Fuensanta Plaza was a woman of means who talked to dwarves.
It sounds like the opening sentence of an Absolutely Fabulous script proposal. Imagine Edina Monsoon’s friend Ms. Cottingley dropping by for a visit. Picture the wacky hijinks that ensue as she name-drops Peter Dinklage and Walt Disney whilst waving her sustainably harvested talking stick. Most would dismiss Fuensanta as yet another bored spiritual tourist whose money shielded her from the consequences of her self-delusion. Fairy tales are for children, after all: assertions to the contrary generally run headlong into the contemptuous smirk which is our generation’s defining expression.
But what if we put aside that sneer for a moment?
Native Americans throughout the Western United States have tales of “Little People” who are great craftsmen, magicians and healers. Hawaii has the Menehune who built temples, ponds and roads; rural Taiwan has the Tai who live in caves and are honored at the annual Pas-Ta’ai (Short People Ritual) ceremony; the Classical world had the metal-working Kabeiroi. Even today many in Iceland leave offerings for the Duergar. Fuensanta’s beliefs are noteworthy only in the context of her time and her place.
Dwarves figure prominently in the myths of Northern Europe. They are famed for their skill in mining, engineering and all forms of metalwork. But they are also famous for their greed and notorious for their ability to hold a grudge. Many Norse sagas begin with somebody robbing a dwarf: they end only after several generations of carnage and bloodshed. And Andvari, the subject of Fuensanta’s special devotion, has inspired many of our most well-known stories.
Our earliest story has Andvari living in a cave behind a waterfall. There He kept his treasure, and a magical ring, safely hidden: He came and went by taking salmon-form and swimming off in the river. Then Loki caught Andvari in a net and stole the loot before He could escape. Though He never did find his ring, Andvari ultimately got the gold back – and thanks to the curses laid on the treasure, the unfortunate holders were only too glad to be rid of it.
(Not even Loki could avoid Andvari’s wrath. Chased by an angry mob of Aesir He took salmon-form and tried to get away. But at the last instant His escape was thwarted and He was dragged off to the cave and to His long agony on the rock).
Though lost, Andvari’s lost magical ring still inspired several well-known works of art. Richard Wagner combined Andvari’s story with Frankish legends of the Dwarf-King Alberich to create his Ring cycle. Tolkien took the myth and gave us a certain One Ring of power found in a noisome cave by Bilbo Baggins of the Shire. Hidden in darkness, Andvari and His works retain a primal cthonic power to shape the light. And Fuensanta’s devotion had something of that deep, still shadow-strength.
You might find this thought-provoking but a bit unnerving. We may not believe dwarves exist but we’re generally well-disposed toward them. Devotion is far more disturbing. Today many consider devotion a dirty word and conflate it with fanaticism, violence and unthinking obedience. We’re taught the only proper mindset is a healthy skepticism that treats everything as equally unimportant. Belief in dwarves can be dismissed easily enough as a harmless eccentricity. Worship of a dwarf is a far more challenging affair.
In its original form, worship was weorthscipe, the condition of being honorable, valuable and deserving of respect. To worship the Gods is to give Them that respect and to acknowledge Their superior position. It is no more self-abasement than admitting one cannot outrun lightning, lift mountains or drink the ocean. Fuensanta acknowledged Andvari’s power. Andvari in return, taught her how to worship in a world bereft of temples.
Fuensanta prayed by bringing order out of chaos; she banished with soap and broom; she honored the Gods by making her house a fit place for Them. For her the Gods were immanent – and if you wouldn’t show your friends a sink full of dirty dishes, why would you give any less respect to your Deities? Hers was an eminently practical mysticism that favored function over ostentation. That simple piety she learned from the dwarves.
I’m sure some of you are shaking your heads. You were expecting some profound spiritual insights and I gave you somebody who worshipped a dwarf by scrubbing her floors. Look around your domicile. Ask yourself if you would want company walking in unawares. Now ask yourself if your home is ready to welcome Gods.
You’re laughing now. Of course that’s silly: I might as well tell you Superman is coming over for a visit. And it is silly if you don’t believe in Gods, if you think Them symbols, archetypes, myths – whatever words you might use to ground Them in human consciousness and the human experience. But what if They are something more than that?
That last snicker sounded decidedly nervous. I don’t blame you. Oliver Crowell was terrified of falling into the hands of a living God: how much more should we fear all the multitudinous deities? Gods might turn your life upside down. They might destroy everything you hold dear in the blink of an eye. They might not be concerned with free will or consent or boundaries. They would be ineffable, inscrutable, indescribable – in short, they would be unsafe.
Fuensanta acknowledged the Gods. She recognized Them in all Their beauty and terror. She kept her house clean so They would feel comfortable there. To understand that is to understand Polytheism: to follow her example is to walk in piety with the Gods.