"Writing a book is the art of listening to oneself."-Brad Cameron

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Binding of Fenrir

I find it difficult to ignore the fact that so many myths from so many different cultures share similar themes. One in particular is the idea that evil can be bound, that it can be literally kept at bay either physically or metaphorically from its continual torment of man. Christian theology tells us that Satan will be bound, that his influence on mankind will be held back for a thousand years. Similarly, in the ancient Norse mythology, we are told that Fenrir, the giant wolf and offspring of Loki would be bound, literally, until the coming of Ragnarok. His role, after his release and during the end of days, is enormous, with far reaching consequences.

The story is told that the gods discovered Loki had fathered three more offspring (their mother being the evil giantess, Angrboda). They were appalled to think that there were three more evil inheritors of the Loki gene running around, shedding misfortune and deceit upon the other nine worlds. And so the gods agreed that Loki’s children must be captured. Bursting into the house of Angrboda in the night, a group of gods kidnapped the children and brought them before Odin. The fate of Loki’s other two children will be the topic of another blog, but for now we focus primarily upon Fenrir, the wolf.

Loki’s other children were hideous to look upon, their fate became immediate, but Fenrir appeared harmless, no different from any other wolf. Odin decreed that they should keep a careful eye on Fenrir, and the gods agreed that Fenrir should be given leave to roam freely among the green and golden fields of Asgard.

But the wolf grew and soon became a great beast.

Odin had been warned by the Norns, the keepers of the well of Urd and tellers of the future, that Fenrir would be the cause of Odin’s death. The gods were alarmed and finally agreed that since they could not kill beast they must catch and fetter him. By no means an easy task.

Fenrir was no idiot. Capturing the wolf would require cunning and trickery. Several of the gods made a chain of iron links and took it to Fenrir asking, “Are you as strong as this?”

Fenrir inspected the chain. “It’s certainly strong, but I am stronger,” he boasted.

The gods wound the chain around Fenrir’s body. “Finished,” the beast snarled. He planted his feet well apart, filled his lungs with air, then flexed every muscle in his body. The links burst apart and the gods sprang back in fright.

The gods lost no time in making another chain, this one twice as strong as the first. “If you can break this chain,” the gods said, “you will be known for your strength throughout the nine worlds.”

The wolf bowed his head, allowing the chain to once again be wrapped around his immense body. He stood up and dug his paws into the ground, straining and straining until a loud crack was heard and the chain lay at his feet, bent and broken.

After this the gods were terrified. They began to consider the fact that they may not be able to bind Fenrir after all.

The All Father, Odin, finally came forward, suggesting that the gods seek the help of the dwarves. Traveling far into the shadowy depths of Svartalfheim, the world of the dark elves, the gods promised the dwarves gold and more gold if they could create a chain strong enough to bind Fenrir. What they created was brought to the realm of Odin, a fetter as smooth and supple as a silk ribbon.

“What is it made of?” Odin asked, fingering the chain.

“Six things,” announced Skirnir, a faithful servant of Freyr. “The sound a cat makes when it moves; a woman’s beard; the roots of a mountain; the sinews of a bear; the breath of a fish; and a bird’s spittle.”

The gods brought the fetter to Fenrir and showed it to him, challenging him once again to test its strength.
Fenrir agreed, but reluctantly, he suspected a trick but did not want to be accused of cowardice. The gods wound the chain round and round the wolf’s neck, body and legs, until it was all used up. Fenrir struggled against it, but the more he strained, the tighter the chain became. Fenrir was finally bound.

The gods drove the beast, still fettered with the dwarves’ chain, a mile down into the earth. Fenrir’s howls were terrible, and slather streamed from his jaws, yet there he waits, bound and gagged until the beginning of Ragnarok, a wonderful story you will see told in my third book of The Zeke Proper Chronicles: The Gates of Asgard.

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