September, you think— and migrations, thinking of milkweed and Mexico. But these are not monarchs. These butterflies have smaller, rounder wings, less showy and more delicate—
And you are not resting amid sunlit trees, nor crossing the open plains, but somewhere deep and dark.
Where is this— how?—
A woman’s voice interrupts you, and the butterflies scatter.
“Hush,” she says, to the questions, to the myriad of thoughts fluttering through your mind. Her voice has a rich timbre, calm and quietly strong, which inspires confidence.
You are alone in a cavern with a Goddess. She is older than you, somehow, but not middle-aged. The only light, hushed like moonlight, comes from her bare arms and shoulders. Her feet move as lightly as moths. Her presence circles you and you feel her looking at you closely. Her gaze is neither predatory nor benign; she is judging you, but she keeps her judgments to herself.
She tells you something deeply personal, something secret like this cavern that only a God could know. She does not tell you why this thing is so. It’s an observation, not a judgment, and not something you can or would ever deny. But the statement still surprises you.
Your mouth opens, closes, opens, like wings. Words spill out.
“The butterflies— you’re Sigyn—”
Sigyn presses a hand to your lips, and looks at you directly now. You cannot remember the color of her eyes, nor of her hair and skin, just a certain litheness to her limbs that underscores her strength. And she is incredibly strong, for all the long bones look delicate, for all her voice is soft and measured and a woman’s. Whatever she is wearing is light and dignified, not showy, and suits her like a skin.
She has no need to be showy.
Sigyn holds her arms out and the butterflies flow back to her in a field of color and light. Covering her arms, her hands, circling her. Wreathing her. They glow.
Someone with hair of soaring flame once told you that she liked butterflies, and when you asked Him why, he said, ‘Ask her.’
But Sigyn smiles, and answers the question that you leash back, unspoken.
“Butterflies are amazingly strong… and brave. Most creatures this delicate would shrink away, hide and protect themselves rather than face the dangers of the open sky, the wind and sun.
“Their lives are so brief, and they know it. They celebrate it. Butterflies flaunt their beauty, knowing it will kill them. Their strength is not of the form, but of the essence…”
You think of all that Sigyn, wife of Loki Silver-Tongue, has endured. That her only known myth is of the woman who holds the bowl in this dark cavern, catching the hissing venom that drips from an eternal, infernal snake upon the face of her bound husband. Alone in her vigil, she shares his exile. She is not a prisoner. No one locked her here; no one punished her, stripped her of rank or condemned her: she chose to stay. The children who would bind them to each other are gone. Dead or insane, one son turned into a wolf (metaphorical or otherwise) to rip the guts out of the other, entrails used to bind their father fast to a cold, pitted and pitiless stone— a stone as unyielding as the ugly truths he spoke.
But there is no bowl here, and no Loki.
Sigyn turns to release the butterflies, and in the light from them as they ascend you see a fold of her garment drop below her slim shoulders, see the venom pits and tracks, river-ruts that cut across her skin—
There is no bowl.
There is only Sigyn.
She lowers her arms and the clothing ripples back into place again, as if nothing was revealed.
You want to turn away from this, from her eyes that, even worse than her now-covered skin, accept no trace of pity.
“I have scars. You have scars. We ALL have scars.”
And there is something in what she says that makes the scars important, rather than a sign of weakness—
“They are what we have overcome.”
Her moth-feet slide silently, her butterfly hands glide over your skin, finding scars you had forgotten, but which had not forgotten you. Things you thought had no hold on you anymore, that formed the shape of certain things in your life. She brings them out, and speaks to you of them, precise as a surgeon.
How many eons was she here, blocking the hate, the poison? How did she—
“Your people have forgotten something important:
“I am NOT the loyal wife. I am loyalty. I am not the faithful woman; I am faith. ‘Wife’ is a role, unimportant to that. There was once a saying, ‘Loyal as Sigyn’.”
And Sigyn, whose name means ‘Victorious Friend’, breaks apart into a flock of butterflies, taking this place, this cavern with her, leaving you alone to drift between awake and dreaming.
Little is now known of the Norse Goddess Sigyn — spouse of one of the most colorful deities in world mythology, the trickster Loki — save that she is his wife. Several kennings (stock poetic phrases) refer to Loki by referencing her in some way. One of them is ‘the arm-burden of Sigyn’. Based on literary evidence, Sigyn is thought to be the woman who appears on the Gosforth Cross, kneeling by a thoroughly bound man and holding out a bowl-shaped object.
Despite Loki’s ambiguous reputation as the sole male Giant among the Aesir Gods (a member of the group often presented as adversarial to them), Sigyn is counted as one of the Aesir, and included by the Icelandic early medieval writer Snorri Sturleson in a list of the Goddesses who attend a feast. In what literature survives, nothing uncomplimentary is said or implied about her. Popular interpretations of Sigyn, however, run the gamut from self-sacrificing number two of an iconoclast who pushes things too far to the “better half” of Viking Evil Incarnate.
Attention is rarely given to the meaning of Sigyn’s name, which does not imply a dupe or victim. Or passivity.
What we overcome makes us victorious in the face of adversity. The greater the trial, the greater that victory.
[An illustrator, writer and polytheist for over a decade, Shirl Sazynski paints icons and tells stories revolving around myth. She is a frequent contributor to Eternal Haunted Summer and Heathen blogger for Pagan Square (One-Eyed Cat); her work has also appeared in publications from Neos Alexandrina and Prime Books, magazines including Witches and Pagans, Animerica, Mythic Delirium, Mirror Dance and Sequential Tart, several newspapers and galleries and a launched computer game. Her current projects include an illustrated book of Norse Goddesses, from which this essay is drawn. More information about her work can be found at shirlsazynski.com.]