(This essay copyrighted to Jeremy Baer. This is a personal opinion piece from the individual author meant to share experience and insight. It is not intended as a scholarly article, nor is its ethos necessarily endorsed in whole by the Kindred. Anyone wishing to share experiences are free to do so by e-mailing GVK kindred or posting comments at our Facebook page).
A rider, dark and terrible, and yet wondrous too, commands the Yuletide winds. Many a soul has heard his biting laugh and haunting call. Some, bemused by whatever deviltry prodded them from the unknown, abscond with what remains of their wits. Yet others, intrigued, harken closer to his mysteries and promises. These last, whether brave or impetuous, enjoin the rider’s tempest.
Never alone are they again, for the whispers of the wind hound them from thence on.
The Dark Rider is invested with a fine pedigree of names, too many to recount here. Woden is one of his names. The name we call him in my kindred.
A master of disguises, he may display different visages to onlookers. Yet his true form, all agree, is tall and ancient. A singular eye shrewdly discerning one’s soul.
The Rider On The Winds is truly a complex figure, and many who come to him choose to emphasize one shade of his gray over another.
To one lot who beseech the esoteric underpinnings of life, he is the Hanged One who sacrificed much to fill his cup of wisdom. To another lot, concerned with prophecies of annihilation, he leads the chosen slain to stand their ground against the coming cataclysm. Whether primordial shaman or soldier of a distant apocalypse, his examples inspire other to entreat the same.
To some he may be the shadow standing at the crossroads, silent witness as one skulks through barrows pilfering graveyard secrets.
Others know him from sublime moments of inspiration that seize one’s souls. He kindles the poet’s hearts and bids them craft words for consumption.
Wanderers, too, claim him as theirs. Itinerant adventurers thirst for new lands to explore, testing wit and wile in foreign environs.
Yet others experience him as the rustling of a banner, hanging proudly from on high in the lord’s lofty hall. He stands behind the highborn and mighty as they parade their power, sharing wealth with their retainers.
The Dark Rider is all these things. But he is much more.
I know a fair following of this fellow. All tell colorful tales, so different and yet so alike! Yet their tales are their own, for them to give utterance (or not) as they see fit. I will speak of some of the whispers that have reached my ears.
The lore presents a consistent picture of the Old Man. He appears abruptly to solicit one into his own designs. He instigates a quest. He offers advice, and sometimes grants boons. Mostly, he offers a challenge. But in all these tales he does not fight for someone or with someone. He points in a direction, and implores one thither. To accept the help and charge of the Old Man is not always a wise thing, but even more unwise is to refuse!
Herein, I believe, is the real essence of those tales. Whether he calls poets or warriors, witches or scholars, domiciled lords or vagabond wanderers, he will not hold their hand. One makes one’s own way.
I know the Dark Rider as a taskmaster. His eye gazes on those before him, and he sees in them instruments of utility. He recruits one based on one’s gifts, or at least one’s potential. To everyone he gathers, he assigns a certain role.
The Taskmaster demands much. Once recruited, expect to be confronted with a list of one’s weaknesses and shortcomings, with suggestions for immediate improvement! Laziness and weakness are not to his liking.
But, aye, there is the crux of the matter. In serving the Taskmaster, one becomes stronger. One gains hard fought skills and preciously earned wisdom. One is led onto roads, real or figurative, one might never have trod upon. The Taskmaster is the crackling whip behind oneself, as well as the radiant beacon before oneself. There is strength in service. There is power in being uprooted and set precariously on a different path. Things shatter and are made whole again. Solve et Coagula!
Some people see the Taskmaster in dazzling visions or ethereal dreams. With me, he has always been a shadow at the edge of sight – watching, laughing and pointing.
When he draws near, a pressure bears down on me, a weight nudging me in a certain direction. I remember one day standing before the bedroom shrine of a fellow devotee, giving thanks to my god for mutual friendship. The response was immediate. Around my chest a constricting embrace. Within my head, a dizzying, drunken fervor. Fell to my knees, I did, trying to swallow air. Fighting to regain balance, I stumbled away, awed and battered.
Fortunately, there are less obtrusive methods of communication. Behold the runes! The runes mean mysteries, secrets, whispers. I have listened to the whispers of the runes these past few years. In no small part they delivered me before him. Through them he silently articulates his will.
I serve him in capacities appropriate to my circumstance, personality, and skill. I do what I can, in his name, for my kindred and its wider community. As the years tread on, I dream of grander and greater things to do, which hopefully will bear fruition. But with every lesson learned, there are more that await. With every skill gained, there is the realization of how much more there is to know. And always, the creeping onset of years reminds one of the short span of mortal life in which to accomplish something. To listen to the whispers on the wind is an emboldening experience, but no less so a face-slapping humbling one.
The wind dirges over the barrow mounds and under the gallows’ noose. It churns over the battle slain and within the poets’ lungs. It caresses the wanderer’s back, and bolsters the lordly banner of a radiant hall. The wind oppresses the Yuletide cross roads with a spectral occupation. The wind swept the World Tree, high on its foliage, as he hung parched and famished, awaiting a glimpse of the runes.
The Dark Rider whiles away in the winds, with whispers of magic and daring.