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Subscribe to this list via RSS Blog posts tagged in heathen ritual

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Good Ritual/Bad Ritual

Good ritual...

...we do together.

Bad ritual...

...is done to you.

Good ritual...

...lets you experience.

Bad ritual...

...tells you what you feel.

Good ritual...

...connects.

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Asa West
    Asa West says #
    Truth.
  • Thesseli
    Thesseli says #
    Um, YEAH.

Posted by on in Paths Blogs
A Loki's Day ritual

Continuing my story of my personal journey on my heathen path: On Loki’s Day 2014, for the first time, I held a blot specifically for Loki. April 1st had become my traditional Loki's Day a couple of decades ago when I participated in Ostara festivals that overlapped April 1st. That was back when I was a member of the old Ring of Troth. Ostara was a campout with an indoor sleeping area which was a World War I era bunker, and the grounds also included an outdoor campfire and a trail down to the beach. The women who gathered around the campfire in the morning chill with our coffee started throwing our hair combings into the campfire spontaneously, and because it happened to be April 1st, and people at the festival were already observing April 1st as Loki's Day, a day to tell jokes and play pranks, we came up with the idea that throwing things into the fire on April 1st was a sacrifice to Loki. It was not a really serious ritual, just a spontaneous moment of fun, but I think Loki likes spontaneous fun. Throwing hair combings into the fire for Loki became a tradition at that festival among the early risers. 

So, when I decided that I should hold a ritual to thank Loki for inspiring me to write Some Say Fire, and for all the help he gave me through that medium, I went with the tradition of throwing hair combings into the fire on April 1st. It was what I had done year after year when I lived in California in my 20s, so to me it was tradition.

I lit both a bonfire and a barbecue fire, just like I did at Yule when I engaged in that duel. At the time, I still had the burn scar on the side of my right foot. It disappeared about a month later, when I accepted another sort of symbol, but that's another story which I'll tell later. I had been saving my hair-combings, each time I combed out freshly washed, clean, dry hair. I had spun my hair combings into one continuous ball of yarn, and placed that in the bbq fire along with expired spices and various types of woods and charcoal. But I lit the bonfire first, which contained only wood and twigs and brush from my yard which I had saved after the fall chopping and had dried in the side yard. I first made a short, formal statement of thanks to Loki, “I burn this for Loki,” and listed my gratitude for his inspiration for my novel and his literal inspiration of air in my lungs. It did not light. “OK, not good enough,” I said out loud.

The only other heathen there was T. N., who is a Heimdall’s man. I had told him exactly what I planned to do at this blot and given him an opportunity to decide not to participate, but he was there. I met his eyes and we both smiled uncomfortable little smiles.

I next made a slightly longer formal statement of thanks and tried to light the fire. It did not light. “OK, still not good enough.” I realized I was going about it wrong. I had to relate to the fire first and foremost as fire. “OK, I’m going to be smart and stand blocking the wind.” I moved to a new position and realized I was now pointed due north as I should have been from the beginning. “OK, you like this better? Light, you.” I was irritated and I said nothing of gratitude or supplication.

The fire did not just light. It whooshed out in a ten foot horizontal gout of bright orange flame. It continued to burn like a flamethrower even after I put the iron lid on it.

Like when I’m writing, he spoke through me. Unlike when I’m writing, it came out my mouth instead of my fingers. “Don’t talk to me like I’m [expletive] Odin.”

I added, “he says.” I realized my own voice is actually deeper than Loki’s.

If T. N. had any particular reaction to hearing me abruptly turn medium and let a god talk through me, he did not make it obvious. Of course, I had been talking to him about my book a lot because I was in the middle of writing it. I had told him the gods spoke through me into my book, so perhaps he was not really surprised. I certainly was, though.

I went on to light the barbecue fire too, and then hold a normal blot, and then cook the post-ritual feast. There were no more surprises that day. The big surprise came later that month. I plan to blog about that soon.

Image: Loki by Miguel Regodon

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Posted by on in Paths Blogs
Asatru Altar for Sumbel and Blot

This photo is my altar for a holiday sumbel and blot, such as Yule. Sumbel is the toasting and blot is the blessing.

Altars for different purposes will have different things on them. This one is a portable altar used for community ritual. A permanent altar dedicated to a god or ancestor or to the gods generally, also called a shrine, would generally have fewer working tools and more symbols, and would probably include representations of the gods or other beings to whom it is dedicated, such as statues or pictures, and possibly sacrifices to them. Some Asatruars keep shrines and some don't, but any Asatru community ritual includes a sumbel, and most include a blot.

The altar for a sumbel has to include something to drink since sumbel is a toasting ritual. Asatru uses a drinking horn for this ritual. We use a cow's horn to honor Audhumla, the sacred cow who was the first self-aware being. Our mythology says that before time began or the World Tree grew, Audhumla licked the gods and the giants out of the ice and nurtured them on her milk. So a cow's horn represents the Great Mother.

There are two bottles and two horns on the altar in this picture because one bottle and horn set is for alcohol and one is for a non-alcoholic beverage. This altar also contains a bottle opener. This isn't a dedicated holy bottle opener, just the normal one from my kitchen, but being used for ritual means this opener is going to have a bit of specialness about it even after being returned to normal use. It is traditional to toast with mead, but other beverages work, too.

The altar for blot almost always contains all the things for sumbel as well because sumbel usually comes first and then blot. In the old days, the blot bowl caught the blood of a sacrificed animal, keeping the blood from touching the ground, and then the blood was sprinkled over the participants to bless them. In modern times, the bowl is partially filled with water, and then the dregs of the horn are poured in the bowl after the sumbel, and the mead / water mixture is sprinkled over the participants to bless them.

The pine branch on the altar is the asperger, which is used to sprinkle the water onto the participants. This pine branch is from a sacred pine tree I maintain at my home for this purpose. Before the main ritual, I ritually cut the asperger from the tree with this ritual knife. The knife can then go on the altar, on my belt, or can be put away.

This basic altar contains only the things necessary for the ritual. It can also be decorated with seasonally appropriate decorations, symbols of the gods, and anything meaningful to the godhi or gythia (the conductor of the ritual) or to the ritual participants.

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Substituting As Gythia At a Baby Blessing

Hoarfrost sparkled on the dark ground, reflecting harsh nearby ballfield lights that did not illuminate the tree-dotted lawn of the park. It was winter 2009. Local heathens of the Las Vegas area gathered to welcome a new baby, who was wrapped in a large fur blanket against the winter cold. The kindred sponsoring the event consisted of a core group of heathens among a larger a group of non-heathens in a Renaissance Faire guild, so, some of the people gathered there wore modern dress, some were in Renfaire or re-enactor garb, and some wore a mix of both.

The kindred’s godhi, or priest, was going to perform a baby blessing and naming ceremony. The godhi was having a bad time with a chronic health issue right then, and did not feel up to calling power, so he asked me to perform the blessing.

I was there as a community member, so I did not have any of my ritual stuff with me. I looked around for things I could use, and saw that there was a bottle of mead for toasting (sumbel) and blessing (blot.) The baby’s family’s sword was firmly stuck point first in the ground. I could work with that. That would be the conduit for the ancestor honor transfer. The ancestors were under the earth, and the sword was part in the earth and part above it. In heathenry, there are many different traditions about where the dead go and what they become after death, since heathenry draws on a vast time period and many different, although related, cultures. In many of the ancient cultures, there was no clear line between the grave mound and the elf mound, and that idea survives in the modern saying that the dead have gone to stay with the elves. An early story about the interior of a grave mound showed the dead fighting each other in endless war, very much like the Viking age depiction of Valhalla. So, the direction of the ancestors is down, in the earth.

I mentally tallied what was and was not essential among the things that were not there. I could do without a blotbolli (blessing bowl.) I would pour the mead from the horn directly onto the asperger. I had to have an asperger, a tool with which to sprinkle the blessing liquid on the baby. Many dark shapes of pine trees stood out against the stars. I would cut a pine branch, except that I did not have my ritual knife with me either. Years ago, when I had been asked to make a rune stick for a friend, I had pulled on an oak branch and a stick had snapped off in my hand, cleanly as if cut. I resolved to repeat this feat tonight.

I went to a pine tree, and caressed its needles. I spoke to it, and asked it for the use of its branch for the holy ritual. The branch snapped off in my hand.

We gathered together for the ritual. In an Asatru baby blessing, the mother has already given form to the child, body from body, and now it is time for the father to give to the child. I directed the baby’s father to place one hand on the hilt of his family sword, which was firmly stuck in the earth, and one hand on the baby. I narrated, “You are the link between your ancestors and your child. The might and main and the honor of the ancestors is coming up from the earth, through the sword, through you, and into your child.”

All those gathered there toasted the child with mead in the sumbel ritual. I asked the parents what they named their child. I poured mead over the asperger and blessed the child by his name in the names of the gods, the ancestors, and all wights (spirit beings) of good will. As we did not have a blotbolli to pour out to the land wight, I poured the rest of the bottle to the land wight. I returned the pine branch to the land. The ritual was done.

Image: graphic by Karen Arnold. via publicdomainpictures.net

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When My Book Was Pirated: Asking Tyr for Justice

Some people in the heathen community seem to approve of piracy, what with the whole Vikings rah-rah. Successful pirate societies don't pirate from their own. Today's Somali pirates don't pirate Somali ships. That's how it worked in the Viking Age, too; Vikings raided across the sea, not across the street.

This is an account of a ritual I performed asking Tyr for justice. My book Asatru For Beginners had been pirated shortly after the print edition came out. I was originally going to tell the entire story of what happened, and how chasing pirated versions of my book all over the net eventually led me to the file sharing section of a site engaged in immoral activities, but at that point the story really becomes about non-religious matters, so I'm just going to blog about the ritual I performed once I had done all I could do by regular means.

The type of ritual I performed is the most common of heathen rituals, the sumbel. Sumbel is a toasting ritual. It is often performed in a group, for a holiday, but it can also be performed alone. It is very simple, with a Germanic efficiency that I see as elegant like something perfectly engineered, a type of beauty completely different from flowery excess.

I assembled the things I needed for the ritual, which were my portable altar, which was necessary to hold the other things, my drinking horn, and a bottle of something to put in the horn. I chose to offer him Eau de Vie de Bourgeons de Sapin, a drink made from evergreen tree needles. The reasons I chose that drink are: 1. because it is a traditional drink from Alsace, where some of my ancestors are from, thus it has a personal connection with me, 2. because evergreen has a clean, strong flavor which seems masculine to me, and I think of Tyr as manly; 3. evergreen is also symbolic of the eternal life of the gods and of nature, so it seemed appropriate as something to offer a god, and 4. because it is a rare and special drink.

I wept as I summarized the situation briefly and asked him for justice. I ended the toast with "hail Tyr," and drank to him. What was left in the horn after the toast I poured out on the ground.

Back when I was new to heathenry, some other Asatruars said that heathens don't pray, but I realize now that they were reacting against Christianity, not following the example of historical heathens. There are numerous examples in the lore of people asking the gods for various things.  We might not pray in the way that Christians do, but we do communicate with the gods in our own ways, and we do ask them for help when we need to. When I had done everything I could do myself, I asked Tyr for justice, and he delivered it.

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Posted by on in Studies Blogs
An Anglo Saxon Chant

In the midst of a lengthy Anglo-Saxon charm, Æcerbot, there's a little chant in praise of the earth. I've always thought it needed music, so I've made an attempt at doing that (see below). I can easily imagine the folks carrying out the elaborate steps for the charm singing this part as they renew the field's fertility.

The charm requires many things: removing four pieces of sod from ground, taking it to be blessed, reciting prayers like the Crescite and Pater Noster over it and even adding "oil and honey and yeast, and milk of each animal that is on the land, and a piece of each type of tree that grows on the land, except hard beams, and a piece of each herb known by name, except burdock [glappan] only, and put then holy water thereon, and drip it three times on the base of the sods".

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    Kate, I've never felt moved to commit Hal wes thu Folde to memory until I heard your tune: elegant, "up," with a very Scandi-folk
  • Kate Laity
    Kate Laity says #
    Thanks so much, Steven!

In this ritual, you will mirror the actions of the heroine in one of the Grimm's fairy tales, "Mother Holle", (also known as "The Golden Girl and the Pitch Maiden"), offering your cares and worries to the Goddess by dropping them on a spindle into a fresh water "well" and praying for her assistance in resolving them. A traditional Northern European blot, a drink offering, begins the ritual. This simplified rite, suitable to any time of year, is part of a longer Norse Winternights Ceremony I wrote honoring the ancestors and the Wild Hunt during the autumn. An especially ideal time for it would be on Mothers' Night, the evening before Yule. (More information on Holle's symbols and nature can be found within that Ceremony.)


b2ap3_thumbnail_Otto_Ubbelohde_Frau_Holle.jpg

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