Review of In Search of the Swan Maiden: a Narrative on Folklore and Gender, by Barbara Fass Leavy.
Although this book is called The Swan Maiden, its subject could be described as: “a story about a fairy captured by a mortal man and forced into a tedious domestic existence and, obversely, about a mortal woman courted by a demon lover who offers her escape from that same mundane world.” (Loc. 347)
There are two stories in Norse myth where part of a dead body is transformed by being rubbed with herbs. One of these is the mystical, cosmological story of Mimir’s head, which Odin revived by smearing with herbs and chanting over it. The other is a conversion narrative, in which a preserved horse’s penis is part of a house cult that St. Olaf brings to an end.
So these stories could not be more unalike. But the penis grows and “becomes lively” after the woman of the house covers it in herbs and wraps it in linen. So what herbs do you use to enliven a horse’s penis and a god’s head?
Where did the idea that Flidais rode in a chariot drawn by deer come from? It’s not in her main legend, the Táin Bó Flidais, nor in the follow-on story, the Táin Bó Cúailnge. It’s an attractive image, bringing to mind the Middle Eastern goddesses with their lion-drawn chariots, Freyja with her cats, and Nerthus in her wagon drawn by heifers.
In Norse myth we have two stories involving the theft of a substance that confers a magical benefit to the user. Both involve the thief taking the form of an eagle. Both involve a pursuit with a god and a giant. Of course, the two myths have very different results, although in both cases the final score is Aesir 1, Jotunar 0.
One is the myth of the giant Þiazi kidnapping Iðunn to get the apples of immortality, the other is the story of how Oðin stole the mead of poetry from the giant Suttungr.