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Friday, September 28, 2018

Further Reflections on the Hárbarðsljóð

TW: sexual assault/rape

Last night, the Hárbarðsljóð kept me up. I don't think about the poem all that often, other than as a reference to the fact that Thor has a hall for the peasants and thralls who die, as another marker of how he stands for the weak and the forgotten, for the every man rather than the kings and men of power.

But last night, after Dr. Ford's testimony and the Kavanaugh defense, a piece of the poem came vividly into focus--and suddenly it wasn't so funny anymore. It wasn't something I could dismiss or ignore or push aside any longer.

These particular lines:
Harbarth spake:
30. "Eastward I was, | and spake with a certain one,
I played with the linen-white maid, | and met her by stealth;
I gladdened the gold-decked one, | and she granted me joy."
Thor spake:
31. "Full fair was thy woman-finding."
Harbarth spake:
32. "Thy help did I need then, Thor, | to hold the white maid fast."
Thor spake:
33. "Gladly, had I been there, | my help to thee had been given."
These lines sound very much like two men boasting and congratulating one another on their conquests, and not only that--it sounds very much like Thor is talking about gladly helping Odin hold a woman down while he rapes her.

Suddenly, I wasn't sure if I could trust Thor.

Those of you who have been following the blog for forever know that Thor is pretty much my patron god. I'm Heathen and my faith in Thor has gotten me through a LOT over the years. Even before I recognized who he was, he was beside me, lending me strength to face my greatest struggles and my hardest moments. Thor is... one of the two most important things in my life. Half of a binary sun around which my life orbits. Questioning that faith, that trust, is not a small thing for me. Not at all.

I can take you through any number of mental gymnastics, a handful of theories that excuse Thor's general behavior in this poem on the whole--that the poem, a flytting poem, is basically meant to be a hit job on his character, to show him as useless and worthless, to undermine the faith of his followers in a time when Christianity was pushing hard against pagan faith traditions. Or point out the fact that the lore and the myths are not divinely inspired gospel, but written by men, copied and recopied imperfectly much later, and in this particular case, was probably preserved BECAUSE it takes shots at Thor.

I can tell myself, and you, that this does not in any way align with the Thor I have come to know--that it is at complete odds with the god who stands beside me, and I can remind myself that I have always believed that both the gods change with us, AND as we change, our understanding of the gods changes too. This poem might well just be a reflection of the culture of the time and nothing more, an attempt to see mankind in the divine, and as we have grown, we are more able to see PAST our own reflections to the deeper truth of their character and their presence.

But it doesn't take away these verses. Or the others, where Thor shows an overeager interest in Odin/Harbarth's sexual conquests. It doesn't make it hurt less to read these words as they spill from the lips of the god I love.

It doesn't make it any easier to realize that in a thousand years, nothing has changed. Because a thousand years ago, men were still boasting of their conquests, laughing together about the pleasure they took at the expense of some woman along the way.

I don't know what any of this means. How to reconcile it, really or fully, with my experience of Thor and my faith. I expect I'm going to be wrestling with that for some time. But I'm not going to pretend that the suggestion of sexual violence isn't there. Not in the past--not when it is something we are still fighting against so desperately in the present.


Forged by Fate (Fate of the Gods, #1) Tempting Fate (Fate of the Gods, #1.5) Fate Forgotten (Fate of the Gods, #2) Taming Fate (Fate of the Gods, #2.5) Beyond Fate (Fate of the Gods, #3) Facets of Fate Honor Among Orcs (Orc Saga, #1) Blood of the Queen (Orc Saga, #2) Postcards from Asgard
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Helen of Sparta By Helen's Hand Tamer of Horses Daughter of a Thousand Years A Sea of Sorrow: A Novel of Odysseus
Amazon | Barnes&Noble

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