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The journal by, for and about those engaged in the

reconstruction of pre-Christian Northern European cultures.

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rrir 1
rrir Is:
Josh Rood
Matt Walker
John Wills
Erik Lacharity
Bil Linzie
Cat Heath
Alyssa Paulsen
Tim Shanks
Christian Avis
Benjamin Kowalski
Terence Plum
Cat Ellis
Christine Foltzer
Dan Oropallo
Dr Karl Seigfried
Mathias Nordvig
Stephen Pollington
We would also like to thank those scholars who chose not to be named but
whose help was invaluable to us. Without your critiques, insight and advice,
our academic standards would be much lower.
In This Issue
Introduction ..............................................................................4
Heathen: Linguistic Origins and Early Context ................................6
Josh Rood
Establishing the Innangar ..............................................................17
Josh Rood
Cult and Identity in Modern Heathenry ..........................................27
Shane Ricks
Symbel: The Heathen Drinking Ritual? ..........................................43
John Wills
Feeding the Wolf .............................................................................59
Dan Campbell
Frankish Tree Sido ..........................................................................68
Erik Lacharity
Notes on the Finnish Tradition: Part 1 of 2 .....................................77
Anssi Alhonen.
Self-Directed Language Learning ...................................................90
Caspian Smith
Living Heathen
A Springtime Procession ...............................................................100
Christopher Robert
Two Yule Rituals ...........................................................................104
Josh Heath
Beer and Brewing Culture ...........................................................112
Through the Eyes of a New England Heathen
Mark Andersen
Some Brew Recipes ......................................................................117
Mark Andersen, Jon Talkington
Living Lore
Skald Craft ....................................................................................125
Jon Cyr
Poetry ............................................................................................139
Various people
A Snake Story ...............................................................................143
Josh Heath
Ashlad and Redfoks ......................................................................146
Tim Gladu
Book Reviews
Myths of the Pagan North .............................................................153
By Christopher Abram
The Picts: A History ......................................................................155
By Tim Clarkson
A Brief History of the Vikings ......................................................156
by Jonathan Clementst
Before Scotland .............................................................................157
By Alistair Moffat
The Lords of Battle .......................................................................158
By Christopher Abram
Masks of Odin ...............................................................................160
By Stephen S. Evans
Bibliography .................................................................................160
Contact Odroerir ...........................................................................172
rrir 4
rrir is an accumulation of the research and experience of men and women engaged in the recon-
struction of the heathen traditions of northern Europe. The journals contributors are involved in a grass-
roots movement in both America and Europe a movement that encompasses greatly varied cultures,
local customs and religious practices. The diversity of our contributors is matched only by our uniting
belief that reconstruction of our various traditions is dependent on understanding their origins. This con-
viction is the foundation that rrir is built upon, and our desire to act on it has driven us to maintain a
high academic standard for the material we present. We are confdent in saying that rrir is a credible
resource for those interested in contemporary heathenism.
When we frst conceived the idea of rrir, we were just a handful of individuals representing a va-
riety of groups with a shared approach to heathenism. In our discussions with each other, we realized that
our approach had produced few publications to which we might direct interested individuals. To simply di-
rect people to a rare and expensive stockpile of academic works was not enough. We saw a need to provide
documentation of our own dialogue if we wanted audiences to understand how we saw and understood
heathenism ourselves. We also decided that, if we were to make an attempt to represent contemporary hea-
thenism, we needed to insure to the best of our ability that our claims and conclusions were supported
by (and consistent with) the work of modern authorities on the subjects we would be presenting. We were
fortunate enough to be able to assemble a team that we felt confdent could hold us to the high standard
we set for ourselves; but information is nothing without a community.
Our ability to present this journal is greatly indebted to the rich variety of individual talent from through-
out the heathen community and the enthusiasm with which people contributed and reviewed the material.
We could not have done this without the deep insights and guidance of academic authorities on the matters
we are presenting. Our work would have been impossible without the research and writing of contributors
with whom we were previously unaware of, but now consider friends. We are indebted to those who were
not even a part of the rrir team, but who volunteered to edit, proofread, and give advice that we gladly
took. We have been humbled by their generosity. We never dreamed we would get the readership that we
have, and we have been inundated with emails of support, advice and general inquiry. We have received
more submissions artistic, poetic and academic than we have been able to make use of. We have re-
alized with great joy that what was started out of fear that our voices werent being heard has become a
rallying place for those across the heathen communities who are excited to present heathenism as it really
was, as it really is and as it perhaps can be.
This Issue
Volume 1 was an introduction of sorts, and we would suggest that it be read before this present volume.
It has also played another role which was critically important in order for rrir to really become what
we envisioned. It set the tone of what sort of approach we take to heathenism, and it attracted others who
do the same. That was precisely what we needed from a debut issue. Our goal to bridge the gap between
the academic knowledge of ancient heathen traditions and the implementation of ongoing ones today de-
pended on the contributions of others throughout the general heathen community. We wanted to expand
with subsequent issues. We introduced rrir as a vessel that needed the wisdom, experience, and ar-
tistic talent of the heathen community to help fll it. That is precisely what we received, and we have been
able to expand tremendously.
The decentralized nature of our contribution base has resulted in a bit of a nebulously structured sec-
ond volume. Article formats may show some variation, and the sections are not rigidly distinct from one
rrir 5
another. Terminology and personal and place-name spellings may differ slightly between authors de-
pending on their region and background. This should be expected and we prefer to allow for an organic
development for each issue rather than to try and force a particular stylistic and structural appearance at
the cost of information. There is no established theme. The rrir team agreed only that we should
strive to at least address some of the more basic topics before we can build off of them. In addition,
our contributors gave an array of content, and we were able to expand the journal in multiple directions.
Weve structured the content into four loosely categorized sections and tried to establish a fow between
topics. The frst section contains research oriented articles that cover a wide variety of subject matter
relevant to heathen religion, society, and worldview. The second section is a shift in focus from research
towards heathen experience, practice and implementation. The third section contains some living lore in
prose and poetry. Lastly, we have our book reviews.
Regarding the variety of traditions contained in this and future issues; rrir overwhelmingly
fows out of a Germanic heathen focus, but it would be academically dishonest to present heathenism as
an insular, singular tradition. Historically, Germanic heathenism refers to a variety of local and regional
religious practices. The same is true of our contributors. There was also a good bit of cultural exchange
with neighboring European cultures. For this reason, we have decided to allow a place for some articles
which focus on religious practices that are relevant to heathenism but are not necessarily Germanic, and
whose authors may not even refer to as heathen. By default rrirs articles stem from the common
Germanic heathen viewpoint, which naturally has variations. Articles which focus on a specifc culture
will always make clear which culture they are referring to, and those which focus on a culture which is
not Germanic will contain the name of their focus in their title. In this way, rrir is able to present
information from a variety of cultures related to heathenism without mixing them together or confusing
them with one another.
We are proud of rrirs second volume, and we hope that the heathen community is also. Feel free
to share this with friends, family, and community, and to contribute if you believe you have something to
offer. Thank you for reading, and enjoy!




rrir 6
The modern English word heathen has long been the favorite label used in academic circles to identify
the nonchristian peoples of western and northern Europe during the Middle Ages. Among Medieval his-
torians it is used more precisely to identify those Germanic
peoples who still practiced their indigenous
religion. It has also been the title most favored by modern people who are engaged in the reconstruction
of pre-Christian Germanic traditions, not only to describe those religious practices they are reviving, but
also as a self moniker. Because the word heathen pertains to a particular demography,
this article focuses
on the context and implications that it would have had while that demography coexisted with the scribes
who recorded it. I will identify the source of the word heathen and I will trace it throughout the time pe-
riod which heathenism existed in Europe. It is my hope that this endeavor will allow the reader to have a
serious understanding of the origins, early history, and more importantly the context of the word heathen,
and what this might have meant for the people implied by it.
The word frst appears in the Gothic language as a translation of several New Testament books by the
bishop Ulflas (ca 310-383). These books are still preserved in multiple manuscripts, but most notably the
Codex Argentius
where it is recorded on thin purple velum of high quality and written in gold and silver
ink. The following passage is taken from his translation of chapter 7 of the Book of Mark. It contains the
frst recorded mention of the term as we know it.
wasu an so qino hain, Saurini fwnikiska gabaurai, jah ba ina ei o
unhulon uswaurpi us dauhtr izos.
The woman was a hain, a Syrophenician by nation; and she besought him
that he would cast forth the devil out of her daughter.

In the context of the story, the woman in reference was a Greek who had been born in Syrian Phoenicia.
She was not one of the Jews to whom Christ had been ministering prior to her arrival. She was an outsider
to the group. She was a foreigner, and a stranger. The Book of Mark goes on to explain that Jesus met
her when he had gone up the Mediterranean coast to the vicinity of Tyre and Sidon. While he was there,
1 For the sake of simplicity, this paper will use the term Germanic to refer to the people who have conventionally, been labeled
Germanic, despite the issues that rise from pigeonholing vastly different groups of people under one moniker.
2 At least, within the circles I have described.
3 Codex Argenteus . Codex Argenteus Online (2004): n. pag. Silverbibeln, Uppsala Universitetbliotek.
4 Ibid.
Linguistic Origins and Early Context

By Joshua Rood
rrir 7
this woman who is referred to as a hain asked Christ to drive out a demon that had taken up residence
in her daughter. Christ hesitated to heal anyone other than his own people and responded rather harshly;
Let the children frst be fed, for it is not right to take the childrens bread and throw it to the dogs. The
foreign woman responded; Yes, Lord: yet the dogs under the table eat of the childrens crumbs. With
this response, Christ claimed that her daughter was healed.
There have been two conficting theories pertaining to the origins and etymology of the term. The tra-
ditional, widely accepted explanation is that the term heathen is a derivative of the abstract noun heath.
The Indo European origin of the word heath is the root kait, used to signify an uncultivated forest. The
defnition has changed little and appears in Gothic haii (Feminine) and genitive haijs as feld, open
untilled land, pasture, open country. This corresponds precisely with Old English h, Middle Low
German hde, Middle Dutch hde, heide, Dutch heide, hei, Old High German, Middle High German,
German heide, and Old Norse heir. The prevalence of heath and its linguistic variations throughout all
Germanic languages demonstrates that the word is not only very old, but that it refects innate Germanic
concepts. The word hain stems from the formative suffx haii-, and translates as being of the haii/of
the heath.
Accordingly, a heathen is literally a person who lives in the uncultivated wastelands of the
wilderness. It is assumed that Ulflas had chosen a Gothic word on model of the Latin pgnus. Indeed,
pgnus had originally meant rustic villager in reference to the rural communities that existed outside of
Romes great urban centers. However in the years after Christianity had established itself as an urban reli-
gion and while ancient deities were still retained in rural districts, it came to refer to their religious status.
Ulflas would have recorded his translation during this latter period and may have wished to portray the
woman as dwelling in the countryside or wastelands away from civilization. The traditional explanation
for this is that it stressed the root sense of rural.

In 1896, Sophus Bugge
challenged this explanation by offering that the word hain was not an
original Gothic word at all, but was a product of the Classical Mediterranean world, and an offshoot of
Armenian hetanos. This theory is consistent with his belief that the Germanic people had no original
religious or mythological systems, and that they were all derivatives of the Classical or Christian world.
His supposition has by and large been rejected, as should his explanation for hain. It is clear however,
that the term was used as a Gothic gloss for the Greek hellnis (), which literally means Of the
Greek Nation and is similar to Greek ethnos (, meaning nation or people). Ethnos and Latin
gns (gentilis, our gentile) happen to be equivalents, each being in the Septuagint and Vulgate translations
of the Hebrew Bible for the word goyim.
When put into the context of the Hebrew Bible, goyim, ethnos,
and gentili refer specifcally to non-Jewish nations. Within a Christian context the meaning is shifted from
non-Jewish nations to non-Christian. As we can see, none of these words hold any relation to heath or
the concept of wilderness, and instead refer to a persons status as belonging to a foreign nation. In the
Book of Mark then, in this context the woman was a Greek, not a Jew. Neither was she someone whom
Christ had been associating with. She was other, religiously and nationally. This information is relevant
5 Simpson, John, and Weiner Edmund. heathen, a. Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd. United States: Oxford University Press, 1989
6 Metcalf, Allan. The World in So Many Words: A Country-by-Country Tour of Words That Have Shaped Our Language. Orlando:
Houghton Miffin Harcourt, 1999.
7 See Simeks Dictionary of Northern Mythology. In his most famous work, Studier over der nordiske Gude-og Heltesagns Oprindelse,
Bugge made his argument through attempting to connect the etymologies of Norse words to classical and biblical sources.( Loki from
Luzifer, Urarbrunnr from Jordan, and Iavellir from Eden). In addition to this bias, Bugge fails to explain why a foreign word like
het'anos would spread through the Germanic languages while the term gentili, which was far more popular in Ecclesiastical, writings
does not.
8 Watkins, Calvert, ed., The American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European Roots, 2nd ed., Houghton Miffin Co., 2000.
See also Liddell, Henry George, and Robert Scott, eds. Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon, Oxford Univ. Press, 1883.
See also Lewis, Charlton T., Elementary Latin Dictionary, Oxford, 1890.
rrir 8
because we will see heathen used often by Germanic scribes as a translation for gentili in earlier Latin
texts. We will also observe a pattern that develops which demonstrates its shifting defnition during the
period in which Christian and native German people were intermingling.
While the Bishop Ulflas introduced what would become the word heathen in text during the mid 4th
century, it does not appear in surviving records for the next several hundred years in any way other than in
reproductions of the manuscript containing the Gothic Bible. Whether or not the word would have been
spoken or written on perishable material during this period cannot be determined but it does not appear to
have been used by any scribes, and it doesnt appear in any of the Law Codes that were recorded by the
multiple Germanic people who had settled in and around the Roman borders on the continent. The Goths,
along with most of the other tribes that dealt with the Roman world would subsequently become a part of
that world. The wealth of tribal laws we have from this period are in Latin. The works of Germanic
writers like Ulflas had become a part of the literature of the Latin world, and they were bound and held
in Rome with little contact or infuence on other tribes aside from those which were highly Romanized.
Rome would deteriorate, and its culture with it. When Charlemagne had his renaissance in the begin-
ning of the 9th century and attempted to revive Roman culture, the Carolingians helped import the writ-
ings of Rome into the northern frontiers of Christian Europe. This enabled a classical ecclesiastical
culture to be established, and heavily impacted the surrounding tribes who had not been Romanized
and had retained their own cultures. Likewise, vernacular literacy had fnally begun to pick up among
Germanic groups as exemplifed in the early 7th century Anglo Saxon law codes, and expanded in sub-
sequent centuries. Through this route Germanic and Christian thought in northern Europe would inter-
mingle and syncretize.
The Anglo Saxon laws do hold a wealth of valuable material, but while our records of them demonstrate
that they are the oldest vernacular English texts and the word heathen does appear in them several times,
we will need to investigate other sources before we can really put the laws into an appropriate context.
There are two particular bodies of work which help to demonstrate the context that heathen had come to be
used in. One of these sources was compiled during the reign of the Wessex king, Alfred the Great, shortly
after his own peace treaty with the Danish king Guthrum and the establishment of the Danelaw around
the 890s. This work, referred to as the Anglo Saxon Chronicle
is exactly that. It is a chronicle of the
English people through dated entries from the mythical Anglo Saxon past, the time of Christ, into the year
of its compilation. Since this text was all compiled at once, the scribes needed to backdate entries which
required that they draw from other sources. The so-called Anglo Saxons
at this time would have also
intermingled considerably with the Brythonic peoples, the Picts, and the Gaelic Irish. For this purpose it
is also benefcial to explore the Irish Ulster Annals,
considering how neatly the entries coincide between
the two in relation to this study and the signifcant likelihood of infuence between them.
The frst mention of the word heathen within the Anglo Saxon Chronicle is from an extensive entry for
the year 616 in reference to the death of the frst Christian king of Kent, thelberht. The entry draws from
an original source which is clearly Bedes Historiam Ecclesiasticam Gentis Anglorum: Liber Secundus
(Ecclesiastical History of the English People, Book Two).
The chronicles entry is a gloss of his work,
translated from Latin into Old English, and in it the word heathen is used twice as a translation of Bedes
9 Garmonsway, G.N. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle London. Everyman Press. 1972
10 The term Anglo Saxon can be problematic as it generalizes more culturally specifc Anglian, Saxon, Jutish peoples who were all in-
termingling at this time under one umbrella.
11 Royal Irish Academy. Annala Uladh, Annals of Ulster; otherwise, Annala Senait, Annals of Senat: A Chronicle of Irish Affairs. Vol. 1.
Dublin: Printed for H.M Stationary, 1887. (Digitalized in 2011 with funding by University of Toronto)
12 Venerabilis, Bede, (673-735) Historia Ecclesiasitca Gentis Anglorum. Londini: Sumptibus Societatis, (Digitilized by the Internet Archive
in 2011 with funding from University of Toronto)
rrir 9
text. After relaying the death of thelberht, both texts go on to highlight the refusal of his son Eadbald
to become a Christian. While Bede refers to Eadbald as living in a sinful manner that was so corrupt that
it was not even heard among the gentes (gentiles), the entry in the Anglo Saxon Chronicle records sim-
ply that he was living in henum (heathendom). Bede goes on to describe the departure of the bishops
Mellitus and Justus from the barbaros (barbarians) of Kent who had refused to be converted. He did not
use the term gentes in this instance however, and described their religious practices as being a daemoni-
cis cultibus (demonic cult). The scribe who translated Bede chose not to differentiate between the terms
gentes and daemonicis cultibis and used the term heene (heathen) a second time. The implications here
are that while Bede chose the word gentes to refer to Eadbalds people who were part of a nation which
was foreign to an established Christian nation, and daemonicis cultibus in clear condemnation of the
worship of deities which were in Bedes opinion clearly evil; the English scribe who translated this work
had decided to bring these two separate implications from two separate terms under the same moniker
of hen. The term no longer implied foreign or country dweller. Its context is both that of being
outside a Christian state and condemnable.
In the end of the eighth century, English territories were invaded and subjected to plunder and slaughter.
The invaders were Danes.
They were both foreign to the English and still held to their native religion.
They also held no consideration for Christian sanctity, and targeted churches, slaughtered monks, and
terrifed the scribes who wrote about their incursions. They would go on to change the entire political
and religious landscape of north and east England by establishing their Danelaw. Both the Irish and
English sources record the wars between the Danes in the form of yearly entries between 793 with the
Viking attack on Lindisfarne, to the peace treaties between Guthrum and Alfred in the end of the 9th cen-
tury. Both sources provide a wealth of terminology which is exceptionally telling of the nomenclature
that developed regarding the Danes during this century of confict. Regarding the initial Viking raid in
793 when they destroyed the monastery at Lindisfarne and slaughtered the monks, the Ulster Annals say
simply; Devastation of all the Isles of Britain by gentiles.
The entry that appears in the Anglo Saxon
Chronicles was recorded later:
Her wron ree forebecna cumene ofer Norhymbra land, t folc earmlic
bregdon, t wron ormete odenas ligrescas, fyrenne dracan wron ge-
sewene on am lifte feogende. am tacnum sona fyligde mycel hunger, litel
fter am, s ilcan geares on .VI. Idus Ianuarii, earmlice henra manna
hergunc adilegode Godes cyrican in Lindisfarnaee urh hreafac mansliht.
This year came dreadful fore-warnings over the land of the Northumbrians,
terrifying the people most woefully: these were immense sheets of light
rushing through the air, and whirlwinds, and fery dragons fying across the
frmament. These tremendous tokens were soon followed by a great famine:
and not long after, on the sixth day before the ides of January in the same
year, the harrowing inroads of heathen men made lamentable havoc in the
church of God in Holy-island, by rapine and slaughter.

Here the foreign invaders are referred to as henra manna by the Anglo Saxons, while the Irish
13 In this case, Danes does not refer to the people of modern day Denmark, but rather in implies people from Norway, Jutland, and
Sweden. Essentially then, it refers to Scandinavians.
14 Annala Uladh, 1887
15 Avalon Project, 2008
rrir 10
Annals label them gentilibur. Both sources go on to demonstrate a correlating pattern associating other-
ness with the Danes.
Within the Irish Annals between 793 mentioned above and through the entire 9th century to follow,
the Danes are interchangeably referred to as gentilibur and gaill (OI-foreigner). After 840, when they are
frst reported to have established a settlement at Dublin, we see them called dubh-gaill and dubh-genti.
They are referred to as Normanna occasionally albeit rarely after 836 but this is clearly introduced by
the Anglo Saxons as it is an Old English word. Only once, in 989, are they referred to as Danes. Both
gentilibur and gaill (with its derivatives) are used to demonstrate the Danes status as outsiders to the
community/religion, and while they were used to refer to any foreign group of people, by and large they
become associated with the Danes, who are referenced with greater frequency through the 9th century, and
who were heavily impacting the social and political landscape. Before 830 we see the words gentile and
gaill used most often in reference to them, over other foreign groups at the time. After 830, when the
Danes had become a considerable threat and had forced the different English factions to bury their residual
differences or all be conquered, we see a notable spike in the terms usage. In just 10 years, between 830
and 840, the use of the terms gentili and gaill double what they had been for the preceding thirty seven
years. Over the course of the 830s through 900, entries concerning the invading Danes dominate the an-
nals and demonstrate how serious a presence they had become.

The same overall pattern exists in the Anglo Saxon Chronicles. Prior to the 830s we only see three
entries regarding the Danes. Two of these entries call them hen and one in 787 refers to them as
Normanna from Hrealande, the land of thieves. Between 830 and 890 we see them referenced
nearly thirty more times, interchangeably referred to as hen and Dniscan. The word hen appears
for the fnal time in the chronicle in the entry for 871 regarding a series of battles between the Dniscan
and their hen kings, after which peace treaties were signed.
It is likely that the Anglo Saxon Chronicler used the Ulster Annals or related documents as a source in
his compilation, and we see the word heathen used as a gloss for gentili and any other word which signi-
fed foreignness to both country and religion. However, over the course of nearly a century of continual
struggle against invading Danish armies and reavers, these words had developed a connotation with the
Danes specifcally. In the Ulster Annals, after they had begun to settle and clearly had established cordial
relationships with some of the islands factions, they were still unable to shake free from their association
with othernesss. Instead of being properly called Danes, they were referred to as dubh-gaill to specify
them from other gaill. Likewise, to the English, hen and Dniscan had developed to become implica-
tive of one another. As the term had now come to designate a specifc people and had essentially acquired
a face for the name, it had also become indicative of the customs and practices of the Danish people in
The word heathen only appears in the recorded Anglo Saxon laws after the conversion of the Danes
when king Guthrum signed for peace with Alfred of Wessex. The very earliest that we see the word actually
written and not backdated is in 826 where it appears in the Charter of Ecgberht from that year.
Anglo Saxon law extends back into the early 7th century in the oldest vernacular laws of thelberht.
Between the 7th century and the Danish invasion in the 9th, multiple laws were enacted to attempt to bring
the various English people more in line with Ecclesiastical Canons and to extinguish indigenous, unchris-
tian religious practices. These practices are described, for example, as witchcraft, auguries, sacrifcing or
making oaths on wells, stones, and trees, as well as incantations other than Christian prayers.
The Laws
16 The recorded tallies between these two sources are this authors own.
17 OED, 1989
18 Thorpe, Benjamin. Ancient Laws and Institues of England. Vol 1-2. New Jersey: Lawbook Exchange LTD, 2004
rrir 11
of Withraed (690) record fnes inficted on those who offer to devils,
and they appear in 8th century
Canon Law. Despite the detailed descriptions of these forbidden practices, they were never actually given
a label in vernacular until after the conversion of the Danish King Guthrum in 878. The word hen
frst appears in the Laws of Edward and Guthrum where it is recorded to be part of the treaty between
Edwards father Alfred, and Guthrum for peace between the English and Danes, and for the conversion
of the Danes. Prior to this point it had only ever been used as an English vernacular gloss of Latin and
Gaelic texts. It was in reference to foreigners and Danes who were religiously and physically outside of
the Christian world. Now it is written into a treaty intended, on behalf of the English, to bring those Danes
of the Danelaw out of dangerous otherness and into Christendom. Edward has the treaty recorded in the
preamble to his own laws recorded later in 901; they would love one God, and zealously renounce every
kind of hendom (heathendom/heathenism).
In his own laws Edward includes the doom: If anyone
violate Christianity or reverence hendom, by words or by work, let him pay as well were, as wite or
lah-slit, according as the deed may be.

Once the Danes had been brought into the folds of the Christian world, we see henom used in
contemporary law specifcally targeting Danish religious practice. While English kings had previously at-
tempted to put an end to the indigenous religious practices that had existed among the populace, it wasnt
until now that those illegal practices were given a label; hendom.
Kings and ecclesia continued to further defne that label in order to help eradicate those practices, and
the defnition of the word hendom was given greater specifcity within English law codes. Dooms
are enacted throughout them forbidding the practices of wil-weorunga (well-worship), stan-weorunga
(stone worship), treow-weorunga (tree worship), and idola weounga (idol worship). All of these now
fall under the defnition of hendom. The canons of King Edgar (959) state:
We enjoin, that every priest zealously promote Christianity, and totally ex-
tinguish every heathenism; and forbid well worshipings, and necromancies
(lic-wiglunga), and divinations (Hwata), and incantations (galdra), and
man worshipping, and the vain practices which are carried on with various
spells, and with frithsplots, and with elders, and also with various other
trees, and with stones, and with many various delusions, with which men do
much of what they should not.

The Laws of the Northumbrian Priests give a similar description:
If then anyone be found that shall henceforth practice any heathenship
(henscipe), either by sacrifce or by fyrt, or in any way love witch-
craft (Wicce-crft), or worship idols, if he be a kings thane, let him pay
X half-marks; half to Christ, half to the king. We are all to love and wor-
ship one God, and strictly hold one Christianity, and totally renounce all

The Anglo Saxon Laws of the eleventh century Danish king, Cnut attempts to actively defne the word
19 Ibid.
20 Ibid
21 Ibid
22 Ibid
23 Ibid
rrir 12
We forbeda eornostlice lene henscipe. Henscipe bi t man
idola weorige t is t man weorige hene godas and sunnan oe
mnan fr oe fod wter-wllas oe stanas oe niges cnnes wu-
treowa. Oe wicce-crft lufge. Oe mor-weore ge-fremme. On nige
wisan. Oe on blote oe on frht oe on swler gedwimra nig
ing dreoge.
We earnestly forbid all heathenism. Heathenism is that men worship idols;
that is, that they worship heathen gods, and the sun or the moon, fre or riv-
ers, water-wells or stonesor forest trees of any kind, or love witchcraft, or
promote murder-work in any wise; or by blot or by divination; or perform
anything pertaining to such illusions.

With Cnuts defnition, hen had evolved to fully represent the indigenous religious practices of the
Danes, as well as those of all the peoples of northern Europe who were still to be Christianized. The
words original meaning of foreigner was essentially lost, and it had taken on a much more specialized
defnition which most closely sums up the religions of the Germanic people. Over the course of the next
several hundred years this defnition will become solidifed in the vernacular writings throughout northern
Europe and Scandinavia. The Anglo Saxon epic Beowulf describes the practices of the Danes as hen.

The Scandinavian sagas and poems which make up the largest body of literature we have pertaining to old
Nordic religion, all use the cognate heini. Within these writings, the word heathen always relates to the
old religion.
The collective body of literature that was composed in Iceland during the 13th century, not only marks
the end of the period which this article investigates. It provides some of the fnest examples of how the
term had come to be used to describe specifc people and their religious practices. One of the primary
reasons for this is that a good deal of sagaic subject matter relates to the period of intense religious confict
and change that Norway and Iceland experienced, during the tenth century. Norwegian kings and chief-
tains were forced to address the pressing Christian religion, which eventually took a foothold within the
courts of the king. Christianity in turn was forced to reconcile with the reality of a predominantly heathen
Norway. Members of both religions served in the courts of kings such as Hkon the Good where politics
between the two groups played out and were brought into contrast with one another.
Writing about Hkons death in his Heimskringla, Snorri Sturluson depicts one of the most vivid scenes
regarding the two religions.
En tt mr veri lfs auit, segir hann, mun ek af landi fara ok til
kristinna manna, ok bta at, er ek hef brotit vi gu; en ef ek dey hr
heini, veiti mr ann grpt er yr snist. Litlu sar andaist Hkon
konungr ar hellunni, sem hann hafi fddr verit. ok urpu ar haug
mikinn ok lgu ar konung me alvpni sitt ok hinn bezta bna sinn, en
ekki f annat. Mltu eir sv fyrir grepti hans, sem heiinna manna sir var
til, vsuu honum til Valhallar.

24 Ibid
25 Heaney, Seamus. Beowulf; A New Verse Translation. New York, W. W. Nortan & Company. 2000.
26 Surluson Snorri, Linder, Nils, KA. Haggson. Heimskringla: ea, Sgur Noregs konunga. Snorra Sturlusonar, Uppsala : W. Schultz,
rrir 13
If I be granted to live, (Hkon) said, I would leave the country to abide
among Christians and do penance for what I have sinned against God. But
if I die here, among heathens, then give me such a burial place as seems
most ftting to you. And a short while afterwards king Hkon died on the
same slab of rock where he was bornThey raised a great mound and in
it buried the king in full armor and in his fnest array, but with no other
valuables. Words were spoken over his grave according to the custom of
heathen men, and they put him on the way to Valhalla.

The Saga of Hkon the Good, while written in the 13th century, demonstrates that the term heathen
specifcally referred to the old religion within the minds of 13th century Icelanders. Its defnition had
changed little since it had been developed and put into writing in England during the 10th century, but it
had spread and become saturated into the linguistic culture of the North. The term had grown out of and
had developed contemporarily with the people that it came to refer to. By the time Scandinavia had been
integrated into what was at this point in history becoming a European identity of Christendom, the older
traditions were likewise identifable as heathen.
Thus far, I have traced the use and context of the word heathen as it developed throughout the time
period that the indigenous religious practices of the Germanic and Scandinavian people would have ex-
isted, thrived, come into contact with, and subsequently struggled against condemnation and strict legal
restrictions. Both the Christian church and kings tried ceaselessly to eliminate these practices with one
hand while recording their own perspective on them with the other. These are the people who we have
looked to for information regarding native Germanic religion, and they have painted history in their own
light. The context that we have investigated the word heathen from has been an entirely Christian per-
spective. After all, the word was developed and defned from the Christian side of the fence, but it still
only provides us with one side of a two party dialogue. Christian kings, churchmen, and writers came to
describe the people of northern Europe as heathens, and had no interest in intentionally preserving a fair
reaction from those people. The remainder of this article is an attempt to give a voice to the other side of
the conversation. To provide some clues as to what the term might have meant to the people that we see
referred to as heathen. To try and suggest any perspective by a people over a large period of time, who
had no way or recording their own words is of course, inherently theoretical. We have nothing written
by heathen hands which may tell us how they reacted to the Christian-dubbed moniker. However, this
investigation still offers valuable insight into some of the underlying heathen worldview and how it might
have affected individual people reaction to the term.
To the Goths and most other Germanic people, the word hain was related to the haijs (the heath)
and the literal meaning of the word hain was heath dweller. I have already said that to the indig-
enous Germanic people, the term heath dweller would have been synonymous within their culture as
the defnition of gentili , someone of a foreign nation and religion to Latin speaking, Christian Romans.
While Ulflas
obviously had a Christian audience in mind when he penned his Gothic Bible, it must be
noted that these were not traditional Nicene Christians. They practiced a Christianity that would soon be
declared heretical, which was called Arianism. In many ways, we can look to Germanic people who had
converted to Arianism for assistance in understanding their native religious concepts. According to James
27 Sturluson, Snorri, Hollander Lee M. (Trans) Heimskringla; History of the Kings of Norway. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2009
28 For an interesting look at Wulflas own religious change, see Sivan, Hagith. Ulflas Own Conversion. The Harvard Theological
Review. Vol. 89, No. 4 (Oct., 1996), pp. 373-386: Cambridge University Press.
rrir 14
Russells Germanization of Early Medieval Christianity,
when Ulflas presented his bible to the Goths,
the majority of the people were not yet Christian and those who converted did so to Arianism. Theology,
specifcally the Arian denial of the trinity mattered little to most Goths, Theodoric and the nobility essen-
tially viewed religion as a part of politicsThe Ostrogoths as a people clung to Arianism for political and
social, not theological reasons.
Arianism was their national religion. It was how they identifed in
order to maintain their own culture, and so that they would not be absorbed into the universalism of the
Roman Empire and rising Catholicism. Furthermore, Arianism was understandably slow to penetrate the
elemental world of pagan cult practice, long so much a part of agrarian life. Arianism allowed them to be
Christians and hence, part of the greater world of Romanitas without forsaking their Gothic pride or their
ancestors. Arianism must be understood as a tribal religion.
Ulflas translation of the New Testament
was fashioned to allow for the natural Germanic state of a tribal, folk centered point of view.
This brings us to the native Germanic point of view. To heathen Europeans and even early Christians,
religion was not simply a matter of personal belief and it was not as centralized as the invading Christian
belief system. It was very much local. It was tied directly to the community that practiced it. There is a
very real and very simple reason why this essay is concerned with the word heathen and not one which
better describes the native Germanic religious customs. They have left us no native name for their reli-
gion with which we may refer to. What they have left us are concepts which help give a better depiction
of their religious worldview. The closest word we have relating to the Germanic religion is Old Norse
It has cognates in every old Germanic language and refers dually to the customs and the religion
of a people. Both of these entities are subsequently tied to the laws of a people. Simply put, the sir of a
Germanic tribe are what defne their social mores, their right and wrong, their morality and their identity
as a people. The native religion of the Germanic people was tied directly to their land and to their social
connections which shaped their sir.
Since the Germanic concept of religion was inseparable from land, law, and community, it could be
understood in terms of both physical and conceptual boundaries, generally defned as gars.
Beyond the
boundaries of a peoples recognized community or territory, their religion no longer existed because their
laws, customs and identity no longer existed. A foreigner in this context would be beyond a communitys
sir in every way, and sir is as close a concept for religion as the heathen Germanic people have left us
This information puts the word heathen in a different context. A heath dweller to a member of an
early Germanic tribe would not simply be an individual living in the country. That individual would be a
foreigner, outside of their cultural identity, their customs, their laws, and their morality. That individual
would dwell beyond the gars where their gods dwelt, their ancestors had developed, and their sir main-
tained. It is no wonder Germanic Christians wielded this word against those which were both foreign and
outside of Christianity. The invading Danes were indeed heathens to the Anglo Saxons. However, this
understanding of the word does not seem to promote a group of people like the Danes or anyone else actu-
ally calling themselves heathen. Yet evidence suggests that at least in some circles, they did.
29 Russell, James. The Germanization of Early Medieval Christianity; A Sociohistorical Approach to Religious Transformation. New York:
Oxford University Press, 1994
30 Ibid.
31 Ibid.
32 Hoops, Johannes. Beck, Heinrich. Reallexikon der germanischen Altertumskunde, Volume 28. Berlin. Walter de Gruyter; 2nd Revised
edition; 2005
33 Hastrup, Kristen. Culture and History in Medieval Iceland: An Anthropological Analysis of Structure and Change. New York, Oxford
University Press, 1985
See also Vikstrand, Pers. sgarr, Migarr, and tgarr. A Linguistic Approach to a Classical Problem. Norse Religion in Long-
Term Perspectives. Origins, Changes, and Interactions. Ed. A. Andrn, K. Jennbert & C. Raudvere. Lund 2006. (Vgar till Midgrd
8.) S. 354-357.
rrir 15
Returning to the middle of the 9th century, to the death of Hkon the Good and the events in Norway that
followed his death, we can get a more spectacular glimpse at the point of view of unconverted Norwegians
than through the prose of 13th century Icelanders. An impressive collection of skaldic poetry is preserved
within the sagas that pertain to this period. Since skaldic poetry was composed in stylized, alliterative
verse, it preserves in oral tradition much easier than prose, and many of the poems are attributed to the
skalds within the sagas, and not the writer of the saga themselves. Through skaldic poetry, we are given
the opportunity to study the closest thing to genuine heathen language outside of runestones. Within the
preserved collection of skaldic poetry, there are multiple occasions on which the term heathen is used.
Eyvindr Finnsson Skldaspillir
was one such skald who, among others, served at the court of Hkon
the Good. Two of Eyvindrs poems and fourteen single stanzas have been preserved, and one of them,
was written in dedication to Hkon after he was killed in the battle of Stor around 961.
While Hkon was a Christian, Eyvindr was a heathen, and in a twist of fate, his dedication poem to Hkon
sends the dead king off to Valhalla. In the fnal lines, the poem reads;
Deyr f. Cattle die
Deyja frndr, Kinsmen die,
eyist land ok l; Land and lieges are whelmed;
sz Hkon fr ever since Hkon
me heiin go, to the heathen gods fared,
mrg er j um j. Many a liege is laid low.

This is the earliest appearance of the word heiinn in Old Norse that we have preserved. According
to Christopher Abrams, The fact that Eyvindr felt the need to specify the gods were heathen seems
to indicate a new awareness that there were alternatives to traditional paganism. This term asserts the
pagans identity as a religious group, but such an assertion of identity would hardly be necessary if their
own religion was the only one they knew about.
There are at least two other appearances of the word
heiinn within skaldic poetry that allegedly date before 1000. Hallfrer Vandraskld makes use of it
in lausavsa 8
and Tindr Hallkelsson uses it in a fragment of a drpa about Jarl Hkon.
The authentic-
ity of single verses such as these two later examples is probably more questionable, but combined they
provide solid evidence that Eyvindrs Hkonarml is not an isolated instance where the term is used as a
self identifer by a heathen.
All three poets would be a part of Jarl Hkon Sigurarsons retinue following the deaths of King
Hkon the Good and Haraldr Greycloak. Jarl Hkon was not only a powerful ruler, but he was a heathen
who sought to reestablish the old religions dominance in Norway. This was a period when Christianity
was pressing in from all sides, creating an environment of constant pressure and confict with the native
Norwegian religion. The courts of Jarl Hkon were hyper aware of their heathenism, and they sought to
bolster and entrench it. As previously stated, they had never needed a name to contrast themselves with
before the encroachment of Christianity. It seems very reasonable that at least within the courts of kings
and poets, where the new and old religions competed for power, adherents to the old religion required
34 Pulsiano, Phillip. Wolf, Kirsten. Medieval Scandinavia: An Encyclopedia, Garland Encyclopedia of the Middle Ages; Vol. 1. New York,
Garland, 1993
35 Sturluson, Schultz, 1872
36 Ibid.
37 Abram, Christopher. Myths of the Pagan North; The Gods of the Norsemen. New York: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2011
38 Pulsiano, Wolf, 1993.
39 Ibid. These skalds were also discussed with between this author and Professor Abrams via email.
rrir 16
a name for their identity which they could fx into the lexicon. They appear to have chosen heiinn.
This reaction to the perceived threat of Christianity is reminiscent of the appearance of Mjlnir pendants
throughout Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, in areas where Christianity was most prevalent, and was
likely a heathen reaction to the threat of the cross.
It cannot be said how the men and women who populated the communities and farmsteads that
were miles removed from the halls of kings might have reacted to the label they were given. All we have
is the information presented to speculate with, and it might well have been an individual or communal
issue. After all, these were active, breathing communities of men, women and children living in a time of
tremendous change over which they had little control. People would have reacted individually. We must
remember that even our skaldic examples, even if they are in their original form, express the words of one
man, composing for a specifc audience.
Heathen is a word that would not have been necessary as a descriptor but for Christianity, and yet I
cannot provide any better substitute. It may be more appropriate to identify heathen people by their clan
names, or the regions and cults they belonged to, rather than sum them all together under one identity.
However, in general there was clearly an overarching socio-religious structure which tied the various pre-
Christian Germanic people together into a commonality which must be recognized as something for the
purpose of distinguishing it from Christianity and other religions as well. We seem to have stuck with
the term heathen, despite the connotations it holds. Those people of western and northern Europe who
retained their native beliefs are then lumped together as heathen and distinguished from one another with
their tribe or regional name which would have been closer to the name of their religion. While the term is
ingrained in the history of northern Europes confict with Christianity, if one understands that history and
the context with which the word developed, it may not be a bad thing.
rrir 17
As modern heathens who have dedicated our lives to reestablishing the pre-Christian traditions of
Scandinavia and Northern Europe, we know how important the concept of heathen worldview is. Its well
understood that in order to develop practices that are rooted in ancient heathen religion, we need to be
able to understand and adopt the outlook that heathen peoples may have held.
This requires recognition
of part of the spatial and cosmological landscape that helped shape heathen societies. This landscape is
essential to comprehending every other bit of mythological and cultural information, because the protocol
for religion, custom, and morality was built into it. The concepts and basic layout presented here can be
used to establish part of the foundation for a working modern heathen worldview, from which lore and
academia may be processed and applied, and modern traditions may be developed.
Innangar and tangar
For the Germanic peoples, space as it is encountered and perceived in the
created worlds of men and other beings, exists, to any signifcant degree
only as a location or container for the occurrence of actionwhether of
individual men, of men acting in consort or in opposition, of men and mon-
sters, or whatever. In all cases, immediate actions are discontinuous and
separable deriving power and structure from the past.

From a modern perspective, concepts like religion and accompanying ideas like cosmology, morality,
and holiness are universal and world encompassing. If there is divinity, it is generally seen as either omni-
present, or beyond this world. Morality is universally applicable, and determined through this perceived
divinity and a personalized individual relationship between it and those who believe in it. This was not
the case in heathen Scandinavia or central and western Europe, where the model for their cosmological,
cultural, and political systems were intimately bound to the immediate geographical and social terrain.
In general, the heathen Europeans recognized space, societies, and action as belonging within identifed
Religion and concepts of holiness would have also been tied to physical and social locality.
In many ways, these systems correlated with geographic enclosures, represented as physical plots. The
common word used to designate these plots appears as Old Norse gar, Old English geard, and even
modern English yard. The original meaning of the word was wall or hedge, and it evolved to indicate an
enclosure, plot of ground or space in relation to that wall.

The cosmological places retained in Norse literature such as sgarr, Migarr, tgarr can easily be
understood in relation to the walls (either symbolically or literally) that distinguish their contained space
from other space. Asgard
is the enclosure that contains the collective sir. Midgard (middle enclosure)
1 See Rood, J. Reconstructionism in Modern Heathenry: An Introduction Odroerir, Vol 1, 2011.
2 Bauschatz, Paul. The Well and the Tree; World and Time in Early Germanic Culture. Amherst, University of Massachusetts Press, 1982
3 Ibid.
4 Oxford English Dictionary. Second Edition, Oxford University Press, 1989
5 Due to the variety of languages and forms that many of the names and terms covered in this paper appear in, I have decided to present them
in the form that their sources provide, and then I will often standardize them in an Anglicized or common version. This is only for the
sake of consistency in this paper, and the reader should always be aware of the variation that words and names appear in.
Establishing the Innangar
Some Concepts Relating to Custom, Morality, and Religion

By Joshua Rood
rrir 18
most simply means the enclosure that contains the inhabited world. Utgard, specifcally referring to Eddic
poetry, could refer to the outer enclosure surrounding Midgard. While these mythological spaces may
have been universally recognized to some degree, they would not have been the cosmological centerpiece
of the heathen Scandinavians, and they certainly would not have been the foundation of their religious
worldview. Aside from concerns regarding Christianization of the literature, the preserved mythology
does not accurately represent the layout of the heathen cosmology when taken at face value for numerous
reasons. Firstly, skalds shaped poetry to ft their specifc agenda and target audience (most often an aris-
tocratic court). Many poems that we have preserved are as much or more of a social commentary as they
are a refection of religious belief. Secondly, the mythology that we have only represents a fraction of the
body of mythos that would have existed among heathen peoples. Icelandic poetry primarily represents
Icelandic cosmology, shaped through the eyes of the skald who presents it. It does not necessarily repre-
sent, for example, Vendil, Trondheim, Wessex or Jutish myth. While concepts of Asgard, Midgard, and
Utgard existed in some form among these people, they are only a fraction of what would have been in the
background of heathen religious focus. Individual groups would have been focused on a more specifc,
more locally relevant microcosm.
The mythological landscape to the heathen was not centered around a universal depiction of The world
of men, surrounded by the world of the unknown, and looked after by the world of the gods, whom men
seek out for help. The center of their world can more accurately be related to the gars that surrounded
the cultivated and orderly safety of their given community, and separated it from the world beyond. In
most cases this borderline was drawn between the farmstead as the center of the world, and the outlying
lands surrounding it as periphery.
Hastrup refers to these counter spaces as they appear in Iceland as inni
and ti, innangar and tangar, and elaborates that these two spaces should be understood as being
that which lies within the controlled space of close-knit social relations and that which is outside of it.
The identifcation of these boundaries may have at times been represented with physical enclosures, but
were by no means geographically fxed. Innangard and utangard were primarily conceptual, and created
distinct semantic spaces in relation to one another.
Utgard is not simply a name for the fxed space beyond Midgard, the world of men. It has a much more
personal, much more important place within heathen worldview. Per Vikstrand points out that it is widely
used throughout Scandinavian languages and implies An outlying farmstead, dependent on or owned by
another, more central farm or village, or the fences delimiting the inlying felds of a village from the out-
lying felds.
In Swedish dialects, there are epithets such as utgrds, utangrds, and utangrding, which
contextually mean not from our farm; from somewhere else.
That which was utangard was that which
was beyond the semantic barrier that separated it from a persons social community upon which they were
dependant and which was dependent upon them. A wide range of beings, from landvttir to jtnar to
trlls, from wolves to deer could inhabit a communitys utangards. They would have been perceived as
uncontrolled, uncultivated, and wild. Also dwelling in the utangards were people and other established
communities with their own innangard and utangard. They, like anything else beyond a persons familiar
community, were constantly interacted with for better or worse. However, they were semantically sepa-
rate from an individuals own inner yard.
6 Hastrup, Kristen. Culture and History in Medieval Iceland: An Anthropological Analysis of Structure and Change. New York, Oxford
University Press, 1985
7 Vikstrand, Pers. sgarr, Migarr, and tgarr. A linguistic Approach to a Classical Problem. in Old Norse Religion in Long-term
Perspectives. Origins, Changes, and Interactions. Ed. A. Andrn, K. Jennbert & C. Raudvere. Lund 2006. (Vgar till Midgrd 8.) S.
8 Ibid.
rrir 19
Within the innangard of a community lay its laws, its social mores, and the expression of its identifed
religion. These concepts were intimately intertwined, and in many cases can hardly be distinguished from
one another. The law of a community was coterminous with its traditional customs, which were often
religious in nature. These customs gave a community its identity, sanctifed its religion, and reaffrmed its
laws. The geographical landscape of a community specifcally shaped those religio-political traditions,
and formed the foundation that they were developed from. Local sovereignty was so important that kings
who sought to rule vast territories were required to participate in regional religious events, even while they
tried to consolidate their own religious and political control.
The barriers between communities were never static. They shifted with the social, political, and reli-
gious winds. People and groups could become part of the recognized innangard of a community, or they
could leave it. Communities could split or they could merge. One of the prime purposes of marriage was
to join two communities. Religio-political ceremonies such as sumbl (OE symbel) were intended to bind
groups of otherwise unrelated people (usually warriors and aristocrats) into fctive kinship.

In Iceland, outlawry literally entailed going outside of that established community. An outlaw existed
beyond the protective confnes of a settlement, as defned by the word for greater outlawery, skggangr
(lit. forest-going). Skggarmenn were equated with the otherness beyond the community, which meant
that they existed outside of the laws, customs, and religion. At the Icelandic Althing of the year 1000,
the heathens and Christians declared themselves to be r lgum out of law with each other.
speculates that part of the supernatural qualities attributed to smiths, artisans and travelling religious ex-
perts (shamans) are derived from the perception that they travel between the cultivated and settled spaces
and the wild and dangerous territories of the utangards.
Hastrup suggests that the berserkr (bear-shirt),
who were often outlawed, moved from the social space of a community into the other space that is be-
yond it when his mind shifted and berserksgangr came over him.
While heathen society held a shared heritage, and certainly there were wide spread myths, beliefs, and
customs, they were expressed within the confnes of, and in regard to the well being of specifc recognized
communities. The nature of this expression of religious and political custom can be clearly demonstrated
in the heathen notion of religion and holy.
Sidu: Custom and mortality
The Common Germanic term sidu, with equivalents as Old Norse sir, Gothic sidus, Old English sidu,
seodu, siodu, Old High German situ, sito, and with modern equivalents in every Germanic language ex-
cept English, is the closest word we have to religion in old Germanic languages.
Likewise, it refers to
concepts of ritual, tradition, custom and law. All of these are culturally circumscribed, and it cannot prop-
erly be translated as any one of these terms without losing a great deal of its context. Sir is found in Old
Norse prose texts, and throughout medieval laws and skaldic poetry. In prose literature, sir is attested in
religious and ritual contexts regarding pre-Christian Scandinavia, but it also refers to morality, and proper
behavior. Snorri Sturlusson describes the sacrifcial cult in Trondheim, Norway in the following terms;
9 Enright, Michael. Lady with a Mead Cup. Portland, Four Courts Press. 1996
10 Hastrup, 1985
11 Hedeager, L. Scandinavian Central Places in a Cosmological Setting in Central Places in the Migration and Merovingian Period.
(Eds) Hardh, B. and Larsson, L. Almqvis & Wiksell International. 2002
12 Hoops, Johannes. Beck, Heinrich. Reallexikon der germanischen Altertumskunde, Volume 28. Berlin. Walter de Gruyter; 2nd Revised
edition; 2005
rrir 20
at var forn sir, er blt skyldi vera, at allir bndr skyldu ar koma sem
hof var ok fytja annug fng sn, au er eir skyldu hafa, mean veizlan
It was ancient custom/ritual that when sacrifce was made, all farmers were
to come to the hof and bring along with them the food they needed while
the feast lasted.

The account describes the public sacrifcial rituals, the holy objects and the participants in the cult ac-
tivity all as a part of forn sir (ancient religious custom). The religious rituals of the Norwegian colonists
performing land-taking rites in Iceland are also called forn sir. Vatnsdla Saga relates that Smundr
landed in Skagafjrur, where land was unsettled in every direction. He set out carrying fre in accor-
dance with the old custom/ritual (at fornum si) and laid claim to land
It has been suggested that the
purpose of these rituals was to symbolically transform unknown, unoccupied territory into habitable land
with structures, form and norms. If this is true, it would have symbolically established the boundaries that
separated the newly established innangard from the surrounding wilderness.

The term is often used to describe the religious activity concerning death ceremonies. Eyrbyggja Saga
mentions the last services to the dead which Arnkell had rendered to his father rlf. Wrapping cloth
around his fathers head, he got him ready for burial according to the sivenju of the time.
Snorri uses
the term sivenja when describing the rituals of the funeral and inheritance feast after the death of King
nundr Yngvarsson, which included libation ceremonies, oathing, and the entering of the high-seat as part
of a ritual.
In Yngingla Saga, the practice of raising burial mounds for notable men and holding specifc
yearly sacrifce are also referred to as the sir in that land.
In Hkonar Ga Saga, after the king had
died, Snorri relates that;
Mltu eir sv fyrir grepti hans, sem heiinna manna sir var til, vsuu
honum til Valhallar.
Words were spoken over his grave according the sir of heathen men, send-
ing him to Valhalla.

The term sir is used for religion, belief, and faith in a general sense as well, and did not always imply
a form of action. Ancient religious customs/heathen practices (hinn forni sir/ heiinn sir) are contrasted
with Christian liturgy and beliefs (hinn ni sir(new custom)/kristinn sir).
Throughout the sagas, hea-
then religion is referred to as heiinn sir. In lfsdrpa Tryggvasonar, the skald praises the king for
supposedly turning the people away from the doubtful sir and who had rejected wicked gods (fra vondum
si ok nitti illum godum).
In Laxdla Saga, Gest explains one of Gudruns dreams;
13 Sturluson, Snorri, Hollander Lee M. (Trans) Heimskringla; History of the Kings of Norway. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2009
See also Surluson Snorri, Linder, Nils, KA. Haggson. Heimskringla: ea, Sgur Noregs konunga Snorra Sturlusonar, Uppsala : W.
Schultz, (1869-1872.)
14 Vatnsdla Saga, Icelandic Saga Database, sagadb.org
15 Hoops, Johannes and Beck, Heinrich, 2005
16 Eyrbyggja Saga, Icelandic Saga Database, sagadb.org
17 Hollander 2009, Schultz 1869-1872
18 Ibid.
19 Ibid. Also Niles, Haggson, Sturluson, 1872.
20 Hoops, Johannes and Beck, Heinrich, 2005
21 Ibid.
rrir 21
en nr er at mnu hugboi, at at mund muni orit siaskipti, ok muni
s inn bndi hafa tekit vi eim si, er vr hyggjum, at miklu s hleitari.
My mind forbodes me that by the time a siaskipti (change of faith/belief)
will have come about and your husband will have taken the si (faith/belief)
which we are minded to think is the more exalted.

Not only did sidu embody the customs and religion of a particular people in a particular land, but it was
also the common word used as a description of morality. In the Eddic poem Helgaqvia Hundingsbana
in fyrri, Sinfjtli accuses Gumundr of being silauss (indecent or without morals).
Its used to refer to
exemplary military conduct, such as bravery. When lfr Tryggvason is said to have fought alone against
two brave kings and one jarl, he became renowned for such conduct (til sliks siar). The same word that
identifed the customs of a people was so powerfully tied to their ideas of morality, that from the 12th to
the 15th century it appears in Icelandic texts that describe Christian virtues. In the Harmsl its used to
describe Christs purity. vt hugga frir hug mnn siir nir,
Because you comfort my mind with
your sweet virtues/purity.
In contrast, we can fnd an example in Hugsvinnsml where it refers to im-
morality, or poor character.
Eigi skalt egja,
tt sr ess beinn,
yfr annars sium

You must not keep silent,
even when asked to be,
about anothers poor ways/immorality
Its use to defne morality is most obvious in the Old English word sedeful/sideful/sidefulle, which sur-
vives into the late Middle English period, and appears in multiple original and translated works as some-
thing akin to full of virtue, morality, good customs. Literally it can be defned as full of sidu. lfric
of Eynsham uses it in his Homilies to describe Christ.
a betwux isum eode eall aet folc to Egeas bottle, ealle samod clypigende
and eweende, t swa halig wer hangian ne sceolde; sidefull mann
Then in the meanwhile all the folk went to the house of geas, all crying
together and saying, that so holy a man ought not to hang; a man strict of
conduct, full of pure morals

The sidu of a particular people was their customs, which expressed their religion and defned their
social mores. It was their word for morality,
their right and wrong. It directly refects the native
22 Laxdla Saga, Icelandic Saga Database, sagadb.org
23 Hoops, Johannes and Beck, Heinrich, 2005
24 Gamli kanki, Harmsl ed. Katrina Attwood volume 7, Skjaldedigtning, taken from Skaldic Project, skaldic.arts.usyd.edu.au
25 Translated by this author with the help of Georg Ptur Sveinbjrnsson.
26 Hugsvinnsml ed Wills, Tarrin and Wrth, Stefanie, taken from Skaldic Project, Skaldic.arts.usyd.edu.au
27 Rood, Sveinbjrnsson 2011.
28 Thorpe, Benjamin The Homilies of the Anglo-Saxon Church: The First Part, Containing The Sermones Catholici, or Homilies of Aelfric.
Vol 1 London, Aelfric Society, 1844. Quote edited by this author.
29 Literally the English word morality and the term social mores has taken the place of the word sidu after it had become defunct in
the English language.
rrir 22
German perspective of religious morality. Their right and wrong was not a matter of judgment which
the gods bestowed on individuals for abiding by universally ordained codes. It was proper action within
a community, and it was that community that defned what proper and improper action entailed through
the establishment of customs which were an expression of religious belief. Sidu was tied directly to a peo-
ples land and social connections, and it identifed them and their religion. By preserving custom, a com-
munity preserved and strengthened their identity and their social order. At the center of this identity were
established gods, ancestors and local wights, who shaped the wholeness and health of that community.
Holiness; established and maintained
Like sidu, holiness was not universal or all permeating. It also wasnt a state of purity, contained in
a far-off otherworld. It was something that could be established and cultivated within earthly boundar-
ies and maintained by specifc communities. In Old English a frigeard/frisplot (frith yard), and in
Scandinavia a Stavgrd (stave-yard) was a space that was set aside as sacred.
Like the parameters of a
community, this space could be, and often was marked off, physically designating it from space beyond its
boundaries. Christian law forbade the creation or worship of these sites, specifcally around groves, wells
and mounds. The commonly used term to designate sacred space is CG wh, ON v, which was widely
applied to words for cult centers, temples sites, idols, and mounds. We see it in the ON term var, mean-
ing gods, and it implied holiness set into a physical place, and separated from the surrounding world.
Wh did not have to be strictly associated with natural locations. According to Charlotte Fabech, during
the Migration Period the hall and hof (building used as a temple) with hrgr (altar fashioned form piled
stones) and idols were as sacrosanct as natural spaces. Hedeager points to the hall and the close-lying hof
as being the cosmological, social, and political center of the Gudme settlement. Terry Gunnell argues that
the rising power of the aristocracy, tied to the Odin cult, brought numinosity out of natural v spaces and
into the hall at the center of society.
What matters in all of these cases is not whether a space is naturally
holy, but rather that they are all given a hallowed nature that is manifest in their specifc location.

The holiness of the wh appears to be determined similarly to the sidu of the community. It is validated
through repeated ritual action which reaffrms the tradition and identity of the group participating, and
further cultivates the holiness of that space. The ritual action in these places can be defned as worship. It
is expressed in the ON term drr, Danish drka which not only means to honor, but also to cultivate, to
reaffrm, to establish.
Likewise, OE weorian (worship)
means to glorify, as well as to decorate, to
give worth (weor) to, and to grow.
To worship something is to reaffrm and build on its worth and its
holiness, perhaps by decorating it or through words and actions. The sagas and travelers accounts tell us
that within sanctuaries, idols were furnished with gold and silver rings and other ornaments. Likewise, the
temples were covered with gold. Adam of Bremen describes the holy grove at Uppsala as being flled with
30 Fabech, Charlotte Centrality in Old Norse Mental Landscapes: A Dialogue Between Arranged and Natural Places? in Old Norse
Religion in Long-term Perspectives. Origins, Changes, and Interaction. Ed. A. Andrn, K. Jennbert & C. Raudvere. Lund 2006. (Vgar
till Midgrd 8.) 26-33
31 Gunnell, Terry. The Goddess of the Marshes, a lecture given in Arhus, Denmark in November 2007.
32 Fabech, 2006
33 Fritzner, Johann. Ordbog over Det Gamle Norske Sprog 2nd edition 1886-96)
34 Bosworth, Joseph, and Toller, Northcote. An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary: Based on the Manuscript Collections of Joseph Bosworth. United
States: Oxford University Press, 1972.
35 We may note that the ON drr meaning to cultivate and the OE connection to growth both share a connection with cultivation.
Obviously that which is cultivated resides within the familiar territories of a people, but I also fnd that it is a very appropriate description
for the maintenance of and development of a communities well being (luck/wholeness/health) through worship.
rrir 23
the hanged bodies of animals and people, which defned its sacredness.
How many of these descriptions
are exaggeration, we cannot be sure. However, archeologists have excavated a tremendous wealth of what
has been identifed as the remains of sacrifces.
Approximately 100 tiny, golden, miniature boats were
discovered near Nors in Jutland.
The remains of a hof at Tiss, Zealand contained a large gold ring,
along with many animal bones and multiple silver hoards. Similar cult sites with hoards have been found
in Tune in Gotland where more than 400 ring fragments have been discovered. At Borg in stergtland
a cult house was found that held 98 amulet rings and 75kg of unburnt animal bones. A hrgr was found
within with 2 amulet rings on it. A silver hoard from Eketorp in Nrke contained amulets, a snake pendant,
coins, and even a Mjlnir pendant which many modern pendants are modeled after. The biography of the
hoard estimates it at being active for 300 years. Likewise natural places identifed as cult sites have been
found, for instance at the hills of Ravlunda, Scania, the mountains of lleberg, Vstergtland and the bogs
of Hannenov, Denmark which all contain gold neck rings and deposited coins.
Hedeager relates that the
settlement of Gudme in Denmark is not only surrounded by 3 hills with sacred names (Albjerg-hill of the
shrine, Gudbjerg-hill of the gods, Galbjerg-either hill of sacrifce or of galdr,) but that the great wealth
excavated there, including bracteates of an Odinic nature, coins, ornamented scabbard mounts and ingots
indicate Gudme was not just a central place for trade, but one with sacred connotations.
Deposits in sacred spaces consisted of religious objects, as well as monetary wealth and status symbols.
Most often, particularly when the sacred space was associated with a hall or a hof in the center of a settle-
ment it would be associated with the religio-political leader, and was contained in the same space where
communal binding rituals (sumbl, for example) would take place. These spaces were closely associated
with the history of that community, where objects were laid down, much like the law (ON lg, literally
lay as in laid down) that defned the tribe. They would have been religiously charged by the continual
acts of reciprocal exchange that took place there.

We should also consider that what we archaeologically uncover are the remains of rituals, not the rituals
themselves. We know that animals were sacrifced, as we fnd their bones at cult sites, and we can assume
that there is some truth to the descriptions of cult ritual in the sagas, but we cannot determine the extent
of their accuracy. If the descriptions of blt are consistent with reality, then the spattering of blood on
the idols, rings, hrgr and pillars would be a part of the ritual action that is deposited in a holy place. Not
only is the blood literally layered upon the wood and stone, but the ritual action and the words spoken are
as well. The actual actions that took place and words spoken during cultic ritual are not deposited with
the bones of sacrifced animals and the votive offerings, but the sidu of a group is defned in many ways
through proper action during cultic ritual. What that specifc action was would have varied from place to
place and from occasion to occasion, but in all ways it would have been an important designator of group
identity and socio-religious mores. In return for appropriate gifts and the correct observance of sidu,
which tied them to the living community, the beings honored, be they gods, ancestors, or local wights,
would grant gifts in return, including holiness.
36 Adam claims that the grove is made sacred through the death and purifcation that took place in the grove. Whether or not this is truly
the case or Christian bias, the sacrifces that adorn the location do add to its sacredness.
37 Not all hoards indicate religious ritual. Many have not been identifed as being such, and it is always speculative as to whether or not
a fnd was religiously deposited, and why. Multiple circumstances must be taken into account, but recently more and more hoards that
have previously been identifed as simple treasure hoards were in fact temple hoards. An example of this is the Hoen treasure found
near the Drammen River in Norway. Charlotte Fabech talks more about this in her cited article.
38 Simek, Rudolf; (trans) Angela Hall Dictionary of Northern Mythology. Rochester, NY. Boydell & Brewer Ltd, 2007
39 Fabech, 2006
40 Ibid. Also see Tarzia, Wade. The Hoarding Ritual in Germanic Epic Tradition in Journal of Folklore Research. Vol. 26. No. 2, Indiana
University Press, 1989
rrir 24
Our word holy is derived from the adjective heilag (Gothic, OHG, OS and OE), and its original mean-
ing was hale, healthful, whole. As a noun it is found in OHG, OE and ON as heil/heill meaning good
luck, the potential to prosper, to heal, fertility. While these may all seem to be mundane qualities, they
defne holiness, and it is a blessing from the gods, and which could attach itself to certain people, objects,
and places. Tacitus reports that the Suebi gathered in a sacred grove where they held sacrifce, and that the
fgures and emblems which they took into battle were kept in that grove. Oath rings, which were report-
edly sacred and which all men were to swear oaths on are reported to have been kept inside of the temple,
and regularly reddened with blood. One meaning of the word heill is that of amulet, and it may either
be an object flled with holiness, or an omen, which we see often associated with sacrifces and religious
rites in the sagas.
While holiness was a gift from the gods, it could also be taken away by them through
negligence of communal sidu, and improper gifts or performed rituals.
Even though they may have been set aside as manifested holiness, either due to the actions that took
place within their confnes, or because of some perceived holiness already cultivated in that spot, places
of sacrifce would have been perceived within the community barriers. According to Fabech regarding
natural worship places (groves, bogs, hills); It is characteristic that you can see the main settlement from
the fnd spot, and that the fnd spot is visible from the settlement. Thus they are natural elements in the
construction or cultivation of the central places. They are natural constituents of the arranged centre com-
plexes. Geographically they tend to fall within the physical innangard of a settlement, which is broken
up by natural terrain. The centrally established settlement could organize the natural surroundings into
an ideal religious landscape. According to Hedeager, a community might often organize the settlement
and surrounding landscape as a microcosm of the Nordic cosmological world. Whether or not this was
literally the case, it certainly seems evident in locations such as Gudme and Odense (Odins V), which
have been argued to mirror the layout of Norse cosmology, and correlates more appropriately with our
understanding that the heathen religious world was a local microcosm of the greater Germanic cosmology.
Certainly not every aspect of a community was drawn on physical boundaries. Not every holy grove lay
directly beside a settlement. However, if a community identifed with that grove, and carried out their
religious customs there, then it was a part of their perceived landscape and their innangard.
While the pre-Christian cultures of Northern and Central Europe held a shared religious heritage which
may be categorized as heathen, it would have manifested through unique, regional and local traditions,
myths, and social mores. The holy lake that the goddess Nerthus was bathed in was central to her holi-
ness, and to the identity of the tribes that were located in that region. The hills surrounding Gudme, and
the layout of the settlement refected and reinforced the religious and cultural traditions of that community.
The Saxons had their sidu, and the Vendil had their sir. We can infer a great deal concerning heathen
belief and tradition as a whole by investigating pan-Germanic religiosity, but we must also recognize
central role of region, locality and tribal/kin identity. Today we identify with, and strive to reestablish the
heathen religion of Europe, and this religiosity certainly has clear boundaries of what may and may not
be defned as heathen. We should be sure that our customs and social mores are consistent with those
that we are reviving. Consistency does not mean that we emulate, however. As we have seen, customs
should be relevant to a groups immediate land and needs. We should develop customs that are tied to our
land and our local communities. We can look at, respect, and perhaps even honor local folklore and myths
41 Green, D. H. Language and History in the Early Germanic World. New York, Cambridge University Press, 1998
rrir 25
in a heathen fashion. We should reestablish appropriate boundaries of innangard and utangard, not as
human society and other. Rather, we can identify those who belong to our close-knit community, our
family, our friends and neighbors, our kindred and tribe, and those that are not a part of that. We can infer
that morality isnt drawn from emulating the gods
as they appear in the myths we have, nor is it a do as
you will concept. Ethics and matters of right and wrong should be tied to how a person benefts or harms
the well being of their innangard, which should be benefcial to local and regional society, and in line with
federal and local law. Morality also entails the development and maintenance of proper customs and a
gifting relationship with the gods, ancestors, and wights that a group wishes to identify with. I call myself
a heathen, but it is more appropriate to identify myself as a member of my own specifc kindred, which is
part of a greater regional community whose taboos, holidays, and customs I adhere to. There is a grove
that is maintained by a local family, and which is a big part of our identity as well as for a big portion of
the local heathen community. That grove is holy to us, and we hold sacrifces to the gods that we worship
there, and we gift and hold a close relationship with the family that tends it. We have idols that receive
offerings, and we have specifc traditions regarding those idols that we abide by. There are local holidays
that are only celebrated by the heathen community in my region, and those holidays are dependent upon
our regional geography and seasons. Our customs are being passed on to our children, and continue to
develop organically, fused with our gods, our land, our ancestors and our neighborhoods. These living,
breathing, growing traditions stem directly out of the foundation of heathen worldview, as we have been
able to reconstruct it.
42 The gods certainly play an important role in our morality, but not through individual emulation of their actions and specifc words. If
we keep the concepts of this article in mind, we can infer that specifc actions and words from the gods are intended to beneft specifc
communities in specifc situations, and are also perceived through specifc cultural models that are directly relevant to the upkeep of
an individual community. The gods are their own and do as gods will. If they established the oldest sidu, which was to beneft and
maintain their own tribe, its a groups responsibility to do the same, and to establish a reciprocal relationship with their gods, in order to
maintain wholeness between them.
This is Laerad Kindreds depiction of our microcosmic landscape as we perceive it. Art by Dan Oropallo
rrir 27
The pine that stands in the village
no bark or needles to cover it;
so is a man; that no one loves
Why shall he live long?
Hvaml, st. 50.
The transition from the intellectual effort of reconstructing pre-Christian and conversion era Germanic
worldviews and religiosity to a practical living religion can be a bit of a conundrum for modern heathens.
There are two extremes that fnd frequent and common commentary in modern heathenry. On one end of
the spectrum is the tendency for reconstructionist heathens to attempt to replicate cultic ritual precisely as
it is portrayed in the literary or archaeological remains. At the other end of the spectrum is the tendency to
create an entirely new ritual model that has no basis in historic heathenry whatsoever. While as a matter
of necessity most heathens fall somewhere in between
, they often do so with remarkably little variation.
There are a number of reasons for this apparent lack of variation among average heathens. The com-
bined research efforts and tendency to share resources dealing with the limited nature of the data regarding
these subjects tends to result in homogeneity of models, terminology, and conclusions even when those
involved focus on different branches of the Germanic tribal tree.
Another contribution to this is the taboo
among some heathens regarding speaking of the particulars of their own groups thew. The most con-
servative of heathens adopt the position that speaking of specifc and/or personal religious experiences is
strictly off limits. On the other hand, the least conservative tend to share their experiences with everyone
with little regard to the appropriateness of their actions. The latter has acquired for themselves a negative
reputation among many reconstructionists. The result is an unwillingness to share personal variation in
cult and the tendency to shame those that do. This leads us back to the issue of sharing the same data and
applying them to the same models regardless of any individual focus or variation. This becomes the stan-
dard, the core of heathen reconstruction that is used to measure the validity (which very nearly amounts to
conservativeness) of conclusions drawn and practical application of the results of reconstructionist efforts.
Reconstructionist groups that focus on a specifc Germanic culture within a particular time frame fnd
themselves with the least data to work with. Their rituals often show little variation from those portrayed
in the sources. This is part of their dedication to reconstruct as accurately as possible the cultures world-
views and religiosity.
The ability to reconstruct accurately is obviously limited by the data and therefore
1 All translations are mine unless otherwise noted.
2 The extant source material does not perfectly describe every ritual and situation of signifcance in the lives of historic or
modern heathens. This results in the development of beliefs and behaviors refecting those historically undocumented
3 Harvey Whitehouse, Modes of Religiosity: A Cognitive Theory of Religious Transmission (Altamira Press, 2004) and
Oliver Roy, Holy Ignorance: When Religion and Culture Part Ways (Columbia University Press, 2009) discuss the process
of religious standardization and formatting. Both standardization and formatting describe the dialogical process of adjust-
ing and reforming of expressions of religiosity with the intent of making disparate conditions and resulting conclusions
compatible and acceptable.
4 Theodism is a modern recosntructionist religious movement that involves groups focusing on the reconstruction of specifc
Germanic cultures. For more information on Theodism and reconstruction see Shane Ricks, Theodism and Retroheathenry.
Cult and Identity
in Modern Heathenry

By Shane Ricks
rrir 28
the robustness and uniqueness of their reconstruction becomes related to their willingness to model ele-
ments of their reconstruction on elements from cultures and groups of varying degrees of relatedness. Too
strict a methodology leads to a lack of variety of ritual because the value and models for many rituals go
undocumented in the extant source material. Too liberal a methodology risks developing a model that is
only barely recognizable as being based in a particular cultures thew.
Limited resources and shared information are not a problem for neo-heathen groups that create new
rituals from the ground up. Nonetheless, even these groups demonstrate a lack of variety. The models
which the new rituals are designed around are often the same; generally derived from those already fa-
miliar to the individual, such as various denominations of Christianity, or those models common to many
modern alternative religious movements, such as Wicca and ceremonial magic groups. The robustness
and uniqueness of the rituals of these groups is only limited by the groups creativity. Unfortunately very
little in the religious repertoire of these groups resembles anything that would be recognizable to historic
heathens. Often the only thing that ties these groups to historic thew is vocabulary, and many times the
modern meanings differ greatly from the historic as well.
None of these situations are overly problematic in their own right. What happens as a result is that hea-
thens appear to lack creativity and a willingness to develop their thew beyond the source material. Where
these situations do create an issue is in the establishment of identity and the survivability of heathenry into
the future.
To all outsiders without specifc knowledge of the groups in question, the identities of all of
these groups appear very similar. Once pressed for specifcs, many of these groups will defne themselves,
or be defned, by who they are not and what they do not do. In other words, their identity becomes estab-
lished through the association of negative statements. Outsiders seeking information on heathenry will
often fnd themselves confronted with many more statements of what a group is not and what it does not
do than who they are and what they actually do. These comparisons often come in the form of contrast-
ing or comparing heathenry with Christianity, or ones own group with other heathen and non-heathen
Where statements of positive associations are encountered the statements are often vague and
perceived to be commonly identifable elements of heathenry. As a result, identifying with a particular
group becomes inconsequential, as all groups appear essentially the same and perceived commonality is
shared with all groups.
These statements can be useful for a cursory introduction to a particular groups brand of heathenry, but
do little to provide any real information about the group in question. Heathens are needed for heathenry
to survive. In order for would-be heathens to identify other like-minded heathens, then identities must
be established and differences between group thew must be discernible and relevant to prospective hea-
If heathens rely on negative statement associations as a means of demarcating identity from other
Axenthof Thiad. 2009. Web. Nov. 2011. <http://www.axenthof.org/theodism_and_retroheathenry.html>.
5 Abby Day, Religion and the Individual: Belief, Practice, Identity (Ashgate Publishing, 2008), 14: Underlying great people,
the sacred places marking ethnic, national or religious identity, or natural locales of ecological health, the issue of survival
predominates. it is evident in long-standing and widespread graves that should not simply be viewed as memorials of the
past but also as symbols of endurance, of the ongoing survival of a society, often in the link between ancestor and descen-
dant that is perpetuated in the rites of ancestors that are performed by the living. Survival, perhaps the foundational drive
is as evident amongst human beings as amongst other animal species and cultural intensifcation is a way of describing the
social manifestation of biological life.
6 Jan Snoek, Similarity and Demarcation: Studies in Ritual Behavior (Brill Academic Pub, 1995), 53: if there is a wish to
distinguish the in-group from an out-group, then greater similarity between the two groups will stimulate a stronger demar-
cation by the in-group.
7 See Karina V. Korostelina, Social Identity and Confict: Structures, Dynamics, and Implications (Palgrave Macmillan,
2007), 25-6, for further information regarding the dynamics of self-conception and social identity and categorization. Of
particular importance is the necessity of the salience of emotional, cognitive and behavioral claims of the group with which
the individual is identifying.
rrir 29
groups, prospective heathens will lose interest and no identity or thew will be established for the future.
Maintaining an identity that relies on negative statement associations is only possible as long as there are
related groups from which the group in question can directly differentiate itself. The negative statements
retain value as statements of demarcation. Additionally, once the laundry list of negative statement as-
sociations runs out, what remains for many heathen groups looks quite similar, being multiple adoptions
of the heathen standard mentioned above. This coupled with the fckle nature of men results in a high
turnover of membership as interests and associations change over time. The resulting anomie often leads
to the dissolution of the group and many times the religious conversion of those involved towards what is
hoped to be a more fulflling religion and away from heathenry.
To guarantee the survival of heathenry and heathen thew it is necessary to combat these trends. Heathen
thew, which includes cult and identity, needs to develop beyond the heathen standard while maintaining its
heathen origins. Since culture specifc and modernist neo-heathen groups are both limited by their objec-
tive and vision, they are considered the extremes of reconstruction for the intent of this piece. Therefore,
this article will be directed at the average heathen that is involved in reconstructing and applying historic
heathen thew in a living and meaningful manner in their modern lives. The primary claim of this article
will be that there is no heathenry that is not relevant to the modern lives of heathens in its expression.
Examples will revolve around this expression of heathen worldview in a manner that refects and informs
the lives and worlds of both historic and contemporary heathens. This will illustrate that relying solely
on a precise replication of imagined historic expression may cause modern heathenry to take on a non-
heathen quality.
Cult and Identity in the Historic World
Hwilum hie geheton t hrgtrafum
wigweorunga, wordum bdon,
t him gastbona geoce gefremede
wi eodreaum. Swylc ws eaw hyra,
henra hyht
At times they promised to temple-sacrifces
idol worship, words prayed
that he life-bane, to grant safety
with peoples distress. Such was their custom
the hope of heathens.
Beowulf, lines 175-9.
Cult and identity in the world of Germanic heathens were dynamic plays defned by the actors involved,
the location where it took place, and the history informing the participants. Traditional custom dictated the
proper expression of obligations towards three fundamental objects in the life of Germanic heathens: their
people, their land, and their gods. Maintaining these proven traditions was the foundation of Germanic
society. The particular characteristics defning the expression of these obligations and categories of reci-
procity delineated the hierarchy of identities or in-groups in which the individual held membership. Some
8 Day, 8, states that little is to be gained by isolating the social facts constituted by values, beliefs and the social organization
of life from the psychological facts constituted by emotions and varieties of feeling states as is increasingly acknowledged
within religious studies at large, even though the formal study of emotions is, itself, in its early stages...the notion of cul-
tural intensifcation [is] a means of fostering the integration of cognitive and affective streams of life.
rrir 30
common methods of displaying different social identities in pre-Christian and conversion era Germanic
Europe included food
, dress and facial hair
, law and ancestral land
, and language
and religion
The standardization of heathenry by reconstructionists is effectively creating what can easily be con-
strued as a modern offcial religion. As was pointed out above, all expressions of Germanic heathen reli-
giosity are weighed against this image of what is believed to constitute an accurate representation of his-
toric heathenry. As a result, popular religion and private religiosity are fnding less and less commentary
and expression in larger groups and online forums. Where these forms of religious expression are being
discussed, the attempt is frequently made to bring their expression more in line with the developing of-
fcial heathen religion. This trend by individuals to make their private religiosity and by groups to make
their popular religion conform to the developing offcial religion runs counter to the data drawn from the
surviving Germanic mental, material and behavioral cultures.
An historic example of offcial religion is the swearing of oaths on rings for legal purposes. Many of
the descriptions about the oath ring and its usage in the temples also describe offcial practices related to
the temples. Eyrbyggja Saga, ch. 4, describes the nature of the oath ring:
ar lt hann reisa hof og var a miki hs. Voru dyr hlivegginum og
nr rum endanum. ar fyrir innan stu ndvegisslurnar og voru ar
naglar. eir htu reginnaglar. ar var allt friarstaur fyrir innan. Innar af
hofnu var hs lking sem n er snghs kirkjum og st ar stalli
miju glfnu sem altari og l ar hringur einn mtlaus, tvtugeyringur, og
skyldi ar a sverja eia alla. ann hring skyldi hofgoi hafa hendi sr til
allra mannfunda.
There let him raise a temple and it was a great house. The door stood in the
sidewall and near the other end. There within stood the high-seat pillars
and therein were nails. They were called gods-nails. There was always a
place of peace for those within. Within the temple was a house in the same
likeness as the choir in churches and stood there a stall in the middle of the
foor the same as an altar and lay there a ring without joint, twenty ounces,
and shall there to it shall all swear oaths. That ring shall the priest have at
hand for all man meetings.
9 Bonnie Effros, Creating Community with Food and Drink in Merovingian Gaul (Palgrave Macmillan, 2002); Yuitzhak
Hen, Food and Drink in Merovingian Gaul in Dieter Hgermann and Brigitte Kasten, eds., Tatigkeitsfelder und
Erfahrungshorizonte des landlichen Menschen in der fruhmittelalterlichen Grundherrschaft (bis ca. 1000) (Franz Steiner
Verlag, 2006), 99-110.
10 Barbara Yorke, Britain and Ireland, c.500 in Pauline Stafford, ed., A Companion to the Early Middle Ages: Britain and
Ireland c.500-1000 (Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), 52: Archaeological evidence confrms that the different peoples of Britain
did dress differently, and there is wider evidence from medieval Europe for variation in hairstyles and facial hair as ethnic
11 Marc Bloch, Feudal Society Vol. 1: The Growth of Ties of Dependence, trans. L.A. Manyon, (University of Chicago Press,
1966), 111, 116.
12 Janet Thormann, The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle Poems and the Making of the English Nation in Allen J. Frantzen and John
D. Niles, eds., Anglo-Saxonism and the Construction of Social Identity, (University Press of Florida, 1997), 62. For further
information on language as a marker of religious identity in another modern reconstructionist movement see Madeleine
McBrearty, The Use of Non-vernacular Language in the Sabbath Morning Service of a Reconstructionist Synagogue in
Jack N. Lightstone, et al., Ritual and Ethnic Identity: A Comparative Study of the Social Meaning of Liturgical Ritual in
Synagogues (Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1995), 81-88.
13 Barbara Yorke, Political and Ethnic Identity: A Case Study of Anglo-Saxon Practice in Andrew Tyrrell and William O.
Frazer, eds., Social Identity in Early Medieval Britain (Contnuum, 2000), 72-3, esp. no. 26.
rrir 31
The saga of Viga-Glum also provides a description of the offcial use of the oath ring:
En um morguninn eftir sendi Glmur eftir rarni og ba hann koma
Djpadal eigi sar en a mijum morgni a heyra eiana. rarinn veikst
vi og fkk hundra manna. En er eir komu til hofsins gengu sex menn
hof, me Glmi Gissur og sgrmur en me rarni Einar og Hlenni hinn
gamli. S maur er hofsei skyldi vinna tk silfurbaug hnd sr ann er
roinn var nautsbli ess er til blta vri haft og skyldi eigi minna standa
en rj aura.
The morning after sent Glum after Thorarin and bade him to come to
Djupadal no later than mid-morning to hear the vows. Thorarin moved
against and fetched a hundred men. When they came to the temple there
were six men in the temple, with Glum, Gissur and Asgrimur with Thorarin,
Einar and Hlenni the old. That man is to take temple oath shall take the sil-
ver ring in hand reddened blood of bulls for sacrifce and should not stand
less than three ounces.
In discussing the differences between Eyrbyggja Saga and Landnmabk, Jn Hnefll Aalsteinsson
points to the possible implication of popular cult centers in addition to the chief cult center mentioned
in Landnmabk, but whether he believed there may be qualitative differences is not mentioned.
conversion of the English folc following their kings
and the sacrifces at Uppsala every nine years are
also examples of offcial religion. The offcial nature of the sacrifces at Uppsala is described by Adam of
It is customary also to solemnize in Uppsala, at nine-year intervals, a gen-
eral feast of all the provinces of Sweden. From attendance at this festival no
one is exempted. Kings and people all and singly send their gifts to Uppsala
and, what is more distressing than any kind of punishment, those who have
already adopted Christian redeem themselves through these ceremonies.

There can be no denying the existence of offcial heathen religion based on a concept of religious and ac-
companying legal authority that demands adherence by all members of society.
What may be the most interesting example of Germanic heathen popular religion in action is the
, but admittedly this can be considered an example of offcial religion as well.
rituals such as marriage and funerary rituals are the most common forms of popular cult used to demarcate
identity and express religious beliefs. These rituals are directed towards communal and familial affairs
14 Jn Hnefll Aalsteinsson, A Piece of Horse Liver: Myth, Ritual and Folklore in Old Icelandic Sources, trans. Terry
Gunnell and Joan Turville-Petre. (University of Iceland Press, 1998), 46.
15 William A. Chaney, The Cult of Kingship in Anglo-Saxon England: The Transition from Paganism to Christianity
(Manchester University Press, 1999), 167.
16 Francis Joseph Tschan and Timothy Reuter, History of the Archbishops of Hamburg-Bremen (Columbia University Press,
2002), 208.
17 For more information on procession and cult wagons see: Terry Gunnell, The Origins of Drama in Scandinavia (D.S.
Brewer, 1995); See also Robert, Christopher. A Springtime Procession rrir. Vol 2, 2012
18 The tendentious nature of the division between offcial and popular religion is problematic. Additionally, the defni-
tion of popular religion is expansive and imprecise leaving the possibility of an arbitrary categorization of popular reli-
gious belief and practice. I have retained the division to note what may be implicit differences and to maintain commonal-
ity and ease of communication. For related commentary see Alaric Hall, Elves in Anglo-Saxon England: Matters of Belief,
Health, Gender and Identity (The Boydell Press, 2007), 17.
rrir 32
and beneft all involved participants, but are not subject to the dooms of the legal authority of offcial
Private religiosity is also expressed in the surviving source material. Kormks Saga and the skaldic
poem Austrfararvsur both describe sacrifces to elves, though, as John Lindow points out, only Sigvatrs
Austrfararvsur refers directly to the lfablt.
Kormks saga tells us of how Kormk was instructed to
sacrifce a bull and make a feast on a hill where elves lived in order to heal his wounds:
Hn segir: Hll einn er han skammt brott er lfar ba . Graung ann
er Kormkur drap skaltu f og rja bl graungsins hlinn utan en gera
lfum veislu af sltrinu og mun r batna.
She says, A hill here is a short distance from this place the elves dwell in.
A bull then Kormak slaughter and with the bulls blood redden the outside
of the hill and make a feast for elves of the slaughter and you will recover.
Additional offerings made to local wights and ancestors are described in the surviving literary and ar-
chaeological records and express the personal nature of private religiosity. Thomas DuBois notes the ven-
eration of boars, bulls, cows and horses.
The signifcance of the distinction between private religiosity,
such as the veneration of animals, and popular cult can be seen in Hrafnkels saga Freysgoa. Hrafnkels
oath to Frey regarding Freyfaxi and his care for the sacral animal exemplifes private religiosity in historic
Hrafnkell tti ann grip eigu sinni, er honum tti betri en annar. a var
hestur brnmlttur a lit, er hann kallai Freyfaxa sinn. Hann gaf Frey,
vin snum, ann hest hlfan. essum hesti hafi hann svo mikla elsku,
a hann strengdi ess heit, a hann skyldi eim manni a bana vera, sem
honum rii n hans vilja.
Hrafnkell had a treasure in his possession, he was better than any other. It
was a horse brown-blue dun in color, which he called it Freyfaxi. He gave
Frey, his friend, half the horse. On this horse had he so much love, that he
made a solemn vow, that he shall be the bane of the man rode him without
his will.
In contrast, the temple built by Hrafnkel and the many sacrifces made to the gods and Hrafnkels service
as goi to his people provides us with a clear example of heathen popular religion:
En er Hrafnkell hafi land numi Aalbli, efdi hann blt mikil.
Hrafnkell lt gera hof miki. Hrafnkell elskai eigi anna go meira en
Frey, og honum gaf hann alla hina bestu gripi sna hlfa vi sig. Hrafnkell
byggi allan dalinn og gaf mnnum land, en vildi vera yfrmaur eirra
og tk goor yfr eim. Vi etta var lengt nafn hans og kallaur Freysgoi.
But then Hrafnkell had land setted at Athalbol, then strengthened his great
sacrifce. Hrafnkell allowed to make temple many. Hrafnkell loved nothing
more than the god Frey, and generously gave him half of his best treasures.
19 John Lindow, Norse Mythology: A Guide to Gods, Heroes, Rituals, and Beliefs (Oxford University Press, 2002), 54.
20 Nordic Religions in the Viking Age (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999), 54.
rrir 33
Hrafnkell built throughout the valley and gave men lands, but wanted to be
their leader (literally above-man) and took chieftainship (or priesthood)
over them. With that was lengthen his name and called Freys Priest.
These religious expressions, popular and private, fall under the auspices of accurate reconstruction. They
need to fnd greater acknowledgement and acceptance as expressions of heathen religion in their proper
contexts by modern heathens.
The relationships between the people, the land, and the gods would constantly inform and be informed
by the cult and identity of the community. Due to their natures and purpose supra-regional cult centers
like those used for Germanic national assemblies would differ from local cult centers. Supra-regional cen-
ters represented the cult of kings and chieftains and were marked by their legal character and the national
character of the direction of the cult. The cult rituals at these sites served to distinguish the national social
identity, further the prosperity of the king and his folk, and reinforce the value of law and morality. This
offcial religious cult would have been distant from the lives of the common heathen and would rarely be
actively expressed during prescribed times of the year. Though this cult would still retain its signifcance
to historic heathens, it would be less immediately critical in their lives and they would relate more to
the cult and customs closer to home. Writing about identity in Anglo-Saxon society and in general, C.J.
Arnold states:
Early Anglo-Saxon society, like any human society, was made up of indi-
viduals between whom there were varying real and perceived relationships,
both within the family and outside of it. The basis for defning individual
identity may have been drawn from many possible factors, some of which
may not be visible. Indeed, while individuals are visible any sense of self
is obscured except in as much as physical attributes of the individual were
acknowledged by society. Such individuals would have had membership
of a variety of groups, a strong sense of identity arising from the lineage
group, and perhaps a weaker sense of identity with the region or tribe and
eventually the kingdom.
Heathen cult was the articulation of a world where survival was the result of performing right action

for the land, its inhabitants, and its gods. As a result of the fact that all aspects of heathen life played out
on and in relation to the familial land, the boundaries of that land were very important and their main-
tenance elicited a strong emotional response.
This emotional attachment with the familial land and the
traditional methods of interacting with the land were an inseparable element of heathen identity that fnds
little real expression in modern heathenry. The most common argument for the relationship with the land
is the celebration of heathen holidays at a time that is appropriate to heliocentric cycles and local agricul-
tural cycles. For whatever reason the discussion of local holy springs or lakes, holy trees or groves, holy
mountains or mounds, and other holy sites are largely missing from modern heathen religious dialogue

even though these places were the targets of conversion era prohibitions against heathen worship and
religious practices.
21 An Archaeology of the Early Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms: New Edition (Routledge, 2000), 179.
22 Eric Christiansen, The Norsemen in the Viking Age (Blackwell Publishing, 2002) 252, 254; Chaney, 12.
23 Barbara Hanawalt, The Ties that Bound: Peasant Families in Medieval England (Oxford University Press, 1986), 23; Jesse
L. Byock, Feud in the Icelandic Saga (University of California Press, 1993) 69-71.
24 Lacharity, Erik. Frankish Sido; Tree Cults rrir. Vol 2, 2012
rrir 34
Gods and other honored wights were without question the gods of the people. While the sacral of-
ferings to gods and wights are readily visible, the rituals and wights associated with the offerings often
remain ambiguous. Archaeologists have documented offerings of fax, butter, drinking vessels, cattle,
weapons and armor, and even human remains. The signifcance of the location and the recipients of the
offerings remain elusive and must be assumed by those studying the remains. Similarly, while historic
heathens shared a Germanic and Indo-European cultural heritage the literary and archaeological remains
fail to demonstrate a universally shared pantheon of gods. What is described in the literary sources and
the archaeological record is the worship of specifc gods and wights who are directly relevant to and inti-
mately concerned with the life of the tribe but do not always bear resemblance to those of other sources.
The literary sources attest to the claim that the gods of the tribe have a very clear relationship with the
tribe. In these sources the gods are described as the ancestors and founders of the tribes.
These gods
then have a familial relationship with the luck-wielders of the tribe and demarcate identity just as direct
familial relationships did in the Germanic world. Descent from the gods would refect a popular belief that
informed and was informed by offcial cult. If this popular belief was considered a fundamental element
of their world and their identity, then it would be unlikely that a larger, universal pan-Germanic heathen
pantheon would have ever existed for every tribe. Additionally, if descent from the gods is fundamental
any other relationships of the gods would not necessarily earn those relations worship from the members
of the tribe.
The earliest references to the gods seem to be as a collective of powers that directly infuenced the
world and lives of heathens. These powers in general were the objects of worship and sacrifce. It is pre-
sumptive to assume anything about these powers beyond the fact that they were directly involved in the
life of the people. This is precisely what is most critical about understanding the relationship between the
gods and men and how that shapes identity and worship. The gods of the people are only ever the gods
that infuence their social and private worlds.
Cult and Identity in Modern Heathenry
I was young of old,
I went alone,
then was I false road;
I thought myself wealthy,
is one I found,
man is mans pleasure.
My woven cloth
gave I to feld
two treemen;
heroes they thought,
when they had clothes;
shameful is the naked poet.
Hvaml, sts. 47, 49.
25 Anthony Faulkes, Descent From the Gods. VSNR Web Publications. n.d. Web. Nov 2011. <www.vsnrweb-publications.
org.uk/Descent-from-the-gods.pdf>; Rory McTurk, Scandinavian Sacral Kingship Revisited. Saga-Book, 24:19-32.
Viking Society For Northern Research, 1994.
rrir 35
In terms of scholarship, modern heathenry has come a long way since its revival in the twentieth
century. However, its expression is becoming less developed as heathens become more concerned with
conformity to the source material. Instead of developing new forms of worship appropriate to group or
individual identity, they are focused on removing the extraneous, non-historic, elements of their thew.
With attention being directed at reconstructing historic heathenry, other elements of expressing heathen
religiosity and worldview are being ignored. Discussions on heathen theology and philosophy are mostly
nonexistent; the lack of which has been noted multiple times on heathen internet forums. Even with the
tendency towards focusing on offcial religion, heathen liturgy is largely underdeveloped or completely
lacking altogether. These elements, and others, are often considered to be holes in modern and historic
heathenry that need to be flled. This of course is largely a refection of the individual and rarely an issue
of heathenry, but it is indicative of the need for heathenry to be relevant to the lives of modern heathens.
When we look at the primary informative elements of historic heathenry we encounter a world where
heathens were principally concerned with relationships with their kin, their native lands, and the holy
powers. But in contrast to this many heathens forswear the traditions of their more immediate kin, their
native lands, and local wights for an idealized heathen substitute that is imagined to have existed histori-
cally. The assumption seems to be that honoring these modern traditions, kin, lands, and local wights is
somehow unheathen. This couldnt be further from the truth since heathenry has always been about
honoring immediate relations at the expense of far distant relations. It is precisely these elements that have
historically delimited the identities of differing groups.
Modern heathen identity is largely distinguished by the branch of the Germanic tree that provides the
names for the gods (Norse, Old English, Old High German) and other wights, and occasionally by which
international or national organization the individuals and groups belong. While both of these elements are
in perfect accord with historic heathen identity, they should not be the primary means of distinguishing
between groups. Because of this lack of distinction in thew between groups many popular and private
forms of religious and cultic expression are becoming part of the standardization of modern heathenry.
An example of a private ritual that has become standardized in heathenry is symbel. Modern symbel is
most frequently the formal, ritualized drinking of three rounds. The frst round generally goes to the gods.
The second is directed towards heroes or ancestors and the third is for making boasts, oaths or personal
Informal rounds may or may not follow depending upon the disposition of the participants.
This practice is based upon reading the saga of Hkon the Good.
The majority of references to symbel are vague and provide little insight into the actions of the par-
ticipants. It is possible to assume that since there are no references to food being present during symbel
that it is related strictly to the consumption of alcohol in a formal social setting. This is a commonly held
position even though symbel is often rendered as feast by translators and even occurs during a feast
in Lokasenna. Available descriptions do not illustrate a situation where the act of drinking is religiously
signifcant. On the other hand the setting and actions of the participants outside of the act of drinking
26 Another common occurrence, though not quite at the level of approaching offcial religion yet, is the raising of the horn to
what are considered praiseworthy traits, such as one of the Nine Noble Virtues or Three Wynns. This is a strange occur-
rence and suggests some lack in the social aspect of being heathen. A man should never have to arbitrarily raise a horn to
a trait, but should always raise a horn to the expression of that trait by other men. Do not raise your horn to the virtue of
perseverance, but raise it to the man in your community who has persevered against all odds. If you do not know anyone
in your community who meets those standards then you need to become more involved in your community or fnd a better
group of people to associate with. People deserve the honor of having a horn raised to them. There can be no honor given
to a trait or a virtue itself, but only to the act of making true that virtue in the world.
27 It has been noted that symbel is not mentioned in the saga and further argued that the original does not refer to the ritualized
drinking of alcohol. See: Wills, John. Symbel: The Heathen Drinking Ritual? rrir. Vol 2, 2012
rrir 36
are clearly socially
and religiously signifcant. Words and deeds in particular seem to be immensely
important while seated at symbel. Social honor was challenged and affrmed in the seating positions of
the participants. This challenge and affrmation of the right to be seated on the mead-benches seems to
have been the impetus behind the boasts of ones deeds and claims to descent from folk heroes and the
demonstration of skill in poetry and music. Another signifcant element of symbel is the experience of the
seledreamas, OE hall-joys. The conviviality of the hall-joys was expressed through fellowship, music,
poetry, and gift giving,
We see symbel related to gebeorscipe, a word that conveys the idea of a group of people drinking
together. In the Old English version of Bedes Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum, we are told of
Ond he foron oft in gebeorscipe, onne r ws blisse intinga gedemed,
t heo ealle sceoldon urh endebyrdnesse be hearpan singan, onne he
geseah a hearpan him nealecan onne aras he for scome from m symble
ond ham eode to his huse.
And because often at gebeorscipe, when there was deemed to be cause
for joy, that they all shall in succession sing to the harp, when he saw the
harp approach him then he arose out of shame from the symbel and home-
wards went to his house.
This quote from the story of Caedmon is another example of an expectation
of participation in ritualized activity associated with the drinking of beer.
Caedmon is shamed by his inability to perform as well as his companions.
Beowulf and Lokasenna also evince the fact that honor is a conditional
element to participating in symbel and gebeorscipe.
The social ritual
of being seated at symbel and gebeorscipe is clearly one that has both
a mindful and respectful element as well as one of joy and pleasure;
a fact perhaps further illustrated by the many words of warning in
Hvaml and Riddle 25 of the Exeter Book.
The drinking of alcoholic beverages is also mentioned
in relation to other religious and social activities.
Though the descriptions are not detailed the signif-
cance of providing and giving the drink is clearly
portrayed. In the prose prologue of Lokasenna
the sharing of ale is part of the feast provided by
Aegir for the gods and elves:
gir, er ru nafni ht Gymir,
hann hafi bit sum l, er hann
hafi fengit ketil in mikla, sem n
er sagt. Til eirar veizlu kom inn
ok Frigg kona hans. rr kom eigi,
v at hann var austrvegi. Sif var
ar, kona rs, Bragi ok Iunn kona
28 ibid, 1.
29 ibid, 1.




rrir 37
hans. Tr var ar, hann var einhendr, - Fenrislfr sleit hnd af hnum
er hann var bundinn. ar var Njrr ok kona hans Skai, Freyr ok Freyja,
Varr son ins; Loki var ar ok jnustumenn Freys, Byggvir ok Beyla.
Margt var ar sa ok lfa.
Aegir, his other name was called Gymir, he had prepared the gods ale, he
had found the mighty kettel, as now is told. To the feast came Odin and
Frigg, his wife. Thor came not, as he was in the east road. Sif was there,
Thors wife, Bragi and Idun, his wife. Tyr was there, he was one-handed --
Fenris wolf snapped his hand when he was bound. There was Njorth and his
wife Skathi, Frey and Freya, Vithar Odins son; Loki was there and Freys
servicemen, Byggvir and Beyla. Many were there gods and elves.
Ynglinga saga, ch. 40, provides a description of the traditional signifcance of alcohol during social ritual.
We also see the relationship between the full, which is also described in the saga of Hkon the Good.
at var sivenja ann tma, ar er erf skyldi gera eptir konunga ea jarla,
skyldi s er geri erft, ok til arfs skyldi leia, sitja skrinni fyrir hs-
tinu, alt ar til er inn vri borit full, at er kallat var Bragafull. Skyldi s
standa upp mti bragafulli ok strengja heit, drekka af fullit san; eptir
at skyldi hann leia hsti at, er tti fair hans; var hann kominn til
arfs alls eptir hann. N var sv hr gert, at er Bragafull kom inn, st
upp Ingjaldr konungr ok tk vit einu drshorni miklu, strengi hann heit,
at hann skyldi auka rki sitt hlfu hverja hfutt, ea deyja ella; drakk af
san af horninu. Ok er menn vru drukknir um kveldit, mlti Ingjaldr
konungr til Flkviar ok Hulviar, sona Svipdags, at eir skyldu vpnast ok
li eirra, sem tlat var um kveldi. eir gngu t ok til hins nja sals, bru
ar eld at; ok v nst tk salrinn at loga.
It was custom in that time, that the funeral feast shall be duty-bound after
kings and earls, then shall he lead the funeral feast, and until inheritance
shall be conducted, sit at the edge before the high seat, there until completed
was the bearing of the cup,that was called the Bragafull. Should he then
stand up take the Bragafull and bind solemn vows, drink from the cup; after
then shall he lead to the high seat, which belonged to his father; where he
had come to inherit all after him. Now it was so done, with that the Bragafull
came in, stood up Ingjald king and took one mighty drinking-horn, solemn-
ly he then vows, he shall increase his reach by half in every direction, or die
instead: he drank after that of the horn. And the men were drunk through
the evening, then said Ingjald king to Folkvithar and Hulvithar, Svipdags
sons, that they should arm themselves and their team, which was expected
in the evening. They went out and with their new payment, billowing there
they struck a fre; and then after took the hall to fames.
Again there is no mention of a specifc number of rounds or a specifc objective to each round. Instead we
see the familiar boasting of the new king with the cup in his hand and the drunkenness of the other guests.
rrir 38
The additional relation between the fulle-cup and symbel is illustrated in the Old English Maxims I, lines
Cyning sceal mid ceape cwene gebicgan,
bunum ond beagum; bu sceolon rest
geofum god wesan. Gu sceal in eorle,
wig geweaxan, ond wif geeon
leof mid hyre leodum, leohtmod wesan,
rune healdan, rumheort beon
mearum ond mamum, meodordenne
for gesimgen symle ghwr
eodor elinga rest gegretan,
forman fulle to frean hond
ricene gercan, ond him rd witan
boldagendum bm tsomne.
The king shall bribe with the queen purchase,
cups and rings; dwelling they shall frst
be good food-givers. With battle shall earl
his army increase, and wife to prosper
beloved with hired men, easy-going with drink,
secrets she keeps, be kind-hearted
horses and mighty treasure, at drinking
before war band symbel in every case
the prince of house frst to approach
give the frst fulle in lords hand
rule reaches, and him advise as counselor
homeowners both together.
Another example from the saga of Hkon the Good illustrates the relationship between alcohol and
religious feasts in a manner that suggests a lack of formality in the rounds and their focus.
Hann setti a lgum a hefja jlahald ann tma sem kristnir menn og
skyldi hver maur eiga mlis l en gjalda f ella og halda heilagt mean
l ynnist.
He set that in law to start Yule at the same time Christian men and shall they
have one man make one measure of ale in tribute fee and keep it holy while
the ale lasts.
Presented with this information, social rituals and roles reaffrmed over drink should be refective of the
social group and not the mimicking of a description in a single source. It is clear that the number and focus
of the rounds were nonspecifc. Alcohol clearly played an important role in social and religious ritual and
it is right for it to continue to do so for heathens today. But as these examples illustrate the use of alcohol
rrir 39
in ritual should not always be expressed in a manner that resembles the symbel description in Lokasenna
and Beowulf or the rounds in the saga of Hkon the Good. These examples suggest that the setting and the
participants would defne the nature of formal and informal drinking rituals. Thew surrounding the con-
sumption of alcohol in a social and religious setting should develop as a natural expression of the character
of the group and should not be forced to conform to a standardized model of heathen ritual.
There were other forms of religious rituals as well. Aside from symbel, which has been argued as
being amongst the holiest of rites
, modern heathens often practice what is commonly known as blt.
Historically blt specifcally referred to sacrifcial feasts that involved the slaughter of living animals, but
today it is frequently used for any form of heathen worship that involves making an offering to the gods
or other wights.
Blt was also historically associated with all three aspects of religious worship: offcial,
popular, and private. Strophes 144 and 145, of Hvaml allude to other heathen rituals that refect heathen
religious belief:
Veiztu hv rsta skal? Do you know how to cut?
Veiztu hv ra skal? Do you know how to counsel?
Veiztu hv fa skal? Do you know how to receive?
Veiztu hv freista skal? Do you know how to prove?
Veiztu hv bija skal? Do you know how to bid?
Veiztu hv blta skal? Do you know how to sacrifce?
Veiztu hv senda skal? Do you know how to send?
Veiztu hv sa skal? Do you know how to atone?
Betra er beit Better not bidden
en s ofbltit than over sacrifced
ey sr til gildis gjf A gift always looks to payment
betra er sent better unsent
en s ofsit than over-atoned
sv undr um reist So Thund cut
fyr ja rk before peoples' fate
ar hann upp um reis where he rose up
er hann aptr of kom and he afterwards came
Though these strophes are often assumed to relate to the runes, they are clearly technical terms for
heathen ritual acts with other purposes. Rsta could easily have been translated carve or write as well.
The carving of words, not just runes, on stone monuments and other artifacts is well documented in hea-
then culture. The corresponding ra could have been translated as advise, interpret, or read as well.
Again, the offering of advice and wise counsel are praiseworthy character traits for Germanic heathens
and Christians alike. Tacitus also informs us of the importance of reading and interpreting signs. The line
containing fa has been translated paint or stain in every commonly available English translation used by
30 Symbel. Wikipedia. n.d. Web. 25 Nov 2011. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Symbel>. I am aware of the problems sur-
rounding the credibility of Wikipedia entries as source citations, but the descriptions in this entry are indicative of the opin-
ions and conclusions of modern heathens regarding modern Germanic heathen religion. It is also relevant in the discussion
of heathen religiosity as it is frequently used as a credible and authoritative source of information on heathen religion by
new heathens. This contributes further to the standardization of heathenry.
31 Germanic Neopaganism. Wikipedia. n.d. Web. 25 Nov 2011. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Germanic_Neopaganism#Rites_
and_practices>; Blt. Wikipedia. n.d. Web. 25 Nov 2011. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blt>.
rrir 40
heathens. This is presumably based on the contraction of the double vowel to f
and as a continuation of
strophe 141. Since strophes 144 and 145 appear formulaic with repetition of elements of the frst strophe
in the second, and following the assumption that the formula is signifcant, fa has been translated here
as receive.
Freista could have been translated try, test, tempt, or to risk. The semantic feld gives the
idea of putting something to the test or the equivalent of testing ones mettle. This is reminiscent of
strophes 81 - 88, of Hvaml where the speaker warns against the danger and unreliability of the unproven
thing. Bija takes on the semantic character of asking for something or praying for something or urging
someone to do something. It is used in the sense of I bid you welcome or pray tell. Therefore, it could
have been translated pray, ask, or beg. Blta is sacrifce. Translating it any other way is to ignore what it
is and how it is used in the surviving literature. Senda is also pretty straight forward and means to send.
Sa is the most diffcult to translate. In the prose sources it means waste, but has been argued to mean
to appease or to atone based upon cognates in other languages. Based upon a reading of Ynglingatal,
5, it has been suggested that it clearly means to sacrifce, to make an offering, but in a way that is distin-
guished from blta .
If these meanings are related, the semantic feld would suggest the proper means for
atonement or appeasement of the powers involving the sacrifcial destruction of an object or person that,
because of its distinction from blt, perhaps did not involve ritual feasting afterwards.
The particular signifcance and methods of conducting the acts described in these two strophes can only
be assumed. Even with our modern ignorance of the particular meanings in this context, it is clear that
their signifcance would have been understood by historic heathens due to the imperative nature of the
statements. There are enough examples in the archaeological record and literary sources to provide plenty
of inspiration and models for heathens to develop a religious and social identity around, but the discussion
regarding these ritual acts are lacking. The development of wagon cults, the return of idols and groves,
and the performance of traditional bltar by multiple heathen groups are tremendous steps forward but
are also merely the beginning.
Concluding Thoughts
Efforts to reconstruct historical heathenry are essential to developing a modern religion that refects the
beliefs, attitudes, values and behaviors of our heathen ancestors. At the same time, for modern heathenry
to be truly heathen it must not forswear our recent ancestors, our local lands, and our local wights and
gods. The discoveries made during the reconstruction of historic heathen religious belief and practice
must be the foundation and the model, but the building materials can only ever be local.
With that in mind, developing a modern thew based upon the reconstruction of elder heathen thew and
maintaining relevance to the land and people of today requires understanding the signifcance of the vary-
ing expressions of heathen religious belief. Offcial holy days should refect their signifcance and value
as the religious expression of a belief shared by the larger group and therefore adherence to that belief
should be in relation to the offcial nature of the days. These holidays would not change based upon local
and regional situations, but would be consistent annually. These meetings will refect the offcial nature
32 Sophus Bugge edition makes the contraction to a single vowel, while Guni Jnssons edition does not. The contraction
may or may not be signifcant. In comparing the usage of the verbs, I found far more occurrences of fa and f meaning
to receive or to get.
33 The formula seems to be made apparent within the two strophes and not a direct continuation of the preceding or following
strophes. The inquiries and following imperatives are clearly related to something Thund carved in days of old and not to
the preceding runes or the following magical songs.
34 578 SOFARI -- SKN. Germanic Lexicon Project. 26 Nov 2011. Web. 27 Nov 2011. <http://lexicon.ff.cuni.cz/html/
rrir 41
of larger groups where numbers of individuals, households, and groups meet religiously and socially at
specifc, consistent times throughout the year.
In contrast to this, local holy days should refect the local world and not be based upon an attempt to
replicate religious and social acts that are largely irrelevant to the local world of the heathen or refect
the demands of a single household or individual. Popular religious holidays will be directed towards
the beneft of the local and regional communities and should refect the needs of those communities.
Communities that still rely on agricultural or pastoral industries will have rituals that refect those indus-
tries. Predominantly urban communities that rely on other industries will have cultic rituals that refect
those industries. Private religiosity will meet the needs of the household. The worship of and paying
honor to the gods is a fundamental aspect of heathen religion, but as a folk religion that is defned by its
socio-religious and socio-political expression, proper cult should develop around the needs of the people,
their land, and their gods. Cult is an act that requires participation and direction; it is the active expres-
sion of the beliefs of a people. Heathens honor the gods because of what the gods have done and continue
to do. Heathens honor the gods for the world and thew they have established. But everything else that
heathens do should be done for kith and kin and this is how heathen identity and thew will be developed
and will survive into the future.
An Example from our Household
Symbel in our household takes place before the feast and signals that the event is both socially and
religiously signifcant. As the head of the household I set the stage with my words over the horn, inviting
our guests to join in recognizing the event being honored, and welcoming all who have come. What will
follow will be a nonspecifc number of rounds over the horn with my wife, or sometimes our daughter,
bearing the horn. In our home, symbel is socially signifcant and therefore our children will participate.
Each round consists of words, poems, or songs being offered in honor of gods and other wights, each
other, our community, or to bid a good and prosperous year or season.
At our winter full moon celebration this year, our guest of honor was the corn dolly and a feast was
offered in her honor. We began by offering her the seat of honor and gifting her with the words of Miri
It Is. Because this time coincides with the determination of the fnal harvest of the year
this celebration
included a bit about shared efforts and harvest. We entertained our guest with the tale of The Little Red
Hen. This was followed with the offering of poems. Each of us composed a poem and offered them in
honor of their intended recipients. In addition to the offerings of words, there were many physical objects
presented as offerings. Handmade trinkets and tokens, copper coins, and objects from our household and
jobs made their way to the corn dolly and other wights. After the offerings were presented, we began the
drinking of the rounds. Instead of following the standard model for symbel we followed a more traditional
drinking pattern related to the harvest season. With the lady of the house bearing the horn, we drank the
full after singing the following song based upon a traditional English harvest tune:
Heres a health unto the powers, the founders of the feast,
Heres a health unto our kith, and one more to our kin.
So may our doings prosper, whateer we take in hand,
For we are all good folk, and true to this land.
35 In our region we get multiple harvests of various crops, particularly hay, and this time of the year will determine if it is
possible to get another.
rrir 42
Then drink, friends, drink,
And see you do not spill.
For if you do, you shall drink two,
For tis our folks good will.
Now summer it is ended and supper it is past.
To our good wights health, friends, a full and fowing glass,
For they bring good luck, and make us all good cheer
Heres to our familys health, so yall drink off the beer.
The song was sung and the horn was tipped and each passing was the cause of more and more good cheer.
After enough rounds to drink off the beer the horn was placed aside and the feast was set. The feast
consisted of a meal that incorporated the meaning of the celebration and held meaning and value to us and
our heritage in particular. It was not a dish that was made because it was common to our distant ancestors.
After the feast was completed the physical offerings, the remains of the feast, and the written words to the
poems were bogged at the base of a large tree in our local lake.
We foresee a future where the singing of this song and the recitation of the words to Miri It Is will
become part of the customary celebration of the harvest season and the winter full moon. By our reckon-
ing Haverfest and the winter full moon coincide in some years and are two distinct celebrations in others.
Because of the culture of our region many tunes and much symbolism from early English cultures are
retained in the traditional cultural songs of our area. We incorporate these traditions into our traditions as
well, which is why we sang these specifc songs during the celebration of the tide. We chose not to marry
Winterfylleth and Winter Nights as many heathens do and instead focused on celebrating important cycles
in our lands in a manner historically associated with heathenry. During these feasts, all members partici-
pate and the ritual acts, though directed at honoring others, are inclusive.
In contrast to this, as a Theodish household we observe Axenthof thew, and Theodish thew, when we
participate in and perform holy rituals as a thiad. In these instances, the lord of Axenthof has the honor
of leading symbel and fainings. Symbel, in a Theodish setting, will have three formal rounds followed
by any number of informal rounds as necessary. Fainings in Theodish thew are rituals honoring gods or
wights in relation to specifc holy tides. The rituals in fainings are generally exclusive and involve the
offciant leading the ritual and all other participants primarily observing the solemnity of the act. The
specifcs of these fainings are protected as solemn events and will not be described here.
The religious expression of our beliefs, our particular cult, is a dynamic and growing expression of our
identity. It is inseparable from our heritage, our homes, our community, and our gods.
rrir 43
The Heathen Drinking Ritual?

John Wills, unorrad eod, England
If there is one thing that links all Heathen practice it is the early medieval drinking ritual symbel
also known as sumble. This tradition is lifted straight from the pages of Beowulf, The Eddas and other
Germanic poetry and is a ritual that equally unites and divides the various favours of Heathenry whilst at
the core of all our social structures.
In this essay, I will examine where symbel comes from, what it is from a Reconstructionist view, what
it is not and what symbel means to the members of the unorrad eod in England. It should be considered
that there is no one right way to symbel as this ritual is a tradition within each folk, family or group, but
there are wrong ways to symbel or wrong perceptions of symbel which are due to misconceptions and
infuences from other religions which I will discuss as they arise.
Evidence for Symbel in Literature.
Symbel is mentioned throughout the corpus of Old English poetry with the main source being Beowulf;
it is also mentioned in Old Saxon poetry and the Eddas
, it should be noted that some of the poems con-
taining references to symbel are overtly Christian in their nature such as the Old English Dream of the
Rood. Just a brief examination of the poetry removes common misconceptions about symbel. The frst is
that symbel is a mystical ritual linking humanity and the unseen in a similar way to which the Christian
communion links humanity and Christ. This misconception is debunked in the Lokasenna where the gods
are sumbli at, at symbel, unless there exists higher gods than those gathered in girs hall the notion
that symbel is communion between man and god is unfounded
. The second myth is that symbel is overtly
Heathen; if this was the case then its mention in The Dream of the Rood on heofonum, r is dryhtnes
folc geseted to symle, in heaven there are Gods people sat at symbel, would be most odd to say the
least. The primary sources show that symbel is an activity for both man and god, Heathen and Christian,
on earth and in heaven; the obvious conclusion is that the ritual is a social one not a mystical one.
Whilst the bulk of our knowledge of symbel comes from English and Scandinavian literary sources it
would be wrong to assume symbel, or an equivalent, was not practised by the other Germanic peoples of
the early medieval period. In Tacitus Germania, he comments in chapter 22:
To pass an entire day and night in drinking disgraces no one... Yet it is at
their feasts that they generally consult on the reconciliation of enemies, on
the forming of matrimonial alliances, on the choice of chiefs, fnally even
on peace and war, for they think that at no time is the mind more open to
simplicity of purpose or more warmed to noble aspirations.
Tacitus study was of the peoples of the Anglii southwards through mainland Germany in the frst
century. This may not be a description of what a symbel is in later literature but it is undeniable evi-
dence of the use of alcohol at important or formal events. Physical evidence of high status drinking can
be seen from the fnd of the 5
century Frankish/Merovingian glass drinking-horn from Bingerbrck,
1 Bauschatz, 1982
2 Ibid.
rrir 44
Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany (fg 1.) and the similar 6
century Lombardic glass drinking-horn from
Sutri, Lazio, Italy (fg 2.), both on display in the British Museum. The use of horns and glass will be ex-
amined later.
The way symbel is presented in literature is that one is at symbel, it is a specifc event more than an
action, and one is seated or sat suggesting a structured event
. Another important observation is that
symbel is always indoors and specifcally in a beer or mead hall (these terms are interchangeable for the
same structure). The symbel events in Beowulf take place in Hrogars and Hygelacs halls, in Lokasenna
the sir gather girs hall; these buildings are not described as temples or shrines but as halls the secular
3 Bauschatz, 1982
Fig 1. 5
century Frankish/Merovingian glass drinking-horn from Bingerbrck, Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany
Fig 2. Late 6th century Lombardic blue glass drinking-horn from Sutri, Lazio, Italy
rrir 45
centre of the community from where the ruler gives his judgements and gifts
Beowulf and Lokasenna remain, above all other references, the clearest explanations of what actually
happened during an early medieval symbel. It is clear that the participants sat at a bench or benches in
some order of their rank within the community and such that key players are visible to each other and
heard when speaking. The lack of description in other literature can be seen as an assumption by the author
that the poems intended audience was so aware of the practice that no explanation was necessary, much
like today we would say I was watching TV or we were at a football match.
In both Beowulf and Lokasenna only the drinking of alcohol is mentioned, there is no food. Prior to the
events of Lokasenna is the Hymiskvia which in the frst two stanzas contain sumblsamir and sumbl.
In the frst stanza the gods are hunting and want a drinking feast, they use twigs and blood (Wodens glory-
twigs of the Nine Herbs Charm?) and see that gir has many cauldrons. In the second stanza, orr con-
fronts gir demanding he hold regular symbel for the gods, meaning one that the gods attend in person.
Hymiskvia goes on to tell of orrs adventures to acquire a kettle large enough for gir to brew lr,
ale, for the symbel. The poem ends by telling us this symbel happens every eitrhrmeiti harvest or au-
tumn dependant on the translation (this may actually be a cognate feast to the Old English Winterflle
which is the full moon in the month of Winterflle, modern October).
Hymiskvia has set the scene and now Lokasenna picks up the action at one of the symbel events, sumbl
or sumbli is used seven times making it clear that this event is indeed a symbel. The poem is defnite in that
the symbel is one of beer or ale drinking, repeatedly using the word l when referring to the drink; mead
is only used when Loki returns demanding to drink and when Sif offers him a cup. The poem ends with
Loki saying l grir , gir clearly stating it was ale that gir brewed. It is possible that beer, ale
and mead are interchangeable words for alcoholic beverage however taking into consideration the timing
of the symbel from the last lines of Hymiskvia it is likely that beer is the drink being consumed. Honey
collection is typically between June and September and mead requires at least a six months brewing time.
The grain harvest normally happens during July and August and beer has a brewing time measured in days
making it easily ready for the autumn symbel. Mead not being ready for at least six months is more appro-
priate for a spring symbel; that said mead has a much longer shelf life measured in years. Such ambiguity
is also found in Beowulf where at one symbel is in the beer-hall, the drink is poured from an ale-cup
and it is a clear, sweet drink
. Old English literature also gives the possibility for wine to have been used
at symbel; in Genesis we fnd that both Noah and Abimelec are symbelwerig (literally symbel weary)
after being called wine druncen (drunk on wine) and both are sleeping. This mixture of terminology for
the drink used at symbel suggests that only mead should be used is another symbel myth and that the
drink consumed is chosen for cultural and seasonal reasons, the only hard rule being that it is alcoholic.
As noted above in Lokasenna the gods are seated, from the description of the conversation between the
listed gods and Loki they are seated such that Loki has an equal audience with them all suggesting a long
bench. The opening prose of Lokasenna gives a list of the attending gods but says that many more gods
and elves were there, one long bench for everyone is impractical however using Beowulf as a reference
for seating we have a scene with a high bench and additional benches for other ranks, Loki is address-
ing only the high bench. We also see at this symbel the servants are male and female gods who sit at the
benches. One of the servants, Fimafeng, is serving and the other, Eldir, appears to be guarding the door as
he attempts to prevent Loki re-entering the hall. This again is matched in Beowulf, when Beowulf arrives
4 Pollington 2003
5 Bauschatz, 1982, Beowulf, lines 491-496
rrir 46
at Heorot gives his name and purpose to Hrogars herald at the door
and inside it is a thane that car-
ries the ale-cup. The similarities between the frst Beowulf symbel and the Lokasenna symbel continue
with the interactions between the attendees; the speeches are about past deeds and boasts, there are ac-
cusations and rebuttals. The primary accusers are Loki and Unfer to whom the defenders make the same
initial response you are drunk before going on to set straight the story told about them. In Beowulf, the
hero after beating Unfer in the word battle goes on to boast of how he will kill Grendel, something that
his challenger has failed to do. The response of you are drunk can be taken as an insult and point to an
expectation that during symbel you should attempt to remain sober or at least in control of your mouth.
In the second Beowulf symbel the male servant is replaced with Queen Wealheow, Hrogars wife, who
now carries the cup. Wealheow is said to know the correct procedure, frst offering the cup to Hrogar
and then crossing the hall to Beowulf, this time Hrogar does not give any speech, it is Wealheow who
speaks to Hrogar advising him to be happy. She greets Beowulf and at this point we have a reference of
divinity in that she gode ancode wisfst wordum, thanked god wise words
, after her speech Beowulf
says his words, a boast of what he had done and affrmation of the boast he had previously made declaring
he would kill Grendel.
It should be noted that the Beowulf poet uses the seating arrangement at symbel to demonstrate Beowulfs
success and honour; when he arrives he is sat with the young and untested warriors but after his defeat of
Hrogars enemies he is sat with the proven men, the thanes and older warriors. This movement between
benches is further enforces the importance of seating arrangement that is no accident or personal choice of
the individual, it is strictly dictated by rank and by instruction of the hall-lord.
Symbel is also alluded to in some poems which can be used to back up the descriptions of boasts from
Beowulf, for example in the Old English Battle of Maldon we fnd lfwin saying to the remaining men
after Byrhtnos death:
Gemunan a mla e we oft t meodo sprcon
onne we on bence beot ahofon,
hle on healle, ymbe heard gewinn;
nu mg cunnian hwa cene sy.
Remember the times that we often at mead spoke,
Then we on the bench rose up a boast,
The hero in the hall, about cruel war;
Now (one) may prove who may be keen/brave.
(Battle of Maldon, 212-215)
This passage shows that those words spoken at symbel will be remembered and must be lived up to.
These men at the Battle of Maldon were Christian but it is evident that they knew of and practised symbel
as a binding ritual.
To recap, the above can be condensed into the following elements required for a drinking ritual to be
considered a proper symbel:
An indoor setting
Organised and ordered seating arrangement
Medium strength alcoholic beverage; ale, mead or wine
6 Beowulf, lines 333-339
7 Beowulf, lines 625-626
rrir 47
Absence of food
A cup bearer, one who carries the drinking vessel around the symbel
Oaths, boasts, speeches, challenges and defences
These elements should be considered as the base requirements. Other elements that are common to the
descriptions of symbel but included in all are; the presence of (high status) women, the giving of gifts,
material splendour and merriment. It is also worth noting that in all the poetic examples of symbel only
high status individuals are present: the warrior class and people of offce.
So far in this investigation all the texts have been either overtly Christian in nature or have been re-
corded after Germanic Heathen contact with Christian culture. The Christian infuence is clear in Beowulf
but is also in Lokasenna when the poet wrote the line gekk Sif fram ok byrlai Loka hrmklki mj
ok mlti
; the phrase hrmklki for the cup Sif gave to Loki did not enter the Norse language until after
the Danish settlement of Christian England
. Hrmkalki is a taken in some translations to mean crystal
although more rightly it should be rimy, frosty or icy chalice from hrm rime, hoar, frost and
klkr chalice. Glass drinking vessels such as claw and cone beakers are common in high status burials,
hrmklki works well as a description for these items (fg 3).
It should not be considered that because the symbel descriptions are of Christian symbel or told using
Christian words that symbel is itself a Christian activity, what it does illustrate is that symbel was not con-
sidered a form of worship or communion between man and god and played an important (if not vital) role
in early medieval social systems.
The identifcation of symbel as a social not mystical or communication ritual is not to exclude gods
from speeches or well wishing during the ritual, just as in modern times one may raise a glass to absent
friends, hailing the gods or ancestors may have formed part of the words spoken at symbel. The evidence
shows that symbel is not prayer or sacrifce; it is a binding together of the people present through their
words. One possible argument against this comes from Saga Hkonar ga, the Saga of Hakon the Good,
in Heimskringla by Snorri Sturlusson. In chapter 16 of this saga there is a detailed account of a drinking
ritual in which the frst cup is dedicated to Odin, the second to Njord and the third to Freya, another cup
is emptied for Bragi and another for the ancestors. It is very tempting to use this as evidence of symbel
and a direct dedication to the gods however this would be wrong as the Old Norse manuscript makes it
very clear that this event is a blt not a sumble. The chapter is entitled Fr bltum, of sacrifce, and tells
how cattle and horses are taken into a temple, slaughtered and cooked with the blood being collected. The
blood, which was called hlaut, blood of sacrifce, was then sprinkled on the participants and the walls
8 Lokasenna verse 53
9 Cleasby, R. and Vigfusson, G, 1874:
KALKR, m. [borrowed from Lat. calix; A.S. calic and calc; Enlg. chalice; O.H.G. chelih; Germ. kelk; Dan-Swed. kalk; the word came
with Christianity from the Engl.; for, though it occurs in the ancient poems, none of these can be older than the Danish settlement in
England: the form kalkr is used in a heathen sense, where as the later form kaleikr is used in the ecclesiastical sense only]:- a chalice,
cup, goblet, it occurs in the poems Hym. 28, 30, 32, Akv. 30, Rm. 29, Skv. 3. 29; hrm-kalkr, Ls. 53; silr-k., a silver cup, Hkr. i. 50; n
er hr kalkr, er skalt drekka af, eptir at tk hann kalkinn, a var enn eptur kalkinum, er hann hafi af drukkit kalkinum, Gull. 7;
n tk hann kalkinn ok hnd hennar me, Hkr. i. 50.
HRM, n. [A.S. hrm; Engl. rime; Dan. rim-frost; cp. Germ. reif] - rime, hoar, frost, Edda 4, Vm. 31, Korm. (in a verse), Fms. vi.
23 (in a verse), Merl. I. 51, freq. in mod. usage. COMPDS: hrim-drif, n. a drift of rime, Sks. 230. Hrm-faxi, a, m. Rime-mane, a
mythol. horse, Edda 56, Vm.14. hrm-fextr, part. rime-maned, of the waves, Fas.ii.(in a verse). hrm-frosinn, part. rimy, Sks. 230.
hrm-steinar, m. pl. rime stones, Edda 38, 48. Hrm-ursar, m. pl. Rime-giants; the Titans of the Scandin. mythology were so called,
as opposed to and older than the common Jtnar (Giants), Vm. 33, Hm. 109, Gm 31. Skm. 34; hrmursar ok bergrisar, Edda 10, 15,
25, 38. II. the black soot on a kettle, ketil-hrm. COMPDS: Hrm-gerr, f. name of a giantess, Hkv. Hjorv. hrm-kaldr, adj. rime cold,
Vm. 21, Ls. 49, Fm. 38. hrm-kalkr, m. a rimy cup, from the froth on the mead, Ls. 53, Skm. 37.
10 Bellows, 1936
rrir 48
(inside and out). Although men brought l, ale or possibly mead, it is not completely clear whether it
was this ale in the cups or the blood or cooking juices. Sigurr is described as bltmar, a worshipper
or one for sacrifces, the event is explicitly called blt and bltveizlu with all of the events revolving
around blood and the eating of sacrifced animals. If Snorri had not called the event blt the presence of
food, slaughter and blood singles this event out as very different to any other example of drinking ritual
that we identify as symbel. It is therefore wrong to use this source as a research tool for symbel, other than
as a comparison between symbel and blot.
The ambiguity of the drinking vessel is similar to the ambiguity of the actual drink consumed, after
Sifs words in Lokasenna the poem continues Hann tk vi horni ok drakk af
, now the vessel is re-
ferred to as a horn. There is no mention of horns in Beowulf or other Old English poetry, for example,
when symbel is mentioned in The Wanderer the speaker is lamenting the removal of the seating and cups:
11 Lokasenna verse 54
Fig 3. Migration Period (early 5th century) Claw Beaker from grave 843, Mucking, Essex, England
rrir 49
Hwr cwom maumgyfa?
Hwr cwom symbla gesetu? Hwr sindon seledreamas?
Eala beorht bune! Eala byrnwiga!
Eala eodnes rym!
Where went treasure giver?
Where went symbel seats? Where are hall joys?
Alas bright cup! Alas mailed warrior!
Alas kings host! ...
(The Wanderer, lines 92b-95a)
The Wanderer, again from the Christian period, demonstrates in the lines above much of what symbel
is. The Wanderer is lamenting the loss of the hall and his folk and in these lines tells us of gifts, seated
symbel, merriment indoors, the bright cup (which may be either mead or a decorated drinking vessel),
and the high status of those in the hall. This exposes another modern myth about symbel; drinking must
be from a horn, from all the evidence above this is clearly not the case.
The use of horns for drinking in England is evident from the archaeological record. Notable horns in-
clude those from the Anglian high status burials at Sutton Hoo and Taplow, and the Saxon princely burial
at Prittlewell
. These burials are from the Heathen and conversion period. We know from the pictorial
evidence in the Bayeux tapestrys depiction of Harolds feast at Bosham that in England horns were used
for high status dinking as late as the mid 11
Explicit literary evidence of a known Heathen participating in symbel and the use of horns can be
found in Egils Saga from Iceland. Egil visits King elstan after fghting the Scots (most likely at the
12 Pollington, 2008
Fig 4. Late 6
century drinking horn from the Taplow Court barrow, Buckinghamshire, England
rrir 50
battle of Brunanburh), elstan was a pious Christian whereas Egil was a Heathen; both knew the rules
of symbel and this is evidence that symbel crossed both religious and national divides. Egil sits in the gift
stool, which is made clear for him, and is handed a horn but refuses to drink instead he raises his eyebrows
at the king. Both Egil and elstan are carrying their swords; Egil also wears his helmet and carries his
shield, however both place their swords on their laps where they can be seen. The carrying of weapons is
unusual; it would appear to break the rules of gri that weapons must not be carried in the presence of the
. How the weapons are placed suggests a ritual between two men who must trust each other contrary
to their natural instincts. elstan takes a ring from his arm and passes it using his sword over a central
fre to Egil who takes it using his sword, now Egil drinks and makes a speech
The presence of weapons in this passage is not without precedence, Tacitus comments on the presence
of weapons during drinking sessions in his Germania
as do the Laws of Horhere and Eadric, Christian
kings of Kent in the late 7
XIII. Gif man wpn abregde r mn drincen 7 r man nan yfel ne de,
scilling an t fet age, 7 cyninge XII scll.
XIV. Gif t fet geblodgad wyre, forgylde em mn his mundbyrd 7 cy-
ninge L scill
13. If a man a weapon unsheathes whilst men are drinking and there is noth-
ing wicked nor death, a shilling to that hall owner, and the king has twelve
14. If that hall is blooded is worth, pay double that man his fne of compen-
sation and the king has ffty shillings.
There are two other signifcant laws from this period pertaining to the behaviour whilst drinking, the
frst, again from of Horhere and Eadric, shows the importance of passing the beaker and allowing a
man to speak:
XII. Gif an orum steopp asette r mn drincen, buton scylde, an eald
riht scll agelde am a t fet age, 7 VI scll am e man one steap aset,
7 cynge XII scll.
12. If anothers beaker is taken away whilst men are drinking, without a
crime, granting old law a shilling punishment to those that the hall is prop-
erty, and six shillings to the man whose beaker was taken, and the king has
twelve shillings.
There are two important elements here; it is only a crime if the man whose beaker is taken is innocent
of any wrongdoing, and, that the fne paid to the hall owner is from an old law or old right. The old
law is likely to be a traditional custom predating written law as no mention of this is made in the previous
law code of elberht
. The crime which would allow a drink to be taken from a man is not specifed
however, the second example of drinking law, this time from the Laws of Ine of Wessex written in 694,
helps shed some light:
13 Pollington, 2003
14 Magnusson, 1999, Egils saga Skalla-Grmssonar chap. 55, Pollington 2003
15 Tacitus, Germania 22, in Bauschatz, 1982
16 Attenborough , 1922
rrir 51
VI v. Gif onne on gebeorscipe hie geciden, 7 oer hiora mid geylde hit
forbere, geselle se oer XXX scill. to wite
6 5. If while in beer-drinking they chide (each other) and one of them for-
bears with patience, let the other pay 30 shilling as a fne.
When sat drinking one must not start name calling, quarrelling or scolding the others with you or if
someone starts to behave in that manner you are to sit it out patiently. This polite behaviour is also advised
in the Icelandic poem Havamal that has a number of verses warning against speaking when drunk, over
drinking and mockery.

These laws about drinking are more than drunk and disorderly laws they are enshrining into law the
traditional drinking etiquette, the eald riht, and provide us with hard primary evidence of the behaviour
expected in the drinking rituals described in the poems and sagas. The position at the start of the law codes
also highlights the importance of drinking at the heart of society.
Applying these laws and the Havamal verses to Beowulf and Lokasenna we can see that Unfers
challenge is not the same as Lokis behaviour, and, why the outcomes are different. Loki was punished
because he did not stop; he made challenge after challenge, chiding and mocking the gods, each challenge
getting progressively more personal and abusive breaking both the laws of men and the moral code of the
Symbolism in Symbel
So far, we have looked at what happened at symbel, where it was held and the sources of evidence.
Before suggesting how to reconstruct a symbel, it is important to identify the symbolism within the ritual,
why it existed and why it continued. Symbel was so important in pre-Christian Germanic culture that it
was retained after conversion and its legacy is still felt today in northern European societies where it is
common practise to wish someone good health after giving them a drink.
The gathering together of a community or social group inside a building sets that group apart from
those people and things outside of the building. The action of coming together and closing the door on
the outside world is a physical representation of the Germanic model of the cosmos, one of insiders and
. The seating arrangement and the order in which each person drinks further emphasises the
hierarchy of the group inside. By being inside one is affrmed as part of the group and where a person sits
shows to everyone else in attendance their status. This is social and political symbolism.
The two prominent seats described in the poems and sagas are the high seat of the lord, chief or ruler
and the gift stool on which the honoured guest sits. This seating arrangement gives a physical arena in
which the gift and favour social system can be enacted, that is the buying or rewarding service with
gifts from the highest rank to lower ranks
. Egil and elstan are a good example of this as is Beowulfs
promotion in seat position after killing Grendel. Again, this is social and political symbolism. It must be
remembered that symbel is not egalitarian or a democracy as it is not clear from the surviving literature if
all the people in the hall participated in the drinking. The Battle of Maldon suggests that it was heroes
in the hall who spoke at mead which is echoed in The Wanderer who laments the mailed warrior and
17 Translation by S. Pollington
18 Havamal verses: 11 to 14, 17, 19 and 30 to 32
19 The community and ones family are the insiders people outside of this circle are outsiders, from a reconstuctionist Heathen perspec-
tive one aims to always beneft ones community and family. satr spirituality is based on the interacting with the real world in a way
which supports the well being of family and community. It is not and never has been about looking outward or inward. Rood, 2011
20 Pollington, 2003
rrir 52
kings host, such people were the high ranking members of early medieval society which marks drink-
ing in the mead hall as a special privilege.
The political and social importance of the hall and seating do not explain the drinking or passing of a
drinking vessel although they do go some way to explain why after conversion to Christianity the tradi-
tional ritual continued to be practised unmolested. The poems Hymiskvia and Lokasenna give a mytho-
logical insight into possible religious origins of symbel.
Bauschatz, in The Well and the Tree, puts forward a theory about the physical symbolism of symbel.
He argues that at the heart of Norse cosmology is Yggrdassil (an ash tree at the centre of the universe) and
Urarbrunnr, Urths Well, at its base, Volsupa and Gylfanning both tell us it is at this well that the Norns
determine the fate and lives of men and decide law. Bauschatz made a strong argument that the captive
liquid inside the horn passed from man to man is symbolic of the water of Urths Well
This theory is plausible although not without fault. The importance of wells and springs outside of
Norse literature is evidenced in Anglo-Saxon culture by the multitude of place names referring to wells or
springs, for example Sywell (seven wells/springs, seofon wella) and Twywell (two/double wells/springs,
twi wella) in Northamptonshire
. Wells and springs in the early medieval period (as now) were often the
only reliable source of safe drinking water, different in physical nature and cleanliness to other bodies of
water such as rivers, lakes and seas where monsters and powerful creatures live. It is no accident of imagi-
nation that Grendels Mother dwells at the bottom of murky pool, the surface of the water is a gateway
to another world and one outside the world of man. However, in contrast the spring bubbles up from the
ground into the centre of our world bringing us life and refreshment.
I believe, if Bauschatz is correct in his hypothesis, that this is actually the tip of the iceberg and the
symbolism goes deeper and that this is evidenced in the Hymiskvia and in the archaeological record.
In Hymiskvia the plot revolves around the acquisition of a cauldron or kettle in which to brew the
ale (or maybe warm the mead) for a symbel for the gods. In the Lokasenna the liquid is drew from this
kettle and poured into the cups; the same action as one would use when drawing water from a well.
21 Bauschatz, 1982
22 English Place-Name Society
Fig 5. Sutton Hoo hanging blow or cauldron
rrir 53
These two poems are the only references to symbel related cauldrons or kettles in literature; however,
princely burials throughout Heathen period England such as Wollaston, Sutton Hoo and Prittlewell

all contain cauldrons, some with suspension chains. The acceptance of the horns use in symbel from a
relatively small number of literary references compared to cups is strengthen by the inclusion of horns in
high status graves; this can (and should) be extended to the cauldron or kettle. By extending Bauschatz
proposition to the cauldron the symbolism of the contained liquid becomes a more holistic representation
Urths Well in the mead hall.
Such an extension of Bauschatzs position also helps to explain the reason for the setting inside the
mead hall. If the underlying symbolism of the ritual was to enact the drinking from Urths Well at the
base of Yggrdassil then why was it not performed in a grove with a spring under an ash tree? Volsupa and
Gylfanning give answers to this by telling us it is at Urths Well where the Norns make law and the gods
hold council. By bringing the symbolic spring into the mead hall where men make laws and hold council
the status of both are confrmed; laws are passed where the well is and the well is where laws are passed.
The use of intoxicating liquor is part of the symbolism; it is mind altering and therefore different to or-
dinary water. It is not clear as described above whether the alcohol was mead or ale but what is clear from
each description is that it was alcoholic and likely to make the drinker drunk even though drunkenness it
has been shown was not a good state to be in during symbel. What is clear is that the drink was special;
Beowulf describes clear sweet liquid, which contrasts with river water or herbal infusions, as does the
clear bubbling water of a spring. The head of froth on ale in the glass and during fermentation can also
be seen as a connection to springs and with its alcoholic effects potentially to Urths Well or otherness
in general.
The speaking and actions during symbel are of as much importance as the setting and paraphernalia. A
symbel cannot be held in silence, the literary evidence is clear that words are spoken over the horn before
drinking. Here Bauschatz makes his most interesting point in his examination of symbel. The words are
heard by the liquid as we speak them and then we drink them, we take the words back into ourselves and
we become one with our words
. If we make insults or slurs then we carry them always after drinking, if
we make boasts then we must live up to them and if we make oaths then we must stand by them. Urths
Well is the font of wyrd, by symbolically bringing this well into our ritual and sharing its issue we are
drinking our wyrd and shaping ourselves in the eyes of all present both seen and unseen. The cup or horn,
from the evidence and the symbolism proposed from Bauschatz work, should be held below the mouth so
that words spoken go over the liquid. The horn may be raised above the mouth after speaking or drinking
but not before as this prevents the words from entering the symbolic spring water that the speaker will
then drink.
The Bauschatz theory of Urths Well has one major faw in that symbel continued into the Christian
period. If the ritual were so intimately bound to this part of Germanic cosmology, it would likely have
been frowned on by new religion. There is argument that Urths Well is only recorded in Norse literature
however the evidence from English literature and place naming refects the notion of wells and water be-
ing of special signifcance. The ritual and temple described in Saga Hkonar ga would not have been
tolerated by the new faith. Bede demonstrates this in recording such events as the destruction of Heathen
temples by their priests. Somehow, symbel survived.
If Urths Well is removed does symbel still work? Obviously the answer is yes, else, the ritual would
not have been so important to our Christian ancestors; this then begs the question was Urths Well there
23 Meadows 2004, Pollington 2008
24 Bauschatz, 1982
rrir 54
to be removed in the frst place? Without the Well, we have people gathered in a place separated from
the rest of the world, publicly displaying their ranks within society and making their speeches, vows and
boasts sealing these with the shared action of drinking from a communal cup. The liquid and its container
in this picture of symbel now represent the oneness of the social group which ties each speaker to the oth-
ers, this is no less related to wyrd (a concept incorporating fate, the past and the present into one) than the
symbolism of Urths Well
. Each speaker is making clear their intensions for the future, their thoughts
of the present and memories of the past for all to hear and to be held accountable should these words be
untrue or not fulflled. At the point at which the speaker drinks, those words are committed to the group
and become part of the social binding.
In the Bauschatz model, the high status female cup bearer carrying the drink from drinker to drinker
can be seen as the fnal key to overall symbolism of symbel. During the ritual, she can be seen as a rep-
resentative or symbol of the unseen: a Norn, valkyrie or wlcyrige carrying mens fate around the room,
choosing who will speak and who will not, speaking her words before the drinker and ensuring the proper
order of things. The best examples of this role in practice are Wealheow presenting the cup to Hrogar
and Beowulf
and Sif presenting the cup to Loki
, both use polite, calm and greeting words as they hand
over the cup.
Without the Bauschatz model the high status woman continues to have a major social and symbolic
importance. The social position of women was not one of second-class citizens: they were the equal to
25 Wyrd (OE) is cognate to Urr (ON) from which the name Urths Well comes.
26 Beowulf lines 612 to 628
27 Lokasenna verse 5\3
Fig 6. Valkyrie fgure carrying a horn from Birka, Sweden
Fig 7. Valkyrie presenting a horn to Odin on the Tjngvide image stone
rrir 55
males but different.
The high status of these women must not be overlooked; these are women who under
any other circumstance would be served not serving. Being served by the high status woman demonstrates
the honour and privilege being bestowed onto the male participants of the symbel. The words spoken by
the women in literature are in contrast to challenges made by the male spokesman, the yle; the women
encourage good words and promote a peaceful atmosphere in a situation that could otherwise become a
drunken brawl. In Lokasenna, it is initially servants that carry the cup but as Loki becomes more aggres-
sive and abusive it is Sif, the wife of orr, who presents him with a cup and soothing words in an attempt
to bring peace to the proceedings.
This female role of maintaining the peace within the hall brings to mind the high status women known
as friuwebbe, a peace maker (literally peace-weaver), who became brides of a rival folk to build peace
between the two people
. The use of the noun webba, a weaver, continues the theme of wyrd and this
woman indeed does weave backwards and forwards between the participants of the symbel.
Reconstructing a Symbel
Reconstructing a symbel should not be a physically diffcult task considering that it is, at its core, a
simple drinking ritual. As stated in the preamble to this study, it is wrong for anyone to dictate the one
true way to symbel. The evidence clearly sets out a correct framework within which to practice symbel.
There are a small number of roles that should be flled and objects that are required, there are also some
dos and donts to be considered. Using the literary evidence above it is possible to create a generic tem-
plate from which a symbel can be devised to suit most groups.
Reconstructing a symbel can prove to be a spiritually diffcult task because of preconceived ideas based
on alternative world-views to that which is Heathen. Understanding, accepting and believing the underly-
ing reason for symbel is what differentiates a reconstruction from a re-enactment of the ritual. It is only
in this aspect that the Heathen symbel resembles other religions rituals; for example, eating bread and
drinking wine does not make a Christian Eucharist, it is the participants belief that the bread and wine
have for that moment transformed into the actual fesh and blood of their god that makes it the Eucharist.
Basic material requirements:
1. An indoor area with adequate seating for all attending the symbel.
2. Medium strength alcoholic beverage such as mead or ale (5%-15% ABV).
3. A suitably ornate or distinctive vessel such as a drinking horn or large cut crystal glass.
Key roles:
1. The Lord or host, this is either the location owner or highest ranking individual present in a com-
munally owned or rented space. This is a required role.
2. The Lady or Cup Bearer, this is the person who will carry the drinking vessel between each par-
ticipant. This is a required role.
3. The yle or Challenger, this person challenges the boasts made by the guests on behave of the
host thus saving the host the embarrassment of entering into or loosing an argument. This role is not
required but is useful; the person taking this offce should be thick skinned and knowledgeable of
lore and the groups history and politics.
28 Herbert, 1997
29 Herbert, 1997 friuwebbe and Clark Hall, 1916, frie-webba female noun.
rrir 56
4. The Scop or Skald, an entertainer, a singer or story teller (who may also be the yle). Again, this
role is not required but adds merriment and joy to the otherwise solemn ritual.
5. The Guest, this person is the guest of honour, the person sat opposite the host. This role is taken
by whoever the host wishes to honour, it is completely at the hosts discretion if this role is flled.
6. The Door Guard, an optional role, this person calls the participants to symbel and closes the door
when they are all seated; he also prevents others from entering without announcement.
Sequence of events:
1. The guests enter the symbel room and are seated in accordance with the wishes of the host, possibly
with the assistance of the door guard.
2. The drink is brought into the room by the cup bearer or Lady. Depending on the custom of the group,
the drink may have been blessed in private beforehand or during this part of the ritual by the host.
Some groups may prefer not to bless the drink at all.
3. The cup bearer/Lady presents the host with the frst draft with suitable words.
4. The host stands and takes the cup and makes a welcoming speech thus opening symbel. He then sits.
5. The cup bearer/Lady takes the cup around the room personally welcoming each participant to drink
who stands to accept the cup. Before drinking, each receiver of the cup has the opportunity to make
a speech, make a boast or simply thank the host. After drinking, the participant should return to his
seat. The direction of the cup should be clockwise
although if someone is sat in the guest seat he
may be offered the cup directly after the host.
6. When the cup reaches the host again, the Lady sits down. The rounds may continue requiring an at-
tendant to follow to ensure the cup does not empty.
7. Each time the cup reaches the host it is at his discretion whether it should continue or the symbel
It is at point six that the reconstruction of symbel becomes less clear and open to interpretation, the
literary evidence does not include the closing of a symbel nor make clear how rounds progressed after the
frst speeches. Egils saga tells of drinking rounds leading to helpless drunkenness and vomiting
this drinking is at a dsablt not a symbel. Beowulf only describes the cup moving around the hall between
the key characters speeches. In Lokasenna there appears to be numerous cups in use, there is a situation
mentioned in Egils saga where we hear of every man having his own horn and another where men being
paired with drinking partners
If the cup bearer takes a seat at the end of the frst round, they would be taking the seat to the right
of the host demonstrating the role of cup bearer to be one for the highest of offce. In Beowulf, Queen
Wealheow sits by Hrogars side after she has offered the drink to Beowulf and he has returned the cup
to her; whether she took a drink is not mentioned
It is clear that should the cup or horn continue to make rounds amongst the assembled participants it
must be accompanied by an attendant whose role is to ensure that it does not run dry. Alternative arrange-
ments may be made such as after drinking checking there is enough for the next person and if not calling
out for a refll, but whatever solution is adopted the cup should not run dry during a symbel.
30 Pollington 2003
31 Magnusson 1999, Egils saga Skalla-Grmssonar Chap. 44
32 Magnusson 1999, Egils saga Skalla-Grmssonar Chap. 48
33 Beowulf, lines 639-641.
rrir 57
The fnal issue for complete reconstruction is what to do with the cup and remaining drink at the end
of symbel. The recording of symbel is Christian and therefore any ritual activity with the remaining liquid
such as pouring onto the ground as a symbolic gift to the ancestors or other ritualised disposal would have
been viewed as demonic or devilish thus no longer practised and ignored in literature. Symbels per-
sistence into the Christian period and potentially up to the Norman conquest of England and the end of the
Viking Age suggests that it changed to suit the religious and social climate. Symbels original symbolism
steeped in wyrd and the unseen world was over taken by the spoken word for its own value, other overtly
non-Christian elements may have mutated or fallen by the wayside. I will leave this fnal step open ended
for each individual group to decide what is right for them. The leader of the symbel may drink the last
drop symbolically taking in all the words of all the participants and enforcing his role as luck carrier of
the folk. The liquid can be placed into a votive bowl and left for unseen guests, taken to a sacred site and
gifted to the unseen there or to the ancestors; this could be a grove, tree, spring or grave. However the
drinking the vessel is emptied, when it is the symbel is over.
unorrad Symbel
Symbel is core principle within the unorrad eod; my fellow eodwitan have kindly provided me with
their thoughts for publication in this article.
Lee James, eoden, unorrad eod:
To my mind, symbel is the time and place for a man to be truly measured
by his community. The story of everything he has known to have said, done,
or failed to do may be retold in front of his people. It is both the start and
the end of his success. It is also where the community shows their trust in
him, his standing amongst them and his worthiness to share the warmth,
laughter, protection and joy that is his theod.
Every time I symbel, as I speak words to my gathered folk, restating my
luck and my strength, sealing these words with potency and permanency by
drinking from the shared horn or cup, so my folk do the same. And with our
ritual words and drinking, we become tied and bound together, and share
in the wholeness of the group. Indeed, we become obligated to each other
and are each expected to maintain and uphold our wholeness. I would say
that it is that expectation which acts as a guide and a drive throughout my
life, and it is that, more than all other things, that I would consider to be the
core of a heathen way of life.
Liam Green, Hwicce Ealdormann, unorrad eod:
Symbel to me is the act of myself reforming my ties and commitment to my
kin in the Theod in the eyes of its leadership, its fellow members, the Gods,
our collective and personal ancestors and Wyrd itself in hope of bringing
further good luck to my Theod and my Family. It also reaffrms my place
within the Theod and the sharing of mead with its members signifes that
the position I hold in it to the leadership in the sense that I wish to continue
in this position along with the responsibilities (Hospitality, rents, etc.) and
duties to the leadership and the community as a whole.
rrir 58
In my opinion Symbel is crucial to my and any theod, unless a frm
social structure is in place and that structure is accepted by the member-
ship and community as whole and hopefully Wyrd willing recognised by
our Gods and ancestors we cant begin the process of engaging with them
for the good of ourselves our community and descendants and more impor-
tantly, we cant show them the respect they deserve.
Symbel is, at its core, a social ritual binding people together and binding them to their words. Being
present at a symbel may not automatically entitle you to participate. This is totally at the discretion of the
Lady carrying the cup, as the Peace Weaver she may present the cup to someone not in favour with the
group leader to allow this person an opportunity to make his peace with the group or alternatively pass
someone by due to their low rank. As shown above from Egils Saga, participants may refuse the cup until
gifts have been exchanged. It could be seen to be easier and safer not to be offered the cup, as with the cup
comes a great responsibility to make your speech and to stand by your words; equally not to be given this
opportunity can be humiliating or angering, Loki being refused a drink for example. Symbel is a political
ballet performed in public and in which each participant be they a speaking, serving or observing being
are of equal importance to the overall event as during the cups rounds the whole structure and ethics of
the group are laid bare for all to see and its future is declared.
I would like to thank the following good folk for their comments and assistance with this article: Lee
James, Liam Green, Peter Nalder, Shane Ricks, Josh Rood, Stephen Pollington and Erika Wills.
All illustrations by John Willis
rrir 59
I am reluctant to have this band put on me. But rather than that you ques-
tion my courage, let some one put his hand in my mouth as a pledge that this
is done in good faith.
But all the sir looked at each other and found themselves in a dilemma
and all refused to offer their hands until Tyr put forward his right hand and
put it in the wolf's mouth. And now when the wolf kicked, the band grew
harder, and the harder he struggled, the tougher became the band. Then they
all laughed except for Tyr. He lost his hand.
To modern sensibilities, the binding of the wolf Fenrir can seem cruel and unfair: a self-fulflling proph-
ecy that turns the wolf into the gods' slavering enemy because of how they treat him. But such an interpre-
tation overlooks the symbolic value of the wolf in Norse mythology and the social mores reinforced by the
wolf's binding. Setting aside questions about the gods' morality, the binding of Fenrir shows the restraint
required to maintain the reciprocal social bonds that support and protect the common good. The tale shows
the price that individuals must pay to gain, and keep, the benefts of kinship and common cause.
In Snorri Sturluson's tale of the binding of Fenrir, the chief reason given for the sirs actions is a mix
of prophecy and Fenrir's innate character:
And when the gods realized that these three siblings [Hel, Jrmungandr,
and Fenrir] were being brought up in Giantland, and when the gods traced
the prophecies stating that from these siblings great mischief and disaster
would arise for them, then they all felt evil was to be expected from them, to
begin with because of their mother's nature, but still worse because of their
father's [Loki].
A simple interpretation of this statement, and of references to Fenrir in eddic and skaldic poetry,
be that the sir bind Fenrir because he is kin to their enemies among the giants and will play a critical role
in the destruction of all things at Ragnarok. But what moves the sir to bind Fenrir is the wolf's appetite,
a characteristic that links Fenrir to the underlying symbolism of the wolf in Norse myth and literature:
The sir brought up the wolf at home, and it was only Tyr who had the
courage to approach the wolf and give it food. And when the gods saw how
much it was growing each day, and all prophecies foretold that it was des

1 Snorri Sturluson, Edda, trans. Anthony Faulkes (London: J.M. Dent, 1987) 29.
2 Sturluson, Edda 27.
3 c.f.: Vlusp stanzas 40, 44, 49, 53, 54, 55, and 58 in: Carolyne Larrington, trans., The Poetic Edda (Oxford: Oxford University Press,
1996) 9-12; Vafrnisml stanzas 46, 47, and 53 (Larrington 47-48); Grmnisml stanza 23 (Larrington 55); Lokasenna stanzas 39 and
41 (Larrington 91); and Hkonar saga Ga, stanza 100 in: Snorri Sturluson, Heimskringla: History of the Kings of Norway, trans. Lee
M. Hollander (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2007) 127.
Feeding the Wolf
The Theme of Restraint, and its Lack,
in the Mythology of Fenrir

By Dan Campbell
rrir 60
tined to cause them harm, then the sir adopted this plan, that they made a
very strong fetter.
While Snorri continues to emphasize the prophecy in the sirs motivation, it is the wolf's hunger and
growing size that prompts the gods to act.
Earlier, in Gylfaginning, Snorri describes the devouring rampage of the wolf Moongarm: He will fll
himself with the lifeblood of everyone that dies, and he will swallow heavenly bodies and spatter heaven
and all the skies with blood, and he quotes from Vlusp for support: He gorges the life of doomed men,
reddens gods halls with red gore.
While Moongarm would appear to be a different wolf than Fenrir,
Rudolf Simek asserts they are the same and that the other two named wolves, Skll and Hati, who de-
vour the sun and moon, are similarly identical with Fenrir.
Even if one interprets Moongarm, Skll and
Hati as individuals distinct from Fenrir, they are nonetheless all the same kin, sired by Fenrir, as Snorri
describes with reference to Vlusp: The ancient giantess breeds as sons many giants and all in wolf
shapes, and it is from them that these wolves are descended... Thus it says in Voluspa: In the east lives the
old one, in Ironwood, and breeds there Fenrirs kind.
The fact that Fenrir shares the destructive hunger
of Moongarm, Skll and Hati is alluded to both in Snorris account in Gylfaginning, quoted above,
and in
his later description of Ragnarok:
But Fenris wolf will go with mouth agape and its upper jaw will be against
the sky and its lower one against the earth. It would gape wider if there was
In this second image, the threat of Fenrirs hunger and growth are emphasized, for his jaws gape open to
swallow all there is between heaven and earth. Indeed, the refrain about Fenrir in Vlusp stanzas 44, 49,
and 58 explicitly links Ragnarok with the wolfs hunger: the rope will break and the ravener run free.
In that line from Vlusp, the word translated as ravener by Carolyne Larrington connects Fenrir
with what wolves represent in Norse myth and literature. In Old Norse, the second line of the refrain from
Vlusp stanzas 44, 49, and 58 reads: festr mun slitna en freki renna,
in which freki is the word allud-
ing to Fenrir and translated as ravener by Larrington. Richard Cleasby and Gudbrand Vigfusson offer
the following defnition for freki:
freki, a, m., pot. a wolf, Vsp. 51, Gm. 19.
However, freki more literally means the greedy one
and is derived from the adjective frekr, mean-
ing greedy, voracious, hungry, with connotations of exorbitant, harsh.
As mentioned in Cleasby and
Vigfussons defnition quoted above, freki and the hunger of wolves also appear in Grmnisml stanza 19:
4 Sturluson, Edda 27.
5 Sturluson, Edda 15.
6 Simek 80.
7 Sturluson, Edda 15.
8 Sturluson, Edda 27.
9 Sturluson, Edda 53
10 Larrington, 10-12
11 Vlusp. Eddukvi: Smundar-Edda, ed. Guni Jnsson, Heimskringla: Norrne Tekster og Kvad, 2005, 25 April 2009
12 Richard Cleasby and Gudbrand Vigfusson, An Icelandic-English Dictionary (London: Oxford University Press, 1874) 172, Germanic
Lexicon Project, 28 May 2011 <http://lexicon.ff.cuni.cz/texts/oi_cleasbyvigfusson_about.html>.
13 Simek 90.
14 Cleasby and Vigfusson 172.
rrir 61
Geri and Freki, tamed to war, he satiates, / the glorious Father of Hosts.
Looking up geri in both Simek
and Cleasby and Vigfusson reveals that it also means the greedy one,
by way of the adjective gerr,
meaning greedy, gluttonous.
Frekr, in the form frekan
and translated as ravener by Larrington, further appears as a kenning for
fre in Alvssml. In stanza 26, fre is called ravener by the giants,
while stanza 28 echoes the theme
with wood called fuel by the giants. The ravening appetite of fre is similarly put to good use in Snorris
description of the eating contest between Logi and Loki, in which Logi is later revealed as fre itself.

Two stanzas by Thjthlf quoted in Ynglingasaga bring together the greedy appetites of fre and wolves:
...the fre did turn,
and the gleedes
greedy-dog [fre] bit
the liege-lord
By bay bight
the building-wolf [fre]
swallowed up
lfs body.
In the eddic poems about Sigurd, the greed of wolves is extended to greed for gold and their hunger to
its loss. Sigrdrfuml stanza 38 warns Sigurd: never trust / the oaths of a wrongdoers brat for the wolf
is in the young son, / though he seems to be gladdened by gold.
In Reginsml, Regin plots to use Sigurd
to win Andvaris gold from his brother, Fafnir, by saying, I have expectations of winnings from a raven-
ing wolf.
Atlakvia uses wolves twice to warn that Gunnar will lose his wealth: frst, when Hogni says
to Gunnar, I found a hair of the heath-wanderer twisted round the red-gold ring; / our way is wolf-beset
if we go on this errand, and second when Gunnar responds, The wolf will have control of the Nifungs
inheritance, / the old grey guardians, if Gunnar is going to be lost.
From the evidence related above, it is clear that wolves were synonymous with greed in Norse thought.
But what is the origin of the association?
The image of the greedy wolf survives in the modern English saying to wolf down ones food, i.e. to
eat like a wolf, gulping ones food quickly as if one were starving and unable to fll ones belly. To anyone
who has watched a nature flm that shows wolves eating, the sense of this image will be readily apparent,
for wolves wolf down their food, consuming as much as possible to hold them over until the next kill.
Eating wolves appear ferocious, violently defending their share of the kill either against other predators or
against lower status members of their own pack. This violent behavior of wolves at a kill may help explain
the Norse perception of the wolf as a creature of the lawless wild, often seen scavenging corpses on the
15 Larrington 54.
16 Simek 106.
17 Cleasby and Vigfusson 197.
18 Eddukvi, Alvssml stanza 26.
19 Larrington 112-113.-h
20 Sturluson, Edda 41, 45.
21 Sturluson, Heimskringla 18.
22 Sturluson, Heimskringla 45.
23 Larrington 172.
24 Larrington 154.
25 Larrington 211-212.
rrir 62
In skaldic poetry, feeding wolves is a clich kenning referring to battle and the prowess of warriors,
and the metaphor is often extended to ravens and eagles. As Aleksander Pluskowski summarizes:
Skalds used predatory kennings for warriors, their behavior and equipment,
whilst personal names incorporating animals (in runic inscriptions and later
literature) are almost exclusively drawn from wild species... Stronger as-
sociations are found in warrior kennings which refer to them as feeders
of ravens, wolves, and eagles... whilst the fallen in battle are described as
Examples can be drawn from multiple sources,
but a few selections should suffce to demonstrate the
motifs emphasis on hunger, greed, and the devouring of the dead:
From Skaldskaparmal:
Evil lineage of she-wolf swallowed much-harmed corpse
the prince reddened Fenrirs chops
From Heimskringla stanzas 210, 320, 328, 438, 519, 569:
Tawny she-wolves teeth a twelfth time the king reddened
who flled with meat the maws of wolves
Gorge we the hungry wolf-brood!
Heaped he...hills of high-piled slain for hungry wolves
gorging the greedy mount-of-ghouls
From Egils Saga stanzas 12 and 53:
who stain wolfs teeth with blood
make meals for the wolf with his sword
From Krkuml stanzas 9, 16, and 19:
The wolf welcomed our offering of corpse-windrows
never suffered the she-wolf to starve
many fell into wolfs jaws
A verse of Egils, quoted by Snorri in Hattatal, dwells on the feeding wolves motif and further con-
nects it to Fenrir:

26 Aleksander Pluskowski, Harnessing the hunger: Religious appropriations of animal predation in early medieval Scandinavia, Old
Norse religion in long-term perspectives: origins, changes, and interactions, eds. Anders Andrn, Kristina Jennbert and Catharina
Raudvere (Lund: Nordic Academic Press, 2006) 120.
27 These are all of the references that I found to feeding wolves, though I doubt this list is comprehensive: Snorri on the word warg with
quotes from Thiodulf, Egil, Einar, Arnor, Illugi, Hall and Thord (Sturluson, Edda 135-136); stanzas 62, 85, 133, 146, 148, 194, 200, 210,
290, 320, 328, 401, 412, 427, 438, 441, 445, 454, 460, 472, 495, 505, 518, 519, 528, 540, 544, 547, 569, 573, 581, 586, 592 and 597 in
Sturlusons Heimskringla; stanzas 12, 13, 41, 50, and 53 quoted in Egils Saga, as well as stanzas 10, 11, 12, 14, and 15 from the poem
Egil delivers to King Eirik to ransom his head, in: Bernard Scudder, trans. Egils Saga, in: The Sagas of Icelanders: A Selection, (New
York: Penguin Books, 2001) 75, 76, 126, 165, 166, and 116-117; another verse by Egil, quoted by Snorri in Hattatal (Sturluson, Edda
199); and stanzas 2, 3, 8, 9, 10, 16, 18, 19, and 24 of Krkuml, in: The Sagas of Ragnar Lodbrok, ed. and trans. Ben Waggoner (New
Haven: Troth Publications, 2009) 75-82.
28 Sturluson, Edda 135-136.
29 Sturluson, Heimskringla 257, 476, 497, 573, 647, 696.
30 Scudder 75 and 166.
31 Krkuml 78, 80, 81.
rrir 63
Who would nourish the bloody-bristled she-wolf with the wounds red drink
unless it were that the prince strengthens the wolfs greed many a day? The
leader provides the watcher [wolf] with wounds newly pierced by edge. The
army sees the front claw of Fenrirs shaggy paw redden.
While the feeding wolves motif naturally derives from wolves worrying corpses on the battlefeld,
the symbolism of the wolf, its hunger, and the violence it will do to satiate itself is more than a grim meta-
phor of war.
To be or become wolf-like means becoming a threat to the social order; being an agent of
destruction, which cannot restrain itself. In a prior paper, I pointed out that the breaking of the bonds of
Loki and Fenrir is equivalent to, and caused by, the breaking of the bonds of kinship and community, as
alluded to in stanza 45 of the Vlusp (translation mine):
Brr munu berjask ok at bnum verask,
munu systrungar sifjum spilla;
hart er heimi, hrdmr mikill,
skeggld, skalmld, skildir ro klofnir,
vindld, vargld, r verld steypisk;
mun engi mar rum yrma. (Eddukvi, Vlusp 45)
Brothers shall fght and become each others slayers,
Cousins shall commit incest;
Hard it is in the world, there is much adultery,
Axe-age, sword-age, shields are cloven,
Wind-age, wolf-age, until the world is overthrown,
No one shall give others hospitality.
Note that such a time of social disorder is described as an Axe-age, sword-age and a Wind-age,
wolf-age, recalling the skaldic kennings for battle. The threat represented by both wolves and weapons
reappears in Hvaml stanzas 85-88, in which A stretching bow, a burning fame, / a gaping wolf, a caw-
ing crow and a fying dart are named in a list of things that should not be trusted.
Such lack of trust and the inherent dangers in unrestrained appetites also apply to outlaws and berserk-
ers who, being outside the law (and thus outside the social order), are compared with wolves. The Old
Norse word vargr, while literally meaning wolf, is a legal term for an outlaw, esp. used of one who
commits a crime in a holy place, and is thereon declared accursed.
The terms for full outlawry and
full outlawskggangr, forest-going, and skgarmar, forest-man
further emphasize the wolfsh
character of the outlaw by echoing verse about wolves in the wilderness, such as in Vlusp stanza 40,
In the east sat an old woman in Iron-wood
and nurtured there offspring of Fenrir
32 Sturluson, Edda 199.
33 Nonetheless, the feeding wolves motif as a kenning for battle is likely behind both Tyrs epithet as feeder of the wolf (Sturluson,
Edda 76) and Odin feeding Geri and Freki in Grmnisml stanza 19 (Larrington 54)in each case showing them to be gods of battle
and warfare.
34 Dan Campbell, The Bound God: Fetters, Kinship, and the Gods Idunna 89 (Fall 2011). 24.
35 Larrington 25.
36 Cleasby and Vigfusson 680.
37 Jesse Byock, Viking Age Iceland (London: Penguin Books Ltd., 2001) 231.
38 Larrington 9.
rrir 64
The frst stanza of the Old Norwegian Rune Poem:
Gold causes the strife of kinsmen;
the wolf is reared in the woods.
The distinction in Icelandic law between manslaughter and murder shows that a lack of restraint un-
derlies the comparison of full outlaws with wolves. Killing someone and confessing (or boasting) about it
was considered manslaughter, a crime which could be settled through compensation and so avoid further
bloodshed. Murder, in contrast, was a killing where the perpetrator did not confess the deed. If discovered,
the murderer could be outlawed; however, the act was just as likely to lead to revenge killings and feuding,
upsetting the social order. As Jesse Byock summarizes:
The law gave people the right to take vengeance and to defend their person
and their honour, but only within limitations...the law book entries agree
with the general thrust of the sagas, showing a consensus among the popula-
tion for allowing vengeance-taking but only within the limits of acceptable
windows of opportunity.
Berserkers are also compared with wolves and typically portrayed as outlaws-waiting-to-happen. In
Ynglingasaga, Snorri describes berserkers as mad as dogs or wolves,
and berserkers appear as trou-
ble-makers in need of killing in Egils Saga,
Grettirs Saga,
and Eyrbyggja Saga. The last echoes
Ynglingasaga and emphasizes how berserkers are outside of human society: They used to go berserk...
they were wholly unlike human beings, storming about like mad dogs and afraid of neither fre nor
In telling the story of the berserker brothers Halli and Leiknir, Eyrbyggja Saga portrays them
as lacking restraint. When they frst enter Vermunds service, they threaten him: if ever you refuse us
anything which we want and you have the power to give, we wont be at all pleased. This threat bears
fruit when Halli asks Vermund to fnd him a wife, and then later when the berserker seeks the hand of
Skyrs daughter. The match is not appropriate for the women or their families, and Skyr contrives to kill
the berserkers rather than confront them directly.
Echoing the berserkers lack of restraint, Icelandic law
carries a penalty of lesser outlawry simply for going berserk, as well as for those men who are present
except if they restrain [the berserker].
Turning such social restraint on its head, there are two occasions in Norse myth where an individual
is forced to become wolf-like so that they will ignore normal social boundaries. The eddic poems about
Sigurd use wolf-meat as a means to make Guthorm kill Sigurd. The fourth stanza of Fragment of a Poem
about Sigurd and stanza 20 of A Short Poem about Sigurd both describe the same event:
39 Stephen E. Flowers, The Rune-Poems, Volume 1: Introduction, Texts, Translations and Glossary (Smithville: Rna-Raven Press, 2002) 21.
40 Byock, Viking Age Iceland 225-29.
41 Sturluson, Heimskringla 10.
42 Scudder 124-126.
43 Byock, Grettirs Saga 113-114
44 Hermann Plsson and Paul Edwards, trans. Eyrbyggja Saga (London: Penguin Books, 1989) 68-69.
45 Plsson 68-71, 76-80.
46 Byock, Viking Age Iceland 314.
rrir 65
Some roasted wolf, some sliced-up serpent,
wolf-meat they gave Guthorm to eat,
before they could, desiring [Sigurds] ruin,
lay their hands on the wise man.
We should prepare Guthorm for the killing,
our younger brother, not so experienced;
he was away when the oaths were sworn,
when the oaths were sworn and the pledges made.
By eating the meat, Guthorm becomes like a wolf, capable of savage violence that breaks the bonds
supporting the social order. Similarly, according to Snorris tale of the sir binding Loki with Narf's guts,
they avoid direct responsibility for Narf's slaying by turning his brother Vali into a wolf, causing Vali to
tear his brother Narf to pieces.
Interestingly, the idea of feeding an outlaw echoes the "feeding wolves" motif of skaldic poetry. Just
as "gorging the greedy mount-of-ghouls
results in ruin and slaughter on the battlefeld, so feeding an
outlaw supports their lawlessness. The Icelandic legal term bjarg-r means help or shelter given to an
outlaw and was forbidden, as shown by the legal term -alandi, meaning one who must not be fed.

The frst term is a compound derived from bjarga, meaning to save, help but with connotations of feed-
ing or eating, as shown in the following phrases and one compound from Cleasby and Vigfusson page 65:
bjarg ti, of cattle, to graze
bjarg sjlfr, to gain ones bread
hv hann byrgist sv ltt, why he ate so slowly
bjarg-leysi, starvation, destitution
The more explicitly food-associated term -alandi is derived from ala, which means to give birth to,
nourish, support and thus encompasses raising children along with feeding and aiding individuals.
The same meaning occurs in several poems with reference to wolves, both literally and metaphorically.
The verb meaning reared in the frst stanza of The Old Norwegian Rune Poem, quoted above, is fesk,
identical to Old Norse fisk, the refexive of fa
or fa, to feed, give food to; to rear, bring up; to
give birth to.
The same word appears in Vlusp stanza 40,
In the east sat an old woman in Iron-wood
/ and nurtured there offspring of Fenrir.
Likewise, the eleventh stanza of Vlusp in skamma,
porated as the fortieth stanza of Hyndlulj by Larrington, relies on ala to convey the same idea: Loki
got the wolf on Angrboda.
Ala also appears in stanza 12 of Sigurarkvia in skamma
as part of a
warning that recalls the law term -alandi:
47 Larrington 174.
48 Larrington 185.
49 Sturluson, Edda 52.
50 Sturluson, Heimskringla 647.
51 Cleasby and Vigfusson 65, 658.
52 Flowers 20-21, 43.
53 Cleasby and Vigfusson 184.
54 Eddukvi.
55 Larrington 9.
56 Eddukvi.
57 Larrington 258.
58 Eddukvi.
rrir 66
Let the son go the same way as the father!
Dont nurture for long the young wolf;
for to which man would revenge come easier
afterwards in recompensethan if the son were still alive?
The theme of restraint also appears in the Hvaml, which frequently stresses caution and moderation
in adherence to social norms--from knowing when to speak and when to be silent, to how much one should
drink and how best to maintain friendships. Among these admonitions, stanzas 20 and 21 emphasize re-
straint in eating habits, providing a direct contrast to the imagery of feeding wolves:
The greedy man, unless he guards against this tendency,
will eat himself into lifelong trouble;
often hes laughed at when he comes among the wise,
the man whos foolish about his stomach.
Cattle know when they ought to go home,
and then they leave the pasture;
but the foolish man never knows
the measure of his own stomach.
Icelandic law emphasizes restraint in its proscriptions against feeding or aiding outlaws and the penalty
of lesser outlawry for going berserk or failing to restrain a berserker. Icelandic society valued hf, mod-
eration, over the vengeance of feuding. If a dispute could be settled through arbitration, and crimes with
compensation, then Icelandic society benefted from the lack of violence and the resulting disruption. In
the opposite of hf; hf, and Icelandic society's response to it, can be found the rationale for the sirs
binding of Fenrir. As Byock describes:
The practice of hf was known as jafnar, meaning unevenness, unfair-
ness or injustice in dealings with others. jafnar, which is often trans-
lated as 'being overbearing' or 'unjust', disturbed the consensual nature of
decision-making and set in motion a series of coercive responses; for ex-
ample, when an individual's greed or ambition threatened the balance of
power, other leaders banded together in an effort to counter his immoderate
To the Icelanders, Fenrir is without restraint; he has hf. His appetite is never ending, his eating habits
ferocious (judging from Tyr's courage in feeding him), and his growth exponential. He is this way simply
because he is a wolf: a raving killer, a devourer of corpses, the epitome of lawless violence, as quick to
consume as fre and just as merciless in the destruction of wealth and well-being. While to modern sensi-
bilities the preemptive actions of the sir appear unfair, Fenrir's very nature requires them to impose the
restraint he lacks.
The wolf is the will to cause strife among men, the hunger and greed that urges violence, the raving
prowess that breaks all bonds of social order. Because he cannot restrain himself (as the sir believe),
he must be bound, to protect the world of men and the gods. Metaphorically, the binding of the wolf
59 Larrington 183.
60 Larrington 17.
61 Byock, Viking Age Iceland 190-191
rrir 67
symbolizes the restraint that all members of a community must exercise both within themselves and with
each other. Similarly, not feeding the wolf, binding him, and leaving a sword in his jaws, are the only hope
we have of social stability, for to feed the wolf is to encourage death, battle and the betrayal of all we hold
When the sir saw that the wolf was thoroughly bound they took the cord
that was hanging from the fetter, which is called Gelgia, and threaded it
through a great stone slabthis is called Giolland fastened the slab far
down in the ground...The wolf stretched its jaws enormously and reacted
violently and tried to bite them. They thrust into its mouth a certain sword;
the hilt touches its lower gums and the point its upper ones. This is its gum-
prop. It howls horribly and saliva runs from its mouth. This forms the river
called Hope. There it will lie until Ragnarok.
62 Sturluson, Edda 29.
rrir 68
Frankish Sido
Tree cults

By Erik Lacharity
Heathendom can be understood as an interwoven web of relationships that are formed between both individuals
within a community and communities with each other, whether of men or holy powers, which express the heathen
worldview. These relationships may take any number of forms from gifting, group rituals and all other modes of
symmetrical or asymmetrical reciprocity, at times taking on qualities of altruism. Equally important to the relation-
ship is where the relationship or its expression is taking place. There are examples of historical heathens engaging in
a hall or *w h
, but also at places such as rivers, stones and trees.
These places were widely used by heathen peoples
to fulfll these relationships. As modern heathens, we tend to focus less on our relationships related to the features
of our soil held to be sacred by the community and put most of our energy into symbel and blt
The focus of this paper will be threefold. The frst focus will bring to light the historical expressions of tree cult
among the Franks, the medieval French and modern French peoples
followed by the drawing of a line of similitude
1 Reconstructed Old Low Franconian root-word by Keobler meaning holy based on Proto-Germanic *w haz used here in the sense of Old
Norse v with the same reconstructed semantic value
2 Lacharity, Erik Frankish Heathenry: An Overview rrir Journal. p. 34.Web Nov 2011. <http://odroerirjournal.com/?wpfb_dl=1>
3 Ricks, Shane Cult and Identity in Modern Heathenry rrir Journal. p. 22.Web Feb 2012
4 For the purpose of this article the history of the Frankish empire and France will be divided into three periods. The Franks 300 800,
Medieval French 800 1500 and Modern French 1500 present. Note that this is for ease of categorization and may not refect the various
historical periods of a kingdom at times much divided.
rrir 69
back to the earliest expressions of the cult among the Frankish peoples. The second focus will be to understand why
this cult remained so strong up to the modern era and fnally a point-by-point rendition of the core cult elements so
as to reconstruct the custom for modern practitioners of Frankisk Aldsido
Tree cult expression past and present
The annals of Frankish and French history reveal many forms of heathen behaviour and custom through-
out the peoples history. One was ritualistic customs relating to trees, water ways or fountains and stones
as well as numerous behaviours regarded as pagan in the eyes of the early Church
. The investigation
needed to catalogue and present the many customs of the Franks is beyond the scope of this paper and so
only those customs relating to trees will be observed here.
Tree cult among the Franks
The earliest mention of tree cult practices among the pre-Christian peoples of modern France is the ac-
count of the falling of the pine tree by St. Martin of Tours, recounted by Sulpicius Severus
in the early
. In the story, St. Martin vows to destroy the heathen temples, to which the population does not
wholly object. However, when he vows to cut down their sacred pine, they take great offence. If we are to
take this account as containing some truth, then it points to those people being more concerned with the
tree itself than any of their temples or idols. Furthermore, St. Martin tells them that there is nothing sacred
in the trunk of a tree
and that it was dedicated to a demon
which further points to the importance of
the cult site being the tree itself.
Then at the Council of Orlans in 533, Caesarius of Arles makes it clear that people should avoid par-
taking in devilish banquets held in the vicinity of a shrine or springs or trees and that even if they did not
participate in the banquet that they should not eat the food offered to demons in their own home. This was
compounded at the Council in 541 when he compared such an act to vomit
. This then points to the fe-
rocity of the early Frankish Church towards the condemning of offering food to various heathen sites and
then partaking in the feast. This is a clear example of a ritual in which food is offered to a tree. It may be
that the food is not offered to the tree per se, but that the food is offered to a divine agent contained within
the tree itself making the tree a natural contact point between the offering party and the holy power within.
In 597 in a letter to Queen Brunhild of Austrasia
Pope Gregory the Great asks her to:
This too we urge equally that you should restrain other subjects of yours
under the regulation of discipline so they do not sacrifce to idols, worship
5 Frankisk Aldsido is a reconstructed Old Low Franconian term used as a label for the modern reconstructionist expression of pre-Chris-
tian Frankish custom(s) and worldview(s) as coined by Erik Lacharity, this label translating to Frankish old custom in Modern English.
See <http://aldsido.blogspot.com/2011/03/what-is-ie-ald-frankiskon-sido.html> for more info.
6 Filotas, Bernadette Pagan Survivals, Superstitions and Popular Cultures in Early Medieval Pastoral Literature PIMS. p. 112. Toronto,
7 Severus, Sulpitius Life of Saint Martin trans. Alexander Roberts. Web Nov 2011.
8 The account is in reference to pagan custom among the people of Gallia Aquitania. Although the Franks had not invaded this land before
the 6
century, Tours life was a great inspiration to later Churchmen looking to combat paganism. Furthermore these various peoples
contemporary with the account joined the later polity of the Franks and presumably brought their earlier custom with them.
9 ibid.
10 ibid.
11 Filotas, Bernadette (3)
12 Austrasia being one of the kingdoms of the Franks.
rrir 70
trees, make sacrilegious sacrifces with heads of animals, since we have
heard that many come to the churches of Christians and, what is unspeak-
able, do not give up the worship of demons.

Once again we fnd the early Frankish Church, under the leadership of the pope, trying to quash the
worshiping of trees. It is clear in this statement that the object of worship is the tree as he clearly differ-
entiates between idol worship and tree worship. Once again this does not point to the tree itself being the
agent bid, but that within it, a divine power resides.
In 601 Gregory wrote to his nephew Mellitus among the Anglo-Saxons, that the heathen temples should
not be destroyed but rather that if the [pagan] shrines are well built, it is essential that they should be
changed from the worship of devils to the service of true god
. Here we see one of the frst cases of the
Church attempting to convert heathen holy places to Christian ones. Although this reference concerns
the Anglo-Saxons, it should be noted that the early English Church owed much to the leadership of the
Frankish Church. It is therefore quite likely that if this process of Christianization of heathen holy places
must have also taken place in continental Francia. In the coming pages I will demonstrate the lasting ef-
fects of such a doctrine on the folk Christianity found in modern France.
Venantius Fortunas, an infuential court poet of the Merovingians, wrote many hymns throughout his
life. Before his death in 600 he had composed a very infuential hymn entitled Vexillia Regis (the Royal
Banner), which further served to blur the lines between heathen Frankish beliefs towards trees and those
of Christianity. Here he used Psalm 96 Tell it out among the heathen that the Lord reigneth from the Tree
as the last line of strophe 3 and reiterates the connection between God and the Tree in strophe 4:
O Tree of Beauty! Tree of Light!
O Tree with royal purple dight!
Elect upon whos faithful breast
Those holy limbs should fnd their rest!
The tree is a powerful religious symbol in many world religions including Christianity, but it cannot be mistaken
that during this historical period of the Frankish Church trees were an important element of heathen folk religion.
The constant battle of the Church to supplant these beliefs with Christian ones must have been on the minds of the
royal court and so to formulate verses in honour of trees in a Christian light, must have been a powerful tool against
old heathen customs. Albeit, the common Frank may not have been fuent in Latin, they did rapidly assimilate
with the more numerous Gallo-Romans
so it would not have been long before Latin became the Lingua Franca.
With this rapid Latinization we could expect that many Franks, not only courtiers, would have heard the hymns of
Fortunas and would surely have been infuenced by them.
In 658 at the Council of Nantes the cult of trees, wells and stones were condemned. It was further added that the
common folk believed that these sites had curative powers and would bring them gifts and lights. These trees were
so sacred that the people refused to cut their limbs or burn them and so the Church urged its clergy to do just that
Once again we see, as in the time of St. Martin that those participating in heathen acts felt strongly about the sanc-
tity of the trees and refused to bring them harm. St. Eligius at another Council of Nantes (possibly 9
century) also
ordered the destruction of sacred fountains and trees. Once again, the people refused to bring the wood of sacred
13 Letters of Pope Gregory Epistolae. Web Nov 2011. < http://epistolae.ccnmtl.columbia.edu/letter/329.html>
14 Lee, A.D. Pagans and Christians in Late Antiquity: A Sourcebook Routledge. p. 142. New York 2000
15 Dexter, Henry M. et al. The Congressional quarterly, Vol. 6 New York 1864
16 Hen, Yitzak Culture and Religion in Merovingian Gaul, A.D. 481-751 Brill. p. 15. New York 1995
17 Filotas, Bernadette (3) p. 147
rrir 71
trees home for frewood
Into the 8
century we have evidence of Charlemagnes crusade against his Saxon neighbours, who still per-
formed sacred acts at or near trees. We know that in 780 many capitularies were enacted against the perceived hea-
thenism of the Saxons by the Christian Franks. Such as one dealing with the performing of religious rites beside
streams or trees or sacred stones or offering prayer at sacred springs or trees
. One constant theme that we see
emerging from these various examples is the mentioning of making vows or prayers to trees such as was de-
meaned by Caesarius of Arles. The word often describing these vows or these trees is sacrivi
. Hendrik Kern in his
translation of the Lex Salica translates sariuus as sacrifus
, the sacred, and glosses it with uotiuus meaning vow
As such it is possible that what has come down to us as vow not only means a prayer or solemn vow but also (or
accompanied by) a votive offering.
Tree cult among the Medieval French and Modern French
In Medieval France, there was a strong tradition of trees playing an important role in community. Although this
role was no longer cloaked in its original heathen narrative and now refected the various folk-Christian narratives,
the central role that the tree cult played in the community still held the same purpose of being the focal point of
communal rituals relating to unseen forces
. It will now be necessary to peer into the folkloric record to fnd those
vestiges of the Frankish tree cults for the Church by this time either turned a blind eye to the various practices or
integrated the trees into the many local folk-Christian customs. Many of the following sources will be from French
and Belgian folklorists who collected information in the feld through interviews with common folk. It is important
to remember that although these customs and beliefs recorded in the 19
and 20
century are relatively recent, this
does not mean that the recorded material is in and of itself recent. I shall demonstrate in each case that the infor-
mation gathered by these folklorists does indeed point to more ancient practices and were at the time of recording
investigated for the frst time with a more critical eye.
First lets take a look at the Chanson de geste
the Song of Roland (11
century). Within its pages references to
trees are numerous, yet they are not cast as agents worthy of offering, but rather as witnesses to important events.
The pine tree is referenced ten times and nine of those references place the pine tree at a momentous event. These
events include councils held by Charlemagne, scenes of treason and armament and sense of death, namely that of
. According to Brault, the instances where the trees are present are a clear motif of Romanesque style re-
fecting clear Christian iconography
. This custom of holding court beneath a tree is by no means uncommon. St.
Louis (1214-1270) is said to have rendered justice while sitting beneath an oak tree in the forest of Vicennes
. There
are also examples in Germany of court-lindens or Gerichtslinde that were known to be places to render justice and
proclaim regulations to the citizens of a village, such as in Diedendorf up until 1743
. In Brussels c.1850 a priest
gave sermons at the Elterken, an ancient linden tree, to his people in times of war
Brault is right when he asserts that the trees in the Song of Roland represent Christian iconography, yet the
18 Filotas, Bernadette (3) p. 146
19 Collins, Roger Charlemagne Macmillan. p. 53, 111. Toronto. 1998
20 Filotas, Bernadette (3) p. 146, 194, 207
21 Hessel, J.H. Kern, H. Lex Salica Murray. p. xcvi London 1880
22 ibid.
23 It shall be demonstrated further on that the cults were alive and well.
24 French heroic lay
25 Song of Roland trans. Jessie Crosland. Web Nov 2011 <http://www.yorku.ca/inpar/roland_crosland.pdf>
26 Brault, Girard J. The Song of Roland: An Analytical Edition Penn State. p. 250. 1978
27 Vie de St. Louis Socit Catholique. p.200. Paris 1825
28 Bulletin de la socit pour la concervation des monuments historiques Schultz. p.118. Stratsbourg. 1886
29 Reinsberg-Duringsfeld, Otto Calandrier Belge Ostende. p.339. 1861
rrir 72
similitude between the councils held by Charlemange (back dated to 8
century), those by St. Louis in the 13

century and the proclamations of the mayor and priest in the 18
century point to something more. Although the
narrative that is given is clearly Christian and inspired by the many symbols inherent within the faith, the role of the
tree remains the same as it was when the many Frankish councils were forbidding the making of vows to trees---the
clear role of the tree was as a witness to the community and point of maintenance of communal order.
For if we imagine a time when men were travelling to a specifc tree to make vows, surrounded by their com-
munity, surely we can imagine a community coming out to the village court-tree to hear proclamations and justice
rendered by their leaders. The fact the episodes of history in which these trees are mentioned take place either after
church, such as with St. Louis, during sermons as in Brussels or that these trees were confned to a churchyard as it
was with the tree in Diedendorf
gives them a communal ritual aspect.
I will now describe four cases of tree cults in modern France and Belgium, both ancestral Frankish territory, and
compare them to each other and isolate the pertinent information in each to draw a line back to the various councils
and edicts of the early Frankish Church.
Elterken of Brussels
During the period of Rogations
on the 17
of May, the clergy of St. Gudule, after a visit to the chapel of Ixelles,
travel to Elterken where a priest performs an open air sermon, but only in times of war. It was also believed by
the residents that after raining, if a child was placed under that linden, the rain drops could cure fevers. During the
the clergy and laymen would dance around the tree, sing and make merriment and eventually would
have a feast at its foot. This celebration lasted no less than six hours before the clergy and folk would return to St.
Gudule. This tree was also called a vryheideboom or freedom tree as it at one time offered sanctuary or divine pro-
tection to the seeker
From this example we can see that the tree was considered a focal point of communal activities such as feast,
dancing and sermons. It also had curative powers and the ability to provide sanctuary.
At Vauzelles
There was constructed in the 15
century a chapel near a sacred elm. As the legend tells, the logging activities
of a few local residents, revealed a statuette of the Virgin Mary in the trunk of a fallen tree. This statuette could not
be physically removed from its home and seeing this as an act of supernatural will, they erected the chapel at that
same place
In this example, although nothing is mentioned of the communal activities of the local residents it does demon-
strate the belief that the divinity of the tree was inherently within the tree itself.
On the right side of the Meuse and at a certain height, in a village called Namche there is located a tree that
is said to be sacred to St. Anne. It is there that according to popular belief, the witches gather on Good Friday or
30 ibid.
31 A celebration of the Roman Catholic Church consisting of fasting, public prayer and processions three days before the Ascension and
lasting days or weeks being locale specifc with regards to custom. Instituted in 469 by St. Mamert.
32 A church sponsored fair
33 ibid.
34 Each example are my translations from original French sources.
35 Drouillet, Jean Folklore du Nivernais et Morvan Thoreau. p. 232. La CharitsurLoire. 1959
rrir 73
and in the holy nights so that they may dance their infernal dance around its trunk
This tree is dedicated to a saint, hence to a divine power. Additionally, allusions are made to either real dancing
ceremonies or imagined ones on holy nights.
Notre-Dame de Zichem
Around the year 1300, Lodewyk Van Velthem composed a work called Spiegel historiael which told that be-
tween Diest and Zichem there was a sacred oak that formed a cross that was well venerated by the locals. Many
would visit it in hopes of cures to ailments and healings for paralysis. Those who were healed left their crutches and
bandages at its trunk.
This is why there is a sanctuary dedicated to the Virgin Mary at Scherpenheuvel covered over with bandages. It
was to give the site a Christian importance that the clergy attached to the tree a likeness of the Virgin Mary. They
tried in vain to abolish this cult, but by 1400 many traveled to the tree for cures for their fever. Nearly a hundred
years later, as it is told by J. Lipse, an extraordinary event augmented visitation to the tree.
A shepherd, who was grazing his herd on the mountain, stumbled upon the fallen image of the Virgin Mary.
Wanting to keep it for himself, he took it into his hands and immediately he was frozen and could not take a step.
The owner of the grazing lands became worried that his shepherd had not returned at nightfall, went to fnd him.
When he came upon the man, he was told of the incident and then returned the likeness of the Virgin to the tree. At
this time he is freed from his plight and returns the herd to the home of his master.
In 1587 after the original likeness was stolen, the Archbishop of Zichem bought a new statue from a pious
woman of Diest and placed in the empty crevasse left by the theft. People still focked to the site and concluded that
the statue replacing the original must have been the originally stolen one, as the healings continued.
In 1602 a small chapel was built beside the tree to accommodate the pilgrims. One year later in a moment of
zeal, pilgrims began taking pieces of the tree home with them. Twenty thousand pilgrims then descended upon the
site, and to prevent calamity, the clergy was forced to cut the tree down. One half of the tree was sent to Austria
to Archduke Albert and the other half was carved into a likeness of the Virgin Mary. To this day she is venerated
throughout Belgium
From this lengthy and detailed account we can see that the oak had curative powers. It also had an image of the
Virgin Mary affxed within it and many divine interventions were the result of the image. It was clearly a supra-
regional cult center and still is to this day.
Review and comparison between Frankish and French tree cults
Harkening back to the cutting down of the pine tree by St. Martin of Tours, we can see with the later
examples of the modern French cults that contrary to his assertion that there is nothing sacred held within
the trees, there indeed was. From modern France to Spain, Italy, Austria, Germany and Belgium, we can
count no less than 276 sacred sites to those of Veuzelles and Zichem
. The prevailing characteristics of
these cults are their curative powers, where the sick bring their bandages in exchange for healing. All are
either named after a saint and/or have some saintly or Christian iconography affxed in/on its trunk.
Hence, due to the efforts of Pope Gregory the Great, the cutting down of the sacred trees was no longer
necessary. Simply by replacing older heathen imagery and narrative with (folk) Christian ones, the divine
36 Here translated as Midsummer from the French St. Jean (St. Johns eve), it is held by the French and Belgians that this date is
37 Reinsberg-Duringsfeld, Otto (22) p. 236
38 Reinsberg-Duringsfeld, Otto (22) p. 318
39 Nolan, Mary Lee & Sidney Christian Pilgrimage in Modern Western Europe North Carolina UP. p. 328. N. Carolina. 1992
rrir 74
power of the tree is credited to the saints intercession. There can be little doubt that not all clergymen
were supportive of the cults, but the decision to tolerate or condemn the practices were made at a local
level and no longer imposed by Church-wide edicts.
Clearly, it was the tree that was/is divine and worthy of worship and not the saint. This does not how-
ever preclude the notion that there was some agent acting through the tree, as was claimed by St. Martin,
but that the tree is a necessary point of contact between man and the holy power of the tree. There is little
doubt also that the early Christian hymns told stories which could be interpreted through Christian or hea-
then eyes, such as those written by Fortunas, and had a profound affect on the people. Highlighting those
similitudes would only serve to reinforce the heathen beliefs, yet providing a new and accepted religious
narrative to cloak the practices in the end preserved them.
Caesarius of Arles in 533 made a strong case in condemning the feasting near trees and making offer-
ings to them. Some 1300 years later, we see that trees such as Elterken still benefted from feasting by the
community. What is more, the local clergy partakes and encourages the event, by processing to the tree
with the folk and dancing and feasting for six hours. The event may have lost the custom of offering food
to the tree, but that does not mean that food was not eaten in honour of their local and national saint St.
Gudule. This would be only a slight deviance of the heathen narrative for the Chrisitian one. It is impor-
tant to remember that although not every tree that is regarded sacred today was historically a heathen holy
site, what is key is that the customs persisted and new sites were founded based upon customs and beliefs
rooted in heathendom.
Gregory, in his letter to Brunhild in 597 urges the Queen to keep her subjects from worshiping trees
and idols. It must be clearly stated here that idols and trees are two different things and should not be re-
garded in the same light. All the differences can not be wholly known without a thorough analysis of the
two forms of cult. Gregory makes a strong distinction, as did most contemporary clergymen, between the
two. When he urges his nephew not to destroy the trees, he insists that the idols must be destroyed. He
most likely was infuenced by the life of St. Martin, who also put an emphasis on the destruction of idols
and temples. The reason for this difference in treating both cultic forms must lie in the fact that trees can
be repurposed with Christian ritual and in time the affxing of Christian saintly idols. The original heathen
idols must have been of such a nature contrary to the teachings of Christian doctrine that they could not be
repurposed and were thus deemed too wicked to save.
In 658 at the council of Nantes, two important pieces of information regarding the sanctity of trees
comes down to us. We know that people held these places to provide healings and that the trees were so
sacred that to bring any of their wood home was taboo. From the example of Zichem and Elterken and
many more not mentioned here, we know that the curative powers of trees was well known and accepted
and so it would make sense that edicts were pronounced to curb this belief. As for the sacredness of the
wood and the taboo with bringing it home, the tree at Zichem demonstrates at least one case where modern
sacred trees were pillaged of their wood, to bring their powers home. This is of little surprise as by the age
of the crusades, relics such as the True Cross were extremely common in the West. Owning a piece of the
Cross meant that man was in direct contact with the Christian divine and would beneft from its miracu-
lous benefts. By the 12
century nearly every monarch in Europe, from Scandinavia to Brittan possessed
a piece
. It would thus be only natural that the common folk would want such a thing. So, between the 7

and 12
century, heathen belief and Christian belief was greatly confated and the taboo concerning the
possessing of a piece of a holy tree (which was at times used as a metaphor for the True Cross) was now
something to be coveted.
40 Shein, Sylvia Gateway to the Heavenly City: Crusader Jerusalem and the Catholic West Ashgate. p. 84. Vermont. 2005
rrir 75
The making of vows at trees, as referenced by Caesarius of Arles in his sermons, most likely referred
to solemn words spoken to a tree, whether a prayer or bidding. The idea of a vow being a part of a votive
act fnds its modern form in the cultic expression of the tree at Zichem. People left their crutches and ban-
dages at these trees most likely as an act of faith in the power of the tree. In a sense, after they make their
vow, wish
or prayer they bring their lesser healing implements (those made by man) in exchange or in
demonstration of proof of the trees superior and divine healing power.
The Medieval references to trees witnessing or presiding over judgements is another testament to the
divinity of the tree. By holding court near a village tree, held to be important by the folk, the idea is rein-
forced that the tree is at the heart of the community and effectively its hub binding the spokes. In the case
of the tree at Diedendorf and the Elterken, we can clearly see that the tree is made to take part in the life
of the community. From feasts, dances, law proclaiming, court deciding, warring, it is made to feel a part
of the people and may well be seen as overseeing the doom and weal of the folk.
Essential elements of the Frankish tree cult
Although the enumerated elements below may not be present in all historical and modern expressions
of the tree cults, the list is provided for a general overview of its many components.
The tree is divine
Solemn communal vows and events are held before and involve it
Feasts and merriment are held at the tree
Food is shared with the tree
The tree has curative powers
The tree is not a cultivated variety
Modern reconstructions of the Frankish tree cult
First and foremost it must be understood by the modern heathen that although there are mentions of
trees, idols, springs and temples in the extant sources of the early cult, it should not be assumed that all of
these sacred sites must be found together, in the same place. We now know that whatever it is, a divine
agent, a holy power contained within its trunk or the trunk of the tree itself that was held to be the source
of the trees power and devotion, the case must be made that the addition of religious iconography to the
tree is a later Christian product. Even the many cases, though not all here enumerated, of statues of the
Virgin Mary miraculously fnding their way into the tree must be viewed with a high degree of suspicion.
Clearly these are legends or true events that developed as a means to legitimize the power of the tree in
the eyes of the Christian. Hence, any modern expression of the cult should be devoid of idols affxed in or
upon the tree being venerated.
As has been reiterated above many times over, the trees were points of communal affairs. Whether
these are affairs of a purely religious or secular nature, we will never know. We do know, however, that
to our modern understanding there were rituals and celebrations located at the trees or in their honour
of a religious nature and others seemingly secular. In any case words would have been spoke aloud and
shared, not merely words of the mundane type, but words that implicated the doom of a community or an
individual. In a modern expression, the tree chosen to be honoured must be made to feel welcome and a
41 In Modern French voeux translates to wish, which may well be the root of the term wishing tree
42 It should be noted that in the sources none of the trees are what we would consider a cultivated variety, but the decision as to what tree
cultivar to honour should be up to the modern kindred to determine.
rrir 76
part of the community. Festivals should be held in its honour, in which all participate and festivals of the
community must be held to which the tree is welcomed. This is not to say that the tree was viewed as equal
to the community; clearly it was not as its destruction caused unimaginable distress to its community and
in time Christianity had to mould itself to the realities of the cult rather than the cult being extinguished
all together. In short, when a modern Frankish (or other) heathen community feels the need to celebrate,
it should do so in part or whole at/with the tree. In modern France and Belgium it is rare, in the older vil-
lages and towns, not to fnd a communal tree. This demonstrates further that at the heart of every Frankish
community was found its tree.
Feasting, drinking and merriment are vital to the health of a heathens constitution. If one wishes to
adopt the Frankish tree cult(s) as a part of their communal practices, feasting should take place in the
vicinity of the tree and it should be felt to take part in the festivities. Whats more is that if not all the com-
munity members can participate at the feast, a share of the food should be brought to them so that they
may presumably share in the prosperity afforded by the tree.
A further testament to the power of the tree over the individual and his kin is its curative powers. In all
documented expressions of the cult, modern and ancient, it is man who goes and seeks the tree for heal-
ing. So powerful is this belief up to this day that many trees known for healing the sick are heaped over
with ligatures, bandages and crutches as tokens of the trees success in curing the sick. Thus, the tree in
the modern Frankish community must be seen as holding the health of the folk in its limbs and that it has
the fnal say over the providence of good health bestowed upon mankind.
It is my sincerest hope that all modern heathens see the value inherent in claiming a tree for ones folk.
I see it as something that is lacking for many heathens today. To my Frankish brothers and sisters, it is
my hope that the information here gathered will help illuminate the possibilities of Frankish heathen cult
expression and that through knowledge we may rebuild the many worldviews of the historical ancestors
of our Aldsido.
rrir 77
For every nation land is a sacred thing; for it is living on a land that gives birth to a characteristic and
unique way of perceiving the world. The ancient Finns lived in a world in which the survival and continu-
ation of life was dependent on the conditions of nature. Maintaining balance between man and nature was
crucial as it was the basis on which peoples livelihoods, lifestyle, religious beliefs and, even language and
morals were developed
The aim of this article is to provide an overview of the indigenous Finnish spiritual tradition. For the
sake of brevity it is not possible to include all of the possible customs and beliefs. Traditions have varied
substantially through time, from the Shamanism of the Stone Age, to the religious practices of later agrar-
ian communities. There have also been additional geographical differences, for example, Western Finland
was historically affected by infuences from countries to the West and the South, while Eastern Finland
although retaining many archaic traditions was infuenced by the Russians and the Eastern Orthodox
It is not my wish to sketch a time line for the evolution of religious beliefs in Finland, nor is it my wish
to present the geographical differences in great detail. This paper shall instead focus on the religious be-
liefs and customs of the Finnish folk religion as documented during the 18th and 19th centuries. Strictly
speaking, this is not a paper on reconstructed paganism. Literary sources of pre-Christian Finnish pagan-
ism are scarce or nearly nonexistent. Therefore, in my opinion, it is probably impossible to reconstruct
any kind of meaningful version of Finnish paganism by using sources outside of those originating from
the syncretist folk religion. In other words, when trying to understand traditional Finnish spirituality our
main sources are the traditional songs, spells and stories which were collected by Finnish scholars in the
18th, 19th and early 20th centuries.
When studying the beliefs of my Finnish ancestors I am often surprised to see how many of the old tra-
ditions continued to be practiced even after conversion to Christianity. Christian saints were equated with
the old spirits and most holidays from Christian folk tradition carried their share of customs and beliefs
from pre-Christian times. The oldest medieval churches in Finland were actually built on top of old sac-
rifcial sites
. The perplexing result of this being that the common folk continued to worship the original
spirit of the place, but inside the new church. Court records from the 17th century indicate that people
were convicted of blasphemy because they had made illegal sacrifces inside these churches.
The ancient tradition of making communal sacrifces at these sacred sites seems to have transformed
into the custom of giving donations to church offcials. The donations of items such as elk antlers and bear
hides were used in church decorations in a similar manner as they were probably used at sacred sites dur-
ing pagan times. The old practices persisted in the guise of novel social and theological ideas, for example,
in some villages it was customary to honor the bear killed during the bear feast (a tradition that perhaps
1 Hyry, Katja and Pentikinen, Antti and Pentikinen, Juha. Lumen ja valon kansa: Suomalainen kansanusko. Porvoo: WSOY, 1995.
2 Oja, Arvo. Karhuntaljat entisajan kirkoissa. In Valoa kansalle, edited by Pekka Laaksonen, Ulla Piela and Maija-Liisa Heikinmki, 58-
63. Forssa: Forssan kirjapaino Oy, 1989.
Notes on the
Finnish Tradition
part 1 of 2

By Anssi Alhonen
rrir 78
dates back to the Stone Age) by playing the church bells. Another example of this, much to the dismay
of church offcials, was the participation of village priests at their local feasts in honor of the thunder god
Ukko during the 17
In rural areas, Christian and Pagan infuences were liberally mixed, giving birth to a syncretic religion
that was still very much alive in the latter part of the 19th Century, at least in the remote parts of Karelia.
It is for this reason that even though literary sources for Finnish paganism are very scarce, one could argue
that the ethnic religion of the Finns never truly died out but continued to live and take on new forms; even
during the thousand years of offcial Christianity.
This presentation of indigenous Finnish religious beliefs and practices will focus on four key factors:
1. Belief in spirits that reside in nature (including those of animals).
2. The concept of ancestor spirits living in the afterlife, instead of heaven or hell.
3. The survival of Balto-Finnic myths and spells as a living oral tradition.
4. A way of life closely connected to nature based almost entirely on self-suffcient agriculture or hunt-
ing and fshing.
I have concluded that the aforementioned factors, which can be viewed independently of Christian
theology and liturgy, can be considered the defning features of traditional Finnish folk religion. It is my
contention that the Finnish folk faith offers a unique and holistic world view which can be understood for
the most part without reference to Christian theological concepts. My main sources of information for this
are the Finnish Folklore Archive and, of course, the works of leading Finnish scholars in this feld.
I. World view
The ancient Finnish conception of the world was a layered one. The world was thought to include a
fat disc-like earth that was covered over by a huge sky-dome
. The dome was called the lid of the sky
(Taivaankansi) and the night sky was known as the bright lid
(Kirjokansi). At the center of the sky-dome
where the sky-god resided the giant world-pole or axis mundi, supported the dome. This pole was con-
nected to the Pole Star, Taivaannaula (also known as the nail-star or sky-nail) and this connection al-
lowed the world pole to rotate around its axis. In certain cases, the central object that was believed to sup-
port the sky and all creation was considered to be a world tree (the Great Oak) or the world mountain.
Today, respected scholars identify this axis mundi with a mysterious object from Finnish mythology, the
Sampo. It is for this reason that the main theme in Finnish mythology; the fght between the cosmic gods
and the forces of Pohjola for the Sampo can be interpreted as a symbol for the eternally rotating world and
the struggle between life and death, order and chaos
The roots of ancient Finnish cosmological concepts can be found in Proto-Uralic mythology; a my-
thology for which the scholar V.V Napolkikh has proposed a fascinating reconstruction
. According to
Napolskikh the Proto-Uralic world view consisted of three different worlds or layers of reality, the upper,
middle, and lower worlds.
The upper world is located in the skies and also to the south. The great birch tree (or in Finnish
3 Oja, Arvo. Karhuntaljat entisajan kirkoissa.
4 Talve, Ilmar. Suomen kansankulttuuri. SKS, 1990.
5 Hyry and Pentikinen & Pentikinen, Lumen ja valon kansa
6 Kemppinen, Iivar. Suomalainen mytologia. 1960.
7 Napolskikh, V.V. Proto-Uralic World Picture: A Reconstruction. In Ethnologica Uralica 3 (Northern religions and shamanism), edited
by M. Hoppal and J. Pentikinen, 3-20. Budapest: Akademiai Kiado, 1992.
rrir 79
tradition, the giant oak) grows there. At the roots of the tree, a spring fows and marks the source of
the world river. Near the tree and spring there is a warm lake, or sea of life, where water birds and human
souls are renewed. In the Finnish folk religion this upper world became a warm and light world located
in the south called Lintukoto (or home of the birds) and the sea of life became a body of warm water
surrounding the Lintukoto. This upper world is ruled by an old woman, the ruler of all life, protectress of
childbirth, motherhood and water birds. She is the sender of souls and the mother of the gods. In Finnish
mythology a mysterious virgin by the name of Iro is said to have given birth to the three divine brothers
at the beginning of times. In Finnish folk religion, the divine mother is the Virgin Mary (or Maaria in
Finnish) and she is remembered in songs and spells as a spiritual mother, healer, helper and protectress of
Uralic belief states that migrating water birds are messengers of the gods that are traveling from the
upper world. According to this belief these birds travel between worlds via the Milky way, or Linnunrata
(the Birds Way) in Finnish and in other Balto-Finnic languages. Birds such as black throated divers,
geese and maybe swans were thought to carry human souls to the otherworld
. The Milky Way was then
seen as the heavenly version of the world river; fowing down from the upper world to the middle and
lower worlds.
Beyond the middle world and to the north lies the lower world. There the world river fows into a
freezing cold ocean called Sarajas and it is in the middle of this ocean that we fnd the dark and cold
Pohjola (the Northern Place). Sarajas was perhaps considered to be one and the same as the northern
Arctic Ocean; an ocean into which many northern rivers fow and the Northern Lights were said to glow
near the gates of Pohjola. For all intents and purposes, Pohjola is located both in the north and under the
fat earth. According to certain folk songs, from Pohjola the world river runs into a wide bottomless abyss,
and eventually into the land of the dead.
In the Finnish folk religion this land of the dead, called either Manala or Tuonela, is also located in
the center of a cold ocean; giving the appearance that Pohjola and the underworld are one and the same
thing. When the Finnish healer, or tietj, fell into a trance, his soul faring to the underworld to gain in-
formation from the souls of deceased legendary shamans, the tietj was said to fall through a slit (Lovi).
The word Lovi is probably a synonym for Louhi, the matron of Pohjola. If this is the case both lovi or
Louhi would signify a hole in the ground which can be used as a pathway to the land of the dead, or as
it may also be known, Pohjola
In some folk songs the world mountain is said to rise up from Pohjola and reach all the way up to the
sky-dome and the Pole Star. This world mountain is called Stone Hill or Pain Hill and in healing spells,
pain that is exorcised from the patient, returns to this mountain. The mountain rising up from the land of
the dead and up to the skies signifes a place in which all pain and suffering is gone and the world is as one.
The world mountain motif is well-known from the cosmologies of several nations
In the underworld everything is backwards when compared to the human world. Left is right, up is
down and so forth. There the world river turns around and becomes Tuonen Joki, the river of the land of
the dead. In this form the river fows from north to south and upwards again towards the upper world. In
the heavens it returns to the spring at the roots of the birch tree. From there it fows down through the skies
once more as a world river. This is the eternal cycle of life
8 Kuperjanov, Andres. Names in Estonian Folk Astronom From Birds way to Milky way. In Electronic Journal of Folklore 22, 49-
61. Folk Belief and Media Group of Estonian Literary Museum, 2002.
9 Kemppinen, Iivar. Suomalainen mytologia.
10 Ibid.
11 Napolskikh, V.V. Proto-Uralic World Picture: A Reconstruction.
rrir 80
II. The Cosmic Gods
The ancient Finns had two different creation myths recounting how the world or the earth was formed.
One is the Earth -Diver myth which is widely spread in Eurasia, Northern America, and which was also
preserved by the Orthodox Karelians. The myth tells about a bird who dived into the primeval sea and
brought up earth from the seabed. The other myth tells that the world was formed when a water bird laid
its egg on the knee of Vinminen, who was at the time foating in the primeval sea. Vinminen moved
his leg and the egg broke forming the world. This myth is thought to have been adopted by the Baltio-
Finnic people as a southern cultural loan during the Iron Age
The myths recount that at the beginning of time the virgin Iro gave birth to three divine sons,
Vinminen, Ilmarinen; and Joukahainen. Vinminen was the oldest and Joukahainen the youngest. It
is to these brothers that the appellation, the Cosmic Gods is given, since they were born before the world
was formed and contributed to making the world what it is today. The divine brothers seem to be connected
with the primeval elements. The oldest, Vinminen is associated with water. In Finnish spells and folk
songs water is called the oldest of the brothers. Iron is thought to be the second oldest of the brothers,
especially when connected with the air from the bellows of the smiths forge. Which is clearly the element
of the smith-god Ilmarinen. Therefore the youngest brother mentioned then is by virtue of logic, fre, or
Joukahainen (although there is no direct evidence of this connection in the folklore). Together water, iron,
wind and fre made it possible for humans to create better weapons and tools. These objects gave birth to
the whole of civilization. It is for this reason that the cosmic gods are not only considered to be gods of
natural elements but also protectors of culture.
As previously mentioned, Vinminen is heavily associated with water. He creates the world through
his movements while foating in the primeval sea; he builds a legendary boat and swims several times to
the underworld in the form of a fsh or otter. When Vinminen wishes to leave the human world he sails
in his boat through fery rapids. Additionally, Vinminens famous kantele is made from the jawbone
of a pike and the ancient Finns called certain patterns on the surface of water the Path of Vinminen.
When the spiritual power of water was conjured, Vinminen was called. Hence the Finnish scholar
Kaarle Krohn concludes that originally Vinminen was the god of water
. Vinminen is also a mighty
shaman and the worlds frst healer who travels to the underworld to receive the right words for healing
and enchants the whole world with his singing. Consequently Vinminen is the god of water, shamans,
healers and poets.
The sky god Ilmarinen frst brought fre to the world by causing the frst lightning to strike over the
primeval sea. Vinminen and Ilmarinen appear together in many myths. Vinminen is also involved
in bringing the fre to the world but he is not the bringer of fre since his element is water. As a sky god,
Ilmarinen (or Ilmari, Ilmaroinen, Ilmamo, Ilmamoinen) rules over the elements of air: clouds, thunder,
lightning, wind; storm and calm; and rain and snow. Ilmarinen is also a creator god who forges the sky-
dome and the world-pillar. When he is done, he places the stars on the sky-dome. As a god of fre, wind
and rain, he was the god of slash-and-burn farmers. As a god of wind and storm he helped sailors and fsh-
ermen. Because of his intricate wisdom regarding fre and wind he was the guardian of smiths. Ilmarinen
might have also been a fatherly god who people turned to when they were in trouble
12 Talve, Ilmar. Suomen kansankulttuuri.
13 Krohn, Kaarle. Suomalaisten runojen uskonto. Porvoo-Juva: WS Bookwell Oy, 1915 / 2008.
14 Salo, Unto. Ukko, the Finnish God of Thunder Separating Pagan Roots From Christian Accretions. In Mankind Quaterly, December
1 / 2005.
rrir 81
It is possible that the strong folk devotion to the Virgin Mary, which continued long after Finland of-
fcially converted from Catholicism to Lutheranism in the 16th century, was based on the memory of
older female deities. Maaria is a popular fgure in Finnish spells and her help is sought for a multitude
of reasons. For instance, bear hunters used to petition Maaria, as they believed she had a role in the birth
of bears. Maaria was also believed to protect cattle and save people in times of crisis. In addition, she was
said to heal the sick, help weavers and bring lifesaving warmth to people
. In the folklore, squirrels and
bees are associated with Maaria and just as in a number of other European mythologies, the bee symbol-
izes sexuality. However in Maarias case, the bee signifes a lack of sexuality, virginity. The bee is also
believed to bring Maaria healing ointments from the sky and it is here that we fnd an interesting connec-
tion between the mother of Lemminkinen and Maaria. After the death of Lemminkinen, his mother col-
lects the pieces of her son and brings the body back to life with magic and ointment brought by a bee from
sky. This theme of death and rebirth gives Lemminkinen Christ-like features; and so it would follow that
Maaria and mother of Lemminkinen are the same being.
Lemminkinen is the young hero of the folk poems. He is proud and brave, but short-sighted and prone
to bragging, Lemminkinen is a warrior and a skillful rune singer. He is the combination of a tietj and a
proud viking hero. In modern times, people have focused on Lemminkinens role as a wanton lover-boy,
creating almost like a Kalevala version of Don Juan. Most respected scholars, however, have emphasized
the archaic shamanistic nature of Lemminkinen
. Juha Pentikinen sees eternal wandering as the main
attribute of Lemminkinen. He is not invited to the feast at Pivl (meaning the place of the sun) but
Lemminkinen chooses to travel there anyway. During his journey he overcomes several dangers which
resemble shamanistic imagery, such as a faming birch tree. When he arrives at the feast Lemminkinen is
disrespected. As a result he kills the master of the house in a fght and fees to avoid retaliation. Eventually
Lemminkinen is hunted down and killed; his body cut into pieces and thrown into the Tuonela river.
Then as previously related, Lemminkinen mother collects the pieces of her son and brings him back to
Lemminkinen is a hero; who like Odysseus is forced to travel for eternity, homeless and always
compelled to leave because of one reason or another. In light of this it is worth mentioning that traveling
between mythical places is also the role the tietjs soul. Another shamanistic element to Lemminkinen
is his dramatic death; being cut into pieces and given a new life. This sequence of events resembles the
initiation rite of a new shaman, where the shaman-to-be must die and be reborn as a shaman
. Pentikinen
argues that the feast of Pivl takes place in the realm of the sun, not in Pohjola as Lnnrots Kalevala
and certain other later sources claim. The sun symbolizes the center of the world. Lemminkinen tries to
reach that place and the celestial gods, but he fails and disappears into the sun; he is destined to die and
to be resurrected
III. Haltija: The Invisible Nature
For the ancient Finns, everything in nature had its own invisible soul which was somehow connected
to the natural phenomenon perceived by the senses. Trees, water, stones, fre, animals and plants were all
controlled by guardian spirits, or haltijat in Finnish. This was also true of some places or beings in the
human domain; such as home, freplace, cattle, and barn. They were each considered to have their own
15 Krohn, Kaarle. Suomalaisten runojen uskonto.
16 Pentikinen, Juha. Lemminkinen Shaman or God?. In Ethnologica Uralica 1 (Northern religions and shamanism), edited by M.
Hoppal and J. Pentikinen, 287-309. Budapest: Ethnographic Institute of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, 1989.
17 Pentikinen, Juha. Lemminkinen Shaman or God?.
18 Ibid.
rrir 82
guardian spirits. Even non-concrete things like death and sleep had their own spiritual forces
. Also, each
human being was accompanied by a guardian spirit that helped the person to reach his goals and protected
him against physical dangers and hostile spiritual forces
. The word haltija is of Germanic origin and
is interpreted to mean mother or father. In Eastern Finland nature spirits had names like Mother,
Father, Old Man and Old Woman
These guardian spirits protected their own domains and drove away intruders and any beings with evil
intentions. If a person treated the spirits with respect he could gain their protection, but bad or thoughtless
behavior would result in revenge. Respected house haltija protected the house and warned the family of
any approaching dangers. However if insulted, the spirit could burn down the house or cause other dam-
age. Spirits were generally considered to be invisible but sometimes they appeared to people, albeit mostly
in dreams
. This belief in guardian spirits made people aware of the spiritual order of things. It was well
understood that humans could not for instance, rule the forest, but instead they had to treat it as an equal
partner. The ancient Finns lived in constant interaction with both the visible and invisible forces of nature.
In order to secure luck and success in life one had to maintain a balance with the spirits.
Ukko-Ilmarinen: The Ruler Of Wind, Rain, And Thunder
The scholar Unto Salo argues that Ilmarinen was a hammer-using sky god and the god of thunder
who evolved into a ruler of winds, the forger of the sky-dome and a smith-hero. This means that Ukko,
the Finnish god of thunder, storm, rain, and snow, is no separate god but in fact the same sky god as
. The name Ukko means Old Man. In ancient times it was an honored title given by the
19 Talve, Ilmar. Suomen kansankulttuuri.
20 Ibid.
21 Ahtinen, Johanna. Luonnohaltijoiden sukupuoli itsuomalaisessa ja karjalaisessa uskomusperinteess. University of Helsinki, 2008.
22 Hyry and Pentikinen & Pentikinen, Lumen ja valon kansa
23 Salo, Unto. Ukko, the Finnish God of Thunder Separating Pagan Roots From Christian Accretions.
Gifting the Nature Spirits: A woman gives offerings to the spirits of the forest at a cupstone located in Harola, in Eura, Finland.
rrir 83
community to older men who had gained wisdom, life experience, and a position of respect in the com-
munity. At the same time Ukko was a euphemism which was used in order to avoid saying the real name
of the thunder god. The Sami people famously refused to recite the name of the god during thunder storms
until as recently as the 19
The Finnish bishop Mikael Agricola mentions the mysterious Rauni in his 1551 list of ancient Finnish
gods. Agricolas Rauni seems to be connected to Ukko. Since Rauni is not mentioned anywhere else in the
folklore, the character has understandably caused lively debate among scholars over the years. The most
common interpretation has been that Rauni is an ancient Finnish goddess and Ukkos wife. This is highly
problematic, not only because there are no other mentions of this word outside of Agricolas account, but
Rauni is not even a Finnish word; the original meaning of the name has been traced to Germanic roots.
One theory that has gained ground is that Rauni comes from the Germanic word raudna meaning the
rowan tree. This would make rauni an epithet of Ukko instead of an independent god. So Rauni Ukko
mentioned by Agricola probably means Rowan Tree Ukko
As to whether this theory is credible, the answer is probably yes. Rowan was a sacred tree for the an-
cient Finns. Each house had its own rowan tree on the yard; small loops and sticks made out of rowan
twigs were used to protect houses, cattle, hunters traps, and other items
. Many mythologies associate
rowan with thunderstorms, the sky god, and divine powers. In Lithuania for example, it was believed that
the god of thunder does not strike a rowan tree when he is destroying evil spirits lurking on earth. There is
no direct evidence linking thunder and rowan trees in Finnish tradition but in Finland it was also believed
that the sky god uses lightning strikes to destroy evil spirits hiding on earth.
Lightning and rain during thunderstorms was perceived as a sacred marriage, or hieros gamos, and
which resulted in a new harvest. The union of gods fertilized the earth. In Finnish folklore there are several
extant sayings and beliefs which associate thunder with sexuality. For instance, in Western Finland it was
said that forest fres were caused by a nude maiden rising up from a spring and seducing the lightning to
strike. Unto Salo argues that this maiden was the spirit of water
. Moreover, that the sacred marriage that
brought fertility to the felds was the union of these two divine beings.
Heavenly Bodies: The Sun And The Moon
The brightly shining sun and the mysterious moon play their parts in mythologies the whole world over.
In Finnish mythology the sun seems to be associated with the cycle of year and shamanistic imagery,
while the moon is associated with luck, fate and natural cycles. It is perhaps a little surprising then, how
much of a role the moon plays in folk religion in comparison to that of the sun.
The Sun God Pivtr
Uno Harva and other Finnish scholars have assumed that the ancient Finns, like numerous other nations,
practiced sun worship
. When we take into account the importance of the sun as a bearer of light and life
and the further symbolism connected to these things, it would not be unreasonable to say that this is prob-
ably true. However, unfortunately information on ancient Finnish sun-worship is very scarce. Pivtr or
Piv, the sun god, is more of a mythological fgure than a god to be approached in prayer. Only a few
prayers to the sun have been collected, all originating in Eastern Karelia, and therefore possibly the result
24 Salo, Unto. Ukko, the Finnish God of Thunder Separating Pagan Roots From Christian Accretions.
25 Harva, Uno. Suomalaisten muinaisusko. Porvoo: WSOY, 1948.
26 Salo, Unto. Ukko, the Finnish God of Thunder Separating Pagan Roots From Christian Accretions.
27 Harva, Uno. Suomalaisten muinaisusko.
rrir 84
of Slavic infuence
In folk songs it is recounted that at the beginning of the world the celestial lights (Taivaanvalot) could
not shine freely and that the world suffered periods of darkness and cold. The darkness was caused by a
great oak that had grown so huge that it covered the sky with its branches. A mythic hero rose from the sea
and cut down the oak, bringing light back to the world, causing fowers to bloom and the leaves of trees to
turn green. Some scholars have interpreted the myth of the great oak as being a refection of the cycle of
the year; the tree is born on midsummer and grows until midwinter, when everything is shrouded in dark-
ness. The tree is then cut and spring can return
Moon And Fate
Ancient Finns believed that the outcome of ones actions was directly related to the phase of the moon
By choosing the right time for some particular work one could have the best possible results. This knowl-
edge of the effects of the moon on mans work was highly uniform and still commonplace in Finland but
a few generations ago
. The moon, like any other natural phenomenon was thought to be a living, soulful,
being. The moon had a birth and a death, a beginning and an end. Phases of the moon were interpreted
from the sky and from using rune staves. The complete cycle of the moon was called the Heavenly
Moon. One heavenly moon was the time between two new moons: approximately 29 days.
The cycle of the heavenly moon was divided into four periods, each about a week long. The time of
the new moon was regarded as the birth-time for the moon. The frst days following the birth were called
the early moon. They were part of the upper moon (ylkuu) phase which extended over the frst two
periods. Each upper moon ended with the full moon, which started a lower moon (alakuu) phase, which
extended over the remaining two periods. The last days before the birth of the new moon were called the
end moon or the old moon. The impact of the upper and lower moons can be summarized as follows,
the upper moon grows, the lower moon destroys. The days of the upper moon were fresh, full, and of vital-
izing strength. Every aspect of life in which growth was desirable was carried out during the upper moon
e.g planting crops, getting married, counting money. Conversely, during the lower moon was the time for
dealing with that which people wanted to destroy, stop growing or dry out
Kuutar, the god of the moon, seems to be connected with human fate. In Balto-Finnic legends a heav-
enly maiden, the moons daughter, sits on the upper branches of the world tree and weaves peoples fates
together. Each fate is represented by a silver thread of life. The fates are weaved together in the skies to
create the complete picture of the life of the world. When the maiden accidentally snaps a thread she be-
gins to cry and her tears fall down as three rivers which form three hills with three birches growing on top
of each of them. At the top of each birch a cuckoo sings as a sign of fate to the person whose life thread
has been snapped
Water Spirits
Water, like all the other natural elements, was thought to have its own spiritual force called vki. Vki
28 Ibid.
29 Lintrop, Aado. The Great Oak, the Weaving Maidens and the Red Boat, not to Mention a Lost Brush. In Electronic Journal of Folklore
11. Folk Belief and Media Group of Estonian Literary Museum.
30 Ibid.
31 Pyhnen, Anne. Ylkuu ja alakuu. Ajoituksen taito suomalaisessa kansanperinteess. Ylkuu kustannus, 2008.
32 Pyhnen, Anne. Ylkuu ja alakuu.
33 Lintrop, Aado. The Great Oak, the Weaving Maidens and the Red Boat, not to Mention a Lost Brush.
rrir 85
was controlled, or symbolized, by the guardian water spirit which was believed to have been the frst
person to drown in that place
. Fishermen naturally had a reciprocal relationship with this spirit
. The
fsherman gave offerings to the water spirit and in return was given good fshing luck. After each catch,
the guardian water spirit was thanked through the offering of either money, silver, or more commonly, the
frst fsh from the catch
In the spring, when the lakes and rivers were freed from the ice, the frst catch was a major event and the
guardian water spirit was given offerings. Sometimes the spirit appeared in the fshermens evening fre
and future fshing luck was divined by the outward appearance of that spirit. One might anger the spirit by
breaking certain taboos associated with fshing. One of these taboos is very characteristic of Finnish tradi-
tion; the need to keep different vki apart. For instance, one could not go fshing on a hunting trip because
this brought the forest vki and the water vki into close contact, which ruined the lake
Fire Spirits
Kaarle Krohn argued that the Finnish tradition shows no certain signs of fre-worship
. As far as I
know, Finnish people did not sacrifce to the fre directly, however if we take fre-worship to mean that
the fre is considered to be a sacred, living, being and has a central role in religious rituals, the Finns were
certainly fre-worshipers. There are three reasons for this. Firstly, the fre has a divine origin in Finnish
mythology. Secondly, the burning and kindling of sacred fres has been a major component in many yearly
. Lastly, the fre was also believed to have the power of purifcation and to ward off evil spirits
34 Krohn, Kaarle. Suomalaisten runojen uskonto.
35 SKS. Suomen kansan muinaisia taikoja II. Kalastus-taikoja. Porvoo-Juva: WS Bookwell Oy, 1892 / 2008.
36 Ibid.
37 Ibid.
38 Krohn, Kaarle. Suomalaisten runojen uskonto.
39 Varonen, Matti. Vainajainpalvelus muinaisilla suomalaisilla. Porvoo-Juva: WS Bookwell Oy, 1898 / 2009.
40 Talve, Ilmar. Suomen kansankulttuuri.
Birth of Fire Ritual: Hela is celebrated in Springtime. Here a man starts a holy fre while people dance in a circle
around him and sing the ritual song The Birth of Fire.
rrir 86
The story of how fre came into the world states that fre frst came to existence in the heavens when
Ilmarinen struck the frst lightning over the primeval sea. As previously mentioned, fre played a major
role in the various feasts during the spring and early summer. Great bonfres were set in remote places and
people gathered around them to sing, dance, and to welcome the spring. The sacred bonfres, which were
kindled according to strict ritualistic rules, and by using ancient methods no longer used in everyday life,
were thought to secure good harvest and cattle luck.
The main reason for setting the fres was to protect people and animals against evil spiritual forces.
Sacred fre was regarded as a primeval power, of which all the hostile spirits were afraid. Especially pow-
erful was a fre mixed with tar (called the sweat of Vinminen) and juniper
. Matti Varonen claims
that during the pre-Christian times, sacred fres had a dual role: to attract friendly spirits, such as nature
spirits and the spirits of the ancestors, and to ward off evil spirits. When the old beliefs started to fade away,
the idea of attracting good spirits was forgotten, and only the idea of driving away evil forces remained
Land Spirits
The land was divided into two domains: that of human land (e.g felds, arable land and the yard) and
that of natural land (e.g forests, swamps, lakes, rivers). All these areas had their own vki and their guard-
ian spirits. Fields and yards were guarded by male and female spirits called different names such as the
King Of The Land, Black Man and Black Woman etc. These land spirits secured the luck in the felds
and in the yard. Every time beer was brewed or something was baked, the spirits had their offerings before
anyone else could eat the food or drink the beer. The land spirits also blessed the cattle with good luck.
These spirits could be angered if the offerings were neglected or the people of the house did not live up to
the moral standards valued by the spirits
When a person moved to a new house the frst thing he had to do when stepping inside the house was to
bow to each corner, greet the land spirits, and offer them bread and salt. Whenever a new person, such as
a bride, or a temporary farmhand moved into a house, the person had to give sacrifces to the land spirits
and greet them with certain words
. The land spirits were also often greeted outside the yard when the
earth was needed for use. One example of these were the offerings made to the land spirits before burying
a deceased person was buried, in order to make sure the they approved the fnal resting place. In similar
vein, hunters used to ask permission from the land spirits before they laid down for the night on their
hunting trips
Forest Spirits
The ancient Finn lived his life surrounded by forests. The forest was a source of food and tools, a place
to hide when the enemy attacked, and a sacred place for praying and sacrifcing. Even today many Finns
feel that their souls rest when they have a chance to visit their beloved forests. The forest was of course
thought to be full of vki, and ruled by the spirits of the forest.
The main symbol for the forests vki was the anthill, or as it was known, the Castle of the Forest;
the nest served as a symbolic pathway between the humans and the spirits. It was believed that the spirit
of the forest would visit the man who sacrifced silver, liquor, or blood from his fnger into the nest and
41 Vilkuna, Kustaa. Vuotuinen ajantieto. Keuruu: Otavan kirjapaino Oy, 1950 / 2010.
42 Varonen, Matti. Vainajainpalvelus muinaisilla suomalaisilla.
43 Krohn, Kaarle. Suomalaisten runojen uskonto.
44 Ibid.
45 Ibid.
rrir 87
hunters could tell from the outward appearance of the spirit how he felt about the mans plans. If the
spirit appeared in plain clothes and looked rude, the bounty was not going to be good. If the spirit showed
up in beautiful clothes and looked benign, it was a good sign
. In order to thank the forest spirit for the
bounty given, part of it was sacrifced into the anthill. Giving sacrifces to the forest spirits was not only
an expression of good will between the hunter and the forest, but also an attempt to avoid the wrath of the
. Angered spirits could cause the hunter to get lost in the wilderness; the insulted spirits could also
steal things from the hunter
The forest spirit was personifed as Tapio, who was imagined as the wealthy patriarch of his forest man-
sion. The forest animals were called Tapios cattle, the bear was Tapios oxen, the fox was Tapios dog, the
rabbit was the lamb of Tapio etc. Certain peculiar spruce trees (Picea abies f. tabulaeformis) were thought
to be sacred for Tapio and offerings were left there. Tapio also had wife called Mielikki
. It should be
mentioned that often the hunters imagined the forest as a woman with two sides either as the loving and
benign Mielikki, or the cold and cruel Ajattara. Some hunting prayers had clearly sexual overtones as the
hunters tried to seduce the forest with the right words to provide bounty for them
Spirits Of The House And Farm
Guardian spirits in Finnish tradition were not limited to natural places, they were also thought to be
found in the buildings created by humans. While the best known of these guardian spirits is that of the
home, other buildings such as the barn, mill, sauna and the cattle shed were also considered to have their
own spirits. It was widely believed that the person who bought the land from the spirits in order to build
there, was the frst person to die there, or was the frst to make fre there, became the guardian spirit of the
. It can be argued that the spirits residing in the human environment were originally nature spirits
whose power was somehow relocated to buildings. The mill spirits, for instance, were originally thought
to be water spirits.
In Western Finland the guardian spirit of the house helped the family and ensured that moral values
were adhered to. While the guardian spirit could not prevent accidents from happening, it could warn
people about them in advance
. Grass snakes were thought to symbolize the guardian spirit and they were
fed and left to roam freely around the yard and buildings. This snake tradition is almost defnitely of pre-
Christian origin
. The Haltija Snake, as the snakes were called, was connected to the luck and fate of the
house. If the snake was treated well, the house had success and luck. If it was treated badly or even killed,
the house faced terrible times
For the ancient Finns, sauna was a sacred place to cleanse the body and spirit. As with all the other
places of importance, the sauna was also guarded by a guardian spirit (saunanhaltija) whose job it was
to ensure all the norms and customs regarding sauna were followed properly
. Sauna was at least as much
of a sacred place as the church, and it was thought that when one cleanses ones body, mind, and behavior
46 Krohn, Kaarle. Suomalaisten runojen uskonto.
47 Lehikoinen, Heikki. Tuo hiisi hirvisi. Metsstyksen kulttuurihistoria Suomessa. Teos, 2007.
48 Krohn, Kaarle. Suomalaisten runojen uskonto.
49 Ibid.
50 Lehikoinen, Heikki. Tuo hiisi hirvisi. Metsstyksen kulttuurihistoria Suomessa.
51 Talve, Ilmar. Suomen kansankulttuuri.
52 Ibid.
53 Muhonen, Timo. Haltijakrmeperinne Suomessa. Lecture in the Myyttinen krme conference in Hmeenlinna, April 2, 2001.
54 Muhonen, Timo. Haltijakrmeperinne Suomessa.
55 Pentikinen, Juha. Kylpynormit ja saunatapain yliluonnolliset vartijat. In Valoa kansalle, edited by Pekka Laaksonen, Ulla Piela and
Maija-Liisa Heikinmki, 58-63. Forssa: Forssan kirjapaino Oy, 1989.
rrir 88
must also be purifed. Sauna was also the place where women gave birth and healers did their work.
People were expected to act respectfully and calmly in the sauna. When people were fnished, water was
poured on the stones for the spirit to enjoy the warmth of the sauna in peace
Field Spirits
Each feld and each crop was believed to have its own spirit. The arable land was sacred to the an-
cient Finns as the source of nutrition and life and if the feld spirits were remembered and treated with
respect, good harvest luck ensued. There were several customs regarding sowing and harvesting, which
were aimed at showing proper respect to the spirits
. The haltija of the feld was called Pellonpekko or
just Pekko (Pekka, Pikka), was probably originally the Finnish spirit of barley, and thus the spirit of beer.
Barley is one of the oldest cultivated grains in Finland, and probably at some point in history, the name of
the spirit of this particular crop came to refer to all of the feld spirits
Where there is barley, there is always beer. In Finland beer was enjoyed as a sacred drink at feasts such
as the Ukon vakat. Sacred beer consecrated with spells and mythical songs was brewed for the yearly
festivities. In certain celebrations, getting drunk was almost mandatory, but the folk songs strongly con-
demn any kind of misuse of alcohol that would lead to arguing, fghting, and violence. The role of beer at
feast was to bring joy, laughter, and singing. Even Vinminen is said to have sung after drinking beer,
which makes Pekko, the spirit of beer, a Finnish god of singing
Editors Note:
The author would like to let it be known that some of the Finnish words that are capitalized here, would
not normally be so in Finnish. As the editor, I have tried to tread a line between the Finnish and English rules.
Secondly, in referring to the luonto, the word luonto would not normally be prefaced with an article in
Finnish. In English, this is not possible as it would cause ambiguity for the reader.
56 Ibid.
57 Krohn, Kaarle. Suomalaisten runojen uskonto.
58 Harva, Uno. Suomalaisten muinaisusko.
59 Ibid.
rrir 89
Riittipaikka Mansikki: A sacred rite-site in Mansikki where gifts are given, usually in springtime.
Part 2 of Notes on Finnish Tradition will cover topics such as sacred spaces, sacred rites, and seasonal festivals.
rrir 90
In recent history, the learning process has been the domain of the education establishment. Because of
this, many people are reticent to take charge of their own learning, believing that they need experts to pres-
ent new subject material to them. Whether a learner chooses an accredited university course or an online
workshop, it is natural to seek out a more experienced or knowledgeable person for instruction, but self-
directed learning is growing in popularity because of its many benefts. Reconstructionists as a group tend
to embrace self-directed learning, in part because their areas of interest are less common ones, making it
more diffcult to fnd teachers, but also because they have come from (or into) a strong Western cultural
background that supports the individuals quest for knowledge. Many reconstructionists teach themselves
history, brewing, traditional handicrafts, and folk skills. But when it comes to language learning, they
are unsure where to begin. However, with guidance on how and why to approach self-directed language
learning, reconstructionists can gain a valuable skill.
What is a source language, and what is the value of learning one?
A source language is exactly what it sounds like: it is a language in which one or more primary sources
are written. Primary sources are extremely valuable to historians and reconstructionists for several rea-
sons. Some of these sources give frsthand accounts and impressions of historical events; others record
oral traditions, sagas and skaldic poetry in a written form. Many textbook authors and historians discuss
historical events and make references to (or attempt to interpret) primary sources. These textbooks and
later works are called secondary sources.
For example, Beowulf and Heimskringla are primary sources.
Beowulf is an example of Anglo-Saxon literature. Heimskringla is a collection of sagas that reveals in-
formation about the society and politics of medieval Norway. An Anglo-Saxon reconstructionist could
read essays or listen to lectures about Beowulf, but these would be secondary sources. Relying solely on
secondary sources would be equivalent to reading flm reviews without ever viewing the flm itself. No
matter how accurate, descriptive and well-trusted the secondary source may be, it is not equivalent to the
primary source itself.
In general, reconstructionists understand this issue and require little persuasion of the value of primary
sources. However, one obstacle still remains. Reading a primary source in translation is not equal to read-
ing it in its original language. Textual meaning is open to varying interpretations, and a translator must
make interpretive decisions when choosing how to translate vocabulary and how to structure sentences.
Important and telling elements of a text may be glossed over or lost by the very act of translating. If mov-
ing from secondary sources to primary sources removes one barrier of interpretation that stands between
the reconstructionist and the target culture, moving from a translation to the original document removes
another barrier. For reconstructionists, the decision to learn a source language usually arises within the
context of attempting to reconstruct the target culture. Mastering the original text of Beowulf makes sense
within the context of learning Anglo-Saxon culture. Whether a reconstructionist focuses on Old Norse,
1 http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/robinson-sources.asp
2 http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/turningpoints/primarysources.asp Accessed 11/15/2011
Self-Directed Language Learning
Strategies for reading primary sources
in their original languages

By Caspian Smith
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Anglo-Saxon or another language, the language learning process can be long and diffcult. However, re-
constructionists understand that a person who is not prepared to fully participate in one culture is left on
the outside of every culture, staring through the window at the riches within. The language and the culture
are best learned in tandem, as primary sources are literature rooted in a specifc culture.

Living, Dead, and Extinct Languages
A reconstructionist who has been persuaded of the value of learning source languages and has chosen to
learn Old West Norse has a very different task than, for example, a Canadian who decides to learn Dutch
in preparation for a trip to Holland. Dutch is a living language. Old West Norse, by many defnitions, is a
dead language. Linguists differ in their defnitions and categorizations of languages, so before contrasting
the differences between learning a living language and learning a dead language, the discussion will be
summarized and terms will be defned as follows.
A living language is one that is commonly spoken today. Most defnitions include the requirement that
the language must have at least some native speakers. By this defnition, Latin is not considered a living
language for, although it is spoken fuently by scholars and Roman Catholic authorities, no living people
speak it as a frst language learned from birth. There is general consensus about the idea of a living lan-
guage, but there is more dissension about how to categorize others as either dead or extinct.
The older defnition of a dead language simply required a language to have no native speakers. By this
defnition, Old Norse and Anglo-Saxon are dead languages. The newer defnition, partially informed by
Darwinian ideas of evolution, requires a dead language to have neither living native speakers nor a liv-
ing descendant language. By this defnition, Anglo-Saxon is not a dead language because it evolved into
Middle English and then into Modern English. There was no one generation with which Anglo-Saxon
died; it simply changed incrementally into something else. Other linguists would complicate the dis-
cussion further by thus terming Anglo-Saxon as a dead language (no living speakers) but not an extinct
language (no living descendant languages). The other defnition of an extinct language is one for which
all knowledge of its grammar, pronunciation, etc., has been lost. Ancient Egyptian was considered extinct
before the discovery of the Rosetta Stone, because no one could interpret its writings. After the Rosetta
Stone was discovered and Egyptian hieroglyphics could be interpreted, the language came to be viewed
as dead instead of extinct.
For the purposes of this discussion, a language that is currently spoken and which has native speakers
will be considered a living language. A language with no native speakers, whether it has living descendant
languages or not, will be considered a dead language. By this defnition, the source languages studied
by reconstructionists are dead languages. The possible exception to this is Old Norse, which can be read
without diffculty by speakers of modern Icelandic.
Importance of Preserving Dead Languages
In addition to learning a certain language in order to access primary sources, reconstructionists are
often aware of their role in preventing their ancestral languages from becoming completely extinct (all
knowledge of its structure and literature being lost). The more students there are of a particular dead lan-
guage, the lower its chances of eventually becoming extinct. This paper is mainly concerned with Northern
European languages, most of which have extant documents and do not depend on current native speakers
3 E. Christian Kopff, The Devil Knows Latin: Why America needs the classical tradition (Intercollegiate Studies Institute,
2001) 23-24.
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to orally pass down grammar, vocabulary and stories. Languages such as those in the Athabascan family,
many of which were never written down, are currently becoming completely extinct as their last remain-
ing native speakers pass away and no documents exist to preserve their grammar, vocabulary or lore. The
possibility of this happening to Old Church Slavonic, Anglo-Saxon, or most other languages valued by
Northern European Reconstructionism is virtually nil because of the written record. For reconstruction-
ists, then, the value of learning a dead source language lies not in the need to preserve it from oblivion, but
in its inseparability from the culture being reconstructed.
Differences between Learning a Dead Language and Learning a Living Language
The aforementioned Canadian who is travelling to Holland might buy a Rosetta Stone program or fnd
a Dutch speaking partner to practice with. S/he could rent Dutch movies, subscribe to a Dutch newspaper
or host a Dutch exchange student. Should reconstructionists bemoan the lack of flms dubbed into Old
Church Slavonic, or the scarcity of Gothic speaking pen pals? Hardly. In todays global society, people
have some idea of how to go about learning a language informally, even if they have never done so.
However, most of these strategies are geared toward learning living languages, a task which is very differ-
ent from that of learning a dead language. Reconstructionists have many advantages over business travel-
lers in this case, as the skills needed to master a dead language are specifc and fewer than those required
by a living language.
As detailed in the following table, there are four main language skills, and each can be categorized as
productive (active) or receptive (passive) as well as oral or written.
Oral Written
Receptive Listening Reading
Productive Speaking Writing
Mastery of a living language must eventually include mastery of all four skills. Mastery of a dead lan-
guage, on the other hand, requires complete reading fuency (including knowledge of genre structures),
some listening ability (for languages such as Anglo-Saxon whose bodies of literature contain many works
meant to be performed aloud), but no writing skill and very little speaking ability. As seen in the chart
above, reading and listening are the two receptive skills, while writing and speaking are productive. When
learning any language, receptive skills increase more quickly and nearly always exist at a higher level
of mastery than productive skills. This is true even for native speakers, as is demonstrated by the many
people who can read and understand a college textbook but would be hard pressed to write at that level, or
the audience members who appreciate the rhetorical abilities of a politician but could not deliver the same
speech with such effectiveness. This focus on reading and listening is a boon for the learner of a source
language as receptive skills are easier to acquire, especially for the self-taught learner.
Skills Required for Mastery of a Dead Language
The necessity of fuency in reading is obvious considering that the end goal when learning a source lan-
guage is to read primary sources, but when contrasted with the end goals of learning living languages, the
4 ht t p: / / www. si l . org/ l i ngual i nks/ l anguagel ear ni ng/ ot her r esour ces/ gudl nsf r al nggandcl t r l r nngprgr m/
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great difference becomes apparent. The Canadian traveller may never have to read more than street signs
and menus in Dutch. The Anglo-Saxon reconstructionists main interaction with the language takes place
through reading diffcult texts in multiple genres. Reading with comprehension requires understanding
of the languages underlying grammatical structure. Unfortunately, the word grammar appears to be a
powerful magical spell which immediately causes eyes to glaze over and mental paralysis to set in. There
is no way around learning grammar, but when it is approached as an interesting puzzle to be solved and
learners are passionate about the language and its culture, students who previously considered themselves
language dunces can acquire a high level of reading fuency.
Set list of vocabulary
Modern English has around 300,000 words, with new ones being added and old ones falling out of use
constantly. Modern Spanish has around 100,000 words, and most other living languages have a compara-
ble number.
Contrast that with Anglo-Saxon, which has only 50,000-60,000 words, or one-sixth as many
words as Modern English.
In addition, there is no new slang, no technological vocabulary that arises with
each new invention. The Anglo-Saxon language that a student invests hours in learning this year will
not change at all over the next twenty years. Not only is the student of dead languages freed, for better or
worse, from the evolution of language, but the list of vocabulary itself is much smaller than that of most
living languages. In addition, not all the vocabulary words of a source language are necessary to read the
text of a single work. Students can focus their efforts on the vocabulary of one poem, saga or chapter at
a time, mastering one text before moving on to another. The advantage (for language learners, not for
reconstructionism) of having a limited number of target texts quickly becomes apparent.
In order to read any single edition of a Dutch newspaper, the Canadian traveller needs to know around
3,000 Dutch vocabulary words. After a year of heavy exposure to the Dutch language, the traveller sits
in an Amsterdam coffee shop for a couple hours, reading articles and puzzling through about ffty unfa-
miliar words, fnishing the newspaper with a smile. But tomorrow there will be another newspaper, also
with about ffty unfamiliar words. The next day will bring another list of new vocabulary words, and the
day after that as well. Meanwhile, the Anglo-Saxon student has worked through the entire 3182 line text
of Beowulf. Even if each line has ten words, the reader still did not need to learn 31,820 words because
most of those words are common ones which are repeated many times. The student thoroughly enjoyed
reading Beowulf, and manages to re-read it about three times a year. Each time the book is reopened, the
vocabulary set remains the same. But far from boring the student, the repetition allows him/her to glean
new meaning and deeper understanding from the lines.
Translating in your head or on paper
Fluency in translation is necessary, but only from the source language to the readers native language.
In other words, while reading Heimskringla in Old Norse, the reader acquires meaning by mentally trans-
lating each phrase from Old Norse into her native language. There is no need to translate anything from
her native language into Old Norse. This is another major difference between learning a dead language
and learning a living language. The Canadian traveller has to translate the Dutch she hears into her native
English, and also has to translate her own thoughts from English to Dutch before communicating them.
These two directions of translation are two different skills, and only one is necessary for learning source
5 http://spanish.about.com/od/spanishvocabulary/a/size_of_spanish.htm
6 http://hypertextbook.com/facts/2001/JohnnyLing.shtml
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languages. The beginning learner will usually translate on paper, because the translation must be done one
word at a time, frequently with the aid of dictionaries, and by the time the end of the sentence has been
translated, the beginning of the sentence may have been forgotten. As skill is gained and the speed of
translation increases, the need to write the translation will eventually cease.
Correct oral pronunciation
At frst it may appear that pronunciation skill is not necessary, after all, the learners goal is to read
source texts, not to communicate with a community of Anglo-Saxon speakers. However, most of the
recorded literature comes from oral tradition and was originally intended to be performed aloud. Many
learners will eventually want to share their ability by reciting a poem, saga or other text in public. In pub-
lic probably does not mean Carnegie Hall; most likely it will be for family, friends, language enthusiasts
or fellow reconstructionists. Still, pronunciation is important. No modern bard or skald, having studied a
language and text, wants to butcher the pronunciation so badly that the audience receives the impression
that Beowulf just couldnt speak German very well, bless his heart. Pronunciation practice can be com-
bined with translation practice (discussed above) by using progressively longer passages to memorize and
recite aloud. This builds memory and correct oral pronunciation as well as mental translation skills.
The skill of pronunciation, while necessary, is not identical with the skill of speaking. Speaking re-
quires forming an original thought, putting that thought in the target language, and then pronouncing it
correctly. It usually requires thinking on ones feet as the conversation partner responds, necessitating the
learners further response to that answer. Reciting a saga or an epic poem does not require the language
learner to respond to a conversation partner or to create original material, complete with correct gram-
mar and accurate vocabulary. Rather, the learner is taking a completed text, often memorizing it, and then
forming the sounds correctly. So, for a learner to say, I speak Anglo-Saxon is very different than saying
I read Anglo-Saxon, I understand Anglo-Saxon or I recite Anglo-Saxon. Usually it would be inac-
curate to claim that one speaks a dead language when ones skill actually lies in reading or studying the
dead language, but that is how it is commonly referred to within non-academic circles.
Self Directed Learning of a Source Language
Most language learners do not fnd themselves living two blocks from a major university with twenty
hours of free time a week and a thousand extra dollars in their pockets. For these learners, as for their
ancestors, necessity spurs creativity. Self-directed learning allows the language learner to move at his/her
own pace and to take advantage of the most convenient hours and his/her strongest learning styles, all at a
much lower cost. However, this approach also requires greater initiative and commitment, for the learner
must take on the roles of both teacher and student. Self-directed language learning can be defned as lan-
guage learning efforts where the learner makes most of the choices regarding goals, materials, methods,
plan, and evaluation, and takes most of the responsibility for executing and sustaining a language learning
The frst step in self-directed learning, whether one is learning a language or another subject, is to de-
sign a learning project. This can roughly correspond to a course and its curriculum, with the major differ-
ence that a learning project can be as small or as large as the learner wishes, rather than being limited to the
length of a three-credit hour college course. The discussion that follows will guide learners in developing
a Language Learning Project (LLP), which will consist of four major parts: 1) a goal with objectives, 2)
7 Don Snow, Selling Self-Directed Language Learning, Review of Applied Linguistics in China, 2, 2006.
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methods/strategies, 3) texts/materials, and 4) a study plan. These four major parts will be analyzed and
modifed if necessary throughout the duration of the LLP through the use of self-evaluation.
Developing a Language Learning Project
Set goals and objectives
Goals are general and often diffcult to measure. Objectives are specifc and can be measured. An ex-
ample of an overly general goal is: Become a fuent reader in Anglo-Saxon. A more specifc goal would
be Read Beowulf in Anglo-Saxon without having to stop to look up more than one word per page. Specifc
objectives that assist in attaining that goal could include: Translate the frst page of Beowulf or Memorize
twenty Anglo-Saxon verbs. Chosen goals should be interesting and relevant in order to help the learner
sustain interest. Objectives should be specifc and realistic steps toward reaching a goal. If your textbook
lists 200 verbs, formulating the objective Memorize all 200 verbs in six months is concrete, but it is too
long-range and vague to be a good objective. The objective Memorize fve verbs a week for forty weeks is
a better breakdown of the task at a more realistic pace. Instead of the vague Translate Beowulf on paper,
one could choose the objective Translate one page of Beowulf on paper per week. Narrow and specifc
goals are easier to complete, and they give the learner a sense of measurable progress. Remember, the
learner must set a pace that is sustainable even after the initial excitement wears off. Language learning
is not a sprint, it is a marathon.
The main goal should address the language to be learned and the level of mastery desired. Secondary
goals might deal with specifc levels of mastery for skills including reading, translation, poetry memori-
zation, vocabulary, idioms/kennings and/or pronunciation. Once goals have been defned, objectives can
be chosen. The number of objectives will stem from the learners personality and learning style. A global
learner, one who looks at the big picture, may easily defne goals but have a more diffcult time with ob-
jectives. This person may choose to defne only one objective, and after that objective has been attained,
choose another one. A details person who loves the nuts and bolts of a project may revel in choosing
twenty graded objectives. The number of objectives initially chosen does not matter, as long as 1) they
help to attain the goal and 2) the learner works toward them consistently.
Choose strategies and methods
Strategies and methods are the ways learners work towards their objectives. Again, the strategies cho-
sen depend in part on an individuals learning style. If you are unsure of your personality type or preferred
learning styles, there are many articles and tests online to help you explore your abilities. Once you know
whether, for example, you prefer abstract or concrete ideas, or whether you think randomly or sequen-
tially, you will be better able to choose approaches that work for you. It is extremely important to start with
your strengths, go at your own pace, and give yourself every chance for success.
Among educators, the theory of multiple intelligences is well-known, and classrooms and curricula are
now being designed in new and creative formats so that all students can learn in the way that is most com-
fortable for them. However, although teachers have had great success implementing multiple intelligence
strategies at the elementary school level, this tapers off as the subject material becomes more advanced,
more abstract and more heavily text-based. For the language learner, there is no escape from the necessity
8 Linda Verlee Williams, Teaching for the Two-Sided Mind: A guide to right brain/left brain education (Simon & Schuster:
New York, 1983) 182.
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of using both audio and visual learning methods. For the learner of a dead language, the subject material
will be even more heavily text-based (visual).
Even though the theory of multiple intelligences recognizes, for example, a kinesthetic (movement-
oriented) intelligence, which is exhibited by dancers, martial artists and the like, strategies for implement-
ing a kinesthetic approach to memorizing verbs may have only a tenuous connection. For some kinesthetic
learners, the act of typing or writing provides enough physical activity, so note-taking is a very useful
exercise. Others who require more physical involvement may choose a partially integrated approach in
which the learner studies grammar exercises while walking on a treadmill or riding a stationary bike.
Alternation is another possibility, in which a ffteen minute vocabulary drill is followed by ffteen minutes
of stairs or stretching. The kinesthetic learner who chooses one of these approaches may make slower
progress than the learner who is naturally visually oriented, but faster progress than a fellow kinesthetic
learner who goes against his/her natural tendencies by trying to sit still and stare at verb tables for an
hour at a time. When choosing strategies and methods that work, learners may fnd it useful to remember
which of their school teachers they liked best, and why. Some of the methods used by those teachers can
be adapted to the learners Language Learning Project.
Regardless of the learners personality and preferred learning style, activities necessary for learning
a dead language must include reading texts, translating words and sentences, vocabulary exercises and
listening exercises. In addition to strategies discussed in textbooks and on language learning websites, the
learner must implement a regular review time. Review is necessary in order to solidify learning, and mate-
rial should ideally be reviewed two to three times. Each study time should therefore begin with reviewing
the material from two lessons (or study periods) ago, followed by a review of the previous lesson, before
addressing new material. In this way, all new grammar and vocabulary will be reviewed two times as the
learner moves through the material. A stack of vocabulary fashcards should be added to and reviewed
regularly, with each word being correctly identifed ten times before being removed from the deck. These
older vocabulary words can be kept in a separate deck for occasional review.
The strategies and methods a learner chooses may be dictated in part by the chosen textbook or materi-
als, which will be discussed below. All strategies should be evaluated for effectiveness on a regular basis,
and modifed or changed if necessary. Sometimes simply reordering vocabulary study and text reading
in different confgurations helps to fnd an approach that is most effective for the individual. Even experi-
enced language learners do not always hit upon the right strategy the frst time. Sometimes a method that
works at a certain time in life, a certain environment or while learning a certain language will not work at
a later time or for a different language.
Choose texts and materials
Not all texts are textbooks, although a textbook is usually necessary at the beginning. Problems can
arise when the textbook becomes a substitute for the goal, instead of a tool for reaching the goal. This
should not be as much of a problem when learning source languages, as the eventual goal is to read spe-
cifc texts in the target language. In other words, the learners main goal could be Read fve sagas in Old
Norse rather than Complete all the exercises in the Old Norse textbook. The latter is an inappropriate goal
because it focuses on the textbook instead of the target language and source material.
One main diffculty that arises when choosing texts and materials comes from learners choosing mate-
rials that are either too hard or too boring (or, unfortunately, both). When choosing a textbook, a learner
9 Snow, Selling Self-Directed Language Learning.
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would do well to read as many reviews as possible. Online booksellers are nice tools for this, because the
reviews are usually sorted by rating. By reading all the fve-star reviews and all the one-star reviews, the
learner will get an idea of what strategies and approaches each textbook takes, which types of learners
love the book and which hate it, as well as any gaps it may have. Because it is unlikely one will be able to
fnd and compare several Old Norse textbooks on the shelves of the local bookseller, it may be necessary
to order three or four online from a seller with an excellent return policy, with the intention of examining
them at home and returning the least preferred ones. In general, the textbooks published most recently
will be the most accessible for learners with little or no previous language learning experience. Most of
the older textbooks, while excellent, assume previous language learning experience (often Latin or Greek,
which were formerly required subjects) as well as a solid grasp of Modern English grammar. Many of to-
days North American college students and young adults attended schools which used whole language cur-
riculum, and are largely unfamiliar with grammar. A learner in this situation who chooses a textbook that
assumes knowledge of grammar can supplement his studies with an introductory level English grammar
textbook or reference book, which can clear up questions that the target language textbook brings to light.
In addition to textbooks, other important materials include source texts in their original languages,
cds, mp3s or online recordings to assist in learning pronunciation, audio recordings of complete songs or
poems, vocabulary fashcards (make your own from index cards) and cultural materials (books on the art,
culture, mythology, history, technology, etc. of the culture in which the source language was used).
While not strictly a material resource, it is also helpful to fnd a study group or discussion group. This
group of people interested in the same language can help sustain motivation and answer questions a new
learner may have. Most learners of dead languages will fnd a study group online, as it is unlikely there
will be many others in the same town who are studying the same language. Online groups may also be a
place to fnd textbook recommendations and buy, sell or trade materials.
Set a study plan
In setting a study plan, learners must be realistic about the amount of time they can devote to a LLP.
Ideally, the learner will set aside at least two study times a week. Language study undertaken only once
a week is too infrequent, as language learning requires repetition and reinforcement. Twenty minutes of
study twice a week is far better than a ninety-minute study period every two weeks, even though the latter
actually involves more minutes spent studying. At the beginning, a twenty to thirty minute active study
period twice a week may be suffcient, although these will lengthen as the learners skill increases. Ideally,
active study should be undertaken for a short session each day, but this is not always possible in real life.
In addition to active study, learners should examine their schedules for opportunities for passive study. A
learner who listens to a pronunciation cd for 10 minutes every morning while getting ready for work has
added 50 minutes of passive study a week. A learner who tapes a verb table to the washing machine and
reads it aloud each time s/he does a load of laundry adds several grammar reviews a week. Anyone who
has lived with a language learner quickly realizes now many opportunities there are to ft study into ones
weekly routine. All these strategies are part of a study plan, so do not be discouraged at the idea of ftting
in some language study each day.
A study plan will detail how much time to be spent studying (e.g. Study X minutes on Tuesday and
Thursday or Listen to cd tracks 1-5 each morning), how much material to cover (e.g. Do exercise 3
on Thursday) and some form of self-evaluation (e.g. Self-test on Chapter 1 on Tuesday or Review
journal entries on Thursday). This study plan should be reassessed every month to ascertain whether it
is sustainable in conjunction with the learners schedule and whether it is suffcient to accomplish the
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learners language learning objectives.
For the self-directed language learner, self-evaluation is critical. Without evaluation, the learner cannot
know whether the methods and materials chosen are appropriate, whether the study plan is sustainable, or
whether objectives are being accomplished. Without an outside teacher to provide tests and quizzes, the
learner is responsible for observing and understanding his/her own successes and failures.
One method of self-evaluation is the self-test or self-quiz. When working through textbook exercises,
the learner simply decides that every ffth or tenth exercise will be completed without referring to notes or
textbook. If the learner feels unprepared, s/he should study in preparation. The mistakes will be corrected
afterward in consultation with the textbook, and a percentage grade assigned and recorded. If the result
is less than 70% accuracy, the four exercises preceding the test should be reviewed and the test repeated
before continuing. If a pattern of less than 70% accuracy emerges, the learner should revise study methods
or add more study time.
Another valuable method of self-evaluation is the study journal. This involves keeping a log for each
study session-recording what activites were done, how long the study period lasted and so forth-and re-
cording refections about what is noticed in the language learning process. The goal of a study journal is
to gain a better understanding of the self as a language learner, and to create informal research questions
about language study methods which the learner can then explore while carrying out the LLP. The time
spent writing a journal entry increases the length of the study period by forcing the learner to recall what
has been done, which helps the learner to analyze the success or failure of a study session as well as to
solidify the learning from each session. This reaches the very core of self-directed language learning,
as the goal is not only to learn the language, but also to learn how to learn the language. Self-analysis
should accompany the whole process of study, not only at the beginning of designing a LLP, but also while
executing the plan, after which adjustments can be made so as to tailor the LLP to the individual learner.
In order to reduce repetition in journal entries and make them less tedious, it is helpful to use a template.
Once the template has been designed, photocopied multiple times and cheaply bound or placed in a folder,
the learner simply has to fll out a sheet after each study session, and then review the journal entries every
four weeks or so. Here is an example template that has been flled out:
Study session date and length: March 25, 40 minutes
My Goal: To read a fve-page excerpt from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle without having to look up more
than one word per page.
My Objective (s): Read and translate one page of the excerpt each Tuesday, writing down all unknown
words and making vocabulary fashcards for them. Review fashcards daily. (Note to reader: In this ex-
ample, the learner studies grammar exercises from a textbook on Thursdays. She did not write down the
objectives that deal with Thursdays study session, only those pertaining to todays session.)
The material I reviewed: Reviewed verb charts on pages 37-38 of Sweets Primer. (Originally this was
studied 2 sessions ago.) Reviewed vocabulary fashcards from page one of the excerpt, which I made in
my last study session.
10 Snow, Selling Self-Directed Language Learning.
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The new material I covered: Read page two of the excerpt. Wrote down all unknown words, looked
them up and made fashcards for them. Re-read the page, referring to the fashcards for words I didnt
know. Had problems with two verbs. Looked up the verb charts that showed those tenses, and fagged
them with a post-it note for review next study session.
The methods/strategies I used, and whether they worked: Played Mozart cd in background to stimulate
right brain thinking. Read through entire page before going back and looking up unknown words, because
Im a global thinker. Reviewed verb charts, but Im having a hard time remembering them. Strategy of
reading to review isnt working. Maybe I should highlight each column in different colors, corresponding
to the different tenses? Or make up a rhyme to repeat the chart out loud, since Im an audio learner? Will
ask online discussion group members if any of them are audio learners, and if so, how they approach verb
Tasks to do between now and next study session: Listen to pronunciation mp3s each morning while
driving to work. Review vocabulary fashcards daily-preferably after supper (Im an evening person).
Photocopy verb chart, highlight the column Im having trouble with, and fnd a place to stick it where Ill
see it regularly (the inside of the medicine cabinet door?) Post in online discussion group, to let members
know that I am 40% of the way to completing my current goal!
When these journal entries are used regularly, the learner can review them and detect patterns that only
reveal themselves over time. Which strategies work best? Which need to be changed? At frst learners
think they will remember details of each study session, but after a few weeks, lessons begin to blur to-
gether in memory. A refective analysis jotted in point form immediately at the end of each study session
will prove helpful in the long run in deciding which methods and materials need revision.
Rewards for progress and strategies for sustaining motivation: Language Learning Projects are often
diffcult to sustain simply because language learning inevitably involves a signifcant amount of work,
often of a repetitive and even boring nature. Because of this, motivational strategies can be as important
as learning strategies. Learners should choose many small rewards to be used frequently, as well as a
few larger rewards to be earned at certain levels of language mastery. Minutes spent on unpleasant tasks
(grammar drills, for most people) can be used to earn enjoyable activities, or favorite foods or music can
follow a completed study session. For a larger reward, a learner might choose to buy a very nice edition of
Beowulf to commemorate having read the text in its original language, or commission a piece of statuary,
weaponry or a tattoo after having read a certain number of Old Norse sagas. Choosing a reward that is
somehow related to the language and culture being studied is especially effective.
Prepared with multiple strategies, the self-directed learner can approach a new language with conf-
dence. A student who is learning how to plan a self-study program and choose material with care, who
understands the importance of making ones own decisions in the language learning process, and who
is developing greater awareness of the importance of strategies in language learning, can attain a level
of language mastery that need only be limited by time and dedication, not by opportunity to interact
with a teacher. Reconstructionists in particular can beneft from learning a source language at their own
pace, as they integrate their deeper knowledge of source materials with the culture they are attempting to
11 Verlee Williams, Teaching for the Two-Sided Mind, 182.
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The price of inaction is far greater than the cost of making a mistake.
Meister Eckhart
As a Heathen, I pondered for many years the question of how to reconstruct old or construct new prac-
tices for today.
In Chapter 40 of his Germania,
Tacitus tells of a number of Germanic tribes who share a common
worship of a goddess, Nerthus or Terra Mater. He writes that the tribes believe that she involves herself in
human affairs, travels among the peoples, and resides in a sacred grove on an island in a wain draped with
cloth which none but her priest may touch.
Further, Tacitus indicates when the priest perceives the goddesss presence, he escorts her in her wain
through the countryside and there are rejoicings and celebrations. No one goes to war, no one takes up
arms; every iron object is locked away. Then, and then only, are peace and quiet known and welcomed,
until the goddess has had enough of the society of men and is restored to her sacred precinct by the priest.
In light of that writing and quiet contemplation, LoneStar Kindred performed a Springtime Procession
around Texas with a goddess idol riding in a wain in May of 2011. For some years, we desired to fnd
ways in which to honor this goddess that were different from the common fashions employed by many
Heathens. In the weeks leading up to that day in May, a synchronicity of occurrences, in the forms of po-
tential omens and fortuitous coincidences, gave rise to our actions. Our plan was to travel a bit over 600
miles in a day and a night, taking our idol to places where people could gather, enjoy the company of other
Heathens, give gifts, and honor the goddess. Those gifts would be sacrifced into a boggy wetlands near
my home. We believed that the community was interested because of the response received
For many years, as a kindred, we sought to strengthen the gifting cycle with our goddess. In previous
years, we held rites in her honor and offered gifts, votive sacrifces and animal blots. Desiring to give more
1 Tacitus, Cornelius. The Agicola and the Germania. Trans. H. Mattingly & S.A. Hanford. Penguin Putnam, Inc. 1970.
Reconstructing an ancient
practice for todays Heathen

By Christopher Robert
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honor to her and to give Heathens in Texas an opportunity to honor her as well, the procession seemed to
be an ideal opportunity.
The idea grew from the actions of other groups. In the 1990s, Midgard Hearth, a now-defunct heathen
group in Houston, Texas, performed a procession wherein members placed an idol in a wain (a trailer)
and traveled the highway loop that encircles Houston, stopping at members homes along the way. Their
actions formed the basis from which we decided to have this years procession.
Moreover, while spending time with two former members of Midgard Hearth, we discussed this years
procession. To my surprise, one of them told of how the original idea grew from an apocryphal story of
a group in England who traveled throughout the London Underground with a small wagon (similar to a
Radio Flyer wagon) containing an idol to perform a procession. Midgard Hearth drew inspiration from
that story and LoneStar drew inspiration from our friends.
Literary references to gods or goddesses riding in wains or wagons are limited. In addition to references
by Tacitus, there are references to the god Frey making an annual journey in a wagon in the gmundar
ttr dytts ok Gunnars helmings as related in the Flateyjarbok.
Further, Flateyjarbok also contains an-
other story of the King of Sweden consulting with the wagon-borne god.
H.R. Ellis Davidson briefy
discusses these stories and some of the surrounding archeology
and Rudolf Simek indicates that the Freyr
story fts in nicely with the procession of Nerthus as told by Tacitus.
When confronted with a lack of foundation, we decided to move forward with the procession while
constantly consulting among ourselves in order to establish a tradition of review among our group to guard
against far-fung interpretations or actions.
Our preparations began simply with an idol and an idea. Given the distances, an ox drawn wain was
not optimal (but was possible). Consequently, we chose a pickup truck (oxen) and a small trailer (wain).
The route and timing were easily determined given my driving habits (600 miles was easily attainable).
The ladies of the kindred, once given a schedule, sprang to action and organized welcoming places for the
goddess to be received and honored. As we like to say in Texas, they did us proud.
In addition to obtaining those things necessary to actually perform the procession, as a kindred, we
consulted on what we believed could happen. We hold that our gods can communicate by means of omens.
In the past, we believe we have received omens in response to our actions and we could receive such
response here. We also believe in inherent gender roles and that women are much more intuitive when
interpreting signs and omens. To that end, I asked our kindred to be aware of peculiarities that might be
observed and considered. In the end, we believe that omens were seen and that they were positive.
When we spread the news, we also received a number of questions as to our plans. These questions
gave us good reason for further study to make sure we got it right.
2 See generally: H.R. Ellis Davidson. Gods and Myths of Northern Europe. Pelican Books. 1964., H.R. Ellis Davidson. Myth and Symbols
in Pagan Europe. Syracuse university Press. 1988.
3 Ibid.
4 Gods and Myths of Northern Europe. pp92-95 & Myth and Symbols in Pagan Europe. pp116-119.
5 Rudolf Simek. Dictionary of Northern Mythology. D.S. Brewer, Cambridge. 1993. p92.
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Q: Would we wait to perceive the goddesss presence to begin the procession (as indicated in Tacitus)?
A: No. We decided that we might not be able to make such a determination. Further, given the busy
nature of our kindreds lives, we determined to perform it on a specifc day that allowed for all
of us to participate.
Q: Would we cover the idol?
A: Yes. Indications from Tacitus are that the idol was covered and we would continue the practice.
To that end, a kindred member sewed a silk covering for the idol and she remained covered from
the beginning of the procession until well after the end.
Q: Tacitus wrote that after the goddesss time among men, slaves washed the wain, the vestments
and the idol in the sacred lake where she resided and were themselves drowned. How do you plan
to account for that?
A: I made a number of jokes about it and was a bit concerned when that time came. I planned to buy
my life with sacrifced silver and hoped the goddess would accept. I guessed that if I did not trip,
knock myself out and drown in the bog, the goddess would accept my bribe. Further, on the day
of the procession, a member of another group (Hridgar Folk) came to my rescue with a handmade
doll that served as a surrogate slave and was bogged in my stead.
Leading up to the actual day, I conferred with members of LoneStar to coordinate where to stop and
what would occur at the stops. We determined to have three stops where local Heathens could gather. With
that settled, we put out the word to the local community of our plan. The response was positive and sur-
prisingly widespread. We received a number of requests for additional stops along the route. To that end,
we made two additional stops that sparked good additions to the overall procession.
Departing at sundown on May 21 with a wain (trailor) in which rode our idol, previously washed and
honored, we stopped in Dallas (one of the requested stops) and overnighted north of there, where a num-
ber of people awaited with a warm reception. As the sun tipped the horizon on the 22nd, we started south,
stopping in Fairfeld (another requested stop) and in Conroe. From there, we turned west for Killeen. After
a hearty meal, we once again turned north to head for home and race the sun.
At each of the stops, those gathered were allowed to give gifts for the goddess. Two days later I gathered
and bundled the gifts, traveled to a wetland area near my home, and bogged them to the goddesss honor.
As mentioned, during one of the stops made, a member of Hridgar Folk presented me with a handmade
doll to act as a slave to take my place in the bog at the end of the procession. For that gift I am thankful,
because, barring my genetic stupidity, my children will not lose their father in a freak drowning accident.
We were not even halfway into the procession when I started to notice occurrences that prompted me to
contact the ladies in our group. I explained what I observed and asked that they confer and consider what
it could mean. Further, other kindred and family members observed related occurrences almost simultane-
ously. The ladies conferred and made the declaration that such were omens received and that they were
After returning home, I gathered the gifts given in the goddesss honor and wrapped them together in
a burlap bag bound with silver wire and tied off with an antique key. At the local wetlands, yet more oc-
currences were noted and omens considered. For days afterwards, members of the kindred noticed more
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synchronicities that suggested positive omens. Overall, the procession was a success and the underlying
intent proved proper.
Given the success of our actions and the response from the community, we will try to make the proces-
sion an annual event. With this frst try, we practiced a bit of trial and error and now know what worked
and what did not.
For the next procession, we will have a new wain dedicated to the purpose and decorated for such.
Additionally, we commissioned a hand-carved idol from a talented Heathen artist that will become a cen-
terpiece of our kindred, just as the goddess herself is such an important part of our family.
When trying to translate practices recorded in old books into our modern day, we wished to adhere to
those writings with a reconstructionist point of view. To that end, we believe the procession to have been
a success and we will perform it again in the new year and try to bring about practices that also adhere to an
older mindset.
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My name is Josh Heath; in a ft of insanity I took it upon myself to begin documenting different Heathen
events I attend. My long term hope is that by creating a record of our worships, blts, and Things, we can
leave important parts of our history to those that will follow us. I want our history to travel, I want some
new Heathen 5, 10, 20, maybe a 100 or even 1000 years from now to know the positives and negatives of
our experience with reconstructing Heathenry, how we took what we learned and how we actually applied
it to our lives.
I am married to the most wonderful Catherine Heath. We met in S. Korea while I was in the U.S. Army
and though she is English, and I American, we have made a life of craziness together. Together we helped
to build The Open Halls project, which has allowed us to help U.S. military members fnd community
wherever they travel. This however is not a story about me, my family or the Project.
What follows are two stories about the 2011-2012 Yuletide. This year our Yule was bookended by
two very different but equally powerful events. For those that do not know, the US is broken up into
loose regions that have certain distinctive cultural traits. The Northeast, which stretches loosely from
Maine to Maryland, has an incredibly active, engaged, and dedicated Heathen community. Internally to
the Northeast, there are many different groups, kindreds, and fellowships and organizations. Two distinct
but close, both physically and relatively, groups invited us to celebrate the beginning and ending of Yule.
We recently moved into the Poughkeepsie area of New York, and we already feel like an important part
of this community. It has been an awesome experience so far. Many thanks to the Oak Ridge Fellowship,
located in New Jersey, for inviting us to their Yule celebration. Thank you to Laerad Kindred, Located in
Eastern New York, for inviting us to their Hsel to end Yule.
Im going to take a moment and change the tone. Why? I dont want whoever reads this to get bored,
and I dont want everything to be super serious all the time. I do not believe in stoicism in Heathenry and
at some point you can expect a paper relating to Heathen philosophy from me. Just keep expecting it and it
might happen. So, the point is humor is good for you, and I want folks to look at ritual as an integral part
of our lives. Which means, sometimes it isnt just good to laugh, it is required. Laugh with me people! No
seriously, I want everyone to realize that laughing doesnt reduce the sacred nature of our rituals, relation-
ships built on the lack of true mirth are not as deep as those that encourage both time for laughter and time
for seriousness. This is all my humble opinion of course.
Continue reading to get more of my skewed perspective on Heathen events in this era, area, and such.
What will you discover? What will I reveal?! Read on then to discover. (Dramatic, huh!?)
So. Do you want to read a story about why we worship the way we do? Or do you really want to know
what we did? Or do you want to know a little bit of both?
Modern Heathens work constantly to understand the worldview of those ancient Heathens that we base
our worshiping and worldview upon. That takes an intense amount of desire, focus, and work to interpret
correctly. Thankfully we have dedicated researchers who really are intent on discovering the underlying
reasoning for the actions and fnds we have discovered.
Two Yule Rituals
One Heathen's Experience in the Northeast US

By Josh Heath
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So. Since you didnt ask, Im going to give you both. You, who may be some crazy kid a thousand years
from now who has found this crumbling manuscript in a recently uncovered internet era archaeological
dig. You, who are likely the descendant of someone in my today, who wanted to know why their ancestors
gave up their ancestral faith, for the faith of a foreign strange cult. YOU! Im being incredibly pretentious
assuming this paper, and hopefully the book around it will survive that long, and that you want to know
how and why we called ourselves Heathens and how and why we worshipped the way we did.
Enough with the pretense, exposition and plain bollocks. Onwards!
Our frst ritual was one which I think requires a serious tone and it will be presented that way. I remind
you future reader that this doesnt reduce the sacred nature of the ritual of which I speak of with a more
gentle humorous tone. If you wish to build a reciprocal relationship with the Gods, your Ancestors, the
Landvaettir, than occasionally this will be flled with laughter, and occasionally it will be flled with tears
and silence. All are important, all are valid, and all are real aspects of life. Living Heathenry is just that,
living your life in all its parts as a Heathen.
Blt: Honoring the Gods
with the Oak Ridge Fellowship
My wife Cat and I had been invited to begin Yule with the Oak Ridge Fellowship in New Jersey. This
was a unique honor for us, we had just moved into the general area, but had been made to feel like mem-
bers of the community immediately. It helped that we already had met several folks at the East Coast
Thing a few years ago, and kept up with them through Facebook. Building relationships is essential! The
Oak Ridge Grove is on Lisa and Gary Goldens land in New Jersey, and they had opened their lovely home
to us.
Our day began early. So early in fact that the sun wasnt even beginning to peek up over the horizon
when I frst rolled out of bed. Excitement, a shower, and a good cup of coffee charged up my batteries and
the day began in earnest. Blt was originally supposed to begin at 7am, however, several folks were due to
arrive a little late, and Gary chose to push back the start time to ensure everyone would make it.
As folks began to awaken from their slumber, anticipation brought a charge of electricity to the air.
Coffee and excitement helped to motivate those as they awoke from the previous nights merry-making.
After all participants had arrived, our gracious gregarious Gothi Gary handed out the roles to those in
attendance. For me, this was one of the decisions I applaud him for the most. Engaging the members of
the community in such a sacred act, gives them a feeling of not just witnessing blt, but actively being an
integral part of it. I was chosen to help carry the pig to the grove, and to offer a bread man to the Odin idol
as well. To say I was honored to do so is an understatement.
Gary had organized feeding our porcine friend apples soaked in mead a few hours prior to blt time.
This had a calming effect on her, and she was generally fairly relaxed when we arrived to bring our hon-
ored guest to the grove. Four of us used metal poles to lift and carry the pig while she stood inside her
cage. We marched ahead of the procession of the extended fellowship into the grove. The ground leading
into the grove is uneven and roots, dips, and holes are common. The biggest pressure on my mind was
making sure I didnt trip while carrying the sacrifce.
The grove is set behind the Goldens property, just outside of their cleared backyard at the edge of the
woods. It is walled in with low stones, an altar sits in the center, and two large god-poles stand towering
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just taller than most men. The two poles are for Thor and Frey. Laerad had brought their Odin idol as well,
and his one eyed gaze watched us as we entered. We made it into the grove without incident, settled the
pig down beside the god-poles and waited for everyone to gather. There are many ritual formats given in
books written for new adherents to Asatru. All seem to require fowery speech and large amounts of verbal
bombast. Gary spoke softly, but strongly. And yet his words were not meant for us. They were meant for
the Gods to hear. I still dont remember exactly what was said, in the end, it wasnt important. Deeds over
words is something we hear a lot as Heathens these days. This moment was all about our deeds.
One person held the rope wed tied around the blt-swines neck, and another stood just behind Gary,
ready to take the blt rife to clear it once the deed was done. Gary opened the gate to the cage, spilled
some corn on the ground to entice her out, and patiently took aim. At the moment Gary took the shot, she
moved her head. The bullet struck, but not in the spot intended. I know many that would have been terri-
fed at this occurrence, so much that they would have failed to take action. Gary is not one of those people.
He apologized to the pig, and took aim again. This shot was perfect and it went down immediately. All
in all, it took only a couple seconds from his frst to his fnal shot. It was over incredibly quickly, and ef-
fciently. Taking care that the animal is in as little pain as possible is essential. We expect our meat to be
butchered humanely and safely. Gary ensured this was the case.
We grabbed hold of the pig and we set her upon the table, a bowl was held under the neck to catch the
frst blood that our Gothis blade let loose. My wife, Cat stepped in and collected the remainder, and then
Gary began to stain the idols with our blts sacrifce. Gary took a hlaut twig and sprinkled the attendants
from the bowl with the sacred blood. A portion of the blood was poured into a horn, mixed with mead and
would be offered to Garys Odin Pole which sat outside the grove. The ritual slaughter of the pig is done
so we have a connection with the animal, we know where our feast meat is coming from. We do so in a
respectful manner because we recognize a life is given so we can eat. The blood is offered to the gods, it
shows both our dedication to them, and it acts as a vessel for the symbolic circulation of luck between god
and man. The gothi takes a portion of the blood from the bowl, once it has been sanctifed by the gods, and
he symbolically spreads the luck that they imbue it with around to those in attendance. Again, at all times
respect was felt for the animal we would eat and that gave its life for us.
We processed as a group to the god pole of Odin. At this god pole we again made offerings, these in-
cluded a portion of the blood from the pig mixed with mead, and bread. I had initially prepared things
Id wanted to say, but again, our actions were so overpowering, my words seemed to echo hollowly in my
mind and I chose to refrain. Most of the group returned to the house at this point, but a few of us returned
to the grove to feld dress the sacrifce and to organize the ritual space. We made sure the altar was back in
its original position, everything was set where it should be, and that the offerings were where they should
be. This was just a second look at the space to ensure the most positive response from the gods and from
the land for our actions. It seems diffcult to describe, but the moment was quite a bit fuzzy in my mind.
We cut the head from the pigs shoulders, and laid it upon the Frey post. When it was placed there, the
action seemed so correct; we all smiled. The image that written words convey seems slightly gruesome,
but in person everything seemed to be as it should. The entrails were removed and placed within a shallow
hole. They were an offering for any of the landvaettir that wished to have them.
The blot-swine was carried back to Garys shed and we began the process of cleaning, skinning, and
butchering. Most of our group went back to the house. I am told there was a feeling of reverence and a
deep emotional effect on those there. I was asked to assist with the butchering, and I didnt interact with
others until quite some time after we had fnished. Set behind the house, this shed was one set aside as a
work space, and Gary often used it to clean and butcher animals he had hunted. It had been years since
Id witnessed this process, and it was amazing to me. Knowing the animal your meat comes from bothers
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some people enough to stop eating it. For me its the opposite, I respect the animal that has given its life so
that we can eat. It lived a good life and was treated well, killed well, and had a purpose. Factory farming
animals has removed us from the beauty of life in so many ways. I knew again, that what wed done was
right, and it was done well.
After we butchered the meat, Lisa, our hostess, came and added a marinade to favor it, and the pork
was wrapped in foil. At this point I took a well needed break from the mornings activities and headed back
to bed. Though I lay down, I couldnt bring myself to sleep. I was so full of energy that I just sat there until
my wife fell asleep, and then I got back up.
The atmosphere was festive from that point on. Folks drank a little, laughed a lot, and chatted as nor-
mal. Gary seemed a little worried about not hitting his mark correctly the frst time, but I and many others
assured him that his skill and his steady nature was what mattered. Nothing could be done about the pig
moving her head. That was her choice to make, and Gary took the absolutely correct actions when this oc-
curred. Historically, blt would likely not have been as clean, but we wanted to ensure the most humane
treatment we could provide. As the day progressed we noticed birds landing in the grove, and we kept an
eye on which ones had chosen to do so. I personally saw a hawk, a falcon, and a vulture take part in the
offerings. We all took this as a good omen.
The pork was set to roast around 12 noon and preparations for other dishes for the meal began as well.
The feeling in the air was one that Id only felt before at family holidays. People were pleasant, chatty,
and caring. Most of these folks Id only met a few times prior, but it was like being home with this group
of wonderful people.
The meat cooked quickly and calls were made to ensure that those who were coming for the meal, but
hadnt made the blt would make it in time for the feast. We assembled the dining area, and Gary and Lisa
worked incredibly hard at preparing both the feast hall and the meal. Lisa
took to her role as the lady of the hall and she seated everyone in their
respective places at the tables. This action, though ritualistic, seemed
pleasant, natural, and it felt like wherever we were placed had pur-
pose. This feast was an extended part of the ritual nature of the day.
Feasting was historically a very important ritualized event. Our
modern feasting is then based in the same concept.
After everyone was sat, two members of the Oak Ridge
Fellowship, brought around a bowl of water and white
cloths, so that we had a chance to wash out hands. This
again had the feel of ritual, but a familiar one, a pleas-
ant one, and one that had the purpose not just of physi-
cal cleanliness, but ritual cleanliness as well. It reminded
me of the Passover Seder I attended while I was stationed
with the Army in Iraq. As an outsider at such a ritual I could
only feel comfortable to a certain degree. At this blt, I felt like
I belonged and this small ritual was just one small aspect of that feel-
ing of belonging.
Once washed and dried, Gary opened the sliding door to his back-
yard, and he began to ask the ancestors to join us. This was awe
inspiring, and a cold chill crossed by shoulders as everyone invited
those who had passed to join us for the feast. I invited my godfather
Spec (Arthur Dicey Jr.) to join us, and Cat invited many members of
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her family to sit with us as well. The hall was flled with thirty or so people and they all called on others
to join us. Tears fowed, but that was simply a warm up for what would follow.
Near the dining area, a small altar space had been set up to host pictures of the ancestors of those who
attended. Filled with photos from one end of the large table to the other, it was a great representation of
the thirty or so people that attended the feasting and the Sumbel. Truly it felt like our ancestors were in the
room with us, enjoying the festivities.
We feasted at this point, laughter, good food and drinks made their rounds. After the feasting, we had
chosen to engage in a sumbel. Sumbel is a ritual that is overdone, underdone, misunderstood, understood
without question and done for the right, and the wrong reasons. Sumbel is one of the most sacred rituals
in heathenism, on a par with blt, but with a different focus and purpose. Blt is about the communitys
dedication to a reciprocal gifting relationship with our gods. Sumbel is about reaffrming the frith-bonds
between members of that community and the passing of the horn symbolically represents the weaving of
those bonds. I know of groups that attempt to do sumbel with groups of 500 or more people. Can any of
them really say they know everyone they are choosing to entwine their luck with? Done correctly, Sumbel
is cathartic and bonding; this sumbel ft that requirement perfectly.
Lisa acted as the cup bearer, representing both her role as lady of the hall, and the physical representa-
tion of the active frith bonds being forged through our words. The title Frithweaver is welled earned in
this regards. This was a three round sumbel. The frst round was dedicated to the gods. I raised the horn
in honor of the gods that dwelled within the Oak Ridge grove and asked they gift us in return for our gifts
to them. The second round I made a mistake with my words that still digs into me. This round was dedi-
cated to Ancestors, and I chose to honor those soldiers that had passed into their ancestral halls. I meant
to say that SSG. Eric Stanley Trueblood will always be remembered. Sergeant Trueblood, these words are
dedicated to both digital and written form. I will do my best to never have your name or deeds forgotten.
This ancestral line was and is usually the most diffcult as it quickly can become emotional. Sumbel this
time was no exception. I have an audio recording of the sumbel, and I hope to successfully transcribe the
words said during the event. Our last round was open for anyone to toast, or boast in any fashion they felt
was appropriate. I had tried really hard to write a skaldic poem in honor of Lisa and Garys hospitality, but
specifc words failed me at the time. So in honor of them, I used a bit of time honored skaldic alliteration,
to show my appreciation to them. I dont know if the history of this style of poetry was known to the as-
sembled community. Alliteration was considered a great poetic skill in Medieval Scandinavia. Consider
a society that doesnt have access to dictionaries or thesauruses, the ability to string related alliterative
words together that way would have been pretty impressive.
After we fnished the sumbel the feasting area got cleaned up and we reassembled again to witness the
Klandestine Krampus gift exchange. This should not be seen as a serious ritual, it was a fun exchange
designed to break up the serious nature of sumbel. Sometimes you just have to laugh a lot, and this was
totally one of those times! The Krampus is an assistant to Santa Claus in Bavarian tradition who takes the
naughty children and stuffs them into his sack. This year we began what will hopefully become a regular
tradition. The AmeriKrampus. The AmeriKrampus takes portions of the traditional Krampus story and
integrates them with aspects of American redneck culture. He carried a version of the Krampusruten, or
bundles of birch twigs, and he paired it with a baseball cap, sparkly mid-rift shirt with gut pouring out over
his pants and a checkered shirt. His Krampus horns poked out through the cap and his monstrous expres-
sion was well applied.
Unlike the traditional Krampus, ours oversaw the gift exchange and gladly smacked everyone that
received a gift with this Krampusruten. Coal was also thrown liberally around the living room that had
become our Krampus den. After the gifts were all delivered the main parts of the nights ritual activities
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were over. At this point we transitioned into spending time with each other and just enjoying the night.
Beer was drunk, jokes were made, and merry making occurred late into the night.
It was one of the best Yule gatherings Ive ever been to. I hope for many more in the future.
Hsel: A Formal end to Yule
Laerad, a group of Heathens in the New York region had invited us to celebrate the ending of Yule
with them at the home of Murray Lorberer and Lorien McCabe, both members of Laerad. This wonder-
ful group of Heathens have quickly become our close friends, and it is always an awesome time when we
hang out with them. All you need to know is that they rock!
Speeding along the road I thought we would be showing up just in time for the festival Josh Rood was
calling the Jlnirs Hsel. Jlnir is one of the lesser known names of Odin. Odin is arguably (I mean seri-
ously arguably, people argue constantly about it) one of the most major deities of our time. Many groups
honor him, and yet understand his roles and worship him very differently.
Turn, turn, and wrong turn. We pull into Murray and Loriens yard, and we were greeted well. Hugs,
beer, and hellos were heard all around. We happily said hello to folks we hadnt seen in years, and happily
introduced ourselves to those we had never met before.
Being invited to participate in ritual, worship, and blt should be seen as a big thing. Allowing folks to
enter ones inner-yard and participate in the holiness of gifting between that group and the Gods; that is
humbling and wonderful.
Time passed and preparations occurred. Laerad was hosting the worship and they were working dili-
gently to ensure the best outcome to the event. Josh Rood would act as Gothi. Some groups today choose
one person to be a Gothi for their group. Some, look to those who are the right choice to offciate a par-
ticular blt, worship, or ritual. Roods connection to Odin is strong, and it was right that he lead the Hsel.
As the sun began to set, the hand carved idol of Odin was carried to the tree that would be the cen-
terpiece of the worshipping. Before it was set a horg, a stone cairn designed to be used as an altar. Atop
the horg was set a large brass bowl that would be used to house a fre. Odin was crowned with a wreath,
and candles were set upon his crown. Sat before the tree, his one eyed gaze was obvious and open to all
Before I arrived at the horg, the space was consecrated, dressed, and prepared for the worshipping.
Juniper was laid around the base and this greenery gave the area a very classic yule look. The space was
established as a holy ve and fre was traced around four trees that encircled the horg and the tree it sat
before. They marked the barrier of that holy space. Each of these trees was decorated with ribbon, but in
the descending darkness these became simply peripheral to the main area around the horg.
The worship was twofold. Offerings would be made to the fre and would be hung upon the tree.
Laerad had constructed offerings to be thrown into the tree, in case folks had not prepared any themselves.
There were small wreaths with entwined copper, silver, and brass threads. Small precious stones were in-
terspersed around them. They shined with beauty. Additionally there were copper plates, tied together with
string. These plates were embossed with imagery from our myths. In the darkness it was diffcult to make
out all the details on them. This shows to me two parts of our worldview, that the gifting is important, and
that it is hospitable to ensure that all involved can participate in the gifting. My wife had crocheted two
hanged men made of fammable wool. These we attached to the offerings provided by the Laerad crew,
and we stood before the tree, and around the fre.
Rood began the ritual by inviting Odin to attend the worshipping we had prepared for him. He recited
an alliterative poem he had composed to honor Odin. He listed the deeds of the One-Eyed god, among
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them his presence at the formation of Laerad, and he recited many of his names, Fjolnir, Grimnir, Odin,
Wanderer, and more. He bent his knee in respect before the idol, and showed both his honor, and respect
for the One Eyed God. If the Poetic Edda still exists in your time fair reader, please look up the many
names of Odin. They are too many to name here.
Respect for the gods is important, you show respect to your parents, to those who have earned a place
where they deserve respect, and those that are hosting you. Some bend a knee to the Gods, some bow their
heads, and some show they respect them by meeting their eye, knowing they are terrible, and open to their
gifts. The action is important, as long as it shows that you have that respect.
I bowed my head slightly, but kept my eyes open to watch the assorted members of our community. I
take my role of recorder, reporter, and teller of tales seriously. I hope someday future Heathen, that you
read these words and see the worth of those that took these actions. Plus I kind of like being able to see
what is going on around me. You never know what could jump out of the woods at just the wrong time.....
Rood invited Odin to accept our gifts, allow our worship to be honored, and to grant us luck for our ac-
tions. In turn we took our offerings and threw them into the tree. In ye olden times, hanging offerings for
Odin may have been common. We have tales of hanging offerings in Uppsala Sweden for Odin, and the
other Gods assembled there. The tree can be seen to act as a method for showing worth, both to the tree
for its connection to Odin, and to its connection to those assembled.
As well as the hung offerings, I placed a piece of an elf house I am building into the fames, Rood
placed the frst copy of the journal rrir into the bowl, and Jesse Orton (a guest invited by Laerad)
placed one of the frst idols hed carved into the fames. Others threw things onto the tree, and into the
fames, but these three I remember clearly. They were all sacrifces of time, and dedication to the gods, to
our community and to you, the future generation.
In my mind, and honestly, this is UPG, unverifed personal gnosis, once the worship has occurred, at
a certain point the idol becomes the god being worshipped. The idol becomes the deity for that particular
group, kindred, or fellowship. When worship is given, when the god or goddess is present, that idol is the
god. Take my opinion for what it is, an opinion, but I felt it appropriate to point out here. Or ignore this
paragraph completely. I wont hold it against you.
Once the worshipping was done, we took the idol into our feasting hall with us. We ate, and a portion
was set before the idol of Odin in case he chose to eat with us. Now, I realize gentle reader that the idol
was carved of wood, but it was the principle of offering that is important. As with the Yule feast with the
Oak Ridge Fellowship, a bowl of water was made available for people to clean their hands. The hsel meal
is important for its connection to Laerad as a whole. The meat from the meal included a dish made from
a ritually sacrifced ram called Ottar. A portion of the sacred meal was set aside for Odin and this portion
was set in the fames of the horg after the meal. The omens that came afterwards are important to deciding
if our gift was accepted. I have to say I feel they were.
After we feasted, we held a sumbel. This sumbel was intended to be a little more open ended than most,
and the goal was to create a bond between those seated at the table, and to honor our One Eyed guest again.
Good words, good deeds, and challenges were spoken around the table. Our Thul was designated as Dan
Oropallo, a member of the Laerad crew. Dan challenged our deeds, and will make us keep our word that
we would follow through with the challenges issued to us.
Doing this requires trust, trust not just in those challenging, but being challenged, and trust that the Thul
would ensure we kept our words or forced us to pay recompense for the failure to follow through with our
word. Making oaths, keeping our word; this is supremely important to us. Dear future Heathen, please
remember this. Our deeds defne us, and our words should refect our deeds.
The sumbel went on for several hours, as they are wont to do. There was talk about telling stories, and
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your humble recorder had one prepared. Sadly, time few by quickly and we chose to forego the tale tell-
ing. A shame too, the story I had to tell still sits within my brain untold, but waiting to be told to those
around me, and to be accepted by those who hear it, as showing a deeper understanding of our community.
This record is done for now my future friend. The hsel was done, and my wife Catherine and I returned
home. Remember us. Remember our deeds, because with your memory of us, we live on forever. Dont
forget to laugh once in awhile either. Its worth it.
Hail to Laerad, Hail to Odin, and Hail to Heathens now, past, and future!
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Beer and Brewing Culture
through the Eyes of
a New England Heathen

By Mark Andersen
Back in the mid 90s, almost a decade before I converted to Asatru, I took up the hobby of home brew-
ing. Back then, my knowledge of beer in general was very limited, home brewing technology and ingre-
dients werent nearly at the level they are today, and not that many people were home brewing. Undaunted
and armed with the book The New Complete Joy of Home Brewing by Charlie Papazian, I gave it a fair
go. Nothing I brewed during that 2-3 year period was particularly good or memorable, but I learned the
basic mechanics of home brewing using only extract recipes and a stove top kettle. Ultimately, I gave it
up. My non-heathen ex-wife wasnt very friendly towards the process. Usually she complained about the
smell of malt boiling on the stove and the mess made in the kitchen. Also, there really werent any other
home brewers that I knew on Cape Cod at the time. I have since found out that the CCLAMS (Cape Cod
Lager and Ale Makers) home brew club, of which I am now an active member, started around that time.
After the year 2000 I got divorced, and not long after met my current wife who introduced me to the
world of Heathenry. Finally in 2004, the two of us decided to attend our frst ever Asatru event, the East
Coast Thing, that summer. One of the things that struck me most was the variety, and in most cases, the
quality of the home brewed beer and mead at the event. There seemed to be a real sense of pride in this
homemade beer and mead , not only by the individual brewers, but by the community as a whole. I was
also struck by the fact that folks were very hospitable when it came to sharing their beer and mead. It was
as if a signifcant part of the pleasure derived from brewing and mead making came from sharing it with
other heathens and the socializing/bonding that went along with it. This event and meeting other heathen
home brewers provided the inspiration I needed to really delve into home brewing again.
What was it that brought about this inspiration? Learning that good quality beer could be home brewed
and subsequently enjoyed was, of course, a big plus. The more time I spent around other heathens, how-
ever, I realized that there was something more to it. What I came to understand is that home brewing is
an integral part of our culture and highly valued by the heathen community. Becoming a profcient home
brewer is one way that an individual can gain a good reputation within the community. It also is a great
way to bond with other members of the community. It is one thing to share a store bought bottle of beer
with a fellow heathen but it is ten times better to share your own home brew.
Shortly after my frst East Coast Thing in 2004 I began a furry of brewing activity. I bought lots of new
equipment, dusted off some of my old equipment from the 90s, and began brewing a variety of extract
and partial mash concoctions. Some of the batches came out pretty good, but something was still miss-
ing. I would bring bottles of it to local heathen events. My fellow Raven Kindred North members would
politely (but not too emphatically) praise some of my beers. None of them were anywhere close to being
home runs. I tried a variety of things, including shifting to outdoor brewing with a big 10-gallon kettle and
propane cooker so I could do full boils, as well as several other improvements. I still had not reached the
point where I was wowed by any of the beers.
Then I met a fellow heathen named Aaron Bennet at a pubmoot in Providence, Rhode Island. Aaron was
a member of a local Asatru Alliance kindred at the time. Not long after, I attended his annual Oktoberfest
party where he put on a keg of home brewed Oktoberfest. I was really impressed with it. That was the
home run I had been trying to achieve.
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Aaron told me that one big reason for the better quality in his beer was that he used the all grain
brewing process instead of using malt extract. I had read about all grain brewing quite a bit even back
in the 90s but was a little intimidated by it. Aaron generously invited me over for a brew day to show me
the process. Admittedly, it did look easier than I had previously thought it to be. I got the run down on the
equipment needed and made a commitment to do all grain brewing from then on. With a lot of mentoring
from Aaron, I got pretty good at it and started to produce the quality beers for which I had always hoped.
My frst home run came when I brewed a Maibock to be served at Raven Kindred Norths May Day
celebration back in 2007. I was completely hooked. Ive been insane about home brewing ever since. I
cant tell you how much time and money Ive since invested in it, but a tour of my home will reveal a
brew cellar complete with lagering tank, racks of grain, grain mill, many carboys both empty and full, a
fully packed fridge just for hops and yeast, a kegerator in the living room, and so on- and the madness has
really just begun.
My second big inspiration for brewing, and beer in general, came when I visited Germany for the frst
time also back in 2007. I had always wanted to visit Germany as I had been fascinated by the culture, the
history, the geography, and of course the beer! Having joined RKN a couple of years prior, I had a chance
to become good friends with a longtime member of RKN from Germany called Ingmar Lauer. Ingmar
had since started Raven Kindred Deutschland after moving back to Germany from Boston a few years
earlier. In 2007, I met Ingmar in Switzerland, and we worked our way from North to South doing a beer
tour of Deutschland that would bring us from the border of Switzerland all the way to the northern city of
Hamburg. What I discovered is that the German beer culture is substantially different than our understand-
ing of it here in the United States, based on the beer that has been exported to us. First, the quality of beer
in Germany, assuming you know where to look, is a lot better than what weve been exposed to. Second,
there is, in quite a few places, a deeply, well-established and very, very traditional beer brewing and beer
drinking culture in place. It really was an eye opener of how great it can be. I also think that in experienc-
ing the traditional German beer scene, I was witnessing a window into the past as to how beer was brewed
and enjoyed and thankfully still brewed and enjoyed in some places today.
There are quite a few very interesting practices in German brewing and beer drinking that you can ex-
perience and Ill enumerate a few of them here:
1. It was in the city of Bamberg that I frst tried a beer that the city and
region is renowned for called Rauchbier. Rauchbier has been jokingly
dubbed bacon beer by many because of the very smoky beer made by
Brauerei Heller Trum of Bamberg. Heller Trum brews a beer called Aecht
Schlenkerla Rauchbier. Schlenkerla does give the impression of almost
drinking liquid bacon. They are one of a couple of dozen breweries in the
Franconia region of Germany that still brew this historical style. In their
case, the smokiness comes from the practice of kilning the malt over a
beechwood fre before mashing it. I reckon that most of the beers brewed
historically from Germany all the way through Scandinavia had this smoky
aspect to it because of lack of modern kilning methods. Luckily we can
reproduce these historical styles either by purchasing pre-smoked malted
grain or even smoking the grain ourselves.
2. Weve come to know lager here in the United States as a bland, pale, and
generally poor quality cheap beer. I discovered in Germany that this is not
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the case with many breweries, especially in the Franconian and Bavarian
regions. I think this is a result of these breweries using a much higher stan-
dard in both the ingredients that they use and the process that they employ.
In many small breweries in Bavaria and Franconia, they still use the process
of step mashing called decoction mashing. This is a more labor intensive
process that can be employed by the home brewer to bring out smoother,
maltier, and clearer lager beers, especially when it is combined with the
process of lagering the beer at cold temperature.
3. In certain parts of Germany, there exists much more of a community aspect
both to brewing and beer drinking. Here in the US, all too often, going out
for a few pints entails sitting in a bar staring at the TVs on the wall. This is
not the case in a traditional brewpub in Germany. Often times, as a visitor,
you will fnd yourself sitting at a table with benches and conversing with
complete strangers, or youll be sitting outside in a gorgeous bier garten
or bier keller enjoying the scenery along with the beer. Many of the bier
kellers in Franconia even have playgrounds and swing sets as they are often
the weekend hangout for families looking to enjoy a nice day out with good
food, and great beer with other members of the local community.
Nowhere is this communal aspect of brewing and beer drinking (mentioned in #3 above) better wit-
nessed than in a section of the Oberpfalz region affectionately called, by us beer tourists, Zoigland. This
region is in Northern Bavaria not far from the Czech border. Zoigl is the name of the beer that is brewed
in the 5 remaining towns (Windischeschenbach, Neuhaus, Mittereich, Falkenberg, and Eslarn) that still
preserve the practice of communal brewing. They also have a tradition of having rotating Zoigl Stubes. A
Zoigl Stube is what we would call a pub but are essentially attached to the home of the family that operates
it. These Zoigl Stubes take turns opening on pre-designated weekends. There is even a calendar available
over the internet identifying which Zoigl Stube is open in each town on any given weekend.
I was lucky to be able to visit the neighboring Zoigl towns of Windischeschenbach (called Eschawo by
the locals) and Neuhaus in July of 2011. What struck me most about this visit, apart from the spectacular
Zoigl beer, was the tight knit community aspect of drinking in a Zoigl Stube. People were wandering in
at all hours, and it seemed as if they all knew each other. There was lots of singing, conversation, laugh-
ing, and generally enjoying each others company while enjoying the locally brewed communal beer. The
atmosphere was like drinking in a friends kitchen or living room. I think that this is a living, breathing
example that can still be experienced today of beer drinking customs that were probably far more common
historically than they are in our modern age. Drinking beer, feasting, and talking together at a table in the
home of neighbors and/or relatives without distracting televisions, loud music, annoying waitresses, etc.,
all while, drinking beer that is brewed by the local braumeisters for the community connected the past
with the present. I was even fortunate on that one evening to sit at a table with the braumeister who had
been a Zoigl braumeister for 38 years, his son, his daughter, a few local friends, and even the town sheriff.
Incidentally I stayed out at the Zoigl stube that night until close to 3am when the son and daughter of the
braumeister kindly gave us a ride back to our hotel.
I also think that the activity of brewing itself is a community activity. This again can be seen in the
Zoigl town of Neuhaus. A fellow Zoigl beer lover from Ireland had this to say about his attendance at
a brew day in Neuhaus that he was invited to: The people in Neuhaus really do know how to organise
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a p*** up in a brewery and how! Unlike Eschawo, Neuhaus kommunbrauhaus is set up for hospitality,
with a really nice little room for visitors. So here, we see that brewing itself is a social occasion where
the brewers interact with the locals and the rare traveler that is lucky enough to be invited to the occasion.
Over the last few years I have made a habit of organizing heathen brew days at my house once or twice
per year. Usually this happens once in the spring and sometimes once in the fall. Both home brewers and
just fellow heathens that want to hang out and socialize and drink good home brew are invited to attend. I
have found the camaraderie and good times at these events to be outstanding. I think we will see more of
these in heathenry as our communities continue to grow and solidify. I feel that home brewing, and even
making a social event out of a day of home brewing, is participating in something that is a big part of our
heathen cultural heritage.
Another fantastic example of the community and cooperative aspect of brewing in Germany can be
seen every Autumn during the Bock beer release season. During the months of October, November, and
into December, many of the small local breweries of Upper Franconia work together to coordinate the tim-
ing so that each brewery can have its own day to celebrate the release of its bock beer. This event is called
Bockbierantisch, and there is even a schedule posted so bock beer lovers will know what brewpub to be at
and what day and time to be there. Now, how cool would it be for a group of us heathen home brewers to
each brew a bock beer in the spring and have our own Bockbierantisch at our home on a rotation just like
they do in Oberfranken?
I have spent a lot of time experimenting with and brewing various German styles. I have brewed sea-
sonal bock beers, Helles lagers, Pilseners, Rauchbiers, and recently even a Zoigl beer using information
gathered from my aforementioned visit to the Oberpfalz region. I am now looking forward to learning
more about and brewing historical Scandinavian styles. We know from various sources that juniper berries
were used in Scandinavian brewing in lieu of hops. Lets face it, they didnt have hops readily available a
long time ago. So, they used juniper berries, among other things, as a preservative and to add favor. One
example that survives even today is Gotlandsdricke ale from the Baltic island of Gotland. In his book
Microbrewed Adventures, The famous home brewing writer Charlie Papazian wrote a very nice article
about his visit to the island of Gotland and to a Farmhouse brewery run by an elderly gentleman named
Vello Noodapera. In it, he describes a beer brewed by Vello made with smoked malt, hops, and juniper
berries called Gotlandsdricke ale. According to Papazian, Gotlandsdricke brewing is widespread on the
island of Gotland and done mostly in small home/farm breweries. The late Michael Jackson (no not that
Michael Jackson) was known during his life as the beer hunter due to his extensive travel and research
worldwide regarding beer styles and local brewing culture. He wrote a very interesting short article about
the mountainous west of Norway where he discovered that many families keep their own supply of liquid
yeast for home brewing that get passed down from generation to generation. He also mentioned the use
of smoked malt and juniper berries.
A few years ago a fellow heathen brewer J. Talkington brought a home brewed example of a beer us-
ing Juniper berries to East Coast Thing. Im hoping to do the same this coming year, and in addition use
smoked malts to hopefully reproduce something similar to Gotlandsdricke. The experimentation never
ends and that is one of the beauties of being a heathen home brewer.
Im going to end this article by providing some interesting links that readers can use as sources to ex-
plore more about German and Scandinavian beer and other interesting tidbits.
1. First the article written by The Beer Hunter Michael Jackson about Norway: http://
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2. This is a very useful and interesting website listing all the breweries of
Upper Franconia, Germany (Oberfranken). This region has the highest den-
sity of breweries per capita than anywhere else in the world (and its not even
close!). http://www.beerhunter.com/documents/19133-000103.html
3. Historical beer researcher and blogger Ron Pattinson has a blog that is a treasure
trove of information regarding historical beer recipes, brewing logs, and other ar-
ticles. http://barclayperkins.blogspot.com/
4. The late John White of England wrote a very good travel article about Zoigland with
lots of info and links and his wife was kind enough to keep his website up in his
memory as a reference for us beer lovers to use. http://www.whitebeertravels.co.uk/zoigl.
5. Website of the twin Zoigl towns of Windischeschenbach and Neuhaus. If you
click through you can fnd links to the various Zoigl Stubes in the two towns.
6. Its always nice to have a Zoigl calendar handy so you know where to go and when.
Last but not least a shameless plus to the Beer Gnome blog of yours truly for those inter-
ested in reading about and seeing pictures of my various beer travels and brewing adventures.
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Some Brew Recipes

Mark Andersen
10 years Home Brewer
In the winter of 2006 I started brewing my annual Maibock beer to be served at our kindreds May
Day festivities that we hold on the 1
weekend of May every year. Typically Maibock is a German style
strong lager beer (i.e. bock beer) that is brewed in the winter and lagered for 2-3 months to be served in
the springtime. Sometimes it is called Helles Bock by German breweries and not necessarily served only
in the spring time. You can also fnd Helles Bock on tap during autumn or winter. However, it probably
goes without saying, that if it is called Maibock it was brewed in the winter and served during spring-
time. Maibock is very much a malt forward beer with very subtle hops in the background. For those beer
drinkers that love a very smooth, malty, golden colored, easy to drink, yet robust beer then a well brewed
Maibock is a real treat.
In Germany a beer must have a minimum opening gravity before it can be labeled a bock. That number
is 1.066. The recipe below has an estimated starting gravity of around 1.068. Also, there are two things in
the brewing process that homebrewers normally dont have to worry about with most homebrews.
1. Firstly and most importantly is the lagering process. It is very important that a bock beer undergo a
signifcant lagering period. I think at least 2 months is required and I tend to shoot for 3. The lager-
ing process helps in giving the beer more clarity and smooths/rounds out the favor. For example
the Wyeast Bavarian Lager yeast strain causes an unpleasant sulfuric character right after primary
fermentation. The long cold lagering period eliminates that. Now this may be a problem for some
homebrewers that lack a cellar and/or a lagering fridge. For those that really want to brew a bock
beer but lack the these things one can always make a hybrid and try using the California Lager Yeast
that is more tolerant of higher temperatures but even then you should at least be able to ferment and
condition the beer at no higher than around 65 degrees. The recipe below is done using Bavarian
Lager yeast and is thus fermented and lagered at more appropriate temperatures for the style. If you
want it to taste like the great Maibocks/Helles bocks of Germany you must lager the beer.
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2. Secondly one may want to consider employing a decoction mashing process on brew day. Now this
does assume that you will be doing an all grain batch in the frst place. You can do an extract bock
beer but I really think this style as much any other really needs to be done all grain. This is because
the favor of this beer is much more dependent on the favor of the malt than any other. Thus any
faws in the ingredients or the process are more likely to be obvious. You dont have much hop fa-
vor or dark and roasted grains to hide the faws that might show up in a Maibock. Okay that being
said, a decoction mash is not required to make a bock beer. You can make a bock with well modifed
malt grains and a much simpler single infusion mash. However, in my experience after experiment-
ing with both processes, a decoction mash does increase the malty and robust favor of a bock beer.
When in doubt I always recommend experimentation. Try one doing a single infusion mash and use
a decoction mash on the same exact recipe. See for yourself what version you like the best. In the
recipe below I will describe both processes.
Grain Bill
8 lbs German or Bohemian 2-row Pilsener malt.
4 lbs Munich Malt
8 oz Weyermanns Cara Foam
8 oz Weyermanns Cara Hell
Comments the ratio of Munich malt to Pilsener malt can vary. I use the Cara Foam to help with head
retention in the beer and the Cara Hell to give the beer more body without darkening it too much.
Hops and other additives
2 oz Hersbrucker Hops - 60 minutes
1 oz Hersbrucker Hops - 30 minutes
.5 oz Hersbrucker Hops 15 minutes
1 tsp Irish Moss 15 minutes
I like to use Hersbrucker hops in this beer because of its very mild and pleasant favor and aroma. I
think its a great style of hop to use in a malt forward German style beer such as this. This hop variety is
from the Hersbrucker region of Franconia, Germany. Other Germany noble hops such as Hallertau and
Tettnang are good substitutes.
2 packages of Safager W34/70 dried lager yeast or only 1 package if doing a yeast starter. This yeast
strain is from the Weihenstephan brewery in Bavaria and is extremely reliable and produces a very clean
lager beer. Ive also had good results with Wyeast Bavarian Lager yeast and White Labs Bock Yeast.
Primary fermentation time is about 14 days. Primary fermentation temperature should be between 48-58
Starting Gravity: 1.068
Final Gravity: 1.012-1.014
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Decoction Mashing process
First of all if you are going to attempt the decoction mashing process I highly recommend you get a
copy of the book New Brewing Lager Beer by Gregory J. Noonan. It goes into much more detail about
the hows and whys than I do here.
1. Dough in the crushed malt by slowly mixing it with 24-28 ounces of cool water per pound of malt.
Let it sit for 15 minutes.
2. Bring at least 14 ounces of water per pound of malt to a boil and slowly mix it in with the doughed in
mash. Slowly mix it in until you reach about 105 degrees. If you have extra boiling water than save
it for later or toss it but dont go above 105. Let the mash rest for about 20 minutes. This is the acid
rest. You can test it with PH strips. The idea is to get the PH level is between 5.2 to 5.8. My water at
home already is in this range but I still do a short acid rest to be sure. One this is done youre ready
for decoction #1.
3. Pull the heaviest one third of the mash and put into a decoction kettle (i.e. any kettle big enough to
hold it). Even though youre after the thick part of the mash some liquid mash is good to help keep
the grains from sticking to the kettle and makes it easier to stir. Very slowly bring the mash up to
a boil (stopping to let it rest between 150-158 degrees for 5-10 minutes on the way up) and boil for
5-10 minutes. Be very careful to stir it frequently to keep the grains from sticking and burning at the
bottom of the kettle. Once you get up to a boil this is not a problem but is when it is getting up to the
150-158 range.
4. Return the decoction to the mash tun and stir thoroughly. Temperature should be in the 118-128 de-
gree range. Leave it there for a protein rest for 10-20 minutes then start decoction #2
5. Repeat the process in step #3 above except pull a higher proportion of the mash. I fnd that somewhere
between 40-50% is required to get the temperature for the next rest where it needs to be. Be prepared
to boil some water if you fall short or add cold water in the unlikely event you come out too high.
6. Return decoction to mash tun and mix thoroughly. You want the temperature here to be between 150-
155 degrees (the higher the maltier). Leave it there for Saccharifcation/Dextrinization rest for around
15-30 minutes before starting decoction #3.
7. Lauter decoction. Pull off 40-50 percent of the thinnest (i.e. liquid portion) of the mash. You will
probably have to pull some of the thick stuff to get to 40-50 percent. Bring it right to a boil and boil
for 5 minutes. Be careful of boil over occurring.
8. Return for fnal rest (hopefully at 170 degrees) for 5 minutes.
9. While in the fnal rest heat up sparge water to 170-175 degrees. I will usually heat up more sparge
water than I need just in case (5-7 gallons). Sparge as slow as you can to fll kettle with 6.5 7 gal-
lons of wort.
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Single Infusion Mash
1. Heat water up to about 170 degrees and slowly mix in with the grains. I usually heat up 1.5 quarts
per pound of malt and mix it in until I get to the temperature that I want. Ideally 153-155 degrees.
Let it sit for about a 1 hour Saccharifcation/Dextrinization rest.
2. Follow step #9 above.
As you can see the single infusion mash is much easier.
Boil and Chill and Pitch Yeast
I bring the wort to a boil and plan on about a 75 minute boil altogether. With 60 minutes left add your
frst hops. See the hops ingredient above for the stages to add the hops at. Once the boil is done, chill it
and pitch the yeast and start primary fermentation at 48-58 degrees.
After racking the beer into a secondary fermentation carboy, place the carboy into your lagering fridge
and set the temperature of 33-39 degrees and patiently let it lager for 2-3 months before bottling or kegging.
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Oakey Smokey Porter

Jon Talkington
Dogfish Head Craft Brewery,
16 year Home Brewer & Mead Maker
Oaky Smokey Porter is my annual Yule feast beer and is meant to be shared amongst friends and
kindred members. When I created the beer I was looking for a dark, roasty, smokey base beer with the
citrusy and piney favors of juniper. To that end, I chose to combine Finnish Sahti, Gotlandsdricka, and
Baltic Porter. Finnish Sahti is a traditional beer brewed with smoked malt and juniper. At one time they
lined the mash tun with juniper branches, which acted as a flter bed when running off the wort. They also
used bread yeast to ferment the beer. Gotlandsdricka is a juniper beer similar to Sahti but they use birch
smoked malt and age it in oak barrels. Baltic Porter is a beer reminiscent of an English brown porter but
with higher alcohol content and complex, multi-layered favor. They can also be referred to as Imperial
Porters and heavily roasted versions as Imperial Stouts.
My hybrid of the three, Oaky Smokey Porter, uses Scottish peat smoked malt, juniper berries, a variety
of pale and dark malts, as well as buckwheat honey and then aged with French oak chips. It is an opaque,
deep black with a tan creamy head that laces the glass. The aroma is reminiscent of a campfre smokey
with hints of pine and citrus from the juniper and hops. The beer has a thick mouth feel with a smooth
fnish, tasting slightly smokey, malty, with the favors of juniper subtly lingering on your tongue. The oak-
aging smooths the beer out and adds a subtle vanilla character.
8 lbs American 2-Row Pale Malt
2 lbs Scottish Peat Smoked Malt
1 lb Belgian Special-B Malt
8 oz Chocolate Malt
8 oz Black Patent Malt
8 oz Roasted Barley
1 oz Palisades Pellet Hops
0.5 oz Palisades Pellet Hops
0.25 oz Palisades Pellet Hops
1 oz Crushed Juniper berries
1 tsp Irish Moss
2 lbs Buckwheat Honey
11 grams Danstar Windsor Ale Yeast
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2 oz French Oak Chips
Starting Gravity: 1.080
Final Gravity: 1.020
1. Heat 4 gallons of water to 165 F. Add grain and mash at 150-152 F for 1 hour.
2. Mash out for 10 minutes at 168 F.
3. Sparge slowly and collect 6 gallons of wort.
4. Bring to a boil and start your time.
5. Add 1 oz of Palisades, boil 60 minutes.
6. At 15 minutes left add the 0.5 oz Palisades, Juniper berries, and Irish Moss.
7. At 5 minutes left add the 0.25 oz Palisades.
8. When the boil is over add the 2 lbs Buckwheat honey. Turn off the heat.
9. Chill wort and transfer to your fermenter, pitch the 11 grams Danstar Windsor Ale Yeast.
10. Ferment 8 - 10 days, then rack to secondary and age on 2 oz French Oak chips for one month.
11. Prime and bottle or keg.
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Perkunas (Lithuanian Style Mead)

Jon Talkington
Dogfish Head Craft Brewery,
16 year Home Brewer & Mead Maker
Perkunas is my take on Lithuanian style mead or Midus. Traditionally these meads were favored with
hops, juniper berries, spices, fruit juices such as blueberry or black currant, and were fermented with beer/
ale yeast instead of wine yeast. Meaderies in Lithuania still use these ingredients to make this unique style
of mead. I based this recipe on traditional Lithuanian and Russian recipes I read about while researching
this style of mead.
In many traditional mead recipes the honey is boiled in water, this was a practice done in the old days.
While this makes for clearer mead by coagulating the proteins in the honey, this process destroys the favor
and aromatic properties of the honey. By not boiling and using modern techniques and processes you will
have a faster fermentation and quality mead.
I wanted this mead to be sweet, allowing the rich favors of the buckwheat and wildfower honey to
shine through. The ingredients all come together nicely and make for very complex mead. The blueberries
give the mead a really nice color and subtle fruitiness. Aging on oak chips really mellows the mead giv-
ing it a barrel aged character. I let it age one year in the bottle which really allowed the favors to meld.
In fermentation bucket
10 lbs Buckwheat Honey
10 lbs Wildfower Honey
3 lbs Wild Blueberries
1 oz Crushed Juniper Berries
1 oz Hallertauer Leaf Hops
1 Tbsp Ginger Powder
1 Orange Zest & Juice
22 grams Safbrew T-58 Dry Ale Yeast
5 grams Fermaid-K Yeast Nutrient
5 grams DAP Yeast Nutrient
2 oz French Oak Chips
Starting Gravity: 1.145
Final Gravity: 1.040
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1. Mix honey and ginger into 1 gallon warm water, pour into a fermentation bucket, and then add cold
water to top to 5 gallons.
2. Put juniper, hops, orange zest, and crushed blueberries into a mesh bag. This will make racking
3. Rehydrate yeast warm water, aerate must, and then pitch yeast.
4. Fermentation should be kept around 68 70 F.
5. When fermentation begins add the Fermaid-K, when the gravity reaches 1.097 add the DAP.
6. Allow the mead to ferment for 10-14 days, rack into a secondary fermenter a clean glass carboy and
age on oak for a month, and then rack into another carboy.
7. When clear, rack off of the sediment which usually takes 3-6 months. A fning agent may be added to
speed up the clearing process. Bottle when clear and stable. Cork in wine bottles for long-term aging.
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Skald Craft
A Practical Guide to Understanding
and Writing Poetry in the Old Norse Meters

By Jon Cyr
There have been many approaches to the study of Old Norse Poetry. Modern academia has spent an
exhaustive amount of effort in identifying metrical patterns and trends within the lines of the voluminous
collected works. They have asserted sometimes arguable theories varying from simple to complex and
from mundane to fantastic. However (un)interesting the results may be, the decades of scholarship have
failed to contribute to the most important body of listeners: the audience of common would-be poets and
budding artisans who are ripe with a genuine and fervent love of Old Norse culture. The direction of
this paper will be one of modern practical application so that listeners will be able to apply the concepts
learned to their personal or professional poetic endeavors, whether they are religious, magical or purely ar-
tistic in nature. Other practical guides to writing poetry in the Old Norse meters do exist. Many however
are woefully incomplete and the works of up-and-coming skalds have suffered. Rather than point out the
errors of modern authors, this article can equip the reader with the ability to identify correctly conforming
poetry that adheres to the restrictions of each meter.
Old Norse Poetry: Eddic and Skaldic
Old Norse poetry is in modern times classifed in two distinct groups: Eddic and Skaldic poetry. The term
Eddic has been imposed on a group of poems composed in different meter, but mainly about the same
subject matter: Old Norse mythology and legendry. The term itself is borrowed from Snorri Sturlusons
book on Old Norse mythology from 1220 called Edda. Eddic poetry comprises several metrical forms,
three of which are galdralag, ljohttr and fornyrislag. Skaldic poetry is a specifcally Scandinavian met-
rical form that does not seem to have any counterparts outside Scandinavia in general and the West-Nordic
area in particular. The most prominent meter of Skaldic poetry is commonly called drttkvtt and this
poetic form is mostly known for its complex circumlocutions called kenningar and heiti.

Where Eddic poetry seems to have roots in a common Germanic form of poetry about gods and heroes,
1 Jesch, Judith, Ed. Meleungracht Srensen, Preben: Kapitler af Nordens litteratur i oldtid og middelalder, Aarhus Universitetsforlag,
rrir 126
Skaldic poetry seems to have developed during the Viking Age to serve as homage for contemporary
kings. The metrical forms that are identifable as Eddic must have been established for some time in a
common Germanic heritage and Skaldic poetry likely sprung out of these older, simpler forms of allitera-
tion. In many ways we may trace the evolutionary path that Old Norse poetry has taken, which allows us
to better understand its varied forms.
The Evolution of Old Norse Poetry
There are many examples of pre-poetics in history to choose from, beginning with the Roman histo-
rian Tacitus in the 2
century. Although no alliterative poetry from this period has been discovered, he
makes brief mention of the ancient oral traditions practiced by all pre-literate Germanic peoples and the
songs sung regarding the heroes of that day.

In the 4
Century, the well known Golden Horns of Gallehus, discovered in Denmark bore this runic
ek hlewagastiR holtijaR / horna tawid
I, Hlewagastir Hotis son, the horn made.
Although the composition of this verse must be examined later, is has been pointed out by scholars that
it contains basic alliteration, and I personally believe it may demonstrate the foundational components of
the Eddic meter fornrislag and thus all Old Norse alliterative poetry to follow.
2 Tacitus, Cornelius Works of Cornelius Tacitus. Includes Agricola, The Annals, A Dialogue Concerning Oratory, Germania and The
Hisotories, MobileReferences 2009
3 Schulte, Michael Early Runic metrical inscriptions-How metrical are they? In Versatility in Versifcation Multidisciplinary
Approaches to Metrics Vol 74 of Berkeley Insights in Linguistics and Semiotics. Dewey, Tonya Kim/Frog (Ed). New York, 2009
Image shows a museum replica of the Horns of Gallehus and its runic inscription made from drawings of the now lost horns
rrir 127
In the 5
Century, the Kjolevik Stone bares the following inscription which has also been observed
to be alliterative, and which may demonstrate an early version of what will become the Eddic meter of
hadulaikaR (battler dancer)
ek hagustadaR (I the stubborn one)
hlaiwido magu minimo (buried son of mine)
The Eggjum Stone, dating from the 7
to 8
century, perhaps demonstrates what may be the earliest
example of galdralag.
Hverr of kom Herss (To whom comes the War-s)
h land gotna? (high to land of men)
Fiskr r fjanda vim svimandi, (A fsh from enemies swimming,)
fogl fjanda li galandi. (A bird to enemies screaming.)
Eddic Poetry is most readily accessed by the modern reader in the publication entitled, Poetic Edda.
Once thought to be the collections of Saemund the Learned, it is a compilation of mythological and heroic
poetry, roughly half of which is found in the manuscript Codex Regius (GKS 2365 4to). The meters rep-
resented consist of fornrislag, mlahttr, and ljhttr. The Lay of Hrbath follows no true meter but
still uses stanzic form, general alliteration and caesura. The use of the rare galdralag, also makes several
powerful appearances.

Examples of Skaldic poetry can likewise be found from many sources but none as thorough and com-
prehensive as those rendered in Httatal found in Edda by Snorri Sturluson.
Drttkvtt acts as a base or
template for many of the other Skaldic meters have clearly evolved from it. Surely drttkvtt is to Skaldic
poetry as fornrislag is to Eddic poetry.
Rmur as it was practiced from the 14
century until today is the next developmental step in Old Norse
as it was practiced in Iceland. It is beyond the scope of this paper to give it more than passing mention.
The modern Asatruar wishes to write in the Old Norse meters for reasons of artistic, religious or magical
practice. A common misunderstanding regarding Old Norse poetry is that it cannot be written in English.
Although the physical differences between Old Norse and English do present some diffculties, nothing
could be further from the truth. JRR Tolkien wrote a rendition of the Sigurd lays called The Legend of
Sigurd and Gudrn, with each line written in fornrislag.
It is nearly impossible to convert an Old
Norse poem into English and retain its meter something must be lost in translation. Present day skalds
may write both Eddic and Skaldic poetry in English and any faws may be kept so minimal that it will still
compare soundly to the licenses taken by skalds of the Viking age as many historical examples contain
intentional imperfection.
4 Schulte, Michael Early Runic metrical inscriptions-How metrical are they? In Versatility in Versifcation Multidisciplinary
Approaches to Metrics Vol 74 of Berkeley Insights in Linguistics and Semiotics. Dewey, Tonya Kim/Frog (Ed). New York, 2009
5 http://www.runenprojekt.uni-kiel.de/abfragen/standard/deutung2_eng.asp?fndno=380&ort=Eggja&objekt=runsten,%20gnejs
6 Larrington, Carolyne. (Trans.). (1996). The Poetic Edda. Oxford Worlds Classics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
7 Byock, Jesse (Trans.) (2006). The Prose Edda. Penguin Classics.
See also Sturluson, Snorri, Faulkes, Anthony. Edda. Everymans Library, 1995
8 Tolkein, JRR. The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrn., HarperCollins Houghton Miffin Harcourt., 2009
rrir 128
Components of Old Norse Poetry
There are many types of poetry and further classifcations to describe their general character or purpose
were deemed to defne them in ways beyond their structure or form. These types may manifest themselves
in any meter of the age and are not to be confused as meters themselves.
Drpa: formally constructed poems, often in gnomic style and with refrains.
Flokkr: less formal poem, usually short.
Lausavsur: an impromptu verse spoken off-the-cuff. Saga material reports even the complex
meters such as Drttkvtt could be spoken by gifted skalds.
Nivsur: scathings or insulting poems.
Mansngr: erotic love poems, considered illegal on the grounds that it can entrap or ensnare women,
thus defaming them.
Heiti: A single word or name used to describe a more common name, place or thing. They were archaic
words in the sense that they were archaic even to the skalds of the Viking age. They comprise a list of
poetic words or terms that listeners may or may not have readily known. The more poetry one studied,
the more it could be understood and appreciated. Here are just a few examples of heiti below:
Common Name Heiti
Freyja Sr, Mardoll
Thor Atli
ram Heimdalli
ox Hlid
Odin Har
Kennings: These are phrases that point to a more common name, place or thing. They may reference a
commonly known mythological story or poem.
Common Name Kenning
Frey Suttungs Slayer
head burden of the neck
king ring giver
sea whale ways
gold barrow fame
Kennings may be further complicated by forming kennings within kennings. The above examples are
considered frst degree kennings. Here is a second degree kenning:
Common Name Second Degree Kenning
Hugin Hanged-Tyrs First Raven (Odins First Raven)
longship serpent of the abode of Nine Daughters (Serpent of the Sea)
Gullinbursti Freys shield-shaking mount (Freys battle mount)
Kennings may be confounded to the ffth degree, Snorri describes anything more than this is unpro-
fessional. For fun, here is a question in the form of a kenning. What is the twigs-bane in the barrow
sorrow-drops Goddesss made-of-maggot-wights payment. The answer is: Brisingamen!
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According to Snorri, heiti and kennings expand the vocabulary resources, and displays artistic and ver-
bal skill. This is to say, a knowledgeable author has more choices of words to use in the content while still
keeping the rules of the meter.
Structural Attributes
Foot and Caesura (these are modern terms): as it applies to Old Norse poetry, a basic unit of rhythm,
made up of a fxed number of syllables a line (= foot) of completed meaning with relative tense, separated
by a pause (caesura) allowing its sense to be made clear and producing a stately effect. Snorris primer
addresses this characteristic of form in terms of syllables and staves per line and whether or not the syl-
lables create a uniform whole of the stanza.
Troche (a modern term not used by Snorri): it is the characteristic of the best lines to be ending each
with an unstressed syllable. Given the natural differences between English and Old Icelandic, this rule is
often the most diffcult to observe.
Alliteration: As it applies to ON poetry, alliteration occurs when the same sound appears at the begin-
ning of stressed syllables (stafr). Consonant blends alliterate as long as their initial sound is the same
(Hval, Hrafn, Hler, etc.) with the exception of sk, sp and st which only alliterate with themselves. All
vowels sounds alliterate with each other vowel sound as well as with the soft y sound expressed in Old
Norse as a j.
Staves (ON Stafr): These are the stressed syllables within the poetic lines that must alliterate in sound
in order to tie the verse together as a whole. Reminder: a stressed syllable may not always be the frst
sound in a word. For example, truth and taking both alliterate with the t sound, but truth does not
alliterate with words such as today or tomorrow. In the later examples, the stresses fall on the second
syllable of the word rather than the initial sound.
Main-stave (hofustafr): This is the stressed syllable that dictates the alliterating sound for the odd
line that precedes it. This is always the frst syllable in the even line. The lines are usually coupled in
this manner. Therefore, line 1 will contain staves that must alliterate with the main-stave which is the frst
stave in line 2. Line three must alliterate in the main-stave of line 4, line 5 is governed by line 6, etc.
Rhyming: Strictly speaking, Eddic poetry does not contain rhymes. The Skaldic meters derived from
drttkvtt contained internal rhymes rather than end-of-word rhymes which the old skalds considered
inferior. An example of an internal half-rhyme called a skothending is skald and colder. The conso-
nant sounds are the same but the vowel sound is differing. An example of a full rhyme called an aalhend-
ing would be talk and stalking. The same vowel and consonant sounds appear in each word. In both
examples, the sounds do not need to appear at the end of the word. Egil Skallagrimsson (ca. 910 990)
presents the frst historical example of the use of ending rhymes in Old Norse poetry. However, he did not
use it without frst adhering to the rules of the meter in which he was writing. Therefore, the end rhymes
were added to the traditional form, not replacing it creating an additional challenge for the author, not an
easier one.
Alliteration of staves, internal rhyming and a fxed number of syllables, also helped preserve the con-
tent of Old Norse poetry. It would not be much of a challenge for someone to Christianize these verses
rrir 130
Thor our Protector,
Hammers the troll,
This friend of man,
We wish to extol.
This verse is, of course, not in alliterative form: it simply contains end rhymes only. The subject and
verbs are easily changed without disruption to the ending rhyme. The words affected by the rules of the
form, by happenstance come at the end of each line and are seldom the main subject of the verse.
Thor the thewful,
He thwarted the Etin.
Lokis lead man,
Laughed at his foes.
This verse is very diffcult to Christianize without a total re-write. On a similar note, if the poetic form
before you uses a set number of lines, stanzas or syllables, it is far more diffcult for the literary vandal to
make an addition to the poem. Furthermore, the alliteration most often falls on the stronger more integral
words of a line, such as the subject and the verb denoting the subjects primary action. Thus the subject
and its action are the hardest things to alter. When someone attempted to add, distort or subtract from an
old poem, it usually can be identifed by scholars who understand the old meters.
The Eddic Meters:
Fornyrislag words of the past made
Formed of symmetrical stanzas of 8 lines.
Each line contains two stressed staves, (I will bold stressed syllables).
Main stave is the frst stave in the even lines, (main stave is italic).
At least one stave in the odd line must alliterate with the main stave.
May have fxed or without fxed number of syllables but usually has four syllables in each line.
Heres a short poem in fornyrislag honoring a great Icelandic sheep sire, Ottar. His curling crowns
were fashioned into beautiful drinking horns.
Ill toast my kin,
And call the names,
Of Ancestors gone,
To All-fathers halls.
The mead so sweet,
The memory drink,
In twisted horns,
Of hallowed ram.
Now look at the inscription from the Golden Horn of Gallehus examined earlier:
ek hlewagastiR holtijaR
horna tawid
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Malahttr Speechmeter
Like fornyrislag except:
Has a regulated number of syllables in each line, usually fve.
I will skip any examples of malahttr because its difference to fornyrislag is so minor that to hear it
spoken in English seldom produces a different effect at least to our modern ears.
Ljohttr Song-meter
First line contains two stressed staves. (I will bold stressed syllables).
Main stave is the frst stave in the second line. (main stave is italic).
The third line contains three staves, two of which must alliterate.
The above format is repeated to make a stanza of 6 lines.
These four stanzas of ljohttr are regarding the eating of the heart of a slaughtered ram from a fock of
Icelandic sheep we used to keep at the farm.
While eating the heart,
Of a healthy strong ram,
I wonder on words of legend.
The gallant saga,
Of Sigurd Volsung,
Fafnirs fearless slayer.
He merely touched,
The tip of his finger,
His tongue tasted the magic.
He gained the main,
Of the mighty wyrm,
Learned cant of common birds.
I doubt the skull,
Of this skald will thicken,
My strength will stay as before.
The fence posts of cedar,
Are safe from breaking,
Horns wont grow from my head.
Could some small gift,
Be given to me,
Be passed from beast to person?
Perhaps hed impart
That prudent gaze,
Those watchful amber eyes.
The Kjolevik Stone mentioned earlier can be read in the same manner. By knowing the stressed place-
ment within the poem, the Old Norse verse can be read more authoritatively and with additional feeling,
despite the orators lack of understanding.
"Sigurd Slaying the Dragon" by Christine Foltzer
rrir 132
ek hagustadaR
hlaiwido magu minimo
Galdralag Galdr or incantation meter
An extra line or lines added to a stanza of another form, usually ljohattr.
The added lines change in word slowly from line to line, transitioning the meaning.
Here is a quick prayerful stanza of galdralag I wrote after my wife was involved in a car accident. It is
both to show thanks for Thorrs protection as well as including the 4
and 8
lines which are transformed
lines 3 and 7 respectively. The transformed or magical line is similar to the one preceding it yet it has
added a statement for a slightly shaped future. Examples of galdralag and how it was used can be found
in Havamal and Skrnismal, yet all of the books regarding magical practices of the Old Norse skip an ex-
amination of galdralag and instead focus on ceremonial magic or other traditions.
Help from the hands,
Of hallowed Dis,
Heal the bruise on bone,
Make whole the bruise on bone.
Give thanks that she,
By Thor was helped,
Wish the soreness away,
Wend the soreness away,
Help from the hands,
Of hallowed Dis,
Heal the bruise on bone,
Make whole the bruise on bone. (Transition from heal to make whole)
Give thanks that she,
By Thor was helped,
Wish the soreness away,
Wend the soreness away. (Transformation from wishing to wending
away pain)
Skaldic Meters:
Drttkvtt Noble-speech.
Formed of symmetrical stanzas of 8 lines.
Each line contains three stressed staves, (I will bold stressed syllables).
Main stave is the frst stave in the even lines, (main stave is italic).
At least two staves in the odd line must alliterate with the main stave, (I will underline alliterations).
The last stave in the odd line must precede an unstressed syllable, (I often dont keep this rule - it isnt
kind to English and is much easier to stick to when writing in ON).
Fixed number of syllables in each line, usually 6 as in this case (the number of syllables will follow
each line).
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Odd lines must contain two skothending syllables (half-rhymes), one of which must come at the end
of the line. Skothendingar contain a different vowel sound but same ending consonant sounds. (I
colored skothendingar in red).
Even lines must contain two aalhending syllables (full-rhymes), one of which must come at the end
of the line. Aalhendingar contain the same vowel sound and the same ending consonant sound.
(Aalhendingar are in blue).
These four stanzas of drttkvtt were written to honor llr and is entitled Lakeside Hunter. Here is
normal textual version frst, the breakdown will follow:
The s is crossing ice,
llr from the North comes forth,
On blades of bone he slides,
Borne through hindering winds.
On frozen frth he rises,
The forest greets their meeting.
He wears the wild caught furs,
Woolens hold back the cold.
Staring from stand of frs,
A stag in blowing snow.
His light-brown colored coat
Crests shine tawny from dawn.
Lashings light on his feet.
On laced frames hunter braces
He bends the yew wood bound.
The bow kept taught held low.
Raising, sighting, sizing,
Seeking the bone of his cheek.
Squinting eye scopes the point.
And squares to horse tail hair
The gust from grasp released,
The grip of fetch bound tip,
Wending it splits the wind,
Whispers in lake air crisp.
Feathered tail of felling,
Firmly sets biting wrm.
Pierced by painful arrow,
His prize from hiding rises.
Bounding full he soon fnds,
Faltering hoof steps halt.
llr the Hunter then hailed,
The hart from forest shore.
rrir 134
The s is crossing ice, (6) skothending
llr from the North comes forth, (6) aalhending
On blades of bone he slides, (6) skothending
Borne through hindering winds. (6) aalhending
On frozen firth he rises, (7) skothending
The forest greets their meeting. (7) aalhending
He wears the wild caught furs, (6) skothending
Woolens hold back the cold. (6) aalhending (dont be tempted to stress
back it ruins the hold - cold rhyme)
Staring from stand of firs, (6) skothending
A stag in blowing snow. (6) aalhending
His light-brown colored coat (6) skothending
Crests shine tawny from dawn. (6) aalhending
Lashings light on his feet. (6) skothending
On laced frames hunter braces (7) aalhending
He bends the yew wood bound. (6) skothending
The bow kept taught held low. (6) aalhending
Raising, sighting, sizing, (6) skothending
Seeking the bone of his cheek. (7) aalhending
Squinting eye scopes the point. (6) skothending
And squares to horse tail hair (6) aalhending
The gust from grasp released, (6) skothending
The grip of fletch bound tip, (6) aalhending
Wending it splits the wind, (6) skothending
Whispers in lake air crisp. (6) aalhending
Feathered tail of felling, (6) skothending
Firmly sets biting wrm. (6) aalhending
Pierced by painful arrow, (6) skothending
His prize from hiding rises. (7) aalhending
Bounding full he soon finds, (6) skothending
Faltering hoof steps halt. (6) aalhending
llr the Hunter then hailed, (6) skothending
The hart from forest shore. (6) aalhending
rrir 135
These next two stanzas of drttkvtt are for Thorr. This poem was inspired by all of the remarkable
photos of the volcanic eruptions in Icelands Eyjafjalajkull.
Jkull Eyjafjll,
The island-mountain riled.
Storm-Gods ire is stirring,
Stories of old retold.
Falls merciless Mjlnir,
On molten glowing fow.
Shuttering sky is shattered,
Shaking glacier quaking.
Wild the blaze is rising,
With whirling brimstones hurled.
Ashes searing and soaring,
The cinders blown by winds.
Lashing out rage unleashed,
Lightning the storm-cloud brightens.
Behold the havoc he wields,
Hlrithi whose name is Thorr!
Jkull Eyjafjll, - 6 skothending
The island-mountain riled. - 6 aalhending
Storm-Gods ire is stirring, - 6 skothending
Stories of old retold. - 6 aalhending
Falls merciless Mjlnir - 6 skothending
On molten glowing flow. - 6 aalhending
Shuttering sky is shattered - 7 skothending
Shaking glacier quaking - 6 aalhending
Wild the blaze is rising - 6 skothending
With whirling brimstones hurled. - 6 aalhending
Ashes searing and soaring - 7 skothending
The cinders blown by winds - 6 aalhending
Lashing out rage unleashed - 6 skothending
Lightning the storm-cloud brightens. - 7 aalhending
Behold the havoc he wields - 7 skothending
Hlrithi whose name is Thorr! - 7 aalhending
Thrhenda Thrice rhymed.
Formed of symmetrical stanzas of 8 lines.
Each line contains three stressed staves, (I will bold stressed syllables).
Main stave is the frst stave in the even lines, (main stave is italic).
At least two staves in the odd line must alliterate with the main stave, (I will underline alliterations).
The last stave in the odd line must precede an unstressed syllable (diffcult, see the description in
rrir 136
Fixed number of syllables in each line - though seldom conformed to. Paired lines must contain a
balance when read as in all stanzic poetry.
Odd lines must contain two skothending syllables (half-rhymes), one of which must come at the end
of the line. Skothendingar contain a different vowel sound but same ending consonant sounds. (I
colored skothendingar in red).
Even lines must contain three aalhending syllables (full-rhymes), one of which must come at the
end of the line. Aalhendingar contain the same vowel sound and the same ending consonant sound.
(Aalhendingar are in blue).
This poem in Thrhenda is about the fabled Raven Banner which guaranteed victory to the army it
few before, yet death to its bearer.
This Spirit was spun in linen,
Spearmen cheer as it nears them.
Paying severely to bear it,
Praying that it stays high and raised,
Moved were the skalds of old,
By a man who ran for the banner,
Grandiosely held and shield-less,
Gripped lest it dip or slip.
Marching with host abreast,
Boldly holding on shoulder,
Sig-Tyrs symbol of doom,
Soaring before the warriors.
Wind in Grimnirs standard,
Grave is the Ravens waving.
First baleful fit and futter,
Then fight off white feld bright.
This Spirit was spun in linen, -8 skothending
Spearmen cheer as it nears them. -7 - aalhending
Paying severely to bear it, -8 skothending
Praying that it stays high and raised, -8 - aalhending
Moved were the skalds of old, -6 skothending
By a man who ran for the banner, -8 - aalhending
Grandiosely held and shield-less, -8 skothending
Gripped lest it dip or slip. -6 - aalhending
Marching with host abreast, -6 skothending
Boldly holding on shoulder, -7 - aalhending
Sig-Tyrs symbol of doom, -6 skothending
Soaring before the warriors. -7 - aalhending
Wind in Grimnirs standard, -6 skothending
Grave is the Ravens waving. -7 - aalhending
First baleful flit and flutter, -7 skothending
Then flight off white feld bright. -6 - aalhending
rrir 137
Skjlfhenda Shivering rhymes
Formed of symmetrical stanzas of 8 lines.
Each line contains three stressed staves, (I will bold stressed syllables).
Main stave is the frst stave in the even lines, (main stave is italic).
At least two staves in the odd line must alliterate with the main stave, and the alliterating sounds in a
line must only be separated by one syllable (I will underline alliterations).
The last stave in the odd line must precede an unstressed syllable.
Fixed number (6) syllables in each line.
The frst and ffth in a stanza which must have two skothending syllables (half-rhymes), one of which
must come at the end of the line. Skothendingar contain a different vowel sound but same ending
consonant sounds. (I colored skothendingar in red).
The remaining lines must each contain two aalhending syllables (full-rhymes), one of which must
come at the end of the line. Aalhendingar contain the same vowel sound and the same ending con-
sonant sound. (Aalhendingar are in blue).
This poem in skjlfhenda was prompted from a discussion on the afterlife with kin. I composed it af-
terword with a heavy mind while working through a cold night on the late shift. How ftting this meter is:
Skjlfhenda Shivering rhymes. Snorri tells us this meter was invented by Thorvald Veili after being
shipwrecked on an outlying skerry in the cold ocean. It is similar to drttkvtt in many regards.
Power from Fylgja fows,
From this river I come.
Strong and striving long,
Stream fows forth and forward.
To Skald three bairns were born,
Bright and shinning these lights.
Pray to Dsir daily,
Deem their future gleaming.
Power from Fylgja flows, (6 syllables)
From this river I come. (6 syllables)
Strong and striving long, (6 syllables)
Stream fows forth and forward. (6 syllables)
To Skald three bairns were born, (6 syllables)
Bright and shinning these lights. (6 syllables)
Pray to Disir daily, (6 syllables)
Deem their future gleaming. (6 syllables)
There are of course more types of Skaldic meters, many of which are not expanded forms of drttkvtt.
Some are made from Eddic forms with controls and rules to the content. For example, Greppamini may be
a stanza of fornrislag with the frst four lines asking questions that result in the last four lines producing
the answer. Refhvrf or fox-turns is a poem of any meter where each line contains two subjects that are
in opposition to each other such as shown in the brief example below:
rrir 138
The chaser found quarry, (chaser is the opposite of quarry)
And conquered defenses. (conquered is opposite of defense)
The strict metrical and compositional rules and the prolifc use of heiti and kennings truly make Old
Norse poetry a challenge to both writers and listeners. Skalds are often surprised, though pleased, by the
end results of their work. Readers are familiar with the word leading to word passage in the Havamal.
When writing in Drottkvtt, the skald is in constant struggle to make things ft, like the boy trying to plug
all of the leaks in the dam. As he fxes one, another problem soon presents itself. For example, you may
correct one word to make it half-rhyme only to discover you are now in violation of an alliteration rule.
Several hours later, one might fnd a complete stanza of conforming lines. The meaning however has
completely changed from the skalds original intent or idea. The process is emboldening and humbling
at the same time. A layer of words isnt just followed by more words; they shape the words to be. By
attempting to convey stories about our eldest ancestors in skaldic meter, we can catch a glimpse of how
inner pathways reveal the story along with us. Words map out the tale for us using the contours of our
being. This is perhaps the true great origin of our holy myths.
rrir 139
Curling and wide,
His crown of power,
Guarded in wool,
The wide muscled chest.
Holding his head,
Both high and proud,
A noble beast,
Now borne away.

The one dethroned,
Though worthy still,
The guardian strong,
Gone to the knife.
Ill miss those eyes,
Always watching,
Bright golden orbs,
Brilliantly staring.

The coveted locks,
By crafters wanted,
His coat of warmth,
The weavers desire.
Deep bellied voice,
Valiant and pure,
No longer the song,
Sung to his ewes.
I cannot conceive,
Or call to mind,
A better way,
This one to thank.
Gods and Goddess,
Gifted with feast,
A tribute to Ottar,
To honor the lord.

Evergreen sprig,
Dipped into the bowl,
His regal blood,
Around the horg.
On God-staves fecked,
And gathered folk,
Luck you will bring,
Lending us strength.

Ill toast my kin,
And call the names,
Of Ancestors gone,
To All-fathers halls.
The mead so sweet,
The memory drink,
In twisted horns,
Of hallowed ram.
Ottars Tribute

By Jon Cyr
This poem was presented to Laerad Kindred by Jon Cyr along with the great Iclelandic sheep that sired
his fock. The sheep was sacrifced in blt and this poem was dedicated to him. His horns were fashioned
into drinking horns that are used only for ceremony purpose.
rrir 140

By Jill Evans
Dedicated to my friends and relatives who have
served or are serving in the Armed Forces.
For seldom seen soldiers
Sacrifce felt back home.
Twice Tiwaz carved for you.
Tyr I call twice for all.
Young men battled Jotuns
Yesterday few away.
Ready todays rally
Roar victoriously

Towheaded tot waiting
Tiny lad misses dad
A year her hearts yearning
Youthful bride cries with pride
Rich are those he reaches
Roaming no more from home.
Safe, the sounds have ended
Son, the battle is won.

By Jill Evans

Between Earth
And Asgard
And religion
Between science
And sorcery
I fnd Self
And solace.

And countrymen
Or poverty
Whether ft
Or feeble
This is Midgard.
We are Mannaz.
Art by Rachel Jacob
rrir 141
When the days have waned shorter
and shadows grown long
And the geese have come singing
their wintertime song

When the moon lights the sky
like a great silver pearl
The furious host
sees its banner unfurl

and with thundering hooves
and the baying of hounds
the dead rise from within
their old burial mounds

Wod Ho, Wod Ho,
the huntsmaster calls out,
and the huntsmen reply,
the same bone chilling shout

Over felds across lakes
and through woods go the pack
great fery black dogs,
the dread host at their back

Hear the din of the hounds
resound throughout the hollow
Hear the ancient fell cry
of the huntsmen who follow

Wod Ho, Wod Ho
the huntsmaster calls out
And the huntsmen reply,
the same bone chilling shout
They course the night skies
in their search of fair prey
Wise folks stay inside
to keep out of harms way

And woe be to those
whove out in the night strayed
Who should happen afoul
of this dread cavalcade

Midden in dem wag!
comes the troups warning cry
best heed these few words
or you surely will die

Middle of the way!
booms the voice from the sky
face down on the road
and they may pass you by

Wod Ho, Wod Ho,
the huntsmaster calls out
And the huntsmen reply,
the same bone chilling shout
The Wild Hunt

By Matt Walker
rrir 142
Winter Full
Moon Bede

By Shane Ricks
Hear, I tell men | to honor the gods
the far famed ones | favor to good men
high holy powers | our peoples providence
I pray the One-Eyed god | hail the Gallows-
Father of Hosts | God of the Hanged
words I give | for Raven gods weal
Hail heavens warder | holy hammer wielder
fare forth swiftly | friend of men
great in battle | the bane of giants
Hear, I bid | battle-bold Ing
boar-rider | folk-leader
give wealth | and fertile seasons
I pray the One-handed god | leavings of the wolf
proud faith-keeper | prince of temples
mighty glory-god | guide us well
A gift for a gift | good folk true
wealth for men | honor for gods
memory for the dead | and weleful wights
I wield words for | worlds mighty warders
sharing hall joys | just in giving
fair fame | kindly words
Praise and wisdom | we seek in life
Happiness and health | for kith and kin
right action | wide wealth
Corn Wight

By Josh Rood
This poem was written in honor of this seasons
corn spirit and the idol we built for it.
Wild-hearted Warden
Wight-lord of the feld
Wholeness and Health
Heilag you bring
Gladly we gift for
The gains in our luck
Since captured you, caught you,
Corn-Idol made you
"Corn Dollie" by Dan Oropallo
rrir 143
A Snake Story

By Josh Heath
It was a nice warm early fall day and I was basking on top of Rattlesnake Mountain. Its one of the
easier climbs in the state, something you could do in a few hours and then still make it to the party you had
to go to later that day. Or something like that anyway.
I usually did this hike once a week, it was a good way to reenergize after a week of work, and I really
enjoyed the atmosphere and view from the small peak. It was one of those nice places to relax, maybe talk
to a few of the other hikers and let all the worries of the week pass by. Actually, I think the interactions
with other folk are one of the most interesting parts of the hike, especially when you get to meet the day
hikers that bring their girlfriends along on a short hike. You can tell the type, those that want to be more
outdoorsy and intrepid, but rarely make it past the stairs in the mall. I cant say Ive made a habit of it, but
Ive met my fair share of women that way. Usually good for short relationships, the kind you know wont
go too far, but go on long enough to enjoy the company.
I sat there in between the crook of two larger rocks and sipped slowly out of a pleasantly cool water
bottle. Id had the sense to throw a few ice cubes in before I left the house. It was a tad past mid-day and
clouds were foating by, you know the ones were kids are pointing at the different shapes and what not.
I heard the footsteps of someone coming up the path, but I wasnt worried. Id known someone would
come by before too long, it was guaranteed this time of year. An older gentleman, not too old but not
young either, made his way gracefully up the path. He was dressed in green slacks and a green button up
shirt. I fgured he must be a forest ranger, but he didnt have the usual patches on. Maybe hed just retired.
He carried with him a cooler, quite a bit bigger than most hikers would have carried. It was one of those
big blue ones, white top and handle, the kind you see at a barbecue. He had worn tan boots on, and had
his distinguished gray hair tied back in a ponytail. He wore a long beard. It was trimmed and combed well
though, and like his long hair, just seemed to work.
Hello youngn, his crisp voice traveled over to where I sat.
His accent was odd to say the least. He could have been an old timer from around here, but the way his
hello came out, almost made him sound foreign. Familiar, but not quite what Id expect from one of the
people around here.
Hi, I called back respectfully raising my right hand in greeting.
Yuh mind if I join yah? again he sounded like he could be an old native, but just not quite right.
Mountains not mine. Youre welcome to, with a broad smile on my face I replied.
Yuh right bout that, mountain dont belong tah no one anymarh, he chuckled and left it at that.
He sat down near me on a rock that had been worn down with so many other folks doing just the same.
He set his cooler down and reached towards his feet, stretching his arms down towards them.
Arrrgghhh, if I could tell you not to get old and youd listen, Id do so, he chuckled.
If I could stop it I would, I smiled back again.
With a strangely serious face he said back, Ayuh, Id do the same
I looked him over one more time and sat up straight. I put forward my hand in introduction, My names
He took it with a frm grip, I go by quite a few names, but you can call me Grim if you like.
Grim its a pleasure to meet you.
rrir 144
Again, I got the sense that hed been here for a long time, long enough to pick up the colloquialisms but
not long enough to get rid of that foreign accent he seemed to have. We sat for a few minutes gazing at the
same view, taking in the mountain. I saw him breathe in deeply quite a few times, and I realized he was
doing something I tended to do when I frst reached the summit: breathe in the clean air. Usually a silence
like that can drag on, but not this time, it was a pleasant day, and it was nice to see someone get the same
enjoyment as I from it.
About a hundred years ago the last of the rattlesnakes had been killed off in the state. The locals didnt
take to them very well, and there werent enough to really make it hard. This small mountain was just
one of two in the region with the name, so theyd had a pretty wide territory back in the day. Im not one
of those folks who have any sort of phobia about snakes, I kind of fnd them interesting, and Id heard a
rumor about a project to reintroduce the serpent. I was sure that some bureaucracy would stop that from
happening though. Some mothers group against snakes or something. My opinion was this mountain
could use a few more snakes and a few less fatlanders walking around on it.
Kinda ironic the name of this place isnt it, I asked from my train of thought.
Ayuh, sure is, His smile broadened and he laughed a little, Hasnt been a snake here since the earlier
1900s. Last one was killed in 1906, June 16
Wow, thats impressive you know the date and everything?
Ayuh, I make it my business to know, the smile on his face was one of satisfaction at his knowledge.
Id say this mountain could use a few mah snakes and a few less fatlandahs walking around on it,
dont you think? His echo of my exact thoughts was a little strange and his smile was pleasant, but had
an odd knowing sort of look on it.
Uhh, yeah.
Well take a peek at what I got here, he said while cracking open the lid of his cooler.
He raised the lid slightly, and I heard a faint rustling sound come from within. Gently putting his hands
in, he pulled out a small snake, tiny rattle on the end of its tail swaying slightly side to side. At frst I
couldnt believe my eyes, here was one of the snakes that had been so long ago snuffed out. What was he
going to do with it? Let just one of them loose? It wouldnt make much difference, I thought. The snake
was beautiful though, its markings were slightly different from any Id seen before, and he seemed to have
no fear from the old man holding him. As I watched him handle the snake, I realized the old man had two
different colored eyes. Both of them moved a little differently than the other, and I realized one of them
had to be fake, a really good fake too, because I couldnt quite tell which one. The rattlesnake wound his
way up his arm, and came to rest in the sun that was shining there. It ficked its tongue a few times, and
seemed content.
Wow, so they fnally OKd that program huh? I asked hoping the old man wasnt doing this on his
own volition.
Ayuh, theyll have started the offcial release soon, this heres a little head start for the fellas.
I sighed with relief that he wasnt just going to release a snake by himself and hoped it worked out, that
sort of thing could lead to a real mess.
When you gonna tell the public?
Well, theyll ah hear about it real soon, Im not part of the wadeya call it, Public Relations Department
in this heah mattah, he laughed and smiled broadly.
He seems to be really comfortable around people.
Not really, hes a bit of a shy one, but Ive spent some time as a snake I got the smell on me, he had
a mad sort of grin on him.
Maybe he misspoke, Im sure he meant to say he spent a lot of time with the snakes.
rrir 145
Just the one though? I asked in a curious way.
Nope, got 6 of em this trip. Be bringing a few more in the next few days. Im sure theyll ah take to
their old home pretty well, he stroked the top of the snakes back while the little rattlers tongue ficked
around for a few seconds.
Im gonna let em out down the way a bit, dont want to put em too close to where the people congre-
gate just too soon, give em a chance anyway. I fgure. Well its been good talkin to yah Alex. At that point
he stood slowly, and placed his charge slowly back into the cooler. And without looking back he ambled
down the path.
Where you from? I called down to him as he left.
All ovah, but last place before I came heah were Iceland, he called over his shoulder.
I sat there for a little bit longer trying to get my head around what was going to happen to my little
A few days after that I heard a story on the news, the Fish and Game department had offcially decided
against the snake reintegration, however it looked like somehow a container of the snakes had gotten away
from an assistant Warden and had been let loose. Fish and Game had decided to allow those 6 to roam
and would keep an eye on how they were doing with the local population and the program would go from
there. No one could pin point exactly who the assistant warden was either.
rrir 146
ONCE ON A TIME there was a king who ruled a newly settled farmstead. He had many hundred
sheep, many hundred goats, many hundred cattle, and many hundred horses he had too. Silver and gold
he had in great heaps. But for all of that, he was so given to grief that he seldom ever saw folk, much less
spoke a word to them. In such a state he had been ever since his youngest daughter was lost.
Even if he had never lost her, it would still have been bad, for there was a troll who was forever making
such waste and worry there that folk could hardly travel to the kings grange in peace. First the troll let all
the horses loose, and they trampled down felds and meadows, and ate up the grain. Next he tore the heads
off all the kings ducks and geese. Sometimes he killed the kings cattle in the barns. Sometimes he drove
the kings sheep and goats over the cliffs, and broke their necks. Every time folks went to fsh in the mill
pond he had driven all the fsh to land, and left them lying there dead. People lived in fear of the dark and
cowered inside at night, and on all the days that Sunna hid so did they.
There was an old couple who had three sons, the frst was called Per, the second Anders, and the third
Espen, called Ashlad, for he always sat and poked about in the ashes, dreaming the day away.
They were capable youths. Per, who was the eldest, was said to be the most capable. One day he asked
his father if he might have leave to go out into the world and try his luck.
Yes, you shall have it, said the old fellow. Late is better than never, my boy.
So Per got mead in a skin, and food in his knapsack, and then he threw his pack on his back and trotted
down the hill. When he had walked a while, he passed an old moss-green troll hag who lay by the roadside.
Ah, my dear boy, give me a morsel of food today, said the old troll hag.
But Per hardly so much as looked to one side, and then he held his head straight and went on his way.
Ay, ay! said the troll hag, go along, and you shall see what you shall see.
So Per went far, and farther than far, till he came at last to the kings grange. There stood the king in the
dooryard, feeding the roosters and hens.
Good evening, and Frey bless your majesty, said Per.
Chicky! Chicky! said the king, and scattered grain both east and west, and took no heed of Per.
Well, said Per to himself, you may just stand there and scatter grain and cackle chicken-tongue till
you turn into a bear, and so he went into the kitchen and sat down on the bench as though he were a great
What sort of a runt are you? said the cook, for Per had not yet gotten his beard. That Per thought
mocking, so he fell to berating the cook. While he was hard at it, in came the king, who made the cook cut
three red stripes out of Pers back, and then they rubbed salt into the wound and sent him home again the
same way he had come.
Once Per was home, Anders decided it was his turn. He too got mead in his skin, and food in his knap-
sack. He threw his pack on his back and trotted down the hill. When he had gotten on his way, he too
met the old troll hag who begged him for food, but he strode past her and made no answer. At the kings
grange he did not fare at all better than Per. The king called, Chicky, and the kitchen maid called Anders
a clumsy boy. When he was going to beat her for that, in came the cook with a butchers knife and cut
three red stripes out of him and rubbed hot embers in them, and sent him home with a sore back.
Then, Ashlad crept up from the hearth and began to brush himself. The frst day he shook all the ashes
off him. The second day he washed and combed himself, and the third he dressed himself in his best
Ashlad and Redfoks

By Tim Gladu
rrir 147
Just look at him, said Per. Now we have a new sun shining here. I suppose you are off to the kings
grange to fnd his daughter and win half the kingdom? Better stay in the ashes and lie on the hearth.
Anders said, You have spent all your time in the pantry at Mothers skirts, what do you know of the
world? Best crawl back in the ashes where you belong.
But Ashlad paid his brothers no mind, and he went to his father and asked leave to go out a little into
the world.
What are you to do out in the world? said the graybeard. It did not fare so well for either Per or
Anders, and what do you think will become of you? Your thoughts are never on what you are doing.
Ashlad would not give up, and so at last he had leave to go.
His brothers were not in favor of letting him have a morsel of food with him, but his mother gave him
a cheese rind and a bone with very little meat on it. With these, he trotted away from the cottage. As he
went he took his time.
Youll be there soon enough, he said to himself. You have all the day before you, and afterwards the
moon will rise if you have any luck. So he breathed deeply of the air, and wandered up the hills, and all
the while he looked around him on the road.
After a long, long way he met the old woodwife who lay by the roadside. She sat before an open door
in the earth and sang softly.
The poor old cripple, said Ashlad, I guess you are starving.
The wolf crone nodded, yes, she was.
Are you? Then Ill share with you, said Ashlad, and as he said that he gave her the meat bone. You
are freezing, too, he said, as he saw how her teeth chattered. You must take this old sweater of mine.
Its not good in the arms, and thin in the back, but once on a time, when it was new, it was warm.
Bide a bit, said the old woodwife, as she fumbled down in her big pocket. Here you have an old
silver key. I have nothing better or worse to give you but when you look through the hole at the top, you
can see what may be.
Many thanks, said Ashlad. He looked up and she was gone, and the door in the mound was closed.
When he got to the kings grange, the kitchen maid was hard at work drawing water, and that was great
toil to her.
It is too heavy for you, said Ashlad, but it is just what I am ft to do.
I am glad for the help. said the kitchen maid, Come with me, my lad. From that day on, she always
let Ashlad scrape the porridge pot. Some of the other kitchen helpers were envious of Espen. They went
and told lies to Jarl Redfoks about him, who was not slow in telling the king.
One day the king came and asked Ashlad, Is it true that you could protect the fsh in the mill pond so
that the troll could not harm them? For that is what they tell me you have said.
I have not said so, said Ashlad, but if I had said it, I would have been as good as my word.
Well, however it was, whether you said it or not, you must try this task if you wish to keep a whole
skin on your back, the king said.
Well, if I must, I must, said Ashlad, I have no need to go about with red stripes under my jacket.
In the evening Ashlad set to work. He knew what herbs were needed to ward off trolls. He began pluck-
ing all that he could fnd of the nine needed herbs. Some of these he spread in the pond and some on land.
The rest he spread over the brink of the dam. The troll had to leave the fsh in peace, but now the sheep
suffered for it, for the troll chased them all over the cliffs and crags the whole night.
Then one of the servants came to Redfoks and said that Ashlad knew a charm to protect the sheep as
well, if he only chose to use it. That Ashlad had said he was capable enough to do it was the very truth,
rrir 148
insisted the servant boy.
In short order Redfoks told the king, who then went out to Espen and spoke to him as he had spoken
the frst time. The king threatened that he would cut three broad stripes out of Ashlads back if he did not
do what he claimed he could.
There was no help for it, Ashlad thought. So he committed himself to his herb mixture again. There
was no end to his work, for as soon as he bound herbs the sheep they ate it off one anothers backs. As he
went on binding, they went on eating and they ate faster than he could bind. At last he made an ointment
with tar and rubbed it well into them, and then they stopped eating it. Then the cattle and the horses got
the same treatment, and so they had peace from the troll. But the buildings next bore the wrath of the troll,
who spent the whole night rending and tearing the barns and storage houses to pieces.
Ashlad then burned the nine herbs and smudged the ashes on the house. Then he went to an old gnarled
mountain ash and said, Help me now as you have helped Thor. He then pulled out his knife and said to
the mighty rowan, Grant me leave to cut some branches. He then took some berry laden branches and
hung them over the troughs where the cows and horses and sheep fed.
How did you learn your plantcraft? asked the king.
Treat the spirits of plants like you treat other human beings, then the plants will speak and teach us
their use as medicines. said Espen.
That night such an endless rain of boulders besieged the folk that the king was fnally convinced to send
out a hunting party. He gathered his best warriors and they rode out that very morning to much fanfare.
Redfoks had managed to stay behind. The king and his men made their way onto a mountain pass. A huge
waterfall thundered by from on high. The men dismounted from their horses and made slow and wary
progress, swords and shields at hand. Three abreast they could walk along the narrow tract. As they ap-
proached the waterfall they realized there was no way past. Attempting to pass through the torrent meant
a personal greeting with the jumble of rocks hundreds of feet below. The cliff face went straight up for an
equal measure on the other side as well. There was no going up.
Then with a piercing shriek and a deafening thud the troll was upon them. The beast leapt down from
above into the midst of the warriors. He grew until he towered above them. All they could do was fall
back, shields raised. The king raised his sword to charge toward the troll, but the bodies of all his men lay
between them. In just a few passing heartbeats the king stood alone with the troll. The troll stepped over
the king, shrunk down in size, and walked directly through the waterfall.
The king, unable to deal with his loss, rode round and round for many days bewildered and lost. He
had nothing either to eat or drink, and his clothing fared so ill in the thorns and thickets that at last he had
scarcely a rag upon his back.
Then the troll came to him, bending trees out of his way, and said, If you promise to grant me the frst
thing you set eyes on when you get back on your own land, I will guide you home to your grange.
Yes, agreed the king, he could have that, for the king thought it would surely be his little dog, which
always came hustling out to meet him.
Just as he got near his grange, out came his eldest daughter and all the people after her to meet the king
and to welcome him back safe and sound.
When the king realized that she was the frst to meet him, he was so cut to the heart that he fell to the
ground on the spot sobbing. From that moment forward he remained befuddled and addled. The trees
parted and the troll allowed himself to be seen so all would know how the king had come to be home
again. Everyone was in great despair, not knowing how to break the spell the troll had cast over their king.
Finally it was decided that the princess would have to be delivered to the troll.
One evening the troll was to come and fetch the princess. She was dressed out in her best and sat in a
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feld out by the lake, weeping. Redfoks was to go with her, but he was so afraid that he climbed up into a
tall spruce tree, and there he stuck. Just then up came Ashlad, who sat down on the ground by the side of
the princess. She was so glad to see that there were still good folk who dared to stay by her after all. Then
she took a gold ring off her fnger and knitted it into his hair.
There was a great silence in the forest. Up came the troll, puffng and blowing. He was so heavy footed
that all the wood groaned and cracked for a whole mile round. When the troll saw Redfoks sitting up in
the treetop like a little rooster, right at the trolls eye level, he spat at him. He let loose a little breath, like
blowing out a candle, and down toppled Redfoks and the spruce tree to the ground. There he lay sprawling
like a fsh out of water.
The troll roared then, spotting Espen he said, To fght with me is not a childs task.
Uffda! said Ashlad. He was not slow, he pulled the cheese rind out of his knapsack in a heartbeat,
and squeezed it till the whey spurted out. Hold your tongue! he cried to the troll, or, Ill squeeze you
as I squeeze the water out of this white stone.
Huh, said the troll, Huh, who are you?
I am Espen, son of...
Never heard of you, interrupted the troll. As he said that he hurled his iron spear at Ashlad so that it
sliced deeply into the rock. Ashlad was so quick and ready on his feet that he easily dodged the spear as
the troll hurled it.
Ashlad then looked at the troll through his silver key. Emboldened by what he saw, he taunted the troll
for being so afraid of one as little as himself and took to running and jumping like a deer in an effort to lure
the troll away from the princess. They went in and out of the wood, and the troll ran and stumbled over the
stumps, so that the dust few and the wood rang.
Now that the troll was gone, Redfoks found his courage and came out of the felled treetop and carried
off the princess to the grange as though he had been the one to set her free. There was such joy in the
kings grange that it was heard and talked of over land and realm, and Redfoks was to be married to the
oldest daughter.
When Espen arrived back at the grange he was asked by the other kitchen boys what had happened, for
they knew Redfoks well enough not to trust the words of the fox.
He proved no match for me, Hand over your toothpick, and you shall see something like a throw, I
commanded the troll. His spear was as big as three gate poles.
Hu! grunted the troll, What are you gazing at now?
I am looking out for a star at which to throw, said I. Do you see that tiny little one due north? Thats
the one I choose.
Nay, said the troll, let it be as it is. You must not throw away my iron stake.
Well, I said, you may have it again then, but perhaps you would not mind if I tossed you up to the
moon just once.
No, the troll would have nothing to say to that either.
Havent you a mind to play blind mans buff? I asked him.
Yes, that would be fne fun, the troll said, but you shall be blindfolded frst, said the troll.
Oh yes, with all my heart, I told him, but the fairest way is that we draw lots, and then we shall not
have anything to quarrel about.
Yes, yes, that would be best.
I took care to make sure the troll should be the frst to have his eyes covered, and was the frst buff.
We went in and out of the wood, and the troll ran and stumbled over the stumps, so that the dust few and
the wood rang.
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Haw! screamed the troll at last, Ill not be the blind buck any longer, for he was in a great rage.
Bide a bit, I said, and Ill stand still and call till you come and catch me.
Meanwhile, I pulled up some tree roots and ran round to the other side of the lake, which was so deep
it seemed bottomless. Now come, here I stand, I called out.
I dare say there are logs and stumps in the way, said the troll.
Your ears can tell you there is no wood here, I said to him and then assured him that there were no
stumps or logs. Now come along!
So the troll set off again, and splashed into the water, and there lay the troll
in the lake. I ficked out an eye with the root whip every time he got his
head above water.
Now the troll begged so prettily for his life that I
thought it was a shame to take it, but frst the troll
had to give up the princess and to bring back the
other whom he had stolen before. Besides that,
he had to promise that folk and fock should have
peace. Then I let the troll out.
So where is the young princess? asked the
I am off to the trolls home to fetch the youngest
princess now, answered Ashlad.
Laughing mightily, off the boys ran to fnd Redfoks
and spread the fanciful tale.
Ashlad arrived at the trolls mountain home, a large
barrow atop a cliff overlooking the ocean. The troll
met him there and in they went, and down. The walls
were artfully sculpted out of the living rock and the whole chamber gleamed gold and silver from torch-lit
refections in huge piles of gold and silver and all things precious to men strewn about. Tapestries, lush
with golden and silver threads, hung on the walls and fnely wrought furniture stood before them. Carvings
and paintings depicted forest and mountain scenes. He peeped through his silver key and saw, through the
wall, the princess chained to the wall along with some cows, amid an enormous heap of skulls.
You promised to set her free in exchange for your life, said Ashlad.
The troll, in no mood to argue, opened a huge door in the wall by pounding on it with a pole, and they
both went inside. The troll bent down and snapped the chain.
There is the princess, said the troll.
Can you walk? Ashlad asked the princess.
Ill damn well walk out of here, she said.
The huge door then slammed closed, bones rattled, sounding like voices, and there was nothing but fear
and dark and bones. They were trapped in the huge damp chamber flled with skulls.
Espen pulled out his silver key once again and peered through the hole. He saw a great waterfall and a
narrow path. Ashlad saw a wolf and the princess escaping along the ledge. Trusting in his fylgja, Ashlad
and the princess went to the back of the cavern and, pressing their backs to the wet wall, inched themselves
through the waterfall and out onto the ledge beyond. All the land between them and the sea stood open to
his gaze.
Espen had seen a drinking horn hanging on the wall and taken it on their way out.
What is in the horn? asked the princess.




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Saliva from tortured snakes, gives magic strength, answered Ashlad. Ashlad always felt more com-
fortable in the mountains, hard was the climbing but he did not mind it. Espen and the princess journeyed
together back to the kings manor. Ashlad had brought the youngest princess as far as the garden when
they heard the news that Redfoks was to marry the oldest princess that very day. Redfoks himself was
there to meet them.
Redfoks, whom all thought had saved the princess was to drive off the troll. There was no help for
it but to send in Ashlad again. Redfoks went at Ashlad with threats, claiming he was born of bear, not
wanted. He then told them that just as they were preparing to feast, the troll had gone down under earth
and stopped all the springs of water. I heard the troll say, If I cannot do them any other harm, they shall
not have water to boil, Redfoks said.
In the end, Espen agreed to help once more.
Redfoks then led the young princess home to take credit for her rescue as well.
Water soaking had not worked, so Espen decided to try burning the troll instead. I will need that iron
spear which the troll had, which is twenty-fve feet long. Six smiths also I need, to make it red hot,
Ashlad said.
The smiths did as they were bid. Then Ashlad peeped through his key and saw the troll just as easily
underground as he would have if the beast were above ground. He took a gulp from the trolls drinking
horn, then, utilizing his newly gotten troll-strength, he drove the spear down through the ground and into
the trolls backbone. There was a smell of burnt hair for ffteen miles around.
Haw! bellowed out the troll, let me out! In an instant he came tearing up through the hole, and all
his back was burnt and singed up to his neck.
Burning did not work, but Ashlad was not slow. He caught the troll on a stake that had thyme twisted
round it, and there he was forced to lie till he told Ashlad where he had gotten fresh eyes from after those
he had were poked out.
If you must know, said the troll, I stole a turnip, and rubbed it well over with ointment, and then
I cut it to the sizes I needed, and nailed them in tight with ten penny nails. Better eyes I hope no human
will ever have!
Then the king came with the two princesses and wanted to see the troll, and Redfoks walked so bent and
bowed, his rump was higher than his neck. Then the king caught sight of something glistening in Ashlads
What have you got there? he asked.
Oh, said Ashlad, nothing but the ring your daughter gave me when I freed her from the troll.
And now it came out how it had all truly happened, for the troll himself related the tale. Redfoks
begged and prayed for himself, but for all his trying and all his crying there was no help for it, down he
had to go into a pit full of snakes.
The king then asked, Who is your grandfather?
Espen, wanting not to insult the king, told the truth. His grandfather was a coal biter.
My offer was for a prince, the king announced, There will be no wedding today.
The king learned that it was the felling of the great trees of the wood by the folk for their homesteads
that had so offended the troll and the king agreed to let the old trees be.
The troll laughed, and agreed to pay for all the damage he had wrought.
What did you say your name was? asked the troll, ignoring the king and directing his question to
Espen, replied Ashlad.
Ill remember you, said the troll, and he departed.
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Ashlad went and gathered a score of cattle and headed on up into the mountains after the troll. Upon
his return everyone wanted to know what had happened, and whether the troll would return. Espen was
happy to tell the tale.
We have worked quite well together, come and work for me, that is what the troll said to me.
I was willing enough, and when we reached the trolls house in the mountain, the troll was to make
up the fre, while I went to fetch water for our supper. There stood two iron pails so big and heavy, that I
could not so much as lift them from the ground.
I said to him, Bah! It isnt worth my while to touch these thimbles. I will just go and fetch the spring
Nay, nay, dear friend! said the troll, I cant afford to lose my spring, just you make up the fre, and
Ill go and fetch the water. So when he came back with the water, the troll said, before we cook supper
the cows must be put back in the barn. The dog will show you the way.
Off we went, me and the dog, Hops, up to the barn. There was no door on the barn and I quickly real-
ized that the troll just picked up the building and set it over the cows. Then Hops squeezed inside under
some loose boards. Hops will show you the way, indeed, I said. So I chopped the cows into pieces and
tossed the pieces in under the loose board. Then Hops and I returned to the house where the troll was
building the cook fre.
Are the cows put away already? asked the troll.
Yes, I answered, but frst I split them up.
The troll said, You fnish up cooking, and brew a barrel of malt, put plenty of hops in it. Then make a
goat bridge so that they can cross the marsh, they are hungry. Then the troll set off to check on his cows.
I brewed the malt and when I saw Hops, I tossed him in the barrel. Then, I went out to the marsh and
slaughtered the trolls three goats. I turned them on their backs with their legs sticking up and put them in
the water, the biggest one in the middle. Then I waited for the troll.
When the troll saw his goats had been killed, he was quite angered, but without uttering a word, he
went across the bridge and on to the house with me following.
Is supper ready? bellowed the troll gruffy.
Yes, made just as you directed, I said.
The troll picked up a ladle and was about to taste the drink when the ladle came up full of bones. I
think these belong to Hops! he shrieked.
You said plenty of hops, I said.
The troll then went to his house and kicked a great heap of bones out of his way and pulled out an
enormous sleigh. He then heaped up great piles of gold and silver and fnely wrought things and pushed
the sleigh out the door.
I can stand it no longer, he said, I am moving from this mountain. Here is payment for your king.
With that he pushed the great sleigh down the mountain.
The king interrupted, And where is this great sled flled with treasure?
Espen then presented the great sleigh for all to see.
Meanwhile, the troll disappeared over the mountain, to the place where Ashlad had taken that score
of cattle, far up to the new howe Espen had built on the far end of the ridge, with a splendid ocean view.
The folk then began to be noisy and merry, to drink and dance at the feast that had been prepared in
Espens honor. They feasted on goat meat and beef and enjoyed quite a strong brew.
The king then said, We shall see what we shall see, and invited Espen to join him, and he was given
the place on the kings bench by his right side, opposite his youngest daughter.
After the feast, Espen gathered a heaping bowl of stew and took it into the forest for the woodwife.
rrir 153
Myths of the Pagan North:
The Gods of the Norsemen
By Christopher Abram
My aim is to establish as far as possible when people created these pow-
erful stories about the pagan gods of the North; why they did so what
religious, social, or cultural impulse have shaped the myths; and how the
myths came into being. I think it is important, if we are to understand these
myths and what they meant to the people who made and used them, to un-
derstand the historical contexts that they came from. So says Dr Abram in
his introduction to this book. I cant think of a more exciting way to begin
an overview of the myths of the Norsemen. These are exactly the sort of questions that modern day hea-
thens need to be asking and fnding the answers to in order to understand the myths of the culture we hold
so dear. It has been too long since a book that covers these questions accurately has been made readily
available, and its release in 2011 is very welcome.
Most introductory books concerning the myth and the religion of the Norsemen are concerned
with providing broad overviews of who the Gods are, what their stories are, and how they were worshiped.
What they usually fail to do is demonstrate where the stories came from, and why they tell what they do.
Enter Christopher Abram. Do not let the name of the book fool you. Its not really an introduction to the
myths; or rather its not simply a retelling. Perhaps it is the sort of introduction that heathenism has been
asking for all along however.
The frst section of the book introduces the multiple sources from which we gather our understand-
ing of both Norse myth and religion. These being archeological evidence, runic and picture stones, written
sources, skaldic poetry, eddic poetry, the different sagas, Snorra Edda, and foreign sources (Tacitus, Ibn
Fadlan, etc). While introducing these sources he demonstrates how they may or may not provide evidence
for a myth or religious belief. For example, he provides the standard form of the myth of Thor and the
Midgard serpent, as taken from the Snorra Edda. This form is to be used only as a model with which he
compares other, older versions of the narrative and its different sources. He provides picture stone evi-
dence and analyzes why they may or may not be evidence for the myth. Is an image recognizable as Thor,
or is it just an image of a fshing boat? Is he with a companion, and if so, how can we be sure its Hymir?
rrir 154
When an image is recognizable as Thor, what does that tell us about the other details of the myth? He
helps fll in the model with other textual sources, such as recorded skaldic poetry like Ragnarsdrpa, and
later on, Eddic poetry, all the while providing the cultural context of the sources. In the end he is able to
provide a clear understanding of the development of the myth of Thor and the snake in its multiple ver-
sions, and in its multiple contexts. More importantly, in going through this process, Abram teaches the
reader how to analyze and interpret the above listed evidence for mythology and its place in religion. The
Thor example is an exercise. The understanding that the reader develops regarding how to approach the
sources of myth is priceless, particularly within heathen circles.
Section one is a model of how the remainder of the book approaches myth and Norse religion. He
provides a section on the Religious Culture as a Background to Pagan Myth, explaining The Germanic
Context, religious ritual, archeological records and more. He demonstrates the role that skaldic poetry
had within its specifc culture, and how skaldic poems refected both religion and was a powerful social
and political commentary. Lastly, he explains what happened to the myths during the conversion to
Christianity, and how they were shaped and altered by Christianity when they reemerged. Using the above
analytical approach, Abrams succeeds in providing a thorough understanding of the cultural context and
impact on both the myths and the religion of the Norsemen. The comprehension that this book provides
is essential to our ability to really understand the Norse Myths as they should be. Its all presented in a
straight forward, smooth read, and its an affordable, easily acquired book.
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The Picts: A History
By Tim Clarkson
The Picts are often presented to us as an enigmatic race exotic, almost alien
compared to their contemporary neighbors in Northern Britain. A strange and
mysterious people of unknown origins, speaking a bizarre language and pos-
sessed of strange customs and appearance.
But as is often the case, the truth is not nearly as sensational as the fctions
that compete to take its place.
The story of the Picts, though it does possess many points of uncertainty
(wherein dwell as many theories as there are minds to ponder them) is not the
unfathomable mystery that its sometimes made out to be. The Picts are not so lost to us that they defy
study. Though they rather abruptly appear in recorded history only to fade away a few centuries later, they
did not disappear in a fery cataclysm. Pictland was no Atlantis.
Clarksons book is not as scholarly an endeavor as some may prefer it is intended, in his own words,
not to be an academic text book but rather a narrative history presented as an unfolding sequence of
events. It is the story of the Picts, - a chronological one from their frst mention in history to their last,
and of the legacy they left behind as they melted into the pot of Gaels and Brythonic tribes that would
become the Scottish people. Its a story and a legacy that belongs to anyone able to trace their ancestry to
Scottish soil.
The Author uses a King List that begins in the 4th century and ends in the 9th a list which survived
in a number of manuscripts and is in many places suported by other contemporary sources. These other
sources range from Bedes Ecclesiastical History of the English People and the Irish Annals, to the Vitate
Columbae - the Life of Saint Columba; the founder of the monastery at Iona which became the focal point
of Pictish Christianity after their conversion.
He builds from these sources and supports the resulting framwork with archeological data where he is
able a process which enables him to complete a broad but comprehensive narrative of Pictish history
and place it in the context of contemporary people and events. In the course of this narrative, he examines
facts and theories about their language, art, and customs.
He achieves continuity in his narrative by choosing ONE theory (from any number of contenders) for
any point of the subject matter where sparse or ambiguous information can be interpreted in a myriad of
ways. The author is good about pointing out when hes doing this and often may describe several alterna-
tive points of view. Additionally, in the back of the book he includes a list entitled Some Pictish Puzzles
which describes 16 issues where such ambiguity has created points of contention among historians.
Overall, the book is enjoyable and gives the reader a frmer foundation from which to approach further
study of the Picts.
Tim Clarkson graduated with a PhD in medieval history in 2003, after having gained an MPhil in
archeology. Since completing his doctoral thesis he has pursued his interest in early medieval history as
an independent scholar. He is the author of two books (Look for the Review of The Men of the North:
The Britons of Southern Scotland in a future issue of Odroerir) and maintains a blog on all things Scottish
which can be found athttp://www.senchus.wordpress.com.
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A Brief History of the Vikings:
The last Pagans or the First
Modern Europeans?
by Jonathan Clements
Most of us are familiar with the so-called Viking Age. Though there has
been a growing awareness that the term is a technically misleading one (meant
to refer to a period of rapid expansion across Europe by Norse Germanic peo-
ples, hardly limited to piracy) its use over time has become established, and
serves its purpose to denote a specifc period of time in specifc part of the
world. This Viking age in Europe is generally recognized as having begun in 793 with the sacking of
Lindsfarne and having ended in 1066 with the fall of Harald Hardrata in the battle of Stamford Bridge.
A great many books have been written about the people and events of this period, most books tout-
ing Vikings as the subject being generally quite uniform in their adherence to this time frame. A Brief
History of the Vikings, on the other hand, is not.
Clements sets out to chronicle the people and events of the Viking Age but he does so by a thorough
examination of the forces that shaped that period and the legacy it left in its wake. For him, the study
of The Viking Age begins much earlier. The frst pages give a cursory overview of the movements of
northern tribes into in Gaul and Germania, and speaks also of the sea-faring tribes that plagued the Roman
military (and conversely often composed the bulk of their Navy) on the coasts of Gaul, the Black Sea, and
along the Rhine, prefacing the main body of the book with precedents of Germanic expansion. The Story
of the Viking Age proper does begin in Britain, but not at Lindsfarn in 793- instead it began almost four
centuries earlier, as Rome recalled its legions and left Britannia to the wolves.
Clements proceeds to analyze the movement of Norse-Germanic people from Scandanvia, and the con-
ficts of their migration - but unlike many other books on the subject he takes great pains to put them in a
greater context. Much of the book examines the socio-religious, cultural, and political forces of the time
as well as climate change and other environmental factors. One may come away from this book having
benefted from a longer view of the elements that shaped the situations and infuenced the outcomes of this
tumultuous and fascinating period of European history.
Bonus materials include a number of nice black and white photos and some fairly lengthy appendices,
where the reader will fnd King lists, maps, a seven page list of titles for recommended further reading,
fourteen pages of source material arranged by chapter, and a handy index.
Jonathan Clements is a prolifc British writer, whos many non-fction publications serve as research for
his fction. His offcial website ishttp://www.muramasaindustries.com/
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Before Scotland:
The story of Scotland
Before History
By Alistair Moffat
The word prehistoric, for the modern person, conjures up images of saber
toothed tigers and wooly mammoths, cave paintings, stone tipped spears, and
Neanderthals stupefed by the mystery of fre. In fact Pre-Historic means
only that the events so described were not observed by anyone who bothered
to preserve them in writing. To put it in its proper perspective, it refers to the
better part of mans existence so far.
History properly beings in Britain, as in the rest of Europe, with the arrival of Julius Caesar -at the head
of four Imperial Legions- in Gaul in 58 BC.
Caesars Commentaries on the Gallic War is the frst major historical frst-hand source to scrutinize
the tribes of Iron Age Europe, and in its later chapters it chronicles the Legions crossing of the English
Channel and their arrival in Britain, where the highly disciplined and battle hardened ranks of Roman
soldiers squared off against howling, blue painted savages. It is from this point where history begins to
observe our ancestors a period when contact with the very chroniclers who wrote of them caused pro-
found and rocking change to their cultures. But it was the middle of the 1st century BC. Neither the people
of Gaul nor what we know as Britain hunted wooly mammoths with stone tipped spears. Aside from the
reputation as ferocious warriors that made them sought after as mercenaries they possessed iron weapons,
chariots and drivers renowned throughout the ancient world, fne horses, and dogs bred for hunting and
war that were sought after by wealthy elites across the Mediterranean. They had at their disposal vast natu-
ral resources. They created amazing art and lived in a rich, complex culture of which we can gain only a
glimpse in classical literature. We fnd more in peat bogs, buried treasure hordes, and the graves of great
men who lived long before history could record their names and deeds.
It is with this in mind that Alistair Moffat beings the story of Scotland before history.
The book studies Scotland from its earliest time; the era of volcanic activity and continental drift. He
examines the forces that shaped its geology and geography. He touches on climate change over millennia,
the movement of people and animals, the lives of Neolithic hunting and fshing people, the development
of animal husbandry and agriculture, the infux of migrating tribes from other regions, and so on.
With pictures, illustrations and maps, Moffat used historical sources and archeological data to detail the
development of the indigenous peoples and the migrations of others across Europe and into Britain and
its northern most environs - analyzing their languages, art, religion, cultural practices and relationships to
neighboring peoples to create a dynamic mosaic, something often lacking in such works. It is the way the
study of any people or place should be conducted.
Alistair Moffat is a well known Scottish writer, television announcer and producer (BBC) with an M.A.
Honors degree in medieval history at St. Andrews University, where he is currently Rector, and further
degrees from Edinburgh and London.
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The Lords of Battle :
Image and Reality of the
'Comitatus' in Dark-Age Britain
By Stephen S. Evans
Published over a decade ago, The Lords of Battle came to light in heathen
circles shortly after its publication. In the late 90s and early 2000s, a number
of Theodish groups formed in the U.S. based upon the comitatus or warband
model. Questions quickly arose as to how to organize and function under the
model and where research into the history of the warband could be found. A
number of books were -and are- available that analyzed the subject of the warband in great detail: Evans
The Lords of Battle, Enright - Lady with a Mead Cup, Damico - Beowulf's Wealhtheow and the Valkyrie
Tradition, Gwara - Heroic Identity in the World of Beowulf, etc. All of these books not only explore the
issues of the Germanic warband of the Anglo-Saxons, but also compare and contrast it with that of the
Celtic Britons.
While this work is not earthshaking, Evans presents a solid overview of the relationship between the
lord and his men and the social structures both within that relationship and supporting it by exhaustively
employing heroic-age literature, archaeology and modern historical research. The book starts with a his-
torical perspective on the time, place and atmosphere in medieval Britain. At the same time, Evans works
to dispel romantic notions surrounding the time period and specifcally the makeup of the warbands.
Thereafter, Evans delves into the actual structure of the warband and its place in the larger society. After
frst delving into the lord/retainer relationship and reciprocal duties, he looks to the cultural structures- po-
etic (court poet/skald/scop), social (meadhall, gift giving) and economic (trade, spoils of war), that existed
to buttress the warband model.
I fnd that this book in combination with others listed earlier is a necessary resource for reconstructing
Heathenism. In attempting to ascertain the whatfor of an elder faith, the need to understand the culture
from which it sprang is absolutely necessary. While Evans work is not a book of Heathen religion or a
study thereof, his overview of the warband institution that was prevalent in Germanic and Celtic Briton so-
cieties gives the reader a foundation to understand religious concepts, allowing better insight into Heathen
Dr. Stephen S. Evans is the Asquisitions Editor for the Marine Corpse University Press and Marine
Corpse University Journal. He received his Doctorate in History from Temple University, and a Master
of Arts and Bachelor of Science in Education from West Chester University. His area of expertise is me-
dieval Britain. His University homepage is http://www.mcu.usmc.mil/Pages/faculty/HD/stephen_evans.
rrir 159
Masks of Odin:
Wisdom of the Ancient Norse
By ElsaBrita Titchenel
In the foreword of this book, the authors point of view is laid out quite plain-
ly; there we are informed that the entire book has as its backdrop the idea that
The worlds oldest traditions hold that long ago all peoples, however widely
separated, were the common inheritors of a body of sacred truths initially
imparted to the earliest humanities by divine beings from higher regions; and,
further, that myth-makers of every land were in greater or less degree trans-
mitters of this archaic wisdom/science.
This point of view refects the universal theosophic philosophy of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, a 19th
century Theosophist writer. (Theosophy is also known as Occult Science, or just Occultism.) The
ultimate goal of Theosophy, which is evident in the quote from the foreword, is to combine all the worlds
history, science, philosophy, and religion into a single unifed worldview. The purpose of this book in par-
ticular is to make Norse Mythology part of that puzzle.
What this tells us is that the core premise of this book actually violates one of the prime directives
of reconstructionism (in academia and heathenism alike) which by its very nature compels one to strive
to never impose outside, modern viewpoints onto ancient evidence, because doing so merely widens the
divide between ourselves and a real understanding of our ancestors and their ways.
The Theosophist philosophy is laid out once again in the opening paragraph of the frst chapter. There
can exist but one truth the author opines. One all embracing reality that is the property of all mankind.
Subsequently in the next eight chapters the author goes on to explain that references to electricity and
magnetism exist in the eddas and were simply overlooked by scholars of earlier eras who did not recog-
nize them as was the possible existence of fying machines which are referred to in the Eddas as winged
wagons and feather-blades. The interpretation of the cosmology of the Norse myths paints it as an al-
legorical expression of modern astrophysics. Odin is compared to the Logos of classic Greek philosophy,
presented as the essence of universal creative consciousness on all levels of existence. Thor is said to
represent electromagnetic force a theory supported by the fact his sons Magni and Modi supposedly rep-
resent opposite poles. Loki, we are told, represents mankind by refecting the divine intelligence aroused
in early humanity and free will.
At the tenth chapter, the author begins presenting new translations of various lays and Eddas with foot
notes bestowing outlandish speculation such as I have outlined in the preceding paragraph. The work is
then concluded with the 28th chapter, A summing up.
While this work might be excellent fodder for pulp fction comics or Hollywood block busters, it could
not possibly be more useless to anyone engaged in the reconstruction of the worldview (and religion for
that matter) of pre-Christian Northern European people. Simply put, dont waste your time.
rrir 160
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