Read KING SIGEBERT OF EAST ANGLIA, AND HEIDA THE PROPHETESS of Legends of the Saxon Saints , free online book, by Aubrey de Vere, on

Sigebert, King of East Anglia, moved by what he has heard from a Christian priest, consults the Prophetess Heida. In the doctrine he reports Heida recognises certain sacred traditions from the East, originally included in the Northern religion, and affirms that the new Faith is the fulfilment of the great Voluspa prophecy, the earliest record of that religion, which foretold the destruction both of the Odin-Gods and the Giant race, the restoration of all things, and the reign of Love.

Long time upon the late-closed door the King
Kept his eyes fixed. The wondrous guest was gone;
Yet, seeing that his words were great and sage,
Compassionate for the sorrowful state of man,
Yet sparing not man’s sin, their echoes lived
Thrilling large chambers in the monarch’s breast
Silent for many a year. Exiled in France
The mystery of the Faith had reached his ear
In word but not in power. The westering sun
Lengthened upon the palace floor its beam,
Yet the strong hand which propped that thoughtful head
Sank not, nor moved. Sudden, King Sigebert
Arose and spake: ’I go to Heida’s Tower:
Await ye my return.’
The woods ere long
Around him closed. Upon the wintry boughs
An iron shadow pressed; and as the wind
Increased beneath their roofs, an iron sound
Clangoured funereal. Down their gloomiest aisle,
With snow flakes white, the monarch strode, till now
Before him, and not distant, Heida’s Tower,
The Prophetess by all men feared yet loved,
Smit by a cold beam from the yellowing west,
Shone like a tower of brass. Her ravens twain
Crested the turrets of its frowning gate,
Unwatched by warder. Sigebert passed in:
Beneath the stony vault the queenly Seer
Sat on her ebon throne.
With pallid lips
The King rehearsed his tale; how one with brow
Lordlier than man’s, and visionary eyes
Which, wander where they might, saw Spirits still,
Had told him many marvels of some God
Mightier than Odin thrice. He paused awhile:
A warning shadow came to Heida’s brow:
Nathless she nothing spake. The King resumed:
’He spake that stranger of the things he saw:
For he, his body tranced, it may be dead,
In spirit oft hath walked the Spirit-Land:
Thence, downward gazing, once he saw our earth,
A little vale obscure, and, o’er it hung,
Those four great Fires that desolate mankind:
The Fire of Falsehood first; the Fire of Lust,
Ravening for weeds and scum; the Fire of Hate,
Hurling, on war-fields, brother-man ’gainst man;
The Fire of tyrannous Pride. While yet he gazed,
Behold, those Fires, widening, commixed, then soared
Threatening the skies. A Spirit near him cried,
“Fear nought; for breeze-like pass the flames o’er him
In whom they won no mastery there below:
But woe to those who, charioted therein,
Rode forth triumphant o’er the necks of men,
And had their day on earth. Proportioned flames
Of other edge shall try their work and them!”
Thus spake my guest: the frost wind smote his brows,
While on that moonlit crag we sat, ice-cold,
Yet down them, like the reaper’s sweat at noon,
The drops of anguish streamed. Till then, methinks,
That thing Sin is I knew not.
Calm of voice
Again he spake. He told me of his God:
That God, like Odin, is a God of War:
Who serve Him wear His armour day and night:
The maiden, nay, the child, must wield the sword;
Yet none may hate his neighbour. Thus he spake,
That Prophet from far regions: “Wherefore wreck
Thy brother man? upon his innocent babes
Drag down the ruinous roof? Seek manlier tasks!
The death in battle is the easiest death:
Be yours the daily dying; lifelong death;
Death of the body that the soul may live:
War on the Spirits unnumbered and accurst
Which, rulers of the darkness of this world,
Drive, hour by hour, their lances through man’s soul
That wits not of the wounding!"’
Heida turned
A keen eye on the King: ’Whence came your guest?
Not from those sun-bright southern shores, I ween?’
He answered, ’Nay, from western isle remote
That Prophet came.’ Then Heida’s countenance fell:
’The West! the West! it should have been the East!
Conclude your tale: what saith your guest of God?’
The King replied: ’His God so loved mankind
That, God remaining, he became a man;
So hated sin that, sin to slay, He died.
One tear of His had paid the dreadful debt:
Not so He willed it: thus He willed, to wake
In man, His lost one, quenchless hate of sin,
Proportioned to the death-pang of a God;
Nor chose He lonely majesty of death:
‘Twixt sinners paired He died.’
In Heida’s eye
Trembled a tear. ’A dream was mine in youth,
When first the rose of girlhood warmed my cheek,
A dream of some great Sacrifice that claimed
Not praise not praise it only yearned to die
Helping the Loved. A maid alone, I thought,
Such sacrifice could offer.’ As she spake,
She pressed upon the pale cheek, warmed once more,
Her cold, thin hand a moment.
Was He, my guest revealed,’ the King replied:
’Then from that Angel’s “Hail,” and her response,
“So be it unto me,” when sinless doubt
Vanished in world-renewing, free consent,
He told the tale; the Infant in the crib;
The shepherds o’er him bowed;’ (with widening eyes
Heida, bent forward, saw like them that Child)
The Star that led the Magians from the East
‘The East, the East! It should have been the East!’
Once more she cried; ’our race is from the East:
The Persian worshipped t’ward the rising sun:
You said, but now, the West.’ The King resumed:
’God’s priest was from the West; but in the East
The great Deliverer sprang.’ Next, step by step,
Like herald panting forth in leaguered town
Tidings unhoped for of deliverance strange
Through victory on some battle field remote,
The King rehearsed his theme, from that first Word,
‘The Woman’s Seed shall bruise the Serpent’s head,’
Prime Gospel, ne’er forgotten in the East,
To Calvary’s Cross, the Resurrection morn,
Lastly the great Ascension into heaven:
And ever as he spake on Heida’s cheek
The red spot, deepening, spread; within her eyes
An unastonished gladness waxed more large:
Back to the marble woman came her youth:
Once more within her heaving breast it lived,
Once more upon her forehead shone, as when
The after-glow returns to Alpine snows
Left death-like by dead day. Question at times
She made, yet seemed the answer to foreknow.
That tale complete, low-toned at last she spake:
‘Unhappy they to whom these things are hard!’
Then silent sat, and by degrees became
Once more that dreaded prophet, stern and cold.
The silence deeper grew: the sun, not set,
Had sunk beneath the forest’s western ridge;
And jagged shadows tinged that stony floor
Whereon the monarch knelt. Slowly therefrom
He raised his head; then slowly made demand:
‘Is he apostate who discards old Faith?’

Long time in musings Heida sat, then spake:
’Yea, if that Faith discarded be the Truth:
Not so, if it be falsehood. God is Truth;
God-taught, true hearts discern that Truth, and guard:
Whom God forsakes forsake it. O thou North,
That beat’st thy brand so loud against thy shield,
Hearing nought else, what Truth one day was thine!
Behold within corruption’s charnel vaults
It sleeps this day. What God shall lift its head?
We came from regions of the rising sun:
Scorning the temples built by mortal hand,
We worshipp’d God one God the Immense, All-Just:
That worship was the worship of great hearts:
Duty was worship then: that God received it:
I know not if benignly He received;
If God be Love I know not. This I know,
God loves not priest that under roofs of gold
Lifts, in his right hand held, the Sacrifice;
The left, behind him, fingering for the dole.
King of East Anglia’s realm, the primal Truths
Are vanished from our Faith: the ensanguined rite,
The insane carouse survive!’
Thus Heida spake,
Heida, the strong one by the strong ones feared;
Heida, the sad one by the mourners loved;
Heida, the brooder on the sacred Past,
The nursling of a Prophet House, the child
Of old traditions sage!
She paused, and then
Milder, resumed: ‘What moved thee to believe?’
And Sigebert made answer thus: ’The Sword:
For as a sword that Truth the stranger preached
Ran down into my heart.’ Heida to him,
Well saidst thou as a Sword: a Sword is Truth;
As sharp a sword is Love: and many a time
In youth, but not the earliest, happiest youth,
When first I found that grief was in the world,
Had learned how deep its root, an infant’s wail
Went through me like a sword. Man’s cry it seemed,
The blindfold, crowned creature’s cry for Truth,
His spirit’s sole deliverer.’
Once again
She mused, and then continued, ’Truth and Love
Are gifts too great to give themselves for nought;
Exacting Gods. Within man’s bleeding heart,
If e’er to man conceded, both shall lie
Crossed, like two swords
Behold thine image, crowned Humanity!
Better such dower than life exempt from woe:
Our Fathers knew to suffer; joyed in pain;
They knew not this how deep its root!’
Once more
The Prophetess was mute: again she spake:
‘How named thy guest his God?’ The King replied:
’The Warrior God, Who comes to judge the world;
The Lord of Love; the God Who wars on Sin,
And ceases not to war.’ ‘Ay, militant,’
Heida rejoined, with eyes that shone like stars:
’The Persian knew Him. Ormuzd was His name:
Unpitying Light against the darkness warred;
Against the Light the Darkness. Could the Light
Remit, one moment’s length, to pierce that gloom,
Himself in gloom were swallowed.’
Yet again
In silence Heida sat; then cried aloud,
’Odin, and all his radiant AEsir Gods
Forth thronging daily from the golden gates
Of Asgard City, their supernal house,
War on that giant brood of Jotuenheim,
Lodged ’mid their mountains of eternal ice
Which circles still that sea surrounding earth,
Man’s narrow home. I know that mystery now!
That warfare means the war of Good on Ill:
We shared that warfare once! This day, depraved,
Warring, we war alone for rage and hate;
Men fight as fight the lion and the pard:
For them the sanctity of war is lost,
Lost like the kindred sanctity of Love,
Our household boast of old. The Father-God
Vowed us to battle but as Virtue’s proof,
High test of softness scorned. His warrior knew
’Twas Odin o’er the battle field who sent
Pure-handed maiden Goddesses, the Norns,
Not vulture-like, but dove-like, mild as dawn,
To seal the foreheads of his sons elect,
Seal them to death, the bravest with a kiss:
His warrior, arming, cried aloud, “This day
I speed five Heroes to Valhalla’s Hall:
To-morrow night in love I share their Feast!”
He honoured whom he slew.’
To her the King:
’That Stranger with severer speech than thine,
Sharp flail and stigma, charged the world with sin,
The vast, wide world, and not one race alone:
Each nation, he proclaimed, from Man’s great stem
Issuing, had with it borne one Word divine
Rapt from God’s starry volume in the skies,
Each word a separate Truth, that, angel-like,
Before them winging, on their faces flung
Splendour of destined morn, and led man’s race
Triumphant long on virtue’s road. Themselves
Had changed that True to False. The Judge had come;
That Power Who both beginning is and end
Had stooped to earth to judge the earth with fire;
A fire of Love, He came to cleanse the just;
A fire of Vengeance, to consume the impure:
His fan is in His hand: the chaff shall burn;
The grain be garnered. “Fall, high palace roofs,”
He cried, “for ye have sheltered dens of sin:
Fall, he that, impious, scorned the First and Last;
Fall, he that bowed not to the hoary head;
Fall, he that loosed by fraud the maiden zone;
Fall, he that lusted for the poor man’s field;
Fall, rebel Peoples; fall, disloyal Kings;
And fall” dread Mother, is the word offence?
“False Gods, long served; for God Himself is nigh."’

The monarch ceased: on Heida’s face that hour
He feared to look; but when she spake, her voice
Betrayed no passion of a soul perturbed:
Austere it was; not wrathful; these her words:
’Son, as I hearkened to thy tale this day,
Memory returned to me of visions three
That lighted three great junctures of my life:
And thrice thy words were echoes strange of words
That shook my tender childhood, slumbering half,
Half-waked by matin beams “The Gods must die.”
Three times that awful sound was in mine ear:
Later I learned that voice was nothing new.
My Son, the earliest record of our Faith,
So sacred that on Runic stave or stone
None dared to grave it, lore from age to age
Transmitted by white lips of trembling seers,
Spared not to wing, like arrow sped from God,
That word to man, “Valhalla’s Gods must die!”
The Gods and Giant Race that strove so long,
Met in their last and mightiest battle field,
Must die, and die one death. That prophet-voice
The Gods have heard. Therefore they daily swell
Valhalla’s Hall with heroes rapt from earth
To aid them in that fight.’
On Heida’s face
At last the King, his head uplifting, gazed:
There where the inviolate calm had dwelt alone
A million thoughts, each following each, on swept,
That calm beneath them still, as when some grove,
O’er-run by sudden gust of summer storm,
With inly-working panic thrills at first,
Then springs to meet the gale, while o’er it rush
Shadows with splendours mixed. Upon her breast
Came down the fire divine. With lifted hands
She stood: she sang a death-song centuries old,
The dirge prophetic both of Gods and men:

’The iron age shall make an iron end:
The men who lived in hate, or impious love,
Shall meet in one red battle field. That day
The forests of the earth, blackening, shall die;
The stars down-fall; the Winged Hound of Heaven,
That chased the Sun from age to age, shall close
O’er it at last; the Ash Tree, Ygdrasil,
Whose boughs o’er-roof the skies, whose roots descend
To Hell, whose leaves are lives of men, whose boughs
The destined empires that o’er-awe the world,
Shall drop its fruit unripe. The Midgard Snake,
Circling that sea which girds the orb of earth,
Shall wake, and turn, and ocean in one wave
O’er-sweep all lands. Thereon shall Naglfar ride,
The skeleton ship all ribbed with bones of men,
Whose sails are woven of night, and by whose helm
Stand the Three Fates. When heaves that ship in sight,
Then know the end draws nigh.’
She ceased; then spake:
’If any doubt, the Voluspa tells all,
The song the mystic maiden, Vola, sang;
Our first of prophets she, as I the last:
She sang that song no Prophet dared to write.’
But Sigebert made answer where he knelt,
Old Faith back rushing blindly on his heart:
’Though man’s last nation lay a wreath of dust,
Though earth were sea, not less in heaven the Gods
Would hold their revels still; Valhalla’s Halls
Resound the heroes’ triumph!’
Once again
Heida arose: once more her pallid face
Shone lightning-like, wan cheeks and flashing eyes;
Once more she sang: ’The Warder of the Gods,
Soundeth the Gjallar Trumpet, never heard
Before by Gods or mortals: from their feast
The everlasting synod of the Gods
Rush forth, gold-armed, with chariot and with horse:
First rides the Father of the flock divine,
Odin, our King, and, at his right hand, Thor
Whose thunder hammer splits the mountain crags
And level lays the summits of the world;
Heimdall and Bragi, Uller, Njord, and Tyr,
Behind them throng; with these the concourse huge
Of lesser Gods, and Heroes snatched from earth,
Since man’s first battle, part to bear with Gods
In this their greatest. From their halls of ice
To meet them stride the mighty Giant-Brood,
The moving mountains of old Joetunheim,
Strong with all strengths of Nature, flood or fire,
Glacier, or stream volcanic from red hills
Cutting through grass-green billows; on they throng
Topping the clouds, and, leagues before them, flinging
Huge shade, like shade of mountains cast o’er wastes
When sets the sun.’ A little time she ceased;
Then fiercelier sang: ’Flanking that Giant-Brood
I see two Portents, terrible as Sin:
The Midgard Snake primeval at the right,
With demon-crest as haughtily upheaved
As though all ocean curled into one wave:
A million rainbows braid that glooming arch;
And Death therein is mirrored. At the left,
On moves that brother Terror, wolf in shape,
Which, bound till now by craft of prescient Gods,
Weltered in Hell’s abyss. Till came the hour
A single hair inwoven by heavenly hand
Sufficed to chain that monster to his rock;
His fast is over now; his dusky jaws
At last the Eternal Hunger lifts distent
As far as heaven from earth.’
The Prophetess
One moment pressed her palms upon her eyes,
Then flung them wide. ’The Father of the Gods,
Our Odin, at that Portent hurls his lance;
And Thor, though bleeding fast, with hammer raised
Deals with that Serpent’s scales.’
‘The Gods shall win,’
Shouted the King, forgetting at that hour
All save the strife, while on his brow there burned
Hue of the battle at the battle’s height
When no man staunches wound. With voice serene
(The storm had left her) Heida made reply:
’If any doubt, the Voluspa tells all.
Ere yet Valhalla’s lower heaven was shaped
Muspell, the great Third Heaven immeasurable,
Above it towered, throne of that God Supreme,
Who knew beginning none, and knows no end:
High on its southern cliff that dread One sits,
Nor ever from the South withdraws His gaze,
Nor ever drops that bright, sky-pointing Sword
Whose splendour dims the noontide sun. That God
He, and the Spirit-Host that wing His light,
When shines the Judgment Sign, shall stand on earth,
And judge the earth with fire. Nor men nor Gods
Shall face that fire and live.’
As Heida spake
The broad full moon above the forest soared,
And changed her form to light. With hands out-stretched
She sang her last of songs: ’The Hour is come:
Bifrost, the rainbow-bridge ’twixt heaven and earth
Shatters; the crystal walls of heaven roll in:
Above the ruins ride the Sons of Light.
That dread One first
Forth from His helm the intolerable beam
Strikes to the battle-field; the Giant-Brood
Die in that flame; and Odin, and his Gods:
Valhalla falls, and with it Joetunheim,
Its ice-piled mountains melting into waves:
In fire are all things lost!’
Then wept the King:
’Alas for Odin and his brethren Gods
That in their great hands stayed the northern land!
Alas for man!’ But Heida, with fixed face
Whereon there sat its ancient calm, replied:
’Nothing that lived but shall again have life,
Such life as virtue claims. Ill-working men
With Loki and with Hela, evil Gods,
Shall dwell far down in Nastroend’s death-black pile
Compact of serpent scales, whose thousand gates
Face to the North, blinded by endless storm:
But from the sea shall rise a happier earth,
Holier and happier. There the good and true
Secure shall gladden, and the fiery flame
Harm them no more. Another Asgard there
Where stood that earlier, ere our fathers left
Their native East, shall lift sublimer towers
Dawn-lighted by a loftier Ararat:
Just men and pure shall pace its palmy steeps
With him of race divine yet human heart,
Baldur, upon whose beaming front the Gods
Gazing, exulted; from whose lips mankind
Shall gather counsel. Hand in hand with him
Shall stand the blind God, Hoedur, now not blind,
That, witless, slew him with the mistletoe,
Yet loved him well. Others, both men and Gods,
That dread Third Heaven attained, shall make abode
With Him Who ever is, and ever was,
Enthroned like Him upon its southern cliff,
Drinking the light immortal. From beneath,
Like winds from flowery wildernesses borne,
The breath of all good deeds and virtuous thoughts,
Their own, or others’, since the worlds were made,
All generous sufferings, o’er their hearts shall hang,
Fragrance perpetual; and, where’er they gaze,
The Vision of their God shall on them shine.’

Thus Heida spake, and ceased; then added, ’Son,
Our Faith shall never suffer wreck: fear nought!
Fulfilment, not Destruction, is its end.
But thou return, and bid thy herald guest
Who sought thee, wandering from his westward Isle,
Approach my gates at dawn, and in mine ear
Divulge his message to this land. Farewell!’

Then from his knees the monarch rose, and took
Through the huge moonlit woods his homeward way.