Day to Day Heathenry

You’re a modern-day Viking, worshiping (honoring) the gods of your ancestors, gods of magic, battle, violence, wisdom, and poetry. You also go to work each day, take care of the kids, do chores around the house, deal with customers, bosses, and such. How do you transition back and forth from the one to the other?

Here in the Herren Haus, we have blended Asatru with our day to day lives, sometimes quite well, and sometimes not well enough. We have no rituals that we perform everyday to honor the gods, we have no prayers that we say before meals, we don’t even require ourselves to wear a hammer every day or a T-shirt with a clever Viking saying. We DO have a shelf set aside for the gods, where we keep our kindred’s drinking horn, our personal horns, some wooden blessing bowls, and other accouterments. We DO call on the gods anytime we feel the need for a little guidance or help in our lives. We also regularly pour out a libation to the gods when we’re having a drink after dinner. When it’s thundering outside, we’ve been known to yell out an impromptu “Hail Thor”, and when the sun breaks out from behind a heavy overcast, we’ve been known to yell “Hail Sunna!” But these things are not enough by themselves to make us feel close to the gods.

The thing that makes us feel closest to the gods is those times that we take 10 minutes or so and stand together outside, under a tree, and speak (call it praying if you want) to Frigga or Odin.. Telling them what’s on our minds, and what we hope to accomplish. Asking for their guidance, if they want to give it. Sharing a horn of mead with them and then waiting silently to “listen” for any reply. Those few minutes, irregular and impromptu are the times that we slow down from our hectic lives and listen to the gods, actively. I’m sure meditation would be great, and there are probably esoteric runic rituals that we could learn (or just make up for ourselves), but for us, it’s those few quiet minutes taken together that help us feel closer to each other and closer to the gods.

Then, as we go through our daily lives, even though we may not actively be calling on the gods, or wearing outward symbols of our Troth, they are never far from our minds. Their examples, the ideals that we strive for, the knowledge that we are part of a tradition stretching back thousands of years, those things are always close to our minds and hearts. Our day to day Heathenry manifests itself as truthful dealing with our customers, loyalty to our family, working hard at our jobs, enjoying our time off work, living life as full as possible, laughing at ourselves from time to time. I know.. none of this is revolutionary in concept, this is just how heathens live.

-Vithar and Sigfrith

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Origins of Christmas (The story of Yule-tide)

Yule Wreath
Yule, which many people know as the 12 days of Christmas is a very powerful time of the year, and sacred to the Norse/Germanic peoples! Yule is a 12 night festival, yes 12, that celebrates many things. The Winter Solstice, and we all know how important solstices are. The new year. It is a time to honor those ancestors who have passed to the world beyond. It is a general time of merriment and celebration. It is interesting that one can observe that each night of Yule can represent each of the 12 months of our calendar, and some celebrate each day in accordance with what is going on in the month that it represents. There is even a legend that says that whatever befalls you during each of those 12 nights can be prophetic regarding how that correlated month will go for you.

The history of Yule as with most heathen and pagan festivals dates back into prehistory. Peoples around the world have been celebrating the winter solstice and the turning of the year for thousands, upon thousands of years. It has always been an important time. It was a time of sacrifice  to honor Thor for fighting back the frost giants, to the ancestors for at this time the veil is thinnest. A time to celebrate for they knew that Ragnarok was not upon them. There was great feasting, and many rituals were performed. This went on every year for thousand of years. Christianity did it’s level best to stamp out most of these practices. Recognizing that they would never be able to get rid of all of our ancestors Yule traditions the church decided to incorporate those it could and try to take over the rest. They did so with some success, but not with total success. Red Thor became Santa, and the reason behind some of the traditions were obscured or forgotten. The Christians moved the date of Jesus’ birth to December 25th in order to take over the holiday from the Mithra worshippers, but it also put his “birthdate” in the middle of our Yule. But we still burn the Yule Log, we still swear New Year’s Oaths, we still put up holly and mistletoe. We still tell the kids that Santa is coming! So many of our important traditions were never interrupted. I’d like to tell you where some of these originated!
Yule starts on the Mother Night, which is generally either December 20 (in the northern hemisphere),  and ends on  December 31, new years. The second night is the winter solstice itself. 
We honor the beginning of the Sun’s return and the breaking of Winter, (which is most noticeable in five days) and is celebrated over a twelve day period. We know there will be no Fimbulwinter which proceeds Ragnarok.
It is a time of the year when our deceased Ancestors are closest to us; this is when the dead (draugar) are more active than any other time. Yule is when Jólnir another name for Odinn leads the procession of the Wild Hunt through the sky’s with spirits of humans, horses and dogs. This procession occurs during all twelve days of Yule.
It is a time for great feasting, honoring Thor for driving back the frost etins, Frey to give us prosperity in the coming year, Odinn as leader of the Wild Hunt, and of course our Ancestors. Jólablót, have a Yule party with family and kindred. Decorate a tree with sunwheels and light a Yule Log.
The Yule Tree is the symbol of our cosmology; it’s the Great tree Yggdrasil. From the Voluspa;
“Yggdrasil its name.
With water white       is the Great Tree wet;
Thence come the dews       that fall in the dales.
Green by Urths well       does it ever grow.”
And so the evergreen tree is the most appropriate, to remind us of the eternity of Yggdrasil, as it last through out winters Ever Green.

The Yule Log
The burning of a Yule Log is an ancient ritual; our ancestors kindled a huge oak log in honor of Thor. Today we burn a smaller log during the Yule Season. When lighting the new Yule Log it should be with the charred remains of the previous year’s log, which is, keep to guard the house against lightning and fire.

Twelfth Night (December 31st) culminates the traditional twelve days of Yule. Our Ancestors at this time consecrated a boar to Frey, led it out so everyone present could lay their hand on the boar and swear a solemn Oath. This was to honor Frey for prosperity. Oaths sworn on the Oath-Boar are very binding during this time, than any other time of the year. Make a New Year’s resolution in the old way by swearing your oath on Frey’s boar or on your hammer.
The Yule is no exception when it comes to christian plagiarism of other cultures Holidays. There is no doubt that the Yule Tree, Yule Log, the Singing and exchanging of Gifts are from our Northern Culture.

Some more information from another source: “I’m sure we have all seen signs that remind us to “remember the reason for the season”. These signs are put up every Yuletide by well-meaning people who have forgotten that the season is the reason. Yule is celebrated because of winter, the darkest, coldest season.
Yule is a twelve night festival, starting on Mother Night, December 20. The following night is the winter solstice, the longest night of the year. As Yule continues, the days slowly begin the get longer, and the nights shorter. Yule ends on Twelfth Night, December 31.
Each of the days and nights of Yule can be viewed as a miniature of the months of the year. On Mother Night one can recount the past January and plan for the next January. On the second day of Yule, remember last February and look forward to next February. Continue this way ending with December on Twelfth Night.
During Yule, we honor Thorr for driving back the frost etins, Frey to give us prosperity in the coming year, Odinn as leader of the Wild Hunt, and our Ancestors. During Yule, we are closest to the dead. Death surrounds us, the dead flowers and plants that were so alive a few months ago. The trees all appear dead, except for the evergreens.
We decorate an evergreen tree with sun wheels, runes, items of food such as cranberries and popped corn, and bright pretty things, to remind us of the eternity of Yggdrasil, the World Tree, as it lasts throughout the winter.. Ever Green.

Of course, I guess by now we all know how our ancestors offered gifts to the land-wights and forest spirits (tree spirits) by tying ribbon and bells on evergreen trees and leaving out cookies and milk so that the spirits of the land would look upon them favorably and not sabotage their crops or animals during the year.

During the twelve nights of Yule, we burn a Yule log, give gifts, and feast (especially on ham and pork, which are sacred to Frey).
In days of old, our ancestors would swear their oaths for the coming year (remembered today as the weaker New Year’s resolutions) on the sacred boar on Twelfth Night. Now, it is our Kindred tradition to swear our oaths on the bristles of the boar, then share the meat and mead as a part of our yearly Yule party.
On Twelfth Night, we take down our Yule trees and pack up our Yule decorations for the year. This is the end of Yule and the old year. We save the trunk of the Yule tree for next year’s Yule Log. Now we turn our attention to making it through the rest of the winter, and the rest of the New Year.

Mistletoe kissing ball
Kissing under the mistletoe became a tradition after the death of the god Baldur – second son of Odin, god of truth and light — who was so beloved by the other gods that they sought to protect him from all the dangers of the world. His mother, the goddess Frigg, “took an oath from fire and water, iron and all metals, stones and earth, from trees, sicknesses and poisons, and from all four-footed beasts, birds and creeping things, that they would not hurt Baldur.” And thus the beautiful god was deemed invincible. What does this have to do with mistletoe? Bear with me…
At a large gathering soon after, stones, arrows, and flame were all flung at Baldur to test his might. Nothing worked, and he walked away unscathed. Jealous of Baldur’s new powers, the mischievous Loki set out to find the one thing on Earth that might be able to hurt him. He found that the goddess Frigg forgot to ask mistletoe — tiny and forgotten — not to harm her beloved son. In the end, a dart fashioned from the little plant was used to murder Baldur in front of all the other gods who loved him so dearly.
Frigg, of course, was devastated, her tears became the berries of the plant, and it was decreed that ”mistletoe would never again be used as a weapon and that she would place a kiss on anyone who passed under it.”
And thus we hang mistletoe underneath our doorways come the holidays — so that we never overlook it again.

holly
Holly has prickly green leaves and red berries and was used throughout ancient Europe as a ward for the house during Yule. As we learned earlier, Yule was a time when the veil between the spirit world and that of the living is lowered, so during this time good and bad spirits have easier access to our lives. Holly was considered a barrier, a protective plant that could ward off the evil spirits by it’s core nature. So it was hung over doorways and windows to to keep unwanted spirits from trespassing into your house during Yule!

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Where to start your study

A Question that is often asked of me is, “Where do I start studying about Asatru?”

Asatru is the religion with homework! It’s not necessary to be a scholar and study dusty old tomes and pick up Old High German, and Icelandic along with Old Norse… but it helps!

For most people a really good place to start is reading the source material (the “sacred” texts as it were) for yourself. Of course, we have no “sacred” texts and I say that partially tongue in cheek, but we do have some source material that everything else is built around.

You will want to start your exploration of Asatru by reading the Eddas, including the Voluspa, and the Havamal. The Voluspa and the Havamal are just two of many poems that are sometimes included under the same cover, and referred to as just The Eddas. These are a collection of poems spoken in Old Norse and translated now from Icelandic to English. These poems were recited by skalds as an oral tradition for many generations before ever being put in written form. In their original form this poetry alliterated, rather than rhymed, called Alliterative Verse. The first consonants sounds were similar, rather than the ending vowels rhyming.

For a simple example:

Olaf’s sick hate heated a horn
The serpent slid down Hero’s stomach it struck
The martyr died a messy death.

Now imagine translating that verse to another language so that all poetic elements, including the alliteration are lost.

Some translators have tried to keep the poetic “feel” such as Lee M. Hollander, whereas some translators have felt the poetic feel was not as important as accurately conveying the ideas and have translated the Eddas into a prose form that is easier for some people to read. Look to Snorri Sturlson for a good Prose Edda.

Edda: Hollander Translation: http://www.amazon.com/Poetic-Edda-Saemundar/dp/0292764995
Edda: Snorri Translation: http://www.amazon.com/Edda-Everymans-Library-Snorri-Sturluson/dp/0460876163/ref=pd_sim_b_2

After reading the Eddas, you would next want to read some of the Lays and Sagas. The Lays and Sagas are stories about our ancestors that will put their lives in context for you to better understand the Eddas that you previously read! Well, that’s the theory. The sagas are “based” on history, with scholars divided as to just how historically accurate they really are.

After all of this reading, you are now ready to start reading about what other people think and what they have done with the religion during modern times. Perhaps a Book of Troth by Edred Thorsson, or Essential Asatru by Diana Paxson, or maybe The Elder Troth by Kveldulf Gundarsson. And eventually you will want to read them all. Just remember that many times these are people’s OPINIONS about what our ancestors meant and thought and how they viewed the gods and what they did to honor the gods. Sometimes we have a pretty good idea because there are historic accounts for us to refer to, but other times we are having to kind of fill-in-the-blank a bit with some educated guesswork! Make sure you know which opinion is probably pretty factually based, and which ones involve more creative thinking!

At this point you’re ready to go back and re-read all the Eddic poetry you can get a hold of, and finish reading any lays or sagas that you previously skipped.

Now, some 30+ odd poems and books later you are nominally educated on Asatru and ready to start discussions around the fire with the Elders in the kindred!

Next on your list will be to learn Icelandic so that you can read some of the original Old Norse and not have to rely on Translators for your source materials!

Welcome to Asatru.. The religion with homework!

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All About Easter

Easter, Ostarra, Eostre.

The exact origins of this religious tradition are disputed. Some sources claim the word Easter is derived from Eostre, a Teutonic goddess of spring and fertility. Some accounts trace Easter to the Latin term hebdomada alba, or white week, an ancient reference to Easter week and the white clothing donned by people who were baptized during that time. Through a translation error, the term later appeared as esostarum in Old High German, which eventually became Easter in English.

One popular historian recorded that “Easter” is said to have originated with the names of an ancient Goddess and God. The Venerable Bede, (672-735 CE.) a Christian scholar, first asserted in his book De Ratione Temporum that Easter was named after Eostre (a.k.a. Eastre). She was the Great Mother Goddess of the Saxon people in Northern Europe. Similarly, the “Teutonic dawn goddess of fertility [was] known variously as Ostare, Ostara, Ostern, Eostra, Eostre, Eostur, Eastra, Eastur, Austron and Ausos.” Her name was derived from the ancient word for spring: “eastre.” Similar Goddesses were known by other names in ancient cultures around the Mediterranean, and were celebrated in the springtime. Some were:
Aphrodite from ancient Cyprus
Ashtoreth from ancient Israel
Astarte from ancient Greece
Demeter from Mycenae
Hathor from ancient Egypt
Ishtar from Assyria
Kali, from India
Ostara a Norse Goddess of fertility.

Many, perhaps most, Pagan religions in the Mediterranean area had a major seasonal day of religious celebration at or following the Spring Equinox. Cybele, the Phrygian fertility goddess, had a consort, Attis, who was believed to have been born via a virgin birth. Attis was believed to have died and been resurrected each year during the period MAR-22 to MAR-25.

Gerald L. Berry, author of “Religions of the World,” wrote:

“About 200 B.C. mystery cults began to appear in Rome just as they had earlier in Greece. Most notable was the Cybele cult centered on Vatican hill …Associated with the Cybele cult was that of her lover, Attis (the older Tammuz, Osiris, Dionysus, or Orpheus under a new name). He was a god of ever-reviving vegetation. Born of a virgin, he died and was reborn annually. The festival began as a day of blood on Black Friday and culminated after three days in a day of rejoicing over the resurrection.”

Does the following sound familiar? Spring is in the air! Flowers and bunnies decorate the home. Father helps the children paint beautiful designs on eggs dyed in various colors. These eggs, which will later be hidden and searched for, are placed into artistic, seasonal baskets. The wonderful aroma of the hot cross buns baking in the oven waft through the house. The whole family picks out their Sunday best to wear to the next morning’s sunrise worship service to celebrate the god’s resurrection and the renewal of life. Everyone looks forward to a succulent ham with all the trimmings. It will be a thrilling day. After all, it is one of the most important religious holidays of the year.

Christian Easter? No! This is a description of an ancient Babylonian family—2,000 years before Christ honoring the resurrection of their god, Tammuz, who was brought back from the underworld by his mother/wife, Ishtar. As Ishtar was actually pronounced closer to “Easter” in most Semitic dialects, it could be said that the event portrayed here is, in a sense, the real Easter. Of course, this description could easily have been a Phrygian family honoring Attis and Cybele, or perhaps a Phoenician family worshipping Adonis and Astarte. Also fitting the description well would be a heretic Israelite family honoring the Canaanite Baal and Ashtoreth. Or this depiction could just as easily represent any number of other pagan fertility celebrations of death and resurrection—including the modern Easter celebration as it has come to us through the Anglo-Saxon fertility rites of the goddess Eostre or Ostara. These are all the same festivals, separated only by time and culture.

From England to Egypt to China we can find examples of cultures decorating eggs during springtime festivals. Sometimes as sacrifices to a god/goddess, sometimes as a symbolic reminder of the fertility of this period of the year. The Hare is also associated with fertility and springtime in most of these cultures as well. Another aspect of the Celebration of the Fertility of Spring that many cultures share is the culmination of the celebration at Dawn. Eggs and gifts might be laid out the night before, but it is at the break of dawn on the Spring Equinox that most of the cultures raised their voices in celebration to their goddess.

Here, at the Heathen Kinship, you will find all of these practices and more. We intentionally place ourselves into the greater stream of wyrd that runs through the past and present and merges our spirits with those of our ancestors who cried out to Ostara on this day that celebrates the victory of life over death through resurrection and re-birth!

In addition to Easter’s religious significance, it also has a commercial side, as evidenced by the mounds of jelly beans and marshmallow chicks that appear in stores each spring. As with Christmas, over the centuries Christianity has usurped the traditions of the various folk customs and pagan traditions, including Easter eggs, bunnies, baskets and candy. None of these things have anything to do with the Christian religious traditions, but are ingrained in the folk.

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Translations of the Havamal

For those that love to study the Havamal there are subtle differences in each translation. Take a look at some of the various translations of Verse 82 below. Do you agree or disagree with my interpretation?

2. Hollander

Fell wood in the wind, in fair weather row out to sea,
dally with girls in the dark – tha days eyes are many -
choose a shield for shelter, a ship for speed,
a sword for keenness, a girl for kissing.

This Translation sounds like it is advice on buying goods. It’s a practical guide for the trader. The word “choose” makes me think of a viking looking out at 3 or 4 shields, and the advice is to choose the one that would seem to provide the best protection. Not the prettiest or flashiest. Pick a ship that’s fast, even if it’s not the most beautiful, etc.

3. Larrington

In a wind one should cut wood, in fine weather row on the sea,
in darkness chat with a girl: many are the eyes of the day;
use a ship to glide along, a shield for defence,
a sword for blows, and a girl for kisses.

This translation uses the word “use” instead of “choose” so it makes it sound like it is advice on how to get the most of out your tools. Don’t try to turn your sword into a pry-bar, use your sword to chop stuff! Don’t use your shield as a table or a bench, or to carry berries, keep it handy for use as shelter!

4. Harugari

Fell wood when it is windy,
Set out to sea when it is fair;
Love girls in the dark-
The day is full of watching eyes;
Pick a shield for protection,
A ship for its speed,
A sword for its excellence,
and a girl for kisses.

The word “pick” here seems like hollander’s “choose” so it seems to say the same thing as hollander’s.

5. Anderson

In the wind one should hew wood,
in a breeze row out to sea,
in the dark talk with a lass:
many are the eyes of day.
In a ship voyages are to be made,
but a shield is for protection,
a sword for striking,
but a damsel for a kiss.

This translation leaves out “pick” “choose” or “use” but reads like “use” could be there.

6. Auden & Taylor

Hew wood in wind-time,
in fine weather sail,
Tell in the night-time tales to house-girls,
For too many eyes are open by day:
From a ship expect speed, from a shield, cover,
Keenness from a sword,
but a kiss from a girl.

This almost sounds like the “use” could be in there, but the subtle difference is that it’s says “from xxx expect” So this isn’t exactly the same as saying “use” a shield for protection, but it’s along the same lines. To me, wording the translation this way is like saying “expect a shield to provide cover” instead of saying “use a shield for protection.” Maybe there’s no practical difference though.

7. Bray

Hew wood in wind, sail the seas in a breeze,
woo a maid in the dark, — for day’s eyes are many, –
work a ship for its gliding, a shield for its shelter,
a sword for its striking, a maid for her kiss;

The most excitingly different translation. Instead of “choose” “use” or “pick” Bray has translated this as “Work!” So, is this advice to build a ship designed for speed? Make a shield that is strong? Design a sword to withstand heavy strikes?

8. Chisolm

Hew wood in the wind,
row out to sea in good weather,
play with a maid in the dark,
for many are the eyes of the day.
Look for speed in a ship,
and for cover from a shield.
Get a sword for hewing
and a maid for kissing.

Chisholm’s “look for” seems real similar to “use” or “expect”

So in one variation of the translation I’m told HOW to pick an item “pick a ship for it’s speed”

In another variation I’m told not to expect to haul cargo with a warship or use my sword as a shovel..

In another variation it seems to be saying that if I’m building a ship, build it for speed first; if I’m building a sword, make it able to cut. It seems to be telling me how to prioritize the properties of an object, and the primary property is the one I should concentrate on.

How can we have so many different translations from the same few words in Old Norse? In modern english all these words have very different and specific meanings “use, pick, expect, work, choose” How do we get such different translations? And if you don’t read Old Norse (like I don’t..) then how can we determine if one translation is closer to the intended meaning?

One way is to study as many translations as you can and try to glean the more subtle meanings from the context of the verses preceding and following the one in question. Some of us endeavor to learn at least a bit of Icelandic so that we can try to make some sense of the Old Norse. It’s also important to study the author of each translation a bit and keep in mind how their goals may have influenced their translation. Were they attempting a literal translation, or were they trying to maintain a poetic sense?

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wights living in items

On the Heathen Kinship yahoo group, someone posed an interested question as to whether or not spirits (wights) could live in smaller items.. usually you hear of them associated with a house, boulder, or forest.

here is my first bit of research into that question..

Interesting Question Caleb.

My thoughts on this offhand are that the size of the object would not be as important as the importance of the object. let me think “out loud” for a minute..

We know our ancestors believed that a certain “connectedness” with the gods existed through the god poles… and those would normally be between 60 and 300 lbs.. hm.. maybe that’s not that small after all. And of course, you were asking about wights..

What else do we know of..

I searched through some sagas to see if I could find any examples of smaller objects being thought to be inhabited by spirits..

[from the landnamasbok] The Icelandic settlers often marked their land-claims by putting up boundary markers. There were many ways to do this; maybe a “tall pole”, “a freshly-cut birch pole”, an arrow-shot, and a cairn. A man named Nattfari “marked his claim on trees.” Two brothers, Vestmann and Vemund, were apparently Christian, but their Landtaking recalls heathen practice:

They put up an axe on Reistar Peak and called the fjord Oxarfjord ["axe-fjord"]. In the west they put up an eagle, and called that place Arnarthufa ["eagle-mound"]; and at a third place they raised a cross and called the place Kross Ridge after it. This is how they hallowed Oxarfjord and claimed the whole of it for themselves. Years later a troll was said to live there, but this seems more of a case of a troll moving in.. not being created or “being inside” of anything in particular.. hm…

Speaking of God-poles, there is a reference in the book of settlements where Thorolf takes the god-poles from inside the hof on his old land, and tosses them overboard to find his new home:

“…when he’d come west as far as Breidafjord, he threw his high-seat pillars overboard. They had an image of Thor carved on them. Thorolf declared that Thor would come ashore where he wanted Thorolf to make his home.”

In the above reference it sounds like the spirit of Thor was either inside or more likely guiding the god pole. However, the spirit of a god is not the same as a wight. I just mention it as something to keep in the back of our minds as we delve further into this question..

Here’s an example of a magic sword from Kormak the Skalds’s Saga:
“Hard wilt thou find it to handle,” said Skeggi. “There is a pouch to it, and that thou shalt let be. Sun must not shine on the pommel of the hilt. Thou shalt not wear it until fighting is forward, and when ye come to the field, sit all alone and then draw it. Hold the edge toward thee, and blow on it. Then will a little worm creep from under the hilt. Then slope thou the sword over, and make it easy for that worm to creep back beneath the hilt.”

“Here’s a tale of tricks, thou warlock!” cried Cormac

“Nevertheless,” answered Skeggi, “it will stand thee in good stead to know them.”

So Cormac rode home and told his mother, saying that her will was of great avail with Skeggi. He showed the sword, and tried to draw it, but it would not leave the sheath.

“Thou are over wilful, my son,” said she.

Then he set his feet against the hilts, and pulled until he tore the pouch off, at which Skofnung creaked and groaned, but never came out of the scabbard.

Well, the time wore on, and the day came. He rode away with fifteen men; Bersi also rode to the holm with as many. Cormac came there first, and told Thorgils that he would sit apart by himself. So he sat down and ungirt the sword.

Now, he never heeded whether the sun shone upon the hilt, for he had girt the sword on him outside his clothes. And when he tried to draw it he could not, until he set his feet upon the hilts. Then the little worm came, and was not rightly done by; and so the sword came groaning and creaking out of the scabbard, and the good luck of it was gone.

(notice that the sword didn’t have a spirit in it, precisely)

There is a story in Grettir’s Saga about a witch-woman putting a spell on a tree, and Grettir suffering a terrible wound when his axe bounces off the tree and cuts his own leg.. But the tree is not possessed of a spirit, just bespelled..

There are literally dozens of stories of swords with names, and even a few axes or spears with names, but no description of the weapon seems to indicate that anyone thought it contained a spirit. If they did, it seems like it would have been mentioned.

Some swords had healing stones (lyfsteinn) associated with them, stones which removed the evil from an injury inflicted by the weapon. Injuries inflicted by the sword would not heal unless the healing stone was rubbed on the wound. Þorkell borrowed the sword Sköfnung and its healing stone from his kinsman Eiður, as is told in chapter 57 of Laxdæla saga. Þorkell tracked down the outlaw Grímur on the heath Tvídægra. In the fight, Þorkell inflicted a wound to Grím’s wrist, but Grímur wrestled him to the ground and had him at his mercy. Grímur chose to spare Þorkel’s life. Þorkell rubbed the wound with the healing stone and bound the stone against Grím’s wrist. The pain and swelling subsided immediately.

I could not find out exactly what these stones were, some sources seem to indicate spelled (rune-d) stones, and others naturally “magic” stones.. either way, they are not thought of as possessed or inhabited by a spirit..

Running out of Saga sources that I can think of without extensive research, I thought we could look at some medieval, or even modern folk-beliefs from the Scandinavian world, operating under the theory that it may share similarity with our ancestors beliefs..

During the 19th century, Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe compiled the folk tales among Norwegians, as part of the emotive, nationalistic and anti-rational values of the Romantic Era. These stories reflected the animistic ‘folk belief’ that preserved earlier elements deriving from the Viking Era but strongly influenced by the medieval Christian cosmology of Germany, Britain and France. Prominent are stories that reflect later views of the Vættir, usually called the Huldrefolk (from Old Norse Huldufólk), meaning ‘concealed people’ and referring to their otherworldliness or their power of invisibility.

In modern day Iceland work crews are sometimes forced to build roads around natural features (such as big rocks) that are thought to be the home of Elves or wights of some sort. Here is an excert from an Article about this on the Boston Globe (whole article here: http://www.seattlepi.com/national/elvs25.shtml) :

Icelanders still take spirit folk seriously: Public opinion polls and academic studies show more than half of all inhabitants think it possible or probable — 10 percent call it “certain” — they share their island with otherly beings, ranging from grumpy glacier-dwelling trolls to occasionally gregarious hidden people.

That lore is the occasional bane of construction engineers and real estate developers. Earlier this year, Iceland’s highway agency had to change the course of a new road leading out of Reykjavik after citizens protested that the original route would disturb an elf’s lair under a big rock.

I also found this report from a lad that spent some time touring through Iceland: (whole article here: http://gbhatnag.blogspot.com/)

eight out of ten Icelanders believe in elves. Elves and other, “hidden people,” are believed to live all over Iceland, primarily in large rocks. I read about this before arriving to Iceland and was looking forward to meeting some elves. As we were driving out to Geysir and Gullfoss, our tour guide remarked about an area to the north of the highway where there was a large hill from which large rocks often fell. It was not wise to build anything in the area between the hill and the highway as it would be destroyed by the falling boulders. There is, however, one house in this area and it has been there for many years, unscathed by any a boulder. The tour guide also remarked on the curvy nature of the road, when it could have definitely been made straight. As we drove through the curve, nearby the house, he told us that the farmer who built the house made a deal with the elves that live in the rocks next to the hill. The elves were very fond of a particular patch of grass that was slated to be turned into road. If the farmer could convince the construction team to build the road around the patch of grass, the elves would allow him to build a house at the foot of the hill and protect it from falling rocks. The farmer had no trouble convincing the construction team to route the road around the patch of grass as they did not want to upset the elves (upsetting the elves results in extremely bad luck – accidents, disorientation, sickness, memory loss). This road and the house are not very old at all… maybe ten years at most. The tour guide assured us that he was not kidding and that the elves are among us.

I found this list on a site about modern Scandinavian Folklore:

# Household Spirits — They are almost always males, usually small, very old or very young, strong, loyal to the farm, and sometimes wear a little red hat and grey. Some common motifs include teasing the nisse (eating food that was meant for it, leaving feces as food for it instead, not putting the butter on top of the porridge), sending the nisse to steal from other people’s farms, the heavy burden, etc. If, for some reason, the nisse is exorcised from the farm, then he takes with him all that he brought or did, thus the farm falls to ruin. [arma�ur "hearth man", tomte "homestead man"]

* nisse — The nisse are related to the huldre-folk, but are not so dangerous. They are guardians of the house or farm who will defend its welfare. They are inordinately strong, but of diminutive size. The term nisse is derived from the Danish / German St. Nicholas, and the nisse themselves are thus distant relations of Santa Claus.
* gardvord — From “farm guardian”, these nisse are more sinister and are very big (some have seen them lay there elbows upon the roof). In a variation of the Lanky Tor story, the gardvord saves the guy by chasing after the trolls. [tunkall or "yard fellow" (common in western and northern Norway), godbonde]
* klabautermann — This is spirit who guards the ship. In one story it woke up the ship’s mate when the lamp went out, and in another it held the masts together.

So far I haven’t found any evidence of an object being “possessed” of a wight. I have found that wights are fond of a certain place, or that they live in a certain place (under a bridge, in a boulder, in a particular patch of forest, etc). A large number of different mythological creatures (or rather races, since few of them can be considered animals) from Norse mythology continue to live on, surprisingly little affected by Christian beliefs, even though the wicked ones at times find an ally in the Devil or had problems with Christian symbols. Nothing was surer, though, to scare these beings than a piece of iron or steel, such as a strategically placed pair of scissors or a knife, or with salt and fire. The stories about the livings and doings of these beings, and their interaction with humans, constitute the major part of modern Scandinavian folklore. Even the helpful tomte, nisse, gårdbo or gårdbuk could turn into a fearsome adversary if not treated with caution and respect. Many of them blend into each other when their morals and/or place of residence are similar, and equally when one moves from one region in Scandinavia to another (the same is true for Norse mythology). When the folktales were collected and printed, the illustrators started to give shape to the creatures hitherto had only existed at shadows. Perhaps most abundant are the stories about the race of trolls. Scandinavian trolls tend to be very big, hairy, stupid, and slow to act. Any human with courage and presence of mind can outwit a troll, and those whose faith is strong can even challenge them to mortal combat. They are said to have a temperament like a bear- which are, ironically, their favorite pets- good-natured when they are left in peace, and savage when they are teased. Trolls come in many different shapes and forms, and are generally not fair to behold, as they can have as many as nine heads. Trolls live throughout the land, dwelling in mountains, under bridges, and at the bottom of lakes. While the trolls who live in the mountains are very wealthy, hoarding mounds of gold and silver in their cliff dwellings, the most dangerous trolls live in lonely huts in the forest. While few trolls have female trolls, trollkonor, as wives, most possesses a regrettable tendency to spirit away beautiful maidens, preferably princesses, who are forced to spin by day and scratch the troll’s head by night. The trolls have their own king, called Dovregubben, who lives inside the Dovre Mountains with his court. Dovregubben and his court are described in detail in Ibsen’s “Peer Gynt.” After the integration of Christianity into Scandinavian folklore, trolls developed a hatred of church-bells and the smell of Christians. Trolls are often said to be able to change their appearance and did so in order to trick humans into doing what they wanted. For example, Trolls may present a beautiful appearance in order to trick a character into following them into their mountain home, then hold the character captive for years (bergatagen) – see the similarities with Irish “elven/fiery hills.” In older tales, the word troll/trold (trolla as a verb) may simply mean “to badly harm/hurt someone”; someone who is a troll is someone who may eat human flesh or engage in other socially-unacceptable acts, such as rape. Luckily, trolls are said to turn into stone when exposed to sunlight. If this is any good evidence of how the ancestors of modern Scandinavians viewed the spirit world, then I am now leaning to the idea that they felt wights lived in or near certain areas, but were individual beings, not manifestations of an object.

In other words, the Dwarf of a boulder, was not the spirit of the boulder, but was rather a dwarf who happened to live in or near that boulder. Perhaps in the past he had lived in a mountain, and if the road crew blasted apart his boulder, after he wreaked his vengeance on them, he might relocate to a bridge or waterfall.

I think perhaps that our ancestors viewed wights as individual beings that could pick a place to live in, on, or near..

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The Nine Noble Virtues

A lesson on the Nine Noble Virtues

Some of the qualities we hold in high regard are strength, courage, joy, honor, freedom, loyalty to kin, realism, vigor, and the revering of our ancestors. To express these things in our lives is virtuous, and we strive to do this. Their opposites – weakness, cowardice, adherence to dogma rather than to the realities of the world, and the like – constitute our vices and are to be avoided. Proper behavior in Asatru consists of maximizing one’s virtues and minimizing one’s vices.

These convictions of personal honour are well described by the Nine Noble Virtues and the Six – Fold Goal. The Nine Noble Virtues are: Courage (heartiness), Truth, Honor (worthiness), Fidelity (troth), Discipline (hardiness), Hospitality (friendliness), Industriousness (work), Self-reliance (freedom), Perseverance (steadfastness). And the Six – Fold Goal is: 1.Right 2.Wisdom 3.Might 4.Harvest 5.Frith 6.Love

The Six – Fold Goal is a statement of our beliefs as a people. It is those things for which we are willing to live, and die.

We believe we have the right to 1. Right. The following of Just Law for the benefit of all. This does NOT mean restrictions, this means that we, as a people, generally recognize that there must be just Laws if we are going to exist together in an advanced society, and that having and following those Laws is Right.

We also believe in the society’s right, as a whole, and the individual’s right to attain 2. Wisdom.

We recognize the importance of 3. Might as it relates to both individuals and societies and we hold that it is Right and True for the Might of the individual or society to dominate those of lesser Might. In this case, this is more of a recognition of a reality that exists in our physical world of Midgard, than it is of any kind of idealist belief that “Might Makes Right”.

The next Goal, that of 4. Harvest, is the belief that we deserve the fruits of our labors. That it is Right for us to reap the cycles of nature, to provide nourishment for the folk. Or as the case may be, we feel it is Right for us to receive monetary rewards (harvest) for our hard work.

5. Frith is the peace and prosperity that comes with the fulfillment of the Nine Nobles Virtues and all the Six – Fold Goal. Frith refers to the thriving of the folk, in this case, the Asatruar.

And finally, 6. Love, is the Goal most often unappreciated, in my opinion, by the rest of society. When most people hear Love as one of the Goals, they assume it to mean the romantic love between two people, or maybe the love of an adult for their child. And while these are beautiful and worthy things, the Love referred to here is the vitality and lust for life embodied in Frey and Freyja. It is the erotic thrill of life itself, the lust of passion and the senses, the enjoyment of pleasure. This is natural to our people and, we believe, Right for us to enjoy.

The original Nine Noble Virtues of the AFA circa 1973:

STRENGTH IS BETTER THAN WEAKNESS…
Let others wallow in their vulnerability! We are not ashamed to be strong. The cult of the anti-hero will find no support in us, and the Gods we follow are not for the weak.

COURAGE IS BETTER THAN COWARDICE…
By facing life’s struggles with courage, we constantly extend our capabilities. Without courage, nothing else can be done!

JOY IS BETTER THAN GUILT…
Let us take pleasure in our humanity, rather than being ashamed of who we are. Misplaced guilt – because of our sexuality, or our strength, or our greatness – has enslaved us long enough!
HONOR IS BETTER THAN DISHONOR…
We must be true to what we are and what we believe, and we must always act with nobility rather than baseness. Our personal standards must be banners held high in our hearts!

FREEDOM IS BETTER THAN SLAVERY…
We have no master! Those who would enslave us, whatever their excuse, are our enemies. The totalitarian ant nest is repugnant to those who demand the free, bracing wind of the Northlands!

KINSHIP IS BETTER THAN ALIENATION…
The isolation and loneliness of modern life is foreign to us, nor is it a necessary evil. We call our Folk to return to kith and kin, to family, clan and tribe.

REALISM IS BETTER THAN DOGMATISM…
Blind faith has no place in Asatru. Our ancestors may have been sublimely mystical, but they were at the same time severely practical. We must respond to this world, and act in it rather than wait calmly for the next.

VIGOR IS BETTER THAN LIFELESSNESS…
Do, and dare! Take risks and taste the richness of life. We refuse to be mere spectators. Passivity is for sheep, and we prefer to be wolves!

ANCESTRY IS BETTER THAN UNIVERSALISM…
Asatru springs from the soul of the Northern peoples, and it is suited by its very nature to our needs. It is intertwined with our existence as a people. We respect all, but it is right and just that we honor our own ancestors first!

The Nine Noble Virtues of Today (1999):

Courage – The ability to do that which is unpleasant, hard, or frightening.
Truth – The act of living your life, according to your convictions, openly and completely. The Commitment to honestly discuss your views of life and religion with anyone that should ask you. The avoidance of being hypocritical. Speaking the truth as you know it, under all circumstances.
Honor – (esp. personal honor) Honor is an abstract thing. It involves your reputation, and your personal integrity. It is possible to have a bad reputation, and be an honorable person. To be honorable, you should always strive to be fair and just in your dealings. You should always live up to your word, once given. You should characterize integrity. If you believe in a thing, you have to stand up for it, if you give lip-service to a cause, you have to take action for it if you ever have an opportunity.
Fidelity – Loyalty. Successfully staying committed to a cause, belief, person, or organization; especially in the face of adversity.
Discipline – The ability to correct yourself without any supervision, so that you remain true to anything which you undertake. The ability to restrain yourself in public, so that you outwardly remain calm and in control despite internal emotion. The ability to accept unfortunate circumstances without whining or crying. The ability to carry out actions entrusted to you, even if you believe there is no longer hope of success or reason to continue.
Hospitality – Treating others (especially guests) with courtesy. Tending to the needs of the guest, including offering your food, drink, and accommodations, especially to fellow Asatruar.
Industriousness – The continued effort to produce
Self-Reliance – The ability to survive, and overcome any obstacles without depending on others; especially those outside your family.
Perseverance – The ability to stay committed to a cause or course of action until you find a way to accomplish your goals. This does not mean continuing to expend effort in a fruitless direction, but rather, continuing to find a way to accomplish the ultimate goal.

The Nine Noble Virtues are all interrelated. You cannot conceive of fidelity without honor, and without courage you cannot maintain it. You must have courage and truth in order to have honor, and with honor, you will build self-reliance and hospitality. Without Perseverance, you will not be able to pursue the other Virtues, and with the pursuit of discipline, comes self-reliance, honor, and truth. Honor, and truth allow you to achieve fidelity, and perseverance allows you to maintain the virtues.

The point of the Nine Noble Virtues is that Asatruar should strive to increase the areas of strength in their lives, and seek to minimize their areas of weakness. These “Nine Noble Virtues” are not to be found anywhere within one of our Texts, rather this is a concept that has evolved in this modern era. The Nine Noble virtues are concepts of behavior that we have compiled from the examples put before us by our ancestors and in the Sagas. Behaviors that we admire and feel worth of emulation, and actions that speak to us louder than a list of rules ever could. Any given Asatru group may or may not promote these ideas exactly as described here, they may not have “The Nine Noble Virtues” on a plaque on their wall, but they are certain to admire truthfulness, honor, courage, people that are hard working, folks that are loyal, those that are hospitable, and so forth. We don’t need a list of rules to tell us what is or isn’t allowed if we strive to be a better person and embody these ideals.

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The Standing of Heathen Women

Some people might be under the mistaken idea that Asatru is dominated by men or is male-centric, since today in America there are so many outspoken organizations that have many male members and are headed by male priests (Godhis). However, there are many female led groups, and many women that are part of the movement. Let’s look at some of the traditional roles of women in Asatru.

In ancient times, women in Northern Europe enjoyed a position unheard of in other cultures of the times. They had the right to seek redress from anyone who had wronged them. They could be the head of a household, or demand wergild. They could own land, servants, or serve as advisors to a King or Queen. They were generally acknowledged as better at frithweaving. Taticus writes that the ancient Germans felt there was “something sacred an provident about women,” they consulted them in all matters of life. This was true even in such “manly” duties as war and rulership. So where does that place modern Asatru women? This means that modern Asatru women are not limited in any way by history, tradition, or religious culture.

In the Bible, women are reduced to subservient roles, and not even counted as persons when taking a census or speaking of how many people a city or tribe held. Married women are considered just higher than servants, but are not allowed to question or speak. There are prohibitions against women even speaking in a church. While modern Christianity has relaxed this attitude, it is still one of the prevalent beliefs of the underlying religion.

In Islamic countries their holy text is often interpreted to allow men to subjugate the women to an incredible degree. Men can have 4 wives, but women only 1 husband. The Koran includes a careful set of instructions on just how a husband is to correct his wife by first admonishing her, then withholding sex, and finally by lightly beating her!

Buddhism has a slightly more enlightened view toward women. At least, within Buddhism, there is controversy instead of blanket degradation. There are Buddhist doctrines and traditions that seem to indicated that women could, in certain circumstances, even attain enlightenment. Buddha even allowed women to join his monastery, but they were forced to bow to any male monk that passed them. Although early Buddhist texts such as the Cullavagga section of the Vinaya Pitaka of the Pali Canon contain statements from Gautama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, speaking to the fact that a woman can attain enlightenment, it is also clearly stated in the Bahudhātuka-sutta that there could never be a female Buddha. As Prof. Heng-Ching Shih states, women in Buddhism are said to have five obstacles, namely being incapability of becoming a Brahma King, `Sakra` , King `Mara` , Cakravartin or Buddha. This is based on the statement of Gautama Buddha in the Bahudhātuka-sutta of the Majjhima Nikaya in the Pali Canon that it is impossible that a woman could be “the perfectly rightfully Enlightened One’”, “the Universal Monarch”, “the King of Gods”, “the King of Death” or “Brahmā’”. As I said, though, at least in Buddhism there is an acknowledgment that women are not inherently evil, even if they are seen as handicapped in regards to enlightenment.

In Asatru, past and present, a woman may rise to any station or role that she is woman enough to make for herself! The same is true of any man. Take the example of our gods. Freyja, a goddess, has the first pick of all the fallen dead, not Odin. Frigga has the wisdom and power to outsmart her husband if the need arises. She does not even need to sit upon Hlidskialf to have the knowledge of all things. Skadhi, not even a goddess, but a giantess, approaches the Aesir, and is dealt with no different that any being would be. Through her own courage and honor, she earns the respect of the Aesir and Vanir, and a place amongst them.

It is also traditional in Heathenry that the woman is the head of the household. She decides where money is to be spent, and how long guests are welcome. She is the frithweaver that helps hold the family together, and the majordomo of the estate! That is not to say that this role division is a requirement in modern times, our lives have changed a great deal from our ancestor’s times. Today, in Asatru, even a man may be the head of a household, and run the family’s finances. Each family must decide who is best suited to these duties, or how they shall be shared. An Asatru man will not be ridiculed for running a household, nor will an Asatru woman be looked down upon for being the primary wage earner. The traditional role that our ancestors followed was that the woman had final say on matters related to family and home, and the man had final say on matters related to the safety and security of the people and property. Generally, the man would venture forth to trade or raid, but it seems this was due primarily to the physical differences between the genders rather than any belief that women were in any way inferior or incapable.

This seems to be a reasonable and enlightened viewpoint to me. Men and women ARE different, and generally excel in different areas. Our ancestors acknowledged that as a strength, without taking anything away from either gender. Our ancestors were also able to acknowledge when exceptions needed to be made for men or women that were acting outside of the normal roles for their times. Women were known to go on raids as warriors, though rarely. Men were known to raise the children, and act as the frithweaver for the family, though not as commonly as women. An Asatru woman is only limited by her own desires and will, she may rise to any position or role she sets for herself and pursues.

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The Traditions of Yule Tide

There are several traditions that we Asatruar practice around Yuletide.  That’s Christmas for you non-pagans out there.   The idea of Yule originated with our ancestors during a time when they worshiped the true gods of our people.  Before Christianity had spread its foreign influence over our homelands.

Mother Night is the first of the 12 nights of Yule.  It starts on December 20th, and the twelfth night is on the 31st, Yule proper.  When our ancestors used a lunar calendar, it left about 12 days left over each year.  So the twelve nights of Yule were considered to be not part of the old year, nor yet part of the new year either.   Because these days were considered to be outside of the year, they were considered especially holy.  A time when the veil between the worlds was thin.  A time when the gods were more likely to walk the earth in physical form, and people were more likely to catch sight of the elves or dwarves that are around us.  On Mother night, the first of the twelve nights, we get together and make a feast to honor the Disir, or protective feminine ancestors that watch over us.  We set a place for them at our table, and afterwards bury that food in sacrifice.  We pour a vessel of milk and/or honey at our harrow, and offer that to the house wights or landvaettir.   The Disir are not entirely different from housewights, so it’s best to offer something to both at this time of year.  Since the veil between worlds is thinner, this is a good time to have the landvaettir look favorably on you!

At the culmination of this time, on twelfth night itself, which others know as Yule, we celebrate the beginning of a new year.  We offer thanks to all the gods, and the children often wake to find that just as in ancient times, Red Thor has ridden past in his sled, pulled by his magical goats, and has dropped down presents for the children that are loyal to him.  Sometimes the children can hear the bells on his sled ringing as he flies overhead.  He delivers his presents down the chimney when he comes.  He knows which children have honored him through the year, and to the ones which have shown him know loyalty he delivers a lump of coal.  Some of you might recognize that some elements of this story have transmuted into the Santa Klaus myth.

Another tradition which we practice at this time of year is honor the landvaettir by decorating a tree with colorful bits of ribbon, or colorful toys.  They like shiny and reflective things, and will help give you a good harvest and help protect your property if they find favor with you.   When Xianity was forced onto our folk, a lot of our ancestors were forced to bring trees indoors in order to hang the offerings on their branches, so that the church could not condemn them for demon worship or witchcraft.  The tradition itself survived, though most Xians do not seem to know they are giving gifts to the elves and forest spirits when they decorate their trees.

Another Tradition which still survives is the Yule Log.  The actual practice has almost died out in America, but is still holding on is parts of Europe.  In America it is still a poignant symbol that you can find on many cards or other holiday scenes.

There were many regional variations on the ritual, but the English version—the one we know best—was probably the simplest. On Christmas Eve, members of the household ventured into the woods to find and cut a great tree, preferably an oak. Size was important, because the Yule log had to burn throughout the twelve days of Christmas. Once cut, the log was dragged home with much celebration. As many people as possible grabbed onto the ropes to help pull, because doing so was believed to bring good luck in the new year. Even passersby raised their hats in tribute.

The Yule log was dragged to the hearth of the great open fireplace—a common household feature in old England. The log was lit with a scrap of burned log carefully preserved from the previous year, a practice that ensured the continuity of good fortune not only from year to year, but also from generation to generation.

One popular aspect of the Yule log tradition was that no unnecessary work would take place in or around the household as long as the log burned. This season of merriment and reflection was a time for respite from daily labors. This is a tradition that I really wish we could practice in these modern times, but as a small business owner, I must work at least 7 days per week, and many others are in a situation where they cannot tell their employers that they need 12 days off during the holiday season! I suppose if we were all farmers or crofters, and were snowed in during the heart of winter, when the roads were all but impassable anyway, we might find ourselves practicing this tradition.

When the twelve days of Christmas had passed, the remaining scraps of wood were stored carefully until the next year, when they would be needed to light another Yule log. The wood scraps usually were stored under the bed of the mistress of the household, where they held the promise of success to the entire manor. Historical accounts differ in the bundle’s specific function. Some say it protected the home from fire, some say from lightening, and still others from all manner of ailments during the coming year.

Our Kindred has a Yule candle.  We light the Yule candle, with the stub of the candle from the previous year.  We also burn a yule log, but alas, none of us have the facilities to burn a giant oak trunk for 12 days, so our Yule log tends to be a log that we have picked to last through the night during our Yule Celebration.

You’ve heard the old song “Deck the halls with boughs of Holly?”   Our ancestors knew that the physical properties of Holly were a good ward against malicious spirits, so they would hang holly at the doors and windows during this time of year, when the spirits have more power than normal.  Hopefully, this would deter the spirits from entering that home!

Of course, the tradition of the mistletoe has deep roots in our culture.  As many people know, Loki used a bit of mistletoe to cause Hod to slay Balder.   What many people don’t know is that there are actually two versions of that story, and the older, more popular story is what has given life to the tradition of “kissing under the mistletoe.”

The Norse god Balder was the best loved of all the gods. His mother was Frigga, goddess of love and beauty. She loved her son so much that she wanted to make sure no harm would come to him. So she went through the world, securing promises from everything that lived that they would not harm her beloved Balder. However, she passed by the mistletoe, since it was so small and new to the world, that she thought it was harmless.

Leave it to Loki to find the loophole. He made an arrow (some say spear) from its wood. To make the prank even nastier, he took the arrow to Hodur, Balder’s brother, who was blind. Guiding Hodr’s hand, Loki directed the arrow at Balder’s heart, and he fell dead.

The legend says that Frigga’s tears became the mistletoe’s white berries.  In the version of the story with a happy ending, Balder is restored to life, and Frigga is so grateful that she reverses the reputation of the offending plant making it a symbol of love and promising to bestow a kiss upon anyone who passes under it.  When we pass under it, the kiss we receive is a holy kiss from the Mother Goddess herself!

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Things used in Asatru, and their Meanings

Things, Signs, and their Meanings

Alcohol – the preferred, though not a necessary, substance for ritual drinking, in whatever form. Traditional beverages were beer or ale, cider, mead, wine (common in Germany, rare in Scandinavia), and various mixtures of fruits, honey, herbs, and malt. Modern practice has added several sorts of strong liquor to the Teutonic drink-list as well.  One of the reasons that alcohol was preferred is that it is closely associated with human blood.  Alcohol, like blood is alive in a sense.

For those who do not wish or are unable to use alcohol in their rites, for whatever reason, there are several alternatives. Non-alcoholic beers and wines are now available in most large stores, and these are perfectly acceptable, as is non-alcoholic cider or apple juice. Many of the goddesses, and all of the wights, can be blessed with and offered whole milk. The chapter on “Crafts” offers a recipe for a non-alcoholic mead-type beverage which is suitable for designated drivers, children, and other non-drinkers.

Ale – strong beer (4-8%). May originally have referred to a rather bitter malt beverage with herbs in it. The runic inscription ALU (“ale”) was one of the most often-used; it seems to have generally meant “luck, power”, which went together with having a plentiful supply of the stuff. In Troth rituals, many folk prefer ales to lighter beers because their strength, dark colour, and richness are probably more like those of the special “strong ales” that were brewed for holy feasts.

Ale is used especially for the Wans and at the harvest-rites such as Loaf-Feast and Winternights, but it can be used for almost any Teutonic religious purpose whatsoever.

Amber – petrified tree sap. In the old days, amber was cast up on the Baltic coast by the sea; now most of it is mined. Holy since the Stone Age, amber is especially associated with the Frowe and Thonar. Also used as a sign of one’s riches, both in the old days and now. A great holder of fiery might, and a very fine amulet against all ill.

The sorts of amber that can be found today are Baltic, Dominican (from South America), and Africa (not actually amber – resin in the process of forming amber). Because of its lightness of weight, amber fakes are also very common. A reputable dealer will be able to tell the origin of the amber.

Amber comes in a range of colours from deep cherry-red to palest yellow. The colour is a sign of its age: the oldest ambers are the darkest.

Apples – The word “epli” in Old Norse, literally our “apple”, was used to mean any round fruit; the specialization of the word in German and English shows that the apple was seen as the greatest of fruits. The apple is the sign of life through death, fruitfulness springing forth from the grave. In Völsunga saga, when the Wodan-descended king Rerir is unable to get a child with his wife, he sits on a burial mound in search of rede, and Wodan sends a walkurja to him there with an apple that Rerir and his wife eat to become fruitful. Here, the apple is the embodiment of the Völsungs’ kin-soul springing to life again. This is also borne out by the name of the apple tree that grows through Völsi’s hall: Barnstokkr, the “bairn-stock”.

Wild apples have been found in Scandinavian graves since the Bronze Age – three crab-apples were set in the coffin of the child in Guldhøj, perhaps “to give the little child a longer life in the next world than the brief one it had had here on earth” (Gløb, The Mound People, p. 92). There were a great many apples set in the Oseberg burial as well, at least one bucket and one chest were filled with them.

Today, apples (and fermented cider) are used especially at Winternights (as harvest signs), Yule (as a sign of the oneness of the living and their dead kin), and at Ostara, when our golden apples mirror the apples of Iðunn (see “Frija and other Goddesses”).

Ash-tree – the World-Tree is most often thought to be an Ash (though words have been spoken for the yew). Ash was the wood out of which spear-shafts were made; it is thus tied closely to Wodan. The first human male, Askr (“Ash”) was shaped from this tree.

Axe – thought of as the most typical weapon of the Vikings, but sources do not really support this. Battle-axes were used, but swords and spears seem to have been more important. The Franks took their tribal name from a particular type of throwing-axe.

In the eldest days, the axe was a very holy sign (see “Stone Age”). It appears as a warding amulet from the Bronze Age to the Viking Age; it is often thought that the Hammer of Thonar may have developed from the elder thunder-axe.

Bee – the bee gives us honey, which is used both for healing (it is an excellent antiseptic and preservative, and was utilized for both purposes in the old days) and mead-brewing, and beeswax, which is used for candles and often for sealing the insides of horns. In the Kalevala, the bee brings Lemminkäinen’s mother the drop of life-bearing honey she needs to bring her slain son to life again. The Anglo-Saxon charm to bring down a swarm of bees addresses them as “sig-wives”. There are also two bees at the Well of Wyrd, according to Snorri. Though there is no clear tie between the bees and any goddesses (their might is obviously womanly), they are very holy wights and their gifts among the most blessed and luck-bringing elements of our rites. Among the Frisians, a child that had had milk and/or honey on its mouth could not be exposed; the Russians made offerings of honey to the gods and the dead. See Ransome’s book, The Sacred Bee.

Beer – see “Ale”.

Beech – the name comes from the same root as “book”. The beech is a womanly tree, thought in modern times to be tied closely to the Norns and Frija.

Bells – worn by priests of Fro Ing.

Birch – the birch is a womanly tree, closely tied to Frija, Eir, and Hella. It is a tree of cleansing and birth-blessing, but also of hiding. It is used most in sauna and in rites of springing fruitfulness.

Blessing – From the practice of sprinkling blood on a person or item to make it holy.

Blessing Bowl – A wooden bowl that is kept on or near a modern-day Harrow to receive libations.  Especially used indoors, as most folk will simply pour the libation onto the ground when outdoors.  The Blessing bowl comes from the tradition of Blood Bowls.  Blood Bowls were used to collect the blood from animals that had been slaughter for food or sacrifice.  Often, an evergreen sprig would be used to sprinkle the gathered folk with blood from the Blood Bowl, giving them a blooding, or “blessing.”

Bread – the basic food, a midpoint between raw grain and ale. A source of life and might in all realms: our word “lord” stems from “hlaford” (loaf-giver); “lady” comes from “hlafdiga” (loaf-kneader). Since most of us are no longer able to bless a winter-slaughtering to the god/esses, bread is the best form for our holy gifts to take.

Candles on Altar – The three candles on an Ásatrú altar are symbolic of the creation myth.  The Black candle represents Ginnungagap, the Red candle represents the fires of MuspellheimR, while the White candle represents the Ice of NiflheimR.  The candles should always be lit Black first, then Red, and lastly White, as this is the order in which these elements are mentioned in the Edda.  The candles should be snuffed out in the opposite order.  The candles should always be snuffed, rather than blown out.

Caraway seeds – caraway seeds were used in old days, not only to flavour bread, but to keep various sorts of huldfolk from stealing it, as they dislike caraway very much. Those who wish to share food with alfs, land-wights, or any other such beings should be careful to avoid bread or cakes with caraway in them, which includes most commercial rye-breads.

Cat – see “The Frowe”. Associated with seiðr and fruitfulness; may also be a house-ghost in disguise.

Cattle – cattle are very holy beasts; there are several references to cattle with gilded horns (as in Þrymskviða and Helgakviða Hjörvarðssonar), and others to magical cattle (as in Ragnars saga loðbrókar). They are generally associated with the Vanir, but are acceptable gifts for all the god/esses and wights.

Cauldron – the cauldron, or kettle, played a very important part in Norse religion. The name or name-element Ketill or Katla (kettle) was very common in the Viking Age and almost certainly first had a ritual meaning. In Grímnismál, Óðinn mentions, “when kettles are heaved off the fire”. Grønbech argues strongly for the cauldrons seething the sacrificial feast as embodiments of the might of the three great Wells of Wyrd, Mímir, and Hvergelmir (II, 290-97).

Cider – Fermented apple juice. See “Apples”. In the States, non-fermented apple juice is often sold under the name of “cider”. If real cider cannot be gotten, this can either be fermented as if it were a sparkling wine or beer (most brewer’s supply stores will have books or instructions for making such things – look in your Yellow Pages), or, as a last resort, a shot of vodka can be added to give it some extra might.

Colour: the basic three are white (birth/bringing forth), red (life/active being), and black (death/concealment). Gold falls into the class of red, dark blue and dark green into the class of black, and so forth. Different colours are associated with the god/esses – sometimes this is traditional, as with “Red Þórr” and Wodan’s blue-black cape; sometimes it is a modern creation. We have tried very hard to note the difference between the two in this book.

Copper: used for the blessing-bowl in Kjalnesinga saga. One ON word for it is homonymic with, though likely not related to, the goddess-name Eir, so that folk-etymology or von List-like magical association may associate it with her. Not thought of as a precious metal and thus not fitting for oath-rings.

Crystal – Rock crystal was often used by our forebears as a holy stone. The Continental Germans of the Migration Age sometimes hung large hex-shaped crystal beads from the hilts of their swords. The rock-crystal spheres of late Migration Age/early Vendel Age women are spoken of under “Frija”. Rock crystal in its raw form is sometimes thought of as a stone of the etins, especially Skaði.

In Old High German, crystal was called “ice-stone” and it is well suited to all icy might. The “hrímkalkr” spoken of in Svipdagsmál may have been a glass cup or, as befitted the etin-maid who bore it, a cup made of ice.

Crystal was a common stone in Germanic jewelry, both as beads and as a gem set in silver. An eleventh-century Swedish piece shows a necklace made of hemispherical rock crystals edged in silver: reproductions of this piece have been found to act as perfect magnifying glasses.

Eagle – the mightiest of all birds. Its shape is taken by etins (Hræsvelgr, Þjazi) and by Óðinn. An eagle sits at the top of the World-Tree. We do not know its name; it is possible that it is the same as Hræsvelgr, who is spoken of in Vafþrúðnismál as sitting in the east and beating forth the winds of the worlds with his wings. There is also an eagle on top of Valhöll. The possible tie between the eagle and Thonar is spoken of in “Thonar”.

Elder – a tree of the Frowe. A traditional wine can be made from its flowers for her brighter side, from its berries for her darker side. Do not try to make Elderberry mead, as the berries are too acid to blend with the honey.

Elm – the first woman, Embla (Elm) was shaped from this tree.

Falcon: the falcon is the womanly match to the eagle. Both Frija and the Frowe have falcon-cloaks.

Fire – divided into “need-fire” (kindled by friction – discussed under “Waluburg’s Night”) and “struck-fire” (sparked by flint and steel – discussed under “Thonar”). See the chapter on “Practice”.

Glass – in the old days, having a glass cup was a major status symbol; a few such pieces made their way up to Scandinavia as early as the third century. Slightly later in the Migration Age, it became common for glassmakers along the Rhine to make glass horns for Germanic folk, who found the material very fair, but were unwilling to give up the traditional horn-shape.

Goat – the Goat is the beast of Thonar, and perhaps also of Skaði. As a mighty wight, the “Yule-buck”, it is seen during the Wih-Nights (see “Yule”).

God Nails – Nails driven into pillars in the house.  This custom is believed to have derived from the myth about Thor having a piece of Flint stuck in his forehead.  It was believed that by striking a piece of flint against the God Nail divinations could be made by the pattern of sparks.  This was more popular among the Rus than in more Western Scandinavian countries.

Gold – always spoken of as “fire” in skaldic kennings (the “fire of the hawks’- land” is a gold ring on someone’s arm, for instance). Especially dear to the Frowe, Sif, and Fro Ing, though Wodan is also spoken of as a giver of gold in Hyndluljóð.

Grain – the source of bread and ale; the very life of our forebears. Although most of us have no actual fields to bless, in our rites, we speak of grain and use sheaves as signs of all that our souls bring forth.

Hair – Hair is a sign of life-might and holiness, the chief marker of beauty in Northern thought. The name “Odinkaur” may well mean “the one with hair hallowed to Óðinn” – that is to say, someone who grew his hair long as a sign of his dedication. The rule-might of the Merovingian kings was all embodied in their hair. It could also be the special emblem of a vow: Haraldr inn hárfagri vowed never to cut nor comb his hair until he had brought all Norway under his rule. Someone who really wanted to might be able to make a case for overriding a short-hair dress code rule on religious grounds.

Hammer – the Hammer is the symbol of Thonar, and also the general sign of hallowing, worn by true folk as a sign that they hold to the Elder Troth and used as a hallowing-gesture.  The hammer is a tool that can be used for either creation or destruction.  It is a sign of the god’s ability to effect change.

Harrow – ON hörgr; probably originally a heap of stones. Used by folk today to mean an altar. Those who have outdoor steads prefer to use a heap of stones or a single great boulder; those who do not often have wooden harrows. A small cabinet in which the holy tools can be kept while not in use is very good for this purpose.  The harrow used inside the house represents the hearth stone.

Hawthorn – the hawthorn embodies the might that wards the wih-stead. Its connection with Hagen (“Hawthorn”) may also hint at a tie with the darker shapes of Wodan.

Head – the head was seen as the embodiment of the whole being, the seat of the soul. Small staves carved with heads at one end are often found in Rus settlements and are thought to be god-images of the sort described by ibn Fadlan. The Oseberg sledges and wagon were decorated with heads at the four corners (one has human heads, another has rather stylized cat-heads), and the burial also included ornate beast-head posts, which may have been used in processions. Masks are also very common in Northern art, especially on Danish runestones of the late tenth/early eleventh centuries and worked into the bird-shaped (eagles and ravens) brooches of the late Vendel and early Viking Ages.

Heart – a symbol of the Frowe’s might of love and lust (see “The Frowe”).

Heart of the Home – the point from which all might springs, where the high-seat pillars should be set up and all rites should be carried out. If the house has a fireplace, the heart of the Home will be the hearth. Otherwise, you should choose a place, hallow it, and use it for worship thereafter.

Helm of Awe – used for warding; gives its wearer might and fills those who come against its wearer with terror. Traditional Icelandic sign. The dragon Fáfnir was said to have the Helm of Awe between his eyes.

Herbs – plants, most often used for medicinal, magical, or holy plants. Our forebears had a wide range of herb-lore, some of which is preserved in the Anglo-Saxon charm spells (see Storms, Anglo-Saxon Magic) and in folklore. The best general guide to both the medicinal and folkloric uses of herbs is Mrs. M. Grieves’ A Modern Herbal.

Hex-sign – a sign of hallowing and warding, traditionally put on the walls of houses or barns. One of the most common designs in Germanic folk-art.

Holly – traditional as a Yule decoration. In modern times, thought to be especially a tree of the Mound-Alfs.

Honey – see “Bee”

Horn – The drinking horn has many potent symbolic associations.  It is an all-natural vessel, that was not made by man.  When we use the horn in ritual, the naturalness of the horn should remind us that the runes and the gods, and our traditions are natural and not an artifice of man’s creation.  The horn also represents the well of wyrd and the vessels Oðroerir, Bódn, and Són (the containers of Kvasir’s Blood).

Horses – the Horse is the holiest of beasts. In old days, eating horseflesh was the specific sign of a Heathen, which is why it was made illegal after the conversion and why such a strong prejudice against it still lingers in English-speaking lands. Next to human beings, horses were the best of all gifts that could be given to the god/esses. Their sacrifice was not practical, as was that of cattle, since they were usually worth more as riding and draught animals than as meat.

According to Tacitus, the early Germanic folk thought Horses to have prophetic powers. A great many bracteates show the image of a man on a horse, which seems to have been thought a particular sign of power.  Sometimes horses were dedicated to a god, and kept from the breaking process.  This kind of horse was often closely watched by the owner, or a godhi, and it’s actions were supposed to be indicative of the will of the god it was dedicated to.   (James Chisholm, True Hearth)

The Horse is particularly associated with the Wans and with Wodan. It is a beast of both fruitfulness and death. In the latter aspect, its head was used on nithing poles. Horse heads were also buried in Alamannic cemeteries during the Migration Age, probably as protections, and carved on gables for the same purpose.

House-Pillars – the great pillars that stood on either side of the high seat, in which the luck of the household lived. In old days they were structural supports of the hall’s roof, but that is not usually workable now. Instead wooden pillars or long planks, carved or painted fittingly with images of god/esses, heroes, and forebears, may be set up in whatever place the heart of the home is deemed to be.

Howe – the howe, or burial mound, is the meeting point between the world of the living and the world of the dead. Kings and thuls (see below) sat on the mound to speak with the wisdom of their forebears; spell-workers of sundry sorts also sat out on mounds. Helgi Hjörvarðsson was sitting on a mound when he saw the spae-idis who gave him his name, wyrd, and reason for being. In Sweden, offerings were still made to holy howes at Yuletime in this century. The howe is especially ruled by Fro Ing and Wodan.

Iron – Sunwynn Ravenwood has pointed out that the word “iron” originally meant “holy metal”, which may tell us something of why iron nails were hammered into the pillars of Heathen hofs. Iron is a good ward against evil spells and wights of ill, especially iron knives.

Leek – the leek is the embodiment of new-springing might, particularly manly might. Given to Helgi Hunding’s-Bane at birth by his father Sigmundr; also, the first herb to grow after the making of the worlds. Especially fitting for Ostara, birth-rites, and weddings. Paired with the womanly linen in a bracteate inscription and in Völsa þáttr.

Linen – cloth spun from flax, the finest native cloth available to our forebears and the best for ritual gear and use in sauna. Embodies womanly might and fruitfulness. Especially holy to Frija and her related goddesses or German shapes, Berchta and Holda.

Mead – the mightiest traditional drink of the Teutonic folk, both spiritually and, at an alcoholic level ranging from 13-18%, physically. Technically, an alcoholic drink made with only honey, water, and yeast (see chapter on Mead-making). The term is generally used for any honey-based homebrew, though, including those made with the addition of fruit (properly “melomel”) or with herbs and/or spices (“metheglin”). Among the god/esses, especially associated with Wodan, the winner of the mead of poetry.

Milk – traditionally given to house-ghosts; can also be given to Frija and the other house-goddesses. As a gift, it should always be whole milk or even half-and-half, never semi-skimmed or skimmed. Milk can also be blessed as a special draught of healing or might for a human; in this case, semi-skimmed or skimmed is all right.

Necklace – the necklace is the sign of the Frowe, Nerthus, and perhaps Earth.

Oak – the holiest of trees. Oak is the tree of Thonar; a lightning-struck oak is mightiest of all. Oak is a very good wood to make a harrow from, ritually speaking; but it is a very hard wood, and is not easy to carve.

Oaths – there were none mightier than the one who swore a great oath and kept it, none more loathed and looked down on than the one who broke an oath, and none thought more foolish than those who swore an oath beyond their strength to uphold. The oath-swearing itself is an act by which one steps into the garth of the god/esses, and they all hear and witness the words spoken. All should hold back from swearing oaths before they have thought well on them, or before they understand what oath-making truly is. The oath you speak is your very soul, all your life and luck and might together.

Oath Ring – The oath ring is generally kept by or on the Harrow, and kept handy at Sumbles.  The oath ring is generally dedicated to the gods (esp. those concerned with oaths) in a special ritual, or during a holy Feast.  Then any oaths sworn while holding the oath ring are thought to be witnessed by those same gods.

Recels – incense; may have been used in elder times, though we are not sure. Some like to use it, some do not. It can be used as a means of cleansing the gathered folk by carrying the burner about and fanning wih-smoke over them, or of hallowing a stead and filling it with a might that is fitting to the work being done. To be strictly traditional, Northern herbs should be used rather than any of the Southern gums (such as frankincense). In modern times, essential oil burners are also sometimes used.

Rings – the holy oaths were sworn on an unbroken ring weighing at least two ounces and made of precious metal. Grønbech mentions that “This treasure was as far beyond ordinary possession as the great holiness was beyond the ordinary blessing of everyday” (II, p. 140). Rings were used on the hilts of swords in the Migration and Vendel ages, possibly for oath-swearing or as the sign of the troth between sword-bearer and sword-giver. The very might of the god/esses was embodied in the holy ring used in the hof.

Armrings are also given as a sign of friendship or oaths; one kenning for a ruler was “ring-breaker”, for as a sign of favour the ruler would break coils from the gold or silver wires that he wore spiraled about his arms.

Images of the gods are often seen with holy rings, as on the “three-god bracteates” (see “Balder”) and the Gotlandic picture-stones. Small figurines of Scandinavian origin which show the ring or wreath have been found in an Eastern Baltic fortress and a grave on the upper Dneps: a bearded man with a sword at his side holds a huge twisted ring or wreath in his right hand and stretches his left out. This may represent a god as holy ring-giver.

Wodan holds the great gold ring Draupnir (dripper), which gives birth to eight rings matching its weight every ninth night.

Runes – the writing of the early Germanic folk, still used by Heathens – especially for magical and religious purposes, though sometimes for ordinary communication as well. See Gundarsson’s Teutonic Magic, Aswynn’s Leaves of Yggdrasil, and Thorsson’s Futhark and Runelore in the Hearth reading list.

Shield-knot – a sign of warding, used on a bracteate, a picture-stone, and Scandinavian signs which designate historical or natural monuments.

Ship – sign of death and fruitfulness since at least the Bronze Age, most closely tied to the Wanic processions and to Wodan.

Spear – the weapon of Wodan, used to hallow something that is given to him and may well soon be destroyed in the Middle-Garth.

Spiral – suggested in modern times as a hallowing sign for Frija.

Spindle – Frija’s emblem; sign of Wyrd and of womanly might.

Stag – the stag was thought of as the noblest of beasts; both Sigurðr and Helgi Hunding’s-Bane are compared to high-antlered stags by their grieving widows. Because Fro Ing fights with an antler at Ragnarök, it is usually thought to be his beast.

Stones – Grimm thought that stone-lore was not typical of the Teutonic folk, but since then archaeology has found that our forebears often used various stones as amulets, and the Icelandic laws also mention the use of magical stones. Little work has yet been done to recover the stone-lore of our forebears.

Stones are holy in and of themselves, and fit for blessing or using as focal points of a rite, either as the body of an outdoor harrow or as something set on an indoor one. Vésteinn – Wih-stone – was a common Old Norse name, as was Þórsteinn – Þórr-stone.

Sun-Wheel – generally used today as a hallowing sign for the Wans.  May have had more to do with Donar is ancient times.

Swan – always a womanly bird (and used as a first element in women’s names); sometimes becomes a swan-maiden, who may speak spae-words. Snorri tells of two swans at the Well of Urðr.

In the Kalevala, there is a black swan that swims in the river of Tuonela (the realm of death). There is no evidence for this in the Norse sources, but one might perhaps think that Hella could have just such a black swan to match the white ones of the Norns.

The spae-idis Kára became a swan to defend her Helgi in battle: as the embodiment of the soul’s shining bride, the swan is often seen as the sign of the soul’s striving towards the god/esses and of blessing from them.

Swastika – Often thought to be associated with Thonar (see chapter) or else a sun-symbol. Should not be shown in public, for obvious reasons. A “kinder, gentler” swirling form was also used by our forebears, and may be used by those who cannot get over the recent misuse of the sign by the Nazis.  Deosil and widdershins forms were used by our forebears.

Swine – holy to Fro Ing and the Frowe; see chapters for further discussion.

Sword – the basic weapon of the well-born Germanic warrior. Most magical of weapons, most frequently named (by a very high factor indeed), most often seen as the embodiment of the family soul. Original weapon of Fro Ing, but used by followers of all the god/esses, with the exception of Anglo-Saxon godmen, who were not allowed to bear weapons (as described in Bede’s Ecclesiastical History).

Thule – a thule is a speaker of some sort; the word is related to the ON verb thylja (to speak or mumble). Wodan is called Fimbulþulr; Unferth, who challenges Beowulf to a single combat of words and wit in Hrothgar’s hall, is also given the title þyle, and the AS word þyl-cræft is glossed as rhethorica (rhetoric). The Danish Snøldelev stone memorializes a man called Gunnvaldr, who was “thule on the Sal-howes” with the inscription of his name and office beside a swastika and a triskelion made of three interlocked drinking horns (now used as the emblem of the Rune-Gild) which some think may have been the sign of the three cauldrons from which Óðinn drank the mead of skaldcraft, Óðroerir (Wod-Stirrer).

Trefot – also called triskelion (swirling form). Might whirling from the three great realms of being. The emblem of the Island of Man and the Celtic Manannan mac Lir; also suggested as a possible sign for Heimdallr in modern usage.

Völva – a seeress. The word comes from ON völr (staff) and seems to mean “womanly staff-bearer” (cf. the walkurja-name Göndull/Wodan-name Göndlir, and also the early German seeress “Waluburg”, whose name stems from the same root as völr). Wodan himself calls völvur up to tell him of what shall become in Völuspá (the Völva’s spae) and Baldrs draumar; in both cases, they seem to be etin-wives, and the völva of the latter has lain dead in her howe for some while. There is likely some relationship between the völva and the thule; the titles might even have originally been womanly and manly descriptions of the same sort of gifted seer on the mound, though the title of “thule” seems, at least among the English, to have developed into the more earthly role of hall-speaker or word-champion, while the völvur of Eddic poetry speak (in Baldrs draumar, unwillingly) at Óðinn’s behest.

Wain – the wain, or wagon, together with the ship, was the chief vehicle of the Wans’ holy processions. Among the many names for the Big Dipper was “the Wain”; in Holland, it was known as “Woenswaghen” (Wodan’s Wagon) as late as 1470 (Grimm, Teutonic Mythology I, p. 151). Thonar also fares in a wain drawn by two goats.

Walknot – “knot of the slain”, sign of Wodan, used both in a triple and a unicursal form, though only by those given to Wodan.

WaterLandnamabók (Hauksbók 146) mentions places in Iceland called both “Helgavatn” (Holy Water) and “Urðarvatn” (Wyrd’s Water). In Teutonic Mythology, Grimm cites a number of customs having to do with the use of hallowed water – that is, water drawn from a running spring or holy well, usually done just before sunrise in total silence. Water embodies life-force; a deep body of water can also embody the Well of Wyrd. Gifts to the god/esses were often sunk into water in the old days.

Wreath – the wreath is the living form of the ring. It is a sign of both troth and hallowing. Holy wreaths can be made to be hung up in your house or hall, or used as garlands to bless folk with. Wreaths of evergreen, nuts, and apples are most fitting at Yule-time, birch and pussy willow at Ostara, spring flowers and rowan on Waluburg’s Night and May Day, elder at Midsummer’s, grain and rowan berries at Loaf-Feast, and grain, nuts, and straw at Winternights.

Wyrm – sign of hidden might. Runes were carved inside wyrm-ribbons in the last part of the Viking Age and the first part of the christian era; wyrm-prows were used on ships, and “Ormr” was a ship-name as well as a personal name. Very often used in Northern art.

Yew – a tree of death, still planted in burial grounds. Perhaps the World-Tree. Closely tied to Wulþur, who dwells in “Yew-Dales”, and to Wodan; also to the Yule-time.

Yew is a very poisonous tree. Do not eat any part of it, do not burn any part of it and breathe the smoke or vapours, do not bring it into a house with small children or plant-eating pets. One British occultist in recent times deliberately killed himself by eating yew-berries; an American member of the Rune-Gild accidentally almost killed himself by burning the berries and inhaling their smoke.

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