This essay was originally published by Witches and Pagans magazine on my blog. This happened one year while I was traveling, when the state of New York was all covered in snow, when the shutting down of the outside world for the winter holidays (the hotel was nearly empty) and the quiet rhythm of the weather lent itself to trance. I've been meaning to paint what I saw for a long while, and finally finished this painting years later during Yule.
A Past December:
It's the season of mistletoe and holly, when bells are ring-jing-jing-a-ling and the year-round Northern outdoor signs that say, "Beware of Falling Ice" finally have meaning. The night is hushed in a way it only gets when there is a blanket of snow, on the eve before a holiday, when everything is closed. Snuggled in a hotel room in upstate New York, red and blue-foil snowflakes covering presents gleam out of the corner of my eye, while real ones slowly fall, dancing over the parking lot.
It's almost midnight. Drowsy with hot cider, lying on my lover's chest and listening to his heartbeat, there's nowhere else I'd rather be…
I feel, rather than hear, the Yule King's call at first: a pull like I'm standing in a river, and then his voice flows across my mind.
"Come, Sister…. Come."
He calls out to me tenderly, but with insistence, close but yet so far, a cold-hushed voice across the snows. But I am warm and happy in my love's arms; I do not seek wisdom tonight, nor adventure. I do not want to make this journey now. I tell the Yule King this, as gently as I can. And to my surprise… he tells me to come to him later—
* * *
Radiant like the returning sun, his armor gleams warmly against the dazzling brilliance of a snowy, moonlit hillside. No mortal ever wore such armor, so elegantly curved and shaped to his body, intricately fitted with enamel ornamenting a restive horse. Long hair spills over his shoulders, darker than the seasoned ash pole in his hand, the gray winter-bare trunk of Yggdrasil rising at his back. A holly crown rings his black hair, gleaming with stars. He holds Gungnir, his sacred spear, and a sword hangs naked in his other hand, but nothing in him speaks of violence— his merry eyes, the tenderness of his smile, radiates joy.
"Bless me," he asks.
I hesitate, at first, not knowing by which of His many names to name him. To bless a God is not something to be done lightly, and I am mortal.
So I reach up and put my hands on his broad shoulders and say the things that come to mind, thinking of how Skadhi once blessed me, and pray they are enough. Poetry does not flow from my tongue; the words do not come unbidden, as if remembered by my soul; they are carefully shaped, all that I can think that he would need:
'I bless you, Ingvi.
I bless you as King and Husband and Lover.
I bless you to lead Gods and wights and men
I bless you to succeed'
'I bless that your sword grant both life and death;
I bless you to be wise and just.'
'I bless you to be brave and loving. And to be loved in return.
I bless you with strength, courage and mercy,
And I bless you with my love, Ingvi:
Lord of Gods,
He hands me his sword to bless, and I kiss it on the flat, near the hilt, where the runes are deeply carved. I lean up to kiss him (for The Lord is very tall), throwing an arm around his neck, and kiss his armored chest— a kiss farewell, good luck before he leaves, but I know he will return.
He smiles and asks me to bless him one last time, hefting Gungnir and gazing up at its bronze tip, blazing like the rising sun.
I do, calling him Odhin, for Odhin he is as well, God of ecstasy and leader of hosts.
And then he bids me farewell, thanking me with a deep, satisfied sigh.
"Enjoy the morrow," he says (for it's still night, and the eve of the holiday, and he has been, this whole time, so elegantly formal in his half of this ancient ritual, and patient with me).
And in a shimmer of sunlight on a stream, of day on snow, of firelight winking on gold, he's gone.
Rarely do we consider that Odhin has not always been the Old Man… and might not always be. Linguistically and by symbolism, he is related to Lugh/Llew Llaw Gyffes, a Celtic God of bards, skilled crafts, and the shining heat of the sun, father of Cú Chulainn-- and a young warrior king bearing quite a similar spear.
I invite you to do your own research here, including the many names by which Odhin is known in the Eddas and his frequent romantic and other exploits far more appropriate to a younger man than a grizzled, one-eyed, iron-haired warrior. The work of Norse and comparative mythology scholars such as Hilda Ellis Davidson and Jan Puhvel help.