by Lari Jo Walker
Lucy always had a story ready. This particular day I had been running errands in the madness of a December afternoon. Just before I left the third store, I smelled cinnamon. How I recognized it among the odorous potpourris that stunk up the shop, I will never know. But it was a moment of grace. I beat a path to her door, and Lucy had the tea in the pot before I sat down.
When we were settled, she began.
Try to see this in your mind: a forest in the north, a winter with dim light, and a small log house amid the trees. A cart path passes by the front door, only feet from its wood planks and iron latch. A small window of thick, frosted glass set into the upper half of the door emits a soft glow.
The glass darkens for a moment and the door opens . A tall, beautiful woman, with hair so white it nearly flashes in the dim light under the trees , steps out of the door with a blanket in her hands. As she unfolds it, the deep blue –black fabric sparkles in places. Then she shakes it out into the night air, and a light, soft snow begins to fall. Fluffy wisps of silver drift slowly to the forest floor, and the woman looks into the darkness – right at us! – and smiles. She is gone into the house so quickly we barely catch the closing of the door.
In minutes we hear the soft thuds of a horse’s hooves on the path. The blanket of fir needles makes the sound nearly inaudible, so we feel their vibration more than anything. As it nears we see a small cart being pulled by a small mare. A man is steering the cart, and from behind him we hear the moans of a woman. She is clearly in great pain, and the agitation of the man is evident by the way he jerks on the reins to stop the cart just outside the cottage. Immediately, the door opens, as if the woman inside had been waiting for the inhabitants of the cart.
Strangely, the woman steps to the front of the cart and speaks to the mare in a low murmur. The horse nods and shakes its head, and the man interrupts the moment.
“Hello, umm, can I speak to you, woman?”
“You may,” the white-haired lady answers. We can tell from her tone she enjoyed conversation with the horse far more than she will with the horse’s master.
“My wife is in the cart. She says she has started the birthing pains – though our doctor said the baby would not come for a week or two more. I only brought her with me on my travels today because she wanted to come along. She never goes with me to the far village. Today is the first time.” His voice trailed off as he came to the end of an explanation that had not been requested.
“Young man, your senseless babble annoys me. You think more of excuses than the discomfort of your dear woman. Help her down from the cart and I will take her inside. You can stay in the stable tonight, as there is no room for you at this inn.”
The man’s startled face brought a soft chuckle from the older woman.
“The barn is clean and without drafts. I hope you have been kind to your pony. If not, you may have a tough time of it tonight. Meeting your daughter in the morning should put you right again.”
With that the two women stepped over the threshold and the door closed again on the cart, the man, a smug little horse, and the falling snow. This time we follow the women into the warmth of a cozy room. The door has just latched into place when the young woman throws her arms around the older woman’s neck.
“Oh, Frigga, it was just as mother told me. On the way back through the woods, just as the snow began to fall, we saw your cabin. It is such a blessing to come here for the birthing of our child.”
“You are welcome here, daughter Mara. How is your mother? I haven’t seen her since two summers past. She came for the woman’s- change tea. Is she well?”
“She was here? I didn’t know of that. Yes, she is very energetic and strong – and I think quite beautiful, though she ages. She…” Mara stopped abruptly as her breath quickened, and her hands flew to the large mound that was her waist.
Frigga made a circle in the air around the younger woman’s belly, and Mara’s body relaxed.
“Let’s get you settled on the couch. Then we will talk. For now, rest and center your mind, Mara. Balance your breathing between the inhale and exhale, and count to four – in and out.”
Mara’s eyes closed, and Frigga moved quickly but smoothly through preparations she had made so many times she could not count them. When steaming water, towels, oils, and pillows had been arranged neatly around the room, she lifted a white candle from a carved wooden box sitting by the window on the north wall of the room. She placed it in a holder at the head of the soft bed to the right of the fireplace. She lit it just as Mara’s eyes opened.
“Mother is well, Frigga. I will tell her you asked about her. “ Then she blushed a bright pink and asked, “Frigga, you were unkind to my husband. Why? He is a good man, who…”
Frigga turned to face her, “Mara, I see that you are healthy and contented. That is all your man means to me, the protection and sustenance of your life and your daughter’s. Beyond that I have no use for men’s ways. They are childish, stubborn brutes more often than not. And they are so small-minded and jealous of the woman’s power to bear life from her womb, they make saints of virgins and whores of women. “
“But Frigga, they worship the Mother Mary. They treat women with respect!”
“Mara, jealous men fear the independence of an adult woman so much that they will cast her into the darkness, at best. Stone her, more often. Mother Mary was a virgin in their crazy story. I’m sorry, Mara. Your husband pleases you, and so he is a good man, to you. Let’s not speak of this again.”
Time passed while Mara labored and Frigga sat spinning at her wheel. The sound of the thread running through her fingers soothed Mara’s mind, and the quiet between the women was peaceful and contented. Finally, Mara’s pains came more quickly, and Frigga helped her to a chair made for birthing. After great pain, spilled blood and water, and the holy sharing of two women with one purpose, Mara delivered a sweet girl with downy golden hair.
Cleaned, gowned, and tucked into bed, Mara sat with her baby at her breast, and her husband was given a seat close by the new mother. He gasped at the smallness of his daughter, and smiled at her when she puckered her perfect rose-bud lips and rooted at her mother’s breast. When they had counted all fingers and toes, hugged and kissed three times, Frigga sent the new father back to his bed of straw. She swaddled the baby next to Mara and told them both to sleep.
Frigga made her final preparations for the new family. Herbs and ointments were packed carefully in a red leather bag. Two small, very soft blankets, and a set of towels and washcloths joined the medicines. Finally, the white candle , that had burnt only halfway down through the long night, was wrapped in a piece of red felt and tucked lovingly in the tote after Frigga whispered to the burnt end of the taper. “Take the Great Mother’s power and love with you to their home. And if some day they light you again, fill the house with Her almighty blessing and send word of their needs to me.”
Hot tea, soft-boiled eggs, and a sweet bread were ready when Mara, her husband, and Frigga sat down in the morning’s first light. The new father was quiet and nearly blushing as he faced the two women across from him. His wife was now the repository of an ancient strength and wisdom – the ability to bear and raise a child. The old woman knew every action of his body and every desire in his heart.
“It is good that your desire is for the nurturance and protection of your child and her mother. They have already started the change in you that will make you truly a man. I see you are confused. Your work did not end with your daughter’s making. It is only beginning today. Your wife believes in you, so you will succeed in becoming a good man.”
Frigga turned from the husband, giving him not another thought. “Mara, you have entered the life of the Mother today. You will find that the quick step and light laughter of the Maiden have lost their joy for you. Far greater knowledge, far deeper love, far more beautiful gifts will grow in you day-by-day. Remember the Maiden fondly, live the Mother bravely. We will meet again on the wheel. I will say your name and your daughter’s to the Great Mother daily, Mara. Remember me in your prayers as well.”
Lucy’s voice seemed to rise until it reached me in the depths of a winter forest.
Mara and Frigga prayed for each other daily. Mara grew wiser and more beautiful. Her husband became prosperous and cared for his family very well. The little girl became a maiden and then a wife. The day would come when she would take the drive to the far town and stop at Frigga’s door.
And Frigga would never change. That is the way of a goddess. No longer young but happy in the grace of Cronehood , Frigga chose the appearance of a grand-mother. It was the perfect form for her role in the lives of young mothers. Her assurance and quiet strength were the bulwark that generations of women leaned on as they stepped across the threshold into the second phase of their lives. And Frigga was there for the women who rode into that forest. The men and even the babies were not her priority, not even her concern beyond their basic health.
Frigga’s mellow face, soft hands, and quiet voice were a gift to women. Their hearts, their fears, the shadows that slipped through their minds were hers to give voice to and to heal. The life of a mother is one of sacrifice. Whether her child laughs or cries, it is far more important to her than her own emotional state. When her child is sick or hungry, she tends it and feeds it before giving in to her own discomfort. And in this extreme focus of her attention, a mother sometimes feels herself terribly alone. She forgets that she is loved, and that help is there if she asks. She takes the weight and gravity of a lonely planet – a world that exists just for her son or daughter.
Frigga’s name reminds her of a warm cottage in a dark forest where a woman rules the world. She is a woman whose universe turns for her – a mother. And the constellations in Frigga’s blanket are the stars of maids, mothers, and crones who know the holy secrets of womankind.
Lucy’s smile brought me back to the present. As I stepped out of the swirl of snow and pine trees, Lucy winked and said, “We must heat up the pot, your tea has gone cold!”
So we did.