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THE STAFF OF JORD

When the world was young and the halls of the gods newly built, the women of Bilkskirnir were preparing for the spring feast. The great kitchen seethed with activity and Sif the golden haired oversaw the work of her maids and servants. Suddenly her concentration was broken, a weary falcon fluttered through an unshuttered window open to the warm spring air. The bird struggled to remain airborne but faltered and tumbled down. Sif held out her apron and gently caught the bird, then held it up in her hands and studied it carefully. ‘Loki!’ Sif cried both in surprise and command, breaking the spell and releasing the trickster from the falcon’s form. Loki was exhausted and so thin he could not have eaten for weeks. Sif gently lifted him in her arms, shocked by his scant weight and carried him to his bed. Sigyn wept at the sight of her beloved and the two goddesses patiently tended Loki, and he slowly recovered. By the night of the spring feast Loki was well enough to attend the celebrations but was quiet and withdrawn, with no sign of his usual cheerfulness.

Thor was greatly dismayed by Loki’s alarming change in character and drew him aside. ‘What is wrong my friend? You return to us half dead but say not a word about where you have been, or why your life was imperilled. At least tell me.’

Loki looked up to meet the thunderer’s eyes ‘I have betrayed you,’ he said miserably ‘to save my own wretched life. And now your whole household will be deemed oathbreakers. I should have died!’

‘What have you done?’ Thor asked gently, though with obvious concern.

‘I took the falcon’s form and flew to the giants’ land.’ Loki replied ‘All about the great halls I swooped and spied, noticed by none. Last I came to Geirrod’s hall and with rising confidence I flew among the very rafters and heard and saw all that transpired below. But Geirrod is as wise as he is ugly and mean, he knew the interloper was no common hawk and sent his men to catch me. And a great game it was, swooping out of the giants’ reach and the very last moment and watching them tumble to the hard floor in their attempts to grasp me.’ The memory lifted Loki’s spirits briefly but his grin faded quickly. ‘But I was not fast enough, a clammy giant’s hand snatched me down, and I was at Geirrod’s mercy. Geirrod demanded my name, but it was plain that such an admittance would be my death, so I kept silent. He had me locked in a cage and had me watched day and night. No food or water was brought to me and slowly my hunger gave way to madness. Geirrod plagued me with his questions and eventually after months of thirst, sick of the pain, I told him who I was, and begged to be released. He agreed but for a price. I had to persuade you to travel to his hall, without your hammer, gloves or belt of power. This in my desperation I swore on your honour and mine.’ Loki fell silent and turned away.

‘Is that all?’ Thor asked.

‘Yes.’ Replied Loki, baffled by Thor’s lack of concern at his betrayal. ‘Don’t you understand, if you don’t go, or if you go armed, Geirrod and his race will deem you a coward and an oathbreaker. And if you go unarmed, Geirrod will have you killed.’

Thor laughed ‘Do you have so little faith in me? Could I not defeat Geirrod with my own strength? We will travel to this knaves hall and fulfil your oath, let all giants rue the day that Geirrod invited us.’

The very next morning the two gods set off on the path to Midgard, Thor without his hammer and Loki much cheered but aware of the risk the thunderer was taking. They waded the gentle streams and strode the green meadows above the Norn’s well, and journeyed on into the land of men. As night fell Thor led his companion to a rambling farmstead and knocked on the door. The woman who opened it smiled with delight and hugged him ‘Welcome my son, how good of you to visit me.’ Jord was a good hostess and the table was quickly laid with bread meat and ale, Loki fell upon the food with relish.

Jord listened as Thor explained the strange reason for their journey. ‘Gerriod?’ She said ‘You have a strong and devious foe there! He has three powerful daughters the equal of any giant warrior. You may be in grave danger if you travel to his hall unarmed, it is fortunate that you came to me.’ Jord opened a chest and rummaged among its contents. ‘Here are a pair of iron gloves that should serve you well, and this belt will help you increase your strength.’ As she spoke she fastened the belt around Thor’s waist and he started to object. ‘But Loki’s oath…’. ‘Hush child’ said Jord, ‘the belt belongs to me and is not forbidden you. You can take my staff as well, you will need a weapon, and this is as stout as any other.’ She reached into dark alcove of the hall and drew out a carved staff of ash wood, strengthened with rings of iron. Thor took the staff and was surprised by its weight, despite it’s fine carving he sensed that her words were true, the staff would be difficult to break.

With the morning’s dawn the two gods travelled on to the boundaries of the giants’ land. On the very border their way was blocked by a fast flowing river. Undaunted Thor strode out into the river using Jord’s staff to steady himself, while Loki hung onto the thunderer’s belt. When they were half way across the river began to flow faster and higher, and Loki was tugged away with the force of the water. Thor thrust Jord’s staff down into the river bed and looked upstream to see what was causing the flood. A massive giantess stood across the river, with her greasy skirts lifted high and pouring her filth into the river, she laughed loud at the tiny god below her. The enraged god bellowed ‘That is one spring the world can do without!’, he ducked down under the torrent and grabbed a boulder, with a mighty throw he struck the foul woman on the forehead. Geirrod’s daughter screamed as she lost her balance and crashed into the river. With her fall the river rose higher still and Thor was swept away until he grabbed onto a rowan tree and staggered to the bank and into the giant’s land.

The hall of Geirrod lay before him, and the damp and weary thunderer entered the first outbuilding he came to and collapsed into a chair. Suddenly the chair started to rise and looking down he saw Geirrod’s three terrible daughters struggling to crush him against the roof. Thor slammed Jord’s staff against the roof beams and suddenly saw with the eyes of the Norn’s, the pattern of fate was spread all about him like a cobweb, it’s interwoven strands shimmered within reach, and in that moment he understood all that he saw. With a shout of effort and triumph Thor pushed harder on the staff and the giantesses screamed as their backs were broken.

With renewed confidence the thunderer strode into Geirrods great hall. The towering giant greeted Thor warmly and offered him a contest of skill before dinner. Thor agreed and Geirrod snatched a red hot bar of iron from the hearth fire with a pair of tongs. The giant hurled the flaming bar at the thunderer. Thor leapt aside and caught the bar in the iron gloves Jord had given him. He raised the bar to return the murderous weapon to its master but Geirrod had hidden behind one of the iron high seat pillars in terror. Thor called on all his strength, Jord’s girdle of power and all, and hurled the bar through the air. The iron pillar exploded as if hit by a thousand thunderbolts and the flaming bar pinned Gerriod’s dead body firmly to the wall.

Thor left the giant’s hall and crossed the river, this time with little difficulty, and was delighted to find Loki waiting on the far bank, where the unhappy trickster had been stranded, half drowned and shaken. The two friends made quick work of the road to Jord’s hall, spurred on by hunger. Jord welcomed them with great delight and spread steaming dishes and great cups of ale before them. While Loki happily picked at the leftovers Thor told of his adventure and handed the iron gloves, belt and staff back to his mother. ‘Your warning was wise mother,’ the thunderer said ‘I doubt I would have returned without your gifts’.

‘I told you’ Loki commented, still chewing ‘he was confident he could kill you’.

Jord laughed, ‘Shame on you child, to think a giant could slay you. You are the mightiest power alive even if I must prove it to you with trickery.’ Jord picked up her belt and ran its length through her fingers, ‘There is no magic in this Thor, I told you it would ‘help’ you increase your strength and so it did, you thought you had more power because of my girdle, so you found it in yourself.’

‘How long have you known this mother?’ Thor asked. ‘It was your inheritance, my son.’ Jord replied ‘The powers of the earth are not to be underestimated, and all this I have passed to you. But such power is best found after wisdom and not before.’

Early the next morning the two gods made their farewells and Jord hugged them both fondly. She gave Thor her staff and asked told him to take it as her gift to the Norns on his journey back to Asgard. After a peaceful journey through the wonders of spring in Midgard they came to the Norn’s hall by Urd’s sacred well. Thor’s daughters came running to greet the travellers and behind them came the daughters of gods and elves. ‘I bring you a gift from Jord’ said Thor holding out the carved staff of ash wood. The Norns took the staff and plunged it into the earth beside the well. They poured the sacred water over it and sang holy songs. The staff sprouted branches of ash leaves and grew and grew until it touched the very vault of the heavens.

‘Hail the world ash!’ cried Thrud ‘Born in Midgard, tested in the giant’s land, and brought to Urd’s well by almighty Thunder’

Loki was staggered by the appearance of the huge tree, its trunk alone was wider than a kings hall. ‘You have been carrying that around for three days?’

‘I thought it was heavy.’ Thor replied with a grin.

Thrud embraced her father and Loki saying ‘As a mark of your adventures the eagle of the heavens and the squirrel of mischief will inhabit its branches until the world’s end.’

(Most of this tale comes from the story of Gerriod, which is recorded three times in Scandinavian literature, twice in Snorri’s Edda once in prose and once in poetry, and once in Saxo Grammaticus. Snorri’s two versions differ greatly.

The main change that has been made from the original is Thor’s female helper should be Grid and not the Earth Goddess. Several members of Thorshof see a link between the two women so it made sense to try out the alteration. The staff’s shamanic powers and its link to the world tree are also additions but are not as far fetched as you might think. Scholars have suggested that Thor’s use of the staff to kill the giantesses is an explanation of the separation of the heavens and the earth, a little fanciful but a good excuse for my interpretation.

Thorshof members have also suggested this element of the myth as a shamanic initiation. The three giantesses representing the roots of the world tree. We could find no explanation for the eagle and the squirrel so I have invented one.

Snorri gives two explanations of the Norns, most surviving sources say they are three, alternatively there are dozens of them descended from gods, elves and evil spirits. Barlams Saga tells us that nine of the Norns are daughters of Thor. His only named daughter Thrud is numbered among the Valkyrie and was possibly considered to be one of them.)

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