The art of storytelling is that of weaving a spoken spell over the audience and transporting them to another time and place. Wide eyed listeners perch on the edges of their seats. Their breath taken in forgetful gasps as they cling to every word that hangs on the air. They find themselves deep in ancient forests, lost in the spirit realm, or lost in the field of battle. As the story teller skillfully weaves the spell, Trolls, Huldre, Draugr, Vaettir, spirits of old, and so many more fantastic beings spring to life. The listeners gasp with terror, laugh with joy, or cry alongside the characters as they make their way in this fictional world-made-reality.
After the tears have dried and the fire begins to die down, the audience slowly digests the tale. They see the traditions of their tribe made manifest in its telling. Abstract thoughts and ideals have been given form and life in a way they had not thought of previously. Amidst the din of dragons and shadow-beasts, the onlookers found lessons, emotions, ideals, and the thumbprint of their tribal culture.
Bathed in firelight, leaning exhausted on his staff, the storyteller takes stock. The spell had been good, and the deed had been done. He had used every trick in his arsenal, channeled every bit of power he had in the telling, and he knew it to be good. Though enrapt in the narrative, beguiled by the puzzles, and entertained by the fantastic, his people heard his message. They saw the world as he saw it, if for only a brief moment. The listeners felt his pride and joy, shared in his pain, and gained from his wisdom. In that one moment of post-tale repose, he felt pride in his work and held hope that the traditions of their tribe would survive as long as these stories were told.
Storytelling is one of the greatest art forms granted to the denizens of Midgard. It is through story that we share traditions and values. It is in the tale that we impart pieces of ourselves and our cultures to future generations. We hide meanings and messages, wield metaphors like Danish axes, and spark the fire of inspiration in future generations the way the Gods sparked it in our ancestors.
This art lives on in many forms, but none so magical as the spoken story. There is power in the spoken word, a connection between storyteller and listener that cannot be replicated on screen or in written form. Visual medium weave their own spells; however, the spoken spell of the wizened storyteller reaches down into the Heathen’s soul and plucks at a string that was strung in time immemorial. This is a lesson I have attempted to take to heart and share with the world around me.
What follows is an excerpt from my book, The Saga of Bjorn Thorolfson. This collection of short stories takes its inspiration from old Northern European Folk Tales coupled with style elements from the Icelandic Sagas, Heimskringla, The Poetic Eddas, etc. It is a family saga centering on the family of Bjorn Thorolfson as they experience wild and fantastic things in their everyday lives. This story is a labor of love, and it was born out of a desire to impart a piece of my Heathenry into the future generations of my tribe. Like many great stories, it came to life around the campfire. Each chapter built upon the last as this narrative began to take shape, and it was at the behest of my tribe that I finally put pen to paper and gave this tale corporeal substance. The book in its entirety is available for purchase in paperback on Amazon.com and in ebook form on the Kindle Store. It is my sincere hope that this tale will inspire other Heathen authors to take the time and finally write down the wonderful ideas bouncing around their minds. The Arch-Heathens lacked the capacity or cultural tradition to write down the stories that bore the DNA of their people, and as a result, only a few remain. We have the chance to course correct in this modern Era. If we record and preserve our stories for future generations, they can learn from these tales in a way our baby-Heathen selves would have envied.
Without further ado: a short excerpt from The Saga of Bjorn Thorolfson, Chapter One, “Arne the Ashlad”. Enjoy!
Arne the Ash-Lad
In the days of Yore, lived an Ash Lad by the name of Arne, son of the Goði, Bjorn Thorolfson, and Freydis, his loving mother.
His eldest brother, Nils was the picture of the desired eldest son. Strong and strapping, he was everything a father could want in an heir, and he knew it. He was loved by the girls in the village, and was greatest at all the games. The second son, Ole, was a swarthy fellow, dark in complexion and mood. He delighted in playing tricks on Arne and spent his time in devising new and creative ways to ruin his little brother’s day.
Then came his elder sister, Torunn. She was beautiful to behold, and was a hard and dedicated woman, well taught in the Old Ways by her mother. His younger sister, Hilde, was his dearest friend and spent more time in boyish pursuits than learning the traditions of housecraft.
Bjorn Thorolfson, Goði of the Northern Fjords, was a wise and generous leader, hater of gold and friend of the Gods. As a Goði, he was something of a chieftain and a priest all rolled into one. He kept the peace, and he tended to his tribe with honor and a grand heart. He worked his farm, Bjornstead, like any good father would, with the sweat of his brow and the help of his children.
Poor Arne seemed to draw the worst of jobs, such as mucking the stables and cleaning the ashes from the great fires. He was always covered with ash and soot, his long hair dirty and ratted from his chores, and he felt passed over for his older brothers in matters that gathered the most honor. The only things he had to his name were a small gold coin and a bronze Mjolnir that hung about his neck. The coin was gifted to him by his father so that he would never be completely without means. The Mjolnir necklace was a gift from his mother that ensured Thor would always watch out for him.
On the eve of Winter Nights, Bjorn was met with troubling news. One of his men told a harrowing tale of villagers disappearing in the night, amidst a howl of wind and a raucous din. This furrowed Bjorn’s brow. His people had always been safe in his care, and his tribe knew the blessings of the Gods. How could this travesty come to be under his watch?
Seeing a chance at greatness, Nils stood up at the feast and declared that he would strike out into the night to learn what vagabonds might be plaguing the woods of their fair land. His father beamed with pride and offered up men to his aide, and Nils struck out then and there to seek the things that troubled them in the night.
The family toasted his bravery and reveled the night away in festival, but, at the coming of the next dawn, Nils was nowhere to be found. The family struck out to find sign of the beloved son, but found only his horse wandering the woods. The sisters gathered up the horse and tended to his belongings while Bjorn pulled Ole aside. He spoke to Ole of bravery and his honor bound duty to find his brother and restore him to the family.
Ole’s eyes lit up with a snide grin as he thought of the debt his “perfect” brother would owe him for his rescue, and he set out with even more men than his brother to seek what monster could fell the beloved first son.
The tribe continued their Winter Nights celebrations that evening, though more subdued than before at the absence of the eldest son and worry over their second born. Torunn kept a brave face and tended to the needs of the party, as her mother was lost in worry. Hilde aided Arne in completing the growing number of chores the festivities heaped upon him.
When the sun rose again without sign of the search party, the family set out. Once more, they returned with only Ole’s horse and belongings. The family was distraught and counted their sons for lost, as they could spare no more men or supplies. It was then that young Hilde had an idea.
She pulled her brother Arne away from the house and down into the glen. She told him of a wily Fox that could help him save their brothers. Arne was unsure of himself, but he heeded her advice and set out on his adventure.
As Arne struck out into the woods, he came across a small opening, in the shape of a perfect ring. There in the middle sat a fox, larger than any he’d seen before. It met his gaze with almost human-like eyes and began to speak. It told him it knew his sister well and that she was a dear friend to the woodland folk, and it was by her reputation that the Fox would help him this day.
The fox told him that his brothers had been taken by a great troll in the dead of night, and that this troll was carrying them off to be slaves. The Fox then spoke of a plan that would release his brothers, if Arne proved brave enough to stand the test. Arne was afraid, but could not say no at this point, so he agreed and set himself to task. He grasped the gold coin in his pocket, hoping that it would bring him Luck.
The sun was still high at this point, and the fox led Arne deep into the woods. They came upon a dense thicket that shut out all light. At its center stood a small stone hut leading deep into a hillock and seeming somewhat out of place. Three times Fox knocked on the door. On the third knock, the door flung open, revealing a grim and dire little fellow. This man stood no more than four feet tall, but his beard dragged the ground. Covered in ash and soot from a forge, his chiseled features appeared to be carved from stone. His face was covered in dirt and smoke.
The fox told Arne what to say before they arrived. Arne, shy as he was, found the courage to stand up and ask of the Dwarf a treasure that would help him cast out the vile troll haunting their wood.
Enjoy the full story in paperback on Amazon.com or in ebook on the Kindle shop under the title: The Saga of Bjorn Thorolfson, by Eric R. Sjerven.