The War Between the Clouds and the Earth – Part One

Once, in the time before the time before, the Clouds went to war with the Earth.

For many years the Clouds had envied the Earth, for it was large and strong, and did not move from place to place; and for many years, the Earth had envied the Clouds, for they were light and fast, and could move many leagues in a day; and so the Earth had sometimes asked his brother the Sky to part the clouds with his breath; and the Clouds in their turn had sometimes turned black with rage, and poured out their contempt upon the Earth.

One day, the Clouds were running fast across the face of the Sky, and, looking down upon the Earth, they said:

“Look at the Earth down there – all he does is sit around all day, while we work hard to bring him the water he needs from the Ocean. Why should we break our backs fetching and carrying? Let us float away, high up, and see how he feels then!”

And so the Clouds were as good as their word, and they floated away, high up, till the Earth could hardly see them. And then the Earth was angry, and said:

“Feckless spirits! My mouth is dry, but I will not call for the Clouds to come down. They can float away up there and see how they like it!”

And so the Earth was as good as his word, and he did not call for the Clouds to come down. But as for the Clouds, without the water from the Ocean, they started, slowly, to disappear…

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The Völvur

I went to the Vikings exhibition the other day at the British Museum with my friend Susan, and whilst the highlight for me was undoubtedly the Lewis Chessmen, especially the little berserker guys (they’re the chaps gnawing their shields – never has drug-addled ferocity looked so cute) I was also fascinated to discover some new things about Viking culture, especially the Völvur, prophetesses or seers who held an important place in society, divining the future, and practising magic.

They wore long cloaks of blue or black, and carried a distaff, and although she herself is not specifically identified as a seer, the goddess Freyja is nevertheless associated with the völvur, and to an extent they were her representatives in Midgard, the Middle World – the world of men.

When the gentle god Balder starts to have nightmares that presage his own death, his father Odin rides to Niflheim – the underworld – and wakes a völva sleeping there, and asks her whom she is expecting:

‘The shining mead,’ said the seeress, ‘is brewed for Balder; a shield covers the cauldron. For all their glory, the gods will be filled with despair…’

(Kevin Crossley-Holland, The Penguin Book of Norse Myths)