In the wake of the tragic mass shooting at the Tops Market grocery store in Buffalo, New York on May 14, 2022 we have been learning more about the murdering criminal who had perpetrated the attack. He was wearing a sonnenrad (a swastika related symbol), the assault rifle and shotgun were adorned with the Othala rune, and the shotgun also featured a Celtic Cross (which is a variation of our solar cross symbol). He also had references on his assault rifle to five other mass shooters (who I am choosing not to name) behind the following attacks: 2011 Norwegian attacks in Oslo and Utøya, 2011 Tree of life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, the 2015 Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, the 2019 Chabad Congregation in Poway, and the 2019 Christchurch attack.
He signed off his manifesto with the words “Goodbye, God bless you all and I hope to see you in Valhalla.” Compare it to the manifesto from the shooter behind the 2019 Christchurch attack and there’s lots of similarities (basically plagiarized with slight rewordings) including the sign off “Goodbye, god bless you all and I will see you in Valhalla.”
I’d like to say something for the hate spouting extremists in the back. Murderers don’t go to Valhalla. In fact in our lore we know murderers go somewhere else entirely. In Gylfaginning we are told by Odin (in his guise of Þriði) that those who commit evil go to Nifolhel (Misty Hel). In another section of Gylfaginning, and supported also in Völuspá, we learn that within Nifolhel we have Nástrǫnd (Corpse Shore), and that is where oathbreakers and murderers go in the afterlife. Nástrǫnd is home to the serpent Níðhöggr (Malice Striker) who gnaws for eternity on the corpses of murderers and oathbreakers that have been condemned to the serpent’s hall. We think that Nástrǫnd may correlate to the Old English Wyrmsele, which means serpent hall, it appears in the poem Judith found in the Nowell Codex (which is the manuscript source for Beowulf).
The heathen afterlife is first and foremost Hel. Hel, is more than just a name. Her name literally is not only the realm of the dead, but etymologically is the very earth where the dead are buried and reside, from the great cairns and graveyards. To speak of Hel is to speak of both the Goddess, Her realm, and all those who dwell there. Sooner or later we will traverse those halls, because as the Havamal states, “cattle die and kinsmen die” because the most fundamental truth of life is that sooner or later we die. From the sources we know that there were certain places or deities within the afterlife of Hel that played host to the dead: Odin’s Valhalla, Thor’s Bilskirnir within Valhalla, Freya’s Sessrumnir, the hall of Vingolf (mentioned three times: once connected to Odin, once to the Goddesses, and once just generally as a place for the dead), Gimlé where the just go, and then we know that the Goddesses Ran and Gefjon also play host to specific types of the dead (respectively those who died at sea and maidens).
One of the commonly misrepresented beliefs of our afterlife is that the end goal is for us all to go to Valhalla, it isn’t. Valhalla is specifically intended for a select few, and only for those that Odin thinks has the right skillset to his warrior purposes and thus chooses. Killing in self defense, or killing in the course of war is one thing. Gunning down a bunch of innocent people in a grocery store makes you only one thing: a murderer, a nīðing (nithling) which is one of the worst labels given to a person, as it means the person has no honor and is a villain.
This gunman doesn’t represent my religion nor my beliefs. In fact both he and the Q-Anon Shaman from the January 6, 2021 Insurrection in Washington DC use the singular Christian god in messaging, but combine it with some of our religion’s sacred symbols and places. This is sadly yet another despicable real world example of what should be sacred being profaned for the purposes of hate. Let me be clear, in the Northern Tradition these are the races that exist: the Giants, the Gods, the Dwarves, the Disir, the Alfar, other vaettir of land and sea, and the human race. That’s it. If you look at our creation story we see that as the Gods create the first people, Odin breathed life into them, Vili granted them intelligence, and Ve gave them their senses so they could see and hear. So whether an individual or any other cultural or religious group believes that or not, if someone believes and worships Odin then to my mind you should believe he is the All-Father of humanity, not the Father of only some.
You would think after decades of being a Heathen and seeing white supremacists pervert the sacred, I’d be used to this. But I’m not. I’m furious. Each time we’re here I’m just as outraged as the last time. So I had to do something, in this case I made a meme. Yes, it is but a small act, but maybe if we can educate there’d be fewer people misusing Valhalla. If we can burst the fantasy bubble around Valhalla, maybe we can start to dismantle part of the appeal in how white supremacists who don’t even worship our Gods use it to galvanize others to hate. Share it, spread it. Let’s make this go viral.
So you want to learn about the Northern Tradition, but don’t want to read scholarly analysis, or any ruminations from modern practitioners. You just want one source from the culture to learn everything that’s historically authentic to the culture but tells you about the cosmology, and the details of all the rituals? Well sorry to burst your bubble, but that doesn’t exist.
There is an old joke, that ours is the religion with homework (and really, all religion has homework). There’s a lot you need to understand in the big picture before you can really start to tease out the details of pre-Christianity.
Before I go down the very nuanced rabbit hole, I want to make one thing abundantly clear: the history, the stories, the folk customs, the archaeology are all useful and important. But a faith is a living thing, and you have to live a religion, which means finding ways to practice it. How do you conduct rituals? What offerings do you give? What prayers do you say? What are your devotions? How do you live a religion? You can find helpful resources and inspiration from the past but at some point you have to venture out and find your own way of living the religion.
I also want to stress that you do not need to be a scholar to follow this religious path. The only thing standing between you developing a relationship with our Gods, the ancestors, and the vaettir is simply you. Some enjoy delving into the history, to immerse themselves and tease out nuances. Others don’t, and merely want a framework of understanding so they can then move onto living the religion through the customs that come with a living and ever evolving practice. But for those of you who want to delve into the vast knowledge from antiquity, the following should help define a helpful framework to have in mind before you start your own explorations of the sources. This is useful as well to read, even if you only ever plan to do a little bit of exploration into the ancient sources on your own.
We can find a lot of information if you’re patient by going through the old literary and archaeological sources, but it’s not easy. For those of us in the Northern Tradition we have the misfortune that so little has survived to us from ancient believers. Unlike some other major polytheisms, like the unbroken tradition of Hinduism, or other major polytheistic traditions that have a large corpus of work by believers from antiquity about their own religious culture that survives into the present day: Kemetic, Hellenic, and Cultus Deorum, etc.
First you have to understand the history, the various sources (and how they connect to the historical context). Then comes the harder element, the fact even when rituals are mentioned it’s usually in passing, or only in vague context. In order to obtain our creation story you have to look at five different sources: Völuspá, Grímnismál, Vafþrúðnismál, Gylfaginning, and Alvissmal. So it’s very common that we have to take little puzzle pieces from a range of material to try to piece together specific details. This means to fill in the gaps many look at the entirety of the Northern Tradition umbrella from the lore (various literary sources including (but not limited to) the sagas, eddas, & skaldic poetry, various Anglo-Saxon sources, as well as Byzantium, Roman & Arab accounts, late appearing folk customs & tales, and even archaeological finds. Approaching this material with an understanding of how this culture viewed the seasons, and drafted their calendar can help you tease apart the timing of some of the rituals too. While we can find commonalities in the over-arching shared worship to Odin/Woden, there were also unique traditions tied to specific settlements or tribal groups that to our knowledge did not appear elsewhere too. This has led in the modern movement to a range of different approaches, some are strictly reconstructionist from a specific area, and others may be more universal across the entirety of the umbrella, plus a range of other denominations in between.
Recently in an online group I am in, there was a post which greatly annoyed me because it hit on one of my biggest pet peeves: 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 offending post in this case:
"The Owl, symbol of the Goddess, represents perfect wisdom. Owls have the ability to see in the dark and fly noiselessly through the skies. They bring messages through dreams. The Owl is the bird of mystical wisdom and ancient knowledge of the powers of the moon."
To which I responded:
I meant every damn word of it too.
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 destroyed, 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.
Christianity took our Gods and Goddesses, they re-branded them to erode what had existed before Christianity tried to usurp their sacred places. Some of the pre-Christian deities became re-branded as Saints while others were vilified becoming associated with devils and things inimical. We see an euhemeristic process introduced where Gods and Goddesses were reduced to just remarkable humans, and in the process eroded the connections of the sacred from them in human consciousness.
Then you had Christian scholars who came and started studying every God or Goddesses as merely aspects of the same divinity. This essentially lump-sums these deities together into ever increasing definitions of marginalization, making them merely footnotes. Afterall the operating ideological paradigm of Christian thought is that Christianity has the only real God so why should you treat these other religions with any claim to their own divinity, to their own power or sacredness? And then you had the revival of modern paganism where people were using this Christian written research that looked at Gods and Goddesses as an amalgam and re-made it into their watered down version of a pseudo religion.
If you’re at a pub, and ordered a pint you want to get what you paid for not some watered down over priced beer. So if you’re going to be a pagan who is a true polytheist, and isn’t afraid of specifically saying their names when they pour out libations, then use the names that the ancient practitioners called their Gods, their Goddesses. Otherwise take your watered down cheap swill and leave. You’re not helping.
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.
These Gods and Goddesses had names. They were worshipped by Their names. People died in worship of Them, people STILL die and are tormented in worship of them. So use their names. If you can’t call them by their names, get out of the way for those of us that do. Because by refusing to be specific, you are an active participant in the undermining of these Ancient polytheistic traditions. You are in fact being a destroyer and an active participant in the erosion of our polytheisms.
And if you’re still resisting this concept let me ask you something:
How would you feel if for the rest of your life every family member, friend, lover, co worker, neighbor and stranger merely addressed you by : ‘hey you’, while everyone else was also called ‘hey you’. Imagine if you ask ‘hey you’ to do something, it’ll probably get ignored because how does anyone know who the request was for?
So use Their Names. Be specific in your prayers.
The Morrigan is not Pele, nor are either of those goddesses Aphrodite, let alone are they Taweret. Freya is not Sif, nor is she Sigyn, Syn, Skadi, Hel, Skuld, and so many, many more.
Living in Texas one cannot deny the growing influence of Day of the Dead celebrations. As the Hispanic/Latinx population becomes the largest demographic group second only to the Anglicized population here in Texas (and growing strongly in a population boom across the nation), I have begun to notice major retail store chains starting to carry Day of the Dead themed décor.
As a Heathen, I love seeing this ancestral celebration growing in both awareness and popularity, but there are a few things to know before you decide to incorporate the Day of the Dead into your own celebrations. The most important of which is the Day of the Dead is not Mexican Halloween.
The Day of the Dead (or el Día de los Muertos, sometimes simplified to just Dia de Muertos) is a cultural celebration most strongly connected to Mexico (but does appear in other parts of the Americas, especially in what one would consider the traditional region of Mesoamerica, and the connected diaspora of its descended cultures and peoples). At its core the Day of the Dead is a celebration of life, while embracing the knowledge that death is a natural part of the cycle of life. The focus of the celebration is the dead: one’s family, one’s friends, one’s ancestors.
Centuries ago in what we think of as Mexico, there was an Aztec festival in the summer dedicated to the goddess Mictecacihuatl who was Queen of Mictlan (the Underworld). In Aztec art she was represented with a flayed body, and mouth open to swallow the stars during the day. She is married to the God Mictlantecuti who presides over the underworld with her. The flayed body is a common motif among Mesoamerica and neighboring cultures to the Aztecs. Having part of the flesh missing symbolized the connection of that deity to death. For Heathens (Northern Tradition Polytheists) this is a somewhat similar concept to what we see in Gylfaginning, where the Goddess Hel is described as having flesh of two colors, the dark cold of the grave, and the color flush with life.
Some modern persons equate the Aztec Goddess with folk cultic practices that have cropped up to Santa Muerte (also known as Saint Death, or Holy Death). Outcastes and the downtrodden flock to her in large numbers, but she has believers from all walks of life and status, from successful college educated career professionals to members of the drug cartels. Personally I suspect that Santa Muerte as we know her today has become a syncretization of the old Aztec Goddess Mictecacihuatl with the newer influence of Catholicism’s Virgin Mary (and/or the Lady of Guadalupe).
Santa Muerte is not a figure recognized by the Catholic Church, in fact the Vatican has condemned her cult as being blasphemous. She is estimated to have more than 10 million followers in the Americas and is believed to be the fastest growing religious movement in the world. Scholars have found evidence of cultic practice continuing to her through the centuries of Catholicism in the region. Though how widespread these practices were is unclear, as these were underground cultic practices until the 20th Century. While there are some who are Catholics who have an unsanctioned cultic practice to her, there is also a trend where people are cutting ties with the church and founding independent churches and temples dedicated to Santa Muerte. Worshippers come and bring offerings, they pray to her to intercede on their behalf, they crawl on their knees to her in worship and in need.
Many scholars feel that the ancient festival to the Goddess Mictecacihuatl was the regional origins of today’s Day of the Dead celebrations. During the Spanish colonization of the Americas, the observance became syncretized and thus adjacent to the observance of the Catholic Church’s Allhallowtide (October 31-November 2), which is comprised of the observances of All Saint’s Eve, All Saints’ Day, and All Souls’ Day. The Catholic Church’s AllHallowtide was in its own way syncretized with European pre-Christian practices as well.
While the timing of the celebration today may be adjacent to Halloween, this holiday is about remembrance of the dearly departed dead, from friends to family members and ancestors going back in time. The heart of the celebration is about the dead: decorating their graves with marigolds, setting up ofrenda (altars) for the dead where offerings are put out of food and drink, music is played for the dead, tokens of remembrance are put out, and most important of all the dead are remembered.
This is the heart of the celebration in its intimacy at the foremost personal and family level observed in homes, neighborhoods and cemeteries. Dia de Muertes is undergoing a metamorphosis in modern times as it is commercialized and growing into something that has more of a feel of celebrations elsewhere in the world of carnival or Mardi Gras as a festive and jubilant time for community wide parties. In the last few years this has really exploded in Mexico, a huge driving force for this coming straight out of Hollywood.
In 2014, 20th Century Fox brought us the animated movie Book of Life, which was one of the first mainstream introductions to the Day of the Dead celebration for many. A year later, Hollywood presented to us an incredible fantasy Day of the Dead parade in Mexico City during the 2015 installment on the James Bond movie franchise, Spectre. James Bond, portrayed by Daniel Craig in the film, navigates the parade to get into position to carry out his mission. Before the film’s release, Mexico City had never had a Day of the Dead parade, but in 2016 started one because of the James Bond film, using it to build up tourism to the city. Also gaining access to some of the parade props used in the film.
And shortly after the international box office hit Spectre, there was another major movie that released from Hollywood: Pixar Studios’ Coco, released by Disney. This animated movie had global box office success almost on par with with the success of Spectre. Thus firmly placing Day of the Dead into the mainstream consciousness.
In very recent years kids in some of the major cities in Mexico now go door to door and receive sweet treats in the form of skulls, so they literally are given sugar skulls to eat in a custom in part inspired by trick or treating customs from the United States. Chocolate decorated skulls are common, as cacao (or chocolate) originates from the Mesoamerican region. Some are made from marzipan, and others from sugar pressed into skull shaped molds.
While commercialization is impacting the Day of the Dead, pushing it into an evolution that many in Mexico are crying out against, the modern Day of the Dead iconography that many are familiar with really dates to the early 1900s and the work of political cartoonist Jose Guadalupe Posada. Posada used skeletons in his work to remind people that life is short, and whatever you are in life, in the end we all die and are just bones. While the term calaveras is for skulls, it can also be used as a term used for a very specific type of poetry that was very popular during Posada’s life, and his work was often attached to these poems. The calaveras poems were highly satirical, and were written as epitaphs to famous living figures as if they were dead. In this way they were politicized as a satirical take on those who were betraying Mexican culture, trying to take on the airs of Europe, or simply mocking the arrogant pride of believing or presenting oneself as better than another.
While Posada’s work had many skeletal figures it is the creation of his Catrina that has become the most iconic. La Catrina, is a skeletal female figure who traditionally is dressed in Spanish influenced clothing worn in early 1900s Mexico. She wears an exaggeratedly large hat (so large it could be used as an umbrella) with fancy ostrich feathers. She is often called La Calavera Catrina (Skull Catrina) because usually her skeletal face is all you see of her bones. While Posada created Catrina, he never named her. To him she was La Calavera Garbancera. Her iconography was further propelled in 1947 into the cultural zeitgeist through a painting by Diego Rivera, the husband (and artist in his own right) of Frida Kahlo. Diego was the one who named her Catrina, as a feminine version of the term Catrin which described males of the social and wealthy elite who lived a luxurious lifestyle and focused on matters of style. Contextually, it had the colloquial overtones of calling a man a dandy. Catrina has become probably the most distinctive figure of modern Mexico, and ironically is a statement now of Mexicanness. [Arts and Culture news site Glasstire, has an amazing article you can read up on to learn more about Posada and Rivera.]
Today, Catrina while still rendered as a skeletal female figure, can be dressed in a variety of ways. She usually still has some sort of head covering: the traditional huge plumed feather hat, a flower crown, a Saint like crown with metal spikes in lieu of heavenly light, or a mantilla (traditional lace veil head covering from Spain). She is depicted usually in fanciful dress, whether the traditional 1900s European influenced fashion of Mexico, to elaborate ball gowns, or traditional Mexican dress (think similar to what Frida Kahlo herself wore which was a blending of various ethnic styles from Mexico), as well as other such very Mexican garments. La Catrina’s popularity has led her today being paired with other skeletal figures from men, children, and animals. To be clear, skeletal figures have been connected to the festival before Posada, but this current style of the iconography is more recent. They are never rendered as grotesque, bloody, scary, or mournful.
While today’s celebration is becoming more of a large community party with a family friendly carnival feel, it’s important to note that even if you have received an invitation to a Day of the Dead themed party, that there are very finite parameters for what is appropriate to wear. There is a fine line between cultural mockery and appropriation, and cultural respect. The dress should always be family friendly. These costumes shouldn’t look like they belong in a horror slasher or creature feature film. This is not the place for vampires, werewolves, mummies, zombies and witches. This is not the time to wear your Wizard of Oz costume, or try to woo the ladies as a Roman legionnaire. Anything that says “Sexy Day of the Dead” costume is a hard, hard pass. Do not buy it, do not wear it. Usually dressing up like Catrina or as a skeleton is accepted whether or not you have Mesoamerican heritage.
In Mexico, this also becomes a day to celebrate Mexican culture so you’ll see performing mariachi players in charro suits, and ballet folklorico dancers too in their ribbon star forming Jalisco or Escaramuza styled dresses with high collars. Some of the performers will pair this with the skeletal face makeup to make this more special than a performance at another time of year. Women wearing huipil (which are sleeveless tunic like tops in a variety of lengths and regional styles that are traditionally paired with a long skirt) feature prominently too. This look may be recognizable to many outside of Mexico because iconoclast Frida Kahlo was known to wear these garments sometimes. You will also see other Mexican garments worn like the blusa or camisa, which was influenced by the European chemise (sometimes also called a Mexican peasant blouse by those outside Mexico) and adapted by locals usually in more rural areas accented with distinctive local embroidery designs. There are now versions of this which are simple long dresses usually in an A line cut which are a modern evolution. You’ll also see other regional variants of women’s dresses from Campeche, Chiapas, Michoacan, Tehuana etc. Women might be seen with a shawl garment known as a rebozo. For men you might find sombreros being donned, or sarapes which were woven overgarments worn over their shirts as a small blanket-like shawl. Panchos which are also overgarment pieces are distinctive from sarapes as they are made with a hole in them for the head.
Sometimes, harkening back to the Aztec ties of the festival you may also see indigenous Mesoamerican clothing worn. (For lack of a better comparison, this is of the type of outfits you’d see worn to a powwow but for those harkening from the Aztecs, or other Mesoamerican cultures). This is one outfit and approach you should definitely leave to only those with that specific heritage. This prohibition also extends to the indigenous, Mesoamerican style feathered headpieces worn by those cultures, or their Gods (as seen in archaeological depictions). Some may add a subtle accent of artistic elements to personalize their Catrina to nod to the Aztec origins by bringing in accents of the geometric patterns found in archaeological designs, or by using a few quetzal feathers for accent. But this requires a very light handed approach, as there is a fine line before you cross cultural boundaries of what isn’t appropriate. More recently you’ll also see some dress up as Monarch Butterflies, or women in vast ball gowns made to look like they are a marigold brought to life. This isn’t mere whimsy, but rather very intentional symbols to the dead.
Monarch butterflies journey as much as 3,000 miles in an annual migration into the forested mountains of southwestern Mexico every autumn by the millions to winter in the mountainous forests. Here in Texas we start seeing the monarchs passing through in late September, with the peak coming in October. According to local Mexican folk belief, the butterflies represent the souls of the dead, which is why you will see them used sometimes in Day of the Dead decorations, or as people dressing up as the butterflies during Day of the Dead events.
If you don’t feel like going all out, or are concerned about crossing the fine line of cultural appreciation to mockery, you can always wear nice clothes (dress, suiting) and style it up with some accessories that celebrate the dead, and if you choose go for a skeletal face makeup usually in the sugar skull style. Black is the classic for this, but orange and yellow are also popular colors because of its ties to both monarch butterflies and marigolds. Purple is sometimes worn as it is a color connected to mourning and the dead, and red and green will show up as well in connection with the nation’s flag. Leave the jack o’ lanterns, bats, black cats, ghosts and pumpkins at home as those are not tied to this tradition.
Please keep in mind though that the Day of the Dead is just that, a day to pay respects to the dead. Dressing up to party, is not the same as actually venerating the dearly departed. If the dead aren’t part of your celebration, then you’ve clearly missed the point, and you’re really just partying to party.
When parties are hosted, there will be community ofrendas, where people are invited to decorate the altar and honor their loved ones. Marigolds are such a huge staple of these decorations. They are known for big blooms in late fall and early winter in Mexico, and feature as a common decoration during the Day of the Dead festivities because their bright blooms and their accompanying sweet fragrance are believed to guide the spirits of the dead to the altars erected in their honor. Blankets of marigolds are laid up as a path to lead the dead to their altar. You may also find papel picado, which are perforated, brightly colored pieces of paper usually strung together as a banner. The perforations are used to create designs. In some areas there is a folk belief that says the perforations allow the spirits of the dead to pass through. Some families will actually make these papel picado from scratch, and use this as a family craft project with the kids. Skeletal figures are also used to decorate the altar as a stand in for the dead.
Treats in the form of calaveras (skulls) are left out to decorate the altar. These are not meant to be scary. The classic sugar skull shape always renders the skull in a cheery manner. The saying goes they are given a smile because the dead are happy to be remembered and to visit the living. The sugar skull aspect of the tradition is believed to tie to 18th century Italian immigrants from Palermo who brought it with them, and overtime Mexican style decorations were added to the treats. These sugar skulls are not only a symbol of the dead, but are there to feed them too. Pan de Muertos (Bread of the Dead) follows traditions we see elsewhere in Catholic areas of Europe as a common feature. In some areas of Europe the pastries for the dead are more like cookies. This Mexican pastry however is a sweet rounded bread prepared for the Day of the Dead, commonly shaped with crossed bones on the top.
Drinks like atole (also known as atol de elote) is a common part of the offerings too. Atole is usually a corn and masa-based hot beverage originating from MesoAmerica, although some variants may use rice, wheat or oatmeal as the liquid base. You can find atole served in Mexico year round. Champurrado is a type of atole that has chocolate added to it, and is a popularly served hot drink during Day of the Dead celebrations, and into the winter holiday season. It has all the comfort of a hot cup of cocoa, with some cinnamon and vanilla too. (I’m sipping some now thanks to the palateria nearby. Yum.) It’s not as heavily chocolate as “hot cocoa” usually is, but it is tasty. Some Catholics will also put on the ofrenda a cross they make of salt to help feed their departed loved ones and in so doing it helps to purify their souls of sin. Of course favorite drinks and dishes of the dead are also put out. So if you bring food to the party potluck style, make sure the dead on the altar are fed first, before other servings are fed to the living.
The final touches of course are the dead themselves so pictures feature prominently. For a community ofrenda (versus one in your own home) I recommend bringing a copy of a picture so if you forget it, you don’t lose the original. Some will also bring out special items connected with the dead, heirloom pieces (though this happens more in one’s own home). Candles are lit to light the way, and music is played or voices raised in song to help draw the dead to the party in their honor so they can join with friends and family again.
This is a time to build ties across generations, the living and the dead. Share the ancestral stories, remember fond memories of the dead and tell those stories to those who may never have known them.
There are regional variances in the customs. In some areas a great deal of importance is placed on the cemeteries and vigils there. Others have ofrendas and celebrations in their homes. Some areas, for whatever reason have very little folk practice to this at all. Some regional custom may be very community minded inviting all, and others may be more insular and private in their observance.
As a Heathen, living in Texas I’m more than happy to add pictures of my departed friends and family to community ofrendas when I am invited to do so. I will also incorporate some of the food and drink into my ancestral altar as it is a regional taste of my location, as an addition to my normal practice.
So if you’re invited to participate in some Day of the Dead celebrations, be respectful and remember the whole purpose of the celebration is to honor and remember the dearly departed dead.
I’ll leave you with some links to some stunning pictures to help capture a bit of what Day of the Dead is like in Mexico.
For many pagans, this is the time of year where they honor and celebrate Beltane one of the pagan holidays that comprise their Wheel of the Year. For those of us in the Northern Tradition (referring to the religious belief rooted in ancient Germania, Scandinavia and Anglo-Saxon England with a common worship to Woden/Odin), we have our own celebrations known as holy tides (from the Old Norse hátíðir). Traditions can vary from one community to another in this area, and timing of the celebrations can vary as well. But while our pagan cousins might be looking forward to Beltane, for Heathens we’re getting ready to celebrate Walpurgis, May Day, and Summerdaeg, but trying to discern the pre-Christian celebrations and origins of this holy tide can be a bit tricky.
Typing ‘Walpurgis’ into the ever-handy google… turns up detailed information about the Catholic saint Walpurga, but when it comes to the pre-Christian past the details seem vague at best. One has to do some digging to find anything of more substance. E.L. Rochholz’s 1870 folklore study, Drei Gaugtinen (Three Local Goddesses), describes Walpurga as a white lady with flowing hair, wearing a crown and fiery shoes. She carries a spindle and a three-cornered mirror that foretells the future.
“Nine nights before the first of May is Walburga in flight, unceasingly chased by wild ghosts and seeking a hiding place from village to village. People leave their windows open so she can be safe behind the cross-shaped windowpane struts from her roaring enemies. For this, she lays a little gold piece on the windowsill, and flees further. A farmer who saw her on her flight through the woods described her as a white lady with long flowing hair, a crown upon her head; her shoes were fiery gold, and in her hands she carried a three-cornered mirror that showed all the future, and a spindle, as does Berchta. A troop of white riders exerted themselves to capture her. So also another farmer saw her, whom she begged to hide her in a shock of grain. No sooner was she hidden than the riders rushed by overhead. The next morning the farmer found grains of gold instead of rye in his grain stook. Therefore, the saint is portrayed with a bundle of grain.” – Drei Gaugöttinen: Walburg, Verena und Gertrud, als deutsche Kirchenheilige. Sittenbilder aus germanischen Frauenleben. by E.L. Rochholz
For those of you that LOVE to really read into the meat of the matter with academic factoids, you might find this article by Winifred Hodge a fascinating read. An excerpt follows:
In Bavaria there is a very old Walburga’s chapel that is said to be located on the site of an older Heathen temple. The chapel stands on its own hill, surrounded by linden trees. Hills–especially hills standing alone–are in Germany traditionally the dwelling places of Holda and other Heathen holy female beings later seen as witches. Linden trees have always been holy to Frigga. Place-names and chapels stemming from Walburga (many associated with linden trees, hills, and holy wells) litter the landscape in Bavaria, Austria, and other germanic homelands. “The greatest number of the oldest churches in lower Germany are dedicated to this same saint.” (Rochholz, p.17). “Lower Germany” includes what are now the Netherlands, Belgium, Saxony, and other regions of northern Germany–all regions where formerly the goddess Nehalennia was widely worshipped.
One of Saint Walburga’s chapels is found at Heidenheim Kloster, or Heathen-Home Closter, built by a holy spring there known as Heidenbrunnen, or Heathen Well. The name alone points to a pre-Christian origin, and holy springs were a common connection to cultic sites of pre-Christian worship, as we see in Tacitus’ description of Nerthus‘ holy spring in his Germania, and also in a large corpus of surviving folklore including stories to the Goddess Hel’s pond found in modern Berlin.
But for a more down-to-earth understanding May Day numbers as one of the Summer holy-days, the first being Eostre/Ostara. Do I hear a few mental thought processes screeching to a halt at that statement among my readers? Let me explain. Today, our culture embraces the concept of the 4 seasons: Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter. But, in the countries of the ancient Northern Tradition by their cultural worldview there were only two seasons: Summer and Winter. Summer began at the time of Eostre… for summer was viewed as life thriving in the land. Thus, the Summer Solstice (which is viewed as the start of our summer today) was their MidSummer. Winter was characterized by the decay and dormancy of the land. A time when food was scarce, people were dwelling indoors within close quarters and the combination of the cold, potential malnourishment, and disease took many lives.
As the first summer holy-day, Eostre coincided with the awakening of the land from its sleep. Even though some plants were growing, it was still a season where cold snaps and the stinging breath of winter still came to nip the noses of ancient Heathens. This awakening of the land told those who worked the fields that it was time to prep the fields. Time to plow the fields and prepare them for the crops to come. May Day is a demarcation, that winter’s lingering sting should be passed and that the awakened earth now laid ripe and powerful with fertility, in other words it was a perfect time for planting as you should be past the season of freezes. The Goddess Walpurga became Christianized as Saint Walpurga, who was prayed to by German Christians for aid in overcoming “pest, rabies and whooping cough, as well as against witchcraft.”
There is no doubt to my mind that the burning of witches, was a Christianization that vilified the so called ‘witchery’ and other pre-Christian practices originally associated with the night. But if we look at these prayers as a whole, I think they speak to her having an ability to chase away some of the illnesses that run rampant in winter. There are also Christian traditions tied to the Saint in France and Germany that tied to warding against bad weather. May Day embodies the final chasing away of the Winter, while honoring the local landvaettir, as well as the Gods and Goddesses for a bountiful harvest, good weather, and good health. Although prayers to insure there were no blights be it by insects, disease, or the weather were especially merited.
In De temporum ratione, Bede mentions ever-so-briefly about the existence of the Anglo-Saxon Goddess Hrethe (latinized by Bede as Rheda) who was given sacrifices in Spring. Just as we have certain Gods tied to days of the week (Woden’s Day is Wednesday), Her name was used for a month: Hrēþmōnaþ, just as Eostre‘s was used for Ēostermōnaþ. In the Old English Dictionary by Gerhard Köbler, he suggests Hrēþmōnaþ also meant ‘month of Wildness’. While very little is known about this Goddess, the wildness of the transitional season between Winter and Spring may be somewhat analogous to what we see with the wildness of Walpurga. While in Anglo-Saxon areas the months went Hrēþmōnaþ followed by Ēostermōnaþ, we have records in Old High German that the corresponding months on the continent were Lenzin-mānod (Spring Month) followed by Ōstar-mānod (Ostara / Easter Month).May in the Anglo-Saxon calendar was the month of three milkings, and in Old High German it was the pasture month. This to me supports that we are in warming weather, and things are more stable than they can be in early Spring. It may very well be the wildness was part of the Spring season, and the celebration of Walpurgis Night was a culmination to the end of the worst of the turbulent weather patterns, and the end of the Wild Hunt’s influence for certain geo-specific communities in Germanic areas in antiquity.
Our best sources from the Northern Tradition are seen in Germanic traditions that survived late into the Christian era and persist today, many of them penned by folklorists such as Jacob Grimm. But May–as it does in many places that feel the especially cold bite of Winter–holds a special affinity for the local people.
Im wunderschönen Monat Mai,
Als alle Knospen sprangen,
Da ist in meinem Herzen
die Liebe aufgegangen.
In the wondrous month of May, When all buds were bursting into bloom, Then it was that in my heart love began to blossom.
Im wunderschönen Monat Mai,
Als alle Vögel sangen,
Da hab, ich ihr gestanden
mein Sehnen und Verlangen.
In the wondrous month of May, When all birds were singing, Then it was I confessed to her my longing and desire.
Excerpt from “A Poet’s Love” by Heinrich Heine (1779-1856), translation by Richard Stokes, The Book of Lieder.
These stanzas express all the romantic feelings Germans associate with the month of May. But more than just this, as we see in the surviving traditions most especially in Germany, this was a time associated with witchcraft and the things that go bump in the night. While Americans tend to think of the time around Samhain or Halloween as the ‘spooky’ time, in Germany these associations are more prevalent with Walpurgisnacht rooted in the pagan Frƒhjahrsfest (Spring Festival). Folk tradition talks about such things as women flying around on broomsticks, witches throwing curses, mysterious blue flames, and the Wild Hunt pursuing the Goddess Walpurga through both snow and hail. (In other areas of the Northern Tradition, we see the Wild Hunt associated with Odin or Holda/Perchta during either Winter Nights, or Yule as there was regional variance).
“There is a mountain very high and bare, whereon it is given out that witches hold their dance on Walpurgis Night,” writes folklorist Jacob Grimm in his Teutonic Mythology about the Brocken, sometimes shown on old maps as the Blocksberg. “Our forefathers kept the beginning of May as a great festival, and it is still regarded as the trysting time of witches.” He notes that witches invariably resort to places where justice was formerly administered, or blood was spilled: “Almost all witch mountains were once hills of sacrifice.”
The mountains described are in Germany’s Harz Mountains, which straddle the former border between East and West Germany. The mountain range is known for moody river valleys dwarfed by towering cliffs, gloomy forests, and a multitude of craggy peaks, add in some fog and it’s the perfect setting for the classic horror yarn. Plus it has a unique meteorological phenomenon all its own: the Brockengespenst, which is an optical illusion that during the setting sun a person walking at certain spots will have their shadow cast in such a way that it becomes greatly magnified and it will appear on clouds or in the mist far, far removed from where the person actually is. This shadow in turn, can even sometimes be surrounded by an aura of rainbow like bands or rings, which science tells us is the result of the diffraction of sunlight by water droplets in the clouds.
It is no wonder that this mountain range has so long held symbolic ties to witchcraft and the other worldly, this is even where Goethe chose to set the Witches’ Sabbath scene in Faust. The mountain range is also the unfortunate site of a multitude of real world ‘witch’ burnings. In 1589, ecclesiastical authorities of Quedlinburg’s St. Servatius Abbey sentenced 133 “witches” to be burned at the stake covering everything from herbalism, folk healing, or anything that was deemed “heathen”, and everything from failing crops, convulsions and seizures were deemed to be caused by witches.
Even after the end of the ‘Dark Ages’, during the so-called Age of Enlightenment “witches” were still being burned in large numbers, between 1623 and 1633, the prince-bishops of the Bavarian communities of Wƒrzburg and Bamburg, had executed at least 1500 “witches” alone. Even the bishop of Wƒrzburg’s own nephew could not escape the death sentence.
Science may have found the true culprit behind the “witches’ curses” that caused the failed crops, unexpected livestock illnesses and loss, as well as convulsions and seizures in humans: a fungi known as ergot. One of the staple crops, rye, is particularly vulnerable to this fungi when there’s been an abundance of both warm and damp weather. The fungi contains nerve toxins that can cause very vivid hallucinations, muscle spasms, pinpricking sensations, convulsions and even death in both humans and animals. The drug LSD is in fact derived from ergot.
Today, the shops in the mountain villages sell Harzhexen in droves (little felt witches on broomsticks) as Walpurgisnacht approaches, and witch hats or devil horns are also sold. In the village of Schierke there’s a kindergartener-led parade with the kids dressed up as witches and devils. When evening falls, the atmosphere has changed, as now there are shield maidens, kobolds, witches, devils, vampires and more. It becomes a giant village-hosted faire with entertainment, fireworks, and a bonfire.
The bonfire was used here in these mountain villages as a way to protect house and home against evil spirits and witches. But we also know that bonfires in other areas of the Northern Tradition were used by some to burn away the garbage of the year: broken items, and old clothes, symbolic representations that by burning them in somewhat effigy one gained good health and protection from ill-intended sorcery. Others leapt the flames, or their broomsticks. I can see many of these customs boiling down to key concepts, such as a symbolic representation of chasing away the winter with summer heat, and by getting rid of the bad times and bad items to start renewed.
Farmers who had been lazy and hadn’t yet plowed their fields were ‘gifted’ with little dolls to “shame” them into work. Folklorist E. L. Rochholz, says these dolls were called Walpurga, which may be yet another tie to that Goddess, and harkening to similar pre-Christian traditions such as how the Goddess Holle would punish those that hadn’t finished their work by the yuletide. These admonishments… were critical to community survival. Failure to contribute could, especially in a lean year, might mean starvation not only for the farmer but his neighbors.
So, in a day and age where many of us do not work the land, and certainly don’t farm for a living, sometimes there can be a bit of a disconnect with just how important these agricultural cycles are to the health and prosperity of a community. In the dead of winter, we can import strawberries from South American countries. If we have a hankering for some meat we just go to the store. Most of us don’t have to balance out which animals should be slaughtered, which kept for breeding or labor later in the year.
In fact, not only is May Day about the transition of Winter to Spring, but it also denotes a key time of industriousness. We see this represented in conjunction with the more obvious fertility aspects of May Pole traditions.
From ancient times, through to the present day many communities will erect a May Pole that has iconography or guild crests at the top to represent the ‘industry’ in the town. This is a symbol of pride, but it also shows the ‘growth’ that can happen, and needs to happen to help their community both survive and thrive.
While there is usually a larger communal May Pole erected, there are also smaller May Poles erected sometimes that are more for personal use. In parts of Germany, especially in the Rhine, men (usually younger ones) may erect a May Pole outside of the home of a woman he fancies (a girlfriend, a fiancée, or the girl he won at the village’s auction). The bachelor’s club of the village has certain rules for the man and his ‘prize’ they must observe from the time of the auction (usually around Ostara/Mardis Gras until May Day). Whichever man paid the most of any of the auctions that were held, becomes the May King and his lady the de facto Queen. In some regions, these May Poles need to be guarded, or men from other villages may steal them. This custom of the ‘auction’ we know dates back to at least the 1500s, and therefore I think dates back still further still, and it would not surprise me that it is a surviving folk tradition from a pagan practice. In other areas of Germany, the May King is determined through the “scramble” as they see who can climb the May Pole first, and he can choose his Queen.
The May Pole is quite clearly understood as a phallic object, and many academics have made much about the fact that most polytheistic and pagan traditions have a combination of earth-mother and sky-father (or vice versa). So, the pole can be seen as the union that brings fertility between land and sky (sun and rain). In the Northern Tradition we have the God Thor & the Goddess Sif as a rather obvious example of this symbolic formula.
There are a plethora of regional folk traditions associated with this holy tide throughout the modern-day places where Northern Tradition polytheism once reigned supreme. Today in Sweden for instance, their practices are tied quite intimately to song. On the evening of April 30th, you will hear voices raised in musical tribute to the Walburga, all throughout every village in Sweden as they celebrate Valborgsmässoafton (Walpurgis Eve). Huge bonfires are lit at dusk, and choral groups sing songs that celebrate Winter’s ending and the much-heralded arrival of Spring. This choral tradition dates back several centuries of continuous observance by student singers at both Uppsala and Lund Universities. There’s no doubt in mind that this is yet another example of the wassailing / caroling traditions we see in other places that also had once worshiped Odin as well.
For graduating high school seniors in Sweden, those young adults wear special clothing: their white studentmossor (caps). Celebrations tend to go through the night long after the fires have died down, and since May first is a national holiday it enables the revelry to be unreserved without worries of missing an early class, or shift at work.
So how can we celebrate this today?
Instead of burning old clothes, donate them. We may not have so many broken items that we haven’t already gotten rid of like in olden days, but it can even be a time to try to put past mistakes and grief behind you. You may not plow the land or reap the crops… but even if you make your livelihood as an artist you can pray that you may grow in skill and in customers.
Hailing and honoring your local vaettir is always a good idea. Traditional gifts are bread and butter, milk and honey. But vaettir are known for local tastes. So, if you’re in Texas your local vaettir may just appreciate some cool fresh water, Shiner Bock, or Cerveza with lime in addition to other offerings.
Hailing the Gods and Goddesses is (of course) always welcome. Many will hail those associated with the land or the working thereof: Goddesses like Nerthus, Jörd, Gefjon, Sif. The Vanic deities of Freyr and Freya are also popular because of their strong associations with fertility of the land, most especially Freyr. In fact Adam of Bremen in the Gesta Hammaburgensis ecclesiae pontificum. writes how Fricco (believed to be Freyr) had a statue fashioned with a phallus, was known for bringing pleasure to mortals, and libations were given to him upon marriage too. We see some of this echoed in the Gylfaginning “Freyr is the most renowned of the Æsir; he rules over the rain and the shining of the sun, and therewithal the fruit of the earth; and it is good to call on him for fruitful seasons and peace. He governs also the prosperity of men” (Brodeur’s translation). Scholar Britt-Mari Näsström writes of how Freya was targeted by Christianization: “Freyja is called “a whore” and “a harlot” by the holy men and missionaries, whereas many of her functions in the everyday lives of men and women, such as protecting the vegetation and supplying assistance in childbirth were transferred to the Virgin Mary.” Despite the Christianization some folk remnants have remainds, for instance in Sweden, we have surviving folk tradition that lightning is Freya checking to see if the rye is ripe.
Others may hail Thor (as he has ties to storms) to ask that He brings rain to help the crops, but would He be so kind as to please keep His enthusiasm in check… well at least over the crops. Many will choose to hail Weyland since His role as blacksmith is representative of all the other types of industry through which we use so that we can provide for ourselves, our family, and in turn strengthen our community. Some groups put far too much importance on Hailing a specific Deity, but to me the importance is not in any one Deity over another, but that you choose to a Hail a Deity based on the dictates of your own heart and conscience within the theme of the season or what is occurring in your own life at that time. Follow your heart, so long as the words come from a place of sincerity and respect all will be well. But if you’d like perhaps a suggestion here’s a prayer I’ve drafted to the Goddess Walpurga:
The blessings fall from your voice,
carrying over the mountains,
rustling the leaves of the linden trees,
to make the dance grass on the hills,
and the water’s surface shimmer.
Let us drink.
Let us thrive.
Walk through the plowed fields
Nourishing the seeds of your benediction
So wheat and rye grow green in your steps
Flames of summer lip at your white hem
As Your song tames the Windhound.
Let us eat.
Let us thrive.
Garlanded in a floral crown
Your hair tossed in the wind
As new love sprouts and grows
Love’s fortune flourishes
In the gales of your laughter.
Let us love.
Let us thrive.
You can give offerings of flowers and food. Great offerings to give in the way of food are dishes incorporating some of the seasonal fare available in your local area. In Texas the month of May is known for blueberries, blackberries, peaches, pears, all sorts of peppers, cucumbers, honeydew melon and cantaloupe. Not sure what is seasonal? Epicurious has you covered with an interactive seasonal map for the United States. (For any readers elsewhere, sorry! You’ll have to hope your google-fu is mighty!)
In addition to food, libations are always welcomed. A traditional German May Day punch known as Waldmeister Bowle can be made using sweet woodruff.
So this meme recently crossed my feed, and it annoyed me. Greatly. (Any areas in red, are items I’ve edited on the original meme, because I don’t want the original meme as it was to be shared anymore).
I’m going to ignore the surprise bitch aspect (I don’t think it’s helpful in terms of getting others to learn about us by being disrespectful like this, even though my inner snark can appreciate it). That’s not what irked me. What irked me here is the use of the phrase “godless heathen,” which is deeply problematic.
The ancient followers and believers of the old Gods of Germany, Scandinavia and Anglo-Saxon England did not have a name that they called their religion because their religious identity was simply part of their cultural identity. It wasn’t until Christianity encroached on these ancient polytheistic cultures that the term Heathen (used by the 4th Century Christian Goth Ulfilas in his translation of the Bible) was first employed to distinguish between Christians and the ‘other’. It is believed that Ulfilas was inspired to follow the example the Romans had created when they termed the word pagan. Ulfilas’ use of the term heathen in his translation of the Bible would trickle down the centuries until the word was used in various Viking Age sagas later.
Through the centuries since, the terms pagan and heathen have in the common vernacular become somewhat interchangeable, and the meaning has shifted and changed. Christians later used the term to describe any non-Christian people regardless of geographic location, and eventually the word was stripped of even religious connotation in some usages to merely refer to something that is strange or uncivilized. Today there is a movement of some modern-day practitioners trying to reclaim the original definition of the term Heathen and using it to name their collective religious identity as Heathenry, of which I am one. I’m not godless, I am one who has and venerates many Gods and Goddesses. The words and context of how we use those words matter.
The word anathema is used today, perverted by Christianity, to refer to something that is: horrible, malevolent, abominable, abhorrently evil. But the word comes from pre-Christian times, and meant something completely different. Anathema derives from Ancient Greek: ἀνάθεμα, anáthema, meaning “an offering” or “anything dedicated”. So this is a term used in connection with votive offerings, sacred devotion and dedication. Of course Christianity would vilify proper sacred devotions to the Gods and Goddesses as it was in direct opposition to their worldview. Hel originally meant the underworld (literally where the dead dwell, the earth), personified and deified by the Goddess of the same name. It etymologically also has connotations to the word hall, so the hall of the dead is a derivative meaning as well. Christianity stole the term and made it a term of negativity when spreading their doctrine. They turned it into a place of evil.
I understand the intent of the meme, but especially within the non-Christian spheres where pagans and polytheists all dwell and identify with, I’m disappointed to see the Christian definition and phrase “godless heathen” being used as it perpetuates Christianity’s erosion of these old and sacred traditions and religions; it continues the malignant stereotype. Even in a way that is mocking Christianity here, why are we still using the “godless heathen” phraseology of the religious oppresor that has done all they can to destroy us?
A “godless heathen” is a phraseology that is uniquely Christian in its origins. The phrase carries with it connotations to an uncivilized barbarian lacking of any religious mores or values, in other words an unintelligent inferior, someone not worthy because they do not acknowledge the God of Christianity as the one and only god. This sort of phraseology and attitude has been used as justification for the genocide of indigenous (and polytheistic) religions around the world.
Part of the church’s Discovery Doctrine that led to the Catholic Church’s genocide of millions globally and led to slavery (from Africa, to other non-Christian populations around the world, including the enslavement of First Nations People sold into slavery in Albuquerque’s Old Town). An attitude that led to the Mission School System and places like the Carlisle Boys School. For those unfamiliar with the Mission School system, the church ran schools determined to beat the non-Christian out of their students which meant horrible mental and physical abuse, resulted in the theft of land and property and did in fact result in the death of untold vast numbers. The mission schools represented the death of a culture: both physically and spiritually and is something the Catholic Church engaged in for about 500 years across the globe. The genocidal tendencies of the church to the First Nation Peoples of the Americas was just as devastating as the holocaust was to the Jews.
Phraseology of godless heathen, from the past to the modern era, has been used both directly and indirectly in various attitudes to justify forced conversion, the trail of tears/the long walk (and similar incidents), the aforementioned mission school system, land grabs, taking indigenous children from their parents (which still happens). Phraseology like these are behind attitudes that help to make Native American women the most preyed upon population in the U.S., 4 out of 5 will be the victims of violence, with a murder rate 10 times that of the US average for women who aren’t Native.
In other areas of the world the Church attacked the old polytheistic traditions too. Most pagans and polytheists are at least somewhat familiar with how that manifested in our religious traditions. For Northern Tradition polytheists, or Heathens, we know that the church canonized as Saint Olaf, the late King of Norway, Olaf II Haraldsson, who is credited as making Norway completely Christian. In fact if you look at the Heimskringla, aka the Sagas of the Norse Kings, the deeds of pagan killing is essentially bragged about in the annals of history. Famously, one of our martyrs of the Northern Tradition, Olvir of Egg, was executed by him. His story can be found in Óláfs saga helga.
Words matter, and how we use those words matter. Pagans and polytheists are attacked so much from the outside, we shouldn’t be doing the work of those who would destroy us by calling ourselves godless, when we are blessed with an abundance of deities.
I’m going to leave you with a song, “We are Heathens”, performed and re-branded to a Heathen religious bent by Karl Donaldsson. It’s sung to the tune of the song “They’ll Know We Are Christians”by Peter Scholtes. The lyrics seem uniquely apt to this post, you can listen here: https://youtu.be/hUkL8J5STV0
And they’ll know we are heathens by our might and our main,
And they’ll know what heathen means by the name.
We are brave men and women, courage worn like a shield
We will slay our foes and leave their bodies in the field
And we’ll make sure that our kin are all safe and healed
We are honest with others; to the gods, we are Tru
When we speak, there is no doubt as to what we will do
Honest words can bring you close to your kin, too
We will live with honor, we have nothing to hide
The worth of our ancestors was judged when they died We will save women’s dignity and honor men’s pride
We will demonstrate loyalty to gods and to man
Forging bonds of fidelity wherever we can And some day our deeds will be sung by our clan
We will make a place for visitors to our stead
We will share our ale and we will share our bread And tonight, you must stay inside, in our spare bed
Our minds will be focused, like a wielded sword
Our hearts act as one, as our bodies’ ward Over each one’s existence there is only one lord
We will work with each other, we will work side by side
Younger hands will be influenced by older hands’ guide
And together, the work we’ve done will aid others’ lives
We rely on each person to bear his own weight
He will hold up his end making his worth great And together we become the masters of our fate
We stand strong in the face of adversity
We are stone in the path of instability Persevere, now, to make it so our folk remain free
One of the commonly misperpetuated beliefs of the Asatru afterlife is that the end goal is for us all to go to Valhalla. For these individuals that put such importance on the warrior aspects of our religion they overlook a couple of things. Foremost is that Freyja also had choice of the battle-slain, so if you qualified you may end up going to Her hall, and NOT Valhalla. Secondly, while warrior aspects and cultuses were present in antiquity, ultimately the ancient cultures were agriculturally derived. As such, life and the afterlife was more than about war, instead it was representative of the entire culture and worldview.
Unfortunately, much of the information on the afterlife was lost during the time of Christian conversion. However a few select references within our tradition remain about a number of Halls and Gods that play host to the dead, including:
Hel – is both the name of the Goddess of the underworld who plays host to some of the dead, and is also the termreferring to the realm of the dead. Etymologically it’s believed this roots to simply the word for grave, as the place where the dead reside. It has no connotations of good or evil in and of itself. However within Hel there are 2 special subsections for where those who committed evil in life (oathbreakers, murders, etc.) were known to go: Nifolhel – where those who have committed evil go; Nastrond/possibly also Wyrmsele (in OE)- where the most evil are sent.
Battle-slain individuals (who were not evil) would go to – Odin’s Valhalla or Freyja’s Sessrumnir believed to be found in Fólkvangr.
We know that the hall Vingolf played host to the dead. But it’s unclear from the lore if this isanother one of Odin’s Halls where those who are not battle-slain may go, or it may also refer to a hall hosted by the Goddesses instead.
Those who die at sea are said to go to the Goddess Ran.
The Goddess Gefjon is said to play host to dead maidens.
In 2011, I had the immense pleasure and privilege of being able to spend two weeks in Germany and Denmark on vacation. While parts of the trip were solely for my own personal amusement, I also made it a point where I could to meet up both with local heathens and to venture to holy sites, depictions of deities and artifacts. One of the very first things I made sure to do when I reached the city of Berlin, was to go pay my respects to a site sacred to the Goddess Hel (or Hella), nestled among the modern and very lushly green city today.
Sarenth’s blog from about a year ago is suddenly exploding with the comments from some narrow-minded racist idiot, who is leaving f-bombs, poor grammar, atrocious spelling, and far more seriously death & rape threats. Part and parcel of the death threat is the person’s written desire to create killing squads to put entire ethnic groups to death. [Sarenth, you definitely need to report it to WordPress.] Oh, and let us not forget that he is using one of our Deities’ names as an insult. Disrespecting the Goddess Hel is NEVER a good idea. I’m not repeating it here, because well, I have a healthy respect for the divine, and I also strongly believe that trolls don’t deserve their 15 minutes of infamy. But, I felt prompted to educate the poor small-minded one on why this was NOT a good idea.