Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Jólaköttur




You all know the Yule Cat
And that Cat was huge indeed.
People didn't know where he came from
Or where he went.

He opened his glaring eyes wide,
The two of them glowing bright.
It took a really brave man
To look straight into them.

His whiskers, sharp as bristles,
His back arched up high.
And the claws of his hairy paws
Were a terrible sight.

He gave a wave of his strong tail,
He jumped and he clawed and he hissed.
Sometimes up in the valley,
Sometimes down by the shore.


He roamed at large, hungry and evil
In the freezing Yule snow.
In every home
People shuddered at his name.

If one heard a pitiful "meow"
Something evil would happen soon.
Everybody knew he hunted men
But didn't care for mice.

He picked on the very poor
That no new garments got
For Yule - who toiled
And lived in dire need.

From them he took in one fell swoop
Their whole Yule dinner
Always eating it himself
If he possibly could.

Hence it was that the women
At their spinning wheels sat
Spinning a colorful thread
For a frock or a little sock.

Because you mustn't let the Cat
Get hold of the little children.
They had to get something new to wear
From the grownups each year.


And when the lights came on, on Yule Eve
And the Cat peered in,
The little children stood rosy and proud
All dressed up in their new clothes.

Some had gotten an apron
And some had gotten shoes
Or something that was needed
- That was all it took.

For all who got something new to wear
Stayed out of that pussy-cat's grasp
He then gave an awful hiss
But went on his way.

Whether he still exists I do not know.
But his visit would be in vain
If next time everybody
Got something new to wear.

Now you might be thinking of helping
Where help is needed most.
Perhaps you'll find some children
That have nothing at all.

Perhaps searching for those
That live in a lightless world
Will give you a happy day
And a Merry, Merry Yule.


Thursday, November 17, 2016

The North Country by Verdandi

Besides the book, I also did an album with some others under the group name, Verdandi, back in 2004, called The North Country.
I just found out that the distributor, TESCO, is shortly going to discontinue offering it, so if you wanted to get a CD, the next few weeks may be your last chance.


Wednesday, November 2, 2016

The Realm of Death





The Norse mind was not particularly interested in one clear-cut conception of the world beyond the grave. The emphasis was on the journey there, and on the relation between the world of the dead and the world of the living. There are many overlapping and sometimes conflicting picture of the afterlife—Odin’s hall of warriors in Valhalla, elf-mounds and howes within which the dead lived—and then there is Hel.

That’s with one “l”, not two, and she’s a Goddess as well as a place. neither have much connection with the Christian version with the same name.

Born of a giantess and Loki, the Norse God of Mischief and Chaos, Hel was sent early on to Niflheim, the dark and misty world beneath the worlds. The world of death is said to be equal in size to all the worlds of the living, much as the roots of a tree mirrors the plant above the ground. It is circled by a high wall and secured by strong gates, and into it pass those who die of sickness or old age.

Hel herself is rather singular, being half living flesh and half corpse, with a stern and fierce expression. No wonder they stuck her down in Niflheim. According to Snorri Sturluson’s account in the Prose Edda: “Her hall is called Sleet-Cold; her dish, Hunger; Famine is her knife; Idler her thrall; Sloven, her Maidservant; Pit of Stumbling, her threshold, by which one enters; Disease, her bed; Gleaming Bale, her bed hangings.” (1) If all this is beginning to sound like a production of Everyman in the Middle Ages, you have to remember that Snorri was a court poet in a Christian age.

Other passages in Old Norse literature show the halls of Hel decked with gold and rushes, and stocked with mead-vats. Sometimes the Goddess is said to share the favors of her bed with select visitors. There are even references to warriors and others who died of other causes than sickness coming to Hel, which suggests that perhaps the whole concept of Hel and Valhalla were later refinements on the original Norse ideas of an afterworld. In this age, with the remnants of Norse Pagan culture scattered through ages of chaos and persecution, it is impossible to know exactly what Hel really represented, or even if she was an actual Goddess, and not just a personification of Death.

Laden with later Christian ideas of afterlife and the bad press of the name itself, Hel is often pictured as an evil deity. But there is really no record of any real evil done by this Goddess. Hel’s underworld is not a place of damnation, but merely a place where most sorts of people go when they die. Being associated with an unpleasant subject like death doesn’t do much for anyone’s image. Perhaps that is the meaning behind the two-colored face, one side terrible, the other fair. Death can be frightening and awful; it can also be welcome and beautiful, a natural part of the cycle of life. Depends which side of the gate you’re on.

(1) The Prose Edda by Snorri Sturluson, translated by A.B. Brodeur; The American-Scandinavian Foundation, New York, 1916.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Autumn Reflections





Now that the autumnal equinox has passed and the exuberance of harvest feasting subsides, we are left with the realization that the light, which was briefly in balance with the dark, is now waning and the shadows of winter are growing nearer.

Harvest not only means reaping and enjoying the bounty of the earth and reveling in the physical pleasures of feasting and celebration, it also means the harvest of one's deeds and one's life. Your actions and your deeds plant "seeds" in the world as surely as a farmer sows seed in the ground. Your presence in the world sends vibrations throughout the web of Wyrd, for good or ill.

So Autumn is a good time to reflect on the year past and view the harvest of the life you have made--is it what you want? Does it reflect your dreams and best intentions, or do you need to clear out some of the weeds in your life to make room for new growth? If your past and present actions have not been producing the things you want in your life, then you need to think about planting different seeds in the coming year, for you can only harvest what you sow. As the darkness gathers, we are drawn into ourselves during this time of closing in, and it's a good time meditate on our past, our present, and the future we want to make.
Winter is a good time for taking stock, a time to prune away what you no longer want or need, or have outgrown, and let things and people which no longer work for you to drift away from your life. It is also a time to think hard about what you want in your life and what you realistically need to be doing to create that and to draw those things to you. You may need to make some changes in your actions and in how you spend your resources, both time and money, in the coming year if you want to reap a different harvest in the next autumn.

But Autumn is also a time to look over the past year and note all the things you have to be grateful for and to enjoy life, what it gives you and what you have to give.



Friday, September 16, 2016

Science of Magic with Gwilda Wiyaka



In July I did an interview for Science of Magic with Gwilda Wiyaka; you can listen to it via this link:

Alice Karlsdottir on Science of Magic


(two blog posts in one day, can I stand the excitement...)

Homecoming from Summer Pastures



Late summer/early autumn is a time when many people return to school or work; it spells the resumption of regular activities after the summer holiday. In Scandinavia (and other places, such as the Tyrol area near the Alps), it means that the young people will be bringing the herds home from the summer pastures.

The word seter (sæter in Norwegian) can refer not only to the mountain pastures where the herds were grazed in summer and where butter and cheese were made, but also to the small hut or cabin which the dairymaids used as shelter for themselves and their equipment. Up until recent times, the family would send their young men and women up into the mountains during the summer with the herds of cows and goats (a sort of working summer camp), where they would live alone at the seter for several weeks or months at a time. In some places, there were actually local laws against not sending your herds up to graze in summer--with the short growing season, it was important that the community's animals get the benefit of the better grazing on the summer pastures, and also this practice kept the pastureland closer to home from becoming over-grazed.

Because the tasks of milking and making butter and cheese were the traditional province of women, it was often young women and girls who were sent, and they would actually make the year's cheese and butter form the milk their animals produced throughout the summer. These activities, as so many things that seem to depend on luck for success, were tinged with magic and mystery.  Butter was not only a valuable commodity for the human community, it was also highly prized by supernatural beings. For example, it was important to give a gift of butter at Yule to the family's household spirit, the nisse (or kobold in Sweden), to ensure its cooperation for the coming year.

The magical qualities of butter, like those of ale and bread, partly arose from the uncertainly involved in making it. Despite the dairymaid's care, any number of disasters could occur during the process--the cow might not produce, the milk might be sour, or the butter might fail to churn. Nowadays such calamities are assigned to improper cream temperature or low fat content, but in the past people could only assume that the cause was either lack of luck or supernatural interference. Therefore, the dairy was surrounded by as much ritual as the brewery or bakery.

Huldra is the Scandinavian patron of cattle grazing and milking. This goddess sometimes appears armed with a milk pail and leading her flock. She is also said to have a cow's tail, which she takes great pains to conceal. Huldra and her elves were apt to visit the summer pasture grounds. She loved music and dancing and would often try to join in the summer dances disguised as a maiden, until she is inevitably betrayed by her tail poking up from under her skirts.

Less friendly entities might also visit the dairymaids and herdsmen in the summer pastures, and there are a number of folktales and songs which tell of a young person being accosted by trolls in the seter, especially around Midsummer, a particularly magical time. The Three Billy Goats Gruff in the folktale encounter the troll under the bridge while returning from the summer pastures.

When the young people returned home, it must have been a joyous time. Although their parents might have been secretly relieved to get their adolescents out of the house for a few months, by the end of summer they would be missing their liveliness and cheer. The families would bake fresh bread to welcome the returning youths, a food they would have been without up at the seter, and for their part, the young people would bring home all the fresh butter and cheese they had been making during the summer. The empty huts were left for the elves to enjoy for the winter, until the herds returned again.


Friday, August 5, 2016

The Dog Days





The Dog Days of Summer are upon us, and down here on the Gulf Coast, Sunna is working overtime. Late July/early August is also the time when Sirius becomes the morning star, rising at dawn before the Sun and twinkling with extra vigor due to the unsettled summer weather.

Sirius A, also known as the "Dog Star," is the brightest star in Canis Major (the constellation forming one of Orion's two hunting dogs which help him fight his adversary, Taurus the Bull). Burning brightly at a temperature of about 10,000 Celsius, it's about twice as heavy as our Sun and a relative spring chicken as age goes (only 230 million years old compared with our Sól at 5,500 million). It's not really all that bright as stars go, but it has the advantage of being nearby the Earth (a mere 8.6 light years away), which makes it appear extra bright to us. Its companion, Sirius B (nicknamed "The Pup"), is a white dwarf, once a star more massive than Sirius but now cooling down into an eventual dead black orb in about 2 billion years or so.

The Greeks called it Seirios ("Scorcher") and were the ones who named these hot, humid days of late summer the "dog days," because dogs were thought to suffer and become listless in the heat brought by this star. The Zoroastrians in Persia called it Tishtrya and honored it as the divinity of rain and fertility. Chinese astronomers knew it as the star of the "celestial wolf," and it was also associated with dogs by a number of indigenous North American tribes. The Egyptians regarded its rising early as good news, because it was a sign that the Nile was about to flood and bring fertility and a good harvest to the surrounding lands.

In Norse folklore, however, Sirius was known as Lokabrenna ("Loki's torch" or "the burning by Loki"), a name reminiscent of the conflagration of the universe at Ragnarok. The name may also have referred to the summer heat rather than the star itself. In Iceland, it was associated with the ignis fatuus, or will 'o the wisp, a phosphorescent light sometimes seen floating over marshy ground at night. Certainly it's an appropriate time for Loki, when wildfires are rife and tempers are combustible.

It's also a good time of year to sit outdoors in the wee hours, enjoy the Perseid meteors and a few cold beverages, tell a few tales, sing some bawdy songs, and wait for the predawn hours and the rising of one of the brightest stars in the summer sky.



...resplendent as the star
Autumnal, of all stars in dead of night
Conspicuous most, and named Orion's dog;
brightest it shines, but ominous and dire
Disease portends to miserable man. 
Homer's Iliad (transl. William Cowper)