Who are the Rökkr?

The easiest answer to the question “Who are the Rökkr?” is that they are a subgroup of jötnar that have been highlighted by devotees and practitioners as occupying a special or important role, particularly roles associated with the darker sides of the natural order (decay, death, chaos, etc.) So let’s start with the jötnar (singular: jötunn).

The jötnar are a class or delineation of entity in the Norse pantheon. They are often, though not always, described in strange and fantastical ways—sometimes monstrous and sometimes beautiful, but almost always primal. They are so frequently associated with primal energies and natural forces that many, including myself, believe they are a remnant of an older, animistic hunter-gatherer religion which arose in a pre-agricultural Scandinavia, much as the Titans of the Greek pantheon have been viewed.

There is some debate about whether or not the jötnar can be considered gods. A few are listed by Snorri Sturluson among the gods, but godhood according to Snorri’s Edda is almost exclusively reserved for the Æsir and Vanir. Notable exceptions to this are Skadi and Gerdr—both female jötnar who gained a place among the Æsir, and both scenarios involved marriage to Vanir who were already considered to be gods.

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Jötnar are most often called “giants” in English, but the word has also been translated at “trolls,” “etins,” and more. Painting by John Bauer.

The debate about what exactly constitutes a god is one that is quite a bit above my pay grade, but I do believe that there is sufficient evidence in comparing and contrasting Germanic mythological forms not only with the Greek but also with the myths of the Babylonians, Hittites, and Phoenicians (all of which preserve in their mythologies the existence of older, more primal gods being subverted by newer pantheons1) to believe that the jötnar are older, primal deities. The mythology we have inherited is fragmentary at best, having been collected into a written format only after Scandinavia had begun converting. The myths themselves often seem to refer to other stories which are entirely unknown. This doesn’t even take into account the sheer length of time people have occupied Scandinavia and the long evolution of the religious practices the first people in Scandinavia brought with them, as well as the co-mingling and evolution of religions brought by subsequent immigrants into the area. Given all of this, I tend to err on the side of believing that the jötnar were once gods, and that the passage of time and the erosion of their myths and legends doesn’t change that.

There are too many jötnar to list here, though I am in the process of compiling a list of jötnar mentioned in the Eddas and sagas as well as their associations and what is known about them. This list will be shared when it is completed in a post of its own, so hopefully it will suffice for now to say that there are many of them. They show up in the myths wearing many different shapes and forms, some more and some less human, and they show up with all variety of morality and motivation. As a group they seem largely amoral, something which fits in nicely with the interpretation of the jötnar as nature deities/spirits. Individual jötnar are known to behave in ways that are more antagonistic toward the Æsir while others, such as Gerdr and Skadi, actively make peaceful alliances with the Æsir.

Within the ranks of the jötnar are the Rökkr. Which deities do and do not fit into this list is up to interpretation, as Rökkr is not a sub-pantheon defined by the old myths in the same way that Vanir or Æsir are. Rökkr is a new delineation conceptualized by modern practitioners, and what precisely defines the boundaries of what makes an entity Rökkr or not is, as is much of Rökkatru, in flux due to its newness. Generally though, there are certain deities which are consistently named among the Rökkr:

  • Loki
  • Angrboda
  • Fenrir
  • Hel/Hela
  • Jörmungandr

Also frequently listed among the Rökkr are:

  • Sigyn
  • Surt
  • Nidhogg
  • Skadi
  • The Nine Sisters/Undines of the Sea
  • Rind

This is not an exhaustive list of which deities do and do not fit into the definition of Rökkr, but it is a starting place to begin getting to know what Rökkatru is all about. Each of these deities carries with them particular lessons and values that are important to Rökkatru and the communities that Rökkatru practitioners are developing. This is a list that we will look at more thoroughly later, and will very likely be expand on as well.

Next time, we’ll take a look at what the values of Rökkatru are.

Skål.

1 Burkert, Walter. The Orientalizing Revolution: Near Eastern Influence on Greek Culture in the Early Archaic Age (Revealing Antiquity). Harvard University Press: Cambridge, 1995. Print. Pgs 94-95.

Litha — With a Rökkatru Twist

Recently a friend of mine, a devotee of Lilith and Dionysus, was inspired by a Hekatean adaptation of the Year Wheel to adapt the Year Wheel to their own worship and devotion practice. The idea behind this is that the Year Wheel most commonly accepted in pagan circles broadly is heavily based on Celtic paganism—in many ways it is applicable all over the world and in a wide variety of pantheons, as every part of the world experiences the changing of the seasons. The year, after all, keeps on turning no matter where you’re standing and no matter what gods you’re dealing with.

Cultural significance and nuance exists, however, and so the holidays as they are represented in the Year Wheel may not translate perfectly to different paths, traditions, and pantheons. The changing of the seasons may mean different things depending on your bioregional context—Beltane likely won’t look the same if you’re living in a desert vs. if you’re living in a coastal fishing town, for example. That doesn’t even take into consideration the fact that the northern and southern hemispheres don’t experience the same seasonal changes at the same time—Beltane may happen in May in the northern hemisphere, but May is not the time for Beltane in the southern hemisphere.

My friend wrote a rough outline of what the holidays may represent or symbolize through the lens of someone who is working with Lilith and Dionysus rather than working in a Celtic framework. We’re coming up on Litha, for which their outline looks like this:

  • Litha
    • This is a love and sex holiday.
    • Festival of the Sun
    • First Day of Summer
    • If Dionysus is born in Ostara, he’s concieved during Litha.
    • Lilith who Rebels
    • Summer things (Strengthening, Protection)

What, exactly, does this have to do with Rökkatru? I did promise that this blog would be exploring Rökkatru, did I not? Why am I talking about my friend’s Lilith and Dionysus based revision of the Celtic Year Wheel?

Besides the fact that I think it’s a neat idea, I think it could serve as an example for Rökkatru to do the same: why not adapt these commonly held pagan holidays to more accurately reflect the Rökkatru perspective and worldview? Why not reinterpret the holidays to make room for specifically honoring the Rökkr on these key dates?

Litha is traditionally a holiday which focuses on the sun, often in the form of the Wiccan god or other sun deities. The holiday is heavily themed around fire, and as a celebration of the bounty of the summer months, it is closely tied to fertility.

On the other hand Rökkatru focuses primarily on the “darker” divine forces—as will be discussed in my next entry, the very etymology of the work Rökkatru stresses the darkness. Rökkatru looks toward the twilight and the nighttime. Litha doesn’t seem like a particularly great fit for Rökkatru—but that doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate it.

Taking place on the first day of summer and being a sun and fire festival, there are actually some deities that fit among the Rökkr or the jötnar who can be honored at this time.

Skoll and his brother Hati chase the sun and the moon through the skies, respectively. It is their snapping slavering jaws on the Sunna and Mani’s heels that keeps them driven at even pace throughout the sky. This holiday is a wonderful time to honor the often overlooked and forgotten wolves of the sky, Skoll and Hati, perhaps with a blót, with offerings of meat and golden mead, or other light-colored beverages that resemble the light of the celestial orbs these wolves chase.

skoll_and_hati_by_dobie_d4j3wf5

It is generally taken that Skoll chases Sunna and Hati chases the sun because this is how Snorri Struluson recounts the myth, but Grímnismál says this of the wolves:

Skoll is the name of the wolf
Who follows the shining priest
Into the desolate forest,
And the other is Hati,
Hróðvitnir’s son,
Who chases the bright bride of the sky.”

Because of the gender associations of the words used in this passage (priest/goði being masculine, bride/brúðr being feminine) and because Mani is a masculine figure and Sunna a feminine figure, it is safe to assume that this passage implies the opposite of what Snorri had written. Regardless, both wolves are closely related, and given that the light of the moon is a reflection of the light of the sun, it seems a good idea to honor both wolves at the same time.

On the night of Litha, it would be appropriate to light fires to three other jötnar, who are little known and about whom little is known: Glöð (more commonly called “Glut” or “Glod,” and whose name means “glow”) Eisa (or Eysa) and Eimyrja (both meaning “embers”). In The Sagas of Thorstein, Viking’s Son, and Fridthjof the Bold Glod is named as the wife of King Haloge and Eisa and Einmyrja as their daughters, which is referred to by Rasmus B. Anderson in Viking Tales of the North. In Myths of the Norsemen from the Eddas and Sagas by Hélène Adeline Guerber they are recounted rather as Loki’s wife and daughters, respectively, something that some practitioners have reported in UPG as well.

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Found here

Nothing else is known about them, and what little is known is not known for sure. Whatever else may or may not be true about them, their names make it clear that they are closely associated with fire.

Because these jötunn women are specifically Maidens of Fire, and are potentially intimately linked with Loki (who holds an important role among the Rökkr) they are another set of perfect entities/deities to honor on this holiday of sun and fire. Fires can be lit in honor of Glod, Eisa, and Einmyrja, either on their own or as part of a blót.

These are just a couple of very basic ideas—the details are up to individuals to fill in as best fits their practices and preferences, but I recommend just doing whatever is most fun. This is a celebration, after all! I’m fond of having friends and loved ones over on the holidays, to collectively cook and share large meals, drink, do a couple simple loose-form ritual activities, and enjoy the company. It’s all up to you, though.

If you try any of these ideas out, feel free to share some of your experiences and thoughts, or any specific rituals you may have done—I for one would be interested to see what others are doing! If you are Rökkatru and you decided to experiment with re-framing this holiday but took it in a different direction, I would be very eager to hear about your interpretations as well!

Blessed Litha.

Skål.

©Tahni J. Nikitins 2019

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