein (rhymes with “seen”): a not uncommon Ashkenazic surname. But suddenly it was as if my ears had become unstopped.
It's Yiddish for “Thunder stone.” (German would be Donarstein.) There are men named Þórsteinn in Iceland, and Torsten and Torstein in Scandinavia, even today. English Thurston could be “Thunar's stone” (or tún: Thunder's enclosure). It's a name from the Danelaw—the area of England settled by Scandinavians—so it could bear the name of the Norse rather than the English Thunder. But they're both still Thunder.
The way I heard it, back in 1972 the heathens of Iceland petitioned the Althing—Parliament—for federal recognition. The official state church in Iceland is the Lutheran church, and everyone pays tax dollars to help support it, but there are a few other recognized religious organizations that you can designate to receive your money instead. The heathens, very reasonably, asked to be included on the list.
Parliament thought it was a joke. (Hey, it was 1972.) “Odin? Thor? Come on, this can't be serious. Recognition denied. Jeez.”
That night (almost I want to add: ofcourse) the Parliament building is struck by lightning. Lights go out all over Reykjavik. (I should add that thunderstorms are rare in Iceland.)
Some friends of mine own a Baltic imports store: best amber this side of the Mississippi. I was looking at a case of hand-carved wooden items, including some beautiful wooden spoons.
A woman came over and began looking at the spoons. “This one is labeled 'sacred spoon,' but it looks just like the rest of them,” she said. “What makes this one sacred and not the others?”
A reasonable question, certainly. As it happened, I knew the answer, because the owner of the store had told me about it a few days before. “It's sacred because it was carved out of wood from a tree that was struck by lightning,” I told her. In fact, the tree in question had been the oldest and most sacred oak in a grove sacred to Thunder; the oak, of course, is Thunder's tree. Oak struck by lightning in a grove sacred to Thunder: heap big juju.
A heathen I once knew had a favorite oath: "By the balls of Thor!"
I can see where he's going with this, and it's definitely in the right direction. We swear best when we swear by our own gods, and pretty much everyone acknowledges the Thunderer to be the most virile of them all. Some of us have even seen the proof. Mammiform ("breast-shaped") clouds, they call them, but to this not-unbiased observer they look like nothing so much as giant testicles, hundreds of them, filling the sky with their hanging. (Each one of those clouds could potentially descend to earth to form its own separate funnel cloud. Yikes.) Many-breasted Earth, many-teste'd Storm.
Now, I'm all for living our own culture, but “By the balls of Thor” is what my friend Drew Miller calls “trying too hard.”
Yesterday, the first issue of Marvel's LOKI: AGENT OF ASGARD arrived in your local Comics and Games Emporium. I haven't yet acquired my copy, because a frost giants are currently attacking my neighborhood and my roommate is too busy binging on Star Trek: Enterprise to dig his car out so we can exit the driveway, but I want to encourage you to pick up this comic.* If you have any interest in Marvel comics, or the Marvel movies – or, to tread into dangerous waters, in the ongoing folkloric evolution of Norse mythology through popular culture – you should give it a read.
The first two categories should be obvious: Loki is a major character in the Marvel Universe, and arguably the second most popular character in the movies after Tony Stark. AGENT OF ASGARD appears to be the culmination of several years of intense character development for Loki as well as a re-alignment of the character to better match Tom Hiddleston's portrayal in the films. But my third reason may require more explanation.