Our only surviving reference to the Goddess Sinthgunt comes from the Old High German Merseburg Incantation (also known as the “Horse Cure Charm”), which dates to around the 9th or 10th Century.
When it comes to religious, pagan celebrations most people are familiar with the eight holy days or sabbats that comprise the Wheel of the Year, such as Lugnasadh. In the Northern Tradition, we do not call these celebrations sabbats. Instead, based on words (like the Old Norse hátíðir) used to describe the most holy of these celebrations (like Yule) as high tides, we tend to call the various religious celebrations we recognize today as holy tides (since not all of the holy tides are considered high tides).
Since we practitioners of the Northern Tradition are dealing with a general umbrella culture that existed in vast plurality we look to ancient Germanic, Scandinavian (Norse, Icelandic, Sweden) and Anglo-Saxon sources. It is important to understand that these ancient cultures reckoned time in different ways in comparison to one another or to the modern world. They existed in different latitudes, lived amongst different types of geography with unique climate conditions that affected the local agricultural cycle. This means that sometimes the timing between when one group would celebrate and another would celebrate a similar type of holy tide could be several weeks apart.
Sometimes we can see an obvious and clear link between these cousin cultures to a specific holy tide like Yule, in other cases things are a bit less clear, or the celebrations of the different groups can sometimes seem vastly different even when they have a similar root. Case in point: the Northern Tradition holy tides in August known as Hlæfmæsse, or Freyfaxi.
The official Facebook account for Mesa Verde National Park posted on July 23, the following statement and images of recent vandalism. One of the many desecrations to this ancient site is graffiti depicting Thor’s Hammer, accompanied by text that spells out the word ‘Asatru.’
As the summer progresses and visitation increases, we are seeing more and more evidence of graffiti, vandalization, and intentional littering throughout Mesa Verde National Park. This comes in many forms and across many surfaces. In one of the pictures below, you’ll see names rubbed onto the sandstone using prehistoric charcoal which a visitor dug up in an archaeological site along the Petroglyph Point Trail. Not only did this/these individuals vandalize the cliff side, they destroyed archaeological artifacts to do so.
The purpose of the National Park Service is to preserve unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the National Park System for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations. Please help us in this effort and refrain from creating graffiti, intentionally littering, causing damage to or otherwise disturbing the landscape in all National Parks. If you see others engaging in any of these acts, please report this activity to the nearest Park Ranger or to staff in the Chief Ranger’s Office located next to the Chapin Mesa Archaeological Museum.
Despite the fact that this is the mission and purpose of the National Park Service, we are seeing a growing number of instances of intentional damage throughout NPS sites every year. Why do you think people do this? What do you think the intent is and what can we do as a culture to cut down on these occurrences?
Thank you to all of the visitors who do visit with respect. Let us all leave no trace, educate others about proper stewardship of public lands, and enjoy these wonderful landscapes as they are.
This infuriates me. Only nithlings are so ignorantly insecure as to destroy cultural heritage, regardless of its origin. This is our human history, and belongs to us all. This act is as heinous as Christians destroying our holy sites. As abominable as the Nazi’s burning books, and is nothing more than the act of a small-minded peon, who should be outcast from the community as a whole.
There are many runestones found in Denmark and Sweden, bearing both a depiction of mjollnir (Thor’s Hammer) but also an inscription entreating Thor to hallow or protect. This symbol is both a symbol of protection and consecration. Also it is used today by those who worship this God, be they go by the name of Asatru, Heathen, Northern Tradition Polytheist, etc. To use His symbol in such a way is nothing but blatant disrespect for our God. For you have committed an act of defilement in His name, while also slandering us all. Shame on you nithling!
Vandalism does not in any way represent the ideals–summed up in the Nine Noble Virtues–of Asatru belief: courage, truth, honor, fidelity, discipline, hospitality, self reliance, industriousness, perseverance. This was a national park, and a guest of this park, violated hospitality, and behaved most dishonorably. I doubt that any of my circle of friends would have someone like this in their own circle, but if you have knowledge of the perpetrator of this atrocity, please contact the authorities. For does the Havamal 127 not say “If aware that another is wicked, say so.”
May Tyr bless the Federal Authorities & Criminal Investigators so they may find the cretin, and s/he is punished to the full extent of the law. May Thor bring down the hammer of His might, and smite the nithling!
Trundholm Sun Chariot – National Museum of Denmark
Daughter of Mundilfari the time-turner,
Sister of light-gleaming Mani,
Wife of Glenr, and fair mother,
We hail you.
We greet you.
Shining grace bestow upon us,
Healing hands lay upon us,
Blessings of warmth, joy and plenty
We ask of you.
Hail to thee Sunna,
Dancing Fire of Sky and Air,
Lady of the Midnight Sun,
Golden, ever-Shining One.
Sun Offering Bowls – National Museum of Denmark
Midsummer (or Litha, Sonnenwende, Sankthansaften, Midsommardagen, etc.), is without a doubt, a day with heavy connections to the sun. For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, Midsummer is the longest ‘day’ of the year, as the sun appears in the sky for far longer than any other day of the year. In certain places of the Northern hemisphere including parts of Scandinavia, the sun may never fully set, giving locals an eye-witness view to what’s colloquially known as a ‘midnight sun’. As such, it should come as no great surprise that in pre-Christian times, as well as for pagans and Asatru today, the day is marked with celebration honoring the sun itself.
Sunna (or Sol) is described in our tradition as the Goddess who in her chariot drawn by horses guides the sun in its track, as her brother Mani similarly drives the moon coursing through the sky. We have no actual depiction in the archaeological record of Sunna herself, the closest we come is the Trundholm sun chariot from the Nordic Bronze Age (1700 BCE – 500 BCE) found in Denmark, which depicts the sun (not the Goddess) being pulled by a horse drawn chariot, and the wheels of the chariot are clearly in the form of solar crosses, or sunwheels.
Symbols of the Sun
From ancient sources going back thousands of years, we have two types of sunwheels present in the archaeological record. The first is known as a solar cross, which is a circle bisected by a horizontal, and a vertical line arranged in the shape of a cross. The other incorporates the sowilo rune (which literally means ‘sun’) and may be known as a fylfot or swastika (which infamously was misappropriated by the Nazi party in World War II). Variations of this later type of sunwheel can incorporate a varying number of sowilo runes (two or more) into its symmetrical design.
This symbol is clearly connected to the Goddess Sunna, she whose chariot draws the sun in it’s path across the sky. Sunna (or Sol) is described in our tradition as the Goddess who in her chariot drawn by horses guides the sun in its track, as her brother Mani similarly drives the moon coursing through the sky. We have no actual depiction in the archaeological record of Sunna herself, the closest we come is the Trundholm sun chariot from the Nordic Bronze Age (1700 BCE – 500 BCE) found in Denmark, which depicts the sun (not the Goddess) being pulled by a horse drawn chariot, and the wheels of the chariot are clearly in the form of solar crosses, or sunwheels.
The other sunwheel, the swastika is a symbol sacred to many world religions, you’ll find it used among Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, Grego-Roman architecture and jewelry, and other Asian and Indo-European cultures and religions. Depictions of the swastika appear on various sundries including jewelry, runestones, swords and spears, cremation urns, etc. Throughout Germania, Scandinavia and Anglo-Saxon finds.The symbol has even cropped up closer to home for most Americans, in that it was a sacred symbol of several Native American tribes including the Navajo, Apache, and Hopi.
The word swastsika derives from svastika a much older word from the Sanskrit language, which etymologically is comprised of words meaning both good and well-being, and thus the symbol can be interpreted to mean that it is a charm or blessing for good health. In the Germanic tradition, Sunna, is not only the Goddess that draws forth the Sun, but She is linked with healing in one of the Merseburg Charms as well. Since the Northern Tradition sprung from an agriculturally focused society, they viewed the year as broken up into only two seasons: summer and winter. Winter was the time when food was scarce, when disease ran rampant and illness, malnutrition and the cold weather took lives. Summer was seen as a time of not only warmth, but a time where food was more abundantly available.
Grimm’s Teutonic Mythology describes the traditional folk practices for Midsummer celebrations in the areas where the Norse Gods were once (and in some cases still are) honored is to set a sunwheel (or a wagon wheel) on fire. In some cases the wheel was simply lit locally and incorporated into the Midsummer bonfire. In other cases people trekked out into the countryside, found a hill, set the sunwheel on fire, and let it roll down the hill as they chased after it, people watching and cheering as they watched it roll along it’s fiery way, as vegetation caught fire. Sometimes mini-fires were set in the fields, as a way of directly burning in offering the crops that the sun had helped to grow, or fragrant herbs were tossed into local bonfires instead.
It is possible, that just as Native American tribes would regularly set clearings on fire for the sake of agriculture and to lure bigger game to lush fields, that the selective burning on the fields may have also been conducted not only as an offering, but potentially to help the land so that future crops were more bountiful. As we learned after Mt. Saint Helen’s blew its top, fire is actually a healthy part of nature, as it can help fuel rapid growth and renew the land. This is why the Forestry Service has now abandoned their previous policy of total fire suppression in the fight against wildfires. Sometimes they will now let forests burn because it is healthier for the forest in the long run to do so.
While there’s no doubt both types of sunwheels, solar crosses and swastikas, connect to the Goddess Sunna, some scholars including Hilda R. Ellis Davidson theorize that the swastika may be also connected to Thor, and therefore the symbol was a representation of mjollnir. HRED supports this theory by looking to the neighboring tradition of the Finnish Sami. On the shaman drums, it wasn’t uncommon to see a depiction of a man holding either a hammer or axe, or a swastika symbol. This male figure is identified as the Lappish equivalent to Thor, their Thunder God Horagelles. Considering that the symbol is comprised of two or more sowilo runes, and side by side sowilo runes which resembled lightning bolts were used for the Nazi SS, while this connection is less direct than with Sunna, it is to my mind a viable possible connection. Although I would posit a later appearing connection with Thor, and that the symbol was always closely associated with the Sun, and therefore Sunna.
Today, while many Heathens recognize both symbols, many Heathens tend to shy away from the use of the swastika symbol and instead use the solar cross symbol. This shyness with the swastika is firmly rooted in the atrocities performed by the Nazis in World War II. Today, the swastika tends to be far more associated with hate groups. For this reason many of the Native American tribes will no longer create arts and crafts baring this symbol, the symbol is banned from use except when used in historical context in Germany and Brazil. Yet the symbol is still clearly used on both the Finnish Air Force insignia, as well as in connection with the office of the Finnish President. Of those modern Heathens who do use the symbol, many do so in the privacy of their own homes, or in subtle ways. There are some who do fully embrace the symbol trying to reclaim it and educate in the process, but they are a small minority.
Sunwheels as a Ritual Craft Project
For Litha, I made my very own sunwheel to adorn the altar, which was infused with fragrant herbs and flowers. I opted to make my sunwheel in the solar cross design, and began by going to my local crafts store where I purchased a natural straw wreath, as well as natural raffia. Additionally, I stopped off at the florist and picked up sunflowers, yellow roses, purple mums, and a few other odds and ends that seemed appropriate. Then I used the raffia, and wrapped the wreath with it creating my base solar cross design. Once I had made the solar cross , I then began incorporating the flowers into the sunwheel. The end result only decorated the altar for a few brief hours before it was tossed into the Litha bonfire in offering to Sunna herself.
Or sunwheels I’ve made from other years…
This is an easy project that anyone can do for a modest investment, and can be made both by individuals for their own private rituals or by groups of people as a joint and collective offering. This crafty little project can also serve as a great way of including children into the Litha celebrations.
Oh guys. The spiritual stupidity. I cannot even process an exchange I just had.
Someone out of the blue reached out wanting me to “join forces” with them and “contribute” to their Wicans, Pagans, and Heathen RP. And no, I do not roleplay in any community anywhere online … so really I am utterly flabbergasted to have received the communication in the first place. *head desks*
For those who don’t know, RP stands for roleplay.
“That is counter to everything I stand for. Heathenry is about the sacred balance between humans and the numinous forces of the world: the Gods, the Vaettir, the Ancestors. Roleplay makes Them imaginary, makes Them not have power, and relegates Them to nothing more than fantasy, trapped in the cage formed by mortal minds. The Regin (Holy Powers) live and have power beyond our ken. So no, I have no interest in joining forces with you and your make pretend world that is a profanity to those powers.”
*bangs head on desk repeatedly*
This shouldn’t have to be said!
Among the many descriptions of Odin, we see that he is described as having a pair of ravens, and a pair of wolves.
Thanks to some nature specials I watched recently when I couldn’t sleep, I discovered that ravens tend to mate for life. While pre-adult ravens may live and work together in groups with other ravens, when they hit adult status about 4 years into their 40 year or so life-span they then become extremely territorial. The only time adult ravens will be seen together (peaceably) out in nature (be it the woodlands or the urban jungle) is when they are a mated pair.
This makes me wonder if Odin’s ravens Hugin (Thought) and Munin (memory) may in fact be a mated pair.
Another interesting tidbit, is that while wolves may exist in packs, they (like ravens) also tend to mate for life. And the only animal besides a fellow pack-mate that they would share their food with is a raven. Could Odin’s wolves, Geri and Freki, also be a mated pair? Or are they just packmates?
In the wild wolves and ravens have long been coexisting together by feasting from the same prey. But more than that they have been cooperating: “noted raven researcher Bernd Heinrich has suggested that ravens evolved with wolves, with ravens possibly leading wolves to moose or caribou, and then later feeding upon the carcasses torn open by wolves.“
In Dr. L. David Mech’s ‘The Wolf: The Ecology and Behaviour of an Endangered Species’ he states: “It appears that the wolf and the raven have reached an adjustment in their relationships such that each creature is rewarded in some way by the presence of the other and that each is fully aware of the other’s capabilities.”
Even beyond just cooperating for food, wolves and ravens are known to play together too.
While most of my musings in regard to heathen cosmology is speculation, it does prove to my mind one point: that these ancient peoples were far more aware of the natural order of the world and observations of those items, than we tend to be today.
So, what do you think about these possibilities? Are Odin’s ravens and wolves, mated pairs or not? Please share your thoughts below!
For those of us who are so lucky, we have a lovely three-day weekend before us. Memorial Day is far more than an occasion to exercise your checkbook (or should I say debit card swipe) in pursuit of retail bargains. Rather it is a holiday rooted in American history that has shifted overtime in the American consciousness, and yet it is also a holiday that many in the Northern Tradition have taken to claim as their own.
Memorial Day is a U.S. national holiday. The official birthplace of Memorial Day is in Waterloo, New York, which since 1866 has annually observed the holiday of decorating the war dead in their nearby cemetery. The original holiday was known as Decoration Day, when local communities would visit their grave yards and decorate the graves of soldiers who had died in battle. It began first to honor Union Soldiers who had died in the course of the American Civil War. After the First World War the holiday was expanded to include the honoring of any military man or woman who died in battle. Today the holiday is also used to not only honor those who died in military combat, but also to pay respect to those who served in the military but either died later from injuries received in combat but were removed from the field of contention, or those who died after leaving the military service.
In the Northern Tradition, respect for the comitatus (war-band) and the warrior cultus is well documented. Even people unfamiliar with the vast histories and stories of our lore are usually familiar with the more popular aspects of this literature like the later occurring story of Beowulf. Let’s face it, this tale has been adapted to cinema numerous times, has become an aspect of popular culture in its modern adaptations. Many of us read it in school as part of our core curriculum as a classic and early example of English literature along the likes of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.
Beyond the reverence of the war band, we also know the importance of the ancestors to the Northern Tradition. We have evidence in surviving lore of religious rituals performed to honor the ancestors: the disir and the alfar*. One of these rituals was known as disablot. In ancient Sweden it was held near the Vernal Equinox, in other areas it was held at Winter Nights. So the timing of the celebration varied.
The respect that those of the Northern Tradition have for the military can be seen in the wide variety of programs out there supporting the military community: including the Open Halls Project (and it’s also on Facebook), free hammers via The Mjolnir Project (currently suspended due to a backlog), for years Heathens fought to have symbols of our faith approved by the Department of Veteran Affairs for use on soldiers tombstones, a journey which took years to come to fruition: this spanned from a rally July 4, 2007 on the national mall in Washington, D.C. to get both the pentacle and the hammer as approved symbols for military tombstones, and in 2013 the Thor’s Hammer symbol finally was finally approved.
Others of us have also personally donated to service men and women. I know of variouspagan and Northern Tradition authors who have donated books to various military circles. I have sent off care-packages of altar items to the Bagram Pagan Open Circle, and sent items off to the Wiccan group Circle Sanctuary’s Operation Circle Care. I always offer Free Sigdrifa’s Prayer Bookmarks to American pagan and polytheist veterans and current active duty soldiers.
If you ask most Americans to explain the difference between Memorial Day and Veterans Day, the sad and simple fact is that most can’t. The two days have slowly morphed over time into a seeming amalgam of sameness. Veterans Day is intended to specifically honor those veterans of military service who are still alive. This confusion can even be seen mirrored in the Asatru community.
The Asatru Alliance, has taken Veteran’s Day and recycled it as the Feast of the Einherjar, which like Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day is a solely modern invention–not that there’s anything necessarily wrong with this. Einherjar is a term used to specifically refer to the battle dead escorted by the Valkyries to Odin’s hall Valhalla. Now since I’m not a member of the AA, I don’t know what their motivation was in the choosing of this date for this invented festivity. Perhaps since May and June already had traditional rituals associated with those months (Walpurgis and Litha respectively), they were looking for something that seemed appropriate to a heathen religious viewpoint to place into the month of November.
Regardless of the AA’s motivations for associating this feast with Veteran’s Day, the simple fact remains that like the larger mainstream American culture, many in the smaller Asatru religion also confuse the true meaning of Memorial and Veteran’s Day.
Of course, just as words can shift meaning over time influenced by the culture that uses them, so to can holidays. Today while Memorial Day still honors the war dead, has slowly shifted in the American consciousness to become this vast amalgam Memorial Day/Veteran’s Day celebration, as well as a day like El dia de los muertos where families may also tend to other graves regardless of military service to the persons resting therein.
Some of the Northern Tradition take this more all-inclusive approach to this holiday. Others opt to honor the war dead at Veteran’s Day instead, and a few of us (like me) make it a point to honor the war dead at Memorial Day. In my case I specifically look to my own line and those who served there. My grandfather who was a chief petty officer in the Navy for the first great war, my Uncles who served in World War II or in Vietnam… to my great-grand father who served in the Confederacy and as my late grandmother told it “even after losing an arm to them, he never asked those ‘damn yankees’ for a thing!”
Regardless of when people opt to honor the war dead, I believe it’s important that sometime during the year you do take the opportunity to honor them. These can be both your ancestors, but also just dead soldiers known and unknown. ‘Texatru’ that rare breed of Asatru who happen to hail from Texas and LOVE being Texans can be just as patriotic about the Lone Star State as they are patriotically American; They have a tendency to give a shout out to Daniel Boone on the anniversary of the fall of the Alamo. Just as some Anglo-Saxon Heathens may honor the late Mercian king Penda.
Of course, it should go without saying that honoring the war dead is something you should do as part of a periodically regular routine of respecting your ancestors. Sure just as we had disablot to honor the mothers in ancient times (and today)… it’s certainly not a foreign concept that we at times of our own determination have ‘themed’ celebrations to pay homage to the different types of dead.
So somewhere between the 50% off sales, the picnics and bar-b-q, I’d suggest taking a page from our Presidents who tend to lay a wreath at the tomb of the unknown solider in Robert E. Lee’s former residence reinvented as Arlington National Cemetery. Take the time out to honor the war dead and those who have served the military in ways that enabled you to the type of life and freedoms we now enjoy. Don’t be shy in just honoring your war dead, but if you’re lucky to live near a veteran’s specific cemetery, or even a normal cemetery with a veteran’s section… why not pick up some flowers, and decorate each grave with a single bloom. And don’t feel that you HAVE to go to a cemetery to honor the war dead.
If you don’t live near the grave of your war dead, you can always put out pictures on your ancestral altar of them, or items that remind you of them. If you don’t have pictures, you can also write out their names and place them into a small basket or trinket box on the altar. You can set out offerings of items they enjoyed in life perhaps tobacco, cornbread, steak, etc. My uncle had proclivities for candy corn, popcorn, peanut butter, Diet Coke, and Mr. Goodbars. He always had a deck of cards lying around too. So when I’m honoring him it’s not uncommon for me to incorporate all or some of those items into the ancestral altar.
But to get your creative juices flowing, here is one of my prayers for Memorial Day:
If not for my ancestors,
if not for those soldiers who fought for my current government,
or those who fought to defend the multitude of cultures of all my ancestors…
I would not exist.
I would not know the life that I know.
My life has been hallowed in their struggles to survive,
to make the world renewed,
Better than it was before.
To these men and women I owe a debt of gratitude,
and at this time,
and at this hour,
And for all time evermore I hail thee–
those who fought,
who took up arms and when none were in grasp fought with bare hands–
your sacrifice is remembered,
your devotion honored.
You did not die in vain,
and the promise of your efforts still bears fruit.
May it follow like sweet reverb to future generations who will hear the call, and add their own harmonies to strengthen it.
So do I hail!
Sometimes the perception other pagans and polytheists have of the Northern Tradition is that we are focused on a patriarchal system due to the overwhelming popularity of Gods like Odin and Thor, but the truth is simply that all powers, or Regin, were respected and honored, including those mothering and protective spirits or wights known as the Disir.
When looking up the etymology and usage of the word wight, I discovered it was used not just to describe land wights, but also for ancestral spirits, and the Gods and Goddesses, and even the genius loci. So it was an umbrella term used to describe anything that was numinous, or not of this world and therefore not wholy human.
I think in the early foundations of the religious practices, there wasn’t a great deal of distinction made between the types, anything that was supernatural fit as they all held sacred roles we mortals should respect and there were regional variances and regional preferences for each geo-socio-politico community. Therefore it is my belief that overtime more of a tiered, hierarchical structure emerged in human civilization, and thus we begin to see more of a separation of ‘ranks and tiers’ between Gods, the ancestors, the land wights, etc.
In Guðrúnarkviða, the text calls the valkyries “Odin’s Disir”, and we also see in Reginsmal and Krakumal more connections to the valkyries. We see in another text, Atlamál, that they are specifically referred to as being dead women.
In Hamðismál and Grimnismal the disir appear to be synonymous with the Norns. All throughout the lands of ancient Germania the archaelogical record is full of more than 1000 found votive stones and altars erected to the Matronae (The Mothers), and within that vast number we find groupings of stones in specific regions to specific deities, such as those honoring the Austriahenae. Suggesting, and to my mind proving, that there existed genius loci or a region specific variety too. But as the term Matronae/Mothers alone suggests, they also have associations with fertility as well.
As such, Goddesses, Norns, valkyries, genius loci, as well as female ancestors comprise the Disir, or Idis. While that can seem a bit overwhelming to wrap your mind around, at the end of the day the Disir embody the protective and beneficial female spirits that look after individuals, their families, and the tribe or community.
The Disir or mothers were so revered that they had their own celebrations within the Northern Tradition umbrella, with regional variance. The Anglo-Saxons had Modraniht (Mother’s Night) during December, the Swedes had Disting in February, yet texts like Víga-Glúms and
Hervavar show celebrations in the Autumn instead.
In modern times Northern Tradition polytheists will also use Mother’s Day as another opportunity to honor the Disir.
So on this Mother’s Day…
Let us honor our Mothers, who through joy and suffering endured so that their children, and their children’s children might not just survive, but thrive.
I call to our mothers, the light and the life bringers who have guided us from darkness onto the paths our ancestors have traveled, and now the paths we walk down.
All-mother Frigga I hail thee, and I thank thee. For the immeasurable blessings, your guidance and your wisdom. You see all things, even if I may not know them. May your counsel follow me into the year ahead and be the compass from which I navigate.
May the blessings of the Disir be upon you all.
May Day, Summerdaeg, Walpurgis… trying to discern the pre-Christian celebrations and origins of this holy tide can be a bit tricky.