Archive for the ‘Tolkien the Edda et al.’ category

Würms and Tongues and Other Wickedness

March 19, 2011

Daily Draw March 19th, 2011

My new receiver for satellite from Bell Canada seems to have died. They’re mailing us another one. Great, let’s see if we can even get it installed. No TV for at least five days. Mailing a receiver, welcome to the rural idyll. Always something.

I did this card the day before because I got a notion to do up some sort of wreath, and wreaths go with my Poetic Edda and The Lord of the Rings Tarot study thingy. Yeah, the old study thingy, one of my Eccentric Studies. I get bored unless I can mix things up like Man Ray.

First we must gather the ingredients for the recipe…..


This is Théoden and Wormtongue again, I’ve had them before. This week I’m getting the same cards again from decks, has there been a rip in the space/time continuum?

The King of Wands is usually a fiery, creative person, someone who can get things cooking and inspire others, but Théoden was drugged and duped by Wormtongue, and since I got the Ratty card earlier this week about inertia, Big T. is the perfect example of inertia and lack of leadership. This is the guy you wanted to kick in the ass, even while feeling sorry for him coming under the influence of the unscrupulous Wormtongue. He had everything and wasn’t using his power and intellect. He let the weasel in the corn take his power.

And Wormtongue, worm, serpent, snake in the grass, weasel in the corn, is an example of ridding yourself of the influence of others, such autonomy is part of leadership, part of having vision that inspires. Eventually Théoden did go on to inspire and lead, despite grief and fresh tragedy.

From the Poetic Edda I randomly put my finger on these ingredients:

Glaumvor said, the wife of Gunnar,
she said to Vingi, since she felt it was warranted:
‘I don’t know if our feasting will be rewarded as we
would wish;
the coming of a guest is a wickedness if something happens because of it.’

Now we need our wreath, to spice the pot and round this out for a robust sauce:

Well yeah, you’re having a little dinner in the feasting hall, which is nicely decorated, and you’ve done up a welcoming wreath for the door with some pineapple motifs and hand-dyed fabric, and then this guest comes, breathing fire and causing bad things to happen.

Gandalf isn’t always around to save people from the Wormtongues of the world. Poor Gunnar was thrown in with some serpents, managed to subdue them and then an adder bit him. Snakes, serpents, wyrms or würms, they get you in the end. I think Vingi was chopped to death by men with axes and other people had their hearts cut out, one of which was roasted and eaten, gold was taken, blood was spilled and quaffed, and on and on. Not quite the feast they counted on.

What all this has to do with the King of Wands I’m not sure, but perhaps it’s about taking care in what you inspire? We could say it is unfortunate that Wormtongue got his claws in Théoden, but did the King not hold responsibility for that? Yes, he inspired the guest to the feast that made all kinds of other bad things happen.

The End

Oh man, I’ve got to go do the dishes. “But honey, I had to do up this important wreath first to go with Gandalf and Glaumvor and Gunnar….and then I had to write it up and I kept spelling Glaumvor wrong.”

Uh-huh. The satisfaction of a good study.

And I bet Gandalf never had to deal with Bell Canada.


I Cast Skirnir as Wormtongue

December 21, 2009

Daily Draw December 21st, 2009

Zounds, I got sidetracked and haven’t done a Tolkien draw since July 14th.

That was mainly because I didn’t have my own copy of the relevant text, the Poetic Edda. After dithering for several months I finally bought the Carolyne Larrington translation rather than the Lee Hollander one simply because it cost $9 less. Had I been rolling in money, I would have bought both and compared them. I’m sure the tedium of that would have been fascinating for my two readers.

Opening the Magic Bag of Ragnarok, I fight my way past the charms of Smaug and Shelob and grab the deck.

“Wormtongue’s insidious advice poisons the mind of good King Théoden.”

Yeah, and we all liked it when Wormtongue got his, didn’t we?

Whispers and niggly thoughts can come from our inner self as well. The still, quiet voice of the human brain as Wormtongue. Insidious is a good word, it comes from Latin words meaning “ambush” or “to sit in, or lie in wait.” Ohhh, isn’t that just it? Those niggly thoughts lying in wait to ambush you when you initially started off on a fine day? The booklet speaks of negativity and self-sabotage and “your own invisible ceilings and thermostats.”

And from the Edda:

“Gerd said:
Be welcome now, lad, and receive the crystal cup,
full of ancient mead;
though I had never thought that I should ever love
one of the Vanir well.”

This is from the story entitled Skirnir’s Journey and Gerd is speaking to Skirnir himself here.

Larrington has anglicized some of these names, so Gerd is Gerdor or Geror elsewhere and the story is the poem Skírnismál, which translates as “sayings of Skirnir” which she calls Skirnir’s Journey.

Skirnir has come to Gerd to try and get her to marry the Norse god Freyr; he is Freyr’s messenger, and Freyr is one of the Vanir, a group of gods. Freyr saw the beautiful girl and fell in love as he looked over the worlds, but Freyr has become sullen and sad with his great lovesickness, so Skirnir agrees to woo her for Freyr. Freyr is a god of virility or fertility and brother of the goddess Freyja.

Gerd shares the mead with Skirnir, all the while niggling away about differences and why it wouldn’t work, the Wormtongue of her mind fairly ready to ambush the meeting. They go back and forth, she dithers and plays hard to get. It’s quite charming and is thought to have originally been performed as a play or minstrel show.

Perhaps we could also compare Skirnir to Wormtongue? He practically bullies the poor girl into submission although she puts up a lively verbal parry. Or perhaps the direct analogy to Wormtongue is Gerd playing on Freyr’s mind?

I like the back and forth dialogue of this, it ties in so well with The Devil card in tarot and clever words, or sly manipulation.

Trolling for the Loaf of Heaven

July 14, 2009

Daily Draw July 14th, 2009

Another wonderful The Lord of the Rings Tarot card:


Generally this card in tarot says to watch out for thieving sneaks, be they giant-sized or not. Trolls are an apt tie-in to this archetype.


These are the three trolls, Tom, Bert, and Bill, from the book The Hobbit, who came upon the camp of Bilbo and his dwarf friends on their travels. They tied the hobbit and dwarves up, in preparation for eating them, and fought over the camp’s possessions. They fought so hard they forget to get underground before the sun came up and thus turned to stone.

In The Lord of the Rings, Frodo, Sam and their party come across the three troll statues, and Sam creates a rhyme about them stealing bones and eating them and how Tom Bombadil tried to get the bones of his Uncle Tim back but only succeeded in hurting his foot when he kicked the troll.

Stone trolls, as these three are, were quite prevalent in Tolkien mythology. In Tolkien’s world these chaps were very stupid and liked a pint of beer and were rather focused on eating meat, fighting, and hoarding treasure. Tolkien had several types of trolls such as hill trolls, cave trolls, mountain trolls, and the Olog-hai that were alarming trolls created by Sauron with horny scales and black blood. Some of them turned to stone in sunlight and some didn’t.

Trolls are found throughout the Poetic Edda and the Prose Edda but they are neither stupid nor fierce, more like magical beings. Either that or happy family folk, living by men much like giant peasants, but prone to thieving property and children; there are some changeling legends regarding trolls. There does seem to be a confusing overlap in the Edda whereby trolls are like dwarves. This may be where Tolkien got the sunlight factor, as I mentioned in a previous post that the dwarves in the Edda would die if exposed to sunlight.

In the east sat the old
in Ironwood
and there gave birth
to Fenris children;
Just one of these
of all of them
becomes the moon-thief
in troll’s guise.

Ironwood was a forest mentioned in the Völuspá where troll women lived and gave birth to giants and wolves (Fenris children.) Fenris the Wolf I discussed in this post

Another translation of this section:

In the east sat an old woman in Iron-wood
and nurtured there offspring of Fenrir
a certain one of them in monstrous form
will be the snatcher of the moon

The moon hound was supposed to eat the flesh of all people that die, and was credited with swallowing the moon. I assume swallowing the moon, which is a helpful light if you live in a time without electricity, was quite a dire thing for humans, bringing on literal darkness where there had been light before, and thus leaving them open to harm and despair.

In the Prose Edda section Skáldskaparmál, there is a similar mention of the troll woman:

They call me Troll;
Gnawer of the Moon,
Giant of the Gale-blasts,
Curse of the rain-hall,
Companion of the Sibyl,
Nightroaming hag,
Swallower of the loaf of heaven.
What is a Troll but that?

Trolls have some similarities in Norse mythology to Greek mythology in that they are associated with residing in the earth, and as such were depicted as darker in their motivations. Living in thick, frightening woods or lonely, rocky places, because of this darkness, they were sometimes said to be black spirits and mischief-makers. This malignancy seems to have morphed over the years into something evilly crude in fairy tales and such, thus tinting Tolkien’s approach as well; the origin of the fairy tale The Three Billy Goats Gruff is Scandinavian.

Watch out!




Diaspora of the Vampire Dwarves

May 27, 2009

Daily Draw May 27th, 2009

I’ve been fiddling with computer security today so not in a mood to spend oodles more hours on the computer doing up a daily, but as usual, The Lord of the Rings Tarot card I picked was interesting.

FIVE OF COINS – The Company of the Ring enter the Underworld Labyrinth of Moria.

The mines of Moria was an episode that always made me sad because of what happens to Gandalf, but I like the idea of a barrier actually being a doorway. It’s not that it’s shut and you are left out in the cold, it’s that you haven’t turned a problem into an opportunity. A slightly different skew than the usual Rider-Waite image.

When moonlight hit it, the inscription at the top of the arch read in Elvish: “The Doors of Durin, Lord of Moria. Speak, friend, and enter.” The pun was that you said the word “friend” in Elvish to enter. A bit like hiding in plain sight, or the way in being so simple that you don’t see it until a certain light hits it. This is an unusual subtlety to this card that I like.

There are dwarves throughout the Edda, although it’s not known if they were deemed to be man-sized initially in Norse mythology. They certainly weren’t described as small in the Prose Edda, which said they had the “likeness of a human” although they lived in earth and stones. It’s possible that the original term “dvergar” from Old Norse meant “something tiny,” in line with the meaning from other old European languages. In which case, anyone at the time knowing the word would know that dwarfs were tiny. It doesn’t seem to have been spelled out in a description though until medieval times.

In the Edda they are pale like corpses with black hair. In one poem someone jokes about a dwarf looking like he spent time with the dead. They lived underground out of the sunlight because sun kills them. Amazingly, this is like a vampire legend, only with Nordic dwarves!

Dvergar were good technicians–they carved the first humans, and while they had divine powers they couldn’t give life, so other gods gave the humans life. So, we have these god creatures, dodging the sun at dawn, and rooting around in the dark earth, sometimes moving so slowly as to seem like stones themselves. Independent of Odin’s revelation of the runes, a dwarf called Dvalinn was supposed to have discovered the knowledge of the runes and taken them to his people, as described in the Poetic Edda.

The Dvergar were skilled metal-workers and made ships, the spear of Odin, rings, the hammer of Thor, swords etc., so it isn’t surprising that Tolkien gave them such talents as well. Some of the dwarves in Tolkien’s writing have names taken from the Poetic Edda where the names of dwarves are listed. Tolkien apparently also used certain “historical” characteristics of Jews, like being warlike as the Jews described in the Old Testament, using a different language and culture among themselves, being excellent craftsmen, and the diaspora of the Jewish people in history, and tacked it onto his dwarves along with an invented Semitic language. Dwarves lived among others, but like the Jews, were set apart by these characteristics.

I think that this is quite a clever tie-in, and reflects the nature of civilizations and cultures, moving, dispersing, or dying out. Tolkien could have just rammed out a story, but he liked to reflect real history and culture in his writing. The Dwarves were without a home when they lost their kingdom of Moria, not unlike the beggars shown on the traditional tarot Five of Coins, or the Jews after the Diaspora, so there’s another subtle aspect of this card reflected in the group gathered at the door of Moria.


Reach For the Windlord

May 25, 2009

Daily Draw May 25th, 2009

From The Lord of the Rings Tarot:

ACE OF SWORDS – The intervention of Gwaihir the Eagle represents a major breakthrough.


This Ace is one of my personal cards; I call it the “Reach” card, because the energy allows you to reach for the sky. All things are possible with this energy.

Because of the association with Gwaihir, in this deck the card is more about sudden resolution, breakthrough and intervention, as if the energy came from outside you, but the image also makes me think of an eagle rising from the torso of a person, the eagle of the soul and heart inside, rising upward.

The Great Eagles in Tolkien mythology are much larger than regular eagles and are intelligent and can speak. It reminds me of the eagles that Tolkien’s friend C.S. Lewis used, and particularly Far-sight the Eagle in The Last Battle from The Chronicles of Narnia. The authors seem to have had similar views in their writing about intellectually elevated races of animals that talked and were larger than normal.

The eagles from The Hobbit lived in the Misty Mountains as referenced in the script at the top of this image on the card. When Goblins intercepted the dwarves in this book, the eagles rescued them. Gwaihir is specifically the eagle in The Lord of the Rings who rescues Gandalf when Saruman has him trapped in Isengard, and Gwaihir and two companions rescue Frodo and Sam from Mount Doom at the end of the book.

In the Edda, there are several references to eagles. An eagle of much knowledge (who isn’t given a name) sits at the top of the world tree Yggdrasil, which is the ash tree that Odin hung on for nine days. A squirrel called Ratatoskr runs up and down the tree carrying messages to the eagle from the wyrm Niohoggr or Nidhogg (a dragon or similar serpent) at the roots of the tree. The wyrm and the eagle seem to have been rather envious of each other, sending forth mutually malicious, ratty messages via the squirrel. As well as eating a root of Yggdrasil, the dragon sucked the corpses of the dead, so not a terribly nice fellow. I can imagine the eagle rising above such nastiness and giving his attention to knowledge instead: Reach for a better thought.

Ratatosk is the squirrel who there shall run
On the ash-tree Yggdrasil;
From above the words of the eagle he bears,
And tells them to Nithhogg beneath.

In the Prose Edda, mention is also made of a hawk that sits between the eagle’s eyes, but the hawk isn’t mentioned in the Poetic Edda.

Gwaihir means “windlord,” so perfect in my mind for the Reach card of wind, sky, and intellect.





The Gentlest Lady and the Evening Star

May 24, 2009

Daily Draw May 24th, 2009

From The Lord of the Rings Tarot:

XVII – THE STAR – The light of the Evening Star shines through Galadriel’s Ring

Oooh lovely, my first draw with this deck.

Galadriel’s ring is called Nenya and was one of the three rings of power given to the Elves. It is also called the Ring of Water; Nenya is derived from the Elvish word “nen” meaning “water.” Here is the direct reference for the card from the chapter The Mirror of Galadriel from the first book in the trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring:

“She lifted up her white arms, and spread out her hands towards the East in a gesture of rejection and denial. Eärendil, the Evening Star, most beloved of the Elves, shone clear above. So bright was it that the figure of the Elven-lady cast a dim shadow on the ground. Its rays glanced upon a ring about her finger; it glittered like polished gold overlaid with silver light, and a white stone in it twinkled as if the Even-star had come down to rest upon her hand.”

Eärendil the Mariner, is a great seafarer in mythology who carried the morning star across the sky. His story is found in The Silmarillion, and he is referred to throughout The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien took the name Eärendil from Anglo Saxon, although there are also Germanic variations of the name.

The planet Venus is called the Evening Star when in the west and the Morning Star when in the east. Except for the moon, it is the brightest object in the night sky and reaches its brightest point just before sunrise or shortly after sunset.

I couldn’t find a direct reference to the Evening Star in the Edda, which doesn’t mean there isn’t one. In the Icelandic language it is called “aptan-stjarna” and is mentioned in Alexander’s Saga (about Alexander the Great), which is a piece of medieval Icelandic literature.

Edgar Allan Poe and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow both wrote poems about the evening star. Poe refers to the distant fire of the evening star which he admires more than the cold light of the moon. And dear old Longfellow, rhapsodizes:

Lo! in the painted oriel of the West,
Whose panes the sunken sun incarnadines,
Like a fair lady at her casement, shines
The evening star, the star of love and rest!
And then anon she doth herself divest
Of all her radiant garments, and reclines
Behind the sombre screen of yonder pines,
With slumber and soft dreams of love oppressed.
O my beloved, my sweet Hesperus!
My morning and my evening star of love!
My best and gentlest lady! even thus,
As that fair planet in the sky above,
Dost thou retire unto thy rest at night,
And from thy darkened window fades the light.

“Oriel” is an archaic word for a bay window. Trust Longfellow, I once tried to read his translation of Dante. Never again. However, the lovely and poetic “Hesperus” is a classic name for the evening star.

“My best and gentlest lady” could describe Galadriel too. Like Galadriel and her mirror, the star shines and illuminates. She guides with her soft, peaceful light and brings us Hesperus renewal and healing.





Heimdall and Boromir Find a Tarot Bag at Ragnarok

May 16, 2009

In preparation for The Lord of the Rings Tarot that a friend is sending me, I decided to make a bag for it. My inspiration was a painting in an old manuscript that depicts the god Heimdall blowing his horn before Ragnarok. In that battle, he and Loki fight, and although Heimdall wins, he dies of his wounds. I drew a parallel between Heimdall and poor Boromir blowing his horn before his last stand against the Orcs in The Lord of the Rings. They both died of their wounds, alas.

Superimposed over the painting, I have printed one of Tolkien’s poems, the one that refers to Aragorn, that was given to the hobbits in The Fellowship of the Ring when they still knew him as Strider. I used the font Edda to tie into my theme.


The bag is lined with a Celtic-themed fabric in red, blue, green, and yellow, and I’ve picked up those colours in both the image and the beads on the drawstring. Also on the drawstring are some pewter beads: a dragon charm, to represent Smaug; a spider, to represent Shelob; a Celtic knot; and moon and stars imagery.


Thwarted in my attempts to buy a Lord of the Rings action figure for lack of money  (I often like to get relevant action figures for decks), I found a free paper doll pattern online and made a representation of Boromir’s last battle when he blew his horn so desperately to call for aid while trying to protect the hobbits.


You can’t go wrong with a pertinent visual.

All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.