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Subscribe to this list via RSS Blog posts tagged in Northern tradition

Posted by on in Paths Blogs

Continuing with my exploration of the Names of Odin in alphabetical order, He doesn’t have many heiti, or by-names, beginning with the letter D.  However, the one we'll be discussing today is among my favorites of all of His names anyway because it tells us so much about the essence of who and what He is.  It is generally translated as meaning “Lord of the Dead.”  Lets break it down, though, and see if we can learn more from it than that.

The drottin part of the name means chieftain, or lord, and has a cognate in the Anglo-Saxon drihten. The particular connotation here is that of a military lord, the leader of a war band (from Proto-Germanic *druti). This implies the sort of kingship portrayed in Beowulf, for example; not necessarily a hereditary role, but one decreed by merit and ability, the man who is elevated to kingship because other men look to him and trust in his abilities, the ring giver and keeper of the web of oaths that tie a war band, a tribe, or a people together.

The other half of the name, drauga, means the dead, but here again a particular type of dead person is implied.  In Germanic belief, the “ordinary” dead go to Helheim, where they are perhaps reunited with their loved ones and have a period of rest and rejuvenation prior to being reborn or going on about whatever work lies before them between lifetimes.  Some dead, in my belief, go to the abodes of the gods they have served during life if those connections are strong enough and if the god desires their continued service and companionship.  The Poetic Edda and Snorri’s Edda alike tell us that the battlefield dead are divided between Odin and Freyja, with Frejya getting first pick.  (Ladies first, after all.)

But the draugr (singular) is in a category all his own.  As depicted again and again in the Icelandic sagas, the draugar (plural) are “walkers” or “those who walk again after death.” 

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Posted by on in Paths Blogs
Spring, interrupted

Here in Eugene, we are in a valley surrounded by the Cascade mountains, which means we ordinarily get milder weather than the rest of Oregon.  By the first week of February, we have usually left winter behind us and are embarking on early springtime.  The plants never completely die back during the winter (the summer is our dead season instead, when the bright west coast sun sears everything brown) and we get so much rain that not only the ground but also the tree branches are covered by a layer of bright emerald moss.  (Hence Eugene’s moniker “the Emerald City”–a nickname that brings me no end of joy, considering my love for The Wizard of Oz.)  The rains come daily, the sky is always overcast, and when it is not actually raining the air is filled with a gentle mist.

This year, however, the winter was a lot drier than usual, and the moss was a dull brownish green. We got hit with an uncharacteristic snowstorm in December (about ten inches!), and then in January sparse amounts of rain, punctuated by bright, cold days, the sun shining in a clear blue sky, interspersed with days captured in a grey, freezing fog that turned your lungs to ice.  But at the beginning of February springtime seemed as sure as ever; the smell of the air itself had changed and there was now a green note, a whiff of damp earth and ozone. Last week, I found a patch of wild violets that I began harvesting—a handful at a time–to make a syrup.

And then came the snow. 

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  • Anne Newkirk Niven
    Anne Newkirk Niven says #
    Be safe and warm; up here in Portland-environs we've had hundreds of car accidents in this weather. At our house, we have been nei

Posted by on in Paths Blogs
Blindi (Pagan Blog Project)

(This one is a week late; I posted it on time over at my own blog, but forgot to share it here!)

Since I’ve already written at length about Odin in His guise of Bolverk (the face He wears in the Mead of Poetry myth cycle), and have at least touched on Bruni and Bjorn (both referring to His bear persona), for this post I decided to focus on a different B name: Blindi.  This name quite obviously means “blind,” and in fact there are several of His names which have to do with His eyesight, such as Tviblindi (“twice blind”), Bileygr (“feeble-eyed.” or possibly “one-eyed”), and Baleygr (“blazing eye”)–although the latter may have more to do with His gimlet gaze than with the loss of eyesight.

Odin’s sacrifice of an eye to Mimir’s Well is one of His most famous myths, second in familiarity only to His ordeal on the Tree.  In Snorri’s version of the tale, as well as in the Havamal section of the Poetic Edda, the transaction is a literal one: Odin wanted to drink from the Well guarded by Mimir in Jotunheim (twin to the Well of Wyrd in Asgard, and according to some views, the very same Well, which is so real and so fundamental to reality that a version of it appears in all worlds, just as with the World Tree itself) and the price named by the Well’s guardian was one of His eyes.  Not to be deterred, Odin obligingly, and without flinching, ripped an eye from His own head (no one can say which one, and last time I checked He wasn’t telling)  and handed it over.  In return, He received His prize: a deep draught from the Well of Memory (Mimir)–basically, the accumulated consciousness and wisdom of all People, from all races—divine and mortal—throughout all time.  What is more, Mimir then cast the severed eye into the Well, where it—according to some—continues to see, and somehow continues to transmit information back to the One who once wore it.

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs

Unlike Greek mythology and even Egyptian mythology, the Gods and heroes and lore of northern Europe appear rarely in books aimed at children. This is unfortunate, as Norse mythology is rich with wondrous tales, grand adventure, amazing Gods, and tragic but noble heroes. There are several picture books that I recommend though, as well as chapter books and teen books and a few activity books; there are also some general mythology books which feature good sections on Norse lore. These would all make great additions to the private libraries of Heathen families, or even lending libraries maintained by particular Kindreds.

There are several picture books which the youngest children will enjoy; some retell a single myth while others focus on a specific Deity or hero. First is Gods and Goddesses of the Ancient Norse by Leonard Everett Fisher* which features short, encyclopedic entries on the Deities along with beautiful full-page chalky illustrations, a map, and a pronunciation guide. Iduna and the Magic Apples by Mariana Mayer and Laszlo Gal, which I profiled in a previous column, retells the story of that Goddess's kidnapping and rescue. The Adventures of Thor the Thunder God by Lise Lunge-Larsen (author of the wonderful Gifts From the Gods) and Jim Madsen, is a humorous and exciting collection of that God's most well-known stories, while Shirley Climo and Alexander Koshkin's Stolen Thunder: A Norse Myth focuses on Thor's quest to reclaim his lost hammer from the Frost Giants. Leif the Lucky by Ingri and Edgar Parin d'Aulaire is a biography of the famous explorer, while Sister Bear: A Norse Tale by Jane Yolen and Linda Graves is a folktale featuring a spunky heroine, an adorable dancing bear, and some terrible tattooed trolls.

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  • Rebecca Buchanan
    Rebecca Buchanan says #
    @Shirl: if I missed any good ones, let me know. … Like I have any room on my book shelves ….
  • Shirl Sazynski
    Shirl Sazynski says #
    Thank you for this treasure trove of words and pictures, and the recommendation for Willy Pogany's work for those who don't know i
  • Rebecca Buchanan
    Rebecca Buchanan says #
    @Tim: glad I could add to your father-son reading list. If you have any favorites that I missed, please let me know.
  • Tim Schneider
    Tim Schneider says #
    I have been reading d'Aulaire's Book of Norse Myths with my son. He looks forward to it each and every time. There are tons of

Posted by on in Paths Blogs
On spinning and magic

Why do I spin? The question comes often enough from non-crafty people—which probably includes most people out there--who don't really even understand that there's a difference between spinning and weaving, and who just can't see the point of knitting a sweater or scarf (much less spinning the yarn in order to knit one) when you can buy one a lot cheaper at Walmart or the local mall. But I'm sure there are also a lot of spiritual types out there who read my blog and wonder why I—a spirit worker, and married to Odin for crying out loud—spend so much of my time spinning and prepping wool for spinning.

Not that I am equating myself with Her, but the question sort of begs me to invoke Frigga's name. Because, after all, She is married to Odin, and She spins—and actually, it was partly Her influence that prompted my obsession with the fiber arts in the first place. So, why does She do it? The reason She is so closely associated with spinning (and the Norns and Valkyries with weaving) has to be partly a mundane and culturally influenced one: in the past, as the majority of Walmart shoppers probably don't realize, spinning was not just an odd pastime for middle aged women, it was a necessity of life. There were no stores in which to buy clothing, but there were sheep, and flax, and nettles, and other sources of fiber, and one day people discovered that this fiber could to be twisted to form a strong thread that could then be woven into cloth to make garments and other useful items. (Knitting came much, much later.) But you needed a lot of thread to weave enough cloth for even a single garment, so spinners spent virtually every spare moment of their lives spinning, and because spinning is something that can be easily set down in order to tend a baby, and is not a dangerous activity to practice around children, spinning (and to a lesser extent, weaving) naturally fell into the domain of women.

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  • Eric Crouse
    Eric Crouse says #
    I've been spinning since 2010. It calls to me like no other. I have started to be more on the look out for stories regarding spi
  • Cathleen M. Collett
    Cathleen M. Collett says #
    I have been diagnosed (at sixty-five!) with the entity formerly know as Asperger's Syndrome. One characteristic of this is "stimm
  • Julia Glassman
    Julia Glassman says #
    Thanks for this wonderful article! I'm a passionate knitter and aspiring spinner, and I love learning about the connections betwee
  • Beth Wodandis
    Beth Wodandis says #
    Thank you--and I wish your wife many happy spinning hours with that wheel!
  • Terence P Ward
    Terence P Ward says #
    I've always been captivating by spinning, and I was thrilled when my wife finally found someone to put the spinning wheel she'd in

Posted by on in Studies Blogs

When I started to wander out into the brick-and-mortar Pagan community, I noticed that there were a lot of people who believed in Norse mythology and Pantheon. Some Asatru, some called themselves Heathen, some Northern Tradition, etc.    And when I'd talk about how I wanted to find out more about how Pagans relate to music, especially if any relate to Classical music, I found that some Norsefolk liked metal and Beethoven, and others liked Richard Wagner.  Richard Wagner, for those who don't know, is hailed as having "revolutionized" music during the middle of the 19th century, and he did this via writing operas about Scandinavian 'sagas' and the 'Nibelungenlied.' I wouldn't be surprised if Wagner was the origination for a connection between Norse/Scandinavian spirituality and anti-Semitism.

I am against the man and his works.  Alright, maybe not.  Maybe I am confused and heartbroken that someone who could write such beautiful and moving music, on such a thoroughly Pagan basis, was a megalomaniac, an abuser, and a bloodthirsty anti-Semite.

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  • Joseph Bloch
    Joseph Bloch says #
    I happened to come across the following article today, and thought of your post:
  • Robert Brown
    Robert Brown says #
    This is an individual question, and an important one. Have you seensome of Hitler's art? He was an awful, terrible guy. Some of

Posted by on in Paths Blogs
Deity Centered Polytheism


I just returned from a creative retreat where I spent the better part of the week blade-smithing and oil painting and I intended to move on to issues other than the current 'pop culture vs. devotional polytheist' Pagan debate. Upon returning, however, I found this brilliant post: by Anomalous Thracian, and realized that I wasn't done yet. In light of some of the comments there, I think that perhaps I need to articulate where I'm writing from a little more clearly. Because one thing that's getting lost (purposely, I think) in this debate is that what it really comes down to is those whose practices are devotionally centered on the Holy Powers (Gods and ancestors) and those for whom the human experience, human emotions, human society,  the human mind. and most of all human comfort is centric. I actually think that this is the heart of many of the misunderstandings that we're seeing. We're not speaking as one community. We will never speak as one community so long as devotion to the Gods is being marginalized. We will never speak as one community so long as devotional polytheists are expected to accept a certain homogenization of our beliefs, predicated on acceptance of attitudes and practices that to those of us who prioritize the Gods are objectionable. We're not speaking from the same place. We're not even speaking the same devotional language. Instead, we're each fighting to wrest the roots of our various traditions from out of the other's hands. 

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  • Marie Dees
    Marie Dees says #
    One of my teachers in my spiritual path was Hindu. I remember that he had a great devotion to the goddess Durga. Devotion is recog
  • Betty Prat
    Betty Prat says #
    I support you and agree with you 100%. These people are just causing dissension because they have nothing better than to slander g
  • Galina Krasskova
    Galina Krasskova says #
    Byron, thank you. That means a lot right now. thank you. and looking forward to chatting with you next Wed on the show.
  • Byron Ballard
    Byron Ballard says #
    Yes, me, too. I will give thought to this month of silence but doubt that I, since I'm traveling so much, will participate. But pe
  • Byron Ballard
    Byron Ballard says #
    Because it is planting season--at last!--here in the southern highlands, I have missed much of this ongoing pissing contest betwee

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