Rökkatru: What Does It Mean?

Rökkatru is a very new path, and there is a lot of misunderstanding and confusion about what it is. Let’s take a step back and look some context for understanding what Rökkatru is and what it means: the term arose in a culture where Heathenry had been an established pagan path since the Romanticist movements of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Heathenry itself is a broad term which encompasses the revival of Germanic and Scandinavian pre-Christian religious traditions. As neo-paganism broadly and Heathenry specifically evolved through the years, traditions which focused more particularly on specific groupings of deities in the Norse pantheon began to develop.

Within the Norse pantheon, we see several clear delineations of beings or entities which occupy the pre-Christian Norse cosmos: the Æsir (including but not limited to Frigg and Odin), the Vanir (Freyja, Freyr, Njordr), Álfr or elves, Svartálfar or Myrkálfar, more commonly known as dwarves, and the Jötnar (Ymir, Mimir, Gerdr, etc.). It was around the 1970s that a distinct tradition focusing on the Æsir was defined as Asatru (literally “Loyal to the Æsir”) and sometime later Vanatru (“Loyal to the Vanir”) developed as its own Heathen denomination.

Rökkatru is a word that was coined to describe the particular subset of people within Heathenry who followed the Norse deities traditionally regarded as “dark” gods. This does not mean that they don’t or haven’t worked with the Æsir or Vanir as well—many of them do—but they do not shy away from those other gods that are often shunned (particularly in America, though less so in Europe) in rituals and at blots.

These are the gods that are often described as “the enemies” of the Æsir—Fenrir who devours Odin at Ragnarok, Jormungandr whose venom will kill Thor after Thor has already slain the serpent, Hel of the Dead whose legions will sweep out of the Underworld to fight alongside the jötnar against the Æsir, their mother Angrboda and her consort Loki. There are others of course, but these are frequently seen as the primary rökkr or dark gods around which Rökkatru centers.

It’s by no coincidence that Rökkatru bears a resemblance to the word Ragnarok: traditionally meaning “Twilight of the Gods,” Ragnarok is a compound word made up of the words ragna (to conjure) and rök. Here rök means fate or destiny, but in the poem Lokasenna as well as in Snorri Sturluson’s Prose Edda, the word has been rendered as ragnarøkr or ragnarøkkr, and comes with a different connotation. Here, røkr or røkkr means “twilight.”

There has been debate among various scholars about the relationship between the two renderings of these words. Ragnarök can be seen to mean “The Conjuring of Fate” or something along those lines, whereas Ragnarøkr might be “The Conjuring of Twilight.” It is from this latter interpretation that the widely accepted translation of Ragnarok as “The Twilight of the Gods” has come from, and it is from this that the term Rökkatru was born.

Rökk in this word is taken to mean twilight, as in the Lokasenna rendition of the word Ragnarok. The Rökkr, then, are described and seen as the gods of twilight—those that do not dwell solely within the safety of the sunlight, but which come with the night. Much as Asatru and Vanatru have adopted tru as a form of suffix to indicate loyalty to the particular class of gods indicated in the name, Rökkatru has done the same. Thus, Rökkatru literally means “Loyal to the Gods of the Twilight.”

Though artist and writer Abby Helasdottir has been widely attributed with the coining of the term Rökkatru, she herself denies this. In a 2015 interview with Danica Swanson for Heathen Harvest, Helasdottir said:

“[The term Rökkatru] was something that evolved organically on an email list many years ago as a way to identify people of a particular, how shall we say, metaphysical leaning. The term Rökkr, meaning shadow or twilight, came into use in the mid-to-late-90s as a way to refer to those beings from Germanic cosmology who exist on the boundaries, in the margins, in what is described in myth as Útgarðar, the outlands. I first used it in the Rökkrbok, which considered the septet of Hela, Fenrir, Loki, the World Serpent, Angrboda, Surtr, and Níðhöggr; and whose content would eventually be the basis of the Shadowlight website. These beings are often referred to as giants, jötnar, thurs, and a whole range of other names that still keep scholars writing dissertations to this day, so Rökkr was used as a broad way to describe all these beings without worrying about etymological interpretations, as well as the limitations imposed on these beings by folktale readings.”1

Rökkatru then is the term coined for Heathen practitioners who more closely align with, worship, or honor the “dark gods” of the Norse pantheon, including but not limited to Angrboda and her consort Loki as well as their children Fenrir, Jormungandr, and Hel (or Hela). The term itself was developed based on the etymology of the word Ragnarok, using the precedent of adding the suffix -tru that had been established by Asatru and Vanatru.

It is a new religious movement, being only roughly two and a half decades defined at the time of this writing. Being so new, Rökkatru remains somewhat poorly defined as compared to Heathenry generally as well as its more specific counterparts such as Asatru (though it bears remembering that Heathenry and all of its derivatives constitute “new religious movements,” especially as compared to religions such as Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and Hinduism). It is a spiritual path in its infancy, still developing and defining itself.

Everything that will follow from here will be based on the state of development Rökkatru is in at the time of writing. It should be assumed that Rökkatru will be constantly evolving and better defining itself as the years roll on.

 

Skål

 

1Swanson, D. (2015, April 22). Twilight Magick; an Interview with Abby Helasdottir of Gydja. Retrieved from https://heathenharvest.org/2015/04/22/twilight-magick-an-interview-with-abby-helasdottir-of-gydja/

©Tahni J. Nikitins

Introducing Rökkatru

Silence I ask of the sacred folk,
Silence of the kith and kin of Heimdal:
At your will Valfather, I shall well relate
The old songs of men I remember best.
Völuspá, W H Auden & P B Taylor Translation

 

In recent years, the number of those being called towards the “darker” paths within paganism have been on the rise. More people have been called to follow Lilith, Kali-Ma, the Titans, Hecate, Hades, and more. These paths have been rising at a rate we have not before seen in living memory. Within Heathenry specifically, this has manifested in a greater number of people honoring and working with the jötnar. It has manifested in the birth of Rökkatru.

Why this is happening is anyone’s guess. Many of these darker deities and their ilk are closely tied with natural forces such as storms, volcanoes, and wildfires. Perhaps the rise in their adherents is directly related to the maturation of the generations that grew up with warnings about global climate change, who are now witnessing the very real, very dire effects of this global calamity—in the form of increasing numbers of hurricanes, floods, wildfires, and droughts.

Many of these deities also embody a rebellion or retaliation against accepted authority—they are those who would rather dance in the ashes of a ruined empire than submit to it. Perhaps the rise in their adherents is related to the maturation of a generation who witnessed the laying bare of the corruption in Christian and Catholic churches, and who are increasingly aware of corruption in politics and feeling the sting of that corruption; who are just absolutely done with predatory capitalism.

Plenty of these deities are directly associated with death in one form or another—could their appeal be in any way related to the hopelessness many now face under late stage capitalism, the return of fascism, and the imminent dangers of climate change?

Within pagan communities, one theory states that the veil between the physical and spiritual or metaphysical world has grown thin and tattered; that seismic spiritual shifts are underway. Some believe that many if not all of the aforementioned crises being faced by the global population is a causal factor in this spiritual shift. Others think there may be a link, but remain uncertain what the link may be.

Whatever the cause, the reality is that more people are turning away from traditional, major world religions—especially Judeo-Christian traditions—and turning towards the modern revivals of older faiths. In a world facing near apocalyptic circumstances, Paganism is on the rise.

However, those who count themselves as Pagan—in whatever form that may be—are still a minority. Those who follow the darker of the gods are an even greater minority. Within Heathenism, there are few definitive resources on what Rökkatru really is, who its people are, and what they do and believe. For those who feel called to this path, there are a handful of resources and to find them, curious practitioners must wade through a sea of misunderstanding, mischaracterization, and outright vitriol. For those who are already in the faith, it can be frustrating to see so few resources available and to feel so alone in the face of a broader community which oftentimes seems to want to cast you out.(1)

This is why I am writing this blog—for the Rökkatru community that is so often misjudged as ignorant, cruel, malicious, or otherwise dishonorable. My blog will be for those who are new to the path, so that they may have a dedicated resource with which to begin exploring this new path. I will be writing here in the hopes of dispelling some of those harmful misconceptions that have arisen around Rökkatru.

This is intended to be for the Rökkatru community, and I will seek to reflect the community within it. Before even beginning I reached out to those in the communities to learn what they were most concerned about being put onto paper: most commonly people wanted the misconception of the jötnar as demons to be explored, explained, and debunked, a more thorough and thoughtful exploration of certain jötunn characters such as Mimir, and a clear statement of Rökkatru as being opposed to the bigotry which mas marred the reputation of the Asatru path, among other things.

I have asked the people of Rökkatru to tell me what they wanted to see presented here, and I have surveyed them on those subjects to gain a better understanding of this small but diverse and lively community. I will continue to ask this of my readers and of the various circles I frequent in an effort to make sure that I am addressing issues of curiosity and concern in the community. It is my hope that this will remain, to some extent, an interactive experience for both myself and my audience.

So welcome—may you find here what you are looking for, and if you don’t, may you at least find the resources you need to get you to where you’re going.

 

Skål.

 

 

(1) The Heathen organization The Troth only lifted its ban on hailing Loki at its events in January of 2019. Loki is a deity many Rökkatru honor, and through whom many Rökkatru came to this path. “Loki Ban Rescinded – Idunna Blót – TKP Thew – Rituals at Troth-Sponsored Events.” The Troth, 2 Jan. 2019, http://www.thetroth.org/news/20190102-204808.

©Tahni J. Nikitins