Yes, this is troll country. I am currently in Norway, having a cross-country ski holiday – a week of skiing the forests and fells around Sjusjoen. Today, we got halfway up the fells before the blizzard kicked in – there was such a wildness in the air, nothing like the softness of the habitated places of the UK. Here in Norway, there is such a difference between the “human” places and the “wild” places. You can distinctly feel when you step from one into the other.
We were skiing out from the village, through the woods until suddenly we came across the open, frozen marshland of the lower fells. The wind howled – nothing to break it. You couldn’t see the mountains, for the snow was coming down too heavily. Leaving the wooded area around the town, and out onto the fells – you could feel that shift. This was the place of the wild things. This was troll country.
There is actually a place for these giants here in Norway, not too far away – Jotunheim (National Park). In the Northern Tradition (Heathenry) Jotunheim is the realm of the giants – and when you see landscape like this, you can believe it. This is not a place for human habitation – the wind howls too fiercely, there is no cover. The mountains loom high, and the marshlands can be treacherous. This is a place for those who are not so soft – this is a place for ettins, jotuns and giants.
One of my favourite goddesses is Skadhi, an ettin who married into the Northern God clan. She is wild and she is free – there is no bossing her about. She is the snowshoe goddess, the hunter, the goddess of skiing. She walks into the hall of the gods and demands reparation for the death of her father. She means business. She lives high in the mountains, listening to the howl of wolves and wind. I say a prayer to her each time before we embark on our ski journey for the day:
Skadhi, Lady of Winter, know that you are honoured.
May my skis never break,
May my poles never bend,
May my eyes always remain on the beauty that is you.
This wild country tests you – with the wind stinging your face, tiny shards of snow and ice in your eyes, your eyelashes frozen and the howling all around you – you soon learn what you are made of. I kept looking ahead, peering through the blizzard, almost expecting to see an enormous rock coloured ettin strolling through the snowy fells, enjoying the blizzard and not even noticing the tiny, insect-like creatures on the ground with their snowpants and ski jackets.
Sometimes you win – sometimes you make it through the storm and reach your destination. Sometimes, like today, you accept defeat at the hands of the ettins, and turn back before you lose your way. We couldn’t see the tracks, we could barely make out the trail markers – it was time to turn back. So, with a smile and a bow of defeat and in reverence, we turned back.
Once back in the treeline, the snow that had stung so much fell softly, almost like a blessing. The quiet that only a heavily snow-shrouded landscape can bring was all around us – like the sanctity of a cathedral. We were back in a human place, and behind us the trolls and ettins laughed in the winter’s rages, throwing snowballs and doing whatever is it that the jotuns do.
Coming back to the hotel, with a sauna and a fireplace, was such a relief. However, we’re still going out again tomorrow, whatever the weather, to see what we can face. This is what this beautiful country is all about. This is troll country.