My wife, Nancy, and I have just returned from three weeks in Sweden. For our time there we stayed mostly in the town of Mariefred on Lake Malaren, about an hour from Stockholm. This town was the home of the Swedish king in the nineteenth century. A very kingly castle still marks the town’s place on the lakeshore. Naturally being a royal residence, the king had a woods next to the castle where he could enjoy the pleasures of the hunt. Today the hunting woods is a nature preserve, a park with remnants of the deer herd that the king hunted long ago. Nancy and I enjoyed a walk each day in the park: http://sv.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hjorthagen,_Mariefred .
One day we set out for our walk. As we left the house where we were living there came a sound of distant thunder. I laughed and said that it must be Thor, the Norse god of thunder and lightning exercising his skills with the magic hammer, Miolnir. We did not consider turning back. Both, Nancy and I, figured we were not likely to have a real thunder and lightning storm as we know them at home; it never gets hot enough in Sweden for that.
At a point where the land in the deer park reaches out into Lake Malaren, the furthest distance from our house, the storm god confronted us, face to face. Nancy said, “I can hear the rain in the trees across the lake”. I saw the first flash of lightning reaching down from a dark threatening cloud. We both looked up at the trees overhead that were now swaying in a strong gusting wind. I knew better than to take shelter under one of the trees, we picked up our pace to escape the woods and find a shelter made by humans. As we neared the exit of the deer park, we met a young, Swedish couple entering the park for a run. I remember thinking, “these crazy Swedes don’t understand the danger present in a real thunderstorm; well, if they get struck by lightning, then they derserve the pain and suffering for not knowing the stories of Thor and his magic hammer”.
Nancy and I found partial shelter from the storm when we came out of the deer park. In the lea of a three story building we huddled against a wall to escape the sheets of rain racing across the lake. I figured any lightning would strike the building and not us. For thirty minutes we repeatedly hunched our shoulders as lightning cracked overhead. Finally, the sky started to lighten, and the storm passed on it’s way to the west…and the young Swedish runners emerged from the deer park, wet, but still running defiant of any danger from Thor’s hammer. I thought, “maybe they know something about Thor that I don’t know. Maybe they are the embodiment of young Norse gods come to earth!”
Soaked to the skin and cold, feeling very human and volnerable, Nancy and I hurried home through the wake of our first Swedish thunderstorm.
That night I dreamed of a strong anima figure that I felt the need to subdue by force. In the morning I reflected on the dream: I thought of my masculine need to control the forces of nature inside and outside of myself. I thought about John Muir: how would Muir have responded to my Swedish thunderstorm?
This reflection on John Muir brings me back to my subject of numinosity. Was my experience of a Swedish thunderstorm numinous? Certainly it fit the catagory of an experience in the natural world that takes us outside the boundries of experience that we can control. I felt threatened and in awe. I was not proud of my response to the experience. I rather wish I could have been like the young Swedish runners, daring the numinous and exaltant in the experience. Maybe I am making them more than they imagined or experienced. But then, I am a storyteller, bound to creating gods in my imagination.