The Orb Weavers’ Empire

The Norns

The Norns

Spiders are fascinating creatures. I have great respect for spiders; aside from the good work they do around here, they have an ancient history of lore and mystique surrounding them. In many cultures, the spider is a powerful totem embodying the forces of creation. In Norse mythology, the spider is associated with the Norns, the spinners of fate. The Old Norse word “norn” also refers generally to weavers and workers of magic.

Garden Orb-Weaver

Garden Orb Weaver

In summer, the eaves around my house are cloaked in spider webs. Some of them are small and humble; others are huge. They hang in layers, and when the sun shines on them they look like galaxies. The big webs are made by a common spider called an orb weaver. A lovely, poetic title.

These creepy critters have grown so big I’ve given them names. In the image below, on the left by the hummingbird feeder, that web is home to Mephistopheles. Next one down is Sauron and the one over the bugbane is Poe (you can kind of see him in the center). It tends to get my attention when one of them drops down to attend to some dastardly business or other.

Orbweavers

Spider Paradise: House eaves, morning sun and gardens beneath.

Balrog lives on the porch. He spins a spectacular web every day in the same spot, right where I need to go to get out to the yard. He lurks up there as if to say “YOU SHALL NOT PASS!” (he finds this amusing) and I either have to brush the web aside or climb the woodpile to get by. I’ve explained to Balrog that building his web elsewhere, like, I don’t know, two feet to the left, would be good. But I’m not going to argue with him. One day I came out and there was a fly struggling in Balrog’s web. I actually waited for him to come down, wrap it up and haul it off before I cleared the way. Didn’t want him to miss out on a meal or anything.

By the mudroom there’s a web over 2 1/2 feet in diameter. I call it Shelob’s Lair. Yeah whatever just…back away slowly. Fumble for the Phial of Galadriel and hope for the best.

Deer FlyThe northwoods in summer is home to the ubiquitous deer fly. In case you’ve never encountered one of these assholes, here’s a description. (Tell me this wasn’t written by a New Englander. Hah!) Deer flies have been clocked keeping up with speeding trains (I’m not kidding), so you won’t get far. But I digress. As I was sitting on the porch one day, a deer fly hit the big web above the rosemary plant, struggled there, and damned if I didn’t cheer that spider on. “Hey, Death Eater! Breakfast! Come and get it, Buddy!”

I was a disturbed child.

Alas, the orb weavers have a short stint, here. Winter is coming and soon all that will be left of their empire are frozen cobwebs in the porch rafters. In honor of this venerable creature, there is a character in my novel Outpost called, simply, Spider. She’s a wisewoman revered by the warriors of her immortal race. Early on, Spider appears to a seer named Arcmael and gives him some cryptic advice. Later, she casts a powerful spell on his behalf–but it’s not what it seems. This causes Arcmael to abandon everything he knows to the point of nearly bringing on the imminent annihilation of the world.

Moral of the story: Never disregard the advice of a spider.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

Outpost Cover ArtOutpost, Book One in The Fylking.

A race of immortal warriors who live by the sword.
A gate between the worlds.
Warriors, royals, seers and warlocks living in uneasy peace on one side of the Veil.
Until now.

© F.T. McKinstry 2016. 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.

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 included in Wizards, Woods and Gods, a collection of short fantasy stories.

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.