Freyja: The Seven Stories of the World:  Reality
The sun slowly rose on another Sunday morning. In the early dawn, they awoke together, feeling the other’s warmth. Freyja sighed.
The Thief was silent, for the moment free of his dreams.
With a slightly different voice, she commanded, “Tell me, where do you belong?”
This is the sixth story the Thief told her, on the day they called Sunday, in honor of the god Sol who rides her fiery chariot drawn by the two horses Árvakr and Alsviðr.
The Thief speaks:
I come from a land of old volcanoes: the Warrumbungles, Canobolas, Palerang. Not like your great palace; the volcanos here have been long quiet.
To the north, my childhood memories are of the Warrumbungles. Decaying volcanoes, cores, and dikes, weird, impossible shapes. Littering the shores of an inland sea that ceased to be.
In the center, governing my school-year memories, the monolith Canobolas. The giant that still directs the weather.
And in the south where I live today, dread Palerang. And in her black heart, the pool of tears.
I have been to the pool of tears a couple of times. It is a deep mountain pool high on the slopes of old Palerang. Secret crystal-clear waters, protected from the winds, a pool that reflects the soul stars of those killed by the volcano when she roamed the land as a woman.
Last time I went there, I was taught the law of the healing ceremony, organized by my mate Bill.
(The Thief pauses, placing his hand on her shoulder, the one he broke a week earlier. He shook his head in pain.)
The trip up the mountain was exhilarating. Through the morning mists and up old bush fire tracks through the bleeding gums at the foot of the mountain. Through the cool of autumn in the grip of recent rain. Past the stone walls made by Chinese gold miners 150 years earlier and up into the denser temperate forests of the higher reaches of the mountain. Then, near the top, through the twisted trees wasted by the winds and cold, dripping moisture in the lifting fog. After the city, it was so fresh, so noisy with birds and the sound of the wind in the gum trees.
I left my horse, a borrowed stock horse, below the camp and followed the smell of burning eucalypt to a small clearing near the pool, and the Kadaitcha.
Kadaitcha are the lore holders of the first people. They are not simply herbalists, in the harsh reality of native life, they are a part witch doctor, part assassin. They dispense justice, with spears, boomerangs, and deadly magic. There are frightening stories of the Kadaitcha; they can become invisible when they put on their shoes made of kangaroo hide, with emu feathers glued together with blood. They can will a person to death or turn a person into a rock. Palerang was made stone by Kadaitcha, and all around her, the Monaro, the bodies of her victims. Frozen as hills as they fell, their naked bodies become visible as the mists burnt away.
Kadaitcha are beyond good or bad. They make and trade aphrodisiacs and hallucinogens, compacts for healing physical wounds and diseases and mental anguish. Bill has told me how they also can heal people, often from afar, sometimes using a form of magic. Transference magic.
I don’t believe in magic anymore.
(Freyja winces, shrugging his hand off her shoulder. He paused.)
Anyway, I don’t believe Bill. He is earnest, but retention of a specialist knowledge of a native pharmacology seems unlikely. But he has visited the tribes out back and has come back pumped full of knowledge and hope.
There were two Kadaitcha waiting for me at the top of the mountain. Bill, my mate from town, had his back to me, fiddling with headphones and smoking dope. On the other side of the fire, unexpectedly, a tribal man I had not seen before, stripped to the waist, gaunt, with deep ceremonial scars across his chest.
Crouched on his toes, staring at the fire, the old man raised his hands to his face, warning me not to make any sounds. He rose silently, leaving Bill still trying to sort himself out with his cigarette in one hand fighting with a can of beer and a Walkman in the other.
The old man took me into the bush, among the calls of the bell birds and the honey eaters. We collected herbs. We found a gum laden with mistletoe – from a leafless shrub with green stems and small flowers he took a number of round yellowing fruits. On the trunk of an ancient tree, a Belgravia (a large evergreen with big glossy leaves), he cut deep into the bark and took some of the green wood. We collected bark, bluebells and the inner fronds of tree ferns. As we collected the plants, he stored them in a small possum bag tied to his waist with a hemp belt.
We returned to the camp, about mid-morning.
Coming into the camp a second time I stepped on a branch and if cracked like a whip. Bill spun around, losing his beer and almost falling in a heap. “Jeazus wept!”, he said (he is a very polite man, not given to swearing); as he tried to avoid looking at me. Eye contact is not permitted between males; a rule strongly enjoined, but very difficult. The old man retraced his steps and started to prepare the herbs on a stone pestle.
Bill called me over. “Ok, let’s get this over with. First, we paint you, then we sing the songs”, motioning to the Walkman, now hooked up to a pair of speakers. I had been warned about what would happen next.
Bill and I have known each other for ages. He considers me a friend because of a long history. More so, though, I once saw the old law rock, the spark that controls the weather and holds the world together. But there is another reason why I have been invited back to this secret place, one I cannot speak.
We both stripped off to our underpants; it was surprisingly cold, and we moved closer to the fire. Neither Bill nor I have the ritual scarring strictly necessary for these ceremonies; he talked incessantly as we rub our bodies and faces with red clay – and he then painted the scaring onto our chests. He has a new girlfriend; I should come round and have dinner with them. He is thinking of going to Cairns this winter to avoid the cold. He went to the cricket in Melbourne recently, saw the Indians on tour. Slowly his chatter starts to fall off. The sun is getting higher but not much warmer.
The old man finished pounding the herbs and sat a little way from the fire, staring into the distance. You can see the Pacific Ocean from here, on a clear day. Already storm clouds are piling off along the coast and the afternoon breezes are starting to push the clouds toward us.
Bill, feeds the fire, stamps his feet, raising the dust and turns on the music. It has an old beat, I do not know the words, but the beat is clear. The old man picks up his music sticks and plays along to the beat, murmuring words.
We sit listening to the sounds, Bill lights up another toke, and the smell of eucalypt and dope hits me. The old man throws some of his own mixtures onto the fire, and opens my mouth, placing a piece of bark under my tongue. A whole new set of sensations fires my mouth and chest.
Bill turns to me. I have told him what I want, back in town. He wants more than me. He says, “Your soul has been pinched mate, we should get that back for you as well.” But I shake my head; my soul is old.
Bill gets out some notes, and reading them aloud takes a woomera from his backpack and starts his dance. He spins the woomera on a string, in ever widening circles, until the roar of the woomera and click of the music sticks drowns out all other sounds. He lets the woomera fly, and then in the new silence comes and stands in front of me.
Bill looks me in the eye, breaking the taboo. I fight back the urge to run. He clenches his fist and drives it into my upper chest, just below my shoulder.
I feel no pain. Whatever I have been chewing has made my whole body numb.
But the force of the blow wrenches me off my feet and into the dust. My hand hits the ground really hard. Bill switches off the music, helps me up and we go off to the Pool of Tears to clean up.
“Sorry about that mate,” Bill doesn’t look all that sorry about the bruises and cuts on my body, the fall cut my hand, and there is a huge welt where he has hit me. Instead, he is nursing his hand, which must be hurting to blazes. “You right to get back?” He has come by ute, I saw it back some distance far below us on the track. I tell him I need to return the borrowed stock horse, and, in silence, we pack him up and put out the fire.
The old man left some time earlier, pressing bark and herbs into my broken hand, indicating silently how I should use them later in the day.
By the time I get half way down the mountain the afternoon mountain mists have recloaked Palerang. I had to get off the horse, feeling returned to my body and I was in serious pain. Back at the station, I sort out the horse and explain my hurt to Kathy by saying I fell, something she thinks I am quite capable of doing.
By the time I got back to my farm. I was feeling unwell. So I kept going, into my townhouse. By the time I arrived, the pain was almost unbearable. My shoulder had completely seized up, and there is a terrific bruise forming. I got undressed to go to bed, remembering at the last moment the old man’s parting gifts.
The first was mistletoe fruit mixed with charcoal. I smeared it on my chest and down the sides of my legs. It has a strange arousing smell. The second was the green wood we had collected earlier. I lay on my sheets and chewed it.
Unlike the bark the old man had put under my tongue, the green wood was acrid. As I chewed it, a violent intoxication overcame me. The pain in my body was not released. Instead I began to hallucinate.
It was night. I was back on the mountain. The fire had been restarted and made huge. There were a number of men around the fire. Old Kadaitcha. As they donned their emu shoes, they became insubstantial, only shadows cast by the fire and dust rising from the ground showed where they were. I felt a hand drag me to my feet. I started to dance. I remember the dust and the beat of the music sticks, the sounds of the didgeridoo, dingoes snapping at my body, howling with hunger. I fell and standing over me, one of the Kadaitcha raised a spear and drove it into the place Bill walloped earlier in the day.
One of the Kadaitcha pressed emu feathers and clay onto the wound. Before unconsciousness overtook me, the Kadaitcha told what I must do.
I slept straight through the next couple of days, traveling in a dream, to a land of fire and ice.
Bill came around a couple of days ago, a cigarette in one hand, his dark skin with a sheen a sweat from the steps (the lift was busted). “So, how did you pull up,” he said, shaking his hand. I showed him my bruise. He was impressed. In the center of the bruise was scar tissue. “Must have hurt,” he said. “You told her yet? You know, the way you treated her, I was like doing her a favor mate. Tell her we cut off your balls as well, chicks like that.”
I thanked him for his concern. He smiled a big white toothy smile at me.
“Wasn’t nothing mate, do the same for a guvu.” I tried to smile. He said, “Learned the ceremony out in the real country. Old bloke. Taught me to make my shoes, and to step inside whirly-whirly.”
I thought about the other Kadaitcha on the mountain and asked Bill to thank him as well. He shook his head, “Weren’t no other bloke mate; just us two up on the mountain.”
So, I guess I just dreamed the whole thing. Only, the emu feathers were still there, on the floor where they fell.
Freyja’s eyes were alive; she fed on his words.
She said, “You told me you were telling me the seven stories of the world. That last story was simply about a ceremony you went to once. It was a reminiscence, for which you can produce no tangible evidence. Why should I believe you?”
The Thief said, “It was a story about the transference of pain. It was real; I still have the scars.”
Freyja said, “You have not shown them to me, not here.”
He smiled and leaned on her, saying softly to himself, “You can leave at any time.”
He said, “I am not wicked nor am I magic. That is the stuff of superstition. I am only interested in reality.”
She retorts, “Still, superstition hurts. I am always careful of Friday the 13th. Everyone else is as well. Imagination can kill. Your last story was about the imaginary transfer of pain. Tell me your sixth story again, but this time not about yourself.”
He asked, “If I do, will you tell me your real name?”
She said, “I am Freyja. You have been to my hall. You have seen my home here on Earth. But you ran away. Why should I tell you any more?”
He said, “Names are important. If you tell me your real name, the spells that hold you thrall to imagination will fade, and you will come down to Earth.”
“Once you have told me the seven stories, I will tell you the name I once had here on Earth. But now I am hungry. Feed me with a real story and food.”
The Thief retold her the sixth story, on the day they called Sunday, in honor of Sol.
There does not need to be an objective evil lurking nearby. The propensity within us all for hysteria is just as dangerous, even for superstitions or gentle hysteria like ‘Friday 13th’.
Are particular races or countries, peculiarly susceptible to hysteria? Take France. Seven hundred years ago, 13 October 1307, was not a good day for the Knights Templar. They were all arrested on charges of heresy, tortured into making confessions and those that survived were then executed.
But is it just particular countries? ‘Heresy’ went on to become the preferred charge brought against witches in the great religious persecutions throughout the Christian world and which only ended in 1750.
(Freyja interrupted, “Ha! Are you blaming organized religions now?”)
It has become trendy to blame the Christian Right for the witch trials and the campaign against the Knights Templar.
Certainly, some in the Christian Right have reacted very defensively to such claims. Apologists have argued that only 40-50,000 women were killed during the witch trials, not the 5 million claimed.
Others in the Christian Right have reasserted their absolute belief that witches exist and have helpfully republished King James “Daemonology which states, “They ought to be put to death according to the Law of God, the civill and imperial law, and municipall law of all Christian nations.”
But, I think that the assumption of guilt by the religious right, whether in sorrow or with a little more enthusiasm is suspect.
Allocating blame is not an easy matter of accusing present day religious movements, races or some other objective evil because the fact is that the witch-trials were conducted by secular authorities.
Like the Knights Templar, witches were tried and executed under legal processes established and run by the State, albeit in an atmosphere of community hysteria.
The most famous of these trials was prosecuted some 300 years after the Knights Templar in the community of Salem.
(She sat and watched him prepare toasted rye with salted butter. She said, “Salem is along the coast, north of my house. They have a pirate museum, and there is a place there on the wharf that makes the best clam chowder. And a shop that sells witch clothing and, maybe, spell books. What has Salem got to do with the Knights Templar?”)
Salem is on the coast of Massachusetts, a couple of hours north of New York. The trials that took place there in the 1690’s, the Salem Witch Trials, are an important part of our shared legal history. Maybe you remember Arthur Miller’s play: ‘The Crucible.’ Most of us have a passing knowledge of these events through the play. The trials have left us a record of a catastrophe of almost unimagined cruelty as a community turned on itself.
From June to September of 1692, 24 men and women died in jail or were convicted of witchcraft and hanged. Hundreds of others faced accusations of witchcraft in Salem until the horror faded.
The secular authorities were well prepared.
Thomas Newton had come to Massachusetts from England just 4 years earlier. He was one of the first legally trained lawyers in Massachusetts. He was appointed by the state as the King’s Attorney to prosecute the witches. Half way through the trials his place was taken by Anthony Checkley, the first person designated as ‘Attorney General’ in early colonial Massachusetts. Unlike Newton, Checkley was a merchant with no formal legal training. Indeed, he was accused of being “not only ignorant of the laws of England, but...himself an illegal trader.”
Despite their very different backgrounds, both prosecutors were able to secure convictions and executions. Undoubtedly, their job was made easier because the state had set up a special court which applied its own rules of evidence.
Against the terror of a community in the grip of hysteria stood a few brave men.
Giles Corey was by all accounts a stubborn man. A farmer, 80 years old, he was fascinated by what was going down. On expressing criticism of the witchcraft proceedings, he was dragged into them and was eventually pressed to death under heavy stones for refusing to submit to trial.
Giles Corey’s death was recorded. As weights were piled on his body, Judge Stoughton could see his lips moving and thought the old man might have changed his mind and decided to plea.
The jailer looked at Corey’s face for a moment. Then the jailer stood.
“Is he ready to enter a plea, constable?” Stoughton asked.
“No, milord,” the man answered.
“Then what was he saying?”
“He said ‘More weight’ milord.”
The writer Tomas Brattle was one of the most outspoken opponents of the witchcraft trials. Like the farmer Giles Cory, Brattle had real doubts about the trials. A contemporary of Isaac Newton and Edmund Halley, and at considerable risk to himself, he published a pamphlet denouncing the trials. The October 1692 pamphlet concluded:
“If our officers and Courts have apprehended, imprisoned, condemned, and executed our guiltlesse neighbours, certainly our errour is great, and we shall rue it in the conclusion.”
Brattle’s pamphlet had a profound effect in the colony. The governor forbade further imprisonments for witchcraft and eventually released those still imprisoned.
Time heals most things. Judge Samuel Sewall and twelve of the jurors asked the community and the dead for forgiveness. And today, two of the main protagonists, the prosecutor Newton and the objector Brattle, lie at peace in the King’s Chapel Burial Ground in Boston.
For another 50 years, the Salem experience was continued through Massachusetts and much of the Christian world as the state apprehended, imprisoned, condemned, and executed their guiltless neighbors. Sewell still convicted the odd witch and sentenced her to a painful death.
However, after Salem, the pace gradually slowed. It slowed as people started to emerge from the craze, as the world learned about Salem and the tens of thousands of communities similarly affected, and the bravery of so many, who like Giles Corey and Tomas Brattle stood their ground. Increasingly, prominent leaders including a couple of influential Jesuits stood forward and brought the madness to a complete stop.
Salem remains important; it occurred at a pivotal time in history in a place destined to become an intellectual powerhouse.
Tomas Brattle was a part of the Harvard University establishment in Boston, an establishment they helped make the engine of Western intellectual thought, and one that has survived as such for three hundred years. An establishment that gave us the great American judges of the early Twentieth Century, those who have helped craft the modern notion of a fair trial based on rational evidence. Judges such as Oliver Wendell Holmes the American jurist who adopted a common sense approach to the law, who rejected the prevailing property-rights ideology embraced by law, and who deferred to the decisions of democratically-elected legislatures.
The Salem experience still deeply influences Western thinking as a result.
Those people in Salem who were hanged, lost their lives under legislation which made heresy a capital offence. But this legislation was made hurriedly after the alleged crimes were committed. Retrospective criminal laws should not be tolerated, and such legislation is abhorred under international and national instruments.
Much of the telling prosecution evidence at Salem itself relied on witchcraft or torture. Spectral evidence, evidence that cannot be objectively tested, was outlawed in 1703 by the Massachusetts General Court. Torture has been increasingly discredited as a forensic tool in international and national instruments.
From a juristic point of view, the abuses by the prosecution in the trial were to become an inspiration to prevent future abuses of process.
(The Thief added steaming coffee and cut fruit to the collection of food.)
Now, I don’t mean to belittle French bohemians, and their imaginary goals of Truth, Liberty, Beauty, and Love. These are noble goals to which we should always aspire, if only unsuccessfully. We should always try hard to see the innocent in everyone in general and some in particular. But these goals are remarkably unhelpful in working out the detail, and it was the detail that allowed Cory to be crushed and Spectral evidence to be tendered.
(She said darkly feeling hungry, “And, in times of great stress, the temptation to backslide becomes irresistible.”)
When the wicked are all around us, the arguments for exceptional powers are never properly tested.
We have seen this time and time again during periods of great community stress. At one end of the continuum we have the McCarthy hysteria of the 1950s; hysteria that overran entire nations. On a lesser scale, we have seen communities tear themselves apart over allegations of sexual abuse in preschools, or within cults. Instead of evidence, we let emotion and our own wishes about what might be true rule our heads. It seems that it is part of the human condition that we are predestined to revisit the Salem hysteria.
She complains, “That story had nothing in common with your story about transference magic.”
He smiled, “Hysteria is the best form of transference magic I know.”
She shook her head, “Where do you eat? I will tell you a proper story in honor of this day.”
He helps take the breakfast and leads her out onto a verandah that caught the morning sun and deflected the chill of the prevailing winds. They sit and eat in peace for a moment.
She chose to tell him the story of the sun god, as they drifted into the bitter cold of the year’s recession.
Her story started as the sun fell on her shoulders.
Freyja speaks, reaching her hands to the sun:
We all once knew that the sun is a two-horse chariot, a device that can usually only be justified in the interests of war. Not a device for our meadows and bogs, it is a machine used sparingly in the armies of the steppes and the plains, far to our south.
The sun is the goddess Sol’s chariot. She stands in the chariot, guiding it through the stars.
In the predawn, the two sky horses Árvakr and Alsviðr, “Early Awake” and “Very Quick” draw the chariot in darkness. But in the dawn, their manes ignite just like molten lava from our own volcanoes.
And then the chase recommences. For Sol is being hunted across the sky by two wolves.
(Freyja looks at the Thief, her eyes narrowing.)
At Ragnarök, she will be taken and torn apart by Sköll. Her gore will fall on Asgard. But for now, the sky horses avoid the wolves by swiftly pulling the chariot across the sky, each day a slightly different path.
The heat from the manes is intense, and the horses and the goddess are protected from the heat by weird technology; some say wind-bags, others cool-iron. The heat from the manes is enough to sear the Earth itself – to burn away both the water and the rocks. Another natural deity, Svalin, the atmosphere, forestalls this result.
In summer, when the days are long, the wolves sorely test both Sol and Svalin. Here on Earth, the world heats. But as winter draws near, Sol avoids the chase by taking a different path across the sky, and ice takes the world into its grip. Very occasionally the wolves catch the chariot, and we can see them dancing as an eclipse darkens the sky.
Originally the old tribes did not see the wolves. They simply thought Sol grew brighter as her chariot came closer to her lover’s hearth. Later Sol was perceived as having a bright and dark side, and day and night were conceived according to whether we saw her left or right side. There was no talk of wolves or paths in the oldest stories pressed into sheets of metal.
So why now do the wolves pursue Sol? But these are not any wolves. These are children of the Ironwood - children of Loki, brothers and sisters to Hel, Fenrir and the great serpent. But still, we do not know what condemns Sol to track these dangerous paths nor why the wolves are intent on the pursuit. In the absence of an answer, we presume that from the earliest time, the wolf pack through its nature will seek to pursue and kill when given the opportunity.
She paused, confused. “All our brave men are dead, and we will all be destroyed. My hall will be destroyed. All I have worked for is being taken apart.”
He said, “Get a grip. It is not real. It is nothing that is being destroyed.”
She turns on him, “You are nothing Thief. I struggled for this. I earned all of this.”
“Sessrúmnir?” he asked.
“The hall, my power, my position, the respect I am due,” she draws herself up.
He says, “But they are imaginary. It is an imaginary world that is being destroyed. Your role there is finished, there is nothing you can do. Here, on Earth, is your real refuge.”
She stares at him; her hands are clenched. He continued, “We have not changed from creatures of flesh and blood into beings of pure energy. We are not puppets to our imagination. We are real.”
She relaxes back into the sun, gradually shutting her eyes. In her dreams, she remembers she is searching for something, and that the Thief is the answer to a question she has.
The Thief looks at her, searching for his path to freedom.
[Image: Barina is not a small horse – at full gallop a Cleveland Bay (Andalusian crossed with the lighter Barb warhorses of North Africa) makes the hill shake.]