The Myth of the Winter War
This is an extremely important part of our folk culture and represents a bridge in our understanding between the distantly remembered mythological past and our own lives here in this world. To some extent, it is to our folk mythology what the story of the 'fall' is to the Judeao-Christian tradition, though it is by no means the same. It is not based on any notion of human sin being responsible for our current position, but rather a loss of innocence brought about by a cosmic battle in the primal world which has been reflected through environmental changes in our own world. Much of the material for this account is drawn from Norse mythology, but it seems likely that the pre Christian Anglo Saxons would have held similar beliefs as this is such a fundamental story.
The Wall Around Esegeard
The story begins in the dawn time, the age of innocence and plenty. It is the time of Ingeld, the author of peace and plenty. During this age, we were sent our first ancestral patriarch, known simply as Scef. This was a period of agricultural development where food was plenty and the days pleasant and warm. It was a period of security and harmony.
However, it was during this golden period that the evil one, the trickster known in the Norse tradition as Loki, entered heofenrice. Appearing fair and wise, he was deceitful and full of malice, plotting evil all the time. He came into the world of men in different guises and slowly but surely spread his wicked ways. Our folk were innocents and did not understand the great evil that was in the tricksterís heart or the harm he intended.
At this time, as the forces of eternal ice and dark cold were gathering, a certain smith came into Esegeard and offered to build a high wall around the Guardiansí home to protect them from any who might wish them ill. The smith, was a frost giant himself, said he could complete his work in three seasons, but in return demanded the hand of Freo (Freya) in marriage as well as the sun and moon.
The Guardians discussed the proposal amongst themselves. Freo was adamantly against the Giantís terms from the start. But Loki, the evil one, suggested that the builder should obtain that which he desired, although only if he could complete his work in a single winter and had no help beside his horse Svadilfari. After much deliberation, the Guardianís agreed to Lokiís plan. Of course, the gods had no intention of actually giving Freya away, nor the sun or the moon; they thought that the task they demanded was impossible.
The Giant agreed their terms, provided they swore oaths to ensure that, if their conditions were met, they would fulfil their part of the bargain. He set about building the wall and the Guardians marvelled at how quickly it was raised. What was even more amazing to them was that the Giantís stallion seemed to be doing almost twice as much work as the smith himself, hauling enormous boulders over considerable distances. When the end of winter was only three days ahead, the wall was almost finished and strong enough to be impenetrable by almost any enemy. Only the stones around the gate had yet to be put in place.
The anxious Guardians seized Loki and rebuked him for giving them such poor advice. They threatened him with death if he couldnít find a way to prevent the Giant from finishing his task and making off with their beloved goddess Freyo and the sun and moon, bringing never-ending darkness and dreariness. Loki pleaded for his life and swore that he would find a solution.
That night, the Giant and his horse ventured into the snow-draped forest in search of stones. Along their way, a mare, who was none other than Loki in disguise, whinnied to the stallion from a short distance away. When the stallion saw the mare, he bolted into the woods after her. The mare ran all night, and Svadilfari chased after her. When morning came, the giantís horse was still missing, and the now despairing Giant knew that there was no way that he could finish the wall in time.
The builder of the wall went away vowing vengeance on the Guardians, thinking it was they rather than the evil one who had tricked him. On his return to the land of Ice, his kinsman the King began his plans and the winter war began.
The forces of cold and ice began their slow but relentless advance into the fair lands of Heofenrice. Nifelham extended over more and more of the fair realm. This was the beginning of the winter war. Each time they advanced into the warm lands of the primal world, they were driven back by the Guardians. But they kept returning, each time more powerful. Each time it was harder to force them back.
Echoes of this war were felt in Middengeard. When Scef left us, our world was ideal. We lived in peace and harmony with each other, we wanted for nothing. The days were long and warm the land beautiful and fertile. As the winter war raged in the primal world, so the cold and ice came upon Middengeard, gradually creeping ever southwards from its strongholds in the north.
As the evil one and his kin worked on us, trouble was stirred up between individuals, families and tribes of our folk. The land became less plentiful, shortages occurred and the days became colder. Feuds grew up between clans of our folk where before there had only been peace and coexistence. The age of Gold gave way to the age of Copper. During this period, came our second great patriarch, Scyld, the son of Scef. His reign is characterised by the shield, the need for protection which had not been needed before. But these were still not bad times. The encroachment of the cold was slight, the evil amongst our folk not that significant. The feuds and arguments between families and tribes was a source of friction and irritation, but it did not break out into open warfare. That was to come later.
Scyld was a great and wise leader. He gave laws to counteract the spreading trouble. In his time, the peace of the world was shaken and the tranquillity of the golden age disturbed. But he provided good leadership to make the best of this. He was the protector, the Scyld against the onset of the dark times. As the cold continued to encroach and the work of the trickster brought about more and more disharmony, so our third patriarch came amongst us. This was Beow, the son of Scyld, not to be confused with the hero of the Beowulf poem. This name can have two meanings. It can mean 'bear', referring to warrior skills or barley referring to food. His name suggests a period where the innocence of an earlier age based on plenty was tempered with a need for the skills of the warrior. Where Scyld ruled during the early part of this period, when life was not so different from the Golden Age, Beow ruled at the end of it where times were growing harsher and the age of the warrior was becoming dominant.
The winter war in the heavenly realms continued to rage and for a while it looked as though the Guardians were losing it. Mythological stories tell of the capture of Freo (Freya), the embodiment of love, beauty and fertility. The darkness encroached further and further and things looked bleak. In Middengeard, our folk were forced to flee their homelands, their first great migration. They gradually moved southwards and eastwards into the lands of other peoples. They took their religion with them and memories of this can still be seen around the world today, even where our ancestors have been absorbed into the tribes of other peoples.
This age is known as the age of Iron, a period of hardship and struggle in which strength holds sway over other virtues previously held by our folk. During this period, came our fourth patriarch, Healfdene, the son of Beow. This was the age where the warrior is supreme and the earlier age of innocence has been lost. It was the age where people act aggressively to each other and think in terms of how they can force their will on others. It is the era where the strength and skill of the warrior is needed to survive.
Eventually, the winter war was won and Freo returned to her home, bringing the end of the ice age with it.† Many of our people returned to their northern homelands.† But the age of innocence had been lost and the age of the warrior remained.t is during this period that much of our
our mythology. We are still living in this period even though the ice has substantially retreated and many of our folk returned to our northern lands.
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