Gnosis Diary: Life as a Heathen

My personal experiences, including religious and spiritual experiences, community interaction, general heathenry, and modern life on my heathen path, which is Asatru.

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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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Erin Lale is the author of Asatru For Beginners. An updated, longer version of her book, Asatru: A Beginner's Guide to the Heathen Path, is coming in 2020 from Red Wheel / Weiser. Erin was sworn to Freya as Priestess in 1989, given to Sigyn, and is a Bride of Odin and his brothers (Honir, Lodhur, Loki.). She has been a freelance writer for about 30 years, was the editor and publisher of Berserkrgangr Magazine, is gythia of American Celebration Kindred, and admin/ owner of the Asatru Facebook Forum. In 2010 and 2013, she ran for public office. She is a dyer and fiber artist, was acquisitions editor at a small press for 5 years, created the Heathen Calendar 2017 and 2018, and founded the Heathen Visibility Project.

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