Lina's Ordeal

by Raven Kaldera

(Author’s Note: For those who haven’t figured it out yet, the goddess honored in this poem is Holda, the Germanic hag of the hearth and flax-spinning, a goddess with both good and bad sides. Lina is the Saxon/Germanic name for the flax plant; Lina and Leac (Leek) were symbols of the archetypal female and male, much as we use Venus and Mars symbols today. Lina was the female equivalent of John Barleycorn who was sacrificed and tortured that we might live, and was sacred to Holda. While John Barleycorn is still remembered today to some extent because we still eat grain, Lina is all but forgotten in this age of synthetics, as are the ancient steps for taming her.)


field of flaxFirst, the planting.

The silver-haired mother sprinkles her seeds

From a gnarled fist; they are sown thick

That stalks may grow tall rather

Than bushy; thick together to hold up

Each other in wind and rain, not to be

Crushed by the occasional bird

Who mistakes the waving field of blue

For one of Her sacred ponds.

Grow, my children! Reach for the sky,

Says the silver-haired goddess who wakes the apple trees.


Second, the cutting.

The waving stalks crowned like the sky

Are to be cut down, each one at the hand

Of the snaggle-toothed mother with the scythe.

Each flax plant cries out; soft and delicate

As a woman’s brow, her spirit is not sturdy

Like that of the waving golden grain. Lina weeps

And lies limply, cut off from the earth.

I am dying! she cries. This is the end of me!

Silly girl! Only another beginning,

Says the snaggle-toothed goddess who hangs the elderberries.


Third, the drying.

The stalks dry to brittle fragility, yet

At their core is still a center of stubbornness,

An unwillingness to go where they are

Most needed. See, I am delicate, I will break

At your touch! Lina cries, in the hopes

That the silver-haired mother will leave her be.

Oh, you are stronger than you say, my girl,

But I will have you yet. Just wait,

Says the silver-haired goddess who rides in the wagon.


Fourth, the retting.

In her sacred pools the bundles lie,

Waiting in stagnant waters abuzz with flies

And kept company by tadpoles and the

Occasional passing frog. I shall rot,

Says Lina with some satisfaction, and there

Will be an end to me. You’ll see. It will serve you right,

For leaving me with such low sorts. But a practiced

Gnarled finger tests the waters, an old nose

That was old when the Duergar first hollowed hills

Across the border of the world, sniffs the scum

And just in time, lifts Lina from her bed of slime.

I will cleanse you in clear lake waters,

Says the gnarled-handed goddess whose washing-day is the summer rain.


Fifth, the breaking.

The wooden brake lies in the hut’s

Darkest corner; those gnarled hands

Lift it out, dust off the elderberry dreams

And prepare the victim. Crack! and the shell breaks.

Crack! Crack! and Lina cries, Enough!

My hard stem is broken, old woman,

Are you not satisfied? But the grinning hag

Knows better. Your core is still untouched,

And thus you seek to hide it from me. I’ll not have it!

And I’ll break you still, my girl. Crack! and Lina

Yields to the hag who steals bad children, fills their

Dead bellies with straw and dirt from the cottage floor.

I will break you and remake you,

Says the tangled-haired goddess who leads the Wild Hunt.


spinning2Sixth, the scutching.

Lina is bent backwards in her torment

And the wooden blade scrapes her nerves -

I cannot bear it! she cries. You can, my chick,

And what is more, you will, for there is

No going back now. The ghosts of children

Dead aborning flit about that white-clad form,

As she peels away the last of Lina’s defenses,

Hanging in tattered scraps from what were

Once stems. You don’t need this any more,

Says the grey-eyed goddess whose hearth’s smoke is the fog.


Seventh, the heckling.

Dragged through a bed of nails,

Lina does not understand why she does not

End, and have it be over. But no, the torment

Goes on, with no mercy in sight. Those hands

Are strong enough to drag her through the hackle

And gentle enough to rock the cradles of babes

Whose exhausted mothers have fallen asleep

At the fire, their fingers bloodied by too-industrious

Spinning. She loves them, the ones who work too hard,

Who push themselves, who are never content

With less than a spotless house, a perfect job,

Who let no discomfort stand in their way. They are

Her children. You should learn from them, my girl,

Says the gentle-handed goddess who midwifes dead babes.


Eighth, the combing.

They say that once a man stumbled into a cave

Under a hill, to be met by a jeweled queen

And her maidens who offered him riches.

They say that he asked only for the flowers

She held in her hand - perhaps he was awed,

And humbled, or perhaps he saw the old woman

Beneath, attended by ghostly babes, and thought better

Of any jewels. The flower was Lina, and his wife

Was the first to be taught of the journey, flower to gown.

She sings the tale to herself as she combs Lina,

Laying every hair straight and fine,

And who knows what version she sings?

Do you not like your new form?

Says the white-robed goddess who brings the first flurries.


Ninth, the dressing.

Cradled in the lap of winter, Lina knows comfort

For the first time, and true surrender

As the layers fall, back and forth, back and forth,

And rolled up around the distaff. But I don’t wish

To be bound, she cries still, rebelling. Hush, girl,

It will be over soon enough. A blood-red ribbon

Binds her, for the mother’s blood on the spinning.

Like the girl who fell down a well into another country,

Gave everything away, and gained the golden tongue.

Like her sister, who was selfish, and burped toads

Forever. Which will you be, my chick?

Says the snowy-haired goddess who guards the deep well.


Tenth, the spinning.

Here is where the magic is made.

The whirl of the whorl, the whirl of the wheel,

The spiral spinning that stretches time

And space. Outside, snow is fluttering

From the feather pillows she shook out this morning

But inside, all comes down to the humming thread.

Lina is silenced by the beauty of it,

Of time, of space, of the web of the Norns

Of which she is now a small part. I understand, old mother,

She whispers in the wheel’s hum, and truly

It has all been worth it. See, I have won you, my girl,

Says the twinkle-eyed goddess who rides on the broom.


flax maidenEleventh, the weaving.

From Urd’s game to Verdandi’s. The threads

Cross back and forth, warp and weft,

Made beautiful, encompassing, a form

Like none ever seen before. The weights

On the loom are the skulls of babies

Too soon spat from their mother’s womb.

The old mother works all winter, but not

Every day. There are houses to visit, women

To reward or punish, children to gift or curse,

Larders to inventory, grains of corn to count.

I am beautiful, Mother, Lina says. I never knew

I could be this beautiful, even in the days

Of the blue sky. I knew nothing then.

Only death and torment stood between,

Says the blue-cloaked goddess whose lace is the frost.


Twelfth, the wearing.

Stitched together with her own self,

Lina is open and ready, pliant to do the will

Of the broom-bearing mother. Baptized in madder,

Rose as the sunrise she waits. Will I lie

On the shoulders of a maiden, a man, a child?

It matters not - I can dream, but for the first time

I am ready for anything, and glad of it. Only death

And torment could give me this readiness.

I am open to the future, to wrap and caress

Any who will have me, with love.

It’s for this you were born, child of the sky,

It’s for this that you died, child of the earth,

It’s for this that you suffered, child of the summer,

Says the winter-voiced goddess who waits for the spring.