Running Up the World Tree : Gefjon’s Story part 5

Posted: August 10, 2013 in Deities & Wights, Gefjon, Jotnar, Stories
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Part 5: Four Oxen for Land

Morning air was chilly and made fog of my breath. I chose my path along the budding birches to let Sunna light caress me, sensually letting fingers trail on the smooth bark of these White Ladies. The invigorating scent of nearby spruce and pine reached my nostrils, along with the pleasing scent of decaying leaves. They crunched underfoot with the melting snow as I crossed the forest.

Nights and days were equal when I reached the homestead of my promised man in Jotunheim. You’d think it was just a moss covered hill, were not for a leather flap over the doorway and smoke rising from its summit. I took one last pure breath before lifting the skin, then wrinkled my nose at the far less appealing smell of too many sweaty furs and skins locked away for a season.

“Grimr!” [1] I called out within his cavernous hall, “It is Spring and you’re in luck. It is time for us to flock, as I have come to fulfill my father’s pledge.” Various couples littered the earthen floor, stirring slightly as I bellowed, though most just rolled over and snuggled under their smelly pelt blankets.

Eagerly he came from his private room to the fire warmed hall, in only a skin loincloth and cloak, to greet me thus: “So, lass, you’ve finally come to your senses. I am glad to hear you are done with your silly wandering. Now we marry!” His legs were strong but it was his shoulders and head that were massive above all. He towered over me by two heads, with shaggy dark hair a mess that hid most of his face. It was how he got his name.

“No,” I said, raising a finger, “four children my father has promised you from me, not marriage. I will give you these four, but I will not marry you. For these whom I will bear, I ask for your great plough in gift.” He looked puzzled by this but nodded. I took that invitation to his fur pile as acceptance of the deal so we got onto the business of making babies. First though, I made tea from the herbs of Vanaheim as Grimr impatiently waited with visibly rising interest. Among them were Red Clover blossoms, Stinging Nettle leaves and Raspberry leaves, which I was promised would greatly increase my fertility. “Berries bloom red and Nettle nourish, Clover’s warm cloak will welcome my child,” I mumbled as I sipped my tea. With king Gylfi I had chewed Wild Carrot seeds[2] to prevent pregnancy, but this time I was in a hurry to hasten conception. To my dismay, the herbs worked even better than I hoped.

Queen Ann’s Lace (Daucus Carota, or Wild Carrot)

Queen Ann’s Lace (Daucus Carota, or Wild Carrot), an ancient contraceptive.

Grimr was moderately attentive during my pregnancy, but his conversation was less than stellar.

“Soon, hey?” he’d say, staring hard at my belly while pointlessly poking the central fire, as if that gaze would somehow speed things along.

“Yes, soon,” I sighed, looking up at the smoke hole of his hall. Everyone else felt this place was like a sauna, but cool May nights like this one chilled me to the bone. Grimr kept it hot for my comfort.

“How soon?” he’d ask after a while.

“I don’t know! Pretty soon I think.” He wasn’t much one for waiting. Crops he could see sprouting well before harvest, but not being able to see his seed grow inside me drove him to distraction.

As summer wore on and I grew in size, there was little I could do but wobble outside, walk around a bit and wobble back in. I couldn’t work, I couldn’t dance, and I dared not drink myself into a stupor to pass the time. The added heat from life in my belly made July intolerable, so his people carried a steady stream of water buckets to drench and cool me down.

By the time Fall arrived I was bored out of my wits, unable to get comfortable anywhere. I spent sleepless nights compulsively going over details of my plans, and days snapping at anyone who spoke to me. I just wanted to be left alone to wallow in my misery. No work I’d ever done had prepared me for how hard this would be, and I’d eagerly have traded this sorry state for sixteen hours a day of working the fields. One way or another all ordeals eventually end, and this one was no different. Sweet deliverance came with the waning sun of the Equinox.

 

Six months after sex I gave birth[3] to four sons whom I named Einndraga, Tveirdraga, Thrírdraga and Fjórirdraga (one-pull, two-pull, three-pull, four-pull), and Grimr couldn’t have been more ecstatic. I myself was both pleased and perturbed by the effectiveness of the herbs. Having quadruplets saved me time on my quest, but just you try carrying four giants in your belly for months, then pushing them all out, and tell me how you like it! I had deeply resented feeling useless in the last months of pregnancy. Depending on others for my basic needs did not sit well with me.

My father was quite happy of course, and my mother delighted by the babes, though I made sure to be elsewhere when they visited them. I taught my small ones how much fun it was to play with the plough and how to turn into calves, their father being a bull-shifter (or more precisely an auroch). When they reached three years of age they could each turn into oxen to play with Mommy at pulling the plough. I was ready.

I told Grimr I was going on a teaching trip with the children, to show them how to really use the plough, and that I would be back in a few weeks. He was quite occupied with collecting crops and just grunted his consent. Who but a fool would need a plough this time of year? Ah, but I had a different sort of harvest to reap, and it would serve me well. Strapping it to my back, after giving grey blankets to my naked sons for cloaks, I made my way through the pass to Midgard. It’s hard to find in Jotunheim, even harder in Midgard, and as I said before, none but the smaller Giants could get through it anyway. With another two weeks of walking we made it across reddening forests to the king’s home for the last day of October. I left my kids to play in the nearby woods, pitying anyone who tried harm them while I was away.

Again I washed my feet in the now much warmer lake – made golden by the sun sinking over the fir and spruce treeline – and once dry, donned the fine green dress and belt. I passed the gates and greeted the king who was walking about the town. He invited me to follow him home so I waited for that privacy to make my request.

King Gylfi, I have returned to claim the land you have promised me, as much as I can plough in a night and day with four oxen. Will you honor your oath?” We were in the small room adjoining the hall, where treasure and private audiences were held, with only a maid and one advisor for company.

“I will” he affirmed, adding with hope: “Will you… stay with me tonight before you start your work?”

“Tomorrow night, perhaps, once I am done. I am eager to start,” I answered softly.

“Very well, you shall have that land,” he nodded.

Once out of sight of the town, I took off my linen fineries and returned in buckskin brown to find my children playing in the woods. I laughed at their game, uprooting trees and replanting them in different holes. It wasn’t very nice to those poor trees, but at least they knew to pack the soil down after replanting. They grinned as they saw me, I couldn’t help smiling back, and after all the trees were back in the ground we made our way to the Northern shore.  Then I instructed them: “All right boys, it’s time to play harder than you’ve ever played. We have a night and a day of hard digging ahead.” They took their oxen shapes to be latched onto the plough and we started. The blade dug deep, but not deep enough. “Pull harder boys, you can do it!” They really put their backs into it, and made furrows as deep as I wanted, deep enough to make a channel which filled with sea water behind us. We only paused to eat and take a breath now and then, but I couldn’t have been prouder of my boys. Bull headed their father was, as were they, and it was just what I needed.  This was the most fun I’d had since going to Asgard! We ploughed off a large stretch of land, to the amazement of those who saw us, and when we reached the sea shore on the other side, we had created our own island ![4]

I called out to the sky: “Odin! I have claimed the land you wanted. Now give me land in Asgard as promised.” I waited while my sons rested. I had spent years imagining this moment, savoring the joy I would find. The rainbow bridge settled down right before me at Heimdall’s command. Odin himself came down, so filled with joy that he thanked, congratulated, and declared me a Goddess on the spot, with first choice of any land I wished in Asgard.

At least that’s how it happened in my fantasy. In reality, nothing happened. No one was listening, awaiting my success with baited breath, and no one seemed to care. Great success is often like that, unsung until much time has passed. There was no parade to celebrate my clever plan, all my achievements, and the king was in no mood to dance after being duped. Pity that, but he did keep his promise. The land was mine. Life is full of disappointments, but I was still the hero of my own story, and that would have to do. After a night’s rest, me and my sons made our way back toward Grimr’s home – setting off with a chuckle and a wave toward those now stranded on my island across the salty waters. It took less than two weeks on foot to return to Litlikaupangr’s[5] mountain pass, and from there to Jotunheim. I was tempted to stop a the markets – there were tiny trading towns on each side of the pass, a few families, just enough to make trade possible between the two worlds – but the children were homesick so I pressed on.

Grimr ignored me when I returned to his home, pouting at my long absence. After settling the boys into their beds and returning to the round stone hall, I called out: “Grimr! I have given you four sons as promised, and I have raised them to be strong boys. Now I take my leave.”

“What?!” he exclaimed as he strode up to me from his seat at the table. “You cannot take my sons! They are mine and you cannot have them!”

I smiled. “They are yours and you can keep them. I have an appointment with Odin to keep, and you can continue to raise them as you wish, to be the bulls of your pride. You’ll just do it without me being bored out of my mind. You have your sons, I have my plough. Have a good life Grimr.”

As he stood there stunned, I went back to the family bedroom adjoining the hall, kissed my sons, telling them to be good and do as their father asked. I felt bad about leaving them, yet had my own life to live, and could not take them with me. I hadn’t imagined it would be this hard to renounce them, but my path was my own to follow. I barely cried at nights during my long journey back to Asgard.


[1] Grimr means “hooded” or “masked”.

[2] Wild Carrot seeds (Daucus Carota, also known as Queen Ann’s Lace) have been known since antiquity as a contraceptive. The plant is common on roadsides of Europe, Asia, as well as North-America and Australia where it was naturalized. It inhibits implantation of the egg by sperm and is used as a sort of “morning after pill.” As such it is loved by Gefjon for allowing women freedom to choose whether or not to become pregnant when they have sex.

Care should be taken in picking it, as it looks almost identical to poison hemlock which is extremely poisonous even to touch. Queen Ann’s Lace can be identified by the single purple dot in the center of its umbrella of tiny white flowers. Not all of them have it, but if present you can be sure it’s Wild Carrot and safe to touch. It also has a bright green hairy stem, and late in the season the umbrellas fold up to look like bird’s nests. Poison hemlock on the other hand has a smooth blotchy stem that may be purple or lined, and the umbrellas never fold up. Still, you should research both plants before picking it.

Queen Ann’s Lace is named for it resemblance to fine white lace. It’s said the red-purple flower in the center is a drop of blood that fell when the queen pricked herself with a needle as she was making lace. Alternately, you could think of it as the woman’s egg surrounded by sperm which will never get into it. http://www.sisterzeus.com/qaluse.htm has some interesting notes on testing and usage of the plant.

[3] Gefjon is particularly attuned to sowing and harvesting times as an Earth Giantess. I do not know if Jotun pregnancies are typically shorter or longer than human ones, and suspect it varies quite a bit. Consider how long it takes for a mountain to be born.

[4] That island is Zealand, where Copenhagen is located in Denmark, originally part of Sweden and under the rule of king Gylfi according to the story. The Copenhagen Fountain shows a lovely depiction of Gefjon and her oxen son pulling the plough.

[5] “Little market town” in Old Norse, now known as Lillehammer.

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Comments
  1. […] Running Up the World Tree : Gefjon’s Story part 5 (lofnbard.wordpress.com) […]

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  2. Teka Lynn says:

    I’ve been very fond of this story ever since I first read it, and really enjoy your version of it here.

    I felt like my eyes had popped out of my head when I first read Gejon’s story in Crossley-Holland’s Norse Myths. We always hear of the very masculine deities, and androgynous Loki, and if we do a little more digging around, about Freyja and Frigg, but this was a Goddess I’d never heard of before in all my reading! She was tough and clever and had a mind of her own, and I was really shocked that she, like Menglöd and so many others, have been neglected so horrendously. Thanks for helping to bring back Their memory.

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  3. lofnbard says:

    Thank you, I’m so happy to hear you enjoy it! I know the Eddas can be a hard read, so it’s nice that there are some re-tellings like Holland’s, but there’s very little on the Goddesses for them to use. Gefjon is the only one of Frigga’s Ladies to have a more or less complete story in the lore. If you start reading Gylfaginning at the start of the Prose Edda, Snorri makes Gefjon’s feats the reason for king Gylfi seeking out the Aesir in the very first paragraph, so she frames the entire retelling.

    Once the story is written out, I want to start recording the telling of it on my channel http://www.youtube.com/user/SigynsHope so people can hear it aloud. This is an oral tradition after all, ancient heathens never had to pore over musty books to learn their sacred stories.

    I chose Gefjon’s to post first because it’s based in lore and one of the brighter more comical stories I have. A lot of the others get much darker. The Gods face outer monsters, but the Ladies have to face inner monsters as they ascend to goddesshood, often going through their own opposite. If I had to take a stab at it, I’d say Gefjon’s inner monster is Doubt, a problem everyone faces when trying to accomplish their dreams and be true to themselves. She’s pretty good with ploughing through her own self-doubts and dealing with others doubting her, which is why the story is bright, but later on she faces an even greater challenge. She’s used to hard work, being underestimated and bouncing back from failures, but what happens to underdogs when they actually achieve their dreams?

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  4. sonyjalerulv says:

    Time for us to flock? Never saw it expressed quite that way. 😉 Odin all laughing and happy and stuff was already a bit much to take, but the naming her a Goddess on the spot… So I laughed when she mention that ‘description’ being a nice fantasy. Oh and 4 giant kids at once? Ouch…. no wonder she wanted that pregnancy to be over, stat!
    She was holding so strongly to her dream that she was willing to have children and leave them behind for it.

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  5. lofnbard says:

    Flock, rhymes with… 😉
    We rarely have a marching band parade for our achievements, but if you’re lucky you get recognition before you’re dead. So it’s up to us to celebrate our victories.
    Yeah, getting to the top of the world, whatever that means for you, never comes without hefty sacrifices.

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