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Now Domain And Hosting

I am proud to announce that this blog now has a new domain and hosting. With this comes new features, including a discussion board and a chat room!

The new home for An Ásatrú Blog is http://www.asatrublog.com, so please update your bookmarks.

The one down side to this is that you will need to subscribe again because the new site doesn’t inherit your subscription / “follow” settings.

In a week I am going to begin forwarding all traffic from this site to the new host but I wanted to give you enough time to get things set up and give you some notification of the changes. I hope you are as excited about the move and new features as I am! With your help, we can take this from a blog to a thriving, vibrant community.

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When The Troll Wind Howls

In the dead of night lurks an ill breed
A vile thing, gorged on flesh of steed
It unmans many with brave bowels
When the Troll Wind howls

It rises up from the darkest depths
And consumes any it finds beneath its steps
Great terror men know when it growls
When the Troll Wind howls

This beast, terrible and mighty
Stalks the dark places nightly
Its face is scarred and always scowling
When the Troll Wind comes a-howling

Lock your doors and bar your windows
Lest this monster deal your kin their deathblows
Through the darkness it slinks and prowls
On those nights when the Troll wind howls

In a previous post I wrote about the origin, meaning, and development of “god” from it’s Indo-European roots and how our ancestors used the word prior to the coming of the White Christ. The way in which educated Christians of the Medieval period discussed “classical” pagan divinities from Greece and Rome strongly influences the way we talk about our troth today. We often talk about “the gods” but are referring only to the Æsir and Vanir. Those of us who do not live in the ancient homelands of our ancestors have almost no connection what so ever with regional gods of lakes, rivers, forests, and so on that were known to our ancestors. We also seem to have a serious lacking in our understanding of the relationship we should have with the landvættir, the gods of the very land upon which our homes dwell. We seem to have almost no understanding of house gods, those beings that share the very rooms of our homes!

This is something that I am working very hard to correct in my own life. Part of it, frankly, is because I now own my own home instead of living on someone else’s property. I am now responsible for the land, the house, and the relationships with the beings that dwell there in. It is an understanding that I am just beginning to have and one that perplexes me greatly. When I was a child I was told only a few tales of the tomten, spirits of the house and farm, from Swedish folklore. What I was told wasn’t first hand knowledge or experience but Viktor Rydberg’s poem “Tomten” and Astrid Lindgren’s book The Tomten. I got to see pictures of some of Jenny Nyström’s famous paintings. I did get to see little decorations at Christmas of gnome-like beings that sat on the fireplace mantel. This was the extent of what I grew up with and it does inform some of my thoughts today.

What we see with the tomten are elements of the landvættir, as both are beneficial and protective to families and homes that treat them well and trouble-makers when they are spurned. It’s clear that the tomten are lasting memories of a larger belief, the belief of personal gods of home and land. The cultic practices of our ancestors are largely lost to us today but we do have memories passed down to us as folklore. We have the gnomes and brownies, the kobolds and nixies, the hob and the nisse, and goblins and trolls galore. They are so important to Germanic folklore that Jacob Grimm talked about them in his works. Folklorist and historian Thomas Keightley found the subject important enough to explain that the kobold of Germany is the same creature as the nisse and brownie. William Edward Hearn and George Henderson wrote about how these beings are surviving elements of ancestor worship that are derived from early animistic practices. Clearly, the gods of the land and home are not minor elements of our past but major considerations that we all too often neglect.

In modern practice, KveldulfR Gundarsson has written about the nature and relationships our ancestors had with these beings in his book Elves, Wights, and Trolls: Studies Towards the Practice of Germanic Heathenry: Vol. I. This book includes an article he wrote regarding the day to day practices and beliefs and presents the argument that our ancestors engaged in regular and direct worship of these beings. We can see elements of this in much of the practices of our troth in Scandinavia today. It has been remarked on that the Icelanders in particular focus very strongly on the local wights and beings.

Since we now know that these personal and local gods were important enough to our ancestors to warrant the kind of honor and reverence that they received it is up to us to move forward with this knowledge and determine how we are going to reawaken this part of our troth. This is, at least to me, one of the hardest and most difficult things we can look to do for those of us not in our ancestral lands but it is not impossible. In truth, we have an advantage that we often neglect to consider. When settlers came to Iceland, they found it teaming with wild beings and they had to create new bonds of frith and troth with them. While Iceland was largely unsettled and untamed, the New World wasn’t but that should not be an impediment to our goal. It is also reasonable to believe that we have with us family gods and spirits that followed us from the Old Country to the New World. As the Æsir and Vanir went with our explorers and settlers, so too did the family gods. They didn’t abandon us just because we moved. That isn’t how our troth works. Those that remained with us through folklore and considerations after the conversion of the cross are waiting for us to take up our side of the agreement again.

So, how do we do this? How do we forge new bonds and repair old relationships? I am not a person born with sensitivity to the presence of these beings. I don’t see or hear them but I do recognize their aid when I see it. When I moved into my new home I made offerings to the landvættir that dwell here. I can’t say how they reacted, at least not at that time. Since then, I’ve made offerings to all of our gods, great and small, and this past Vetrnætr I know that this was rewarded. I had plan to ask a boon of one of the evergreens in my yard by cutting a small piece from it to use as my blessing tine. I did not have to. A perfect piece was on the hood of my car when I went to pick up the meal for that night. When all was said and done, I thanked them for their gift and returned it to them. I believe that the relationship between us is starting to be forged and that the best thing I can do for them is to recognize their place in my life, their homes on my land, and to treat them and the land with respect. There will be a place set in the house to serve as the home for the house ghosts as well. Following Swedish folklore, I offer oatmeal with butter and some fabric as the annual payment for the tomten. They are the way in which I see the house gods and it is in this fashion that I honor them. If we are to rebuild what was lost then we would do well to look to our folklore to guide us to the proper means of showing our respect and devotion.

The Usefulness of Doubt

Like so many others, doubt is my constant companion when dealing with matters of faith and religion. I make my living working with computers, something that can be seen as the ultimate expression of science, technology, and rational thought. There is often this nagging, self-destructive feeling that my faith and religious practices are nothing more than silly superstitions from a by-gone era that is constantly in conflict with experiences that I’ve had that tell me otherwise. Even these can be “written off” as delusional episodes. Why not? We are inundated with actual nut-cases claiming to know what the Christian god wants, which is so often exactly what they want. We regularly see people exposed as frauds who abuse religion to bilk people for money or make insane predictions about the end of the world. We see the liars and cheats and can’t help but wonder if we might not have been duped by others. It’s a reasonable question and a legitimate concern. However, this is not helpful or useful.

There is an idea in our societies that doubt must be purged in order to have faith. Faith, in this case, isn’t a thoughtful thing but one of blind acceptance. It is the thing that lets others control us, take us for ignorant marks, and manipulate us for their own ends. The “faith” of people who despise doubt is not the faith of free men but the shackles of bondage and servitude that tyrants would fetter us with. They fear doubt because doubt is akin to a runic spell that breaks fetters and frees our minds. This is why we should embrace doubt.

Doubt is a powerful weapon, and a dangerous one. We know that it can leave us questioning our sanity if we don’t control it. We know it can free us from bondage but the risk is also high that this freedom will cause us to reject our troth with the gods. The job of doubt is to break down the old and the rotten but it will also tear down the hardy and needed. As a tool, doubt must be allowed to do its work but not permitted to run amok and destroy everything around it. Doubt, when controlled and made useful, is a fire in the mind by which we can shed light on things so that we can see them for what they truly are and set aflame that which must be sent on. Doubt can prevent us from “going off the deep end” because it will allow us to balance the rational and scientific with the mystical and experiential. Doubt lets us take nothing for granted and requires us to think about what we see, hear, and feel so that we can understand it properly. Doubt is what prevents us from seeing Frigg in a piece of toast. Like fire, when it is contained and controlled, it is a powerful tool for the development of our minds and our faith. Doubt is useful, so embrace it but do not let it control you.

A very good friend of mine is a Celtic Reconstructionist, focusing on Irish tradition and folklore. We recently had a long discussion about why he refuses to join any organizations around the Atlanta area. His objections boil down to the consistent mandate for “ritual garb” like long robes and how he simply finds these things to be impediments to his experiencing his faith on a deeper emotional level. Additionally, the style of dress isn’t historically accurate. Instead, it’s very Victorian in the depiction of “druids” and bears no semblance of reality to what the people actually wore. In short, his is a modern faith rooted in the past but it is not an anachronistic faith that is trying to look the part as someone else envisions it. We both concur on the idea that our ancestors didn’t play dress up and put on clothing that predated their time, only that they put on nicer clothing than the everyday wear.

This is, frankly, exactly how I see our faith. Over the last 15 years I have watched how the style of dress has changed from an expectation of pseudo-Viking clothing for blót to blue jeans and t-shirt as the preferred attire. While I’m happy to see the anachronistic elements die off, we aren’t playing Viking after all, I am also somewhat sad to see the growth of such casual dress. Dressing nicely, it doesn’t have to be fancy or even a suit or heels, was always taken as a sign of seriousness and respect. I’m not advocating for slacks, polished shoes, and a button up shirt and tie just to go to blót. I’m simply talking about dressing in a nice enough fashion as to demonstrate seriousness and respect.

There are other elements of anachronistic behavior that often puzzle me as well but I do understand their presence, just as I understand wearing special clothing. It provides us a way to ignite the mind and the senses. It lets us for a visual and emotional link to the times and places we look to when rebuilding our troth. It provides context and ethos. None of this is a bad thing, especially for those of us who don’t have a lifetime of experience from a Scandinavian or Germanic culture. What we must be careful to do, however, is not let these thematic elements become a substitute for serious devotion and we must not permit them to become interfering elements that isolate us from the realities of our world and our needs today.

There are some very good uses for anachronism that hasn’t been fully discussed yet but ties directly into personal reasons for anachronistic elements. When we do a public blot, particularly at Pagan Pride events, the costuming and paraphernalia doesn’t just add context, it is the context. While we have to be sure not to instill an inaccurate impression that this is always how we look, these “High Blót” moments can be powerful tools for getting outsiders to understand that our heritage, our cultural past, is part of who we are today. It also works as a tool to encourage people to participate in other cultural elements, like folk dances and singing of folk songs, that are part of what we are as a people that we don’t always do. The costuming provides permission as well as context and this is something we need to be aware of because it is such a powerful tool. If we are going to use anachronistic elements we need to make sure that our religion and our identity as modern people remains intact, despite the costuming. After all, the Norse of the Viking Age didn’t play “Vendel Period” when it came time to make the sacrifices.

Winter Nights celebrates the coming of winter, when the weather starts to turn cold and  the frost starts to form. The days grow shorter and less friendly to us. The nights grow  longer and more treacherous. The Furious Host, led by Odin himself, begins to ride,  hunting anything it finds out of doors. All manner of ill-willing wights grow more powerful  in the dark and wild places. Vargr come out of the woods in search of food. Trolls,  smelling the blood of the culled herd, howl and terrify children in the dead of night, ready  to snatch one away if given the chance.

All is not dark and grim, however, for now is the time when families gather together to  celebrate the end of their laborings throughout the year and to rejoice in all that they  have accomplished. The soil begins to rest and recover for next year’s crops, tucked  under a blanket of white. There is fresh meat, fresh baked bread, and there is plenty of ale to drink. Now is a time to celebrate with kith and kin.

In ancient times strangers were not welcome at Winter Nights celebrations. It is a time  to spend with those closest to us and those upon whom we know we can rely in the  dead of winter. It is a time to reaffirm our bonds of troth and friendship. It is a time to  feast and make merry. It is a time to make offerings to the gods for a mild winter. It is a  time to honor the álfar and thank them for their aid during the growing months and during the harvest.

Winter Nights Blót PDF

I decided to work up an entire blót for those who would like to do one but aren’t all that familiar with writing their own or simply looking for inspiration. This file is free to use and share. Feel free to take what you need from it or even make changes to the wording as you see fit. This also contains a glossary of terms in case any of them are unfamiliar.

Winter Nights Blót PDF