Tribe and Seter
Tribe and Seter
Once upon a time, there were three billy goats called the Gruff brothers. They were hungry after a long winter and wanted to go to the Seter* to eat themselves fat.
The Seter was far away, past several mountains. The mountains were not the worst. Worse still was a bridge that they had to cross because under it lived a troll.
The youngest goat, merely two summers old, had never been there before. The middle one, seven summers, had not been there either. But both had heard their big brother talk about the troll under the bridge. Old Hermit, the oldest goat on the grassy slopes, used to narrate a story of how there was a heath with grass so full of delights that the goats in the old days were willing to defy seven mountains to get there. Even so, one day, a troll appeared, and it had been troubling them ever since.
The troll liked to eat animals and travellers inevitably fought for their lives. The goats in the small valley, therefore, had given up the trek to the Seter long ago. They still talked about the good old days, but these days had been replaced by the trials of everyday life, and so the years passed—very many years.
Thus, the dream of the good life at the Seter had become a memory, something the young goats—and a few older ones—talked about. These were considered the rebels of the pack by those who were sceptical about the existence of such a place. In fact, quite a few did not even believe in the troll because, as the years went by, the desire for adventure also disappeared. The goats adapted quickly to their diminishing horizon and the common assumption arose that this was probably how things have always been. Yet, they did not journey into the mountains. The fear of the unknown was simply too great, and most animals preferred not to think about it. The Gruff family were no different. Neither Grandfather nor Grandmother, Mom nor Dad cared for what happened outside the valley. But the three brothers were different. They had grown up listening to Old Hermit’s legends, and the big brother increasingly felt the urge to get to the bottom of this.
To him, the mystic stories put everyday life in a poor light. Even the colours had lost their appeal, and he was disillusioned with the habitual pecking order. There was not much sun or greenery in the valley and what little there was had been taken by others. The water was not good either. The big brother had noticed it for a while, but no one wanted to hear it. They were more concerned about fighting for territories while he thought it would be better to fight the troll.
Not that he was afraid of the other bucks. He had not yet lost a fight, and he felt confident that it would always be so. Nonetheless, he realised that the old ways were no longer for him, and thus, he had been planning this journey for a year.
He had also spoken with his brothers. They were both convinced that their big brother was the coolest kid in the vale. They also agreed that life in the valley was not the best. Its shadows seemed to grow darker, the grass harder to find, and the water worse. Hence, they were enthusiastic when one summer day, their big brother, asked if they were ready for an adventure.
Big Billy Goat Gruff had also spurred others. He had told them about the possibilities on the other side of the mountain. He had spoken about problems with the old and proffered solutions, but the rest of the kit were not convinced. They were not sure if the troll needed to be battled or even confronted. Nor were they confident that it was better else-where, or as convinced as the brothers about their big brother’s excellence. They chose instead to stay.
The three brothers therefore said their goodbyes to the herd.
They hugged their friends, one by one, and set out on a voyage. They crossed the Gray Moors and the Highlands and encountered no troubles in the climb over First Mountain. The weather was good and even the eternal snow seemed easy to conquer. Second Mountain was just as trouble-free, though the youngest had become tired. They had been moving for a long time and they needed rest.
The three bucks therefore found a place and settled down. “How are you?” the big brother asked.
Little Billy Goat Gruff replied, “I have seen more than most goats have seen in a lifetime, but no troll. Do you think it is a long way?”
Big Billy Goat Gruff responded, “It’s hard to say. But if Old Hermit was right, we must cross a waterfall on the other side of Fifth Mountain. There is only one road across Rouge River, a bridge, and that’s where the troll lives.”
The middle brother broke in, “But maybe we can find another way? Maybe we could go in that direction?” he asked, looking south.
“No,” said the big brother. “That’s where the Misty Mountains are, and no one finds their way through them. Far more goats have disappeared in the fog than those who have faced the troll.”
“In fact, I have yet to hear of anyone who has returned. We should continue on this path.”
After a short rest, Little Billy Goat Gruff got up. The big brother sharpened his horns. He was eager to reach the bridge, and the brothers joined.
They kept on their journey. Summer faded and autumn approached before the goats came to Fifth mountain. They rounded its peaks and, after a while, saw the bridge.
The smallest was shaking. It was one thing to hear his big brother’s fairy tales, but it was another to be close to origins of myths. He wanted to turn around. “I’m scared,” he said. “I don’t even have horns. What can I do?”
The middle brother was also anxious. He longed for home. The big brother felt it, too, but did not show it. He remembered what the sage had told him and knew better.
“Fear is a liar,” Big Billy Goat Gruff replied. “Old Hermit said it was okay to be afraid, but one should not listen to their fears.”
The brothers were not reassured.
“You and your old goat!” the second brother countered. “You know neither Mom nor Dad cared much for his stories. They thought he was a dreamer and that he should relate to things as they are rather than how they should be.”
Middle Billy Goat Gruff remembered how father and mother had laughed at the mystic. “That old goat has a loose screw,” their parents always said. Like the rest of the tribe, they did not appreciate ideas that were beyond the ordinary—and the old goat had made it his mission to think along those lines.
The second billy goat continued: “Do you remember how he upset Mommy when Grandfather became ill?”
The hermit had told mother that life was a gift from the gods, that there was a reason for everything, and that death was natural. This had become too much for their mother. She loved Grandfather far too much to find solace in such ideas and drove the eremite out of the house when he added that the fear of death was as silly as the fear of life and that it was important to see beyond it.
The middle brother thought of their valley. It was perhaps mostly just rock and sand, and the water was probably not the best, but it appeared much more tempting than an encounter with the troll.
“Isn’t it better to turn around?” he persisted. “We could bring more friends and come back another day.”
The youngest listened. He, too, had heard others laugh at the hermit, but Big Billy Goat Gruff said, “The herd is a terrified lot. Since the troll appeared, their world has become smaller and smaller. They no longer dare to climb the mountains, and even at home they sleep poorly. Perhaps the recluse said some strange things. But he created, with his thoughts, his own reality and grew older than anyone.”
Big Billy Goat Gruff continued, “Whose example will you follow? The hermit talked of cosmic consciousness. Of a universe that is alive, that thinks itself into reality, that operates according to certain laws, and that is on our side. He said that fear and love rule everything and that we have been given free will to create the world that we want. I do not know much more about this than you. But I do know that I would rather live for a dream than go back to a tribe that gave up long ago.”
The big brother shook his head. “You both know that if we turn around, it’s the end of the adventure. You have seen the fear of the herd. No one wanted to come with us. The mere idea of a troll makes them weak, and if we do not dare, our dream is dead. I therefore suggest that we use our guile. We do not even know if the troll is there.”
The youngest was more hopeful now. The idea of another winter in the vale was not enticing. “Perhaps we can tiptoe?” he said meekly. “If the troll really is there, maybe he wouldn’t notice us if we’re quiet?”
The middle brother had also regained his courage. The idea of slipping past the troll was not impossible and he suggested that the little one should go first. Since the kid treaded so lightly, if anyone could get past the bridge unheard, it was him.
The little brother saw his point. He was still scared, but he had confidence in his big brother and that there could be a happy ending even if the troll showed up. They thus came up with a plan before Little Billy Goat Gruff headed for the bridge.
It was quiet. The wind had almost subsided and only a murder of crows could be heard down in the gorge. Heroically, the little billy goat walked towards the crossing. He looked around but there was no one to be seen. He tried a few steps.
Trip-trap, trip-trap, went the bridge.
It was still quiet. He took a few more steps, before he suddenly heard something moving.
“Who is that tripping over my bridge?” rumbled a deep voice from the depths.
“Oh, it’s just me, the youngest Billy Goat Gruff. I’m going to the Seter to make myself fat,” he replied in his sweetest voice.
But it did not help. The troll was not charmed and shouted back, “Now I’m coming to gobble you up!”
The youngest billy goat could feel the ground moving. Some crows flew up. He almost jumped but kept his composure. “Oh no!” he yelped. “Please don’t take me for I am too small. Just wait till the second Billy Goat Gruff comes. He’s much bigger.”
He heard grumbling. Serious dismay arose from the depths below the bridge, and it was not quiet till the troll shouted, “Well, off with you!”
Some time passed and then came the second billy goat. He had seen how his little brother had made it across, and he walked towards the bridge.
Trip-trap, trip-trap, trip-trap.
Immediately, he heard the voice from the depths, much closer this time:
“Who is tripping on my bridge?” growled the troll.
“Oh, it’s just me, the second Billy Goat Gruff. I’m going to the Seter to make myself fat,” he replied. His voice was not as sweet.
“Now I’m coming to eat you alive,” roared the troll.
“Oh, no! Don’t take me,” said the middle buck. “Wait a bit longer till Big Billy Goat Gruff comes. He’s much larger. He’s worth the wait.”
“Very well! Then go,” said the troll.
More time passed. And then came Big Billy Goat Gruff.
Trip-trap, trip-trap, trip-trap.
The buck was so massive that the bridge creaked and groaned.
“Who is that tramping over my bridge?” he heard from the depths.
“It is I, Big Billy Goat Gruff!” said the goat, his voice almost as rough as the troll’s.
“Now I’m coming to gobble you up,” roared the troll.
“Well, come on!” thundered the big brother. “I have horns as big as spears. With them, I will take your eyes! I have the strength to break boulders. With it, I will crush both your body and bones!”
Suddenly, a hand emerged from under the bridge. It tried to grab the goat, but he leapt away again and again. The rest of the troll was on its way up. He yelled and rattled the bridge, but the big billy goat was ready. He mustered all his courage, charged, and sprang at the troll—right in his face! Now the troll screamed even more, but the big buck was ready. Once again, he charged at and gored the troll, who lost his footing and fell down the cascade.
What a fight! The brothers, who had been watching it all, came running. They were overjoyed! They bounced all over the place. “Big brother,” they squealed, “you did what no one could, you beat the troll! No one has fought like you!”
The big billy goat strode towards the others. “Yes,” he said. “This is a great day. Now the path to the Seter is clear. It has not been so for hundreds of years. But that is how it is. And perhaps it is true, as the old sage said, that a bit of courage is all it takes to change the world.”
“I know one thing: as the troll came over the edge, the Capricorn of Light was on my side. I felt a strength I have never known. Time expanded and everything slowed down. Still, it was as if we were fighting for an eternity. I realised that the troll was a part of me and that a greater force connects us all. Now I’m a little confused.”
The second billy goat looked at him and laughed. “You hit pretty hard. In fact, I have never seen such a leap. Are you sure your head did not crack?”
“I felt this power more strongly than anything else,” replied Big Billy Goat Gruff. “The Capricorn, the troll, we, and everything around us are one. I know that now. But it is still strange how the troll fits in.”
The little brother then came over: “I think the cascade got rid of him. I don’t think we need to worry about that anymore. But the fact that you took him out, big brother, that’s incredible! Everyone is going to be really proud of you now!”
The biggest billy goat was pleased. “We’ll see,” he replied. “There are more mountains ahead. A lot can happen. There are probably more trolls in the world. But now I believe that they can not only be conquered but also be tamed.”
He looked at the others. “There is a lot between heaven and earth. But there is more between light and dark and the game that follows. Even Old Hermit did not know that we were going to stand here victorious. And it is a consolation that the worst is now behind us.”
The second billy goat looked towards the peaks ahead. The terrain was unknown, but the road went on. “I have no idea what we have in store,” he said. “But far away, do you see it brightening?”
The others saw it too. Far, far away, the light really had a different colour. There, past Last Mountain was Goldcrest, the legend of ancient lore, and in that direction, the three brothers journeyed.
They walked and walked. The closer they got, the more the sky opened, and after a journey they would not forget, they finally arrived.
There was the Seter! The grass was not only golden, but there were fruit, berries, and flowers they had never seen before. It was as if everything sparkled, and the more they ate, the more their fear and melancholy washed away. With every bite and chew, the world appeared more beautiful. Out there on the field, as they ate and frolicked, also the others got to know the energy that had taken over their big brother at the bridge. With it, the gears of the cosmos aligned, and synchronized with the essence of their being. The world was turned inside out and time appeared to stand still, but to their surprise everything fell into place. The oneness of everything became apparent and a holy spirit emerged in all. Its wisdom and kindness was infinite. Its presence absolute.
This is how the brothers spent their days. They grazed away. It was as if summer would never end. The cosmos was in complete harmony, and the three billy goats enjoyed life on that heavenly heath.
* The traditional Seter (from Norwegian Seter or Swedish säter) is a summer pasture, especially one in the mountains of Scandinavia, to which farmers used to take livestock as part of transhumance. Its connotations are utopian and the Seter is an embedded part of Scandinavian folklore.