Exploring Our Gods & Goddesses: Sinthgunt [Redux]

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.

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Not for Commercial Use 

 

In the source, She is described as being a sister to the Goddess Sunna, who is the personification of the Sun. Within the context of the story, Baldr’s horse has been injured, and so the Gods and Goddesses present (Odin, Frig, Fulla, Sunna, & Sinthgunt) render healing aid to the horse. Literally the story tells us only 2 things about her:

  1. She is the sister to Sunna
  2. She has affinity with healing

The only other thing we know about Her, is Her name. And so explorations into the etymology of Her name have been explored by scholars. Using the spelling of Sinthgunt, one scholar finds the etymology renders as “the night-walking one” and thus She may be meant to be the Moon. However, we know that elsewhere in Northern Tradition cosmology, the Moon is a masculine force embodied by the God Mani. However, by switching two letters in the spelling of Her name, so that it now reads as Sinhtgunt, the proposed etymology renders now as “heavenly body, star”. Interestingly enough in the original source manuscript for this charm, Her name is spelled in this later way. However, when it comes to the spellings of names, I always recommend caution. Spelling conventions at the time when this text was penned, was not yet formalized. In texts throughout Europe, spelling could vary widely for the same word within even the same body of text. 

In the Poetic Edda, specifically within the Volupsa it states:

Sól það né vissi
hvar hún sali átti,
stjörnur það né vissu
hvar þær staði áttu,
máni það né vissi
hvað hann megins átti.

[The sun knew not
where she had her hall,
the stars knew not where they had a stead,
the moon knew not
what power he possessed.

 

Here we see Sol/Sunna, Mani, and the “Stars” being written about by means of personification, and therefore most likely deification as well. This to me, strengthens the concept of this being a trio of siblings. Cosmologically, Sunna and Mani’s father, and most likely Sinthgunt’s as well, is Mundilfari, the time turner. His name, literally is how we count time, and it makes sense that his children would be the references we use to count time. Today we still mark time by the progress of the sun, the moon, and the stars. Although due to light pollution, most of us don’t notice the stars as much as we once did.

Personally, I believe Her to be sister to both Sunna and Mani, and that She is personified by the Stars, perhaps specifically Polaris, as that star is always visible in the Northern Hemisphere. However, very little information has survived about the pre-Christian beliefs and names tied to the Stars from Northern Tradition cultures. Most of what has survived, is unclear as to what specific star or stars it may reference.

Still, while we have but a mere reference to Her, that doesn’t prevent us from trying to learn more. She is a Goddess whom I worship, I venerate Her, and I give offerings to Her.

 

A prayer card featuring Sinthgunt is available within the “House of Mundilfari” prayer card set at Wyrd Curiosities on Etsy. All cards come from Galina Krasskova‘s passion for the arts and polytheistic devotion, to create the Prayer Card Project. Since so much religious iconography has been destroyed, or defaced in the course of human history, she is actively making new religious prayers and iconography available to the various modern polytheistic communities to support those who are building their religious communities, building their devotional practices, and hungering for art that represents their religious faith. All while also supporting the artists within these burgeoning communities.

 

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The Word Heathen – How Context Matters

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).

heathen

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

Chorus:
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

Chorus

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

Chorus

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

Chorus

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

Chorus

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

Chorus

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

Chorus

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

Chorus

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

Chorus

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

Chorus

Facebook & Freedom of Speech

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On the one hand fuck the nazis (neo-nazis and associated related groups), there’s a part of me that is satisfied their outlets of communication are being reduced. Truly the way that hateful rhetoric can be disseminated, the way that the impressionable can be influenced by social media is something I don’t think we as a human society has yet to come to terms with, whether against bullies, or having others use the platform to groom them as a victim for a sexual predator or to groom them for cults and extremist groups. It’s something as a society we’re going to have to figure out how to combat.
captain von trapp tears flag in twain
Already this policy has taken down the personal account of controversial leader Stephen McNallen of the Asatru Folk Assembly (the screenshot below has been shared via various online outlets: from facebook, to reddit and more).
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For those unfamiliar with McNallen, here’s a good summary on his background over at PoliticalResearch.org :

 

Stephen McNallen, who became interested in Heathenry as a college student in Texas in the late 1960s, formed the Viking Brotherhood circa 1972 with Robert Stine. This group in turn became the first American Ásatrú organization, the Asatru Free Assembly, about four years later. By 1978, McNallen sought to lessen Odinism’s association with Nazism, even though he expressed sympathy for the “‘legitimate frustrations of White men who are concerned for their kind.’” He ultimately shut down the Asatru Free Assembly in 1987 before founding the folkish Asatru Folk Assembly in 1994. (McNallen is most recently responsible for forming the Wotan Network, a White nationalist Odinist group dedicated to spreading White nationalist Heathen memes.)

More recently McNallen tied himself to the events of the march in Charlottesville.

 

Am I personally upset that he has lost his Facebook account, no. I have no desire to have any dealings with him. So Facebook is definitely following through (for now) on their new policy. But policing their entire platform of 2.32 billion users globally across a variety of languages isn’t realistic. We are at an intersection of rights versus the terms of a service. We blame them for fake news, yet at the same time if those people were US citizens on the street with signs and pamphlets that said the same thing, that would be free speech, unless you can prove slander/libel in interactions with them and have the funds and wherewithal to take them to court.

 

Freedom of speech is something that is nuanced, and intricate. And something I believe staunchly in. When someone says things that are vile, it’s appropriate to use your words to counter theirs. Or ignore them. I alway loved the counter protest against a White Supremacy rally, where the counter protestors mocked them with WIFE POWER, WHITE FLOUR, and more.

 

History shows when you throttle rights for one group, protections of other groups are worn away too. Yes even in America, look at McCarythism, Japanese Internment Camps (and yes there were forced relocation by German-Americans and Italian Americans, though never to the extreme the Japanese-Americans faced), how African Americans have been treated, or Native Americans, or attacks against those who aren’t the mainstream, including for pagan religions, etc. The Matreum of Cybele (a pagan religious organization) fought their local community council for years about tax status that the state and federal government affirmed as their right as a religious organization, while over a period of 8 years the town of Catskill, New York wasted by some estimates hundreds of thousands of taxpayer money trying to deny those rights and foreclose and kick out the group. In another time, another place, for being a woman I could have been denied so many rights, others for their ethnic and cultural heritage.

 

Mark my words, this policy will eventually be used to start discriminating against fringe religions even with people who are staunchly against hateful rhetoric.

 

I could be banned simply for having an avatar that shows me as wearing my Thor’s hammer if someone felt so inclined to interpret the act as being one aligned with hate and white supremacy. Afterall the symbol is listed as a hate symbol by organizations that counsel government and law enforcement like the Anti Defamation League (who at least points out some wear it for non hate reasons) and the Southern Poverty Law Center.

 

So as much as it might bring you a bit of glee to see cretins of their caliber blocked by the platform (and yes, it really, really does), just remember it’s a slippery slope before others are too. Facebook does not have a good track record in protecting the rights and safety of pagans and polytheists. They forced people to use names other than online pseudonyms which in some areas put the users at risk of being killed, and there was a problem with an anti-pagan hate group for some time as well.  Also it’s real easy for people to be trolled, by other religious groups (Christians, and other groups have long flagged pagan friendly content), or even your co-religionists who just don’t like you.

 

I will always shy away from thought police, and actions that police our thoughts. History shows us how that worked out for the ancient pagans afterall: badly.

 

🐍🐉🐍 The Snakes in the Grass – Saint Patrick, the Pagans, & the God Crom Cruach 🐍🐉🐍

I do not celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day, which is a day of holy obligation for Catholics in Ireland (as well as revered by a few other Christian denominations). Why would I, a heathen, celebrate a 5th Century Saint whose mission in life was to turn pagans from their Gods and ancestral ways? If he lived today he’d be trying to convert me away from the Gods of my life as well.

For those with Irish ancestry who take this day to celebrate their ancestry, that is all to the good. But remember there is a difference between a drunken revelry of green beer, and the celebration of a vast rich culture. There is a difference in remembering your ancestors and laying out offerings, telling their stories, and hailing their names versus urinating on the sidewalk because you’re behaving as a drunken fool.

Of course, I’ve always found it ironic that a man who was born in Roman Britain, has become the representative icon for Ireland.

While there are many stories about Saint Patrick, the tale of him driving out the snakes is the most wide known. Of course it’s also clearly historically impossible as snakes haven’t inhabited Ireland since the last Ice Age concluded more than 10,000 years ago, which is before Patrick was even born. It’s a bit ridiculous to think he drove out animals that weren’t even there. But not only did this story appear very late (centuries after his death), there’s also a belief in some corners that the story was allegorical, and the snakes were symbolical representations for the ancient pagans/polytheists.

Continue reading “🐍🐉🐍 The Snakes in the Grass – Saint Patrick, the Pagans, & the God Crom Cruach 🐍🐉🐍”

Be Specific. Use Their Names.

One of my biggest pet peeves, in the interfaith community and some parts of the pagan community, is this tendency to use vague terms in prayers and offerings: Oh Spirit, Great Lady, Oh Goddess… 🤦‍♂️

Which one?

Be specific. Not only could you inadvertently be giving offerings and prayers to some entity you didn’t intend by being so vague, but it’s simply put an insult. Or did you want your prayer for a good wedding and happy, fruitful marital life to be answered by Sekhmet in bloodlust? Albeit that might explain Game of Thrones’ infamous red wedding… (yes I know the plot reason for that fictional scene, I’m making a point).

Continue reading “Be Specific. Use Their Names.”

🐣 Ostara: The Goddess & The High Holy Tide 🐣

For those of us in the Northern Tradition (which encompasses the peoples with a common worship to Odin), the high holy tide of Ostara is upon us. Some are gearing up to celebrate during the astronomical spring equinox (which varies slightly but always occurs between March 19-21), some may wait for the signs of spring in their local area, and others may postpone their celebrations so that they coincide more with the observed Christian date of Easter instead, which for 2019 occurs on April 21th. The later allows heathen children to be able to participate in more mainstream activities such as egg hunts with their peers at school and at community parks.

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Ostara by Nichol Skaggs (nicholskaggs.com)

Continue reading “🐣 Ostara: The Goddess & The High Holy Tide 🐣”

Remembering Olvir – A Heathen Martyr

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One of the religious staples of the Northern Tradition, is the honor and reverence shown for not only our ancestors, but also for our heroes. All too often when reading some of the grand exploits, battles and wars found in the sagas we associate the word hero to that of being a warrior, but while there are indeed many great heroes who are warriors, sometimes heroes are simply those who stay true to their beliefs.

It is a historical fact that the Christian conversion of the pre-Christian peoples wasn’t always a peaceful affair. Some of the early Norse Kings have an especially bloody reputation when it came to killing the ancient heathens within their lands, and these accounts are preserved in part within the Heimskringla, a collection of various historically oriented sagas about the Norse Kings.

In the annals of history, we know far more about the Christian conquering leaders, than we do the names of the devout heathens that would not submit to conversion. Occasionally, we do have preserved the names of some of those ancient pagan martyrs who were determined to continue to honor their Gods and the traditions of their people. One such account occurs in the 11th Century during the reign of King Olaf II of Norway (canonized as Saint Olaf), and it is at this time of year in particular, as we approach the holy tide of Ostara that I always remember and honor in ritual: Olvir. He was a renowned local leader from a powerful family in the Trondheim area of Norway, and as such it fell to him to represent his people to the King, and to conduct religious rites within his local community.

Continue reading “Remembering Olvir – A Heathen Martyr”

The Holy Tides: Charming of the Plough / Disting / Solmonaþ

For many pagans, this is the time of year where they honor and celebrate Imbolc one of the pagan holidays that comprise the Wheel of the Year. For those of us in the Northern Tradition however, we have our only celebrations known as holy tides (from the Old Norse hátíðir) that we may currently be celebrating instead: Charming of the Plough, Disting, or Solmonaþ (month of mud).

Source: D’Aulaire’s Book of Norse Myths

Continue reading “The Holy Tides: Charming of the Plough / Disting / Solmonaþ”

The Twelve Days of Yule: From Mother’s Night thru Twelfth Night

THE TWELVE DAYS OF YULE

If you’ve ever heard the Christmas Carol “The Twelve Days of Christmas” modern heathens opt to celebrate this as the Twelve Days of Yule, with the last day culminating on 12th Night. Since ancient calendars followed a different method of time, the solstice celebrations as well as later ‘Christmassy’ style observances can vary from place to place as to when they occur. Today, most pagans and heathens celebrate the yuletide as running from approximately December 20 – December 31 (but there are variations). For Christians in 567 AD the Council of Tours would officially proclaim that the 12 Days were to be celebrated from Christmas Day through to the Epiphany.

We do know that the celebration of Yule wasn’t always twelve days long. In the Norse text Heimskringla: The Saga of Hakon the Good talks about it once lasting for three days, or as long as the ale lasted. The night it began was known as the slaughter night, where animals would be ritually slain. Ynglingna saga also talks of animal sacrifice. The meat later used to feed the community, as well as the Gods. We know there were practices as well of human sacrifice too during other ritual observances. In one story in Snorri’s Edda is that of the Swedish King being sacrificed to help during years of drought and famine, the scene famously imagined by Swedish painter Carl Larsson in his Midvinter’s Blot.

Continue reading “The Twelve Days of Yule: From Mother’s Night thru Twelfth Night”

Yuletide Origins & Traditions – The Santa Claus Mythos

Just as our pagan cousins celebrate the eight major sabbats that comprise the Wheel of the Year, for those of us in the Northern Tradition we too have somewhat similar key celebrations that we call holy tides (from the Old Norsehátíðir). Some of these celebrations are more significant and special than others, and these especially important holy-days are known as high holy tides: such as Ostara, Winter Nights, and Yule which is now upon us.

Continue reading “Yuletide Origins & Traditions – The Santa Claus Mythos”