A Novel by Clarise Samuels
Brynhild is a goddess from a great literary epic, and she is also a symbol for spirited, strong feminists. Superior to most men but nevertheless greatly affected by the worldly power of men, Brynhild forges ahead and defiantly flies in the face of all male authority, even that of Odin, the Father of the Gods, who evicts her from the heavens for disobedience. She eventually accomplishes her missions at least partially, being forced to make compromises, which she endures with a certain amount of stoicism. Brynhild, in the end, must accept the imperfections she is confronted with on Earth, and more notably, she has to accept that even the heavens are not completely perfect.
The goddess motif in legend and pagan religion is often associated with fertility and maternity, a peaceful goddess emphasizing a society revolving around motherhood and the power of women. But there also developed the warrior goddess, and this is the goddess we see in the form of the Norse Bryhnild—she is supremely trained for battle, she is lustful, and she causes conflict wherever she appears. In this more combative role, the goddess suffers traumas, and we see that Brynhild is evicted, manipulated, and raped. The conflicts arising as a result of her presence are disastrous and can result in annihilation.
My version of the Norse story retains the warrior-goddess who is lustful and defiant. As a catalyst, however, this Brynhild tries to minimize the potential damage she can cause for mortals and instead is focused on progress and spiritual enlightenment on Earth. But the odds are against her, and she is frustrated by obstacles and challenges that even Odin could not foresee.
My first encounter with Brynhild was through the Germanic version of the mythology, the Nibelungenlied, but I was drawn to the less courtly and less Christian version of the story to be found in Norse mythology. With the Norse legend as my backdrop, I was able to employ various philosophical and spiritual themes that were of interest to me. I found that the use of the pagan gods from Norse mythology lent itself well to these themes, as I was able to focus on spiritual, metaphysical, and philosophical issues without having to account for Judeo-Christian tenets and traditions.
My primary sources were the Völsunga Saga (translated by William Morris), with elements borrowed from the Edda by Snorri Sturluson (translated by Anthony Faulkes), the Nibelungenlied (translated by A. T. Hatto), and the Völuspá (translated by W. H. Auden and P. B. Taylor).
An earlier version of Chapter 1 was originally published in Wild Violet Magazine (Vol. 5, Issue 1, 2006) under the title “The Exile of Brynhild.”
Clarise Samuels, PhD, May 2010
Chapter 1: The Exile
Odin chanted his magical conjurations, raised his right hand, and in so doing, violently shoved me through the celestial portals that separated heaven from Earth. And then I was falling through the seven heavens, falling, falling, falling, until I landed on the mountain peak called Mount Hindarfiall. In my dazed state, I could only think, how did I get here? I was a goddess from Asgard, the heavenly abode of the gods. But now I was lying on a mountaintop, only half conscious.
Odin had evicted me from Asgard. He evicted me because I had become enthralled with the dashing, blond warrior who was slated to die in combat that day. But the devastatingly handsome general did not die of his wounds in that fateful battle, as had been ordained by Odin. I saved him, against orders, and it was the aged general with the silver hair who perished instead and was whisked back to Valhalla by my Valkyries. I paid dearly for this transgression. I was to live another life on Earth, that festering, violent cauldron of primitive emotions and savage desires. Earth was no place for a goddess. But I had no choice. Odin’s severe pronouncement was uttered, and my imminent doom was decreed. I was to be evicted from the heavens.
Despite the harshness of this sentence, Odin, the Supreme Being, longed for me every minute of his eternal existence. Odin was bewitched by me.
Yes, Odin had a wife. He was severe with his wife, Frigg, who was constantly jealous and suspicious of his relationship with me. Frigg could not stop obsessing with this insult to her dignity, and Odin would order his wife to desist with her constant questions and innuendos regarding our relationship. Frigg carried on relentlessly when so handled by Odin. She fairly screamed at him, “It’s because you would leave me for a dazzling young beauty if we were human and living down there with the rest of them, isn’t it? You’re always going on and on about how you love all of them. You sympathize with the seducer!”
“Yes, that’s right,” Odin would scream back, “because I am the Ultimate Seducer! I am the All and the Nothing, the Finite and the Infinite. They call me the All-Father and many other names—Val-Father, Blindi, Grim, Ganglari, Herian, Hialmberi, Thekk, Thund, High, Just-as-high, Vakr, Skilfing—as you well know, given the tower of ‘babble’ humans have devised with their languages.”
Frigg’s frustration had some basis to it. Odin was obsessed with human relationships. Romance was a particularly brutal area for humans, fraught with pain and false notions. Odin could not determine what was causing all the confusion on the planet of which he was most fond. He tried to emulate human foibles in his own relationships in order to discern the true nature of human perplexity. He was not making very much progress. One plan, which we were all called upon to help develop, was to devise ways to help humans express their most heartfelt emotions. Thus, the need arose for the “secret code” Odin conceived just for humans. Based on eye contact, innuendo, furtive touching, and even long breath pauses, the secret code required accurate interpretation and shrewd insight. As a result, these well-meaning but misguided beings often misunderstood each other, and this merely caused more grief and sorrow, which drove Odin to distraction since this was the very opposite of what he had intended. Humans were most unpredictable. Odin could make no presumptions when it came to these favored creatures of the gods.
But the secret code was still better than no system at all. Odin developed dozens of different ways of communicating emotions based on eye contact alone. Holding one’s gaze steadily and directly for a prolonged period of time, while smiling or looking content meant, “I desire you.” Briefly meeting the other’s gaze but then looking away quickly and lowering the eyes, still keeping the beloved in one’s peripheral vision meant, “I’m thinking about it, but I need more time.” Holding the other’s gaze steadily but without smiling, and sometimes with a rather dour facial expression meant, “Why are you hurting me like this?” To make a signal with the corner of the eye was refusal; to lower the eyes and make a quick gesture with the head was consent. To shift the eye pupil all the way to the left or right meant someone in that direction had entered the room and was observing you. And the list went on.
This was madness. Divine madness.
Frigg’s jealousy was not completely unjustified, even though her female tendency to be overly possessive of her husband was greatly exaggerated and a flaw more telling of human nature than godly nature. The lack of divine serenity and dispassion, which Odin would have liked to see in his wife, was more than just problematic—it was almost enough to drive this Father of the Gods to drink. Odin forced himself to withstand the onslaught of Frigg’s hysterical accusations with composure, careful never to confirm or deny the volatile suspicions voiced in such tirades. Yet every god and goddess at Asgard knew the truth of the matter.
Yes, the truth was that Odin adored me, and Frigg’s wifely instincts had accurately read her husband’s heart and mind. But Odin and I were bound to have a falling out. I had already strained Odin’s patience with a series of minor infractions. Nevertheless, when I finally broke with Odin, it all happened so quickly that I was stunned by the swiftness of the irreversible chain of events.
It was supposed to have been just an ordinary and uneventful day in the life of a Valkyrie. I had been dispatched to the front lines of a significant battle to collect the most honorable souls—those souls who had fought with the most courage and skill or for the highest ideals. Upon the arrival of the Valkyries, the old king, Helm Gunnar, was engaged in battle against the young king, Agnar. Odin had promised the victory of the battle to the seasoned man of years, the venerable Helm Gunnar, for despite his age, he was still among the greatest of warriors. But I was not anticipating the young Agnar to be a man so uncommonly handsome; blond and bearded, he was the perfect model of a Norse warrior, and I had a weakness for such men. I became infatuated with Agnar the moment my watchful gaze alighted upon him. I had arrived at the scene just a bit too early. Victory did not yet belong to Helm Gunnar; the beautiful Agnar, who was destined to die that day, was still alive and embroiled in the thick of the battle.
I did the unthinkable. I intervened, and no one had asked me to intervene. I interfered with Agnar’s agenda; I countermanded Odin’s decree. I saved Agnar, and instead condemned Helm Gunnar, the aged and legendary warrior, to an untimely death. So I carried Helm Gunnar’s soul off the battlefield that day, and the younger warrior lived. When we returned to Valhalla and revived Helm Gunnar, the old king awakened in a daze.
“Gods, you are all beautiful,” Helm Gunnar noted as he looked around and focused his eyes upon me. “Who are you?”
“I am Brynhild, the Chief Valkyrie, and this is Valhalla,” I replied.
“What? This is Valhalla? The Valkyries? Is it…? Have I…? Am I…?”
“Yes,” I interrupted the white-haired grandfather of princes. “You are dead.”
“The gods in heaven be damned!” Helm Gunnar cried out as he tried to raise himself in his weakened state. “All the signs and wonders predicted I would win, and I would live! What happened? What went wrong?”
At this point I was beginning to experience something that most definitely felt like a guilty conscience. Informing Odin, of course, was quite another matter. Odin could not hide his shock and bewilderment. He had been expecting Agnar. “What in the name of every god and goddess at Asgard went wrong?” Odin fairly screamed. “Where is my pure and faithful Agnar?”
“He lives, Sire,” I admitted frankly, deciding not to mince words. “You see, I intervened.”
“You did what?” he asked in a low voice, sounding ominous.
“Please forgive me, Odin,” I said, curtsying lightly, “but I intervened.”
“You intervened,” the Father of the Gods repeated calmly.
“Yes,” I responded.
“You are not allowed to do that,” Odin stated softly, still calm.
“I know,” I answered with equal calmness.
“Ah, yes, and if you know that,” Odin started to whisper frantically as his anger mounted, “what in the name of heaven and earth prevailed upon you to do something only a half-crazed idiot in a desperate frenzy of insanity would presume to do?” Odin railed at me for a full half-hour. The All-Father ranted and raved as I sat there in silence. He paced back and forth in front of me, his face crimson with anger and his hands balled into fists as he blamed, censured, and rebuked me for my irresponsible behavior. Indeed, he nearly became apoplectic.
Finally, Odin ordered me to leave the room. When I reached my chambers, I slammed the door behind me and tried to regain my poise. I knew Odin would not recover from this assault on his authority too soon, and the consequences would be severe. Yet I did not suspect what lay in store for me. Later that evening, I was summoned back into the screening chamber, Odin’s personal domain. Odin’s color had returned, and he was calm. He stood by the window with his back to me. “Brynhild,” he began slowly, and I knew something of great import was about to follow, “as you know, you must never intervene in the fate of humans unless they ask.” Odin began pacing again, his hands crossed behind his back. “You see, for the most part, I give my earthly creatures free will. Just think of it, if I were to intervene every time something unpleasant happened in the course of their transient lives, what would that contribute to their spiritual growth and progress? How would they come to know their most divine traits, their finest hours?”
“I know, Sire,” I affirmed, waiting impassively for what was to come.
“If you know this, why did you do it?”
“Because I fell in love with the human incarnation of Agnar’s soul. And I felt pity for him,” I declared openly.
“And you doubted my purpose, my will, and my intentions?”
“Oh, no, Sire, not for a moment,” I persuaded him. “I would never doubt the will of Odin.”
“Yet you fell in love with a human, and it was love at first sight, no less. You disappoint me, Brynhild. I expected much more discipline from you than this,” Odin remarked with a paternal tone of authority in his voice.
“I’m sorry, Sire. It shall not happen again,” I assured him.
“Indeed, it shall not because I am relieving you, at least temporarily, of your duties as Chief Valkyrie,” Odin announced.
“You…what? Because of one indiscretion? You are overreacting, Sire. You, of all the gods, should know better,” I stammered, still stunned by the blow of his pronouncement. Odin wrinkled his brow, and he stared at me thoughtfully before he spoke.
“This is not your first indiscretion,” Odin reminded me. “And it is time, Brynhild. I have known for a while now the time was near. I just did not know how to tell you.” I felt my heart sinking.
“Time for what?” I asked. Odin turned around, walked over to me, and put his hands upon my shoulders.
“Brynhild, you are due to return for another lifetime on Earth,” he said simply.
“Good heavens!” I gasped. “Have you gone mad, Sire? That is not possible!”
“There is no choice in the matter,” Odin insisted, smiling at me like a benign parent. “You have to go.”
“But why?” I asked with a catch in my throat, as my lower lip trembled. “I cannot do it. I absolutely cannot do it. I cannot go through that again.”
“You can, and you must,” Odin noted sadly. “You will be incarnated whole in your present form and will appear on Earth at the human age of about twenty-five years. To be quite honest,” Odin continued, “I need some time to myself. Frigg is going insane with jealousy, and she is starting to obsess with this issue. I cannot hide from her the true nature of my feelings for you. This will give me a chance to reconsider this dilemma and to sort out all the emotional confusion and the ethical implications. Frigg is, after all, my wife. I have to have some consideration for her feelings regarding this sensitive matter.”
“And the amnesia?” I inquired, knowing no one was allowed to return to Earth with their memories of Asgard intact.
“I can compromise with partial amnesia,” Odin answered. I exhaled deeply. Even partial amnesia was a bonus on Earth; I would not be stumbling about in such a complete state of disorientation.
“When do I have to go?” I asked.
“Report to my chambers tomorrow morning,” Odin ordered as he turned away from me.
I knew I had been dismissed.
In my anguish, I ran through the labyrinthine corridors of Asgard to return to my apartments and prepare myself mentally for what was to come. I had a difficult time calming down and remaining stoically unfazed as I lay in bed staring at the ceiling. Needless to say, I did not get much sleep that night. I was being exiled to Earth, a backward and treacherous world beset with dense energies.
The next morning I made my way back to Odin’s chambers, where he awaited me with bleary eyes; he had not slept well either. If the other gods and goddesses had been informed of my imminent exile, they did not speak of it to me. Truly, I was not to be envied. I entered Odin’s suite, and once again he placed his hands on my shoulders.
“Are you ready?” the All-Father asked as his eyes searched mine.
“Yes, Sire, I’m as ready as is both humanly and divinely possible,” I replied.
“Then listen carefully. You will incarnate in your goddess form, which will emerge from nothingness, on the top of a remote mountain called Hindarfiall. It will be a dramatic event, and there can be no human witnesses. Anyone witnessing this event will take it as a revelation of myself, something I would rather not deal with right now. After you materialize in your human form, you will become aware you are lying on a slab of stone in a white gown surrounded by a circle of fire and covered by a suit of armor. No one but Sigurd, the greatest warrior of his time, will be able to penetrate the circle of fire. He is your true husband, and he will awaken you. Do you understand?”
“Yes, I understand, Sire,” I answered.
“Good. Are you quite ready?” Odin asked again.
“Quite,” I returned weakly, knowing full well no one is ever completely ready to be evicted from the heavens.
“Raise your right arm,” Odin instructed me. I did so, and the fingers of my raised hand gently rested against the fingers of Odin’s hand, raised high over my head. He closed his eyes and hypnotically uttered words filled with magical incantations. A tornado formed itself around us, and it began wildly to kick up my hair and the skirts of my white, gossamer gown. Odin stepped back outside the circle of the tornado, and concentrating fiercely, he pointed at me with his right hand. His index finger, which we often poetically referred to as Odin’s “thorn of sleep,” sent out waves of energy designed to propel me earthward and make me forget my life as a goddess. “You are on your way, Brynhild,” he yelled over the deafening roar of the tornado. “Be brave, and remember me!”
I screamed as the tornado carried me away from Odin’s chambers. I became aware I was plunging, ceaselessly plunging, into an infinite abyss that terrified me beyond anything mere mortals could divine in their wildest dreams. I dropped through every one of the seven heavens, at last leaving them behind me as I entered the physical universe. With a crash not unlike the impact of a thousand boulders raining upon a valley floor, I landed on the flat slab Odin had described to me, on the top of Mount Hindarfiall. The sky had turned black; there were scores of lightning bolts all over the mountain, deafening claps of thunder, and high winds no mortal could withstand. I was exhausted. I did not even notice the castle walls, which had sprung up around me. As I finally drifted into unconsciousness, one thought was forming.
You must remember, Brynhild, you must remember.
And then I succumbed to the overwhelming blackness of a deep, dreamless sleep.
Chapter 2: Life in Valhalla
To be sure, I had brought this exile upon myself. Yet, I never deliberately wanted to defy Odin. My impulsive actions were born of my natural spirit, and I could not change the essence of that spirit. I had displeased Odin once again, and this exile from Asgard was the consequence.
Asgard was splendid. The gods were continually celebrating earthly feats of war and valor. Odin held a gala event every night for all the fallen heroes, a magnificent feast that always took place at Valhalla, which was indeed Odin’s favorite hall. These festivities were, without exaggeration, divine—we danced as if we were drunk with ecstasy, drunk with the music that captivated the body like a snake subdued by a snake charmer. Odin encouraged the participation of all the gods and goddesses, while he himself discarded his usual reserve and allowed himself to fall under the tantalizing spell of the music he so loved. The twelve principal gods of the Aesir, the chief race of gods under Odin’s leadership, were always in attendance—including Thor, Balder, Heimdall, Freyr, Tyr, Vili, Ve, Vidar, Sif, Freyja, and Idunn. Odin’s wife, Frigg, was almost always conspicuously absent.
Odin would stroll up and down the long rows of tables, passionately playing his violin, and stopping occasionally to lavish his sweet kisses upon any Valkyrie in sight. “Dance, dance, all of you!” Odin would yell out for all to hear. “There is nothing to fear, nothing to be anxious about. All is well with the universe, and all problems will reach a happy conclusion. Drink until you are senseless. For this one night, I give you my permission. Asgard is the safe zone of the universe, where no ills can befall you.”
He did not eat; wine was both food and drink for him although he often accepted a cup of mead, akin to wine but sweetened with honey. Odin was handsome beyond measure, with thick, dark curls flopping over his face and the bluest eyes in the universe deeply penetrating those of anyone he even glanced at. By the end of the evening, Odin would be in quite a state of agitation. Looking wild-eyed and obviously drunk, his insatiable lust could no longer be hidden with decorum or polite gestures. And it was on such evenings that I was always called upon to follow Odin back to his private chambers and gratify his sensual compulsions, which were of the most ardent and frenetic nature.
Frigg was the only principal goddess who did not attend the nightly festivities since Odin discouraged it. Later Frigg would hear from the others her husband had left the banquet at Valhalla with me, and she would give him hell about it. It was no small feat to give someone hell in heaven, but Frigg had successfully devised her own methods with her constant invectives. Odin bore these tirades with patience and stoicism. The All-Father was aware of the contradictions in his behavior; he would always insist he was taking his cue from human practices regarding romance and fidelity. Odin excused himself with his desire to mimic humans and understand these difficult creatures a little better. Frigg, however, was not mollified by her husband’s concern for the human plight.
While lying in Odin’s arms and indulging his amorous inclinations, I would argue with him about our ethical predicament. “It is a burden to be the object of Frigg’s resentment,” I would constantly lament. Odin would not pay much heed to such complaints.
“Never mind Frigg. I can handle her,” he would always insist.
“Can you really? The moment you turn your back, she is glowering at me and constantly telling the others how lazy and incompetent I am. She never gives me any credit at all for my performance as head of the Valkyries, and when I enter the room, she sticks her nose up in the air. Her contempt is palpable.”
“I will speak to her,” Odin would promise lamely. Speaking to Frigg never did much good.
Frigg, queen of the heavens and the protector of the Northern housewife, with her homespun gowns, which were famous for their inlaid gemstones (she made her own jewelry for the adornment of both herself and her elaborate costumes), and her long copper hair, which became dark purple under the ethereal lights of Valhalla—Frigg was the bane of my existence. Frigg was unusually plain for a goddess. Most notably, she was remarkably overweight. The wife of the All-Father was hysterical and insecure about her inconstant husband, and her perpetual disquietude was such that she was constantly eating.
Frigg’s ungainly appearance provided for her the underlying motive for protecting housewives. She sympathized with the plain, middle-aged wife, especially those who were casually abandoned and left by the wayside when a husband moved on to someone a bit younger and more interesting, not to mention more sensually appealing. “For all her harangues against Odin about marital infidelity, there are rumors Frigg once slept with both of Odin’s brothers, the rather influential gods Vili and Ve, at the same time and in the same bed,” Thor once confided to me one night when he got drunk at Valhalla.
“Really?” I noted with interest, wondering if I could ever use that fascinating piece of information to embarrass Frigg. But very few dared to speak of that ancient offense.
Frigg was the cause of much mischief on Earth. Because she could not stand to see a desirable husband tempted away from a middle-aged wife by some young seductress, Frigg had declared herself to be the champion of all such wives of the Nordic lands, who had been deserted and cast off by unfaithful mates. Frigg created much trouble for errant husbands, who after leaving their spouses for another woman, suddenly would be embroiled in difficulties such as a bizarre turn of luck or extremely perverse circumstances, which would drive them to reconcile with their forsaken wives. Frigg’s defense of the typical housewife was, of course, related to her resentment toward me. I was considered to be one of the raving beauties at Asgard, positively quintessential in my classic elegance. I had long, flowing dark ringlets of hair, tigerlike green eyes, an alabaster complexion, and an almost perfect, hourglass figure.
Frigg, on the other hand, was a stout, matronly woman with a giant bosom, enormous hips, hair that was too colored, and lipstick that was too bold. She had a winding, pointed nose and a jutting chin. Surprisingly, the wife of the All-Father could be positively vulgar. Frigg enjoyed coarse jokes; she had a loud, raucous laugh, and her table manners left much to be desired as she devoured her food using her fingers to push tarts and other delicacies into her mouth. Her personality was such that she did not make for charming company. Frigg was sullen and austere a good part of the time. Her lack of wit and intellect highlighted the contrast between the two of us. I was pleasant and amicable, a much sought-after dinner companion, who could enliven any table with congenial society and amusing conversation.
Speaking to Frigg about her animosity toward me never did much good, although Odin did not suffer Frigg’s jealousy and possessiveness gladly. But no matter how often she was reproached by her husband for the rude behavior I had to endure, Frigg was continually snubbing me in the winding, infinite corridors of Asgard and, whenever possible, making innuendos and sly remarks. Odin thought he had his spoiled wife under control, but no one had complete control over Frigg. It was tiresome to deal with Odin’s wife. In spite of my devotion to Odin, I protested being the favored goddess, who had captured the All-Father’s heart. “We must break off this affair, Sire,” I finally pleaded with him in earnest. “Your wife works herself into a frenzy over it.”
“I know. She is suspicious of every goddess who even comes near me. She does not even want you to bring me a cup of mead anymore. That’s why I stopped drinking mead for a long while,” Odin confessed.
“You agreed to such a condition?” I asked in bewilderment.
“Yes, because she danced naked for me in the bedroom in exchange for that promise,” he admitted with reluctance. “I was a little drunk that night.”
“Preposterous!” I countered with indignation. “Such petty jealousy is unseemly for the queen of the gods. This is...ach, it’s just all too human!” My protests, however, were almost always in vain. I was still Odin’s favorite goddess in the bedroom, a role I relished in spite of my misgivings about his wife. My ability to comfort him in this way was, of course, part of the reason I had been promoted to Head Valkyrie. And it was the fuel for Frigg’s ire. Odin and I indulged savage lovemaking for hours; he was indefatigable. His physique drove women, and goddesses, mad with desire. I protested, but I was addicted to him. He teased me, taunted me, and drove me insane in bed. When he climaxed, the entire universe trembled. Of course, he was supposed to be above all this. And as the All-Father, he was elevated far beyond the mundane needs of mortal beings, including sex, food, water, shelter, and sleep. But his excuse, as always, was that he was merely parodying the flaws and weaknesses of his human subjects in order to better understand their true nature.
“Why are mortals not perfection incarnate as you intended them to be?” I once asked him in earnest during a brief respite in the bedroom.
“Alas,” Odin reminisced as he lay back exhausted with his head against a pillow, “there was that nasty little business about me killing Ymir in order to construct the physical universe. Ymir was the first entity; he woke up only to create my grandparents and then went back to sleep. I, his great-grandson, was far more ambitious than he. I could not assume power as the prevailing god or put my ambitious blueprint into effect until I did away with him. It was for the good of all, but the first crime I committed by killing Ymir, in his sleep, caused a lasting impression upon my human work of art, and it appears every last human has to get past that first sin before they even think about beginning the path to true enlightenment. This is why at this stage in the evolution of human civilization, they are dealing for the most part with their murderous instincts.”
“And it is precisely at those moments,” I noted, “when living souls indulge the highest evil that they are often seeking the greatest good. Yet it is scandalous. Humans kill, they maim, and they plunder.”
“Oh, please.” Odin sighed with genuine weariness in his voice. “Do you think I, of all entities, am not painfully aware of all the contradictions? I invented contradictions. Without knowing the opposite of what they seek, these fragile yet surprisingly durable earthly creatures would never find what it is they seek. Thus, humans live in a perpetual state of contradiction. Of course, most of them assume that with all the evil lurking on Earth, I do not exist. If I existed, why would there be evil? How could a Perfect Being allow such gross imperfections?” Odin shook his head sadly. “It will be a long time before my favorite sons and daughters finally understand me.”
Because humans did not believe Odin existed, life on Earth was in quite a state of chaos. Disputes were constant, and when whole regions disputed, wars got started. Odin had mixed feelings about war. The general impression at Asgard was that the All-Father was glorifying the art of combat, given Valhalla was the Hall of the Slain, which meant, of course, slain heroically in battle because these brave soldiers had gone to war.
“Yes, my dear Brynhild,” he would say to me when I questioned him, “I am fully aware that war is not the ideal way to find the divinity within oneself. Nonetheless, right now on Earth, humans, in their desperate quest to find truth, can only react in the most primitive and savage way. It will be many eons from now before they know their true state of divinity, their true power, without having to prove themselves in the bloody arena of a battle.
“It is not my will that my cherished mortals begin their search thus. I am continually struck by the absurdity of this dilemma. But, I will not interfere with the quest of these divine souls housed in beastly bodies. This is where humans have decided to begin. As long as they are headed toward the ultimate goal, paradise and true enlightenment, I celebrate those exquisite moments when humans discover the godliness within themselves. I exist for such moments, and only then am I triumphant. Only then do I know myself in all my splendor and all my glory.” Odin would become so emotional with such words, he often pounded the table with his fist for emphasis. The agonizing and slow evolution of the human soul was a touchy subject. At Asgard we did not bring it up too often.
Nevertheless, in spite of the antithetical aspects of war, Valhalla had become the most distinguished dwelling at Asgard, and it was here that Odin spent most of his free time. Hence, the mission of the Valkyries—to collect the most honorable souls who had perished in battle and transport them in our arms back to Valhalla—was no trifling matter in Odin’s sphere of influence. And I, as the head of the Valkyries, held a position of extremely high rank and stature. My influence was incalculable, and Odin had tremendous faith in me. This made my transgression with Agnar on the battlefield all the more heinous in Odin’s eyes.
Certain souls were slated for arrival at Valhalla at certain times; these souls needed to rest and recuperate after leading lives of exceptional valor. For me to interfere with Odin’s prearranged schedule was insufferable. Odin’s forgiveness would not come quickly or easily. My exile to Earth was only a small penalty in Odin’s eyes. Of course, for me it was an untimely event and an imposition of consequence. In accordance with the established viewpoint of every other god and goddess at Valhalla, I felt I had paid my dues on the physical plane. It was a place I did not want to revisit. Earth was swirling with the densest of energies such that it was a realm filled with peril and savagery. Indeed, it was the sound and the fury one of their beloved bards would later remark upon, and yes, it signified nothing. And someone like me, fresh from the heavens, would be bound to get Odin’s still unrefined humans very annoyed, if not enraged. Humans sensed the superiority of divine beings dwelling amongst them. Their envy and resentment would be extreme; it was positively ungodly.
I need not discuss how I felt about my exile. I was most put out.
I was also piqued that Odin did not give more consideration to the fact that prior to the unfortunate episode where I defied his will, I had carried out my duties almost to perfection. I was reliable, exceedingly trustworthy, and only on occasion did I deviate from the agreed-upon plan. The most elaborate military maneuvers were for me just a matter of routine. I had an army of war maidens under my command. Odin and I spent long hours in the war chamber, usually with some input from the war council, headed by Tyr, the Norse god of war. It was our assignment to help humans plan their military strategy in such a way that a particularly courageous soul could exit in a burst of glory.
Working with Odin and the gods of the war council, I did my part to ensure the triumph of justice and good in every battle, but desirable outcomes could not be guaranteed. Free will was a powerful capacity, and even though free will was generously granted to humans by Odin, it often worked against the gods and their preferences. Thus, we could not always intervene, but we could induce favorable circumstances and try to tip the balance of the battle in the direction of those warring parties who fought for the highest ideals. And we could whisper into their ears.
Sometimes Odin sent his pet ravens Hugin and Munin, or Thought and Memory, to do such whispering for him, trying to warn and prepare the combatants who were Odin’s true favorites. This was useful at times, but there were remarkable incidents where it was ineffective, and we would wait anxiously all day for the ravens to return. As Odin would say at such times, “I fear for Thought, lest he come not back, yet I am afraid more for Memory.”
On a typical day at Valhalla, the Valkyries played war games, and we feasted. However, when there was a significant battle in progress on the earthly plane, the war games were canceled. With the trumpets blaring and the martial beat of the war drums in our ears, Odin would march the Valkyries, with me at their head, out the doors of Valhalla and into the open, misty fields of Glasir. The wondrous, green meadows were blanketed with flowers under an infinite sky, which was continually filled with innumerable rainbows and exquisite cloud formations, courtesy of Frigg, who had a subspecialty in clouds and atmospheric conditions. There Odin would escort us to the last and final passage, Bifröst, the rainbow bridge leading to the material realm. At the end of the bridge, my army of handmaidens would pause in formation at the last and final doorway before entering the tangible world. With thousands of Valkyries awaiting this final, ceremonial juncture and the drums rolling away, Odin would invoke the magical powers of the runes he had acquired on Earth so many years earlier while hanging upside down in a tree for nine days, a sacrificial act he carried out in exchange for the wisdom of the runes. He whispered his eccentric incantations, circling his hands repeatedly over the top of our heads, and then like the absolute magician he was, Odin opened for my warrior maids the gateway to his masterpiece—the physical universe.
The Valkyries and I would descend in waves on ladders made of light beams, which led us directly to Earth. We were mounted on magnificent fleet horses—white war horses descended from Odin’s godly beast, the eight-legged horse, Sleipnir. When we arrived at the scene, we first watched the raging battle from the sidelines, sometimes seeking to give aid to the noble souls whose cause we supported. “Protect the captain!” I would yell out to my subordinates. “Block that charging horse! The general we favor is about to get knifed in the heart!”
We would join in and enter into the fray whether we were winning or not. When the siege reached its natural conclusion, the Valkyries approached the bodies of those who had died courageously. It was all too often a dreadful sight. Their heads slashed open with a mace or an ax, blood pouring from deep dagger wounds, disfigured in every possible way, the dead soldiers lay with an expression of pure horror on their contorted faces. The deafening silence of a battlefield littered with thousands of bodies, the gruesome death, and the gore we confronted were foreign and disturbing. Yet we paid no mind to these frightful scenarios; for human eyes, the scene was a grisly reality, but for the Valkyries of Asgard, it was just an illusion.
Lifting the prone bodies gently from underneath, we raised their souls, an exact replica of the body lying on the ground, into our arms. When every Valkyrie had collected her charge from the bloodstained field, and when we were all in readiness, we took our cargo and mounted our fallen heroes behind us on our divine stallions. Then I, the Head Valkyrie, using the horn of a ram, sounded the high, piercing note of the Valkyries, a shrill cry, which could be heard even in Asgard.
“Prepare for the ascent!” I would yell out in tones that commanded authority.
My orders were echoed among the lieutenant Valkyries, until every last Valkryie reined in her horse for the proper position to return to the heavens. Now anticipating the wondrous event, the entire legion waited in silence. Sounding the ram’s horn one last time, I would then give the final order, “In the name of Odin, ascend!”
Thus, with whooping war cries, thousands of Valkyries directed their horses to the luminescent stairways that would lead us back to the heavens. And the horses arose majestically as we galloped back to Asgard at the speed of light.
Transporting the slain warriors back to Asgard was problematic. These brave, previously earthbound warriors were still not used to the idea of being separated from their bodies. The shock and trauma the men had suffered in their last moments on Earth had left them with a psychic scar, and they stared ahead with vacant eyes frozen with pain and torment. This was the part of the ritual none of the Valkyries relished. It was an exhausting climb, making our way back to Valhalla, racing our mystical horses up the steps of the ladders of light, which Odin had kept in place in preparation for our return. The entrusted warriors were heavy, each one leaning inertly against a Valkyrie, motionless, yet resisting the will of the Valkyries nonetheless. The brave champions knew they were dead; nevertheless, they retained consciousness of themselves. This contradictory state of affairs confounded them. The dead soldiers still felt their wounds; they still comprehended the horror of their death.
At length we would come to the end of the broad bands of light leading us back to our heavenly dwelling. The gateway to Asgard always remained open until every last Valkyrie had passed through it. After crossing Bifröst once again, we dismounted and reassembled in the empyrean fields, in military formation, each one of us holding a soldier in our arms. We were forced to stand outside of the central portal of the 540 doors and await re-entry to Valhalla.
Usually our clothes were ripped, our faces were smudged, and our hair was completely tangled, tousled, and hanging in our eyes. The wait was interminable. Misty clouds slowly circled around our heads as we stood in a bluish-gray celestial field filled with vacuous emptiness. And we were still carrying our dead soldiers in our arms. Often we were on the verge of collapsing from fatigue. “I hate this part,” someone would invariably whisper from the back.
“Why does he always take so long?” someone else once asked while blowing away a wisp of hair hanging in her face. “Can’t he see we have tortured souls waiting out here?”
“He does this every time,” offered another Valkyrie.
“He drags it out because he loves the pomp and the ceremony. But he has no consideration for the state we are in,” another retorted, and the complaints would continue; our voices would echo strangely in the void until, at last, the thick center door of solid gold, eight hundred soldiers wide, would slowly and magically open.
First came the buglers and the drummers with the resounding beat of victory echoing throughout Asgard. Then came a horde of angels to line up alongside us and accompany us for the final march. Inside Valhalla the gods and goddesses were lining the halls waiting for the grim parade of Valkyries carrying their slaughtered soldiers to begin. The last to appear in front of us were the gods and goddesses of the war council, and then Odin himself. The ceremonies could not begin until Odin appeared in the entryway to greet us.
He was magnificent.
At such times as these, Odin was always dressed in full ceremonial war regalia, with breastplate, crown, high boots, and the spear for which he was renowned throughout the universe. Odin’s armor had never seen a battle, for Odin himself did not participate in such uncultivated forms of conflict. His armor did not rust; it glittered like pure crystal under the translucent blue light of Asgard. Odin was never more beautiful than he was when he was about to receive a new crop of brave-hearted souls to Valhalla. His curly, shoulder-length brown hair was always perfectly dressed for such occasions. His divinely dazzling smile showed up the almost imperceptible, crinkly creases around his cobalt blue eyes, so keen and penetrating as he reviewed his fallen troops. Odin was so proud of every one of these heroes. As absurd as the backward and warlike behavior was, Odin’s favorite sons had aspired to godliness, and in so doing, they had sacrificed everything—they had perished.
It was the warrior’s finest hour.
Every material and egotistical concern had been abandoned; the fallen heroes had even abandoned their physical form. Having overcome fear and cowardice, these soldiers had defended the highest ideals. They would be amply rewarded in the heavenly halls of Asgard. Odin venerated such valor to the point of adoration. Such dauntless individuals gave him hope for the rest of his cosmos. Primitive as the slain combatants were in their attempt to promote themselves to their highest spiritual levels, they were Odin’s proof that his messages sometimes got through, however distorted the enactment of such impulses might be. War was savage and most unsophisticated, yet Odin had to be grateful that on occasion mortals fought for that which was good, true, and beautiful.
When Odin emerged from Valhalla’s golden central gateway, the bugles would sound the divine call of triumph, and Odin would raise his hand for silence. The All-Father would lock eyes with me, and bowing slightly while rolling out his hand in a graceful flourish, he would greet me courteously. “Greetings, Brynhild. Congratulations are in order once again. I have been watching your performance. As always, it was perfect.”
“Sire,” I would answer with a curtsy in making my formal presentation, “our mission has been completed. We request re-entry to Valhalla.”
“And so you shall have it.” And waving his hand in the air, Odin would signal the music of the triumphal march to begin. Odin would turn on his heel, and with the war council and a host of angels to accompany us, the army of Valkyries would commence their somber procession into the hallowed quarters of Valhalla. The elegance of the formalities produced the highest wave of euphoria in all the participants. All the gods and goddesses of Asgard were on hand for the spectacle. As with Odin, they were overwhelmed with the pride they felt for these heroic spirits. Odin had once decreed, “All those who fall in battles of honor are my adopted sons!” A great recognition, to be sure.
Yet there we were, the Valkyries, all but myself daughters of Odin, carrying souls whose last moments had been filled with unspeakable agony. Their spiritual condition was deplorable. These noble souls had lived earthly lives seemingly fraught with depth and meaning, but in truth their lives had been senseless and illusory. And they had died in a way that was equally senseless. Even we, the divine inhabitants of Asgard, had trouble grasping this contradictory aspect of the human condition. Odin longed for the spiritual evolution of humans, which would be the cumulative result of their experiences on earth, yet the physical universe was an illusion, and physical matter was merely fluff filled with nothingness. Life as a human was absurd, and death was even more so.
Marching abreast in neat rows of fifty Valkyries each, we carried our slain heroes down the long, spacious corridor into the central banquet room, where the tables had been cleared away for the final act of this immortal drama. The main banquet hall of Valhalla had walls constructed of gold and a roof that was miles high. The roof was comprised of battle shields held up by columns modeled after the spear Odin had used to slay Ymir, the first consciousness of the universe and Odin’s first obstacle to dominion of the universe.
Here we could each lay down our burdens, who were still festering with gaping wounds and sporting twisted expressions of agony on their faces. Odin would stand in front of his throne at the head of the hall with Sage, his chief counselor, at his side and the members of the war council assembled behind him. Each Valkyrie stood over her charge, and with the signal from Odin, the final ceremony would begin. It required the most intense concentration and focus, for as we held healing hands over the prone bodies at our feet, we had only one object in mind. We had to breathe spiritual life into the traumatized souls before us. We had to raise the dead.
It was impossible to kill the gods, but the strength we were obliged to summon up was nearly enough to drain us of our spiritual force. With patience and the deepest level of meditation we were capable of, these supreme efforts were rewarded. The bloody rents in the illusory bodies emulating human form would mend before our very eyes as if by magic. The wide-open stare of the dead man gave way to the blinking, comprehending gaze of the living. The contorted mouths and the twisted faces straightened themselves out into a more peaceful demeanor. Low moaning sounds could be heard, the sound of a soul awakening from a deep sleep.
Eventually, the first slain warrior would tentatively raise himself up. Others would soon follow, groaning and rubbing their arms, necks, and shoulders. They were searching frantically for the deadly wound that had caused the last physical shock in their earthly form, the fatal blow that had hastened their final journey. The bloody rent was gone, now completely healed. The warriors were whole again. There would be gasps of shock and disbelief. Some of the men would laugh out loud.
Even though the warriors were now safe in Asgard, they were still attached to the physical reality they had left behind. It was problematic trying to disabuse humans of their idea of reality. Most significantly, humans believed they could die. And, indeed, the human body could expire very quickly if certain stresses were placed upon it. For humans to see past the illusion of death, they had to believe they would not die after the physical death. This is where human faith in the gods often collapsed. Humans saw others die; thereafter, these mortals were no more. The deceased vanished. The damaged body was left behind and began to deteriorate. Forever after, the dead remained absent, remote, and silent. This was undeniable proof, in human terms, of the reality of the phenomenon of death. This is where faith turned into skepticism. And in order to believe in a deathless eternity, humans had to believe in the existence of Odin.
Faith in that which could not be perceived by the senses was the most difficult sticking point in the human mind. Odin had planned it that way. The Father of the Gods did not wish to be worshiped by sniveling and mindless automatons. He wanted his cherished mortal creatures to come to him on equal terms. Humans had to believe because they chose to believe. Odin gave humankind much room for doubt. The illusion looked real. Reality was Odin’s ultimate deception.
Odin was a liar.
But he was an honest liar. His physical universe, made for the physical body as a playground is made for children, seduced the senses. The physical body was a sensuous organism; Odin wanted humans to take pleasure in the contemplation of such a reality. He created a Shangri-La filled with every conceivable form of abundance—fruits, herbs, precious metals, flora, and fauna. He molded the human body to be strong, healthy, and of almost unutterable beauty. The idea was for the spirit to know true exaltation in terms of the physical. Nonetheless, the Garden of Eden could not be sustained if the spirit did not will it thus. And beings-in-bodies continually willed into their reality the most negative perceptual experience they could conjure.
“Perhaps you went too far,” I once gently suggested, when it was becoming evident it was taking much longer than Odin had predicted it would for mortal creatures to achieve true enlightenment.
“I do not make mistakes,” Odin reminded me sternly, when I uttered those words. “Or, let me put it this way, I do not make mistakes that cannot be corrected. I gave all mortal beings the capacity to create the worst possible world so they would know the true exaltation of living in the best possible world. It is every earthling’s birthright to be a dullard or a maniac who reacts irrationally and who perpetually succumbs to the most undesirable human emotions—anger, jealousy, fear, and hatred, to name just a few of the most popular.
“Due to such ungodly impatience, humans strike back at the slightest provocation, without thought, without reflection, and without care. Such is their choice, unintelligent as this choice may be. Such is the privilege of humans, as they would probably insist, a privilege mortals embrace with a peculiar ardor. Humans must choose to comprehend with all their being that this world is the best of all possible worlds. I cannot make that choice for them. I wanted my earthly creatures to choose paradise, not hell. But to choose hell only means the taste of paradise will be that much sweeter when each individual finally arrives there.”
“You created a reality that defies all the senses. Its substance is of the very same substance human bodies are made of,” I argued. “You want humans to understand that this implacable physical reality each one of them confronts is in truth an illusion, as are the very bodies they inhabit. Then you, who can take any conceivable form you wish and play it to perfection, marvel at how easily your favorite creatures are fooled. And you sigh eternally at human skepticism, when you have only yourself to blame. To make sure newly born mortals do not take with them any hints from their heavenly domain, you strike amnesia into every soul with your infernal thorn of sleep. Sire, you leave mortals with only the suggestion of the vaguest memory of their true origin, which at best, manifests itself in mythology. You chuckle when they stumble around in human bodies on Earth, not recognizing your handprint and not even recognizing each other. You have outdone yourself. I stand on my observation that perhaps you have duped these earthly wretches with such mastery that they will never discover your true purpose and intent. They are doomed.”
Odin was hard put to receive such overt criticism. I was very nearly the only goddess at Asgard who could speak to him with such frankness. He walked over to one of his high cathedral windows overlooking the infinite fields of Asgard, and stared out the window for a long time without saying anything. “I have faith in their genius,” he said, finally breaking the silence. “I confess it was difficult to foresee that human genius would be used to create such a brilliant vision of evil, based on destruction and chaos. Nevertheless, these formidable creatures could turn it all around. They could turn it all around in one day.”
“Yes, yes.” I laughed ironically. “So simple and straightforward. So easy. Just the same, you know very well that seeing past the illusion is the one thing humans cannot do. They are fooled by the utter perfection of your work. You have created the perfect illusion. And only you have the power to fool these physical beings. Humans are experiencing misery, lack, and even death—this is their reality. ”
“This is not true,” Odin said quite emphatically. “I gave them absolute freedom. They have the power to create a paradise, not a hell.”
“I know, and you know, but your beloved earthlings are without a clue.”
“If it goes on for too long, I will give them that clue,” Odin granted under the pressure I was exerting.
“Oh, my, what’s this? You’re going to tell human beings the truth? Are we talking a bona fide revelation, or will this just be another visit to Earth in cape, tricorn hat, and eye patch?” I inquired, making reference to his famed appearances in human guise. Odin had descended many times, most notably when he became infatuated with beautiful human females. Such visits were almost always a fiasco, for Frigg in her jealousy would wreak revenge on any human rival.
There was the famous case where Odin descended, and his ravishing blond escort fell face down in a pile of horse manure, courtesy of Frigg, who tripped her just as Odin was taking the beauty home to bed. Odin had to help the devastated dame wipe the gooey mess off her face. And we all knew the story of the chocolate-skinned exotic dancer, with whom Odin was smitten. She experienced a humiliating wave of uncontrollable gas because Frigg, who had disguised herself as a serving girl, poured a potent chemical into the wine of the unsuspecting lovely. Odin took the poor windy waif to a royal banquet, where the first violent bouts of gaseous emission were met with astonishment and then laughter around the table. The mortified girl ran out of the room screaming while noisily discharging the digestive vapors. Naturally, Odin quickly lost interest in the hapless lasses, and Frigg received only a slap on the wrist.
But now Odin was squirming under my sarcasm.
“I will do whatever I have to do to lead earthbound creatures to the paradise I always intended for them to have,” Odin said quietly. “But first I must give my human subjects a chance to resolve this existential conundrum. I do not make mistakes. The flaws and the weaknesses in their perception are an inherent part of the perfection. I impart that perfection to my cosmos—I, the all-pervading spirit of the universe, the personification of the air, water, fire, and earth, the god of universal wisdom and victory, and the leader and protector of princes and heroes. My dear earthlings will discover the perfection within themselves, they will penetrate the veil of illusion, and they will find paradise.”
“The process is taking millennia,” I remarked.
“I know. But we gods and goddesses have millennia,” Odin said softly. “As a matter of fact, we have all the time in the world.” Odin turned on his heel and slammed the door, leaving me alone in the viewing room, where the screen showed Earth continuing its eternal revolution around its precious, life-sustaining sun.
I exhaled with relief after I heard the door slam shut. “He is hard put to take any criticism,” I whispered into the empty room. I left Odin alone for the time being, but I was not finished with him. The ability to rile the All-Father probably did not serve me well on the fateful day Odin banished me to another lifetime on Earth. I paid dearly for my merciless scrutiny of Odin’s good judgment in the physical realm. But in truth, physical reality was an illusion, a rearrangement of nothingness, filled with atoms, which were in turn filled with nothingness. Odin kept these bits of nothingness in place through the sheer force of his will, otherwise such microscopic particles would have started spinning away into a swirling tunnel of chaos.
But my story is restricted to the year 450 A.D., when I, giving in to human inclinations, fell in love with a handsome warrior who was to be accompanied to Valhalla that fateful day after the battle. I let him live, and Odin banished me. And there I was, unconscious and moaning in my sleep on a mountaintop, waiting for Sigurd, the most illustrious warrior who had ever lived, to rescue me. Sigurd was supposed to be my intended, my great love, and my future husband. Odin had promised me the most brilliant of all knights to compensate me for having to dilly-dally with a human male. As a goddess, I could accept nothing less than the most distinguished warrior of all time.
And so my personal saga was about to begin.
Sigurd was about to arrive.
The next instalment of "Loving Brynhild" will be in the Autumn issue of Goddess Pages.