Monday, 6 September 2010

Ragnarok and Roll!

Okay, I totally stole that title from poet Kathryn Hunt.  She's cool so she'll forgive me.

I just spent Labour Day weekend with Kymeras Kathryn Hunt and Ruthanne Edward somewhere near Almonte, in a house by a lake that you can only reach by traveling down a dirt road.  There, twenty tellers gathered with listeners to tell the full cycle of Norse mythology, from creation to Ragnarok.

If you don't know Norse mythology, you're missing out.  It's full of passion, revenge, love, hope, despair, and lots of battles and death.  The gods as extremely human.  Some need anger management classes, others experience regret, they grieve and they love deeply.

Friday evening started off with mixes of shower and sunshine, with an appearance by Bifröst, opening the way to the realm of the gods.  Bifröst is the great rainbow bridging Midgard, our world, to Asgard, the Norse gods' land.  (I also stole a bunch of pics from Kathryn Hunt... Thanks Kate!)

We then plunged into the cycle, starting at the beginning - creation in war and flaming swords.  This is Nordic, after all.  After some fantastic telling, we chatted and laughed and then retired to our tents to prepare for the next day's telling.

I totally put a picture of Ruthanne in her pajamas on my blog.  Totally.

Ruthanne and I were both telling on Saturday, so we spent time in our tent reviewing our source material and questioning Kate on the pronounciation of Nordic names.  Kate is very useful.  Telling an episodic epic is tricky.  Other tellers are telling different parts, of course, so it's important to get all character names, place names and events correctly.  Ruthanne was telling The Binding of Fenrir, and had at least twenty names to memorize.  The Norse named everything - rivers, places, Halls, lineages, weapons... you think of it, they gave it a name.  And, not knowing what names other tellers would pull out, the trick was to keep as many in your story as possible.  That way, you could really see the connections, which was part of the fun of building towards the end.

Sunday morning was fresh and dew-filled, and we were ready for a full day.  I can't count the different ways people died during this cycle.  Stabbing, spearing, whetstones dropped on heads for over-grieving, kicked into fires, poisoned... and those are just a few. 
The telling tent.
Coffee and program.  The necessities of an epic day.
Ruthanne doing an amazing job of telling her story.
Kate pausing on the telling stool, pondering the end of times.
I closed off the telling on Saturday with the telling of Thor's Battles with Hrungnir. I won points for most useless story, since it seems very random.  I called it my "boys being boys with battle and booze" story.  I was told by many that I made a most wonderful of drunk giants.  On that silly note, we broke for supper and the longest sing-along ever, I believe.  In eight languages, to boot.  I hear there's footage of our rendition of the Taco Bell Canon.  I will try to locate it.  We drank much wine, rejoiced, then broke under a starry sky to rest before the end was to come in the morning.

And come it did.  First with the Death of the most cherished of gods: Baldur.  The gods grieved and so did we.  We were on a path to destruction, and after spending a weekend with the gods, we weren't ready to let them go.

One of the best things of Norse mythology, in my opinion, is that their mythic system has an end.  Odin, the All-Father, falls to the mighty wolf, Fenrir.  Thor kills the great Midgar serpent, only to take nine steps before succumbing to its poison.  And the great fires of the sword come to cleanse the world and see it reborn once more.

By the time the surviving gods sit on a grassy field in the new world, where once stood the great halls of Asgard, few eyes were dry under that great tent.  With the crickets still chirping and the sun and cloud battling for supremacy above us, the stories had come to an end so powerful that it left twenty storytellers speechless.

I must admit it was draining.  Just like a weekend writing spree.  My mind didn't wander as I'd feared it might.  The tellers kept my attention, the breaks were well planned, and the cycle built upon itself until the inevitable toppling, and we all toppled a bit with it.

There are rumours that another epic weekend will take place in the next year or two.  It won't be Norse mythology, but whatever story it is, I highly recommend trying to go.  There is nothing like immersing yourself in a story with masters of stories, of singing with experts in folklore, and of coming to the end of a cycle with the voices of the tellers and your imagination painting a bright portrait.  It's an experience I certainly won't soon forget.