Wolves, Ravens and the Hooded One

This post originally appeared as a guest post on Mighty Thor JRS, one of my favorite book blogs. If you’re into Fantasy, Sword and Sorcery, Vikings, Norse Mythology and the like, do check it out.

Wolves and ravens. Romanticized, vilified and deified, these intriguing creatures reflect our dreams and shadows like few others. One source of their fame in popular imagination began in ancient Scandinavia, where reverence for wolves and ravens was not only pragmatic, such as the symbiotic relationship in which the animals led hunters to prey and shared in the spoils; but also pantheistic, by connecting to and identifying with the animals as helpers, shamanic totems, and messengers of the gods.

Enter Odin, the Allfather in the Norse pantheon. A deity par excellence, Odin is the one-eyed, all-seeing god of war, magic and wisdom. He is a complex and enigmatic figure, associated with poetry and inspiration, madness and battle fury. He hungers for knowledge. A notorious shapeshifter, he is known as a trickster who might grant favor to a devoted follower only to vanish when most needed. Odin is a patron of shamans, poets and magicians who, in their search for truth and pattern, endure grueling trials of hardship and isolation.

Wolves and ravens are Odin’s familiars, of a sort.

Among the many names attributed to Odin is Raven God. The connection between Odin and ravens is deep and ancient, existing before the Viking Age. A god of death and war, Odin was naturally associated with these carrion birds, the beneficiaries of sacrifices and battlefields, and harbingers of the god’s favor. In keeping with Odin’s intellectual nature, ravens are also extremely intelligent. Two of these birds, Hugin (thought) and Munin (desire), fly over the land and tell him of all they see and hear.

In traditional animal lore, crows and ravens are given the honor of belonging to both the seen and unseen realms. They are creatures of the hinterlands, mysterious, powerful and devious. That these birds tend to accompany death also makes them ominous, both feared and revered by their presence on the carcasses of animals, the condemned, or fallen warriors. They are omens, symbols of the implacability of death, and bringers of information from the other side.

Odin is also accompanied by two wolves, Geri and Freki (both meaning “ravenous” or “greedy one”). He gives his wolves all of his food, and drinks only wine. The wolves are said to roam over battlefields, devouring carnage. As the ruler and bestower of battle madness, Odin is the patron god of berserkers and warrior shamans called úlfheðnar (wolf-hides), who underwent powerful initiations in the wilds, living like wolves, to reach a state of possession and thereby acquire the beasts’ strength, fearlessness, and fury—much to the terror and dismay of their enemies.

On the flip side, Odin is the enemy of Fenrir, a monstrous wolf sired by Loki, a wily and ambivalent trickster god. When Fenrir grows out of control, the gods are compelled to chain the wolf using deception, a stunt that comes with a great sacrifice. Fenrir will break free at Ragnarok, the fall of the cosmos, and devour everything in his path, including Odin. Another story tells of Fenrir’s sons Skoll (One Who Mocks) and Hati (One Who Hates), wargs that chase the sun and moon through the sky in hopes of devouring them. At Ragnarok, they will catch their prey, and the sky and earth will darken and collapse.

The wolf, with its ferocious and apocalyptic reputation in Norse mythology, its prowess and grace in nature, and a distinctive howl that puts a primordial chill on the flesh, is an exemplary metaphor, an antagonist in many a dark tale, and a patron of warriors.

Given the frequent appearance of wolves and ravens in mythology, legends, folk and fairy tales throughout the ages, and their remarkable natural traits, it’s easy to see why they are so common in works of fantasy. Battle prowess, cunning, guile, mystery, trickery and darkness—imagery and metaphors abound. My own work is no exception; a love of Northern European mythology and the grim and sublime traits of wolves and ravens inspire me to no end.

In the Chronicles of Ealiron, an ancient hierarchy of wizards holds the raven as the highest level of attainment in the magical arts. The wolf takes on its spookier characteristics in the lore of the Old One, a goddess of life, death, and transformation. In her darkest aspect, the Destroyer, she appears in the shape of a wolf. Water Dark, a novella that takes place in the world of Ealiron, delves deeply into the shadowy, fickle nature of this being, who commands a high price for being summoned, good or ill.

Lorth of Ostarin, the driving force in the Chronicles of Ealiron, is an assassin raised by a wizard. He has the eyes of a wolf and an affinity for ravens, which, being the opportunistic creatures they are, tend to follow him around in much the same way they follow wolves, and for the same reason: to clean up the mess. Lorth and his grim companions also appear in “The Om Tree,” a short story told by an ancient tree that gets its best gossip from—you guessed it—ravens.

The Norse gods haunt many worlds, not just Earth. In Outpost, Book One in The Fylking, Odin, in keeping with his nature, appears at strange times and in strange ways, leaving our protagonists to wonder what he is and whose side he’s on. He goes by many names: Hooded One, Wanderer, Magician. He is served by the Fylking, immortal, Viking-like warriors who take the shapes of wolves and ravens, among other things, though even they can’t guess his agenda. The Wolf Lords, Book Two, delves into the Fenrir Brotherhood, an ancient order of sorcerers who serve the Wolf Gods of the North, including, it is said, Loki himself. Fenrir is their patron, a force used in a variety of nasty ways that don’t always serve the ones who summon him.

Odin, of course, lurks in the shadows, watching and waiting.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

If you’d like to see something beautiful about the value of wolves in nature, watch this: How Wolves Change Rivers

And if ravens fascinate you, do check out the work of Bernd Heinrich, a naturalist who has done fantastic research on ravens in the wild:
Ravens in Winter
Mind of the Raven: Investigations and Adventures with Wolf-Birds

Norse mythology? Here’s a good website, and it includes a reading list: Norse Mythology for Smart People

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

The Chronicles of Ealiron
The Fylking
Outpost
The Wolf Lords
Water Dark
The Eye of Odin
The Om Tree

© F.T. McKinstry 2018. All Rights Reserved.

The Spooky Forest

WWG Print Cover Art

When I was a child, my grandparents lived on a golf course. It was a beautiful place, mysterious and sprawling with woods, lakes and paths. A good place to go fishing, only mind the snakes and snapping turtles. Not far from my grandparents’ house, a path went through a dense patch of woods with a stream running through it. We called it the Spooky Forest. It was generally agreed upon that straying from the path was a bad idea.

Far be it for me to write something that doesn’t have woods in it–the creepier the better. So I’m honoring my childhood haunt with today’s release of the Second Edition Ebook of Wizards Woods and Gods, a collection of twelve dark fantasy tales exploring the mysteries of the Otherworld through tree and animal lore, magic, cosmos, love, war and mysticism.

These stories reflect some general themes, as follows. Click on the story links for descriptions, excerpts and illustrations.

The Power of Creation

Shade Falls

“These things three, your garden needs
“To make the dark and light the same.
“Slis, a frog,
“Gea, the spring and
“Retch, the oldest wizard’s name.”
– From “The Trouble with Tansy”

The forces of creation exist in all things, flora and fauna, seasons, worlds, every act of the heart, every loss and turn of a mind. Light comes from the Void and surprises its creators with something new and heretofore unknown. In “The Trouble with Tansy” and “The Fifth Verse,” two women, a mortal and an immortal, discover the power of creation through the inexorable forces of death.

The Immortal Hunter

Sioros

Had she not been so entranced, Oona might have noticed the shadow falling over her, soft and quiet as a forgotten dream. A wizard can be very sneaky when he wants to. And there he stood, in the fading light of the setting moon, staring down at the remains of his crow with an expression that could have cracked a standing stone. – From “Eating Crow”

Wizards call him sioros, an immortal predator with the body of a male god, towering black wings and the claws and fangs of a mountain cat. To lay eyes on him means either heartbreak or death depending on how the winds blow that day. In “Eating Crow” and “Marked,” one woman attempts to elude the hunter and pays with her heart; the other tries to bargain with him and pays with her life.

War and Transformation

The Glass

A sun’s cycle had passed since Solfaron set its predatory gaze on the Glass. With a warrior’s edgy calm, Liros had told Pael that he lived on the wrong side of the border, in the wrong land, with his forest, his visions, and his sacred observatory. But Pael cared little for his older brother’s admonitions. He loved the land of Moth with all his heart; he had touched the towering crystal observatory of the Glass and he knew what it could do. Solfaron could try to take it but they would fail. Only his love for Liros kept Pael concerned with it at all. War did not affect him, a mystic living in the wilds like an animal.

He questioned this now, as he ran for his life beneath the thunder of warhorses and the shouts of his brother’s men. – From “DeathSeer”

War destroys the fortresses of innocence with the awesome indifference of a natural force such as an earthquake or a hurricane. Whatever its causes or intentions, it changes things. Permanently. But while it can drive us to the depths of human depravity, sometimes, as with any traumatic event, it can also awaken us to our potential. In “The Bridge,” “DeathSeer” and “Earth Blood,” a priestess and two warriors find themselves caught in wars that strip the veils from their eyes to reveal their true natures.

Awakening Gods

The Temple of Math

Between the gnarled, twisted trunks of two oak trees loomed a black opening. Roots draped over and around the darkness inside as if to feed on it. Sethren walked slowly, his body aching and his heart pounding, until he stood at the threshold. Cool air breathed from the shadows. He could barely discern the images in the cracked stones for the moss and ivies clinging in the lines—except for one at the top: an interlocking five-pointed star with a black stone eye in the center.

Five points, five lines and a raven’s eye.

He had found the Temple of Math. – From “The War God Sleeps”

Some say that everything we know is the dream of a god. I am fascinated by the idea of a sleeping god, a being who comes from and must occasionally return to the quiescence of the womb, as all things do, for healing, renewal and rebirth. In “The War God Sleeps” and “The Origin,” one god is awakened by a mortal; the other, by his own creation.

Love

dormouse-in-ivy

Movement caught his attention. In the distance, Rosamond sat on the edge of the rushing water, on a wide rock, her long legs bared and her face tilted back to the sun like a contented cat.

Urien called out with enough force to shake the ground. “ROSAMOND!”

She stirred, beamed a glorious smile and waved.

Urien’s foreboding rose with the force of the river. He cupped his hands to his mouth. “Get away from the water!”

Her smile faded as she turned. From the north, an enormous bore from an unseen tide rose up into a wall of crashing, maleficent, white-green waves. Rosamond shrieked and jumped up. Urien raised his hands and cried a string of words that rent the course like a scythe, but he could not drop the river before it swept her into its foamy clutches without a sound. – From “Water Dark”

Love, being every bit as powerful as, if not easily compared to, a creepy forest, naturally rears its head in most of these stories. But in “The Om Tree,” “Pattern Sense” and “Water Dark,” an assassin, a knitter and a wizard are caught up in love’s brambles and encounter their powers there.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

© F.T. McKinstry 2017. All Rights Reserved.

Norse Mythology and the Voices in My Head

Odin Rides to Hel

I was a Tolkien geek as a kid, in the 70s. There were no epic movies back then — well okay there was that 1978 version that thoroughly offended me — but anyway, Lord of the Rings changed my life. I knew Tolkien was influenced by Northern European mythology but I didn’t jump into that at the time. I was busy being distracted by every fantasy, science fiction and occult book I could get my hands on. The Norse gods came later.

My favorite character in LOTR was Gandalf. This isn’t a cute statement reflecting the innocence of youth. My fascination with Gandalf was archetypal. The first time I read LOTR and the wizard fell into the chasm in Moria with the Balrog, I was shattered. Seriously. A part of me went in there too and while now I smile fondly because I was just a sensitive kid, I’ll admit that scene still gets to me.

The Raven God

It is extensively remarked upon that Gandalf was inspired by the Norse god Odin. Considering the realm of Tolkien’s studies and expertise, this is not to be wondered at, though there are differences between the two beings. Tolkien himself referred to Gandalf as an “Odinic wanderer.” I didn’t make this connection until I started delving into Scandinavian literature. Then I realized why I had loved Tolkien so much without realizing it.

Odin, by F.T. McKinstry

Needless to say, I am fascinated by Odin, the one-eyed, all-seeing god of war, magic and wisdom. An ambivalent figure, he hungers for knowledge, is a notorious shapeshifter, and rules madness and berserkers. He is also known as a Trickster who might grant favor to a devoted follower only to vanish when most needed. The archetypal Trickster is a shamanic figure, a terrible force that turns things upside down and brings one before the Unknown, the source of wisdom and new experience. Odin himself undergoes this initiation when he hangs on the World Tree for nine days and nights in agony before picking up the Sacred Runes deep beneath the roots.

Interestingly, in like tradition, Gandalf plunges into the nameless depths of the earth in battle with the Balrog, an initiation from which he is reborn as Gandalf the White.

Whether you call him a god, an entity, a patron of shamans or a part of my psyche, I became devoted to Odin. He provides a vital source of inspiration for my work. Here are some relevant projects:

The Eye of Odin

Eye of Odin, Cover ArtThe Eye of Odin” is a science fiction story about a warrior with a turbulent ancestry who gets on the wrong side of an interplanetary military contractor called Odin Systems. They modeled their headquarters and inventions after Norse themes from ancient Earth history. But they are dealing with forces bigger than technology. I made up my own verses of Odin’s tale and wove them into this story in relevant places, shadowing events.

“The Eye of Odin” is available for free on Smashwords.

Pattern Sense

Pattern Sense, Cover ArtIn this short story, a knitter discovers the strengths and pitfalls of an ancient power through the love of a swordsman named Othin (an alternate spelling of Odin), named after the god himself. In keeping with his otherworldly namesake, Othin lands into a cruel pickle when the gods pull a fast one on him. But as fate would have it, his witchy lover has other plans.

This story is available for free on Smashwords.

Outpost

Outpost Cover ArtOutpost, Book One in The Fylking. Woven with Norse mythology, swords and sorcery, this story takes place in a war-torn realm that contains a portal to the stars. The Otherworld beings who built it brought their gods with them. We know these gods as the Norse pantheon, the gods of the Vikings. But these beings haunt many worlds, not just Earth. Odin, in keeping with his nature, appears in this story at strange times and in strange ways, leaving our protagonists to wonder what he is and whose side he’s on.

Recommended Reading

The Poetic Edda, translated by Lee M. Hollander
The Prose Edda by Snorri Sturluson
Gods and Myths of Northern Europe by H.R Ellis Davidson
The Norse Myths, by Kevin Crossley-Holland

© F.T. McKinstry 2014. All Rights Reserved.

Free Reads for the Dark Season

December on Cooper Hill

There is no time of year when I don’t want to read and write books. Winter, however, has a special place in my heart. I live in the north where the winters are long, dark and nasty, the sort of winters that make one appreciate the finer aspects of being mortal. I haven’t seen the sun in two weeks (I’m not kidding). My greenhouse, the most colossal distraction ever, is closed up and snowed in, the gardens are asleep, the woodstove is glowing and the biggest excitement of the day is watching the wildlife bickering around the feeders outside. My cats enjoy this too when they aren’t beating up on each other.

What better time to hunker down into books, heh. In celebration, here are some short fantasy stories to go with your hot cocoa during the wintry hours. May your season be bright!

The Om Tree, Cover ArtTrees know things. In this dark little tale, a wizard-assassin loses what is most dear to him and thereby learns the true nature of his art.

Fantasy, 2100 words. Read here.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Earth Blood Cover ArtThe earth keeps secrets. A dark tale of war, loss, and the powers of the earth.

Fantasy, 1940 words. Read here.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Pattern Sense, Cover ArtIt all started with a mouse. A knitter discovers the strengths and pitfalls of an ancient power through the love of a warrior.

Fantasy, 3500 words. Read here.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

© F.T. McKinstry 2015. All Rights Reserved.

The Raven God

The Raven God

The Norse deity Odin has many names that reflect his nature as warrior, magician, poet and shapeshifter, among other things. Complex and notoriously fickle, he acts on his own terms and it’s best not make assumptions about his favors. He appears in this painting with his two ravens, Hugin (thought) and Munin (desire) which fly over the land and tell him of all they see and hear. The title of Raven God is interesting, as ravens are both tricksters and harbingers of war.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

Outpost, Book One in The Fylking. Woven with Norse mythology, swords and sorcery, this story takes place in a war-torn realm that contains a portal to the stars. The Otherworld beings who built it brought their gods with them. We know these gods as the Norse pantheon, the gods of the Vikings. But these beings haunt many worlds, not just Earth. Odin, in keeping with his nature, appears in this story at strange times and in strange ways, leaving our protagonists to wonder what he is and whose side he’s on.

If you’re into science fiction, check out “The Eye of Odin.” This is a short story about a warrior with a turbulent ancestry who gets on the wrong side of an interplanetary military contractor called Odin Systems. They modeled their headquarters and inventions after Norse themes from ancient Earth history. But they are dealing with forces bigger than technology. Verses of Odin’s saga are woven into this story in relevant places, shadowing events. You can get “The Eye of Odin” for free on Smashwords.

© F.T. McKinstry 2015. All Rights Reserved.