Don't Tread On Me
Dreamed c.1040 by Herdis Bollisurdottir of Laxdael, Iceland
This dream is a vignette from a novel-length saga. For the whole story, see The Laxdale Saga at the Icelandic Saga Database. English translation 1880, Muriel A. C. Press, from the original 'Laxdæla saga'. ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW NOW: Herdis is in her early teens, living with her grandmother Gudrun while her dad Bolli is on a voyage. Their family's famous, but tumultuous; Gudrun lost four husbands in a row.
Gudrun took much to heart the death of [her fourth husband] Thorkell, yet bore her bereavement bravely. She became very religious; the first woman in Iceland who knew the Psalter by heart. She would spend long time in the church at nights saying her prayers, and Herdis her granddaughter always went with her at night. Gudrun loved Herdis very much.
It is told that one night the maiden Herdis dreamed that a woman came to her who was dressed in a woven cloak, and coifed in a head cloth, but Herdis did not think the woman pleasant to look at.
The woman said "Tell your grandmother that I am displeased with her, for she creeps about over me every night, and lets fall down upon me drops so hot that I am burning all over from them. My reason for letting you know this is, that I like you somewhat better, though there is something uncanny hovering about you too. However, I could get on with you if I did not feel there was so much more amiss with Gudrun."
Then Herdis awoke and told Gudrun her dream. Gudrun thought the apparition was of good omen. Next morning Gudrun had planks taken up from the church floor where she was wont to kneel on the hassock, and she had the earth dug up, and they found blue and evil-looking bones, a round brooch, and a wizard's wand, and men thought they knew then that a tomb of some sorceress must have been there; so the bones were taken to a place far away where people were least likely to be passing.
This dream-anecdote says a lot about Norse attitudes toward...
On the other hand, Herdis is not fiction. She was real; her descendants are traceable. The sagas admire economical sketching of character, and listeners relished "character defined by a deed"--or a word. This vignette certainly fits! Herdis stays cool where many adults (medieval or modern) would panic. My guess is that this was the family story about Herdis--placed to good effect by the poet, but as true as the rest of the saga. Too many descendants would object! And the skald composing the Laxdale Saga did NOT want them objecting. Not that clan. You really, really, don't want that.
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