Archive for April, 2011

“What does it take to be a goddess?” Women in Norse Mythology

Goddess worship is distinctly out of fashion in our western, Christianized culture, but it has not always been so. We learned in school that the Greeks, and later the Romans, personified various aspects of the feminine as goddesses  (ex. Aphrodite/Venus, Hera/Juno) and gave expression to the concept in other forms as well (ex. The three Fates: maiden/mother/crone).

In Norse mythology one female figure stands out, high above her competition: Freyja, twin sister of Freyr, both associated with fertility and prosperity. Think about it: the power to create life – be it human, animal or vegetable – is a power above all others.

Perhaps reflecting the earthy character of life in northern climates, Freyja is a goddess of lusty appetites: for sex, for gold, for all things beautiful. She is also a shape-shifter with magic powers. She can transform herself into a falcon or the shape of a feather in order to fly to different lands. She can also drive a chariot drawn by cats or ride upon a great boar when she journeys. Freyja was a popular goddess; her amulets and pendants can be unearthed all over Scandinavia.

The power to leave one’s physical self and be transported elsewhere is a mark of the shaman, who journeys in spirit to other worlds to obtain information – perhaps from the dead, perhaps from the gods themselves. In my novel about the women of Beowulf, Faces in the Fire, the heroine Freawaru is developing her power through trance states.

Just as the Greeks and Romans separated woman-as-lover-and-mistress from woman-as-wife-and-mother, the Norse did the same, assigning the former role to Freyja and the latter to Frigg, wife of Odin. Both goddesses could be called upon to assist in childbirth, and both could receive women after their death.

Want to be a goddess? Develop your powers!

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Putting a Face on Freaw

Have you ever felt ignored, unnoticed, kept in the shadows, passed over?

For hundreds of years, one woman has existed only as a name: Freawaru – a single name from a single manuscript surviving from the tenth century. Her brief mention in the epic, Beowulf, intrigued me throughout my teaching career. When I finally decided to retire and write a novel about the women of Beowulf, I chose Freaw as my heroine. Faces in the Fire is her story, set within the context of the events in the original epic.

Have you ever been afraid of the dark? Feared there might be a monster lurking in your closet or under your bed? As a child and young girl, Freaw must endure the terror of nightly raids by Grendel, a man-eating monster. She must watch, helpless, as many of those she loves fall prey to its greed.

Has your family ever made plans for you or held expectations that you did not share? As she comes of age, Freaw is asked to play a significant role in tribal politics. She is challenged to act as a peace-weaver in an arranged marriage with a rival chieftain. Her mystical connection with the Norse goddess Freyja brings a kind of power in the form of visions predicting future events. But this power is unfocused and uncontrolled, leaving her vulnerable to the influence of others.

Freaw has much to learn as she struggles to find her way in a world of stark realities.  Despite the passage of hundreds of years, her story could be the story of each of us.


Out of the Shadows: Beowulf women to the fore!

GENESIS:

The immediate inspiration for my novel, Faces in the Fire, came in the middle of teaching a class. I stopped short and announced, “I am going to write a book about the women of Beowulf!” A male student jumped up and shouted, “Yea, you can call it The Babes of Beowulf!” (He got points for alliteration.)

Male characters in Beowulf are fully developed, but the women get little attention in this tale of men and monsters. Freawaru, the king’s daughter, is only named once and takes no part in the action of the epic. Her story, especially, needed to be told! Thus, I chose her to become the central figure and narrator in my novel.

RESEARCH:

Behind my earlier epiphany lay a long-time interest in feminism, pagan beliefs, and Norse mythology. However, I had no direct experience of Viking-age cultures, so I began to read to establish a deep knowledge base. After retirement from teaching, a trip to Denmark and Sweden added the sensory details I needed to recreate this ancient world. I crewed on a replica of a Viking ship out of Roskilde harbor, Denmark. I climbed the royal burial mounds in Uppsala, Sweden. I visited museums, took notes, bought books. Research was great fun!

WRITING PROCESS:

With my brain on “full,” I began to write – mostly during summers at our island cabin on Lake of the Woods, Ontario, Canada, a perfect writer’s retreat. My first draft was written in ballpoint pen on legal-sized pads of yellow paper, with subsequent drafts typed on the computer. When I grew brave enough, reading chapters out loud to my partner, Don, helped me “hear” what I’d written, and make needed changes or additions.

As the characters came alive in my head, they stepped forward and began to talk – I couldn’t shut them up! So, a lot of the novel is written in dialogue. The locales used in this first novel are based on real places I visited in Denmark. I guess one could say that “total immersion” is my technique. For the second novel in the trilogy I may have to go back to Sweden!