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The Scandinavian Cailleach

By Kirsten Brunsgaard Clausen

November. A new year has just begun. The harvest is happily stored. Mother Earth will give no more. The dancing colours of summer are gone. Frost has nipped off the head of all living things. Finally winter! Everything sleeps – from the tiny insect to the big bear. Skeletons of trees stretch out their branches, black and bare. Gray are the heavy clouds, white the frozen ground. Silence. Death … then suddenly – a blood-curdling shriek cuts through the air. Immediately the wind throws back an howling answer. A moment later earth and sky raise a roar together. A tumult of dry leaves and frozen plastic bags whirl round in the storm. People who lose their footing are swept aside. Snowflakes whip in the faces like nails of glass. Now She rules: “the Kælling”! Now is Her time – Her playtime. On the backs of foaming wolves and ragged boars She rides forward . She is the Bone-Mother, the age-old Wise One. Wild and playful. Who would she need to make up to? Was She not the first on Earth, dancing here long before any living creature took its first steps? She is surely older than time. Oh, doesn’t She remember the day She wrestled down this conceited warrior god, the high Thor himself, god of the newcomers, the Aesir! Isn’t She Herself the very Grandmother Hel? Elle they call Her. For sure She is the great-great-grandmother of everything. She need not bow to anybody. Ha-haaaa! Her mouth full of yellow teeth laughs. Ugly as sin She is, if you see only her outside. Tough, wrinkled skin covers Her old bones. No rosy cheeks. That was long ago! Her gnarled fingers crook into the fur of the beast. You will see Her flying, yelling, through the air – in stories from Germany – with a deafening noise and fury, with shrieking instruments and howling beasts.

The air, the air! The storm is Her true element. One of them.

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