A few years back, I wanted to create a new holiday for Odin, focused on His connection with the Mead of Poetry and His sacred marriage to Gunnlod, who was the first of His divine Ladies to reach out to me and who I became close to long before I was able to develop any kind of relationship with Frigga. If you’re stumbling over the “sacred marriage” part of that last sentence, go and re-read the version of the Mead tale told in the Havamal, and try to forget, for just a moment, about the almost cartoon-like comedy of errors Snorri transforms it into. In Snorri, Gunnlod is a silly, easily-seduced girl whose loneliness makes it a simple matter for Bolverk to swindle Her. In the Havamal, She is a stately goddess seated on a golden throne who graciously shares Mead with Her bridegroom, a ritual that according to some scholars would also serve to bestow kingship upon Him at the same time. A proud giantess with considerable power of Her own, She is not the kind of Lady you’d want to be caught stealing from, and my own belief is that She gifted Odin with the Mead (although against the wishes of Her kinfolk); indeed, Odin comments in the Havamal text that He would not have been able to escape back to Asgard without Her protection. The two stories agree that He then deserts Her, but in my own UPG that was only temporary, though of course the lore—what we have left of it—does not say.
At any rate, I hit upon the idea of converting St. Patrick’s Day, March 17th, into this new festival for Odin and Gunnlod: Bolverk’s Day. The choice of date was mostly for superficial reasons centering around the only thing St. Patrick and Odin have in common: snakes. The saint is supposed to have driven the snakes (aka pagans) out of Ireland, whereas Odin is (in Snorri’s version of the Mead of Poetry tale) supposed to have gained access to Gunnlod’s cavern in Her father’s mountain fortress in the form of a snake. Since I’m not likely to want anything to do with a holiday that basically celebrates the defeat of pagans, and since St. Patrick’s Day seems to mostly have devolved into a secular holiday at this point, an excuse to drink green beer and horrible disgusting green mint-flavored milkshakes (for which I have a secret passion), I figured this choice of date for a Bolverk holiday was just as good as any, and there was at least the snake theme to tie it together.
The thing is, though, that while I created this particular festival partly on a whim, Odin has let me know that He regards it as extremely significant, a day that has great personal meaning for Him. As I commented in a previous post, I have been somewhat paralyzed with terror at the thought that a holiday I started in such a tongue-in-cheek manner, with the actual date chosen almost arbitrarily, should become such a Big Deal for Him. Nevertheless, this year I am finally giving the festival the attention He feels it deserves. The details of the celebration are mostly private, but one of the non-private preparations I can share is this devotional necklace for Gunnlod I made earlier in the week:
The bones are snake vertebrae (for obvious reasons) and the beads are tumbled garnets interspersed with dragon’s blood jasper (as guardian of the Mead of Poetry, I associate Gunnlod with dragons) and black lava stone. The pendant is an antique skeleton key, which signifies Gunnlod’s wifely status and is also a trance journeying tool for me. (I use skeleton keys to open doors between the worlds during seidhr.) The clasp, which I discovered in a local bead shop last week, is in the form of a cast bronze snake with two heads. Altogether, a fitting necklace for Odin’s Etin-bride, I think!
If anyone is interested, a couple of years ago I explored my thoughts on Gunnlod as a goddess of sovereignty a bit in my review of the book Lady with a Mead Cup by Michael J. Enright, which is posted on the blog here. It is a fairly weighty, scholarly book, but the heart of it for me was the discussion of the role of the sacred queen in Germanic tradition as well as Enright’s theory that Odin began not as a Germanic storm giant but a Romano-Celtic god of kingship around 1st century BCE Gaul. This deity, Mercurius Rex or Mercurius Hrano (“the brawler,” a name closely related to Odin’s by-name Hrani) was paired with a goddess of sovereignty, prophecy, and sacred drink, Rosmerta, who combines key characteristics of both Gunnlod and Frigga. Oddly, Rosmerta escaped my attention when I was putting together my shrine for the Queens, but that will soon be remedied!
This poem for Gunnlod is © 2007 from my book Water from the Well and Other Wyrd Tales of Odin:
I am She.
I am the ruby-tressed daughter of Suttung, reared in His rocky fortress in the dusty brown hills of Jotunheim.
I am the One with fire in Her veins, venom in Her gaze, and a throat full of song.
I am the child of an Earth-Goddess, murdered in My father’s bed because She strayed from His harsh embraces (though We speak of this not); I know the secrets buried deep within stones, and whispered by tree branches, and hidden in the shadow cast by the smallest green growing thing.
I am She.
I am the guardian of the famous mead—and more. With My own hands I drained the life’s blood of Kvasir—emissary of the Aesir, slain by My father’s servants. It is I who blended that dark blood with honey, herbs and magics to brew a drink unequaled.
I was fostered at the court of Surt; I have sat at table with the Black Lord; I have learned His enchantments.
I know the ways of bees and the mysteries of honey, the hidden properties of leaf, root, and flower. Poison and intoxication, harm and healing alike are tools in My hands. The mead sings in My blood, and it answers to She who brewed it.
I am She.
I am the Beloved of Odin, the etin-maid He sought and wooed, the wife He took before My father’s court, with the mead as My dowry (though My father knew it not at the time).
I tasted the mead at Odin’s side, and kept a draught of it within Me to nourish the boy-child I carried in My womb from Our coupling.
I am the one they say Bolverk abandoned, leaving Me to weep as He flew back to Asgard with His stolen prize.
I am She.
I am the unwanted Goddess, the forsaken bride, the wronged queen. I am the keeper of Odin’s heart, but not His keys.
I gave birth to Bragi in the worlds below, His eyes bright as His father’s, His tongue carved with runes. Child of the Mead, I bore Him to the Tree and birthed Him among the dead, heir to all of their wisdom.
I am dragon-woman, shape-shifter, witch, watching over My hoard of forgotten dreams, counting every bitter tear and saving them in a crystal vial to make a potion against My enemies. I am kin to Loki, kin to Aegir, kin to Gerd—but among the Aesir I bear another name.
I am She.
I am mistress of Sokkvabek, the palace that lies beneath cool waves. I drink with the Lord of Asgard daily, telling tales and giving rede. I am the giver of good counsel and keeper of Odin’s secrets. I speak of the visions that fill My sight, and My foretellings are true.
I am the mother of poetry and keeper of lore; I am the one who can weave a tale so that even the Gods will stop what They are doing to listen, held captive by My voice.
Odin is the burden of My white arms; I am Frigga’s rival, the interloper, the foreigner in Asgard who sits at Odin’s side. I taught Odin the magic of My people as He lay clasped within My arms and between My thighs.
I am She.
I am the rallying cry of a thousand heresies, poison drunk in darkness, mead sipped in secret. I show the way; I unmask false prophecy; I dissolve illusion, favored weapon of My people.
I am bane to My enemies and gold to My friends. There are those who would love to see Me speared and burned in the High One’s hall, the blood of another witch spilled to soothe their wounded pride. The God of madness and ecstasy loves Me beyond all reason.
I am the flaming heart, the brimming mead horn, the ghost in the darkness—and I hold Odin’s vows even still, after all these years.
I am She.
I am sorrow redeemed, obsession vindicated, and the reward I got from Odin for the heart I gave Him, freely, was not as ill as many think.
I stand just beyond the threshold, robed in red and crowned with a golden serpent, His runes about My brow.
Still and silent, by His side I wait, for someday Midgard will see Me here, sitting in the place promised to Me. It is My mead that revives Odin’s warriors daily, that inspires His skalds, that binds the oaths of His people. I am the battle invitation, the golden draught, the speaker of mystery. It is My mead—wrought by My hands, charmed by My spells– that will send the howling breath of madness through the battlefields above which We will ride, triumphant, as Our foes lie crushed and broken beneath Our feet.
I am She.