It is hard to imagine what life might have been like five to ten thousand years before the Common Era. Certainly, people were not much different than they are today - their emotional world, temperament, and physical reactions were similar. However their thinking was unlike enough from our own making difficult for us to understand them.
In the sagas, gods and humans do things the modern reader would typically regard as impossible - would write off as products of imagination, superstition, or the teller’s creativity.
There is, however, another possibility, and that is that we are not reading them correctly, that to absorb the full meaning of stories written down by Christian scribes so many years after their inception is something we cannot readily do. In this, the first volume of Forbidden Knowledge, we have attempted to unravel from the great tapestry of the Old Norse sagas one particular strand: that of women who, the stories reveal, heard the gods, understood their messages, and had the power to influence – even change – the lives of others.
But what was it specifically that they knew? And how did they, as the sagas suggest, communicate the intentions of the divine?
Perhaps, we posit, the powers in question are not as mysterious as they might seem, and women today – or at least some of them – could, in theory, still do the same things – could heed their deeper feelings and impulses and act on gut instinct, even where doing so contradicts the edicts of the mind. Perhaps women still possess a knowledge outside the realm of learned principles and experiences, one that helps them resolve situations that would bring the average man to his knees. Consider, for instance, how women will sometimes, in need, reach instinctively for just the right place, move in just the right way, or say just the right word at just the right moment.
Where does the root of this knowledge lie? Where does the necessary skill come from and why is it held in so little esteem today?
Our book explores a time when such knowledge was still regarded as important and valuable, when the human mind saw Sun and Moon in female form, and humanity lived in peace – a time that ended only with the advent of the great conflict between the ancient gynaecocracy of the Vanir and the later male-led patriarchy of Óðin.
History records little of this war, nor do mythological studies reveal much about it, almost as if it never happened. Yet the clues to it are still there – if utterly faded – in the Scandinavian myths and ancient sagas. In the wake of that war, everything changed, and it is for evidence of changes that we search, as we attempt to discover what really happened to those “first women of the icy north”.
One might ask: what could we possibly do with this knowledge today? To what purpose could we put the “legacy of vision”? And what would it even look like here, in the modern world?
To these questions we seek answers from both past, and present – and in their light, explore how that legacy is still intertwined, if invisibly, with the threads of the tapestry today.