How Hreðe defeated Old Man Winter
Posted by Byron Pendason on , in Heathen worldview, Heathenry, Myths, Reconstruction
The following is an original myth written by myself with suggestions and help from various Fyrnsideras (Anglo-Saxon Heathens). While it is based on elements from Anglo-Saxon mythology (as I understand it), and incorporates elements from folklore, it is not based upon any surviving Anglo-Saxon myth, as few Anglo-Saxon myths survived the Christian purge of ancient Anglo-Saxon Heathenry.
After the gods made the world, they placed it under the care of Sætern Se Sædere (Sætern the Sower). Now, Sædere was a god of wealth and abundance. For a thousand years, he ruled over the world in perpetual summer, and the people of the world prospered. They had no need to work, because Sædere himself sowed the fields and harvested the crops for them. It was an era of plenty.
But perpetual summer eventually led to problems. Droughts became common. The trees and the fields became barren due to nonstop sowing and harvesting. People started dying from the heat.
Sædere took this problem before the divine Þing (the assembly of the gods). The gods discussed the problem for a long time. Old Man Winter spoke up, "What is needed is balance. Allow me to go to the world and put it in a slumber so that it can renew itself."
"We are all aware of your indifference towards the humans," Hreðe responded, "How do we know you won't end up killing them all?"
"I do not hate them," Winter responded, "I just want to do my job and give the earth its rest. A few humans may die, but it's not like I will hunt them down. Their survival will be up to them."
"As long as it isn't too long a rest, the humans will be fine," Tīw said.
"Why don't we limit his rule to the time it takes for my hibernating animals to awaken?" Ēostre suggested, "That should just make it a few months."
The gods agreed to this, and so placed the world under the care of Old Man Winter. "Only until the hibernating animals begin to wake up," they told him, "Then you must give up your reign of the world."
Winter agreed, and he and his children came upon the world. At first, it only got colder. The trees started to change their leaves to the colours of the sun- red, yellow, and orange- in order to coax Sunne to bring back the warmth. Many animals not liking the cold, snuggled into their lairs to hibernate.
Ēostre saw the plants dying, and she saw the animals retreating. "I cannot stand to see the world so lifeless," she said to herself, "I think I will take a trip until the world's rest is finished."
After this, the snow started to fall. The trees realized that the weight of the snow on their leaves would add up and break off their branches! So the trees began to drop their leaves.
All this happened gradually, so the humans were able to adjust. A thousand years of plenty had allowed them to store much provisions back. But still, they watched as their provisions slowly shrunk, and they began fear what would happen if summer did not return soon. So they began to call out to the gods, begging for summers return.
As the snow continued though, things got worse. People began to get snowed into their homes and unable to leave. So they would cry out to the gods for their aid. The gods did what they could. They would go to Winter and ask for him to melt his snow. Sometimes, he would comply, but other times he would get indignant. "You have given me a job to do. That job had nothing to do with the humans, but rather to give the earth a rest. How I do my job is totally up to me, until the hibernating animals begin to wake up!"
The gods expected the hibernating animals to awaken at any time. However, a thousand years of plenty had given them enough sustenance to sleep for just as long.
When the humans ran out of food, they began to emerge from their homes whenever they weren't snowed in, in order to search for food. But there were no crops on the ground nor fruits in the trees. So Ægil and Sceadu taught them how to hunt. But a thousand years of having everything handed to them had made the humans weak. Many perished in the snow on their hunting trips.
The gods saw that the deaths were rising exponentially, and they knew that it was not good. So Tīw summoned Hreðe before the divine Þing. "More and more humans are dying every day to Winter's reign," they told her, "And he insists on remaining where he is until the hibernating animals begin to wake up. So we need you to lead an assault in order to remove him by force."
"We must resist the urge to act dishonourably!" Hreðe insisted, "We agreed to let him have until the animals awaken. So let me go and awaken them. Then, if he does not leave, I will do as you have asked me."
The gods agreed, and sent Hreðe to the earth to accomplish her mission. She first approached the bear, who only woke up long enough to growl menacingly at her. She next tried to wake the badger but she couldn't even move him, much less wake him. The hedgehog was the next animal she tried to awaken, but he was nestled so far into his burrow that Hreðe couldn't even reach him.
Finally, she came to the groundhog. Hreðe knew this was her last chance. She called into the burrow, "Oh groundhog! It's time to wake up."
She listened for a sound to indicate whether the groundhog had awakened. She heard nothing.
So she started stomping on the ground above the groundhog's lair, shouting as she did for the groundhog to wake up. Still no response.
Frustrated, she reached into his burrow, grabbed him by the scuff of his neck, and yanked him out of his hole. This woke the groundhog alright, and he was more terrified than he had ever been in his life.
"I know you animals had your fill for a thousand years of plenty!" Hreðe scolded the groundhog, "But that's no excuse for this slothfulness. What was supposed to be a rest for the world has turned into a coma, because you animals stay asleep. Now go, wake your friends, and usher in the springtime!"
The poor little groundhog just hung there from her hand and stared wide-eyed at her with fright. Once Hreðe put him down, he ran off to do as instructed.
To this day, when the groundhog pops his head out of his hole every February, he does so with apprehension because he fears that Hreðe might be waiting on him. If he sees his shadow, he will dive back into his hole and refuse to come out for another six weeks.
Hreðe approached Old Man Winter. "It is time to release your hold on the world," she declared, "The hibernating animals have begun to awaken!"
Winter sat there and thought for a minute. "I will not," he declared, "You have cheated! The animals did not awaken naturally, you woke them up."
Hreðe responded, "The deal that you made with the Þing did not specify the manner in which the animals woke up. It only stated that you could rule the world until the hibernating animals began to wake up. So, I'll give you six weeks. If you have not left the world at that time, I will forcibly remove you!"
With that, she left to report to the Þing.
Winter had resolved to not go easily. The weather actually began to improve because Old Man Winter focused most of those six weeks on preparing for the fight with Hreðe.
Meanwhile, the Þing discussed what should happen to the world next. "The natural order of the world is a delicate balance," Sætern declared, "It is too difficult for one god to maintain on their own."
"Yes, this is true," Tīw declared, "We shall split up the duties that are required to maintain the natural order amongst ourselves."
"I noticed something during my sojourn through the world," Hreðe reported, "Sætern had provided everything for the humans, and it had made them weak. Even when taught how to hunt by the most capable gods, most were unable to survive."
Tīw declared, "Going forward we must not coddle the humans. We may assist them but we must not do things for them. If they are to survive, they must learn how to do for themselves."
The gods discussed and deliberated these issues in depth. In the end, they decided that Tīw's recommendations were most wise, and so they declared it the order of the world.
When Winter's six weeks had come to an end, Hreðe grabbed her sword and her shield and went to confront Winter. She pointed her sword at him, and asked, "Do you submit to the decision of the Þing?"
"No, for you have cheated," Winter responded, "This is my world now, and I refuse to give it up!"
Winter's sons Frost, Hægl, Slete, and Snaw attacked her. One by one, each fell before her. Enraged, Winter rushed at her.
The battle was long, and the battle was intense. Winter had been building his strength for the last thousand years, but Hreðe was no rookie warrior. In the end, even Old Man Winter lay at her feet, begging for mercy.
"You and your sons have been defeated," Hreðe declared, "But I have spared your lives because you will be needed to maintain the natural order. Leave the world until it next needs its rest."
After Winter left, Eostre finally returned to the world. She brought summer with her, as the animals began to emerge and the plants began to again bloom.