Picture an old growth forest of heather and hazel, sweet chestnut and silver oak, with lichen plush padding under foot, leaving no sound where you step. You hear an owl’s call then the solid sound of large wings over your left shoulder. The path you walk is well tread by deer and boar, wolves and badgers, familiar wights all, that you fear not, when they show no interest in your walk through these woods, as you search for truffles and morels, mugwort and fennel, hazelnuts and black walnuts, and always dead wood for the fire. A hare catches your eye as you both stop – a smile comes across your face as you say, “Hello friend. Be not afraid unless you journey into my garden”, which prompts long-ears to scamper off behind ferns that quickly still at his passing. Ahead, in a small clearing, is a birch and turf home with a single window, a small gabled door steps down to a flagstone floor, and the roof has an opening that allows smoke to escape. More a hillock in appearance than a home, this old earth stead is where you, your mother, and her mother before were all born; and not far off is where their bones rest in Hel’s Hall.
Inside, the long-fire’s embers cast an amber glow – heat rooted deep within hearthstones. From the fodder loft overhead hang herb bundles of mustard and horseradish, caraway and juniper, ginger and anise, with mushrooms drying on flaxen thread. Salmon dries there as well, rich with fat, and eels for the night meal. Dried sloes, plums and apples, sour cherries, rose hips and rowanberries are preserved next to honey in clay jars, and a goodly portion of salt. Hulled barley bread bought at market, porridge and beer are all in this well-stocked larder; with a soapstone pot and wooden bowls resting on the board, and a copper cauldron used only for brewing healing ointments, the main source of wealth at this hearth.
Healer you are, goodwife and hexen, Full-Knowing for sure, and far-seeing too. Many a young runner comes with a pony to your door, to fetch you back to some wealthy stead; to clean and bind the gashing wound, or apply linen poultices steeped in healing herbs, to lighten a woman’s burden of child or the calf from its cow. Richly are you paid for such skills – for cunning herb lore, well-crafted healing galdr, and carved runes that smote all ill. From birth you were taught these ancient customs – of Eir’s copper pot and Berchte’s wild herb, of Friia-dis and her fetch-kin, of elf-stones and much more. Work done – gold rings, good linen and half-a-ham in payment – the comfort of your ancestral home awaits you, with its eastward facing, rune-carved door, and faithful black forest cat.
~Excerpted from the book:
Forn Þreifa: Ancient Healing Touch
chapter three: Healing Women