Unlike some other traditions, those of us within the Northern Tradition have a scant sampling of prayer that has survived to us from antiquity. Primarily Sigdrifa’s Prayer, and occasionally a snippet of an epithet. This no doubt is the reason why I have long within Heathenry that newcomers yearn for examples that they can be inspired by or use within their own religious practice. Newcomers, and sometimes even those who may have been within this sphere of influence for some time, forget or don’t know that even in antiquity offerings could be quite personal and beyond the mere scope of physical goods. Words were deeply valued.
Odin is a god of many things, and here is an invocation I’ve created and I sing in devotion to him.
If you think this doesn’t impact you because it’s not in your community, this hate breeds like fire online with some videos viewed millions of times. It could be your neighbor, your friend’s brother, your coworker watching.
The hate isn’t just in Texas. The New Independent Fundamental Baptist Movement has known churches in not only the United States, but also in other countries too.
My community received a rude awakening in the last week, when suddenly we were in the news because a pastor was celebrating the tragic accidental death of a man from a pride event.
We had no idea hate of this level had moved in. Sometime during the pandemic, for reasons we still do not know they moved from the Sansom Park in the general Fort Worth area into my city.
After the initial shock, the immediate next question was just who are they, and where did they come from, and then several of us made a deep dive into some of the filthiest, vilest rhetoric I have ever had the misfortune of being subjected to. They bring to mind memories of Westboro Baptist.
Stedfast is part of the New Independent Fundamental Baptist Movement, this movement has no ties to any mainstream Baptist denomination, and should not be mistaken for a denomination. These are independent church-doms characterized by leaders who like autonomy. They NEW IFBM has some interconnected relationships between leaders and churches, but also a great deal of schisms, in fighting and difference of opinion. There is no centralized assembly or authority. That being said Stephen Anderson jump started the movement with the founding of his church Faithful World Baptist Church in 2005, and remains one of the key influencers of the movement.
They are characterized by their adherence to the King James Bible, traditional hymns (and avoidance of contemporary or rock worship music), a church leadership that is led by men with a pastor or preacher at each church, and supporting deacons typically. Women typically have no role in leadership within the church, and at many NEW IFBM churches are expected to be silent in church. They believe in hard-preaching (i.e., a fire and brimstone approach that you’re going to hell), and soul-winning (which is proselytizing/witnessing/evangelizing sinners to seek salvation in Christ. However, unlike many other Christian denominations they believe some people, such as LGBTQ persons can never be saved.
Suffice it to say the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League have designated the NEW IFB movement as a hate group. The church follows the doctrine of Stephen Anderson, who hit the news back during the Obama presidency, when he said he wanted Obama dead and a member of his congregation showed up the next day at an Obama appearance in Phoenix, Arizona with an AR-15 (automatic assault rifle). So, there’s proof that their hateful rhetoric has stirred up their members. The original pastor of Stedfast Donnie Romero was a former member of Anderson’s congregation. Romero later resigned from Stedfast amid a sordid scandal involving misappropriation of church finances, gambling, drugs, and sex workers. Andersen stepped into the void of that transition and brought his choice Jonathan Shelley to become the new pastor of Stedfast church. There’s a lot more to the story, so much more you’d need a diagram to follow the network of New IFB movement churches, the satellite churches, the inter-relationships and schisms in between them.
all LGBTQ persons should commit suicide or be executed, all LGBTQ persons are pedophiles, this church also has a history of celebrating the Pulse Nightclub Mass Shooting, praising the actions of the mass murdering gunman, and praying for the death of the victims who were in ICU fighting for their lives
witches should be slaughtered (and apparently actress and comedian Sarah Silverman is a whore & witch that should die)
and so much more
History shows us that it’s usually women who are punished with the term ‘witchcraft’. (Although sometimes it was men as well). It could be dangerous for a woman to stand out, if she was perceived as being opinionated, if she just wasn’t liked by someone, if she bucked the leadership or patriarchy or possibly even an unwanted sexual advance would be labeled a witch to punish them. Sometimes women were called witches for knowledge to do with midwifery, because they were responsible for caring for the family and learned herb lore, or just because a mold was growing on the crop and someone ate bad food and went crazy. I have found no specific definition of what is witchcraft for Stedfast. They seem to lob the term about as it suits their ends. Such as when a pastor of the satellite Stedfast church in Florida went after Sarah Silverman. So, I’m left thinking that anyone who has ever used runes, tarot, read a horoscope, handled a voodoo doll. Anyone who calls themself a Wiccan, and probably other pagans and polytheists are most likely “witches” to them too, and therefore to them, they want us dead. So, all my witches, wiccans, pagans, polytheists, Cultus Deorum, Santerians, Hellenics, Kemetics, Asatru, Heathens, Shinto and Hindus, and so many more, please be aware of this threat.
I have long been an ally of the LGBTQ community, as I have both friends and family who identify as such. But I had always shied away from donning the rainbow myself in support. Why? Because my dating life as a cisgender heterosexual has been lackluster, and I didn’t want to send mixed signals to confuse matters more as a potential obstacle in my search to find a love match. But when this showed up in my backyard, I immediately found myself trying to find anything rainbow in my clothes or accessories I could don, and resisting the urge to go on such a shopping spree that all the rainbow being shipped to my house would turn the amazon packages on the porch into pots of gold.
I personally do wholeheartedly believe in the separation of church and state. I don’t want the government proclaiming that one religion is worthy and another not. I don’t want a theocracy to arise either. I’m also a believer in the freedom of religion, and freedom of speech outlined to us in the US Constitution. For those unfamiliar with it, the US government doesn’t recognize religion beyond our taxation arm recognizing that something meets prescribed requirements for non-profit status such as charities, and religious organizations. While the common citizen may talk about hate speech, while some businesses may have policies against it, when it comes to the US government there is no legal definition of hate speech in our law. The closest we come is from US Supreme Court decisions impacting our freedom of speech, where there have been rulings about incitement to violence. As vile and reprehensible as the statements by NEW IFB members have been, and from Stedfast in particular they are very careful to toe that line. They may say a group of people they hate should be dead, that the government should execute them, or it’d be better if they killed themselves. They may celebrate that someone else did kill them, or they may say they prayed to God to kill them… but they don’t ever actually cross that line which would be them directly telling their congregation to go grab weapons and go out and start killing people. This means the only interference the government can do is if they do something illegal, whether it’s tax evasion, the investigation of a violent crime, or any of a range of things in between. Until then the government’s hands are tied, which they should be. No matter how much I wish the church was shut down.
I know how precious are freedoms are, and what a slippery slope it can be to go after another group, because doing so can erode your own rights. It’s like the old story of the golem of Prague, or the origin story of the Daleks from Dr Who, the protected class targeting those that were not to be protected, finds the mechanism turned on themselves. There may be a large number of religious views I don’t agree with, but I generally leave others to their own faith. But I draw the line at hateful rhetoric that equals the desire for the deaths of others. So, I am exercising my rights as a private citizen to Freedom of speech. Starting last Sunday, myself and other members of the community took a peaceful stand on the sidewalk in front of Stedfast, because hate is a virus. We want our neighbors to know what is in our midst. We want to stand as an example of something different then what they are preaching. Maybe we can change some hearts. But we also want for those targeted by the hateful rhetoric of the church to know they aren’t alone. There are people who welcome them in our community. That so many members of the community are saying #NoHateInHurst.
We are also deeply concerned, many of us recognize how rhetoric like this can lead someone to becoming the next domestic terrorist. I don’t want my community to be known in connection to some future mass murderer egged on by hateful wishes for others to die.
So for all those in or near the Dallas / Fort Worth area of Texas who want to help take a stand for #NoHateInHurst, we will be making our PEACEFUL stand Wednesdays at 6:30pm, as well as Sundays at 10am & 5pm outside Stedfast in Hurst, Texas. A community organizer has been working with our local police department so they are aware of what we are doing. Our first sidewalk stance was June 27 (you can find pics and videos on my instagram), and as we get the word out, we’re growing in size. We just ask that you refrain from using obscenities or anything hateful so we can keep things family friendly. Please stay on the sidewalk and do not block driveways or roadways. Do not park in the church parking lot, and be mindful not to take away critical parking from nearby residents or businesses. If you plan to post on social media, please use the hashtag #NoHateInHurst. If you’re not in the area but want to help, then help us spread the word. I’m sure donations to local LGBQT non-profits would also help them support this marginalized community too. I recommend Dallas Hope Charities, and the Fort Worth Chapter of PFLAG
I updated my older article, The Healing Gods and Goddesses of the Northern Tradition with information about the Ribe Skull Fragment, an interesting find from the archaeological record which contains a runic inscription invoking Gods for healing including Odin, and what appears to be his father Borr, the god Tyr, and Ulfr (which means wolf and may possibly be Fenrir). You can read up on the skull fragment and some interesting research, and some of m own thoughts about this archaeological remnant at the link.
When you think of how history, especially forms of monotheism have tried to erase and destroy information about polytheistic traditions, I am always flabbergasted when I come across members of our communities trying to help in that destruction.
There’s a tendency in the interfaith community and some parts of the pagan community to use vague terms in prayers, offerings, or when talking about our sacred powers: Oh Spirit, Great Lady, Oh Goddess.
The spread of Christianity focused on stripping our Gods and Goddesses of their names to destroy their identities. Their idols were destroyed or defaced, their holy shrines left in ruins, their worshippers killed, oppressed, and sometimes even enslaved. We know in some ancient cultures denying someone their name was to curse and destroy them. We see this often in the archaeological record in Egypt as just one example. That is what Christianity wants, to take their names, to obfuscate, to destroy so only their God is left.
And now there’s portions of the at large pagan and polytheistic community who are trying to take away the names and identifiers of those Gods too. In this specific case, the blacksmith god Hephaestus, and his epithet Κυλλοποδιων ( lame/of the crooked-foot) out of a misguided push for political correctness and social justice.
To quote Krasskova, “I’m seeing nonsense like, “you can only use this epithet for Hephaestus if you yourself are mobility impaired.” Well, wrong. Anyone may use it whenever that person wishes to connect to Him and gain deeper understanding of His power. That’s what this epithet is about: His power. You do not have to be mobility impaired to call Him by this name.”
The name Κυλλοποδιων (lame/of the crooked-foot) is not only an epithet, it was a career marker. Many cultures depict blacksmith Gods as being lamed, disabled, handicapped, or even physically malformed in their legs in some way, and that’s because Their depiction imitated the real-life occupational hazards of the craft. In antiquity blacksmiths used arsenic in part of the process to make bronze, as a result many blacksmiths suffered from lameness and cancer caused by the continual exposure to the arsenic. So Hephaestus of the lamed and crooked foot, is an occupational marker. In my own tradition, I have the blacksmith god Weyland/Volund, and he is also depicted as having been lamed after surviving an ordeal.
Blacksmiths represented the luck, fortune, and self-reliance of a community. The weapons the blacksmith made defended the home, supported daily aspects of everyday domesticity (cooking, sewing, dinnerware, utensils, etc.), and also helped make the very tools used in agricultural aspects of life: from working the fields, to contending with the livestock. Having a blacksmith in your community meant not only wealth, but that your community was not vulnerable to being preyed upon by others who may literally steal your fortune, or who figuratively would steal your fortune in charging outrageous sums/barters for what you needed. For these reasons, blacksmiths granted a community both fortune and a certain level of independence as well.
Blacksmiths have to be masters of all the elements. Obviously metal ore is used to craft the tools of his trade, but other elements of the earth from clay, to sand, to dirt, and various minerals are also sometimes used. Fire is an element used to heat and anneal the components so that they can be shaped. Air must be used to both control the flames and heat, but also used to air cool and quench certain items during the annealing process that you can’t afford to use the more rapid method of water-quenching on. If we look to the natural world, these processes are essentially at a geothermic scale the very elements that drive plate tectonics.
Take a moment to really THINK about that REAL imagery of a lamed blacksmith God, and the portents of that symbolism. That to commit to one’s craft is to sacrifice, that power has a price. In their story we can see and relate to Gods, realizing they are not disconnected from us but are capable of understanding the suffering of mere mortals too. Think of the power that comes from one who has overcome such great obstacles, that understands the stakes, the risks of bondage, of being subjected to degradation and abuse, and now they take their skill and their determination as one who has overcome to focus all of their skill and craft into the weapons and armor to the heroes who must now go tackle monumental tasks to save others. Those who know not only their own worth, but the value of their craft as well.
To strip them of their titles, and descriptors, their by names and praise names, the epithets, the kennings, the heiti is how you lose the stories of them. How you lose the most powerful bits of lore, biographical details, the most potent symbols we latch onto. Of course, all things that monotheism will cheer for: Yes, pagans please do go ahead and destroy and forget why these Gods were worshipped in the first place.
These terms and phrasing were long used by the cultures where these Gods and Goddesses originate in deep antiquity. They are recorded in prayers, some carved into stone, others in manuscripts and scrolls. All these epithets were part of the very cultus that worshipped those Gods. These epithets were descriptors, encapsulations of cultus and lore. They weren’t derogatory or degrading in nature.
Take away the descriptors, and suddenly the Gods start to lose their uniqueness, their distinctiveness.
One-Eyed God (Odin)
The Hanged One (Odin)
The One Handed As (Tyr)
The Cargo of Her Arms (Loki)
Ruler of Lions (Sekhmet)
Each epithet encapsulates a story, sometimes the story is lost to us and all that remains is that descriptor and now you have people wanting to erase that too.
Words have power, meaning and nuance. We know in many instances the words and the meaning of a deity’s name helps to show that power too. In some cases all we have left is their name because Christianity so destroyed everything else. When you lump sum deities as a vague unspecified group, you say they aren’t worthy of learning more about their individual uniqueness. You are saying, even unconsciously, that they are less than. When you take away their identifiers, which are encapsulations of their power, you are only helping to undermine the tradition, pissing on all those who died because of their beliefs in worship to those Gods, both then and today.
If you’re concerned about making sure your religious path is welcoming to those with disabilities, then yes push for equal access for mobility challenged and disabled individuals at rites, and holy sites and temples. (Did you know, that while not conclusive, there is evidence suggestive that the ancient Greeks had ramps to try to help with mobility access to at least some religious sites). If there are others who are degrading or mocking those in your midst, yes call them out. But trying to find degradation in something that was venerated, something that is part of the identity of a God and their tradition of cultus is just destructive to the religious tradition and cultus, and not helpful. Can you imagine if suddenly all Christians decided to completely ignore the crucifiction and the lead up moments (known to some as the stations of the cross) because it was perceived as glorying in tortue, degradation and physical abuse? Suddenly the cross as a symbol is gone, no more artistic depictions of Christ on the cross, or even with the wounds in his hands (which technically would be in his forearms above his wrists) no one talks about it anymore cause it’s not perceived as appropriate. It’s ridiculous. It’s such an underlying aspect of the Christian faith. Trying to take this epithet from Hephaestus is equally absurd.
Florida is hosting this weekend the Conservative Political Action Conference, which appeals to sections of the Republican GOP Party. Look at the veritable who’s who of political leaders speaking at the event, including controversial figures like Trump and Ted Cruz.
Florida governor Ron DeSantis, Senator Mike Lee, Former governor of Wisconsin Scott Walker, Senator James Lankford, Former Florida attorney general Pam Bondi, Sen.Ted Cruz, Rep. Mo Brooks, Rep. Madison Cawthorn, Sen. Tom Cotton, Sen. Marsha Blackburn, Rep. Matt Gaetz, Sen. Rick Scott, Sen. Josh Hawley, and Donald Trump Jr.
Texas attorney general Ken Paxton, Former acting director of National Intelligence Ric Grenell, Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Senator Bill Hagerty, Trade representative Robert Lighthizer, Rep. Devin Nunes, Senator Cynthia Lummis, Rep. Burgess Owens, Rep. Darrell Issa, Rep. Andy Biggs, Rep. Lauren Boebert, House minority leader Kevin McCarthy, and South Dakota governor Kristi Noem.
Former White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, Former National Economic Council director Larry Kudlow, and Former US president Trump.
This year there is a rune, specifically the othala rune, at the heart of the CPAC 2021 conference. The rune forms the shape of the stage made specifically for this event where all the headliners–including former president Trump, and Senator Ted Cruz–will speak.
The othala rune ᛟ originates as a letter in alphabets related to Germanic languages found in parts of Europe. Eventually it (and the other runic letters) fell out of use as Latin-based alphabets were adopted and used. There are multiple examples in the archaeological record of it inscribed on rune stones, jewelry, artifacts, and later in historical manuscripts as we enter into the early part of the Medieval period.
The Anglo-Saxon Rune poem gives us an idea of what the runic letter represented. It represents concepts of home and inheritance, and the phonetic ‘o’ sound.
Anglo Saxon Rune Poem
ᛟ byþ oferleof æghƿylcum men, gif he mot ðær rihtes and gerysena on brucan on bolde bleadum oftast.
[An estate] is very dear to every man, if he can enjoy there in his house whatever is right and proper in constant prosperity.
Usually, it was used in surviving examples from the archaeological record as a more prosaic letter, but it also has some magico-religious connotations too. There is evidence pointing to its use in both runemal, and seemingly divination as well.
In more recent history we see a resurgence in the mystical and magical, and the old gods of pre-Christian Europe slowly start to simmer in the later 1800s. Runes come once again into prominence thanks to the writings of Guido von List who was a popular darling for those yearning for German nationalism. His writings combined some explorations into Germanic religion, and the occultism of the runes would be picked up by some aspects of the Nazi Party. The othala rune becomes used as a symbol for two different nazi groups during World War II. One version with serif (feet or wings) attached to the rune was the insignia for the 7th SS Volunteer Mountain Division Prinz Eugen, the other version used by the 23rd SS Volunteer Panzer Grenadier Division Nederland had arrows extending from the othala rune.
Beginning in the 1960s and 1970s we begin to see a big resurgence of pagan and polytheistic belief that has continued through to the present day. For modern pagans and polytheists the runes are sometimes just magical and divinatory symbols, but can also be a symbol of the sacred used to profess religious faith by modern pagans and polytheists. Runes sometimes in more modern times are used as a symbolical representation of certain Gods too. Othala ᛟ is sometimes used for Odin, when spelling out the name of the God Odin in runes, the first runic letter for his name used would be Othala. There are other runes associated with deities as well (for one reason or another) including the rune tiwaz ᛏ is sometimes used for Tyr, the rune sowilo ᛋ as a representation of the solar goddess Sunna, the runic letter thurisaz ᚦ for Thor, etc.
The othala rune has a range of context in the modern era, and understanding what it stands for in any instance can sometimes be quite nuanced. Sometimes it is a magico-religious symbol used by modern polytheists and pagans in profession of religious faith to the Norse Gods and Goddesses, or merely as a magical symbol for divination. But the variation of the othala rune with serif (feet or wings) has been adopted due to its historical Nazi SS past, as a symbol by many Neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups as a unifying symbol for a whites only homeland. To confuse matters, some modern pagan and polytheists don’t understand the Nazi origins of that serifed version of the symbol, and think of it only as a different design on othala and might use the symbol in ignorance of the Nazi connection, and for these persons they may only be using it in support of one of a range of Northern Tradition polytheisms: Asatru, Heathenry, etc.
So when I see a stage at a political conference using a rune, I immediately disregard the prospects that it was used for religious or magical signifiers. If this had occurred a decade ago I would have merely thought it some odd coincidence. But now, I pause and wonder: was this intentionally used to signify to white nationalists?
While Huffington Post is a somewhat biased news outlet, they wrote recently that “every year CPAC does a delicate public relations dance to determine which white nationalists and conspiracy theorists are forbidden from attending the event, and which ones will be given coveted spots speaking on panels or even from the main stage.” When you combine that with the very present white nationalist groups and iconography spotted during the recent January 6 insurrection on the US Capitol (including the so-called Q Anon Shaman), the fact Nazi iconography was used in Trump’s re-election presidential campaign, and so many other incidences especially in these last few years casts doubt upon this being a mere coincidence.
“The Dig” has just debuted on Netflix, which is an adaptation of the novel by John Preston. The story is about the discovery of the Sutton Hoo ship grave, which is among the most significant archaeological finds ever found within the borders of modern England. The archaeological finds there remain among some of the most illuminating and important discoveries for their period of time for Anglo-Saxon culture. For the curious, a Hoo is a spur of land, in this case a parcel of land that overlooks the River Deben that is situated about 8-10 miles or so from the coastline in the Suffolk region of England (southeast coast). Today it’s part of Britain’s National Trust, while many of the artifacts (especially from the 1938-39 excavations) are housed in the British Museum in London, some artifacts (or replicas of the artifacts) are on display at Sutton Hoo.
So as a Heathen is the movie worth the watch?
Sadly, no—at least not for anything about the ancient culture. There’s very little emphasis placed on the unique discoveries themselves, nor any major discussion of Anglo Saxon history. The glimpses of the treasure are fleeting at best (seconds here, seconds there). It glosses over the archaeological work. You lose the fact that Basil Brown explored 4 mounds, over two years. It creates a love story that never happened (between archaeologist Peggy Piggott and the fictional Rory who never existed), implies that Stuart Piggott was in a homosexual relationship (and I find no evidence that he was queer), and invents a cave in that never happened to Basil Brown.
The film is very much a period character drama. The real events took place on the eve of Britain’s entry into World War II, and the looming war is very present in the film with constant reminders. The film becomes an encapsulation of life, that there is never enough time, and death ever looms. Yet for all of that it’s not a depressing film, just an ode to life. The script takes some biographical liberties with the characters to heighten that theme and the timeframe (right before WW2) in the film. While at the same time, seemingly pushing story elements for the modern consumer.
I enjoyed the film for what it was, an interesting insight into how this find came into being and the people behind ‘the dig’ albeit exaggerated for the purpose of a somewhat fictional narrative. But for the history buffs while it’s perhaps a pleasant diversion and tangential if not historically accurate supplemental, there’s so much more to dig into–pun intended.
The Real History
During its heyday the Roman Empire stretched from the British Isles, across Europe to Asia Minor and northern Africa. But the empire as it collapses offers opportunity. As the Empire’s power falls and it’s borders shrink, Germanic tribes begin their migration across Europe (taking advantage of the power vacuum and turmoil), including the Germanic tribes of the Angles and Saxons eventually migrating into England.
The finds at Sutton Hoo are exceedingly rare and precious, featuring superb craftmanship (some of the best in the time frame across all of Europe). The artifacts tell a story not only of wealth and art, but also of trade in the types of grave goods found. Some of the work was clearly created in the Byzantine Empire, as far away as Antioch (ancient Syria, modern Turkey), and others appear Celtic in origin. Character dialogue in the film have some statements along the lines of this was the end of the dark ages, because the art showed they weren’t just savages, or barbarians. Keep in mind there was still something of a belief (thanks to how the Romans themselves thought of the Germanic and native Britons as barbarians) that when Rome fell, so too did culture and civilization. This leads to what is called the “Dark Ages” across Europe. When education was heavily classics based for the historians and scholars of the time, this meant Roman scholarship about these other cultures was also taught and the prevailing thought and bias persisted.
There wasn’t just one dig at Sutton Hoo, but a series of digs over the years.
Britain’s National Trust has a great overview of the timeline of the ‘digs’ at the site through the centuries. In the 1600s you had treasure seekers (what they found was melted down to new purpose), and in the mid 1800s more treasure seekers, who had ship metal work reworked into horse shoes. Up until this point everyone was looking for profit, not so much for knowledge. Then comes 1938 where an exploration begins and finds some evidence that something good may lurk, but it’s not until 1939 we get the major ship burial discovery (the time in which this film takes place). More work would be done to the area of the original find, but it wasn’t really until the 1980s when significant work resumed at the site that would eventually lead to more burial graves including a woman of status. Currently the tally is at 18 mounds.
The prevailing theory is that King Rædwald of East Anglia’s grave was the one discovered in 1939. This was the ship burial that was so famously discovered with the accoutrements of a warrior: from the now famous helmet, to the shield and sword. The helmet gives to us what is most likely Odinic imagery. The eyes were rimmed with garnets. The right eye had gold foil behind the garnets to reflect the light back through the stone. The left eye did not. Scholars Neil Price and Paul Mortimer examining a reconstruction of the helmet both noted the very intentional difference. The effect by firelight or sunlight made the one eye very visible and the other dark. While much of the decorative paneling of the helmet hasn’t survived intact, some panels of what does remain mirrors Odinic imagery we find elsewhere on Vendel era helmets, with ties to Odin and a warrior cultus.
No bodies have been discovered on site, as the acidic soil decomposed them long ago. However, chemical markers in the soil are consistent with what would happen to a body decomposed in situ, and there have been ‘sand bodies’ found too. In the later case the soil has interacted with the decomposition and left us the form of their bodies in the soil. Wood hasn’t survived in the soil either due to the high acidity. The ribbing of the boat here is a result of the decomposition of the wood reacting with soil to give us this impression, which really gives you an idea of the carefully meticulous work necessary in the excavation NOT to destroy the find.
If after watching the film you’re left wanting to know what biographical details were accurate, and which ones were not, there’s some more factual, accurate historical biographical information on some of the real people depicted in the film at the National Trust website.
At the end of the film, as often occurs with some stories based on real events and people, they did have a little bit about what happened to the people after the timeframe depicted in the film. I feel it was a miss not to show at least at the end here the artifacts they found, or any information about the later discoveries at the site. So to make up for that lack, here are some photos highlighting some of what has been found at Sutton Hoo. (And even this pales in truly presenting the scope from the site and nearby areas). The Sutton Hoo Helmet, one of four Helmets from the period ever discovered, remains in many ways the star of the discoveries. Popularly used on various book covers to represent the Anglo-Saxon culture, and even some adaptations of the early English epic, Beowulf.
For many pagans, this is the time of year where they honor and celebrate Imbolc one of the eight sabbats that comprise the Wheel of the Year. For those of us in the Northern Tradition however, we have our only celebrations known as holy tides (from the Old Norse hátíðir) that we may currently be celebrating instead: Charming of the Plough or Disting.
Since Northern Tradition religious practices can vary because some groups and individuals opt to recreate the celebrations of geo-specific historic cultures, others look at the vast umbrella that we see amongst the Æsic-worshipping peoples as they appear throughout ancient Germania, into Scandinavian countries (like Sweden, Norway, Iceland, etc.), and into Anglo-Saxon England.
The timing of these holy tides varies based on regional differences in the seasonal transition of climate, as well as in the different time-keeping and calendar methods that were employed by the different cultures when compared to the modern-day calendar used today. Some timing may have also shifted as pagan observances were shifted and syncretized in an intentional joining by early church leaders in post conversion Europe. As a result, while some Heathens opt to sync the timing up with the quarter-day of Imbolc so that their holy tide celebration occurs at the same time as their pagan cousins, others have already celebrated, and yet others more may not be celebrating for a few weeks yet.
Still, in my experience, most Heathens sync up their observance with the astronomical midpoint between the winter solstice and the spring equinox in a more generalized Charming of the Plough observance. This also coincides approximately with the modern Groundhog Day. For those unfamiliar with the custom of Groundhog Day (and I’m not referring to the movie), the folk tradition comes from the Pennsylvania Dutch. Despite the name being ‘Dutch” these weren’t settlers from the Netherlands, but rather they were Deutsch, or German. Specifically speaking their own dialect called Deitsch with language ties to West Central Germany. English speaking Americans misheard this and thought it was ‘Dutch’ and the name stuck. There’s a lot of interesting folk traditions from these European settlers, and if you look among those Pennsylvania Dutch traditions you’d find an array of folk traditions including hex signs, runes, and folk stories about gods–like Wudan (Odin), Dunner (Thor), Holle (Frau Holle or Holda) etc. This presence of folk tradition has given us another branch (albeit it far less known) within the Northern Tradition umbrella: Urglaawe. The settlers we call the Pennsylvania Dutch have a tradition of using a groundhog as a weather predictor for when spring would arrive. The custom back in Europe where these settlers originated seemed to have used the badger instead. Knowing when spring might arrive would be a very important indicator for people to know when to make ready the fields and more importantly plant the crops for the year ahead. Too early, and you’d lose the crop to winter’s frosty bite. So this folk tradition operated as a nature based omen as a sort of farmer’s almanac. While there is no scientific evidence that this custom has any true accuracy, I think the key takeaway here is the timing of early February and the fact this custom ties to the importance of agricultural timing while balancing the change of the seasons to make ready for the year ahead.
According to Bede’s De temporumratione, the Anglo-Saxon month of February was known as Solmonad, and meant month of mud. Most likely mud month refers to the act of ploughing the fields. According to Bede, this was a time celebrated by people offering cakes to their Gods. The only other time we see offerings of cakes ever mentioned as occurring is with the celebration of Hlæfmæsse (loaf mass), which occurs at the opposite time of year at the time of the harvest. So here we have a mirrored tradition of offerings of cakes or loaves given to the land as a bookmark to the growing season (planting to harvesting).
In England, there is a folk tradition known as Plough Monday (which was the first Monday after the Christian celebration of the Epiphany or Three Kings Day which marked the end of the Christmas/Yuletide). Today that means Plough Monday is celebrated the first Monday that falls after January 6, and features the ceremonial act of ploughing the first furrows in the fields. While the earliest written depictions of this tradition come from post conversion (1400s CE), it is in all likelihood a surviving remnant of the pagan past. Plough Monday is celebrated today in many communities across the United Kingdom (Yorkshire, Cambridgeshire, etc.), while some local traditions vary, typically a village plough was blessed, decorated, and a ceremonial ploughing around the village was carried out. This tradition mirrors what we see in the Anglo-Saxon land ritual the Æcerbot (or Field Remedy).
Among the traditions of Plough Monday there is also a tradition of going around trying to earn everything from drink to money, which to me is reminiscent of other caroling and wassailing traditions. Additionally there’s also dancers, and a straw bear (man in straw outfit) which to me evokes other traditions like the Perchten and Krampus processionals. January seems awfully early for some of us to think about readying the ground for new plantings. England while it exists at a more northern latitude that typically would mean much colder winters (see how much colder it is in parts of Canada at the same latitude), the land benefits from its proximity to the Atlantic oceanic currents, or Gulf Stream, which keeps England much warmer than it would be otherwise. So this is but one example of why some Heathens choose to observe this holy tide when it makes sense to do so in their own local climate.
Plough Monday may be an English tradition, but so too is the Anglo-Saxon Æcerbot. While the earliest known recording of this tradition references Christian belief, many believers and scholars believe it was adapted from pre-Christian practices. The daylong ritual was intended to act as a means to restore fertility to land that may not be yielding properly, or was potentially suffering from some sort of blight or infestation. In the ritual described the land is symbolically anointed and blessed before being plowed, we see that the plough is hallowed and even anointed with soap and herbs too, and the personified (and no doubt deified) earth is invoked and entreated for her blessings.
The ritual may have lasted a day, but in most likelihood it would take even longer to prepare. It required taking four sods of earth from each of the corners of your land. The earthen sods would be anointed with a mixture combining oil, honey, yeast, milk (from each cow on the land, and possibly any milking animal like goats too), bits of each tree growing on the land (except hornbeam which is a type of tree in the birch family, this caveat is suggested to refer to all trees not harvested for food), bits of each named herb growing on the land (except glappan, we’re not sure what that herb was referring to in England some have tried to liken it to buck bean used for a plant native to the Americas known for being both bitter and growing in marshy areas so it most likely referred to some sort of unwanted weed), combine with water. The mixture (probably combined into a paste like what we see in the Anglo-Saxon Nine Herbs Charm) is then dripped 3 times on the bottom (soil side) of each of those pieces of earthen sod. All this while essentially praying over it to grow, and multiply in bounty followed by an invocation (of the saints in the remnant we have that was recorded).
Not done yet, the rite then has the farmer/landowner taking those sods of anointed earth into town to the church where a priest would bless it (singing four masses over it). There was a ritual structure in turning the earth while this occurred so the green and growing side faced towards the altar. Then the farmer had to hurry home before sunset to put the anointed and now blessed earthen sod back from whence it came. Praying over it again. Marking it with symbols (the cross) made from mountain ash (possibly rowan) and ground meal in those corners. Each corner invoked the name of a saint (and pre-Christianity probably invoked various deities). The earth is then re-interred from whence it came, one corner of earthen sod at a time. Each time the farmer prays over it, tuning the earthen sod eastward, after which the farmer would bow nine times praying (possibly originally to the Goddess Sol as her brightening days would be key to agricultural cycles and growing). The farmer with arms outstretched was to turn 3 times sunwise while reciting even more prayers.
Now that the earthen sod that has been cut from the land, anointed, blessed, re-interred and prayed over we proceed to the next step: ploughing of the fields and sowing of the seeds. The farmers/landowner is handed seed by his men (presumably those in service to him, or other members of the household). This would make sense to divide some of the labor, as the farmer/landowner has bee very busy up to now with the ritual requirements of the earthen sod. So his people bring out the plough and related gear, they are the ones to anoint you, the ones to hand the farmer his seed. The plough is described as being anointed with soap, salt, frankincense and fennel–obviously this has been influenced by Christianity which we can tell by the inclusion of frankincense, and salt makes it a market of Medieval Europe too. Some in the Northern Tradition umbrella look to another Anglo-Saxon reference, that of the Nine Herbs Charm and use that mixture–consisting of the nine herbs Mucgwyrt Mugwort, Wegbrade Plantain, Stune Lamb’s cress, Stiðe Nettle, Attorlaðe (theorized to be either cockspur grass or betony), Mægðe Mayweed, Wergulu Crab-apple, Fille (theorized as either thyme or chervil), and Finule Fennel–combined into a paste with old soap and apple residue.
The farmer begins to plow, and to pray to the personified earth. In Tacitus’ Germania we see a mention to the Germanic tribe of the Angli (eventually after migration they would settle into a land that would become named for them: Angle-Land or England) “were goddess-worshippers; they looked on the earth as their mother.” Scholar Kathleen Herbert argues that the Æcerbot comes from the Angli’s religious traditions.
Afterwards, special offerings of cakes or baked loaves (made from whatever was the farmer’s grain crop) were placed into the first furrows that had been ploughed. Really consider the level of detail and preparation needed for a ritual like this. This was a MAJOR undertaking, and as such makes it clear this was a major celebration of great import. I think sometimes when so many of us don’t work the land directly, and rely on grocery stores and uber for our food we can forget the amount of time, the vulnerability that can come with being the sole provider of your own food. Farming was very much a matter of life and death.
Aspects of the ritual structure in Æcerbot, are reminiscent of hallowing land or even land-taking rituals that we see in a variety of other sources. These land-taking customs can be seen in the Icelandic Landnamabok, where men might walk around their property with fire, or women who were claiming land could only claim what they could plough in a day from sunrise to sunset. There are folk-traditions in areas of Russia (so named for the Viking Tribe known as the Rus) that describe women ploughing around their communities as a charm against disease outbreaks, so like the Æcerbot which is to make well the land again, we see another tie between plowing and health in this folk tradition.
The ploughing story and land-taking we see most famously with the Danes, when the Goddess Gefjon is seen ploughing the fields with her Jotun (giant) sons in the form of great oxen. The ploughing of this Swedish soil was so deep that the land was uprooted, leaving a lake behind, the uprooted land was named Zealand, and is the most agriculturally ripe part of the Danish countryside today. For this reason, those Heathens who celebrate the Charming of the Plough may honor Her in their celebrations, though others may opt to honor instead the other Goddesses found in our tradition of the Earth, such as the Germanic goddess Nerthus.
There are several scholars (as well as Heathens today) who see a link between Nerthus and Gefjon. In Tacitus’ Germania, he writes of Nerthus:
“There is a sacred grove on an island in the Ocean, in which there is a consecrated chariot, draped with cloth, where the priest alone may touch. He perceives the presence of the goddess in the innermost shrine and with great reverence escorts her in her chariot, which is drawn by female cattle. There are days of rejoicing then and the countryside celebrates the festival, wherever she designs to visit and to accept hospitality. No one goes to war, no one takes up arms, all objects of iron are locked away, then and only then do they experience peace and quiet, only then do they prize them, until the goddess has had her fill of human society and the priest brings her back to her temple.”
Here are two Goddesses, both associated with cattle and the earth, and both who dwell on islands. But more than just this similar motif, scholars see that the medieval place name for the modern-day city of Naerum in Denmark was Niartharum, which etymologically may connect to Nerthus’ name.
In addition to Charming of the Plough, we also have the Swedish known holy tide of Disting as observed in Uppsala. Disting was partly comprised of the Disablot (a special communal ritual to the Disir) as well as a regular Thing gathering. Rituals to the Disir exist at several different times in sources, some we see at the Winternights celebration, another at Yule’s Mother’s Night, and another in the aforementioned Disting, which suggests that observance of the Disablot varied. While the worship of the disir existed throughout the Northern Tradition umbrella, the timing of ritual observances varied by unique geo-specific cultures and their own traditions. The Disir embody the protective female spirits that look after individuals, their families, and the tribe or community. As such Goddesses and female ancestors comprise the Disir, but also most likely the spirit loci as well.
Things, as seen throughout the ancient world, were gatherings of people with appointed representatives where legal matters were discussed, people came together in the spirit of trade, marriages might be sought, and typically were also marked by religious rituals. In pre-Christian times the Swedish Thing at Uppsala happened several times a year at this location, but after the conversion to Christianity only one Thingtide was still observed, the one that fell at this time of year, specifically at Candlemas (a Christian feast day celebrating the presentation of the child Jesus to the Temple observed on February 2nd). While this Thingtide kept its original timing, (no doubt from syncretization of old traditions with the newer Christian religion) the religious aspects of the gathering were removed post conversion.
In Heimskringla, we have a description of the ancient holy tide of Disting. A sacrifice was offered at Uppsala for both peace and victory to the king. In another section of that text, we have a description of a Disablot, which suggests that the King in Sweden oversaw the ritual in his role as High Priest while ritually riding around the sacred hall. Just as we have aspects of land-taking in stories of Gefjon, or as exhibited in the Æcerbot or Plough Monday traditions, we can understand that it is likely that the King’s riding on his horse probably ritually connected to some aspect of land-taking or boundary making as well.
Land-taking isn’t just for the past either. If you look at the way the “Freedom to Roam” laws operate, as seen throughout Europe (including Norway, Sweden, England, Scotland, Wales, etc.), this ancient concept is still in a sense being used. In the case of the Freedom to Roam, it grants rights to citizens who responsibly and without harm to the property, traverse it so they can have access for the purposes of exercise and recreation to these undeveloped parcels of land, or lands specifically set aside for community use like common land and village greens. In other areas, these rights of access to the common land are only upheld so long as at least once in a stipulated period of time it has been used. In some areas there are community-wide traditions where all the able-bodied people will go on a walk to make sure they keep these areas ‘claimed’ as common land. For this reason, some of the more hardy Heathens may opt for a camping trip at this time of year.
There is an 8th century text, indiculus superstitionum et paganiarum, that mentions that in the month of February there was a celebration still on-going in Germany called Spurcalia. Spurcalia is a Latin name used to describe the celebration, and it is believed that it roots to the German word Sporkel, which meant piglet. In fact in parts of Germany the month of February was actually called piglet-month, or Sporkelmonat, and the Dutch name of the month is the very similar Sprokkelmaand. The assumption is made that with the first livestock births of the year occurring, that pigs were most likely sacrificed at around this time. While this is an obscure reference even to most Heathens, there are a handful who use Spurcalia as their inspiration for making sure there’s some pork on the altar given in offering to the Gods and Goddesses.
So how can we celebrate this today?
While most of us when we consider agricultural celebrations we think of deities of the earth and the associated fertility Gods and Goddesses, such as Freyr, Freyja, Gerda, Gefjon, Nerthus, etc. Aurboda is the mother of Gerda and mother-in-law to Freyr. While little is known of her she is a deity of healing and one presumably with a tie to the earth as well. I suspect her skill probably comes with the knowledge and application of herbs: how to find and grow them, how to reap them, how to store and prepare them, and how to use them. For this reason I will also make sure she is honored at this time. In Gylfaginning, Freyr is said to rule over “rain and sunshine and thus over the produce of the earth; it is good to call upon him for good harvests and for peace; he watches over prosperity of mankind.” Thor also has connections with this time, not just as a god of storms and rain but with healing too. We have one reference to him as being a protector for the health of a community. In the Gesta Hammaburgensis Ecclesiae Pontificum, Adam of Bremen records that at the Temple of Uppsala, “if plague and famine threaten, a libation is poured to the idol Thor.” So we see him tied specifically to famine, which of course would come about by impacts to the crop by weather. With his wife the Goddess Sif being a deity of grain crops it might make sense to honor her as well. Sunna makes sense as well since it is by her light that plants grow.
I also like to incorporate into the festivities Wayland (or Volund), who was a blacksmith. After all, blacksmiths represented the luck of a community. They helped to craft the tools used in the agricultural process: ploughs, hoes, shovels, pick axes, shoes for the livestock, etc. By connection we can also think of this as a time of the dwarves (many who we see are tied with the blacksmithing creation of certain tools for the Gods), for where does the metal come from that a blacksmith uses, if not from us mining the earth?
While most of us today don’t make our livelihoods directly from the land, we can still understand this time of year as the time meant to prepare ourselves for the workload ahead, which is why many Heathens who celebrate the Charming of the Plough may ask for blessings regarding career prospects, job offers and other related elements for the coming year. Some groups may have rituals where people and the ‘tools’ of their trade are blessed. A tailor might bring their scissors to be blessed, a writer might bring a pen, people may bring their security badges for places they work, or anything else that seems appropriate.
If you’re a farmer you may want to create a modified version of the Æcerbot for your own practices. On a smaller scale whether you are a homeowner, or merely live in a place without access to your own land you can plant your own edible plants and do a mini version of the rite, even if it’s just a potted plant of kitchen herbs, or perhaps a gardening plot to grow some of your own fruits and vegetables for the year. The baking of loaves and the offering thereof is still incredibly relevant, and probably the most common element of this holy tide among modern practitioners today.
When talking about the ritual structure of the Aecerbot, I mentioned the nine herbs charm and how it was create as a mixture with soap, apple residue and the noted nine herbs. If we look to the Northern Tradition we see that Idunna the goddess with the golden apples that gives vitality to the gods, has Bragi the god of music as her husband. We know in some areas around the end of the Yuletide the apple orchards were sung to as part of wassailing traditions, in order for them to bear fruit in the coming year. So when I see similar wassailing folk traditions with Plough Monday, I see a continuation and a thought of the need to sing to the land. To invoke the deities of the land. The reference to apple residue being used in the Nine Herbs Charm, depicts to me a connection with the concept of vitality in our tradition because the apple is the fruit and source of vitality: vitality of life, and vitality of the land. You won’t have fresh apples anymore, but even in their residue and seeds there is power. So, while Idunna tends to be more regularly invoked from fall through the end of Yule, there may be something poignantly appropriate about adding something related to apples to your offerings. Not fresh apples as that’s not seasonal, but the sort of products that can be made and stored from apples picked in the fall. Maybe some apple butter to go with your offering of loaves. This can be part of other seasonally appropriate herbs, flowers, and produce for your offerings too.
I had fewer entries, than I did bookmarks. That means there’s still some bookmarks up for grabs. So while supplies last you can still enter for the freebie. You can find all the details on the original post below.
As more information comes to the surface since the insurrection in my nation’s capital I just get angrier. I am so furious. I could rant on this topic for hours. While my nation grapples with the series ramifications and fallout, I always think about how it’s important not to lose sight of our Gods during both good times and bad. To that end I am giving away bookmarks of the Egyptian Gods and Goddesses, scroll down to the bottom to learn how to enter.
Queen Nefertari’s Egypt – An Exhibition
I took a much needed mental health break to Fort Worth’s Kimbell Art Museum as it is currently hosting an exhibit to Queen Nefertari’s Egypt. Nefertari was wife of Pharaoh Ramses II. When her tomb was discovered by Ernesto Schiaparelli in 1904 in the Valley of the Queens near modern day Luxor, Egypt, it had already been ransacked. Most of…