Theodish Thoughts

Musings on Theodism, religion, mythology, history, and contemporary Heathenry

Month: October 2008

The Trollkyrka Folk-Poem

I came across the following most fascinating folk-poem, related to Heathen practices held on the Swedish mountain Trollkyrka. It is dated to the early 17th century, having been collected by Bertil Gösta Carlshult, and many of the lines seem to reflect and build on what we know from earlier lore about how religious ceremonies were conducted, adding what seem like minor bits of detail. But in the attempt to reconstruct the beliefs and practices of our ancient forebears, even minor details are as nuggets of gold.

The procession creeps on a meandering path
preferably unseen to the Troll mountains/hills.

It is no surprise that those who would be undertaking such a ritual so long after the official conversion of the land would do so in secret.

A mass shall be held for three days,
this will be the beginning of the holiday.

“Mass” here should of course be read in its most generic sense possible– much as the medieval witch-hunters wrote of the “black mass”. It is simply the terminology that the author and audience of the folk-song would have most easily understood. The fact that the celebration is said to last three days is quite significant in and of itself; the lore tells us that blót celebrations would last for that same amount of time.

The frock is long, so it reaches down to the ground,
the socks are sharply pointed,
the hood is pulled down so that the holes for the eyes fit.
Everybody looks alike except for the height,
the prelate counts their number.
The password is given in a low voice,

Here we have more description of the clandestine nature of the procession. The worshipers wear robes and hoods to conceal their identities (they are identical) and the prelate (he who is conducting the ceremony) counts the number of worshipers to make sure that no one has attempted to infiltrate the procession. Finally, as another security measure, there is a predetermined password known only to the worshipers.

the prelate blows three times in a horn.
The fire is kindled with nine kinds of wood,
that is old custom.

The sounding of the horn is a common feature of even modern Théodish and Ásatrú rituals, as it is a fairly obvious device to summon the faithful. However, its presence here is somewhat odd; according to the song, the faithful have already arrived at the appointed meeting place. Why, then, would the horn need to be sounded? From the internal logic of the song, there is no reason to sound the horn, and so to take it as a late add seems difficult to reconcile. Thus, I take it to be a bit of ancient tradition which has survived. A similar case exists with the fire of nine kinds of wood; we know of the ancient need-fires, and the role the fire takes in the blot ceremony, but the specific datum that it was to be made of nine different types of wood is a new addition to the lore surrounding it.

A sacrifice is offered to the spirits,
everyone is sprinkled with the blood.
The best part is gifted to spirits,
what remains is to be consumed by the men.

The sprinkling of the assembled worshipers with the blood of the sacrificed animal is well-attested in the earlier lore. So too is the notion that the spirits (Gods) would receive the “best part”; the organs, which were placed on the fire mentioned above as the main offering. The fact that a feast is made out of the rest of the animal is once again consistent with what we know of the ancient practice.

In the midnight hour
when stars glitter,
the prelate asks for silence
and this is obeyed by all the men.

This is so evocative of the beginning of the Havamal that it is difficult to avoid comparison. “For silence I pray all sacred children, great and small, ye sons of Heimdall…” which some scholars have taken as a genuine element of a ritual formula. Here we seem to have confirmation of the spirit, if not the exact language, that this is indeed the case. Note also that we have entered a second phase of the ritual; the blót completed, we now turn to a ritual of divination, once again quite consistent with what the earlier lore tells us was the case during the pre-Christian era.

They fall down onto the ground,
the prelate looks grimly at the heavens.

This echos what Tacitus tells us about the taking of auguries (that the augur would look skyward as he picked up the marked slips of wood), but it seems that the “prelate” is doing something a tad different than that which Tacitus described. Note that the assembled kneel or otherwise prostrate themselves (in contrast to the standard Ásatrú practice of never kneeling in ritual).

And incantations and summons echo in the dells
the prelate is summoning spirits.
Everyone received an answer to their question,
no one heard from another man what the answer was.

This is a particularly fascinating bit, and calls to mind the description of the workings of the seið-worker in the Saga of Erik the Red. A song/incantation is performed by the “prelate”, and spirits arrive. The clear implication is that the spirits speak, but in a departure from the seidkona in the Saga, through whom the spirits give their answers, the clear implication here is that the spirits speak directly to the assembled folk. The distinction is relatively important, as it transforms the seið-worker from the summoner of/speaker to the spirits to merely the summoner, with the questioners taking on the role of spirit-speaker directly. This could be an example of either an evolution of the practice or a regional variation on the way the practice could be performed.

All in all, I find this a spectacular source of detail as well as an overall confirmation of the broad outlines of how blót and the subsequent divinatory process were to proceed, at least in a late era and with possible local variation. There are some intriguing differences, specifically in terms of the role of the celebrant and the divination, although the description is a clear enough parallel to that in Erik the Red’s Saga as to be able to state that it is a form of seið. All in all, a rich vein for nuggets of lore.

Rites of the Heathen Household

If you look to the left menu, you’ll see a section entitled “Downloads”. The first offering (of many, hopefully) is a booklet entitled “Rites of the Heathen Household”. The idea is that while Theodsmen approach the Gods corporately– that is, on a tribal level– individuals, families, and rooftrees should be approaching more local spirits such as land-wights and household gods in a parallel fashion.

The current booklet is an extract from a much larger work that I am currently laboring over and hope to have ready for the light of day next year sometime. It will be put together in a modular format, so that each family, rooftree, or individual can take the elements that they like, arrange them in a fashion that makes sense to them and speaks to their particular spiritual needs, and begin to establish their own household religious tradition.

A toast to HrólfR the Dane

Son of Jarl Rognvald Eyesteinnson!
Follower of Sigfred, harrower of Paris, scourge of Burgundy!
Karl’s man, who would not stoop a foot to kiss, a duke self-won!
Strode he on the banks of the Vire, the boundaries of Normandy did spread!
O! HrólfR, O! Rollo, O! Robert! O! First Duke of Normandy!
Your kin removed by many years remembers you and drinks your good memory!
Hail Rollo!

Just a note on this one; I recently discovered that Rollo, the viking raider who forced the Frankish king Charles the Simple to make him the first Duke of Normandy, is an ancestor of mine. Thus I was inspired to compose a little something in praise of such an illustrious ancestor.

A Toast to Odin

I sing of All-Father Odin,
slayer of Baugi’s thralls, son of Borr,
who sacrificed the soul’s window to be counted among the wise,
giver of battles won, grandson of Buri,
who breathed life into Ask and Embla on the sea-flecked strand,
best-steed-rider, father of slain Baldr,
who whispered Vafthrudnir’s doom ‘ere Hyrroken’s burden set sail;
and so hail to you, Hanged God,
giver of poetry, giver of wisdom, giver of fury, giver of all good things!
Hail Odin!

Fox Trifecta!

Pity about the poor fox, of course, but interesting in its own way.

A man who decided to take home a fox he hit on the road wrecked his SUV after the animal he thought was dead revived.

Tommy Fox ran over the fox last Wednesday near Dover, Tenn., as he returned home from work, the Leaf Chronicle reports.

Thinking the animal was dead, he decided to take the animal home to cut off its tail as a souvenir, Dale Grandstaff of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency told the paper.

“The tails are real bushy and pretty and thick this time of year,” Grandstaff said.

Instead, the driver flipped his GMC Jimmy trying to keep the fox — that had awoken in the backseat — from biting him, Grandstaff told the paper.

Fox suffered minor injuries and bruises, the Leaf Chronicle reports. The fox died, though it was unclear if it was from initial injuries or the subsequent wreck of the
vehicle.

From, of course, Fox news.

Blót and Sumbl

The two most significant rituals that we as Theodsmen undertake are blót and sumbl. Blót, of course, is the ritual offering of an animal and its blood to the Gods. When a non-animal offering is made, it is referred to as a fórn, but the significance is similar for purposes of this essay.

The function of blót (or fórn, but I will stop making that distinction and use the former term as a shortcut with the understanding that both are intended) is to establish a connection between the Gods and mortals. By making the offering, we are at once demonstrating our loyalty to the Gods and setting up an expectation that They will reciprocate by increasing our luck and prosperity. In a Theodish context, this is done corporately; at the level of the tribe, or clan, or family. The blót is designed to reinforce that connection between men and Gods. The blót extends beyond the boundaries of the tribe, to touch the Gods.

Sumbl is another story entirely. At sumbl, we reinforce the bonds within the tribe, or clan, or family. It is there that oaths are made and sworn, alliances formalized, marriages established, and so forth. It is also there that individuals are able to establish their own gefrain, through the toasting of their ancestors and boasting of their past and future deeds. It is significant that such is done in the company of the other participants at sumbl; the intent is to touch those participants. The sumbl rests squarely within the boundaries of the tribe, to build it from within.

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