Hearthmother’s Gift

A Thornish tale…As told by Jack Wolf

In Thornish tradition there are many tales told around the fires. Most are the vehicles for stories of lessons learned, parables of wisdom or origin stories for our rites and customs.

Here is one such telling.

There is a tale told about a young warrior who, long ago, had come to the forest bearing feelings of deep shame upon his heart.  He had worked tirelessly to become the best in skills and cunning ; he hoped one day to become leader of his people and perhaps, if his destiny allowed it, fare to the halls of his ancestors in a good way, following a good life and an honorable death.

And yet despite all of his efforts he had been unable to convince himself that he had done enough. Finally after grievously injuring another youth in what had supposed to have been light practice, the young one had been sent away by his teacher and told to go and meditate upon his actions.

The youth had seen this too as a failure on his part, and so it was that he had come to the sacred place in the forest with deep rage and disappointment building in his heart.  So filled with emotion and frustration was he that he neglected even to pay proper respects at the entrance to the glade which was a sacred grove to his people. Instead he marched without a word or gesture to the north of the clearing and sat down heavily before the ancient, moss coated stone of the sacred altar.

The youth sat there for long moments in tense silence but then after awhile he beat the ground with his fists in some futile attempt to transfer his rage into the Earth.

After yet more time had passed he stopped hitting the Earth and returned to silence.

He took his knife suddenly from its sheath and in a trembling hand held it to his chest as though to thrust it into his heart. The action was sudden, as though his hand had acted of its own volition – yet it was the pent up misery in the young man’s heart which drove the action.

Tears flowed down his cheeks as he hesitated, shaking with uncertainty and sorrow.

It was then that the soft, yet stern sound of a woman’s voice startled him so that he completely forgot his training; completely took leave of his honed Warrior instincts – and dropped his knife to the ground.

“You have brought much disregard to this sacred place my son.” Said the voice, “Yet I know that your acts were borne of youthful misunderstandings.”

The young one turned slowly around. Something in the voice had set a deep caution within him; a warning to reverence that he had been expecting any more than hearing that voice – yet he heeded it without hesitation.

Behind him, standing at the edge of the glad; that opening in the hedge by which he had entered not long before, stood a plainly dressed woman who looked to be of middle age. She was of average height and of moderate build with long hair – once light brown going to grey – tied in a thick braid which hung forward over her shoulder.  Her dress, looked to be of heavy cotton or linen, was of a deep green. She wore plain shoes of brown leather and the narrow leather belt at her waist, cinched below ample motherly breasts, held a sheathed work knife thrust simply beneath it.

What struck the young warrior was the woman’s eyes: Of the deepest green, as though both forest and glacial ice had combined there, these sparkling orbs belied the rest of the woman’s appearance and the told the tale of the power that lie beneath them.

The young one knew in the marrow of his bones that he was in the presence of one of the Elder Ones.

In mere moments, washed by this sudden realization, the young warrior’s feelings of rage and frustration were stripped away; replaced by equally powerful feelings of guilt and embarrassment.

He rose and bowed his head before the Lady who stood facing him.

The tone of the voice lightened somewhat as the Lady looked upon the young man.

“The passions of youth run strong, and stronger in you than in many it would seem.”

Suddenly, in a flash of an eye, and in a manner which startled the young Warrior, the Lady was no longer standing at the entrance to the glade but had crossed to within mere inches of him. For all his awareness training he had not seen her move.

A kind hand fall upon his shoulder and she bade him look up at her, which he did.

“Do not waste that which is sacred.” She said softly. “True and hale gifts are not meant to be squandered.”

The young man found his voice though it cracked somewhat – both as a measure of his fully approaching manhood and his state of emotion. He had meant it to be firmer and was unimpressed inwardly, with how it came out.

“Lady, I do not understand.” He said. “I have tried so hard to be the best yet it seems that still I am unworthy. Now in my foolishness I have injured a friend and been chastised by my teacher himself. I do not know what to do other than make sacrifice of myself.”

The green eyes sparkled and in the flash that came from them the young man began to suspect that he was in the presence of the Hearthmother; that mysterious female ancestress who was said to watch over family hearths and even at times when it leased her, certain sacred places.

“understand your rage all too well young spear-holder.” The Hearthmother replied. “Yet I ask you to fathom that stealing from your tribe would only compound the wasting of the sacred. Do you not understand that all is not gained by pushing aside your kin to gain glory?”

“I wanted only to be the best.” Talon replied glumly yet still not completely understanding the import of her words.

“The best gain glory with the assistance of their kin, not on the backs of them.” The Lady replied. “Your kinfolk are sacred and in seeking to surpass them you think only of your own needs, not the needs of your tribe. Competition is best reserved for foes not friends, at least in the arena of the sacred. In the ways you were taught balance is always the key: You will gain greatness in time but not if you cast aside the hale ways in preference for rapid gains.”

“Then I am a fool who has been sent away for good reason.” The young man replied.

And for a moment there was silence between the young man and the Lady. She was eternally patient with the young and so she waited.

“In the storm of your passions you have been blinded to many things.” The Lady finally said, this time with more power in her voice than she had used before.

“Tell me of the rites you have participated in, young fellow.”  She requested.

Suddenly the young warrior’s heart began to thaw; warmth crept into him at the thoughts which suddenly flowed within and he spoke of the things which had made him proud.

He told of his first hunt and of the first time he had been permitted to offer libations before his people. He spoke of his coming-of-age trials and of his first sitting-out.  He spoke warmly of the Deepening which he had been preparing for and a number of other things which had made him proud.

Hearing his words and seeing the warmth of pride returning to the young man, the Lady nodded and was silent for a moment, before asking:  “And of all the rituals of your people, which do you think is the most sacred of all?”

The young man hesitated but for a moment and then replied that without a doubt it was the sacred act of the offering – in which sacrifice was made to the Elder Kin.

“That is a hale thought my young kinsman,” the Hearthmother replied, “But you are not correct. The most sacred of all rites is the creation of life – the act of giving birth.”

For a moment the young Warrior stared at her – as though his mind was experiencing difficulty in comprehending what she had said. His thoughts had been on the acts of the folk and the interpretation of the Lore but certainly not upon this deeper, more sacred process.

As comprehension dawned upon him his thoughts went to many places, including a reevaluation of the place of men within the tribe and the hierarchy of value that he had placed upon his kinfolk.

Finally he nodded his head in understanding.

“I see.” He said

She held a brightly polished mirror in her hand that the young man had not seen before: It was shining silvered glass set in an ornate bronze handle.

She held it before him.

“What you see in the mirror is the sacred gift that your mother has brought into this world. You are sacred, as are all of your people. This is why I spoke about wasting that which is sacred. There is a time and a place for sacrifice, yes, but to wantonly waste a gift based on emotion is folly at best, disgrace at worst.”

The Lady put away the mirror and then she placed a hand on the young warrior’s other shoulder. She gazed deeply into his eyes – so much so that for a moment he thought he would lose himself in the depths of her fathomless knowing.

She said:

“Seek always the balance. Walk the hale road with your kin. Do not waste that which is sacred. Never forget that your destiny is woven with that of your tribe.”

The Lady removed her hands from the warrior’s shoulders and stepped back a pace. She took his hand: Her grip was strong yet soft.  She smiled and it was as though the gates of summer had opened upon his heart.

“Go back to your folk young wolf, and take the lessons I have given you.”

And with that, the lady was gone: It was as though she had never been there.

For a moment the young warrior stood dazed in the glade. He thought about the many things he had done that were wasteful and he thought about how he had been ruled by his passions; by his emotions to the point where it had almost led to his death. He pondered the wasteful act of entering the sacred place in a brusque fashion when each visit to such a place is to be considered a sacred gift.  He reflected on the un-hale act of threatening his own life within the glade. Indeed he could see that in doing such a thing he had violated the Frith of the grove.

He pondered many things in those moments, and so lost was he in thought that for long moments he failed to realize that in his hand was something that had not been there before: Something which could only have been left there by the Hearthmother when she had firmly taken his hand.

He looked down upon it and saw that it was a simple, earth colored, disc-shaped stone, rounded and smoothed, with a hole in its center. The stone had a simple leather thong tied through the hole so that it could be worn as a pendant around one’s neck.

It was a gift from an Elder Kinswoman; the Hearthmother – a reminder of the sacredness of life and kin. Indeed it was also in its simple form, a reminder to him of the deep value of womenfolk.

Reverently, he placed the pendant-stone around his neck so that it hung proudly against the dark cloth of his shirt. He turned and retrieved his blade, making deep apology to the spirits of the Glade and promising an offering when he next returned.

The young wolf left the sacred space a changed person: He had come to that place as an angry adolescent and had, within the embrace of the scared and the counsel of the Great Lady, been transformed. He had in that short fragment of time, truly become a man.

He returned to his folk. He apologized to his people and to the kinsman he had injured, and he made appropriate offerings as he had promised.  He continued his training and became a great defender of his people, and later, as he grew older and wiser, he dedicated himself to the ways of the sacred wild spaces. He became Vardyr; a seeker of deep knowledge and a holder of great power.

He never forgot the day in the glade where he had met the Sacred Lady, and of the great gift she had given him. The wearing of a rounded, holed stone became a tradition in Talon’s tribe, and became the right of any full tribal member to wear. It was a reminder of the sacred balance and the reverence that the folk were to have for the gift of life and of kin.

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About Jack Wolf

Canadian author Jack Wolf has been a practicing Pagan for over 30 years, walking a path that encompasses both his Northern European and Native American heritage. He counts the late Heathen Goði and writer E. Max Hyatt, Professor Mark Mirabello, Dakota tribal Chief William Hoff and American author Allan Cole among his mentors. An avid outdoorsman, Jack has spent a considerable portion of his life exploring the deep wilds of British Columbia, a vast province on Canada’s west coast. He brings a great deal of his wilderness experience to his spiritual path. Over the past 15 years Jack has studied and written about a number of northern pagan traditions, having published for the most part independently or in small journals, blogs or websites. His recent works for Mandrake of Oxford Have certainly opened up his writing to a larger audience. Jack is also the author of several other books, including Circle of Bones (2012), The Way of the Odin Brotherhood (2013), Blood and Stone (2014) co-author of Tales from the Red Moon Lodge (2014) and co-editor of A Voice from the Thornwood (winter 2014). Forthcoming works include The Thornish Path, Ullr’s Road and The Urban Tribalist, all of which are planned for a mid-2015 and early 2016 release respectively. Spiritually, Jack identifies himself generally as a Deep Tribalist and more specifically as Thornish. He is a member of a primal pagan tradition whose spiritual path involves questing for the First Knowledge – that held by our most ancient ancestors whose hearts and spirits were deeply connected to the land. The Thornish path is the way of the warrior-steward; a Deep Tribal tradition which Jack has practiced since the late 1980’s Jack holds a degree in anthropology from the world renowned University of British Columbia and has long held an avid interest in history, tribal peoples, spirituality and the reawakening of pagan peoples worldwide. He currently resides with his wife and co-author Cassandra Wolf and their daughter, in Squamish, British Columbia.
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