January. Dark days and long nights. Branches, black against a frozen sky. The swirl of snowflakes on bitter wind. The crunch of snow beneath winter boots. The bite of cold on reddened cheeks, noses, fingers, toes…
It’s hard to remember, after the warm glow of Christmas, that cold January is the month of New Beginnings. Of things resting quietly below the Earth, and in our souls. Of hopes and dreams not yet ready to be born, but ready to be articulated, and destined for birth, if we pay attention.
January is strong meat! And it takes a sturdy character to appreciate its rigorous beauties and hidden potential. Skadi, the Viking goddess of winter, embodies those necessities. At this time of transition from celebration to quiet waiting, it’s worth examining the myths that surround her to find clues for our own work of transformation.
The daughter of the giant Thiazi, Skadi was born into the heroic, mythical world of Asgard, legendary home of the fierce Norse gods. Tall, beautiful, and a formidable warrior and hunter, the goddess was a force to be reckoned with. Determined to avenge the death of her father, who had been murdered by the gods for abducting Idunn, the beautiful goddess of youth, she stormed their citadel to exact either revenge or compensation for her loss. Before this onslaught of a ferocious one-woman army, the gods backed down.
Sooner than fight her, Odin, king of the gods, offered her gold for her pain and suffering. But Skadi was already rich from the pillaging and plundering spoils of her father and grandfather. Instead, she demanded a husband from among the gods, and a good laugh as well. (She hadn’t laughed once since the death of her father.)
Odin agreed to her terms. But he too set conditions. Since none of the gods volunteered to marry her, she could choose her own mate. But she would have to choose by looking only at their feet! A curtain would hide the rest of their bodies from her.
Secretly in love with Baldur, the handsomest and kindest of the Viking gods, Skadi chose the most attractive set of feet, believing them to be his. Unfortunately, she guessed wrong. Instead of the handsome Baldur, she got the homely sea god, Njord. Loki, the Trickster, provided her laugh. But the laugh was really on Skadi. She didn’t get her heart’s desire. But she kept her word, and graciously went through with the marriage. It was doomed from the start.
Njord liked to live beside the sea. Skadi was happy only when she was in the mountains with her beloved wolves. The couple tried to compromise by taking turns. They lived for nine days each, first beside the water, and then in the mountains. But they were miserable. At the end of eighteen days, they separated for good, and Skadi returned to the snowy heights of Thrymhein. There she met Ulle, god of winter, archery and skis. He was also the god of justice and dueling. The soul mates thrived on a life of proud independence in the wild mountains. Little else is known about their life together…
There is a dark side to Skadi, as there is in the winter weather that she loves.
She is stormy and unpredictable, relentless in her pursuit of what she perceives as justice. She will stop at nothing to achieve her objectives. But she has passion and integrity, and the determination to live life in all its fullness, regardless of the harshness of her circumstances, or the feelings of others about her.
She knows how to survive in a tough climate, how to provide for herself and her loved ones. She loves winter because it calls forth the best in her. It demands her strength and endurance, not her weakness. It calls on her patience, and her understanding that there is a cycle of seasons in life, and that winter is an essential part of that cycle.
Winter is a special time. It symbolizes the dark times that have been visited upon the human race since the beginning of creation. Times very like the days we are experiencing right now, with a worldwide global recession, rising prices and unemployment, and political upheaval.
At times like this, we need to remember that beneath the apparent bleakness, life goes on. Within the dark womb of the Earth, new life is waiting to return. Out of darkness will come light. Out of apparent barrenness, new growth will spring. Winter will not last forever.
So cuddle up, Goddess. Light your fire, and stay warm. Rejoice in the people that Spirit has sent you. Remember Skadi, and try to enjoy it.
And when you must be out in the cold, remember that Spring will come. New Beginnings have already begun.