Word Cloud: THRALL

Word Cloud Resized

by Nona Blyth Cloud

Witches.

In cultures around the world, stories are told of women who have some extraordinary power: the gift of foretelling the future; of casting spells to alter reality; of mysteriously healing the sick; of cursing their enemies and their enemies’ descendants; or bending men to their will through sexual enchantment.

They have been known by many names: Circe, Baba Yaga, Hecate, Medea, Morgan Le Fay, and countless others.

One of the very oldest witch stories comes from The Poetic Eddur, anglicized as Eddas. John Bruno Hare describes them as “the oral literature of Iceland, which were finally written down from 1000 to 1300 C.E. The Eddas are a primary source for our knowledge of ancient Norse pagan beliefs.”

The Eddas lore has inspired music from Wagner to Jethro Tull, visual art from W. G. Collingwood to Marvel Comics, and the writings of Tolkien, J.K. Rowling, and Neil Gaiman.

As with any ancient text, the Eddas are open to many interpretations. I have pieced this reasonable version together as suits my theme.

Odin_and the Völven_by_Lorenz Frølich

That most ancient witch, The Völva, who knew nine worlds before the present World Tree,Yggdrasil, sprouted from the ground, is the “she” who remembers the first war between the rival deities, the Æsir and the Vanir, of which the trial of Gullveig, “Gold-Brew,” is a triggering incident. Gullveig was tried as a witch in the High Hall of Odin, and sentenced to death. Three times they raised her, struck through on their spears, but she still lived, so then three times she was burned, yet still she lived.

After Gullveig’s ordeal, she traveled from place to place, and was known as Heidr, “Bright One” or “Of the Heath” (related to the word heathen – pagan – someone who worships outdoors in nature.)

This translation is by Henry Adams Bellows (1885 – 1939).

Völuspá – “The Vision of the Witch”

She remembers the first war in the world
When Gold-Brew was hoist on the spears
And in the High One´s hall they burned her
Three times they burned the three times born
Often, not seldom, but she still lives!
She was called Bright One when she came to the settlements
The greatly talented Carrier of the Wand
She performed magic, ecstatically she performed it
She knew how to cast spells
She was always loved by wicked women.

Women writers have often used witches and magick imagery in their work. Here Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892 – 1950) writes as a man enchanted by the witch who will never completely surrender to him, however much he longs to possess her.

crone and maiden tumblr

Witch-Wife

She is neither pink nor pale,
And she never will be all mine;
She learned her hands in a fairy-tale,
And her mouth on a valentine.

She has more hair than she needs;
In the sun ‘tis a woe to me!
And her voice is a string of colored beads,
Or steps leading into the sea.

She loves me all that she can,
And her ways to my ways resign;
But she was not made for any man,
And she never will be all mine.


In Her Kind, Anne Sexton (1928 – 1974) claims kinship with those women who have been feared in age after age.

Her Kind

I have gone out, a possessed witch,
haunting the black air, braver at night;
dreaming evil, I have done my hitch
over the plain houses, light by light:
lonely thing, twelve-fingered, out of mind.
A woman like that is not a woman, quite.
I have been her kind.Head of Benin Iyoba (Queen Mother) 18th Century

I have found the warm caves in the woods,
filled them with skillets, carvings, shelves,
closets, silks, innumerable goods;
fixed the suppers for the worms and the elves:
whining, rearranging the disaligned.
A woman like that is misunderstood.
I have been her kind.

I have ridden in your cart, driver,
waved my nude arms at villages going by,
learning the last bright routes, survivor
where your flames still bite my thigh
and my ribs crack where your wheels wind.
A woman like that is not ashamed to die.
I have been her kind.


Jane Baxter wrote this poem after reading a book called The Devil’s Children, which includes an account of a woman burned at the stake in Scotland, and the story of her children.

Burning Of A Witch

The whip it rose the skin was scourged
It wealed and then it bled
The whip it rose and rose again
Till they thought the lass was dead

A man stood there alone apart
Who once stood proud and tall
With spirit cowed and broken heart
A witness to it all

“Release! Release!” the whispered voice
Kept pleading piteously
“Dear God! Have mercy on my plight,
And make them set me free!”

But her cries they fell on deafened ears
And eyes that burned with lust
No hand was raised to help her
For they said that she was cursed

This curse that brought her to her end
When she was naught but still a child
Was her beauty so fair
Twas beyond any compare
Her beauty so wondrous and wild

She was the envy of dried up old women
And she set men aflame with desire
But knowing that they could not have her
They condemned her to death on the pyre

The man who’d stood alone apart
Cried out, “Dear God, you’re wrong!”
But well he knew within his heart
He had stayed his hand too long

Then death approached
Through the fagot’s smoke and pitch
Welcomed then by she who burned
A girl and not a witch

witch burning


For all the power attributed to witches, women accused and tried for witchcraft often died by burning, hanging or drowning. Victims were singled out by witch hunters because they were “different.” Women who were too intelligent and strong-willed; or conversely mentally ill or impaired; women who had birth defects or distinctive birth marks; healers and midwives; the desperately poor or those more fortunate; “loose” women; and most often of all, women whose neighbors had some grudge against them – all could become targets.

The hideous hag, the beautiful seductress, the nosy neighbor, the woman who kept herself to herself – witches are whatever humanity finds to fear or desire in women. We women are all “her kind” in some way.


Thank you for reading this week’s Word Cloud.


SOURCES AND FURTHER READING

Völuspá, st.21-22 (“The Vision of the Witch”), Poetic Edda
http://freya.theladyofthelabyrinth.com/?page_id=206
http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/poe/

Witch-Wife from Collected Poems by Edna St. Vincent Millay, © 1956 by Norma Millay Ellis, Harper & Brothers
https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/witch-wife

Her Kind – from The Complete Poems of Anne Sexton, © 1981 by Linda Gray Sexton and Loring Conant, Jr. – Houghton Mifflin.
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/171268

Burning Of A Witch © 1974 by Jane Baxter, Dorset England
http://www.poetryofscotland.co.uk/Other/burningofawitch.php

Images:

  1. Odin and the Völva by the Danish artist Lorenz Frølich
  2. Baba Yaga – artist not credited
  3. Head of Benin Inyoba (Queen Mother) 18th Century
  4. Raising a Witch for Burning – artist not credited

Word Cloud photo by Larry Cloud

About wordcloud9

Nona Blyth Cloud has lived and worked in the Los Angeles area for the past 45 years, spending much of that time commuting on the 405 Freeway. After Hollywood failed to appreciate her genius for acting and directing, she began a second career managing non-profits, from which she has retired. Nona has now resumed writing whatever comes into her head, instead of reports and pleas for funding. She lives in a small house overrun by books with her wonderful husband and a bewildered Border Collie.
This entry was posted in Mythology, Poetry, Scotland, Word Cloud and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to Word Cloud: THRALL

  1. bron98 says:

    Let’s say a company decides not to donate to a politician and then let’s say the politician calls for investigation of the company.

    What do you call that? What word would you use to describe what is going on?

  2. Depends on if said company was doing something wrong or at least facially wrong. If they are or reasonably appear a bad actor, then I’d call it just. If they are not doing anything wrong or anything that appears wrong, then I call it vendetta.

  3. wordcloud9 says:

    I think you are commenting on the wrong story – this is the one about witches and poetry!

    Hi Gene! Happy Howloween!

  4. I dunno….many normally sane politicians seem to be in the thrall of RWNJ teabaggers and evangelicals.

  5. wordcloud9 says:

    LOL 😉

  6. bigfatmike says:

    “If they are or reasonably appear a bad actor, then I’d call it just. ”

    I don’t think so. Your hypothetical specifies the company is doing something wrong.

    But in Bron98’s original situation the implication (as I read it) is that the investigation was launched as retaliation for failing to make the contribution. That is wrong regardless of whether investigation is warranted or not.

    Maybe Bron98 should clarify: was the investigation initiated as retaliation for failure to make the contribution or not?

    And I missed where the witches are in all this. Were they initiating trouble by convincing the CEO not to contribute or were they retaliating by initiating the investigation because they felt slighted. And what does one contribute when witches are involved and likely to be offended. I am assuming they have an ample supply of newts and frogs. And if they don’t isn’t that a sticky wicket explaining why one is making a political contribution of newts and frogs rather than legal tender of campaign flyers?

  7. wordcloud9 says:

    Word Cloud is a weekly discussion of writing, poetry in particular – these comments have been attached to it by mistake — they are in reference to Ann Summers’ work, not mine!

    • bigfatmike says:

      ” these comments have been attached to it by mistake”

      Well that’s the problems isn’t it? I have been reading these guys for years and they just will not stay on topic. Brace yourself. Next thing you know they will probably spend 500 comments talking about the election a full year in advance.

  8. bron98 says:

    Big fat Mike:
    I don’t think you have to worry about that. It doesn’t appear that many people are reading or posting.

    Too bad to, but things change, life is always in flux.

    Ode to flux

    Oh flux your glorious periodicity
    your sinusoidal curves
    alacrity be thy name
    for you can change with the speed of light
    and send mere mortals into tailspins
    or raise them to heights
    unknown or imagined
    glorious, unknown flux
    regale me with your deeds
    and let me laugh as you do
    at the exploits of man

    • bigfatmike says:

      “Too bad to, but things change, life is always in flux. … Ode to flux”

      Why bron98, there is a side to you I never suspected. I always though you were part of that crowd that could not wait to sign on and verbally beat the tar out of anyone on the other side of the issue.

      With all that free market rhetoric who could have suspected there is a sensitive artistic side.

  9. BFM,
    I always knew he had a soft side, but doesn’t show it much. Not sure why, because that is his best side.

    As for the blog, believe it or not, some of us have actual lives to live. On my part, my granddaughter told me last night that since Brandi died last May, I have more or less completely shut down. I didn’t realize how much that is true, but it is, and I have to do something about it.

    Ann and Nona have been doing the heavy lifting in the meantime. All that is about to change. Off in the distance, I hear fresh cavalry charging. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

    • bigfatmike says:

      @Chuck Stanley: “On my part, my granddaughter told me last night that since Brandi died last May, I have more or less completely shut down.”

      I do understand that some people shut down. But I don’t believe a word of it about you. It seems natural to me that you would take some time to reconsider and reconstitute. But I look forward to your next post – when you have some time to devote to us.

  10. bron98 says:

    Dr. Stanley:

    I have marveled, I don’t know if that is the right word, for many years about the losses that you have suffered and through it your ability to remain vibrant, positive and engaged. I have a tremendous amount of respect for you because of this. I don’t know many men whom I consider positive examples but without hesitation I can say that you are one of them.

    Your clan has been well served and led.

    If more men were of your caliber, this would be a much better world.

  11. Bron & BFM,
    You are both too kind. Thank you.

  12. wordcloud9 says:

    I completely concur!

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