Theodish Thoughts

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

Month: April 2017

Sex and Asatru

Asatru, like most pre-Christian religions, is what might be called a “sex positive” religion in modern parlance.

That is, we shouldn’t have the same intense hang-ups about sex and sexuality that plague the Abrahamic religions; Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The sort of thing that leads to mandatory celibacy for Christian priests and the insistence that sex is only for procreation as seen in Christianity, odd compulsions regarding menstruation in Judaism, and female genital mutilation and rules regarding female education and socialization designed to ensure female fidelity in Islam.

We like to fuck*, and we’re not afraid of fucking and people who do fuck. It’s natural, it’s pleasurable, and it’s something to be encouraged.

That’s not to say that Asatru endorses complete licentiousness, especially within the bonds of marriage. There are definite moral proscriptions around men who seduce the wives of other men (along with oathbreakers and murderers, the only people destined for torment in the afterlife), and Lokasenna 30 implies that women sleeping with married men were equally ill-regarded. Ibn Fadlan’s account supports the view that adultery was a serious crime. Incest was regarded as a vice among the Aesir, and so presumably among mortals as well, although it’s highly dubious as to whether the tales of the gods were intended to be models for human behavior in all instances. And divorce was almost ridiculously easy for a woman to do (she even got her dowry back!). The law codes are harder to interpret, because so many of them were written down in Christian times, but those that scholars deem the oldest do seem to agree with this.

However, it should be noted that polygamy wasn’t unknown, especially among men of high rank, if Adam of Bremen is to be believed. The Germanic people practiced exposing unwanted children, so it’s difficult to imagine they’d blink twice at aborting a child in the womb if they had the technology (as far as I’m aware, the jury’s out on whether or not they did, in the form of abortifacient herbs and the like; the Romans certainly did, so it wouldn’t be a stretch). Ditto for birth control; they almost certainly had some form of condom. And rape? I realize it’s a common stereotype, but it might very well have been much less common in Viking society than other contemporary societies, even after battle.

I should point out that none of this negates the idea of traditional gender roles. They weren’t exactly iron-clad Commandments brought down from the Mountain, but even though there were defintiely exceptions, they were still only the exceptions that proved the broader rule. (Part of the problem with modern society is that everybody feels the need to be special, so they’re the ones who get to be that exception, just to prove they’re an individual; I put the blame on our postmodern, secular, atomized society; but that’s for another article.)

Homosexuality and gender and the like are larger questions that deserve articles of their own, if not entire books. Suffice to say that our pre-Christian ancestors were a lot more liberal and forgiving about such things than many conservative Jews, Christians, and Muslims are today**, but it’s also true that the exacting categorization that modern society insists upon simply didn’t exist back then. There was no “gay lifestyle.” There was a Viking lifestyle, or a Gothic lifestyle, or a Saxon lifestyle. The ones complaining about the “womanly clattering of bells” were the Christians on the outside looking in.

So the Abrahamics have it all wrong from an Asatru perspective, as far as sex is concerned. They think it’s something dangerous, something that needs to be suppressed and controlled. We think it’s something to be indulged in, and screw anyone who thinks otherwise.***

But that brings us to those who think that Asatru should espouse some sort of “return to traditional values.” The problem is, their idea of “traditional values” is somewhat at odds with the actual pre-Christian values of our Heathen ancestors. When examined critically, their idea of “tradition” goes back to Eisenhower, or even worse, the Victorian era. It’s entirely understandable, given the society in which we all live, but it’s something that must be actively and consciously resisted.

But when you hear an Asatru leader start talking about “traditional values” you must ask yourself, “what tradition is that?” Is that the “tradition” of the 1950’s, when Protestant Christianity had hegemony over western culture, sex was something you only did once the kids were asleep, indoors (preferably missionary style, with the lights out), and homosexuality got you fired from your job or thrown in jail? Did Egill and Ásgerðr sleep in separate beds like Rob and Laura Petrie?

How was Richie ever conceived with that night stand
stalwartly protecting Laura’s honor? The world may never know.

Or is it the tradition of the 9th century, or the 5th century, or the 1st century, when men and women weren’t afraid to fuck one another, but still knew the importance of marriage? When the only things that were beyond the pale were incest and adultery? When people danced licentious dances around Maypoles, pairing up young boys and girls for some not-so-subtle imagery?

Asatru isn’t afraid of sex. We embrace it, we love it, and we practice it every chance we get.

__________

* My use of the Saxon-derived term is deliberate. If you’re a delicate hothouse flower who can’t stand the use of a perfectly good word of Germanic origin, perhaps Asatru isn’t for you.

** Yes, yes. Ergi. I know. As I say, it’s a very complex subject, and that particular question is quite tangential to this particular article. I mention it here only because someone will give me grief if I don’t.

*** Pun intended. 😉

Gods save me from “Norse Shamanism”

Verily, there is a blight upon the landscape within Heathenry. Not only is it seen where such an absurdity might be expected — among the Norse Neopagans — and of course where such nonsense flourishes — the neopagan, wiccan, and other fluffy communities — but (so tells me a little bird who witnessed a workshop, complete with PowerPoint presentation, on this very theme not too long ago) within the heart of what I might otherwise call “real” Asatru itself.

That blight is called Norse Shamanism, often masquerading as the historical Norse practice of seiðr.

It’s worth beginning with the most egregious culprit, The Norse Shaman by Evelyn C. Rystdyk. Although she does, in an Author’s Note at the very beginning, say “This book is not connected with the neo-pagan religion of Asatru [sic], nor is it an attempt at accurately re-creating Viking Age traditions,” that is precisely what goes on in the pages of the book, where we see what would otherwise be an hilarious mish-mash of Harner-style shamanism (itself torn apart most satisfyingly by Yngona Desmond), New Age interpretations of quantumn physics (including the perennially abused concept of “quantum entanglement” being used to explain how people are connected to nature!), and most importantly, an attempt to cram Norse mythology into a Shamanic framework.

Indeed, that’s the heart of the problem, and it’s not at all unique to Ms. Rysdyk’s book. It is, indeed, endemic throughout Asatru and neo-paganism (which are two very different things, as I’ve noted time and again). Without actually delving into the surviving lore on historical seiðr — except for possibly reading chapter 4 of Eiríks saga rauða — people see the phrase “Norse Shaman,” and start plugging in Norse and other Germanic concepts and names into authentic Siberian shamanic practices or neo-shamanic neopagan/new age practices, and voila! They think they have recreated seiðr.

And why not? Isn’t that what seiðr is? Shamanism as it was done in Scandinavia?

Therein lies the issue, and this is why we see a sort of seiðr in contemporary Asatru that looks less and less like the magic described in the sagas and other sources. These differences are laid out plainly in Clive Tolley’s encyclopedic two-volume study, Shamanism in Norse Myth and Magic (all quotes come from that work unless otherwise noted):

The functional correspondence between seiðr and shamanism is minimal; several roles typical of the shaman are scarcely or not at all associated with the seiðkona, and both the divinatory and efficatory roles of seiðr are more pronounced than in shamanism. … The effecatory aspects of seiðr are, in any case, subordinate to the divinatory — the practice’s main purpose, as it is presented in surviving sources, is to uncover the future or gain knowledge of facts that could not otherwise be determined. (vol. 1, p. 142)

In other words, shamanism is more focused on healing (particularly, but not exclusively, healing of the soul), while seiðr is more focused on divination.

Trees are important in both Norse and Siberian mythology, but that’s not evidence of some sort of shamanic equivalence:

Despite the points of similarity, which can be illuminating for the interpretation of the Norse texts, there is ultimately little about the Norse tree that can be described as fundamentally specific to shamanic practice or belief (vol. 1, p. 368)

Some people see in the Norse god Heimdallr a shamanic figure, but there’s a key component missing that takes all the wind out of those sails:

Yet without a ritual engagement by practitioners, the shamanic aspect of the god [Heimdallr] remains unfulfilled (if we accept that shamanism is something that is performed, not merely a system of spiitual notions). If any such engagement once existed, it has left no trace. (vol. 1, p. 405)

Óðinn is, indeed, a figure associated with magic, and seiðr in particular, and many people see parallels in certain Óðinnic myths and shamanic initiation. However, when one looks closely at the myths themselves, as Tolley does exhaustively, what seemed promising on the surface turned out to be illusory:

The four myths of Óðinn undergoing suffering to gain supernatural knowledge show a superficial resemblance to shamanic rites of initiation. However, closer examination has revealed that, while certain details are indeed comparable, over all the Norse myths lack many of the typical elements of shamanic initiation. (vol. 1, p. 462)

And as for rituals, once again, there’s no “there” there when one looks for commonality in the sources, both Norse and Siberian.

Old Norse records afford us no account which matches the detail found in the examples of shamanic kamlania discussed at the beginning of the chapter; we therefore lack the wherewithal to make anything but tentative assertions about the shamanic nature of Norse practices or traditions. An investigation into some of the key Norse texts which have been used as evidence of a shamanic element in Norse religious practice has revealed that they are of spurious value. … It would appear that the seiðkona would enter a trance, almost certainly of a light sort, during which she no doubt obtained information from the spirits, but no Norse account points to the sort of vivid interaction between magician and spirits that the shamanic kamlania indicate. There is no evidence for the sending out of the free soul during the practice of seiðr, although the notion of the soul wandering in animal form existed. (vol. 1, pp, 516-517)

That last sentence is also key to debunking a favorite practice of modern “Norse Shamans” (particularly Hrafnar out in California); guided meditations and trance-journeying to other worlds. While this is absolutely something that is seen in classical shamanic practice, there really isn’t any equivalent for humans “walking the worlds” while in trance. Going forth (in animal guise) in this world, certainly. But touring Ásgarðr, or Jǫtunheimr? Nope. (And ditto for evidence of possession or “horsing”!)

Descriptions of the vǫlur’s attire have been shown to be unreliable as witnesses to pagan customs. The dress in Eiríks saga rauða has its purpose within the saga (as discussed also in the previous chapter), but in terms of shamanic parallels it is unconvincing; in particular, it lacks the functional and integrated symbolism of the magical practitioner’s costume. (vol. 1., p. 549)

This is one of my favorites, and one I had no idea of until I read Tolley’s book. It turns out that the vǫlur’s clothing described in that famous account (the blue robe, catskin gloves, etc.) is nothing more than an inversion of a contemporary Christian bishop’s attire, used to make a point about their relative positions in society, not a reliable account.

The norse vǫlva seems characteristically to have operated from a raised dais or equivalent; this has only the vaguest parallel within shamanism. Its primary function must be to imply wider vision, so the seeress is pictured as seeing over the worlds, rather than travelling through them, or under them, as the shaman characteristically does. (vol. 1., p. 550)

Again, the key point here is that traveling through other worlds is common in shamanism, but it’s not seen in seiðr. 

My investigation has, over all, found little grounds for proposing the presence of shamanism in pre-Christian or later Scandinavia, if by that is meant the classic form of shamanism typical of much of Siberia. The evidence does, however, support the likelihood of some ritual and belief of a broadly (but not classically) shamanic nature as existing and being remembered in tradition. (vol. 1, p. 581)

And that’s the point in a nutshell, with the added commentary that just because the Norse practice of seiðr is not connected, except superficially, to classical shamanism, that doesn’t mean the Norse didn’t have some sort of magical practices (as some try to assert, when faced with criticism of their Norse Shamanic practices; “you just don’t believe in the magic side of Asatru at all!”). It just means that those practices don’t look like classical shamanism, and by and large they don’t look like what most people who say they practice seiðr do, precisely because those practices are based on shamanism, rather than an in-depth study of what the sources do tell us about seiðr and related Norse magical arts.

Where are the 400 level books?

Every once in a while, I come across a blog post or a comment someplace bemoaning the fact that the vast majority of Asatru books are beginner-level books. What those in the “ed biz” might call 100-level books, because in American universities, a class that is numbered between 1 and 199 is aimed at first-year students. That’s where we get the “101 = beginner” idea. The 101 level courses are what Freshmen take in their first semester.

And it’s a fair observation. We are replete with 101-level introductory “What is Asatru?” types of books in print today:



And there are many more that I didn’t include here.

Now, this isn’t to say that such books aren’t valuable, and don’t have a place. They absolutely do. Newcomers to Asatru need to know about the basics of the Gods, the myths, the rituals, and the ethics of Asatru. But what seems to be missing, largely, are the “next step” books.

Specifically, what I mean here are books that deal with particular topics relating to Asatru in depth. There are a few examples out there of what I mean:


But on the whole, once you get past the introductory material, there’s precious little to chew on. (I am deliberately not listing books on runes and magic, which I feel is a completely different discussion, and basics of lore, like the Eddas and Sagas, which are pretty cut-and-dried source material.)

Asatru could certainly use some more books on the 200-300 level. Books that explore a particular facet of life from an Asatru perspective. Books that talk about a topic exhaustively, such as death, or honor, or love, or feminism, or modernity, or land-wights, or marriage counseling, or grief counseling, or child-rearing, or house-spirits, or the logistics of kindred-building, or a particular holiday, or whatever. Brian Wilton has a series of books that cover some of these sorts of topics, and it’s a great start, but he’s only one guy, and a robust intellectual tradition requires more than that. It might be said that Asatru will truly come of age in an intellectual sense when we have entire books being written as responses to other books that are written by Asatru scholars, challenging their conclusions, and engaging in an intellectual dialog spanning years.

I think there’s a huge market for those sorts of books. More on that in a later post, methinks.

But that still leaves us with the problem of the yet-higher-level works. And therein lies an essential conundrum.

People keep saying they want high-level Asatru books. Because everyone is way more advanced than those proles who need beginner books, dontchaknow.

I submit that 400 or 500 level books are downright impossible, outside of possibly an initiatory tradition that has books for ever-higher-levels of initiates, and limits access to them, sort of like the Temple of Set or Rune Gild.

If you want the truly high-level stuff, what I’ve come to call “Deep Asatru”, you’re not going to find that in a book. That’s only going to come with time and practice. Years and years of time, and hundreds of hours of practice. There are things at that level that you just can’t learn from a book. There comes a time when books are only going to hone the edges that you’ve already got.

The 300 level stuff will still be useful, because it’s going to do a deep-dive into a particular corner of Asatru that you might not be familiar with yet, but the really deep stuff, that’s not coming from any written works. That’s learned through direct experience, mouth to ear, from someone who has spent the years delving into that aspect of things. And once you get to the point where you start really being ready for this sort of thing, you’ll know it, and you’ll know that Amazon and the used bookstore down the street aren’t going to get you where you need to go.

That’s when the Deep Asatru starts. In practice, not in pages. Not everyone is going to go there. Not everyone Needs to, or even should. That doesn’t sit well with a lot of people, because everyone is inclined to think they’re special, and they’re the ones that can really handle it, and have the skills to do so, and Need to do so. But it’s true nonetheless.

Paganism’s Pedophilia Problem

Kenny Klein, the diddlin’ fiddler of
N’awlins

The neopagan “community” is overly fond of complaining that Asatru has a “racism problem.” But as recent events in the news have made starkly clear, they’re the ones who have a problem, and that problem is a thousand times worse than the (largely unfounded) complaint they make about us.

If I may be permitted to employ a Biblical quote:

And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?

The ugly stain of pedophilia is the beam in the eye of the neopagan community, and for years they have not only studiously ignored it, but they have actively tried to cover it up and apologize and protect the perpetrators in their midst.

Hey, sound like anyone we know?

While at the same time they’ve tried to tell us in the Asatru community that we need to “do something” about what they so condescendingly told us was “the problem within Asatru.”

Well, the conviction of Kenny Klein yesterday on twenty counts of possessing child pornography might, just might, get them to start looking at that beam in their own eye.

Hel, even when they try to do something about this problem, they can’t help themselves from reflexively circling the wagons and protecting their own.

But it’s not just child pornography in Klein’s case, of course. There have been stories for years of his predation of young girls at pagan events and renfaires, and I understand that apparently it was common knowledge in those communities that “you don’t leave your daughter around Kenny.”

But lest you think this is one isolated case, I invite you to think again.

James Irvin of West Virginia was convicted in 2014 of abusing three children, claiming his magical powers could bring back their dead father if they complied. And what did the “pagan community” do? They claimed he wasn’t a “real Wiccan” (shades of “he’s not a True Christian”) and conveniently offered to help clarify any misconceptions about their community in the media.

Sounds like something CAIR would say after an Islamic terrorist attack, honestly.

And don’t forget Gavin and Yvonne Frost. Their seminal book, The Good Witch’s Bible, included in its first printing a ritual in which young initiates were “deflowered” “in the pleasant surroundings of the coven” during a ritual which was provided in the book.

The reference was removed from subsequent printings, but rumors have swirled around the Frosts for years about their putting those recommendations into practice.

And what did the Wild Hunt do when it all came to a head, and the Frosts were banned from the Florida Pagan Gathering? Nary a word of condemnation. Just carefully studied non-statements often framed as rhetorical questions. So at best the Wild Hunt is neutral on the subject of these two luminaries who endorse children being sexually initiated at rituals (although Jason was careful to repudiate the practice itself, much like the Catholic Church’s tut-tutting about child abuse itself being evil, while at the same time refusing to do anything about the abusers themselves).

And the examples go on, and on, and on, and on. Google “Wicca child abuse” and related phrases if you have a strong stomach. Hel, Pagan author Marion Zimmer Bradley’s own son accused her of abuse, and the whole thing was famously covered up for years in the fandom and neopagan circuit.

This isn’t to say that nobody in the neopagan and Wiccan community hasn’t spoken out. They have. I even linked to some of them above in this article. But the community as a whole seems willing to bury the issue, and want it to go away, in fear of bad publicity, or because they know the person and “he’s just being him” and excuse after excuse.

Well you know what? If you can’t bring your own community to categorically condemn child sexual abuse within its ranks, and insist that predators be exposed and shunned and turned over to police with a policy of zero tolerance, and stop making excuses and protecting child abusers who are popular for other things, or who are your friends, then you as a whole really need to shut the fuck up with the complaints about complaints you have about other faiths and other communities.

Fix your own house before you go around complaining about the state of someone else’s.

“Nice Guy” Gods

Back in 2005, researchers Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton wrote Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers. In it, they try to figure out what American teens thought about religion through interviews with about 3,000 teens, and in particular were coming from a standpoint of evangelical Christianity. That perspective doesn’t invalidate their findings, although it does color their conclusions, of course.

Aside from the hand-wringing about the future of traditional Christianity in the West, the big takeaway from their research was what they refer to as Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD), which I think has broader implications than mere Christianity. MTD can be broken down into the following precepts:

  1. A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.
  2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
  3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
  4. God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.
  5. Good people go to heaven when they die.

While there’s a deep chasm between “everyday Asatru” and what might be termed “Deep Asatru“, I confess I see many parallels between these beliefs and a lot of what I see in modern Asatru. All too often I find people writing on blogs or even in person who essentially believe in a Heathen analogue of MTD. I think it comes not as a reaction to Christianity in particular, but as a result of the constant movement of society towards a secular, postmodern, hyper-individualistic form. The Asatru equivalents might be:

  1. The gods exist who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth. (Although this one seems to be negotiable for some people, who see belief in the existence of the gods as optional. Sort of like Anglicanism.)
  2. The gods want people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught by most world religions, even if that contradicts the surviving written lore and history.
  3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
  4. The gods do not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when They are needed to resolve a problem.
  5. Good people go to the dwelling of the god of their choice when they die.

In short, they want “nice guy” gods who make few, if any, demands of them, are there to be a source of comfort and problem-solving, but who otherwise don’t get in the way of everyday modern, consumerist, life.

This is the mindset that insists that ancestry has nothing to do with religion. After all, it’s not “fair” to exclude anyone.

It’s the mindset that tells us that the afterlife is an open field, and you go wherever your favorite god lives, despite there being no support for that at all in the written lore. Putting everyone into Hel would risk making people not feel special!

It’s the mindset that tells us that asking the gods for petty services and favors like asking Njörðr for help finding a parking space is a perfectly acceptable thing to do*. After all, the gods are there to be our friends and helpers!

And on and on and on.

I’m sorry my ducklings, but the gods don’t work that way. And it’s about damn time we started taking the time to explain that to people, rather than keeping silent and letting them persist in their self-absorbed delusions.

Our gods are hard, demanding, and ultimately alien figures in the sense that they operate on a level of understanding that we quite literally cannot comprehend. They have their own motives, their own objectives, and they’re not always what we might want them to be, or even take our needs and wants into account. They are gods who make enormous demands of us, ripping us away from the things we find comfortable and tossing us into situations that test us to our very marrow.

“Life is Ordeal,” as the Theodish say.

And not because those demands and expectations are designed to help us evolve or improve or because it’ll be good for us in the end. Because They want us to do it for their own reasons, which might be completely unfathomable and inscrutable to us. They’re the ones who have insights into the skein of wyrd, and They have motives that are utterly beyond us. They’re not above killing us in our prime to bring us into Valhalla just in case the Ragnarök comes tomorrow, even if we would have otherwise won the battle. And for the record, not everyone who dies in battle gets to go there; you have to be chosen. And chances are, you won’t be. Suck it up.

And it’s fucking time we accepted it, taught it as the expectation to our Folk, and embraced it as a whole. Want to know why the ancient Germanic peoples are so often described as “fatalistic”? That’s why. The Æsir are not our friends, not our buddies, not our butlers, and not our self-help coaches. They are our gods as well as our ancestors, and that should be enough.

__________

* I shit you not, I actually know someone who did this and thought it was the cleverest thing in the world, because Njörðr is the god of voyages and obviously has nothing better to do than to arrange the universe so she didn’t have to drive around the block a couple of times. ::double sigh::

Beyond Blót and Sumbel

From the early days in the Asatru revival in the 1970’s and 80’s, the ceremony of blót, or sacrifice, has predominated. It has lost its original primary meaning of an animal sacrifice, although the practice has not entirely died out, and many of the more traditionalist groups within Asatru embrace it, but on the whole, the blót remains the primary ritual within Asatru in North America, and I daresay around the world.

And what does that blót entail? Usually, based on the early works of Edred Thorsson and Kveldulf Gundarsson, it consists of a sacrifice of mead, which stands in for the original blood of the animal sacrifice. Often, the participants are sprinkled with the sanctified mead, in emulation of the description of the disablót in Heimskringla.

Also often, the participants will make a toast to some god, often the god to whom the blót is dedicated, in a circle:

“Hail Thor!” (drinks from a horn)

“Hail Thor!” (drinks from a horn)

“Hail Thor!” (drinks from a horn)

Over, and over, and over (and over, and over, if you’re in a large ritual with a large group of people). I’ve personally seen it go on for half an hour. Shoot me now.

This sort of blót / sumbel hybrid has been christened a “bumble” by certain wags in the early 2000’s, as it is a combination of the rituals of blót and sumbel, and is entirely ahistorical.

No, not that sort of bumble!

At some point in the late 80’s and early 90’s, the ritual of sumbel came into fashion within Asatru. My personal theory is that the Theodish emphasis on sumbel had an influence on its adoption within Asatru. This is the ritual drinking of toasts as described in Beowulf and other sources. The “toasts to three gods” described in Heimskringla was somehow morphed into three “rounds” of toasts, where the first round consists of toasts to gods, the second round is toasts to ancestors and/or heroes, and the third is an “open” round for various other sorts of toasts, gifting, and so forth. And no food is to be eaten; it’s all about the drinking.

This, too, is a somewhat inaccurate interpretation of the sumbel as a ritual, but perhaps not as wayward as the blót as it is currently practiced.

As might be surmised, I’m not a fan of either the bumbel or the sumbel as it exists today, from an historical perspective. But what I’m really aiming at here is that this emphasis on the blót and sumbel has blinded most modern Asatruar to other forms of ritual that are no less traditional and historical, but which have largely been ignored for the last forty-plus years of the modern Asatru revival.

Processions

English, Scandinavian, and German folk-practices are replete with procession ceremonies. But what strikes me is that the goal of the ritual isn’t to process to a specific place, where another ritual will then be held, but the procession itself is the ritual. This recalls the mentions of perambulations of god-images in Tactitus’ Germania, as well the Sagas of Icelanders and Heimskringla.

In more modern times, we see this sort of procession-ritual in the parades of Krampus and his associated figures in the Alpine regions. The parade and its associated customs are the point of the ritual. There are specific skits, or short plays and readings, that accompany these visits by the performers. It’s not difficult to draw a line between processions of god-images in pre-Christian times and processions of pagan-like figures in post-Christian times.

This is likely linked to both ritual guising, wassailing, and visiting traditions that have endured for more than a millennium after the conversion.

Ritual dramas

That some of the poems that survive to us in the Poetic Edda might be recordings of “scripts” for ritual dramas is an old theory, and one that is not only well-supported by an examination of the poems themselves, but which has been embraced by modern scholarship as a whole. The use of present-tense case in some of the poems (“Freyr says” instead of “Freyr said”), and the inclusion of what could be termed in modern parlance as stage directions in the text, leads to this conclusion.

Several years ago, as I have mentioned more than once on this blog, we did a three-part ritual drama enacting the exile of Odin, the rape of Rindr, and the return of Odin, linked to the tale of Balder’s death, and leaning heavily on Saxo’s account. But the possibilities for modern dramas around mythological themes are nearly endless.

Dances

We know for a fact that the pre-Christian Gemanic peoples danced in a religious context, and we know it precisely because the Christians wrote extensively about how awful it was that people were still engaging in such awful pagan practices. Obviously, we don’t know what the dances themselves looked like, but there is a full and vibrant tradition of folk-dance from England, Scandinavia, and Germany to draw upon.

There’s a whole “code”, almost, of telling stories through the dances themselves, as we see in English Morris dancing particularly. There are also images from pre-Christian Scandinavia that show sword-dances and spear-dances, performed by warriors in animal guise. The theory is that this is somehow linked to the ulfedhnar and berserker cults, but the practice is widespread enough in pre-modern times, especially because of the many, almost hysterical, Christian prohibitions, to warrant assuming that ritual dance was a part of pre-Christian religion.

Rites of Passage

These sorts of rituals can take a whole array of forms. Water-sprinkling of newborn children to give them a name. Weddings have several distinct steps, none of which particularly involve a sacrifice. Funerals have a whole other series of rituals, culminating in the arvel feast. Each of these has a whole rhythm and structure to it, beyond the standard blót format into which everything seems to be squeezed nowadays.

Conclusion

There’s so much out there that our ancestors did that don’t fall into the neat categories of blót and sumbel. It’s a shame that modern Asatru seems so fixated on blót, and to a lesser extent sumbel. There’s so much else that we could be doing that is just as much a religious ritual as a blót, and it all seems like it could be so very engaging. Much more so than standing around a field saying “Hail Thor!” over and over again…

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