A Ritual for Surtr

Surtr is a fire giant who, in Voluspa 47, is described as passing from one world to another through Yggdrasil, functioning as a portal, which “shudders” as he passes. Attested again in the Lay of Fafnir 14. In Voluspa, Surtr is described as “moving from the south,” which indicates an alignment or association with the direction south. His name means “black” or “the swarthy one.” He is attested again in Vafþrúðnismál in which Odin and a jötunn named Vafþrúðnir question one another. They refer to Ragnarok, mentioning Surtr’s fire and part in the battle. It is in the Prose Edda that Surtr is associated with Muspelheim, being described in a manner which suggests he is the region’s defender. Surtr and Freyr are slated to meet in battle at Ragnarok, and to slay one another. Of note: Snorri’s descriptions have been criticized as bearing more similarity to the anti-semtic “Red Jews” motif than to the Voluspa source material,1 so (as is always the case with Snorri) it’s wise to take his rendering with a heaping scoop of salt, if you feel the need to take it into consideration at all.

The Giant with the Flaming Sword (1909) by John Charles Dollman

It is generally agreed by both scholars and practitioners that Surtr is a personification of fire. Surtr appears, however, to be specifically associated with volcanic fire, and there’s actually a placename associated with Surtr that demonstrates this. There is a volcanic cave in western Iceland which has long been called Surtshellir, having been recorded as such in a book which details the settlement of Iceland called Landnámabók, though it was only thoroughly documented in the 18th century.2 Place names are often indicators of locations of cultic activity. Though there doesn’t appear to be a plethora of evidence that this site was a site of cultic worship for Surtr, and it is worth noting that Christianity came to Iceland only about a hundred years after it was settled, it is interesting to note that there is a lot of superstition still attached to Surtshellir. Many locals believe that the cave is haunted, and legend says Surtr used to call this cave his home, and perhaps either created or caused the creation of the cave. Scholar Rudolph Simek has stated that he doesn’t believe the idea of Surtr as an enemy of the gods originated in Iceland, but rather that Surtr was simply a personification of volcanic fire.3 I’m not going to make any bold statements here, but this all is quite intriguing, and I for one wouldn’t rule out the possibility that Surtr was honored here in some capacity in the past—even if that capacity was offerings of sheep or goats with a plea to not destroy local villages.

The battle between Surtr and Freyr at Ragnarök, illustration (1895) by Lorenz Frølich

Less relevant to our purposes but still of interest are modern place names. A volcanic island that appeared in 1963 was named Surtsey, or “Surt’s Island,” while one of Saturn’s moons is named for him and a volcano on Io, one of Jupiter’s moons, is named for him as well. Even more delightful is a planet named for him which orbits a star named Muspelheim. Like I said, less relevant, but very fun!

Appropriate offerings for Surtr would include the basic safe options such as mead, beer, and wine, but could also include candles dedicated to him (especially red, orange, yellow, or white candles); matches could be offered to him, so that each strike of a match is in Surtr’s honor; or volcanic stones could be offerings to him, such as obsidian or pumice. If you, like me, just so happen to have easy access to raw coal, offering a chunk of this might also be a decent offering. When it comes to offerings, I encourage you to get creative but don’t push yourself beyond your means or feel bad if you’re limited in what you can offer. The best that you can offer is the best offering, no matter what it is.

Though I have a preference for performing rituals outdoors, performing them indoors is also great! Wherever you perform your ritual—this or any other ritual—you’ll want to ensure that you’re unlikely to be disturbed and will be relatively comfortable, so you can focus on the working at hand.

Once you’ve selected your offering and location and are ready to proceed, prepare your ritual space in whatever way is most appropriate to your practice/works best for you.

When your space is prepared, take some time to center. I like to center using mindfulness of my body and my environment—tuning in to my senses, what I can hear, what I can feel, what I can smell, etc. Focusing on the stimulus input from the environment brings me solidly into myself, into my environment, and into the moment. Once you’ve selected your offering, your location, have prepared your ritual space, and are ready to do so, say:

“Hail Surtr, the Charred

Hail Surtr, Overseer of Underworld Fires

Hail Surtr, the Swarthy One

Hail Surtr, Who Will Meet Freyr in Battle

Hail Surtr, Yggdrasil-Shaker

Hail Surtr, Flame-Blade Wielder

Hail Surtr, Freyr’s Doom

Hail Surtr, Herald of Fire

Hail Surtr, Muspelheim’s Defender…

“I call on you Surtr to receive my reverence and this offering of _______, which I bring to honor you. I pray it pleases you well.”

If you have a specific intention in this ritual besides simply honoring Surtr, you may state that now. My intention (as an example) was: “I call on you Surtr in gratitude for the furious power of fire lent to me in workings past. I call on you Surtr to humbly acknowledge that you’ve been with me before, and to ask that you continue to be with me in future workings. In gratitude and with due reverence/respect, I bring you this ________ in return for your assistance.”

In addition to this, I personally took a moment to offer specific gratitude for the creative power of fire in the form of magma. This particular force of nature is often only acknowledged for its power to burn forests and destroy cities, and sometimes for its cleansing power. Much of the dry earth on which we stand, though, is literally a result of magma activity beneath our feet: the movement of the mantle deep down below moves continental plates, grinding them into each other in ways that can uplift land, making it habitable, or recycle it down back into the mantle. Volcanic hotspots are responsible for the creation of islands such as the one in Iceland, and in the long-run these can also provide habitable ground. Gratitude for this might look like:

“Lastly, I wish to offer my endless gratitude, Surtr, for the movement of the continents that has created the land on which I live. I offer my humble gratitude for your creative forces, Surtr, which makes new land. I thank you, Surtr, for your long-term vision, and for the careful balance between destruction and creation you hold on the flaming blade of your sword.”

As you are preparing to bring the ritual to a close, hail Surtr one last time before bidding him farewell:

“Hail Surtr Who Has Heard My Call!

Hail Surtr Who Has Received My Offerings!

Hail Surtr of Magma and Lava!”

When you are done, properly dispose of your offerings in whatever way is most appropriate for you and your practice (though, as always, if you live in America I discourage the pouring of alcoholic libations directly onto the earth, for reasons previously outlined). If this must be done outside of the ritual circle, then simply bow your head to the earth, placing your palms down on the ground. Ground out any energy you may have raised in the course of this ritual as a final offering. I almost always use this moment to bid farewell to the entity I’m honoring in ritual, usually saying something like, “Thank you Surtr for being with me. With love and with gratitude, I bid you farewell as you go.” Something very simple but respectful and from the heart.

Lastly it is time to close the ritual and clear the space, in whatever way best suits you and your practice. As always, I strongly recommend taking some time after to hydrate, snack, and journal about the experience.

1Cole, Richard. “Snorri and the Jews”. Old Norse Mythology – Comparative Perspectives.

2Browne, George Forrest (1865). Ice-caves of France and Switzerland. Longmans, Green and co. pp. 244–6.

3Simek, Rudolf (2007). Dictionary of Northern Mythology. Translated by Angela Hall. D.S. Brewer. p. 303-304.

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