Drinking deep

Most heathens have a horn or two lying around somewhere; Even those with no interest in reenacting, whose Viking history starts and ends with knowing that they didn’t wear horns on their heads, will probably have used one at some point. It’s become a part of the culture, as much as a love of mead, (which is usually what the horns are filled with.)

There’s a romance to drinking from a horn that calls to mind images of medieval halls, feasting on chunks of roasted meat, toasting the gods around an open fire. And there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s a tangible link to the past, something the ancestors used that you can hold in your hand.

I always liked the idea of the filled horn representing wyrd; oaths and boasts made over the horn are words laid down in the well of time, a way of using ritual to weave your own stories into the web.

That’s mixing metaphors a bit – is fate better expressed as a well, or a web? Should we drink from it, or spin it?

I also like to think of living as a creative act, where everything you do goes into forming the you of the future, I like to think of time as a flowing stream, a growing tree, an ocean of unending waves.  Far better writers have attempted to put wyrd into words and failed. Whatever it is, it’s big – cosmic big – and we’re all in it, living in it and building with it and adding to it with words and deeds and intentions and mead.

This quote from Karen Bek-Pedersen’s ‘The Norns in Old Norse Mythology’ cuts through the metaphorical confusion, to the heart of the thing:

“…Fate… is not something in the face of which people admit defeat or to which they meekly submit, yet neither do they believe themselves capable of escaping or overcoming it… indeed, it seems to have been regarded as an invitation to action, a potential to fulfil, even a chance for the hero or heroine to show what he or she was truly made of.”

Whether you’re spinning, sipping, weaving or planting, a portion of what’s in your horns might be offered to the powers, to the ancestors, to the wights, to the land. At home we simply pour a little out by the god – posts in the garden. For me, that’s about giving thanks, a way of forging a positive contract, a friendship between us and the earth – a joining of fates.

Horns are for sharing. Get a good fire going and pass one round. You might discover a love of history. You might bind your wyrd to someone else’s. You might get drunk – You will definitely have fun.

Hearth mother, peace weaver

Babies are ordinary. Most people will come across one, sooner or later. But they don’t  feel ordinary, not when they’re yours. I’m quite convinced that mine is perfect; Too many night feeds may have dissolved my capacity for rational thought.

Frigg can be seen as a kind of role model. Smart, independent, a valued wife, she is hearth- mother and peace- weaver, a figure to thank for our fertility and prosperity.  A focus on Frigg can help us to see the home itself as something more than ordinary, a sacred space as important as any grave-mound or temple.

The home is where you take care of your family, where you take care of  your guests.

It is the heart of hospitality. Everything we do, friendships, work, it all comes back to the home. To honour Frigg is to acknowledge its importance.  

I sing nursery rhymes to the baby, when she’s tired, and I’m tired, and there’s magic in that small act, in doing a thing that every mother has done to a child since our especially developed species of ape learnt to sing.

I will pass on all the little songs that my parents sang to me. I will pass on the stories of Frigg.

I will remain convinced that every ordinary thing the baby does is somehow amazing, even when I’ve had some some sleep.

Midsummer heathen thoughts

The tide is coming in, turning the little valleys and hollows in the mud flats into streams and salt- pools that glow when the sun hits them. Tonight is the shortest night. Tomorrow is the longest day. The year has it’s own tides, it’s own rise and fall, warmth and frost, growth and failure, and we’re treating each one as a cause for celebration.

So, we stand on the bank of the estuary, in a spiral of pebbles grown over with seaweed, and toast the ancestors and the rivers and the slow, quiet ocean, and Sunna, sister of the moon, who warms the stones of the earth with bright hands and strange tides, and thank her for the bits of the year we like best, in the hope that there’s enough good food, good stories, and good mead to last the rest of it.

The first story

(This is a story of fire, and ice. I’ve embellished it a bit, but that’s my right. )

Before the world is here, before grass, or sand, or cool waves, there is only fire, and ice, and the gap.

When the fire meets the ice in the middle of the gap, great rivers grow, roofed with frost, and deep in the folds of the frost, the giant Ymir sleeps. He is the first of his kind, and the best. The first cow comes to lick him free, and then he uses the sweat, and the hair, and the dead skin from his armpits, to create his own offspring, and they become the race of giants.

But the first cow keeps on licking. She licks at the frost until she finds somebody else, the god Buri, the first of his kind and the best. Buri makes his own offspring with his wife, and for a while the race of gods and the race of giants live in peace.

One of Buri’s grandsons, the one they call Odin, sees Ymir, and lifts his spear to aim it at the giant’s heart.

“This will be a good game,” he thinks, throwing it, piercing the giant through.

Odin’s brother Villi sees this game.

“This looks fun,” he thinks, and hooks a noose around the giant’s neck, choking out his last breath.

Odin’s brother Ve sees this game.

“This looks fun,” he thinks, as he hacks at the giant’s throat with his knife and lets him bleed.

But the giant does not stop bleeding. He bleeds and bleeds until everything, the fire, the ice, and the gap, are all filled, until the first gods and the first giants and the first cow are all drowning, drowning and sinking in the sticky red tide, save for those few who can hide in the hollow of an old tree. Odin, Villi, and Ve, work quickly, turning Ymir’s cold bones to rock, shaping his dead flesh into new land, trapping the briny flood so it becomes the ocean. They take his skull, and shake it; his brains become the clouds. The blue in his eyes becomes the blue of the sky, and the gods rule over this world and call it their own. The race of giants are pushed out to the edges of this place, out to the dark corners, where they become the wild things- avalanches, floods, forest fires and plagues- ancient and terrible.

Odin goes for a walk, admiring the grass, and the sand, and the cool waves, using some of the giant’s eyebrows to add a few finishing touches to hedges and trees, when he sees two pieces of driftwood on a beach.

‘This will be a good game,’ he thinks. He calls over his brother Lothar. “Lothar,” he says, “do these bits of wood look like people to you?”

Lothar looks down at them. “No. They look like bits of wood. But you always were rather strange.”

“Are you sure? Look again, will you?”

So Lothar, losing patience, picks up the pieces of driftwood and blows on them both. With his breath he gives them skin instead of bark, and the forms of a man and a woman. He tosses them back on the sand. “There,” he says, “now they look like people.”

Odin calls his brother Hoenir over. “Hoenir! Look what Lothar has done. I bet you couldn’t turn wood into people.”

Hoenir shrugs.  “They’re not people, they just look like people. Any idiot with a chisel can make wood look like people.” He picks them up, and blows on them, and with his breath he gives them spirits – joy, laughter, and peace. He shrugs again, satisfied, and places them back on the sand.

Odin smirks. “That’s good,” he says, “but perhaps a little dull.” Before the others can stop him he picks up the pieces of driftwood and coughs, hacking, wheezing into their mouths, filling them with rage, madness, poetry, while the gods look on in horror.

Odin holds up a finger.

“Wait.”

He breathes on them again. With his breath he gives them breath of their own. With his breath he gives them speech. With his breath he gives them stories.

They become Ask and Embla, and they are the first of their kind, and the best.

The gods give Sunna the sun in a chariot to pull across the sky, so that the new race of men might know what time it is. The gods give Mani the moon in a chariot to pull across the sky, so that the new race of men might know what day it is.

But out in the edges of the world, in a dark corner called the Ironwood, where the bark on the trees is rust, and the soil on the ground is soot, a giantess sits brooding.  She takes her two sons, and turns them into wolves, and they are the first of their kind and the best.

She raises up her son Hati, and says “Run. Run after the moon until you catch him, run until you swallow him, so that all the months of men shall be ended.”

She raises up her son Skoll and says “Run. Run after the sun until you catch her, run until you swallow her, so that all the days of men shall be ended.”

But it’s taking  them a little longer to catch up than they expected; they are still there, the chasing wolves, running over the land shaped from Ymirs’ corpse,  through the sky shaped from his skull, until they reach and devour their prey, until the world is gone and nothing is left but fire, and ice, and the gap.

Save, of course, for those that hide, in the hollow of an old tree…

A random heathen thought for the week (written about two months ago)

The rain is stopping now, and a few drops still tip-tap off the roof, leaving wet trails on the windows. The air is full of leftover winter and the smell of damp earth, but there are glimpses of blue sky, and the edges of the clouds are golden. It’s Frey weather.

To me, he’s the personification of peace and good harvests, the watered and fertile ground, the animals rutting in the woods.

Frey’s powers of fecundity seem more animalistic than Thor’s; Most popular images have him stroking his beard with his cock out, or riding into battle with a golden boar and no sword. Sometimes he is shown wielding an antler instead of a weapon- no magical forged hammer for Frey, but an animal part picked from the forest floor.

The loss of the sword gained him a wife, who was hopefully worth it, as it’s a decision that gets him killed in the end. Some suggest that the tale has echoes of a yearly cycle, that the giantess Gerth represents the soil- sterile, until coupled with the sunshine  and the rain.

Here, it feels like he’s paid us a visit; the ground, soaked, is already starting to warm, and the garden looks awake and ready for spring.