The Visiting Merchant
To understand how nurturing women of the era could deal with the violence of men, each morning I performed the brief ritual Felicitas Goodman and Belinda Gore developed to initiate ecstatic trance and then sat in the Freyr Diviner posture before asking my questions.
I first asked about Queen Wealhtheow: Who is she? Where does she come from? And what is her life like? Her story evolved before me . . .
“Your work is beautiful. Your threads are pulled evenly, as good as most grown-ups.” The priestess Vanadisdottir was looking over Princess Wealhtheow’s shoulder as she worked on her tapestry.
The princess was sitting with her loom on a knoll outside her father’s great hall. The waters of the estuary below breathed slowly with the tides of the great sea that lay before her. Her weaving was of a ship lined with men at the oars. She was imagining this ship coming up to the great hall. She looked up at Vanadisdottir with a dreamy smile.
Wealhtheow was the eleven-year-old daughter of King Olaf. The princess had grown up watching powerful warriors and berserkers practicing on the same hill on which she now sat. She knew that her father valued this strength and her mother felt protected by it, but she also knew the teaching of the old ways and the healing and loving power of Freyja. She saw no purpose in such fighting. Vanadisdottir had cared for Wealhtheow from her birth and taught her the ways of the goddess Freyja.
“Here comes a ship now!”
“How do you know? I can’t see one.” Wealhtheow was looking inthe direction of Vanadisdottir’s gaze.
“It’s time I teach you how to see.
“Take a deep breath. Let it out slowly, and move your attention to your belly, just below your umbilicus. Stand and hold your hands over that spot; feel yourself relax into it.”
Wealhtheow knew that spot was her center of harmony--there the world becomes quiet and many unusual things happen. Vanadisdottir continued, “Let your eyes lose focus and look out at the sea. Notice those translucent fibers of light glistening. Just watch them, follow them and see where they take your eyes.”
After a few moments a smile came over the princess’s face. It was there. A ship just coming over the horizon from the west, the land of King Healfdene.
Vanadisdottir continued, “Notice the sentry scanning the horizon. He does not see the ship and he won’t see it for another hour or two. He tires his eyes looking and looking but not seeing.”
The shadow cast by the princess’s loom had doubled in length when the sentry turned with a shout that a ship was coming. People came running to await the approaching vessel. When the ship landed men jumped out and began passing the merchant’s goods ashore. The princess and priestess sat off to one side watching the bustle of activity. A tall man, richly dressed, strolled up the knoll. As he approached Wealhtheow he stopped to view her work. With a gleam in his eye he said, “Princess, I’d like to see that when it’s finished.”
In the great hall King Olaf greeted the merchant. He wanted to hear the news brought by this traveler. Wealhtheow snuck in to sit behind her father. She knew he wouldn’t mind as long as she was quiet. He was proud of her curiosity.
The merchant told of how King Healfdene’s strength was growing. King Olaf knew an alliance with Healfdene would be beneficial. He wanted to hear about Healfdene’s sons, knowing Wealhtheow might be the key for such an alliance.
“Healfdene’s eldest son, Heorogar, is fostered in England with King Æðelstan. He is learning to become a warrior. King Æðelstan loves him as a son and hopes Heorogar will stay to lead his retainers.”
Wealhtheow dreamed of traveling the world to see these lands, of being at Heorogar’s side as he served in the court of King Æðelstan.
Later, when the princess and Vanadisdottir were preparing for bed, she excitedly told the priestess about Heorogar. Vanadisdottir cautioned her, “I don’t think he is the prince for you. I had a vision of you marrying his younger brother, Hrothgar.”
“But why? Heorogar is in line to become king, and I want to be his queen.”
Vanadisdottir did not have an answer.
The next morning the excitement continued as people traded for exotic things brought by the merchant. When Wealhtheow inspected the goods her eyes fell on a silver pendant of a woman carrying a basket of apples. She recognized the woman as Idunn. She loved the stories of Idunn that Vanadisdottir told her--stories of healing not just with her golden apples (that story everyone knew) but with herbs and plants.
Wealhtheow called to her father, “Papa, look, look!” She excitedly showed him the pendant. He smiled and gave her a hug but continued talking with the merchant. The merchant told of Healfdene’s other sons. “Hrothgar, the second son, is at home and is becoming a respected warrior for his age. Halga, the youngest, just got his own sword.”
Wealhtheow wanted to hear about the princes, but Vanadisdottir recognized another opportunity to teach her about Idunn’s powers. “Look over there. Feverfew is something we need with all the festivity and drinking. It’s good for headaches, and by morning there will be many.” Vanadisdottir could see that Wealhtheow wanted to return to weaving her tapestry so it would be ready to trade for the pendant, and the priestess understood.
A day or two later Wealhtheow was finally finished. The merchant had already begun packing his wares and she ran to him, hoping no one else had taken the pendant. She was pleased to find he had saved it for her.
Wealhtheow’s tapestry would be traded farther along his route, and many years later it would be found near the Överhogdal church and hung in a nearby museum.