Then they went to see the beautiful Freyja,
And these were the first words which he spoke.
Dress yourself Freyja in a bride’s head-dress!
We two shall drive to the land of the giants.
Freyja then was angry and snorted with rage,
All the halls of the Aesir trembled at that,
The great necklace of the Brisings fell from her.
‘You’ll know me to be the most sex-crazed of women,
If I drive with you to the land of the giants.’
Poetic Edda, Caroline Larrington trans.
So you’ve been left alone to keep things going while your man has been sent off to war. You even may be in a different country and/or with children to look after. Whatever your exact circumstances, when deployment hits, you are probably wondering how the hell you will get through it.
Of course you’ll be needing a certain independence, in order to get on with things while your man is gone - and it’s true, military wives need bucket loads of independence. You will also need guts and the ability to tough it out.
The only problem with this plan is that while the army life demands that a military wife is independent, there is also this idea knocking about of the ‘super wife’. The ultimate army wife that grits her teeth through everything, never faltering, happy to serve her country uncomplainingly at any cost.
However in spite of these qualities and expectations, the army wife is still referred to as a ‘dependent’. I don’t think I am alone in finding this term offensive. Normally when people marry, they expect changes to take place – a new name, maybe a new home and a new social status but it’s not often that one expects to lose a lot of identity as well. The first you notice this of course is when you are filling out the myriad of paperwork and having to be told repeatedly that ‘your’ social security number actually refers to your husband. You no longer have the right to take responsibility for your own behaviour…no, your husband gets in trouble if you step out of line and even worse – should you ever have the misfortune to be registered as an EFMP, your recent medical history, any medications you are on, your diagnosis and care plan will be sent to your husband for him to verify.
Now I don’t know about anyone else but I would really love to have the kind of ability and power that Freyja demonstrated in the Thrymskvida, to cause the walls to shake and to be a big enough threat for the gods not to try and force her. However that just isn’t going to happen and even if it did, who knows what kind of punishment my husband would receive on my account if I tried behaving like that! No, there are other ways of keeping our independence and getting things done.
First of all, it’s important to recognize that it’s not the people that you deal with that are responsible for all of this. Most of the people that you will deal with are army wives themselves or have had experience of what you are going through and mostly want to help you out. The problem is the vast and unmovable beast that is the Army. Like all things, some things about it are great and others are not so great. The trick is learning how to make this system work for you.
From reading the lore, we see Freyja as being a very capable Goddess who can get her own way through a variety of methods. Obviously the most striking one and the one that people most often reference when speaking about Freyja is the Brisingamen story. Perhaps not the best example or something that we should look to (I also have my doubts about that story). For while whipping out her feminine charms might have worked for Freyja in getting what she wanted on that occasion, we have oaths to remember and hearts to keep safe and so I think for a lot of us, this option of ‘sleeping our way to success’ just isn’t an option.
It is also important to accept that while some rules can be bent as a favour, some things just cannot be changed and so it would probably be pointless to even try the ‘Brisingamen Stratagem’.
So what stratagems can we learn from Freyja? We are lucky in Heathenry in that we have such a rich literary body to look to and such fine tales to experience. Tales that capture the imagination of young and old alike. However no matter how well written or told a tale is, the real value is in the lessons that can be learned from it. I mean how many Asatruar actually believe that the cosmic cow Audhumla actually existed and was so pivotal in the process of creation? I would bet that most folks, while enjoying the tale of a cosmic cow (because let’s face it, who wouldn’t?), believe more in the big bang and evolutionary theory brought to us by modern science. No, we look at such tales as insight into the way people used to think. I don’t even think that folks back then actually believed it and I wouldn’t be surprised if it came about as a result of a group of Scalds trying to outdo each other in inventing the most outlandish and humourous creation story.
But enough of Audhumla and back to Freyja – what can we learn from Freyja and what lessons can we apply to our lives as army wives?
In the Song of Hyndla, Freyja tries to gain information from a giantess by the name of Hyndla about the ancestry of her protégé, Ottar so that he may combat opposing claims to his inheritance by a man by the name of Angantyr. Initially she tries deceit and instead of going up to Hyndla with Ottar in human form, she disguises him as a pig and uses him as her form of transport. Hyndla isn’t fooled by this however and so Freyja then diverts the topic of the conversation to obtaining the information that she wants by means of flattery.
‘Wake up, girl of girls, wake up, my friend,
Hyndla, sister, who lives in the rock cave!
Flattery, although not particularly effective with Hyndla, can be, quite effective. In real world terms, we need not go as far as to call someone ‘sister’, that would just be suspicious and a little bit crazy, but there is nothing wrong with starting a visit to a bureaucrat with a complement. Just something simple, like complementing an item of clothes, jewelry, a hairstyle – whatever. It costs nothing to do and it very often knocks that person off a little bit and makes them a little bit more likely to help you out. The best case scenario of course is that you get what you want and also brighten up somebody else’s day by giving them a little boost! This also can help set up a positive model for future interactions with that person which can only make things easier all round.
Hyndla is obviously not an easy person to deal with and in spite of all of Freyja’s (albeit false) niceties (which really is no different to people now being well mannered to people they do not like), Hyndla is quite insulting. Freyja remains calm, knowing that the game would be up should she lose her temper.
‘Let’s dismount to argue about this! We should sit down,
And talk about the lineage of princes,
About those men who are descended from the gods.’
This is often the best tactic when dealing with bureaucrats and army officials too. If you get angry and start ranting and screaming then you are just ‘some angry army wife’ and much easier to consign to the ‘Don’t give a shit’ pile. However if you remain calm and discuss the issue in a calm way – or at least attempt to, you cannot be thought of as being just ‘some angry army wife’. In the book, ‘Married to the Military’, __________ also recommends asking the question ‘why not?’ when given the two letter word that no one wants to hear. This also seems like a good idea – anything that knocks a bureaucrat off their game and puts them into territory that they are not used to seems to be the way to go when you are having difficulties.
Unfortunately, in spite of all of your best efforts, some folks just like the power trip and will probably be unhelpful no matter what you do. In Hyndla’s Song, the giantess becomes abusive and Freyja says:
‘I’ll surround this place with troll-woman’s fire,
So that you can never get away from here.’
Which in real life is probably about the time when you are threatening to report the bureaucrat or official that is making your life much harder than it needs to be. Hyndla then curses Ottar. Really no different to an official or bureaucrat making a decision that ultimately effects your spouse in a negative way.
‘Fire I see burning and the earth aflame,
Most when suffering will try to ransom their lives;
Put this beer into Ottar’s hand,
Mixed with a great deal of poison and ill fortune’
For her part, Freyja ends the discourse with dignity:
‘Your curse will have no effect,
Bride of the giant, you intend to call down evil,
He shall drink the precious liquid,
I pray that Ottar may thrive in all good things.’
Needless to say, this is important for us to do too. I have lost count of the number times when I have felt angry at myself for having lost my cool with someone and wound up coming away from an ugly situation with no dignity. Sometimes it can be really good to lose your calm and sometimes it can actually be necessary. But when it comes to dealing with anyone with any kind of power, it is useless. Some you can sway, others will say no regardless – hell, they probably decided before you walked in the room that they were going to say no! Who knows?! However for these occasions and for those so inclined and intent on not letting things slide, Freyja also teaches Seidhr.
As for keeping your identity in an institution where everyone is assigned a number and a barcode, it’s simple. Make your mark as an individual. Get involved in the community and make people know you as you and not merely as the wife of whomever. You cannot do anything about the official stuff because in some ways the army is kind of stuck fifty years in the past. The Christians have a prayer that I learned as a child which I think applies here:
Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things that I can
And wisdom to know the difference.
There is a lot of wisdom in this for an army wife and this wisdom is, in spite of the Christian ‘window dressing’, a very Heathen sentiment. We need to learn to accept the things that we cannot change, the deployments, the fact that the army will probably always refer to us as ‘dependants’, the fact that our husbands may never come back. Acceptance is one of the hardest things in the world when it comes to accepting something that you really really fundamentally dislike or even hate. But it’s simple, we have to learn or we would go crazy. We need courage – bags of it. We need courage to keep on going everyday and deal with difficulties, we need the courage to stand alone and fight on our home front when our husbands are away. And wisdom, those sweet moments of clarity – rewards for our hard work and battles, well they also keep us sane.
As does a sense of humour, but that is probably for another chapter.