A constant interest and inspiration in my writing and daily life is the environment. Recently, Australia has suffered some of the worst bushfires on top of a lengthening drought. While I was travelling in Europe from August-October 2019, I started thinking about a possible new idea for novel. First, I needed to write a short story exploring some of the themes and characters. The idea for this story took shape from the the reliance of many early nomadic cultures on the environment. I wondered how a magical way to harness that power could play a vital role in securing the survival of one group over another. I drew inspiration from some of the marvellous artefacts, histories, fairytales and fables I encountered while travelling through European museums. I found inspiration in folktales of magical objects imbued with a spirit like stories of the jinn from Middle Eastern folktales or silver treasure in Celtic folklore. In many of these cursed object folktales, the powerful object, more accurately the entity within, are beholden to the will of a mortal.
The City of Brass is the first installment in the debut fantasy series The Daevabad Trilogy by American author S. A. Chakraborty based on early Islamic folklore and legends. The City of Brass follows female protagonist Nahri, a con-woman and thief who grew up an orphan on the Cairo streets during Ottoman-French occupation. Nahri has never believed in magic, thinking her unusually accurate abilities to sense illness and talent for languages an extension of her ability to deceive and read a mark. When Nahri attempts a risky healing, she uses a language remembered only from her childhood and accidentally summons Dara, a legendary but mysterious and dangerous warrior djin. In summoning Dara, Nahri also attracts the attention of the deadly ghouls controlled by the destructive ifrit. Fighting for their lives, Dara takes Nahri and flees across the vast expanse of desert, certain the ifrit search for her. In flight across the endless desert landscape, Dara tells Nahri of the legendary city of Daevabad, the tall gilded brass walls of the legendary djinn fortress. Nahri follows Dara, the haunting memories of ghouls and ifrit spurring her to trust Dara even though it has been centuries since he had been within Daevabad and the inconsistencies of his story worry Nahri at the reception they might receive.
The City of Brass was a powerful fantasy debut with the unique Islamic folklore and legends providing an adventurous flair that can only become stronger with the continuing installments in the series.
Human survival has always been dependent on the natural environment and many mythologies show links between folklore and human fear of environmental instability. I was curious to explore folklore dealing with how past and present cultures attempt to explain and avoid disastrous environmental fluctuations. As human survival is so clearly linked to a stable environment, natural disasters like floods, drought and severe storms have been explained by many different folktales, explaining how appeasing supernatural forces could avoid climatic catastrophe. Long and short-term disasters were often viewed as societies or specific families who had failed to appease the supernatural beings who had power over the environment. Such examples occur throughout different cultures and folklore but the common themes involve a bargain between the mortals inhabiting lands under the power of supernatural beings, whether they are the Fair Folk of Irish folklore, the jinn of the Middle East or powerful spirits of Japanese folklore. According to folklore, a bargain with these supernatural beings can protect the land from poor harvests, drought, floods or harsh winters. I am exploring how these bargains could occur over generations with supernatural beings acting as guardians for a specific family and the effect for the environment when reneging on such a bargain.
I have been working hard writing a large scene over several chapters in my novel-in-progress, Ragnarok Dreaming. The scene is based on a significant section in Norse mythology recorded in The Prose Edda, called the Skaldskaparmal, where Loki is portrayed for the first time as a more malicious being. The Skaldskaparmal describes Loki’s deliberate deception of the most innocent among the gods, Idunn who is also the guardian of immortality for the Aesir. In return for his own life, Loki promises Idunn to the mightiest of the frost giants, Thrazi. When Loki deceives Idunn into following him beyond the protective lands of the Aesir, she is kidnapped by Thrazi and held as his prisoner. Although Loki’s guilt is evident, his concern grows as the Aesir begin to age rapidly without Idunn tending the tree that provides the apples and their immortality. Odin has Loki beaten for his betrayal which has the desired effect to spur Loki’s conscience. He finally agrees to helps rescue Idunn from Thrazi‘s wintry mountain fortress. In truth, the Aesir are too weakened and aged to assault the mountain fortress, Thyrheim. Loki rescues Idunn and lures Thrazi back toward Asgard where Odin and Thor have built a bonfire. In the form of a hawk, Loki easily evades Thrazi’s eagle-form but Thrazi is caught by the flames and destroyed.Loki retains some of his humanity in the Skaldskaparmal but from now on, his considerations of the Aesir are complicated, alternating more swiftly from bitter dislike to a sense of familial belonging. Loki is neither Aesir nor truly of the jotnar but is caught somewhere in-between.
In my work-in-progress, Ragnarok Dreaming, I explore Loki’s conflict where he belongs to neither the giants nor the gods; a conscious and unconscious character motivation.
Ancient history and mythology have always been favorite topics for me. Recently, I found an interesting article on newly discovered sections of ancient Mesopotamian poem, The Epic of Gilgamesh, detailing the legendary feats of a historical king. The Epic of Gilgamesh was inscribed on cuneiform tablets which continue to baffle scholars as to the purpose of why these clay tablets are so small.I was interested in the mythology behind the zodiac, the legends behind creation of constellations rather than modern interpretations of astrology and divination. The constellation we know as Taurus, existed in the ancient Mesopotamian cultures and was also represented and embodied by a bull. In The Epic of Gilgamesh, the formation of the constellation the ancient Greeks later called Taurus, is described as a battle between the hero Gilgamesh and the Bull of Heaven, a destructive bull sent to avenge the goddess Ishtar after the wrongs committed by Gilgamesh. I wrote a speculative fiction story in a contemporary setting incorporating the Bull of Heaven based on Ishtar’s vengeance against Gilgamesh. I have added the destructive environmental effects caused by the Bull of Heaven and alluded to in The Epic of Gilgamesh.
Much of the information about Norse mythology is gleaned from the historical texts called the Eddas. As recounted in the Eddas, two separate hosts of deities initially existed, the Vanir and Aesir . These two hosts waged several unsuccessful wars against each other until they united as a single host, combining their strength against the giants. The union of the Vanir and Aesir was then strengthened through marriage alliances. The deities of the Vanir are introduced in this first post, while a second post discusses the Aesir.
A host of Norse deities almost exclusively associated with the natural elements. These included affinities with the seasons, celestial bodies, and the sedir, a magic associated with women that included foretelling the future. The war between the Aesir and Vanir was settled with an exchange of hostages before several marriages permanently united them.
Njord was a prominent god among the Vanir and the father of sibling deities, Freya and Freyr. Njord was embodiment of the winds, especially those winds close to shore. Associated with fishing, Njord was symbolic of the bounties from the sea and often invoked by fishermen. Njord was also invoked by sailors returning from sea voyages hoping for the safety of the shore. Njord was often depicted as an older man, features marked by exposure to the harsh weather of the sea winds.
Son of the Vanir god Njord and sibling to goddess Freya. As with the deities of the Vanir, Freyr was associated with natural elements and was the personification of summer. Freyr was the embodiment of abundance and wealth, associated with harvests, hunts and forests. Freyr was also associated with some aspects of warfare and was often depicted with a golden sword, radiant like the summer sun. More commonly, Freyr was associated the wealth and abundance of good harvests and the bountiful summer forests.
Daughter of Vanir god, Njord and sister of the god Freyr. Similar to her sibling, Freya was the personification of Spring. Freya was associated with lovers and with the association of spring, she embodied fertility. Commonly, Freya was depicted as a beautiful maiden and often wreathed in garlands of flowers. There was a darker aspect to Freya that associated her with battle and death. Freya is the leader of the Valkyries, the female warrior spirits who take the souls of honoured warriors slain in battle. Freya was also the archetypal völva, a practitioner of the ancient Norse magic, the sedir, which had many shamanistic qualities and was both revered and feared for the gift it offered of foresight. Freya first taught the sedir to the Norse gods and, by extension, to the mortal realm of Midgard.
Much of the information about Norse mythology is gleaned from the historical texts called the Eddas. As recounted in the Eddas, two separate hosts of deities initially existed, the Vanir and Aesir. These two hosts waged several unsuccessful wars against each other until they united as a single host, combining their strength against the giants. The union of the Vanir and Aesir was then strengthened through marriage alliances. The deities of the Vanir were introduced in an earlier post, while this post discusses the Aesir.
A host of Norse deities that are very different to the Vanir and, considered by many scholars, to be the more recent in Norse mythology. The primary deities in the Aesir are almost exclusively male and associated with warfare and aspects of community and family life. Lesser gods in the Aesir are associated with craftsmanship but all have specific personality traits that would be invoked during prayer.
The principal leader of the Aesir. Odin was also the eldest of the gods and the father of many lesser deities. Odin was the embodiment of a leader protecting his dependants through wisdom and seeking knowledge. Odin was also often invoked by leaders before battle as Odin was associated with victory in battle. Odin’s quest for further wisdom to improve his leadership and maintain it, led to many sacrifices including the offering of his eye to gain the foresight he required. Odin was the real leader of the Norse deities and was an exemplar of how rulers should sacrifice themselves for the furthering of their dependant community and family.
Goddess among the Aesir and wife to Odin, who in Odin’s absence from Asgard, became the leader of the Aesir. As the only principal goddess among the Aesir, there is curiously little written specifically about Frigg in the Eddas. Frigg was the embodiment of a virtuous Nordic wife, associated with the household and invoked by married couples for her embodiment of love and marriage. Frigg was commonly depicted as wife, mother and leader but her elaborate clothing revealed a darker aspect to her. Frigg’s powers were like those of Odin, associated with the air. Frigg was responsible for the discovery of flax and her spinning distaff was capable of enacting her fickle mood where she would spin the clouds into her clothing, all as changeable as the weather.
A god among the Aesir, the embodiment of thunderstorms and the personification of physical strength. Thor was the son of Odin and often associated with warfare and, like Odin and the god Tyr, these three gods formed a triad of gods often invoked during battle. Where Odin’s powers in warfare are related to qualities aspired for strong leadership, Tyr was invoked for strategic planning and swordsmanship. Thor, on the other hand, was admired for the brute strength and fury he possessed, a battle-rage and lust that could sustain armies and inspire victory. Thor is rarely described or praised for intelligence but his powerful strength and warhammer were often used to save the Aesir and Vanir from attacks by the giants, their common enemy.
In Norse mythology, the giantess Angrboda is mentioned only fleetingly in connection with her affair with Loki and the three monstrous offspring she bore. The “Hag of the Iron Wood” is one title she is referred to but the other is her name, Angrboda meaning “the bringer of sorrows”. Norse myth is full of tales where Odin constantly seeks more knowledge, always to aid the Aesir and ultimately, prevent Ragnarok and the destruction of the Nine Worlds. It is curious then how little information is contained in the Norse texts referring to Angrboda, especially as two offspring she has with Loki play key roles in the final demise of the gods as does Loki himself. The relative silence concerning Angrboda seems to add power to the darkness and destruction the giantess embodies.
In the Norse myths and legends, references to how Loki seduced the horned giantess of Iron Wood in Jotunheim who bore three monstrous offspring. The true nature and relationship between Loki and Angrboda is not clearly detailed but the following tales of Loki’s wife Sigyn and her devotion to him during his binding and punishment, contrast with the betrayal and shame Sigyn apparently endures for Loki’s affair with Angrboda and the children she bore him. The three children born to Loki and Angrboda play pivotal roles in Norse myth.
The only daughter of the union was Hel, a sorrowful and deformed woman who was half-beauty, half-corpse and given the stronghold of the same name, Hel. There in Hel, the daughter of Loki holds the shades of the dead until Ragnarok.
Jormungand, the Midgard serpent is the other important offspring from Loki and Angrboda. Jormungand is a giant sea-serpent, prone to fits of anger and sharing a mutual hatred of the god, Thor. It is the Aesir who cast Jormungand into the Midgard sea where the serpent grows to encircle the land, forming the edges of the sea. In the final battle of Ragnarok, Jormungand and Thor slay each other, the weapons of their own demise.
The last and most destructive of the offspring is the wolf, Fenrir. The giant wolf is cunning and fated to devour the Nine Worlds at Ragnarok. In an effort to tame Fenrir, Odin and the Aesir commission the dwarves to forge a chain the wolf can not break. In the end, the Aesir are successful in binding Fenrir and although the god Tyr loses his hand to the cunning wolf, Fenrir will stay bound until the battle of Ragnarok. Chained at the entrance to Hel, Fenrir will break his fetters and his howl signal the unfurling of Ragnarok. It is Fenrir who kills Tyr and Odin at Ragnarok before being slain by Odin’s son.
Idunn is a Norse goddess, the guardian of a sacred fruit that provides immortality to the Aesir. There are several accounts of Idunn in the Prose Edda where she is often described as possessing child-like trust, giving her a sense of naivety. The first account of Idunn is in the Gylfaginning of the Prose Edda, where Idunn is referred to as the wife of Bragi, a god skilled in poetry and knowledge. Here, it mentions Idunn keeps the sacred fruit of the Aesir within a carved wooden box. Every day until the final battle of Ragnarok, the Aesir must eat these apples to remain youthful (although, apples arrived late to Iceland and more likely these were tree nuts, similar to Irish lore). In a later section of the Prose Edda, the Skaldskaparmal, a retelling of a legend about a bargain struck between Loki and the powerful frost giant, Thjazi. Loki promises to lure Idunn and the fruit away from Asgard. In bringing Idunn to Thjazi, the giant takes her to his fortress Thrymheim. During Idunn’s absence and, without the daily renewal of their youth, the Aesir quickly weaken and age. The Aesir question Loki over Idunn’s disappearance and Loki bargains to retrieve Idunn if Freyja gifts him the magic to change form into a falcon. After agreement, Loki flies to Thrymheim during Thjazi’s absence. Finding Idunn alone, Loki changes her into a nut before flying back to Asgard with Idunn in his talons. The Aesir see Thjazi in pursuit of Loki, the giant guised as an eagle. Quickly, the Aesir light a large fire with barely enough time for Loki to return safely into the Asgard fortress. Following closely behind Loki, Thjazi is unable to safely land and still in eagle-form, is burned by the flames and killed by the Aesir.
The texts in the Poetic Edda are considered older than those recorded in the Prose Edda. The Poetic Edda consists of ancient Norse poems, the mythologies and legends recounted in a specific style of stanzas found only in the Icelandic texts, a written version of ancient Nordic oral traditions. As such, the poems recorded in the Poetic Edda and are very different to the format in the Prose Edda.
In the Poetic Edda, Yggdrasil is a prominent and common element recounted in the various Norse myths. From one poem, the Hávamál, a tale of how Odin gained the runes. Odin hangs himself from the Yggdrasil after being speared and refuses aid from the other gods, enduring without sustenance for nine days. While Odin hangs from Yggdrasil over the Well of Urd, he observes the Norns and the working of the runes and wills the runes pass the knowledge of their working to him. Odin offers this sacrifice, placing himself between life and death with the knowledge that the runes could only be learned by someone truly desiring and of proven merit. After the ninth night hanging precariously in a state of half-death, Odin is rewarded with the knowledge of the runes and the wisdom it grants him. Another important poem, the Voluspa from the Poetic Edda, recounts the prophecy of a volva, a seeress. A volva was a practitioner of Seidr, the prophetic magic learned by the women and first taught by the goddess Freya, originally of the Vanir before joining the Aesir after the war between the two. In part of the Voluspa, Odin’s quest for knowledge is referenced again. The volva refers to how Odin became one-eyed, sacrificing his eye to the Well of Mimir in the quest for wisdom. Once the sacrifice was made, Mimir allowed Odin to drink from the well, taking from the waters the insight contained within.
Similar to the story of Odin in the Hávamál, knowledge was not considered attainable without a sacrifice. Clearly, Odin places high value on knowledge and the wisdom gained is invaluable in his ability to protect the Aesir from misfortune. In another part of the Voluspa, the volva foretells the coming battles and events leading to Ragnarok. A reference is made to Heimdallr, the watchman of the Aesir, linking the god with Jotunheim, where he will collect his horn, Gjallarhorn, to summon armies in aid of the Aesir during Ragnarok. Several arguments suggest the name Gjallarhorn is derived from Gjoll, one of the eleven rivers flowing from Jotunheim. The Well of Mimir is also located in Jotunheim and thus, the prophecy of the volva links all events leading to Ragnarok back to Yggdrasil whereby thematically, Fate connects all. Despite the un-making of the cosmos dealt by Ragnarok, Yggdrasil catches fire but endures, enabling the new cosmos to begin.