This week has been one of those where projects and plans get sidetracked. It was supposed to be a troll week where I concentrated on Ängsull the Troll and moved forward on the story. This because I plan to start up the comic after the Christmas holidays. Then I got a job interview in Stockholm. Of course I couldn’t turn that down. Not only due to the rules of the Swedish Unemployment Agency, but because I really want an income that isn’t reduced in the case I make some money on my art. So a few day has been eaten by travelling and post-interview exhaustion.
I realise you get a mixed bag when you support me. Last week I talked about serious research on Viking gardening, this week I’m all about urban fantasy comics with a troll wrecking havoc for the local castle lord. The next week I’ll work on the CottageCore space opera, and follow up with a week of Medieval history (probably combined with reflections on Clip Studio Paint) to build up for Xenia’s Journey. To recap on Xenia it’s my classical fantasy comic set in a Medievalish environment. According to common sense I should let that story die to be able to concentrate on the rest of my projects. But it’s the story that refuse to die – I still find myself developing characters and plot points for it. So I decided to succumb to reality and give it a spot in my schedule.
All these projects interlock, and build up each other. In the case of Ängsull the Troll my research on Vikings is crucial for her character in general, and the development of trolls in particular. I’m trained to do research on history of religions, and while my project on Viking Gardening isn’t foremost on religion it’s based on the build-up research I did to apply for PhD studies. And here’s the thing about trolls in Swedish folklore; they’re not Christians. Like giants (there’s a fluid line between giants and trolls in Swedish folklore) they have a habit of throwing rocks at church bells due to their infernalic sound. They also have a habit of hissing “I smell christian blood!” when the hero sneaks into their home. (Some hero by the way – let people live in peace!)
There are a lot of ways to define religion, and scholars have probably beaten each other bloody over how to pinpoint the most precise definition. I’m not interested in delving into that particular madness, so I use the following rule of thumb when I work; Science asks the questions: how does this thing function, and how do I use it, Religion ask: what is my relation to this thing, and how do I handle that relation. Both science and religion are tools to understand the world, and they work in tandem. You need to understand how a thing works to figure out your relation to it, and your relation to a thing determines how you figure out its functions and particularly on how you use it. (As you may notice this makes atheism a religion. Atheists themeselves are irregular on if they define themselves as a religion since they usually want a god or some sort of supernatural interference thrown into the mix. For my own part I usually say atheism functions as a religion, and leave it at that.)
Since how we handle relations is a core part in how we interact I need to give some thoughts to troll religion. Do trolls follow the same faith as the Vikings? Probably not. The remains we have of Nordic mythology are rife with stories of how Thor et al beat up and kill trolls. You usually don’t worship something that antagonistic. There’s a possibility the Aesir and the trolls share faith, but in the case of Ängsull I’ll work in the premise that the troll belief system is older – a belief closer to the birth of the mountains and the dawn of time.
Despite this I have to build the troll faith on the precious few things we know about Norse ritual habits. Thanks to Snorri Sturluson we know a lot about the mythology, especially how it was told on Iceland. But it’s harder to figure out how the Vikings acted on their everyday faith. Sometimes we luck out source wise, and sometimes we have to do advanced reading between the lines. In the latter case the earliest laws of the Scandinavian countries are gold mines. While the Guta law actually refers to the ~Before Times when a grand sacrifice was held every ninth year, it’s what rituals the laws forbid that are most interesting. If special songs and animal masks are forbidden in connection to funerals it’s a hint that those habits are tied to Norse religion.
If the story plays out the way I want there is a funeral in the future for Ängsull, so this is definitely relevant. But it’s not just funerals. How does trolls relate to strangers, what do they do when a newcomer show up, how do they handle generational trauma, all of this is influenced by religion. In turn their religion is influenced by those events in the kind of feedback loop we’re all trapped in. While this sound complicated it’s actually rather enjoyable to dissect.
Before I end this letter a short update on Alea the Black Cat. She’s now allowed out again after a few days indoors. By the look of it her only memory will be a tiny nick in one of her ears, and she’s spry enough to try to make her old owner play – despite having spent hours on vole patrole already. I’m not always up to the challenge – who’d thought you’d get old when you get old? So I’m gearing up to get another kitten. Alea needs company the day I get a job, it’s already clear that she gets way too lonely the days I need to be out. Right now I’m collecting the gear needed to have a second cat in the house, and agonise over the potential death traps for a kitten. When you’re looking to take care of one of the most curious creatures on earth almost anything looks dangerous. So far it’s just Alea I need to worry about though. She just discovered the palm from the Expensive Christmas Manger is perfect to snack on, so she may be enough for now.
Take care and stay on top of Christmas!