One of the most recent essays that I have published is a retelling of an Icelandic saga/fairytale that felt potent for our time. Enjoy. Published in the literary journal: NOLA DIASPORA, New Orleans
GAN WORDS OF POWER AND DANCING GIANTS
In Mardi Gras, what is forbidden, dangerous, and sensual comes to life on the streets and in procession of communal display. A carnival of wildness rooted in African, and Native American ceremony reminds us of ancient ritual mysteries. These celebrations, traced back to Neolithic times, renew us. It is a healing collusion of extravagance. But when the Giants, hidden in caves and beneath the ground, put on suits and ties and military costumes confusing illogic for power, the procession offers no renewal. I have found solace in rereading Icelandic Sagas about Stalos, a breed of Giants, who having lost their hearts and suffered at the hands of more intelligent settlers, either became protectors of land or its vile and violent enemies, stealing children and wreaking havoc.
STALO and the STOLEN TREASURE
STALO stole the treasures of the world that had been given at the beginning of time. He and his Giant wife and family members lived on a remote island nearly impossible to find–and if found, impossible to penetrate. They held the treasures with greed and violated anyone who attempted to retrieve them.
In our world there was once a great Shaman who had three sons. He knew the ancient magic. He knew how to use the first drum that told the future One day he called his three sons. He told them that it was their duty to destroy the Giant and bring back the treasures to the world.
He wept, “The world is suffering from drought and famine. Things have gone awry.”
The eldest son quickly replied that he would do it. “I have no fear!” he boasted.
He took his spear. He chose the strongest boat to sail on wild seas. However, the Giant saw that he was coming. With his awful breath Stalo caused the waves to rush at the boat with more force than a storm and drowned the eldest son.
The second son boasted that he was smarter than his brother. He chose a rarely traveled and hidden route by which he could move unseen. But the Giant knew he was coming. Stalo planted traps along the route. Within weeks the second son was killed.
The Giant rejoiced. “No one of the Samee world can defeat me. I am the strongest. I am the smartest. I know everything.”
The third son, the youngest, said he needed time to reflect on how to bring back the treasures. He went to the mountains. He made offerings to his people’s deities; gods and goddesses, ancestors, and great heroines and heroes of the past. Then one day months later, he returned. He went to his father and asked for a special boat and his father’s blessing.
The old Shaman sang power into his son. He gave him a beautiful boat. It had wings painted on the sides. The front had the face of a tiger. The inside of the boat was painted like the body of a stag. The oars were made from the horns of great reindeer who had given their lives so the people could eat, make clothing and other things that they needed to survive in their cold world.
Then the youngest son put his plan into action. He found the fur of a Giant bear and he cleaned it. He put it in freezing waters and stood it outside in the coldest nights. Soon the bear skin was frozen. It stood like a wild beast Giant. The son climbed inside the skin and set off in the boat for Stalo’s island. Of course, Stalo knew he was coming. He caused a great storm. The boat was stopped in the middle of the sea and surrounded by fierce raging waves.
Joyfully the Giant rowed in his stone boat and grabbed the Giant bear. He was certain that the small man inside was dead. The third son remained absolutely silent.
Stalo wanted to give the bear skin to his son. “It will make a very nice coat,” he said.
He put the frozen skin beside the fire to melt. Then Stalo went out to invite all his relatives to a dinner to celebrate his victory over the three sons.
While he was gone, the bear skin began to melt. The Giant’s boy, who was lazy, fell asleep. Quietly the youngest son snuck out of the skin. He looked around the room. He saw Stalo’s huge moon axe, made of invincible metals and moonbeams. He lifted it up with great effort and hauled it above a cupboard beside the door. When the Giant returned he heaved the axe and cut off his head.
The little Giant boy ran away, foolishly calling out, “You will never find the treasure. You will never find the treasure that is buried underneath our house.”
So the young man pulled up all the rugs until he found a door. He opened it. He heard weeping. It was hard to see because the gold and silver that filled the room below the Giant’s house was too bright. But, when his eyes grew accustomed to the light, he saw a young woman crying. She was in chains beside a three headed monster.
“I have put the monster to sleep with my powerful gan-words,” she said. But I could not loosen the chains that hold me tight. The Giant Stalo wants to marry me to his own son. I am miserable,” she wept. “I have dreamed that a young man would find me here whose power equals mine and together we could destroy the monster and the power of the Giants.”
“Do not worry,” said the young man. He took the Giant’s Moon Metal Axe and broke her chains.
Then she sang her incantations, lilting gan words of power, and she moved her hands around the three heads of the monster so that they began to snore and babble. With the axe in hand, together they chopped off the three heads. They opened another door on the floor and threw the heads and the body of the monster into the deepest earth where the power of the monster – who could never be killed – would nourish the earth with its energy and return the rains and the energy of growth that was stopped when the monster was brought above ground on that island to serve the Giants.
They loaded all the gold and silver onto the boat. The boat moved through the seas. It was guided and protected by her songs and words. The two youths returned the treasures to their people. The powerful girl and the youngest son became the great leaders of the Sameh.
They cared for all and not just themselves. They shared the treasures with everyone. And with the gan words of the young woman, they were able to call forth the knowledge of the Giant, even though he was dead– in order to know how and when to plant the trees and flowers and fruits that would feed their people.
For a long time there was peace in their land.
They ruled equally and they rules with kindness which is the greatest strength. And they were generous which was invincible.
The bodies of the Giants and the monsters nourished the roots of the earth. And the youngest son and the girl who knew gan words were true leaders.
By Laura Simms 2017
There is a heroine in the Stalo Giant tale who works side by side with the hero. She knows what are called, gan-words, words of power. (With genuine power the sound and intention is as potent if not more so than the content). She can cause the Giant’s head to speak after death to reveal where he has hidden treasures and who guards and how to overcome the guard. And in the dark caverns where the treasures are kept, she uses her incantations to put to sleep all three heads of the monster whose breath spews destruction. That monster – quelled – was caused to return beneath the lower earth where his breath insured life, and vital balance, rather than poison. In the listening, is the magic where no thing is separate from the other.
The function of fairytales is to bring what has gone out of balance into balance. We need them now more than ever. But we need to see inside them to recognize how they work. To release the secreted energy of transformation that has been hidden within image and sound. The tales are the diasporic literature of an older more fundamentally interdependent world view dismantled by the delusion of control of other, the natural world and what is feared because of its power.
The seemingly fanciful content of the tales, whose amazing resilience through history belies their devaluation, tells a story of how to retrieve the ignored and suppressed power of the feminine. Kings and Queens, poor merchants and their wives go out on futile quests to find fertility, treasures, and overcome monsters that wreak havoc. Princesses who have been sleeping or simply left the world because it was violent, are retrieved through riddles, devotion and nonaggression. Foolish sons and unconscious daughters, whose beauty or kindness is hated or the source of envy and bullying siblings, are the ones who go beyond convention and save the day through outrageous commitment to compassion, the capacity to confront witches, willingness to listen to horses and give up comfort for love.
The stories have been told over and over. Cultures transform the same patterns of events, change the animals or the one who succeeds based on beliefs, but the inner life – the alchemy of images – remain unchanged, even unrecognized for their potency. The psychological analysis of stories as journeys is documented. But the wild uncover of transformation – the ancient capacity for seeing the world as it is and knowning the magic of regeneration from the heart and spirit – is what is tucked into the images to be unleashed into the mind and heart through the one who can once again retell the tale. Like DNA binding us to our actual lineage of migrations, the images of the story retain something even through endless circumnavigations and interpretation.
Sacred ritual, shamanic instructions, ecological information are all hidden within the puzzle of the story and accessible through the voice that sings from another time through spoken incantations brought alive in the collusion of imaginations listening. The instructions are not literal or laid out. They are to be discovered. The Diaspora is enormous. The place from which we have all been removed, evacuated, is our own invincible homeland of unconditional nobility of mind. The place where are cultures, mythologies, sacred histories, and traditions arose so that our communal lives would be supported by relationships, and responsibility with wisdom and joy.
I have recreated the story of Stalo from many sources, including my knowledge of other Norwegian fairytales like “The Giant With No Heart” and “The Magic Drum.”
Works Consulted and Works Cited
DeCambrey, Leonne. LAPLAND LEGENDS (Tales of an Ancient Race and Its Great Gods) Retold from the Swedish. New Haven: Yale UP, 1926. Print.
Conversations. Yoel Perez. N.d.
LaRue, Madeleine. “Man Eaters and Child-Nappers.” Los Angeles Review of Books. November 22, 2015. Web.
McElwain, Thomas, “A Comparison of Some Gigantic Characters in Iroquois and Sammi Traditions.” Open Journal Systems. Web.
Smiley, Jane. “Preface.” In Robert Kellogg. The Introduction THE SAGAS OF ICELANDERS, New York: Viking P 1996. Print.
Von Franz, Marie Louise. The Feminine in the Fairytale. Seminar Series. Zurich: Spring, 1973. Print.
———————————. Individuation in Fairy Tales. Rev. ed. Zurich: Spring, 1987. Print.
Reviewed by Laura Simms