Freyja: The Seven Stories of the World:  Names
And so the Thief and Freyja came to that day without a real name. Only the touch of a long failed Roman god, the god of feasting and role reversals, still stains Saturday with his red wine. Saturn’s day commemorates none of the old gods. It is a day that, in its silence, speaks their absence loudly, and invites the question whether they were ever real.
The Thief taunted Freyja about her lack of godly powers with a threat to call her Saturday. She told him to give her a break and managed to kick him hard before he danced away from her.
She sat sullenly on the bank of a small dam, with her arms crossed. They were still some distance from their destination. She refused to move further.
He apologized, but she ignored him.
When it came time for the people to name Saturday, all the gods were dead. The great tree lay in ruins, and the rainbow no longer bridged the worlds.
Wolves roamed the land, and chaos was spread in the name of the new religion of the Romans.
Thangbrand led the Christian missionaries into Iceland.
With wild eyes and easy promises, Thangbrand was intent on change. He made many promises of good health, long life, and victory, in the name of the new Roman god, the Christ Jesus. On his way to convince the Allthing, the Icelandic parliament, his band killed many who did not agree with them. On the Hill of the Laws, one of his missionaries cursed the gods, calling Odin and myself naught but ‘domesticated wolves’.
Eventually, Thangbrand and the missionaries came to the home of the pagan priestess, Steinvora. She invited Thangbrand into her house and provided food and drink to his retainers. Thangbrand and Steinvora debated theology for a day and night. While the debate was fierce, Steinvora ensured that it was conducted with restraint and respect.
Steinvora preached the heathen faith to Thangbrand. He listened while she tried to persuade him of the error of his doctrine. Then she listened while Thangbrand answered her and spoke against the heathen doctrine. They joined arguments on all points of the religions. They found that there were many things they agreed on, but some they could not.
They agreed that the world is not touched kindly by the gods. Life is short and unpredictable. Risk abounds, wolves prowl throughout the world, among both Pagan and Christian.
She asked, “What matter the names given to the gods?”
He said, “Names matter, they are the power of the world. Those who name the gods rule.”
The pagan priestess asked, “Have you heard that Thor challenged the Christ Jesus to single combat, but the Christ ran?”
Thangbrand replied, “Thor is naught but a hollow name, a thing of dust and ashes. The old gods live only at the behest of my god.”
The priestess then asked how it was that the most powerful ship in Thangbrand’s fleet of warships had sunk in a thunderstorm. “Where was the Christ Jesus when a storm awoken by Thor shattered the ship to pieces?” But perhaps she answered herself, as she continued, “No god could help.”
Despite the breadth of the debate, it was inconclusive.
Thangbrand left before the matter could be brought to an outcome.
Further down the road, the high annual parliament of the Icelandic people feared the bloody imposition of the new religion of the Christ Jesus. The Althing sat and deliberated. After a heated debate, the Althing eventually appointed the Law Speaker of the Parliament, a male pagan priest, to decide the matter.
In the year 1000 of the current era, the Law Speaker declared Christianity to be the people’s religion. But, while a male priest had led the people to Christian theology, it had been without the blessing of the female priestess.
So, the people were reluctant to give up the old ways. The old songs continued to be sung. The people remembered and honored the old gods in their language and refused to give more. Deeper within the social fabric and the names of the world, the ancient traditions continued. The earnest purveyors of religious dogma were kept at bay with the very words that were spoken. As the people smiled and nodded, their language rejected the stasis of the Rome and Byzantine churches. Without the need to talk, children continued to be fostered, and when they departed, the people returned to their old way of hosting the world. Not just in Iceland, but throughout the world, wherever their fierce ships sailed: Scotland, Ireland, all of England save for the barbaric Welsh, Normandy to the gates of Paris and through the Germanic tribes, and beyond to the steppes of Russia.
Steinvora, the female priestess, had remembered what Thangbrand said of the power of names. The Icelanders and their kin continued to honor the old gods in the names of each weekday. Sunday belongs to the Sun. Monday honors the moon. Tuesday honors the god of Justice and War. Wednesday belongs to father Odin. Thursday honors the people’s defender, Thor. And Friday is mine.
They gave away the name of one day only. Saturday.
(Freyjer’s voice quietens in the silence of the sunset. The Thief feels the coming cold as she sits sipping the night air, shadows falling across her face.)
Gradually, all things change. As the bodies of the slain become black coral, the names and stories started to twist. The dead seers still tell of the end of the world, but a new chapter has been added that shows of the dawn of that modern-day that follows the last gasp of the gods. In the care of the Scandinavian Bishops, the old sagas now talk about the cycle of destruction and rebirth. Of the fire and the green sprout. Of how the Christ Jesus took Odin’s crown.
The Thief sat on the bank, drifting as he listened to her.
She ignored his suggestion that they go drink cider somewhere warm and instead protested, “So far I have heard little about the gods or the wolves. You have not tried to answer the question you said you were chancing our hand. Instead, you have talked about all sorts of irrelevancies.”
He thought, “But the old gods are gone now.” What little we know of them is confused in wistful imaginings of enthusiasts, the suspect accounts of contemporary religions, patterns of thought hidden in our language, and the vestiges of celebrations. Scant memories, but still enough, perhaps, to make a difference, enough to distinguish one culture from another. Not sufficient to answer the question with any authority.
They sat in silence.
The Thief stirs, his eyes remaining closed. He turns to Freyja, his eyes closed.
This is the fifth story the Thief told her, on the day they called Saturday, in honor of no god.
The Thief speaks:
The Norse told harsh cautionary tales about the power of language and how the naming of things could end in disaster. One concerned the almost-god Loki.
Once content to carouse and fawn at the gods’ table, Loki became tired of the pretense. While cold hard sober, he risked the enmity of the gods by honestly describing what they have become. Like Thangbrand, your Christian missionary, he named each of the faults of the gods. He cursed the name of Odin and your own.
Like the unraveling of an old saga, the risk of dire consequence builds as each of his accusations is met by growing anger, in circumstances where no one is willing to stop the spiral. An injury follows the exchange of hard words to trusted servants and friends. Then directly, the protagonists engage, and the world is drawn into the conflagration.
The almost-god Loki runs. Grimly, the Norse tell how, when he is found, his children by his lawful wife are butchered for fear of his children by his unlawful wife. He is bound with the entrails of one in a cave.
Only his lawful wife, Sigyn, remains with him. She tends him, keeping the poison from dripping onto his body. Pain racks his body when she leaves his side to empty the bucket where she collects the poison. The pain is so great that earthquakes rock the nine worlds.
In this dark place, they grow older in the pain of each other’s company. The memory of the outside world dims with every passing year. Only the reality of the cave remains.
He says, “I know your name: Sigyn. You keep the poison from burning me away. You leave infrequently, but when you are gone, the poison drips unstopped, and with each drop, my body screams in pain. You fend off the evil bent on consuming my body.”
“Once we had a life, a home, and hall, and stories; so many stories. Full of life, full of plans, a new room here, blinds in this chamber, rugs here, a rose just there. Wealthy and, if not respected, feared. Laughter echoed around us, if not honest, at least mirthful.”
“Your silent presence reminds me of those ruins. There you stand, faithful to my unfaithfulness. Children of my mistress threaten the world, while our kids are dead. The other children hunt and stalk the gods, while the hard entrails of our son bind me to this rock. And as you go about your silent tasks, your eyes catch mine, and your hate burns me more than the poison you catch. My heart screams in pain.”
Finally, after an age, Sigyn leaves and does not return.
The poison finally consumes the almost-god Loki. He rips his bonds and rents the fetters that have bound him all these years.
Here he sits in the dark; pain filled useless muscles and nausea preventing further flight. Tired and broken, he will need to relearn how to walk and to escape the cave. But for now, he is simply a man. A shadow of himself, whoever that may have been.
In the cold winter, in the comfort of their hearths, the Norse had time to refine their stories. This story is harsh.
The Thief looks to Freyja, sleeping. He tests the bonds by which she holds him, and they tighten a little more. A smile plays over her mouth.
He shuts his eyes and sleeps.