I own the plough, shape the land and walk in your power mighty mother
I speak, mediate, rebalance and demand
I am your voice, your hand and your will made manifest
This quote is a prayer offered by the goddess Gefjon to Audhumla, the divine cow. It came as part of my vision-questing work preparing for our Hearthspace story-session ‘Audhumla’s Dream: The Earth Mothers’. The trail of the Earth Mothers is hard to follow as they appear almost as bit-parts in the Eddas, Sagas and lore hinting at ancient rites and lost stories which we can only reclaim through a re-making.
Daniel McCoy, one of my favourite bloggers by far, helpfully tells us that Gefion is pronounced “GEV-yoon” and is sometimes spelled “Gefion” or “Gefiun. She is better known than many of the other Earth-mothers and strikes a dramatic figure. Humorous, powerful, seductive, wise and cunning. Her name is thought to mean ‘the giving one’ and for this reason she is often linked with the rune Gebo, the gift. She is paradoxically a goddess of both the fertile earth and virginity.
In her most famous tale she is said to have appeared to the King of Sweden in the guise of a vagrant woman who entertains him so cleverly that he promises her all the land she can plough in a single day and night. He gets more than he bargains for as the goddess summons four giants who she then transforms into oxen. Her plough bit so hard she carved away the island of Zealand from the mainland:
Gefjun dragged from Gylfi,
gladly the land beyond value.
steam rising from the swift-footed bulls.
The oxen bore eight
moons of the forehead and four heads,
hauling as they went in front of
the grassy isle’s wide fissure
Gefjon is named as a member of the Asyniur (female members of the Aesir, Odin’s tribe of Gods). One of the things that makes the Aesir unusual is that they are known to have built temples on their land. To whom these temples are we do not know. When I began my work seeking the story of the ‘Earth Mothers’ I had not expected Audhumla to come forward. She came, unbidden and claimed the Earth Mothers as her ‘daughters’; holding out the intriguing possibility that she may be one of the beings sacred to the Gods themselves. I particularly like Gefjon because she is just as comfortable chuckling at the table of a King as she is transforming mighty giants into oxen and cutting the land from its very root. The oxen are, in fact, said to be her sons – perhaps hearkening back to her own bovine mother Audhumla.
Gefjon is comfortable in her paradoxical nature. The Prose Edda declares her to be a virgin and protectress of virgins, indeed, those who die virgins are said to reside with her after death. Yet she is also the mother of 4 giants and ends up marrying the King she cleverly tricked out of land.
In her prayer (which, to be clear, was channelled by me as part of a sequence of work with the Goddesses so is not an original source) she is clearly a force to be reckoned with. The rebalancing she speaks of reminds me of the cycles and balances of the Earth. Water rising, falling, channelling, cleansing. Earth breaking, transmuting, transforming. Life competing, collaborating, evolving. She is both our friend and a terrible foe if we do not listen to her warnings and heed her voice; she is literally the messenger of Audhumla, the force that sustains all life.
One of the things that I always notice about Gefjon is her humour. It is, I believe, part of her mystery. One moment she is an old woman, the next a towering Goddess crowned with the horns of the Moon, a moment later her shoulder is to the plough, leather-clad, muscles rippling. She will not be defined, contained or explained. Yet at the fatal moment when we think we have displeased her forever she may surprise us with a laugh, a shrug or a kiss.
Getting to know her
If you want to work deeper with Gefjon here are some pointers to consider:
Her name combines the following runes: Gebo (gift), Ehwaz (horse or steed), Fehu (cattle/ wealth), Jera rune (year/ harvest), Othala (estate) and Nauthiz (need). With the alternative spellings she also has an Isa rune (ice/ stability) and an Uruz rune (strength, the aurochs). She responds well to colours that honour her sovereignty: purples, golds, rich reds, vibrant greens and will also appreciate a little elegant grey (reminding us of her crone aspect). Offerings to her might include time spent cultivating your own food and tending to your land and produce you have made yourself or sourced ethically and sustainably. An altar to Gefjon could easily combine both rich luxury attesting to her sovereignty and evidence of your own labours attesting to her own work with the plough.