By Hanne Møller
Men tit skal vi angre, at vi er for snakkesalige, og sjældent skal vi angre, at vi sagde mindre end meget.
I have translated the above aphorism into this bit of advice – But often shall we regret that we are too talkative, and rarely shall we regret that we said less than a lot.
There are many such glints of wisdom in the Icelandic Hrafnkels saga freysgoða, which I have read in a Danish translation entitled Ravnkel Freysgodes saga.
What a world it is! In this long ago and far away time of stark beauty and imminent danger, action spoke louder than words. This is in opposition to today where words are used as threats and rarely contain the poetry of action. In ancient Icelandic times words were spoken carefully because they were known to possess magic. In fact, words were magic, and magic itself was made of words. People believed beyond belief; they conjured magic with a faith that we do not possess today.
Imagine that you are living long ago in the time of the sagas. Imagine a world where swords have names, where your line of ancestors defines who you are, where you only survive if your skills can match the forces of rough nature, where new land is conquered because some men just have to see what is on the other side of that vast and challenging ocean.
Put yourself in a world where a man is a man, a word is a word, and a woman is strong because she has to take care of everything while the men are building their ships and sailing the waters of the North, often for years.
Reading the Icelandic sagas is like boarding a boat.
Or riding a horse.
The witnesses would tell the stories of what happened. The word saga refers to what has been said.
This originally oral tradition of storytelling transformed from the voiced syllables of spoken language to the handwritten word on parchment paper in the 13th century.
Today the sagas exist in many different editions, translations and interpretations. The Icelandic sagas are a unique treasure box of stories, poetry, history and spirituality. They are still being retold and they are stepping stones for new great literature and stories. They are classics because they are still alive and kicking in the big story bag of humanity.
So – what happens if somebody rides a horse that nobody but its owner is allowed to ride?
Freyfakse is the name of a gorgeous brown stallion with a black streak down his back. Freyfakse's owner is Ravnkel who loves Freyfakse so much that he has given a tribute to his favorite god Frey within the name of his horse. Frey was the god of fertility in ancient Nordic mythology – his sister was main goddess Freya. Ravnkel has given his word that he will kill any person who rides Freyfakse without permission.
But somebody chooses to break the rules by not obeying...
...And what happens next you can read in the saga about Ravnkel Freysgode over twenty-some condensed pages.
Ravnkel Freysgodes saga is the inspiration behind The Forbidden Ride: An Icelandic Love Story, beautifully written by Gerald and Loretta Hausman. Here tenth century Iceland becomes alive again – sounds, colors, tastes, landscapes, customs, rituals, spirits, animals – and people. The Hausmans open the ancient story to readers of today by developing both the male and the female characters – their story is narrated by a 15-year-old Icelandic girl – and by developing psychological perspectives to the original story of many actions in few words.
The result is truly capturing, not only due to the suspense of the story, but also because the authors mesmerizingly expand on the subject of transformation and rebirth. On the back of Freyfakse we jump and bridge a thousand years. I suspect one of Freyfakse's ancestors to be Sleipner, the great Nordic god Odin's eight-legged horse, faster than the wind.
The Icelandic sagas represent one of our few opportunities to investigate the meeting between the old shamanic world of the North and Christianity entering from the South. This meeting is rarely seen from both sides. As we know – the winner takes all.
However, the people of Iceland were attentive to this change of belief system that happened around the year 1000. They were conscious about remembering and bringing with them what was possible from the old wells of wisdom. Therefore the sagas are a unique source of knowledge about the ancient Nordic version of shamanism called sejd in modern Danish – seiðr in the old Norse language.
Sejd has many similarities to other shamanic traditions around the world, from Native American spiritual traditions to Siberia. But different from most other forms of shamanism the main lineage of sejd was carried by women. It is also significant that their practices of journeying to the invisible worlds were based on singing, the human voice, more than the drum and the rattle.
The sagas give us glimpses of the ancient spiritual practices and how they were connected to a deep interaction with the nature of the North.
Today, a thousand years later, we can use this knowledge as an inspiration to revitalize our lives and culture. In our material world we have lost much, if not all, of this connectedness to the vast cathedral of nature and spirit. It is time to reconnect with these old, but often hidden traditions of wisdom and bring spirit back to matter. It is time to listen to the whispered secrets of the rune alphabet that Odin brought to humanity by hanging upside down in Yggdrasil, the tree of life, for nine days and nights.