Theodish Thoughts

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

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New Moon September 2018

I went back to the original vardlokkr I’ve been using, and can report the same results. Excellent energy in the rite itself, good contact during the post-ritual far-faring, but little in the way of significant dreams.

Harvest Home – Germanic Thanksgiving

Here in America there is a tradition of holding a Thanksgiving feast in November, as a sort of harvest festival remnant. However, what a lot of people don’t know is that there was actually a sort of cultural war between the New England Protestants and the Pennsylvania-Ohio German immigrants, who celebrated something similar, but two months earlier.

That celebration was called by the Pennsylvania Germans De Ern Karrich; literally “The Harvest Church.” It was more widely known among the English as Harvest Home or Ingathering, was still widely celebrated in the early 20th century (until FDR made Thanksgiving a Federal holiday in 1939), and is still celebrated in places today, especially in the Berks County region of Pennsylvania and surrounding areas (source). By the way, that’s a really cool article, and well worth reading even if you’re not just source-checking.

Although it clearly has roots in the Germanic tradition in both Germany and England, there’s an interesting fork in the road, so to speak, in the latter country. Apparently, up until the mid-19th century in England, Harvest consisted of “degrading scenes with which the close of harvest was too often attended” until several reformers, such as the Rev. William Beal, promoted “the Parochial Harvest Home” starting in the mid-19th century (source). Given the nature of Victorian morality, it’s easy to imagine what these “degrading scenes” might have consisted of — dancing, feasting, and generally enjoying oneself in public. (gasp!)

The Encyclopedia Britannica gives us a little more context for what those pre-reform celebrations might have looked like, and they sound decidedly pagan:

Participants celebrate the last day of harvest in late September by singing, shouting, and decorating the village with boughs. The cailleac, or last sheaf of corn (grain), which represents the spirit of the field, is made into a harvest doll and drenched with water as a rain charm. This sheaf is saved until spring planting.

The ancient festival also included the symbolic murder of the grain spirit, as well as rites for expelling the devil.

Oh, I only wish we had specific sources for those references!

In that description we of course immediately see parallels to the Scandinavian custom of leaving the last sheaf of grain in the field for Sleipnir, Odin’s eight-legged horse, so that he and the Wild Hunt will pass by the farm without molesting it, as the horse has fodder. Here’s a reference to it in the Orkneys, which are a mixture of Norse and English culture. James Baldwin’s The Horse Fair (1917) mentions the custom in Sweden, Benjamin Thorp’s Northern Mythology (1851) mentions it in several regions of Germany, and the Encyclopædia of Religion and Ethics (1914) places it firmly in England, as well.

And the “symbolic murder of the grain spirit” is a direct reference to the legend of John Barleycorn, which has its own Germanic parallels and deserves an article unto itself. John Barleycorn must die, in order that the beer can be made.

There’s a lot of information on that whole “last sheaf” thing, the corn spirit, corn dollies, and Odin and the Wild Hunt. It deserves its own article, methinks.

But I digress...

Whether parochial or “degrading”, Harvest Home made its way into America early on, becoming a prominent celebration, especially among the Pennsylvania Germans.

According to Gladys M. Lutz, a folk artist associated with the Pennsylvania German Cultural Heritage Center at Kutztown University:

“It was the custom of these Pennsylvania Dutch to display the fruits of the field, garden and orchard around the altar to thank God for the harvest. Parishioners brought sheaves of wheat and cornstalks to decorate the display of pumpkins, squash, homemade preserves, ears of corn, clusters of grapes, homemade bread and all kinds of fruits and vegetables.” (source)

I find the mention of sheaves of wheat and cornstalks to be quite significant, in the context of what we saw above regarding the last sheaf, Sleipnir, and John Barleycorn.

We also seem to have an end date for this practice, from the laws of small farming villages in England. According to Open-Field Farming in Medieval England: A Study of Village By-Laws by Warren O. Ault (2006), the removal of that last sheaf of wheat, when (presumably) the Wild Hunt had passed and it was safe to do so, was firmly entrenched in law. It had to be, because turning animals loose in the fields to graze on the stubble was a coveted right, and strictly regulated by law:

Village landholders could hardly wait to turn their cattle into the field. ‘No one shall pasture the stubble until all the grain of the whole village is brought in’ is the way one by-law read. Another said, ‘No horse, bull, steer, heiffer, cow or calk shall be fed or feed on the stubble of the fields until the corn is entirely carried away unless they are securely tethered or watched.’ The men of Wimeswold were agreed that there should be no cattle either in the wheat field or hte pea field until the whole crop had been gatehre and carted away; then the cattle ‘may go togeder as thei schud do, in peyn of ech a beast a peny to the kyrke’. But if all must wait until the last sheaf has been carted away should there not be a time fixed for the field to be cleared? In many midland villages a date was set, the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin. The Feast of St. Michael was the day elsewhere. In certain other villages no precise date was set but ‘the consent of all the tenants’, or ‘the reasonable assent of all’ was stipulated. Some such flexibility was desirable, one might suppose, for the season of harvest varied from year to year. On the day appointed a ‘shack’ bell was sounded, or announcement was made from the pulput on the nearest Sunday. (Ault, p. 42)

Writing as he is about the law and not mythology, it’s understandable that Mr. Ault wouldn’t put these findings together with the folk custom of the last sheaf. We’re obviously seeing a deadline imposed, as one cannot be expected to wait indefinitely for the Wild Hunt to pass, leaving the last sheaf unhewn. It’s especially telling that one of the options is for the animals to graze the stubble while “securely tethered or watched.” This could very well mean the rest of the field could be grazed, as long as steps were taken to ensure that the last sheaf was left for Sleipnir and Odin’s Wild Hunt.

The dates mentioned, by the way, are September 8 (Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin) and September 29 (Feast of St. Michael). Remembering always to apply our 8-day lag for the change from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar, we’re only a few days shy of the Autumnal Equinox. So that puts our Harvest Home celebration, which happens “in late September” right at the end of when the Wild Hunt was deemed to be looking for forage.

Harvest Home, then, is not only a celebration of the end of the harvest, but also the end of the danger from the Wild Hunt (for a while, anyway), and the celebration of the grain-god’s death. That’s John Barleycorn in English, and Byggvir in Old Norse. And Byggvir is mentioned in the Eddaic poem Lokasenna.

Now that we’ve established the connection between Harvest Home and the pre-Christian calendar, and the mythological figures of the Wild Hunt and John Barleycorn/Byggvir, we can turn our attention to what those celebrations might entail (aside from “degrading scenes”). Tune in next time!

Freya Aswynn and the Troth

The Troth took a rather extraordinary step the other day, formally and publicly throwing out Freya Aswynn. For those unfamiliar with her, Freya has been around the Asatru community since its early days. She authored one of the more influential books, Leaves of Yggrasil, which was later revised and reprinted as Northern Mysteries and Magic.

She’s a character, to be sure. I met her twice, and have heard many stories from people who know her better than I. She was nice enough to me, and has a reputation for being “out there”, but her passion for the Gods really stood out.

The Troth’s statement leaves it unclear as to why, exactly, they took this step. Apparently it had something to do with her promoting “racism, sexism, homophobia, white supremacy, ableism, or any other form of prejudice”, but the specifics were not given.

Looking on social media, it’s pretty clear that she was drummed out of the Troth because of some social media posts about Islam. Because of that, she was deemed “uninclusive” and they decided not to include her in their organization.

The Troth’s march towards suicide proceeds apace. I know there are a lot of great people who are members of the Troth, but the leadership seems more and more set on imposing a radically progressive vision on the organization as a whole, to the point of siding with people who want to see them killed. Literally.

New Moon August 2018

I tried a new vardlokkr last night, based on the following kulning I found on YouTube:

The result seemed to work just fine, and in line with previous rites. I was halfway expecting to get a different “feel” from the wights that were present, depending on the difference in the song, but there was nothing like that that I could sense.

Looks like last month was an anomaly, and I’m back to form. The ritual itself went fine, as did the faring forth afterwards. I’m giving the willow a rest, though; I’ll keep up with the offerings, but will wait for her to reach out to me.

The Ember Days, Part One

In Part One of my posts on Saint Germain of Auxerre, I mentioned and briefly digressed on something called the Ember Days. This is a phenomenon not widely known nowadays, but I suppose hardcore Catholics might still get the reference.

The Ember Days refers to a grouping of three days — Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday — that happens four times per year in the Catholic liturgical calendar. The weeks in which they fall are called (unsurprisingly) the Ember Weeks, and the Wednesday-Saturday arc is called the Embertide.

Historically, and in theory still today, the Ember Days are held to be days of fasting and abstinence. Due to their kindasorta being spread evenly around the calendar, it’s felt they originally had an agricultural connection. I’d like to explore this phenomenon in some detail, as I think that connection might run deeper than it appears on the surface.

The timing of the Ember Days, according to the Medieval Christian liturgical calendar is: after December 13 (Saint Lucia’s Day!), Ash Wednesday (which marks the end of Carnivale, and can happen anytime between February 4 and March 10, average February 22), Pentecost (some Sunday between May 10 – June 13, average May 28), and September 14.

Taking those average dates, it’s fairly consistent with an agricultural calendar. The largest gap (109 days) is between the May and September Embertides, when people would be too busy in the fields to do or need a holiday, while the shortest (71) is between the December and February Embertides, when people are cooped up indoors and a holiday and diversion is more welcome.

Of course, those explanations make more sense for a pre-Christian view of what a holiday is meant for. Celebration and feasting, rather than fasting and abstaining. Like much else, this presumes the Christians appropriated Heathen and Pagan holidays for their own devices, which the Catholic Encyclopedia itself fortunately gives as the exact motive for the establishment of these holidays:

The Romans were originally given to agriculture, and their native gods belonged to the same class. At the beginning of the time for seeding and harvesting religious ceremonies were performed to implore the help of their deities: in June for a bountiful harvest, in September for a rich vintage, and in December for the seeding; hence their feriae sementivae, feriae messis, and feri vindimiales. The Church, when converting heathen nations, has always tried to sanctify any practices which could be utilized for a good purpose. At first the Church in Rome had fasts in June, September, and December; the exact days were not fixed but were announced by the priests.

Might there be anything to suggest that is this case, other than the dates themselves being coincident with Roman agricultural holidays?

Turns out, there might well be.

Originally, there seem to have only been three Embertides; the Ash Wednesday one in the middle/end of winter wasn’t there (source). That was as of at least the early 3rd century CE, when they were ascribed to Pope Callistus. By the end of the 5th century, Pope Gelasius I mentioned four. So what happened in between the early third and late fifth centuries? Why would the Catholic church feel the need to expand the Embertides from three to four?

The Germanic peoples invaded and toppled the western Roman Empire.

Once the Vandals, Goths, Huns, etc. had broken through the Roman frontiers and either outright conquered or culturally infiltrated the western half of the Empire, the Church had no choice but to adopt its own ways in order to better appeal to the newcoming Germanic peoples. Just as they mapped their three Embertides to the existing Roman Pagan calendar, so did the introduction of the Germanic Pagans necessitate the addition of a new holiday, to complete the set of four.

This points to the existence of a late-February/early March holiday that could or could not mark the end of some long period of merry-making (the aforementioned Carnivale). Setting aside the latter for a second, do we have any indication of a Germanic holiday in that time-frame?

Of course we do; the Dísablót, which takes place exactly then. I submit that the dominance of Germanic culture brought about the introduction of a fourth Christian holiday to map to the Germanic “agricultural” calendar. The Roman festivals of the Parentalia et al, and the Lupercalia, don’t seem to have warranted inclusion as a full-blown quarterly festival, but the introduction of a new fourth Embertide to correspond to the Germanic Dísablót points to its importance in the Germanic calendar.

The mere fact that these holidays aren’t evenly spaced, but are irregular, corresponding to these important Germanic holidays, points to their nature as having their origin in something less systematically organized than the solar-based calendar we know today, depending as it does on precise astronomical measurements of solstices and equinoxes, rather than the more irregular but organic Pagan and Heathen holidays that arose as a result of observations of local conditions.

New Moon July 2018

Did the ritual last night, but to be honest my heart wasn’t in it, and I think it showed in the results. I didn’t feel the “oomph” I normally do, and couldn’t concentrate enough afterwards to do the far-faring. Calling this one a bust.

New Moon June 2018

Ritual and post-ritual went entirely as expected, but my dreams were quite significant, it seemed to me. I rarely have dreams where I know I am dreaming, but that happened last night, and I found myself able to consciously (?) shift the dream-scape around me. I’ve never really been able to do that before now, and it’s an exciting development. Can’t wait to see if it lasts.

Elves in 16th Century Iceland

But some [beings], who live int he hills close to men, are more amicable and not so dangerous unless they chance to have been harmed by some kind of injury and provoked into wickedness. They seem, indeed, to be endowed with bodies of incredibly subtlety, since they are even thought to enter into mountains and hills. They are invisible to us unless they wish to appear of their own volition, yet the properties of certain men’s eyes are such that the presence of no spirit can ever escape their sight (as was Lynceus’s unhappy situation). They know a thousand devices and an infinite number of tricks with which they harass men in wretched ways, but their young people are said to have a similar stature, clothing, and even way of life to that of their human neighbors, and to take excessive pleasure in coupling with humans. Examples are not lacking of a number of the rogues who are said to have impregnated women beneath the earth and had access to them at fixed times or as many times as they wished. And from time to time the women of our land have been oppressed by these earth-dwellers and innocent boys and girls and the young people and adolescents of both sexes have very often been taken away, though quite a few are restored safe and sound after a number of days, or sometimes a number of weeks, but some are never seen again, and certain ones are found half-alive, etc.

Oddur Einarsson, bishop of Skálholt, translated by Richard Firth Green in “Elf Queens and Holy Friars” pp. 13-14.

That quote comes from the first collector of Icelandic manuscripts, in a geographical treatise describing Iceland, written in the late 1500’s. I quote it here because it offers a terrific snapshot of the tenacity with which beliefs in elves (landvaettir in Iceland, of course) held the imagination of the people centuries after the conversion to Christianity.

It’s worth noting that the quote goes on to say how similar beliefs have hold all over Europe; this isn’t an Icelandic phenomenon. But what I love is the fact that it shows a continuity in folk-belief between the pre-Christian beliefs in land-spirits and 16th century (and even modern!) beliefs in elves.

At some point the Alfar of Norse mythology got superimposed upon the landvaettir, which is definitely something that points to some sort of overlap between their relative cults, and also brings Freyr (as lord of Alfheim) into the mix, but for now the continuity expressed by that passage is impressive enough to my mind.

New Moon May 2018

I feel like I’m really getting into the rhythm with the landwights. I feel their presence more and more easily every time I perform the varlokkr. And the post-offering far-faring is also now a regular part of the practice for me. I find I’m able to communicate with them directly (except for the willow spirit; more on that at some point). I also find that more spirits are present, and willing to converse.

Forn Sed Sweden Vårblot

The YouTube channel Let’s Talk Religion posted a nice little video highlighting the Assembly of Forn Sed Sweden’s Vårblot ritual. The Vårblot celebrates the beginning of spring. Here’s the video, and I’ll provide some running commentary below, focusing on the ritual itself, rather than their theology or the commentary that accompanies it.

2:15 – Nice processional accompanied by music. They’re bearing the god-post with them, and I see a mix of modern clothing and ritual garb.

2:30 – When they get to the circle, I notice they move deosil (clockwise) to form a circle.

3:20 – Elder Futhark on the necklace.

4:45 – Sprinkling the assembled folk with water (?) using a flowering branch. Again with live music; I think it really brings the ritual alive. I’ve been to far too many where it’s just a bunch of people standing around in a field waiting for something to happen to them.

5:00 – A singing bowl? Neat sound, but is it an import from Tibet, or a Scandinavian thing?

5:29 – A good look at the altar. I’m actually a little surprised it’s just a metal folding table.

5:45 – Call and response, but again with the music that elevates it.

5:55 – He’s reading from a script, which surprises me again. I thought he would have memorized the ritual, or be speaking extemporaneously.

6:40 – Is this ritual drama? I do believe it is! (And, laudably, not using a script.) The guy in the blue tunic with the fur hat is the embodiment of Winter, and he’s being chased away/banished by Freyr, who serves as the embodiment of spring. And then he’s crowned with flowers and meets Gerd, with whom he dances. Love it.

9:20 – Ah, an explanation of the elements of their ritual. But oh, dear. They start off by talking about “readying” the ritual site with a hammer; the dreaded “Hammer Hallowing Ritual”. I wish we could have seen their version; maybe it wasn’t so awful as those I’ve seen in the US. Then, inviting the gods, in this case Frey and Gerd (which makes sense for a Spring ritual). Then the ritual drama, as noted above.

10:35 – Then the actual blot, or offering. The assembled folk make offerings of food, etc. to the gods. Then something called the “Sending” which is basically the passing of the horn, as seen in bumbles* here in the US. I note he admits it takes a very long time, because everyone wants to make a toast, and often ends up with not everyone having a chance, because there are so many people (a nice problem to have, of course!). So now they only do six toasts. I wonder why six? Then the ceremony ends, and they give thanks and dance.

11:25 – More of that wonderful live music as people make their offerings directly to the god-posts. I see drink being poured on the posts themselves, and vegetables placed at the base.

13:45 – Here you see the six toasts mentioned above.

14:55 – I can’t help but laugh. Someone has leaned their bicycle against the big rock that the Pope erected to mark the victory of Christianity over the Pagans. Heh.

15:17 – And now the assembly dances. Note that they’re going widdershins (counter-clockwise). Not sure if this is done with intent, but magically that would be to undo the energy that was raised when they entered deosil.

All in all, a terrific looking ritual. I might quibble with a few things like the hammer hallowing rite, but all in all this would be a ritual I’d be happy to be a part of.

__________

* My tongue-in-cheek term for this style of ritual that combines elements of the blot and sumbel.

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