Story & Artwork Copyright ÂŠ Juliana Loomer 2012
Published by Dark Matter Norway Publishing Bergen, Norway
This book is dedicated to my handsome Viking husband Birger who has loved and believed in me as no other.
Du er mitt liv.
Trusting the Story January 2012 OsterĂ¸y, Norway In 2007 I was an overworked and exhausted visual effects artist working in the film industry in Northern California. After taking an opportunity for a desperately needed break, I found myself unable to sleep for two full weeks. My health deteriorated and my personality went through changes. In taking the courage to analyze what was happening to me, I began to realize that there was a tall dark man that stood next to the bed each night and wouldnâ€™t let me sleep unless I wrote down a story about a girl who moves from California to Norway. Although unbelievable, it was suggested I write down the story so I could get some sleep. It was a good suggestion. In four weeks time, having never written anything before but emails, I had this book typed out for the man that stood next to my bed, and had fully recovered my sleep. Long story short; with no expectations of anything but a little vacation to an exotic foreign land, I boarded a plane to Bergen, Norway. Within minutes of arriving in Bergen, I knew I had to leave my life in California. With no
contacts, no friends, no job, and only an understanding that somehow everything would work out, I made the move to Norway. I canâ€™t explain what has happened to me but to say that I surrendered to the power of chaos and took a risk to listen to the voices of my dreams. Trusting the story changed my life. May you be alive at the end of the world. - Juliana
“The final fate of all has not been born; not even the Norns will cast their spell. Soon, Ragnarok comes on war-like winds. What will happen? Only The Vala can tell . . .”
Song of the Vala Juliana Loomer January 2012 | Osterøy, Norway
Chapter 1 • Home For Now June 2010 Håna, Norway In a small fishing village in northern Norway, I was packing my few belongings and getting ready to say “Ha det!” or ‘goodbye’ to my hosts, the Ellefsen family. I had traveled to this small village that no longer had a Christian priest to conduct services for the community, as it was midsummer, and there were marriages to bless, harvests of fish, and livelihoods from tourism to give thanks for. I am, in the ancient Norse language, a vølve, and in these out-of-the-way places where the Old Ways were gaining a foothold again, I served the communities as a priest of the Christian Church would have done if things hadn’t changed, or should I say, hadn’t stayed the same for so long. Though officially, Norway is a Christian nation, not many people are regular church-goers and even more still hold a kind of race memory of the conversion times when priests came to “steal the souls” of the pagans that once lived here. The people in these isolated, often lonely, places didn’t soon forget what had happened; remembrance seemed to span a thousand years.
The past didn’t matter so much anymore, and it certainly didn’t matter to me. What mattered was today, and I took the responsibility of being a vølve in these modern times very seriously. In the mists of ancient days, the vølve were the healers, prophetesses and wise women of the old Norse shamanism. They administered their healings with what they had available to them; herbs, songs, incantations, and sometimes with the outright intervention of the supernatural forces that inhabited these lands. These various natural practices of the vølve were called by two names, galdr and seiðr. Though I had been trained in the Old Ways thoroughly, I found modern life to be spiritually simpler than it was in ancient times, as if the gods had retreated from the world we live in now. Real magic, seiðr, was rarely required anymore. In these days, my services as a vølve comprised mostly of listening to people’s concerns, being of comfort, and performing the ceremonies that communities desired to keep the wheel of the year spinning, and spin it did. Coming to the village of Håna was such a comfort. It lay on a remote fjord only accessed by two car-ferries a day. It was quiet. No cruise ships, no oil rigs, and no industry that made up the modern day commercial Norwegian fjord life. Only private fishing boats sailed here, and occasionally on a
nice day, a kayaker would float by enjoying the ease of their oars on the glassy, still waters. It is almost impossible to believe in our modern world that places like this still exist, but they do. Though Norway isnâ€™t densely populated, it is still such a surprise to find these small pockets of peace where one can hear their own voice clearly, and sometimes, even the voices of the spirits. The spirits were easier to hear in a place like this where they were still honored and remembered. Their voices can be heard in the crash of the waves along the shore, in the rustling of the wind in the trees of the forest, or once, when I was brushing my teeth in a hotel bathroom and they wanted me to turn out the light. The spirits are the same as the people of the villages; beings that need someone to pay attention to them, celebrate with them, or help them find their way home. Sometimes, when I listen closely, I can hear the voices from the other worlds directing my own growth, reminding me, in case I ever forgot, that we are all connected. Standing on the rocky shoreline in HĂĽna, enjoying the early morning light that hadnâ€™t changed significantly for 24 hours, I noted that the Land of the Midnight Sun was definitely earning its title. Looking out across the fjord at the impossibly high stone cliffs that flanked the bay, I imagined that they were like grand walls that kept those who lived
within them in safety. In fact, over the thousands of years humans had lived here, they had done just that; kept people safe. Many of the fjords in Norway are so large and vast that they are hard to feel when standing at the edge of them for the first time. This fjord was just my size. The whole country, in general, was just my size; epic yet intimate. That was how I felt inside now, too, since I had lived here; epic, yet intimate. Sometimes we are lucky enough that a place chooses us, and this place had chosen me at random from 6000 miles away. Never in a million possible futures could I have foreseen what my life would become and I was happy for that. If one knows how the movie ends, then what is the fun in watching? The summer display in Norway is a sight to behold. The flowers of the low-lands and the lush greenery of the trees of the forests that flourished in all those hours of summer sunlight remind me of a tropical paradise situated high in the arctic. The law of nature is to grow, I reminded myself. The words repeated in his voice and echoed in my mind, not unlike the rare howl of wolves I had first heard across these granite aqueous canyons those many years ago. Though, then, I struggled against my feelings and foolishly wasted the
precious time I had with him. How self-consumed I had been. Regret followed me around like a hungry wolf waiting for the exhaustion of its prey. I had to always be on guard or regret would consume me and, if it succeeded, I didnâ€™t know what would happen to me, though now, I know there are fates worse than death. Sometimes I balanced my longing for him with a few little indulgent memories, like a little treat for being a good girl. As I waited at the shore for the ferry, memories of him softly entered my mind while mists began to form on the surface of the still water. Like an enchanted air that appeared when I remembered love, the taake, or fog, was a constant companion of my thoughts of him. Taking in the view of the calm, quiet water, I felt deeply grateful for my life, and one of the reasons was walking up behind me. I knew who it was by the sound of her soft footsteps on the gravel road. Fru Ellefsen had come to thank me and wish me well on my travels. Her daughter had been married at the fires this year in HĂĽna, and Fru Ellefsen was still beaming with joy. She handed me a brown wax-paper-wrapped package of reindeer jerky, one of my favorite snacks since I had begun to visit the villages. There werenâ€™t many reindeer on the coast anymore, so she had traded with the Sami herders in the far north for her dried fish from her fjord.
This simple exchange got me thinking; modern trade and business had become so large and so impersonal. We can no longer feel the energy with which our products are made and, consequently, nothing retains any real value but the monetary value it is assigned. The energy laden in these simple exchanges, like that of reindeer meat for fish, felt like a precious relic of how things used to be and should be again. The small package of jerky was infused with the lives and energy of the people who made them, and consequently, the little package was worth more to me than gold. Placing the jerky into the glove box of the VW sedan that would take me on my travels the rest of the summer, I reached out for a final hug from Fru Ellefsen before I left. We laughed together at our combined sweetness. Norwegians have a reputation for being cold, but this is too easy of a label to apply. It’s more than too easy; it’s lazy. The Norwegians are much more complicated than they let on. They are conservative socially if they don’t know someone. They can be shy at first and don’t open to strangers without the currency of a mutual friend to give introductions. It had taken me some time in the country to even have my first real conversation with someone. Slowly, the connections came. I was amused in the knowledge that I had actually found
my own people, but they were as shy of me as I was of them. Over time, I began to be let into the inner circle, and we both became secure in the idea of one another. Sometimes patience pays off. Belting myself into the front seat of the car, I relished the luxury of having a vehicle for the summer. I had borrowed the VW from my friend Ivar, who was a bass player in a rock band traveling in South America for the summer. He offered me the car to make the rounds of the villages Iâ€™d be visiting and I was very happy for it. He was a good friend and I felt connected to him driving his car around to the various coastal villages. The smell of the ash tray full of cigarette butts and the scent of marijuana reminded me of him and the short time we had spent together, but that was done now. He was still one of the pillars that kept me propped up during emotional storms; good friends do that I found. The Church used to be that for me. Christ used to be that for me too; but no more. Everything comes and goes with the tide. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust . . . I repeated the familiar words. Everything we think could never fall succumbs to nature and eventually crumbles to dust. At least it did in my life. But the good news is that ashes make an excellent fertilizer for new growth. Creation from destruction; that was the law of nature.
Watching the car-ferry approach, through the fog, from the opposite side of the fjord, I could feel a little tingle of excitement sparkle through my body. I was looking forward to the beautiful three-hour trip into the mountains I had ahead of me today. I had a feeling my next stop was going to be special as I was going to officiate at my good friends’ wedding. I had met them a few years back and all agreed that this was a good union. Love was a beautiful thing indeed! Thoughts of others in love always inevitably drew me to thoughts of him: I missed him so much. I wanted to use the Sight to see where he was now, but besides being unethical, I knew I might not like what I saw. For the hundredth time this year, I put my longing for him away in a special place no one could see. Problem was, I always knew where it was and I could always go back to it like a junkie moving through the shadows searching for the next hit. Pitiful, I thought. Securing my bag on the passenger seat of the VW, I took one last look around the dock at Håna before starting the car to drive onto the ferry. Some places felt like home, and this village did for sure. I had never had a true physical home, but for now, this village would do. The Ellefsens had an open door policy with me and I had taken them up on their kindness many times over the past few years. I knew I’d be back again. Ha det! I thought as I drove onto the steel deck
of the boat, ready for what the future would bring. My past home had been in Northern California on the rugged shores of Sonoma County spending my youth exploring the beaches and climbing the rocks and cliffs of the aptly named Lost Coast. The Sea and its children were no strangers to me. In California, it was also the same kind of small town coastal life; small communities isolated and insulated, just like it was here in Norway. There was no mystery then why I felt so comfortable in Håna. The vast coasts of California easily compared to the expanse and scale of my new home here. Norway was a land of extremes; long waters, intense light and dark, cold and warm, low and tall land masses, barren and lush terrain, but it was all tempered by protective walls and comforting blankets of atmosphere. The fog of the mythical Dragon’s Breath lay across the fjord in front of the ferry and held me in comfort like a winter blanket against the cold. As the boat backed away from the dock, heading on its twice daily trip to the other side, seiðr was at work on me, and it was the only proper word for the view and the feelings I held about this place. I was surrounded by magic. California was so far away now it was almost like it had never existed. It was a place that held many painful memories; bad memories that I still worked on purifying myself of. There was a soullessness of the country I left, that
I now recognize being on the outside. America was a confused, hungry orphan child, crying and fighting for acceptance or dominance, didn’t matter which. Yet America could be a passionate lover when it got its needs met. In contrast, Norway was a calm parent that recognized its strength and could operate with patience and sympathetic love, even when it was hurt. The older I grew, the more I appreciated this position of patience and love. I hoped I brought this later perspective to my works rather than the former. I found I was always a little embarrassed when people asked where I was from because it was so obvious I didn’t come from here. Yet, I really wanted to blend in, but the days of my blending had never been born. I was different, and I should have been proud. He would ask me, why are you hiding your true self? I guess I still didn’t know why. Maybe it was because I wanted to belong somewhere or to someone like other people did. I realized in that moment, driving onto the ferry to begin yet another journey, that I was just a wandering orphan searching for a people and a home to call my own. Maybe that is why I could perform the vølve duties with such openness and enthusiasm; because I knew how precious things like love, family and home were. I secretly hoped one day I would find the same for myself though the
creed of those who have given themselves to a spiritual life says: live in the world and be not of the world. Thus is the nature of the suffering of human duality; not being able to choose a side. As you can see, the wisdom and perspective I had acquired did nothing to ease my pain. The trip across the fjord to the main highway only took fifteen minutes, but I got out of the car and climbed the stairs to the upper deck of the ferry to see what I could observe. Though the day was beginning to warm, my hands were cold from the seawater that had condensed on the rail that I ran my hand over as I ascended the stairs. Damn the cold! I would let nothing disrupt my day. Up on the deck, I felt the calm warm wind blowing across my face, and I opened my heart to the life around me. Summer had a way of making the hardest heart melt in Norway. With an average of six months of the year in snow and ice, nothing could crack the shell on a grumpy Norwegian like the sun. I smiled because I had also adopted this weather character after a few winters wrapped in wool and darkness. On this summer day, I felt as free and happy as the seagulls that flew along with us on our crossing. Approaching our destination, I got a quick smile and a wink from the ferryman before he let down the gate for us to drive off. I thought that a wink from a ferryman was a good omen. Ferrymen from ancient tales were not so friendly.
Still, I had to pay him 80-kroner to get off on the other side. Some things never changed. Driving the car onto the E6 that would take me north, I freed my long hair from its bondage and let it flow out into the wind coming from the open window. I took in the smell of the lush trees and flowering wild plants that lined the road, enjoying the freshest air in the world. Glancing at the speedometer through the steering wheel, I caught a glimpse of the tattoo on my wrist he had given me. In the flickering summer light, filtered through the lush tree canopy overhead, I saw that the tattoo on my arm seemed to float and dance on a field of blue-green tinted skin. This tattoo meant more to me than any possession I had ever owned. It made me feel strong and safe. I said the words, strong and safe, out loud to myself to feel their energy. You have always been that. You just couldnâ€™t feel it until now, was something he would say in response to me. He was always saying wise things that kept me connected to myself, connected to Nature and the gods that watched over us. I smiled in the truth of the words. I hoped I was beginning to live it. Reaching into my bag for my mp3 player, I plugged it into the car stereo auxiliary jack to hear some music and hopefully keep myself from thinking about him. My new favorite band was an electronic group that I had seen on my
last trip to Bergen where I had gone to initiate my permanent residency paperwork. My final application papers would go through in a few months. I felt so proud knowing I would soon be able to stay here as long as I wanted. I would finally, officially, have a home. If only I had found someone to marry, the process would have taken much less time, I though, half-joking with myself. As it was, the whole process to citizenship took seven years. And marriage, well that was a fantasy; a strange dream like the abstract idea of Santa Claus to a gullible child. I could not imagine myself marrying. I didn’t know why, but trying to see myself married was like looking for ghosts in the fog; they might be there but they were hard to see. A haunting Nordic voice came pulsing out of the car speakers singing in English, “You can’t see me but I’m on the road again. So many lights passing me by. I could feel you but I knew you were nowhere near . . . ” As I drove, my thoughts drifted to the man who couldn’t see me and who I was nowhere near to. I hoped he would be proud of me and who I had become. Worse, I hoped he still loved me and I had to admit, I still loved him. He’d been my first lover in Norway. It was a strange feeling to be under the influence of; this feeling that words were insufficient to describe what he was to me. I could feel him almost in the flesh with me right here in the
car, yet I was totally alone. Even stranger, I felt as I drove that we were getting closer to each other. I didn’t know why. It was probably wishful thinking. Though I regularly felt him, we weren’t together in any sense of the word and hadn’t been in years. In fact, I wasn’t sure I would ever see him again. Somehow, I tried to make that okay, which was odd for a girl who was brought up with the fantasy of being with one person your whole life and never being parted. “Screw Santa Claus!” I said to myself, then laughed at my own bitterness as I dared to fantasize about a future filled with love. It was a strange attitude for someone who had performed four weddings this summer and was driving on the way to perform number five. One day, I was sure, I would get the emotions about him balanced and healed, but for right now, they were a mess. Driving, however, was excellent therapy for me. Thank the gods for Ivar and his car. Alone in the car I could work out all my feelings, paired with movement to give me the illusion they were progressing. Never mind. My mind was alive and my heart was free to feel whatever came without hindrance in the safety and confinement of the car. That was a small blessing. The feelings were like a swirling storm cloud of longing; the exquisite pain of desire unfulfilled had
a delicious sting. I indulged my addiction and quickly shuffled through a few more memories of him; the feeling of his long hair swirling around me as we embraced on the wind-swept mountain in Bergen; the warmth and strength of his arms encircling me and how safe I felt with him; his constant moving aside of my own long hair from my face so he could see me when I tried to hide. I was taught that these experiences were the things one was supposed to wish permanence for, but the memories of them were enough. I didn’t require the actuality of the experience repeated day after day; at least that’s what I continued to believe. The memories would have lost their beauty if we had been together all the time, right? I asked cautiously, afraid of the answer. The beauty of the memories was overwhelming, and I took a deep breath to ground myself back to reality and the road ahead. "I am a storm, I am a flashing sun, I am a dreadful nightmare, and a violent explosion," the song lyrics proclaimed, as they floated in mist-like forms through the speakers into my body, infusing me with a beautiful chaos. This is what it felt like to be me right now; alive and surprising, painful and beautiful, violent and calm all at the same time. “What do you call that?” I asked out loud to anyone who
might be listening. His voice answered in my mind, reassuring me; I call that truly living.
Chapter 2 â€˘ Myself, My Confessor June 2010 BjĂ¸rngaard , Norway
At mid-day, my dear friend, Frid Verland, was sitting in a chair on the porch of her house enjoying the sun while waiting for me to arrive. When I drove up her gravel driveway, she jumped up from her chair and opened her arms in welcome. Frid and I had spent the last summers together in the mountain villages here in BjĂ¸rngaard and I had trained her as a novice for these mountain communities. She had excelled as a student, and I had opened a door for her to the Helm of Midgard, the teaching sted of the Old Ways, so she could complete her master training, it had been years since I had been there myself. I had received my own training at the Helm, but had turned my back on that place when I left, vowing never to return. But enough of ghosts; this weekend was special because of the impending wedding. All around, the happy couple were filled with joy, including myself. Parking the VW, I ran up the stairs to embrace my friend. Frid was glowing with happiness just like a bride-to-be should. This was one of the reasons I loved Frid so much;
she showed her emotions on the outside. She was like a big sister for me, though she was younger and possessed what they called stolthet, or pride. I was still working to develop the fullness of this trait in myself. My pride meter was usually running a bit low but Frid always seemed like she felt strong and safe in herself and it made me jealous. “I’m here. Let the party begin!” I announced, pretending to be more extroverted than I really was. She understood the joke and we laughed, stumbling into her house where she had some wine waiting, saved for my return. Wine is expensive in Norway so it is an honor to be served it. I dropped my bag at her front door and we settled into the two dark blue sofas in her living room, chatting like little birds, catching up on the events of the last few months that we had been apart. She offered me an empty wine glass and as I held it out for her to pour, she suddenly grabbed my arm and held my wrist to the light. She saw that my Vegvisir, a galdr tattoo, was just as strong as the day she’d first seen it. “Have you heard from him?” she asked, looking at the design. My heart sank as she mentioned him. I thought I might have a few minutes of happiness with my friend without the memory of him acting like a dampening membrane between me and my “here and now” reality, but it was not to be. “No . . .” I said with some attitude as Frid already knew
the answer. She kissed my wrist on the Vegvisir and released my hand back to receive the wine. “You belong together,” she said matter-of-factly as I watched the dark wine swirl into the glass. “Some of you believe in bonding for life. Some of us feel that it’s not necessary,” I said, trying to educate my friend. She didn’t care what I had to say about it. She had her ideas. Placing two plates on the table in front of me, she served me a welcome snack of geitost and flatbrød, or goat cheese and flat bread. Looking into my eyes searching for my truth, she spoke again. “You belong together. Period.” “If we do connect again, you shall be the first to know. I promise,” I answered, holding my emotions together while simultaneously trying to build a road block to encouraging this line of discussion. Frid smiled a knowing smile which I found curious, but I ignored her. This was going to get painful if she forced me to be honest, so I moved the conversation to other things which she quickly took to. As Frid talked, the smells of the wine were seducing me, conjuring memories of him, and I felt myself drifting to a vision, more like a memory, to his home when he had first poured some wine for me. I could see him sitting across from me in the firelight, smiling at me mysteriously. He always knew more than he let on. The visions were strong
here for some reason, maybe because Frid knew him and she allowed me permission to indulge myself. I shook it off. I changed the subject to one I knew we could stay on for a while. “About your wedding . . . do we have the Catholic family expecting a traditional wedding or have we firmly decided on a wedding from the Old Ways?” I said directing her focus back to business. “I have them ready to accept the Old Ways. In fact, they are looking forward to enduring it. You know how my family loves to suffer on my behalf. But I thought we’d do a blend of traditions to make everyone happy.” “Diplomatic choice,” I agreed. I saw the traditional Norwegian wedding crown resting on the table on the other side of the room. It was so beautiful with its dangling silver charms that sparkled in the sunlight. I was so happy for her and counted the hours until I could see her wear it. We touched glasses in a toast to this decision and drank more. “Skål!” we said at the same time, looking into each others eyes as was proper for a toast between good friends. I pulled my eyes away quickly though so she wouldn’t see the truth. Frid poured again and again. As my inhibitions and protections began to fade into vinfin, a word in Norwegian that refers the warm feelings one has when drinking wine,
the memories of being with him grew stronger and stronger until I was standing in the dominion of his eyes that penetrated me with cool blue love. It had been so intoxicating to be so visible to another person while with him. Frid got up from the sofa and went into the kitchen to wash the plates seeing as though I wasn’t paying attention to anything she was saying. I was full of games, but she wasn’t playing; even from a distance she could feel my longing and sickening nostalgia. “You belong together!” she said loudly enough so I could hear her clearly from the other room. I smiled. “I’d been thinking about him recently,” which was an understatement, “but it’s been years . . .” I tried to qualify. Frid returned to the sofa and placed a plate of smoked salmon and small slices of white bread in front of me on the table. She sat and stared hard at me using her inner perceptions to try to figure out what was going on with me. It was working. My secret heart was slowly revealing itself to her before I could shut her out. Honestly, I wanted her to know how I felt as it had been a burden carrying it alone all these years. The truth slowly began to open itself to her and I saw in her face the recognition that she understood for the first time what kept us apart. She leaned hard across the table and looked in my eyes with a new sense of compassion.
“You don’t believe that he would want you now. That’s it, isn’t it?” she said, announcing a truth that even I hadn’t dared to discover. Frid knew right then that she had answered the riddle of the years of separation. She smiled feeling quite proud of herself. She could see the confirmation in my eyes that were now welling with tears. “But why? You’re a beautiful person, gifted and loving. Why wouldn’t he want to be with you?” she asked me concerned for the state of my self-esteem. “Frid, please . . .” I spoke softly, imploring my friend not to ask. I was scared to talk about it. “We have two days until the wedding. Erik knows that I’ve planned to spend every minute with you. I’m telling you right now, I won’t marry until you tell me what happened.” Frid knew she had me over a barrel, for my own good. There was no escape and I no longer wanted any. Frid ordered, “I’ll pour. You talk!”
Chapter 3 • A Brand New World June 2010 Bjørngaard, Norway
I took a drink of wine, stalling a minute before I had to tell the story. I feared what my friend would think of me when the story was done. But truth is best, I thought, and felt it was time to free myself of the darkness of my past by exposing it to the light of friendship. Weddings were a time for truth anyway. Those things we hide poison us. I wanted to live healthy as my secrets were stealing my energy. “I was born in California . . .“ I began. Frid had known I was from America, but she didn’t know anything about my past as I never spoke of it for good reason. She had always been curious how I had come to be in Norway. After all, it was a hidden pocket on the other side of the world from where I came from. Few people just stumbled upon Norway. One had to make a conscious decision to be here, and an even more conscious one to stay. I began to describe my life with hesitation. “My native grandmother had given me my birth name, Awenasa, which means My Home in the Cherokee language which I find ironic now. But to try to help me fit into normal
American life, I was also given the name Jennifer. My mother had said my father had died when I was too young to know who he was. I never got a chance to meet him, but to be honest, I wasn’t sure my mother knew who my father was. My mother was a bit of a free spirit, as they say. She was never in one place for long. Even after I was born, I could see she missed whoever my father was, but she refused to talk about him. She buried the pain by running. She had to be moving at all times. Consequently, we never had a home,” I began the story. “Interesting,” Frid responded. “Reliving the family heritage, I see,” she said rather cruelly to me. She wasn’t wrong; I just hadn’t realized it until this moment of telling, and it stung. “My mother remained sad for years. It was hard to ever feel strong growing up with a mother that always kept secrets and was so sad. She left me with my grandmother to be raised on the reservation when I was young, which wasn’t exactly paradise, but I suppose it was better for me than trying to chase her around the world. When we did see each other, I did everything I could to try to make her happy, yet nothing I did ever seemed to be enough.” Eventually she fell in love again, remarried and had a few years happiness. She sent for me to live with her and her
new husband so we could try to be a family, but from the first meeting I could see that the man she married was filled with corruption. I called him The Man as I hated to say his name and wouldn’t dare call him a stepfather. My mother’s native spirit was hard to control, and they had many fights and arguments. I hated how The Man was always able to find her weaknesses, and over time he slowly turned her weaknesses against her. With his assistance, she turned to drugs to keep her world under control and numb. Needless to say, this was excruciatingly painful to live with and watch. My grandmother had taught me to seek out nature when my spirit was sick, and I could actually feel the sanctuary in nature, away from the chaos of home. I escaped the pain by going on hiking expeditions into the mountains or at the beach as often as I could. But it didn’t stop what was coming and what I needed to do to try to stop him. I finally found the strength to challenge him about what he was doing to her, and it ended badly. He did horrible things to me, Frid. I won’t poison your mind with the details, but he did these things to prove his ultimate control over us all. My mother was impotent to do anything to protect me she was so far gone. I was hopeless and despaired. I was finally forced to go to the police by myself. They moved forward with an investigation and prosecution of The Man.
He was convicted and sent to jail, but it wasn’t forever. One day he would be let out. I could never feel safe, and I couldn’t save my mother. She had become sick from addiction and needed to be sent to a facility to be helped on a daily basis.” Frid looked at me, worried and shocked in what I was telling her, but that was the least of the things I would tell her this day. I continued. I tried to kill myself when I was sixteen. I returned from death with a will to live, but only a weak will. I found enough strength to make it to adulthood, but I found that, when I got there, I was alone. The last words my mother said to me were ‘Disappear, child. This world is full of pain.’ So I did as she instructed. I decided since I had failed to kill myself, I would do the second best thing; I would shut myself away from the world, determined that whoever wanted me could have me for the price of protection. A police counselor made an off-handed remark one day after an interview, that I should enter a convent to feel the security of living in a safe community so I could heal. The Church offered not only protection but occupation and anonymity for me; The holy trinity of escape. It was a brilliant idea. Looking back, I can’t say that I was ever a religious girl,
but I did have a strong connection to nature. At the time, I didnâ€™t consider that connection spiritual at all; the connection existed naturally. But the idea of entering a convent wouldnâ€™t go away and in a few months time I took a trip to San Francisco and met with one of the Dominican Sisters there. Meeting on a foggy cold day, the Prioress explained to me that I must become a Catholic first to begin the transition process, which I immediately did that next Sunday. I began training at the Dominican Convent outside San Francisco and moved in with the nuns not many months after to initiate my life as a novice. One year later, I joined a cloistered convent in the southern Californian mountains that had room for me, and I embarked on the process of disappearing. The hourly and daily prayer required little to no effort to maintain as it was natural and comforting to have the routine. After two years of being in the initiate process of the conversion, I began to see that I had chosen a life that suited me well. In a few more years I was ready for my final vows, which I decided would include a vow of silence which guaranteed me a life dedicated to prayer and personal development. I would never have to talk about what happened to me again. The Dominican creed I took to heart: contemplata aliis tradere: What you contemplate, give to
others. I was married to Christ in a ceremony that brought me into the Church with full entitlements. They encouraged my life of contemplation and taught me the ways to use my mind for spiritual service, and I served my Sisterâ€™s well in my chores at the convent. However, my grandmother despaired at the choice I had made. Her dying wish for me was that I would return to the Longhouse Way of the Iroquois who were the ancestors of the Cherokee tribe she had come from and fulfill the destiny of my birth; to become the Keeper of the wampum belts that told the stories and wisdom of our ancestors. It was not to be,â€? I said to Frid as if I was describing someone else. I was safe, Frid. For the first time in my whole life, I was protected and safe in the convent. I became Sister Jennifer and shut myself away. I dedicated myself to Christ and his service. My Sisters gave me the gift of a small gold cross for my dedication, which I cherished. I was taught about horticulture and was encouraged in that place to be with Christ as intimately as possible. The most amazing thing about the convent was their library. I spent years buried in books. The Bible of course was first, but books from philosophers, books of history, and to their credit, the convent library carried books on other religions. The
Dominicans were so confident that we wouldn’t stray from our vows they freely encouraged us to study comparative religion at the convent. I found a peace there emotionally and physically I hadn’t imagined possible. I myself had even opened intellectually and spiritually like a flower, waiting for the grace of God to make me whole again. God never came to give me the grace I longed for. I decided the protection I originally went there seeking and the knowledge I had gained was a fair trade, and I eventually gave up longing for true spirituality. I served the Church and lived very happily. For fourteen years, Sister Jennifer lived quietly, calmly, and safe in my own world that no one disturbed. And in truth, I grew strong enough to endure the trauma of life on my own without the safety of the Church. Yet I stayed! I stayed years after I knew that I was strong enough to walk away. I grew on the inside but my outer world couldn’t reflect it,” I said to her still ashamed that I had taken such an easy route. The outside world didn’t forget me, though. Fourteen years passed, and the day eventually came when The Man was released from prison. It had to happen. He had never done anything bad enough to be put away forever, though I had known the truth of his heart. As a courtesy, I had been
informed of his release, and I lived with a false certainty that he would never know where I was or who I was. I had disappeared, after all. Soon after his release, I received a message from the police that they had been tipped off by The Manâ€™s cell mate. The message informed me that The Man said he was coming after me. The police were confident that he would never find me, but The Man had skills that superseded their law and confidence. All that would be required would be one visit to a private detective to track me down, and he would have my name, address and government number. I wrote on a piece of paper to the policewoman who had come to speak with me that if she could find me, then he easily could. The police assured me that they could keep the convent patrolled, but it set me into a tail-spin of fear. I feared for myself all over again. I feared how this would affect the other sisters. It would be too disruptive to this place of peace and would needlessly endanger the others. I had to do something. Asking and receiving permission from my Prioress, arrangements were made for me to join a sister convent somewhere far away. The request was sent out, but for months no word returned. I began to despair in the silence of the community I had dedicated so many years to. I was afraid I was alone again. I began to sink into depression.
Even in the so called Christian Community, I felt I was deemed unworthy of help. Of course, I didn’t blame others for not wanting to draw evil to them, but somewhere, someone had to have some of Christ’s compassion. “Finally, the call came back from a faraway land halfway across the planet that they would be happy to have me. It was the Dominican convent in the city of Bergen, Norway. So it was agreed and arrangements were made for me to go to Norway. It was a long journey especially for someone who had never traveled anywhere outside of California. It was decided that I should travel without my habit and that I should put my vow of silence on hold to be able to blend into society better as a form of camouflage. It felt strange to be normal again, and preparing myself for a journey to a land at the top of the world frightened me. Everything would be new and unfamiliar. I shook with fear thinking about how it would feel to leave the safety I had known. I had no idea what to expect and, honestly, I didn’t have any cause to be picky. I was being protected and whatever came was God’s will. I was given a purse with travel money in addition to the plane ticket purchased by the convent. I had determined I wouldn’t use it if I didn’t have to and the money left over would go directly back to the convent when I got settled in.
Preparing myself for the journey, I offered silent goodbyes to the sisters I had known for so many years and entered the world again with fear. I was driven to the airport and wished a good trip by the driver. Taking a plane from Los Angeles to Oslo was the longest and hardest part of the trip. I was unable to sleep with the opportunity to see the world outside from such a profound height. This was the view God had of our world and I wanted to see it for myself. It was a moment to experience God in his own domain but the pride of the comparison kept me from enjoying too deeply. I had to remember my place in the world, and though the Sisters had done me a great favor, there was nothing special about me. The fact I existed at all was Godâ€™s mercy. From Oslo, the capital city of Norway, I took a train for seven hours to the west coast to the old capitol city of Bergen. Magical things were taking place on the train while I looked out the window at the landscape passing by. Moonlight illuminated celestial reflection in the lake waters and snow- tipped mountains. In the visions of the untouched winter landscapes something began to happen to me; I began to have a sense, a feeling that grew from deep within that I was coming home. I could not explain it at the time, but the journey to
Bergen seemed to be one that had a weight of destiny to it, like all my life had been lived to bring me to this moment and I embraced the feeling with the care a mother would for her child. When I arrived in Bergen it was snowing. All was blanketed in a clean white veil. It felt like a soft landing into an alien world. I was met at the train station by a Herr Døhlen. Leading me to the door of the train station, I felt as if I was walking into a fairy tale city, cobblestoned streets, tree-lined avenues, colorful parks, and quaint ancient buildings mixed in with shiny glass constructions. Where had I just landed? I was in awe. I had never been to Europe before, so I knew I was in for a surprise, but this was like a dream. Walking from the station, he pointed to his family home visible from downtown, on the steep side of Mt. Fløyen. The mountain was covered in clouds so I couldn’t see how high it was to the top, but standing next to it, it felt much taller than I could see. All the colorful homes were built up the side of the mountain, higher and higher until they also disappeared into the clouds. The altitude scale of the town was stunning. We approached a little white building that sat at the mouth of a cave and had the word Fløibanen over the opening. Herr Døhlen went to a ticket booth and purchased
two tickets for us. I wasn’t sure what this place was, but I assumed it was another train. We walked down a long corridor into a warm cave that housed a resting upright train; a funicular as we call them in America. Herr Døhlen motioned for me to take a seat in one of the steep cars and, as we did, the doors closed with a suction sound. The funicular began to move up the rock tunnel quietly as it was being moved with gravity from its sister car above us on the mountain. I smiled with excitement, looking at Herr Døhlen who didn’t register my excitement. In fact, he didn’t seem particularly interested in me at all. I understood that he felt that he was doing a service by housing me, but he wasn’t going to be interested in me personally. He was being a good Christian and that was all. I tried not to take it personally. I was literally at his mercy until I was handed off to the Prioress and I would find a way to be happy for it. The funicular train moved silently out of the tunnel and within seconds the sight through the glass roofed car was the view of the whole city from high above. I was amazed how quickly we traveled so high up. It was like flying into the clouds, being on this train, as we rose higher and higher to the top. The view was spectacular. And at each stop, we seemed to travel another atmosphere higher. As the city came into further view, I began to see the shape and how
she was laid out and how she hugged Vågen Bay. Bergen was beautiful. We exited the funicular at the high station and walked a few blocks on the acrophobicly high road on the mountainside to the stately family home. Herr Døhlen walked faster as we approached the house and opened the door. Peering inside, I viewed a whole new interior world. There were four children, all doing the things children do; homework, playing roughly with siblings, taking liberties with personal space, toys and books spread out across the floor. Herr Døhlen greeted his children with great love and more animation than I had seen in the half hour I had spent with him. I was glad for it. It would have been shocking to have to live with someone so reserved. As if the shock of going from a world of silence, to a family household wasn’t enough, the fact that I didn’t speak Norwegian was an added challenge. It was fine as the adults in the house spoke enough English to help me understand what was going on. What surprised me most was that the children spoke good English, and learning about their world directly from them was exactly what I needed. Elise, the oldest daughter at thirteen, was given the task of showing me to my cellar room. The room was private, being a removed from the house energetically in the earth,
but there was enough room for a small window that looked over the garden and out over the city. The room was beautifully appointed with many white details; plain white sheets, white lamp, white table. The old dirt floor had been replaced with concrete and room rugs. This was comfortable. Elise showed me where the light switch and the electrical plugs were and where to hang my clothes in the white armoire which she called a garderobe. I felt like this place would be good until I was called to the convent. Exhausted after my long journey, tucked into my new nest high above the city, I felt blessed with the opportunity to see a part of the big wide world I had never seen before. I also gave thanks for the safety I had been offered but within a few minutes after unpacking, I realized that inside me was a butterfly that was long overdue for emergence from a stale cocoon. I held the little gold cross in my hand and prayed for the strength to weather the change. I hoped one day, if I could find the courage to chrysalis, I wanted to soar over this city and feel what it was like to live.
Chapter 4 • Bergen Town Spring | Summer 2006 Bergen, Norway
Elise woke me the next morning saying that there was a phone call for me. Breaking through the haze of jet-lag, I quickly put on my bathrobe and went upstairs to the kitchen phone. In a warm voice, the Prioress greeted me and began to explain to me that there wasn’t going to be room for me for “a while” because one of the older sisters, who was dying and was in a state of denial about this coming change, was being difficult about moving to a care facility. They wanted to respect her and make the transition in her time. I understood, of course. I assured her I was comfortable as long as the Døhlens were fine with the arrangement. I felt self-conscious about being an outsider in their world and in their home and I wanted to be as unobtrusive as possible while I was with them. But the children seemed to enjoy my presence and laughed at me a lot in all the things I was awkward in doing, especially speaking a new language. They were secretly trying to teach me not to take myself too seriously which was hard. In a few days’ time, I had my first face to face meeting
with the Prioress. She wanted to welcome me, to get me acquainted with my soon-to-be new home and to meet the other sisters who lived there. I understood and assured her I was doing fine with the situation and that as soon as they were ready I’d be ready to join them full-time. She also asked if I would be willing to do some unusual service work in the community and, of course, I agreed. The word she used, unusual, got my attention but I didn’t worry too much about it. I was confident in my Sisterly skills. There was nothing they could ask me to do I couldn’t perform. Promising to contact me soon, the Prioress offered me a prayer of blessing and I left the convent feeling a little sense of purpose returning. While I waited on the Sisters, I allowed myself an experience of the city as a normal person. Bergen is a melting pot of European culture; quaint cobblestone streets, large public art, and a rich cultural history mixed with a University atmosphere, salty fisherfolk and the wandering tourists. The energy of Bergen made me want to jump up off the observational bench and join in. Just being in the world again was disorienting. The more awkward I felt, the more I understood I was definitely a stranger in a strange land. I didn’t look like them. I couldn’t speak like them and I didn’t feel like them. Even the blackmetal kids, who by society’s standards of normal were way
off the chart, looked at me strangely as I walked past them. The visibility I found was physically hard for my body to process. I often found that I had a hard time breathing, like hyperventilation when I was in the middle of an energy storm of people and activity. My reactions werenâ€™t a confirmation of my adaptability. My motherâ€™s instruction to disappear were always with me, working on my subconsciousness, trying to keep me from growing. Another part of me was ready to be more visible; it was an advancing craving that defied my vows, defied my better judgement, and defied my fears. And as I entered the world, the fear that I carried with me was that, around any corner, The Man would be there waiting for me. The fear was like a recurring nightmare. It was a way for me to keep myself feeling powerless; the powerlessness that I had grown accustomed to over fourteen years of hiding. I understood how remote the chance was that The Man might come to Norway; he had a criminal record, so traveling would be difficult for him. The police had been alerted to my situation by the Prioress. I prayed that I would be able to make peace with the waking nightmare, the feeling of demons stalking me as I began to build a new life for myself. Of course, my host family was supportive. They believed
that we’d be safe with God’s protection, and I hoped they were right. If God’s protection failed, the police station was just at the bottom of the mountain road. In time, I realized that I needed to find a quiet place for myself I could retreat to from the movement of the city. The convent was of course an option, but it didn’t totally satisfy. I had to find a balance between the external world of the city and the internal world without feeling like I was giving in to failure and hiding. There would be plenty of time once I was brought into the convent to be isolated in contemplation again if I chose that path. but right now, I had some lost time to make up for. My host mother Hildi had the perfect Norwegian cure for stress: fresh air and the feeling of freedom in nature. She suggested I start exploring the hiking trails on Mt. Fløyen, literally right above us. Thinking this was a brilliant idea, I took her advice and it was, indeed, a breath of fresh air. The Spring melt had begun, and traveling by foot became much easier in and out of the city. Taking the trails up the mountains, I could get high above the city and feel it from a safe distance without giving up the connection to it. Measuring its rhythms from above, I could see their patterns. There was the expanse of the sky above me that helped me feel so much larger than I had felt in a cloistered cell. When I lay on the raw stacked stone benches on top of
the windy mountain looking up into the sky, I felt like my heart was free of the drama of the earthly life. The experience of the micro was giving way to the feeling of myself in a larger world. But it was an awkward balance; feeling like I had a place in the world, then the next moment, feeling like I was an outsider floating high above. It was hard to hold to either for long. I think the feeling is called duality. My walks started to blend the views of the city and sky with studies of the vegetation on the mountain slopes. We were just above the alpine tree line here, so low shrubs and grasses were prevalent. Mosses, lichens, and tough low grasses clung to the rocky terrain all the way to the tops of the mountains. The rocks were always in contact with water, either in the form of waterfalls or fresh rain. Water flowed everywhere in this stone world. Walking was a whole art of detection. If I couldnâ€™t see actual rock, then I needed to be careful where I stepped. I had walked into a green area thinking it was solid, only to find myself knee-deep in saturated moss that had grown over an ancient pool of water. Nothing could be trusted but the black, grey, and pink hues of the stones. The hiking had become a walking meditation; one misplaced step or one moments loss of concentration, and down I went; not down onto soft ground, but down onto
hard stones. And these were no ordinary stones; they had seen the making of the world, the moving of glaciers and the uplift of continents. I often touched the stones to see how they felt and was surprised to find that they radiated living strength, just like I wanted to feel. These walks had become my new brand of devotion. I had to do them. If I missed them, my whole day was out of balance. They began to overtake and become a replacement for my religious devotion. I wasnâ€™t sure what these walks were doing to me, but I felt closer to God when I was in nature, but God felt different here, more wild and primal. I found an equality with God that I never dared allow myself to feel before. This wasnâ€™t exactly the Christian paradigm; equality with the divine forces. The sensations disturbed me and I kept walking to avoid thinking about it. As summer intensified, I began to hike deeper into the mountains, or in Norwegian, fjellene. The fjellene forests felt so wild and dangerous, but they called to me with a soft seductive voice, like it was holding a secret about me for myself. I began to study animal sign, too. There were all the typical forest animals, squirrel, many deer varieties, hares, large cats like lynx, then fox. The deeper my hikes went, the more I began to find signs of wolves. These were apparently rare sightings and I felt blessed, but a bit scared. I had never
dwelt in wolf country before. One overcast morning, I saw one. He was on a faint trail that I was following, and when he got wind of me, he stopped to regard me. I had the distinct impression that I was no longer playing it safe. I had gone past my self-imposed boundaries of the convent isolation without even knowing what I had done. The power of the forest was unconsciously exposing me to danger and disturbingly, I liked the feeling very much. One summer evening I decided to stay overnight on the fjell. It was going to be light most of the night so it would be brilliant for watching animals. I packed my bag with my usual water bottle, warm clothes, and a strong flashlight for protection or in case I found that I actually needed light. I figured there was no harm from humans as in all these months of hiking, I had only seen a handful of people on these deep trails. I could see that I was still in a kind of isolation, but it was an isolation only from people. To my credit, I was allowing myself to experience dangers others wouldnâ€™t allow themselves to. It was changing me, but in a disturbing fashion. I wanted to pray about it, but the primal nature of the Norwegian God made me worry that my prayers would fall on unsympathetic ears. Finding a nice patch of grass in a group of rocks, I settled
in for a nice night. I allowed myself to enter a kind of meditation on all that the land and sky had to offer me. From where I sat I had a fantastic view of the of the many islands that surrounded Bergen, Askøy, Holsnøy, and the island of Osterøy. I had heard whispers of talk about Osterøy, a place that some considered a holy island but I had yet to hear the whole story. The Sun skirted the horizon at sunset, just over the mountains that ran through the middle of the island. I couldn’t help but feel that this whole land was surrounded by a holy magic. The sounds of the night mountains were different than the sounds of the day. The mountains were full of animal traffic sounds, soft foot-falls, rustling branches, snapping twigs. I could feel time shift, as if in the silence my being could flow backwards and forward in time. I closed my eyes to opened myself to the spirit of time. I wanted to feel all I could feel to the ends of my sensory boundaries. I held my head high to be able to smell the fragrances on the wind and feel the movement of the air across my face. The summer mountain air smelled sweet with flowers, and sap waking in the trees, seasoned with salt air. I was drifting off into a nature dream within the sensations. I was in total peace. “Hva gjør du her?” The words startling me from my
dreamworld. A man’s voice demanded an answer to the question of what I was doing here. I hesitated for a moment, not knowing where the voice was coming from. I hadn’t heard anyone walk up to me, and I had been listening intently. “Hallo?” he continued, trying to get my attention. I opened my eyes and saw a man standing over me, staring down at me. My eyes didn’t know what I was looking at. He was silhouetted in front of the dim night sun. I didn’t know what to say. “Hallo? Kan du snakke?” He asked if I could speak. “I do,” I replied weakly in English, understanding him a little. His sense of authority quieted me. “Well, then, why are you on my land? I want to know what you are doing here,” he sounded stern and accusatory. I was terrified of offending anyone in my new country and could feel I was growing nervous. Though I had no perception that I had been trespassing, his tone made me feel guilty. “Are you the one who has been walking in my forests?” I was quite speechless at this point and my silence was an admission. “You are scaring the elk away,” he said. “And your friends there too. Tell them to keep to themselves.” He barked at me. I had no clue what he was talking about. I must have given a look that said as much.
“Those spirits following you have a habit of wandering off.” “What?” I asked confused. “I said, tell your friends to keep to themselves,” he barked again. I was baffled. “Go on with you,” he ordered, pointing back down the mountain. I scrambled to collect my things and did as I was told. For some reason, I obeyed. Securing my bag, I returned down the path the way I came. I turned to see him watching me. He stood high above me on a stand of stones making an ominous oppressive silhouette. He continued to watch me until I had traveled far enough that I couldn’t see him anymore. Angry with myself that I didn’t even try to bargain to stay and that I allowed myself to be run off so quickly, I thought any feelings of progress I had made regarding my confidence had just flown away. Returning to the Døhlen’s unexpectedly that night, I told them about what had happened. They asked for a description of the mountain man and I gave them as detailed of an account as I could. “He had long brown hair, tied back in a pony tail with a leather band, long face, long body, and a long, trimmed beard. He wore black pants tucked into his tall army-style
boots, and had a black high- collared shirt, like a turtle neck, with an long overcoat on top of that. He had two chains around his neck, but I couldn’t see the pendants that hung from them. He was a sort of young Myrddin character, if I was to try to characterize him . . . like a wild, ancient madman of tales from the British Isles. His attitude was fierce and clear. He made me uncomfortable,” I explained. They didn’t recognize him from my description, but they suggested it may be a man who was a painter that had withdrawn from Bergen society. He had received some international attention due to his artwork on heavy metal bands’ album covers and his own dark poetry. Most recently, he was known for being convicted of killing a man found on his land. In court, he had testified that the man had broken into his house and attacked him and his brother and that the killing had been in self-defense. The courts disagreed because the dead man was found tortured as well. The Mountain Man never apologized for what he had done and served his time, nine years, silently. I was quite horrified to think that I had been alone with a murderer. But besides being rude, nothing more had happened. Thinking about what he had said, about the those who followed me around. I had no clue what he meant by that. It seemed like he was trying to play with my mind. I decided
to ignore his ranting. He must be crazy after what they told me about him. “What’s his name?” I asked. “Torvør,” was their answer. It sounded like an ancient warrior’s name. I made a mental notation to try to avoid him in the future.
Juliana Loomer - Author Juliana Loomer was born and raised in the creative hotbed of Northern California, just outside San Francisco. By 2007, she was an overworked and exhausted visual effects artist in the film industry. After taking an opportunity for a well deserved rest, she found herself unable to sleep for weeks. “Though it is hard to believe, the nights of sleeplessness were due to a man made of “shadow” that would stand next to my bed each night, telling me to write down a story about a girl that moves from California to Norway.” She agreed to write the story so she could get some sleep and in four weeks time, having never written anything before but emails, she had Child of the Jotun typed out for the “shadow man” that stood next to the bed.
“Trusting the story has changed my life.”
With the encouragement of friends, she decided to travel to Norway to see if the people and places she had written about were at all accurate. To her excitement and fear, they were. Juliana currently lives outside Bergen, Norway with her husband and is dedicated to writing down the stories that continue to be told to her. “If you listen to creative people, you find that many are talking about this intense communion with something outside themselves that wants a story told, even compells them to tell a specific story through their artform. I believe there is something within the spirit world that is ready to be communicated; a universal story they are trying to tell us about ourselves that each artist interprets uniquely. Many of us now have made agreements to be the voice of these “others” and share the stories they have to tell. Trusting the story has changed my life.”
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