And What About Loki?

While there is minimal and non-conclusive evidence of the historical worship of most of the Rökkr, it is good to once again remember that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. While we may never find the conclusive smoking-gun evidence that many of us would enjoy, it continues to be valuable to dig deeper into the evidence that is available, continue critically assessing potentially outdated interpretations, and looking for further evidence to help us better understand the beliefs, practices, and cosmology of pre-Christian Nordic paganism. In the meantime, lack of historical evidence does not undermine the validity of worshiping the Rökkr within the new religious movement that is Norse neo-paganism and Rökkatru specifically.

There is one Rökkr for whom we have more evidence, however: the much-loved, much-hated, and always contentious Loki Laufeyson.

For those who love Loki, the love is fierce and passionate. For many LGBTQIA+ Heathens, Loki is embraced as representing genderqueerness, genderfluidity, or nonbinary gender due to his tendency for shifting not only form but gender. For those who have experienced degrees of abuse and trauma in their lifetimes, Loki as a deity of change is empowering, a source of strength and an assurance that while the good may not be forever, neither is the bad. Many who work with and honor Loki find a great degree of love and comfort in his lessons of self-honesty, speaking truth to power, and growing and learning through trial and ordeal.

Many who worship Loki see him as the vital instigator of change which prevents the entropy of stagnation, but just as many fear Loki for the chaos he is associated with and his role in Ragnarok. Those who fear, dislike, or mistrust Loki will point out the sheer number of times Loki creates trouble and mischief for the gods, while those who love him are quick to point out that Loki is the heart and spirit of much of the surviving lore and won the gods their treasures, including Thor’s hammer, through those same shenanigans.

To put it bluntly, Loki is a divisive deity—and he is one of the primary gods among the Rökkr. Just as Angrboda can be called the mother of the Rökkr, so too can Loki be called their father: of the primary Rökkr, Loki and Angrboda are parents to Hel, Jörmungandr, and Fenrir. A very contentious family within Heathenry to be certain, but also a very important one.

So let’s look at what evidence there is, starting with a ship burial uncovered in Bitterstad, Norway. A 2016 report from The Arctic University of Norway describes two pendants discovered in association with the burial. The pendants are nearly identical faces cast in silver depicting a man with a mustache, rounded eyes, and mouth that had been set with garnet, though most of the stone inlay no longer remains. “On the back of the two pieces of jewelry were a few remnants of preserved textiles, probably from the deceased’s clothing,” (1) suggesting that these pendants may have been worn as part of the finery in which the deceased was buried.

Bitterstad Pendants

What is particularly interesting about this, is that the authors of the report put forward the theory that these pendants represent Loki, drawing a comparison to the Snaptun Stone:

“I will present here the not un-problematic idea that these face pendants from Bitterstad can represent Loki. There are two primary things that can point to this. First, the garnets themselves. These have, as we have mentioned several times, historically often related to fire. Fire is something that Loki is often connected with…The other interesting detail is the wrought stone from Snaptun Jutland which depicts Loki after he had his mouth sewn by the dwarf Brokk (Jørgensen 2010, pp. 149-150). Again, we find the relationship between fire and Loki to be interconnected…the images that are on the stone and on the jewelry from Bitterstad are relatively similar. Both figures have a strong mustache, round eyes, sharp marked nose and image of hair. This idea can of course not be proven but may be left as a speculative interpretation of the jewelry from Bitterstad.” (2)

This is only one of several pendants that have been purported to feature Loki, including one found among gravegoods near Härad, Sweden and another found in Vejen, Denmark. The Vejen artifact was originally reported in a press release from Denmark’s National Museet, but the link no longer works, and I’ve struggled to track down information on the Härad piece as well. Nonetheless, photos of both exist, and it can been seen that both images bear a striking resemblance to the Snaptun Stone and Bitterstad pendant, with a mustache and lines across the mouth that have been frequently interpreted as the stitches from the Brokk myth. And of course there is the Snaptun Stone itself, commonly identified as Loki due to the presentation of the mouth, which appears to be stitched. (3)

Härad, Sweden Pendant

These and other similar depictions dating to the pre-Christian and conversion era would disprove the claims of some scholars and laypersons that Loki is little more than a literary figment created during pr shortly after the conversion. Furthermore there is evidence, albeit limited, of people and at least one place being named for Loki—something we wouldn’t expect to see if Loki were either a post-Christian figment or reviled in the pagan days of Scandinavia.

Let’s start with the people whose names appear to include Loki’s name. Axel Olrik, in his essay Loke in Younger Tradition, writes this:

“There is one thing that might surprise people who bear Loke from the ancient myths in mind…people actually have been named Loke or Lokke: Among the Norsemen in Northumberland in the 12th century, there was a man called Locchi. In Scandia, Lokkethorp (now Lockarp) was named after a man with a similar name. In Småland, Locke has been preserved as a hereditary surname. On a rune stone in Uppland, the name “Luki” (Loki?, Lokki?) appears…From Norway we know a settler called Þórbjørn loki, and a birkjebein called Þórðr loki.” (4)

Generally speaking Olrik makes the argument that regionally there may have been elemental or other supernatural spirits referred to with names deriving from Loki. Despite expressing the belief that these names likely refer to these spirits rather than the god, he does offer some thought to the contrary:

“In favour of the regard of the personal name as naming after the god Loke, we can mention, that contemporary with the birkjebein Þórðr loki, there lived a man called Auðunn býleistr (named after Loke’s brother). But if there is any connection between the two names (the form Loki isn’t quite certain here), it could be due to the fact that the nickname býleistr (he who is similar to or worse than Loke) was given to an opponent, just because the birkjebeins didn’t know the origin of the name.” (5)

In addition to this, the most common alternate name for Loki, Lopt, appears to show up in a very interesting place: the surname of Snorri Sturluson’s own foster-father. Jón Loptsson (6) was the son of Loptr Sæmundsson, who was born in the twelfth century. (7)

Vejen, Denmark Pendant

Due to the lateness of this name it cannot, in itself, be cited as evidence of naming conventions honoring Loki (this was more than a hundred years after the conversion of Norway, where he appears to have been born) it may well indicate that Lopt or Loptr may have had some history of use in Norwegian naming conventions. This is noteworthy given the name’s relative proximity to the official conversion of Scandinavia, as this would have been only about two generations removed from the official conversion and within a reasonable time span that we might expect to still find pockets of old worship.

Olrik also notes several place names that appear to be associated with Loki, in particular Lockbol or Lukabol, and Lockesta or Locastum. Unfortunately I’ve been unable to locate further information about these locations outside of Olrik’s references, but if anyone has any leads on these places I would love to hear them. There is one location I’ve been able to identify with more certainty, however, whose name bears a striking resemblance to Loki: Lokkafelli.

Lokkafelli is described as a point on Eysturoy, or “East Island,” in the Faroe Islands. It sits at an elevation of 281 meters above sea level and…that’s about all the information there is to be found about Lokkafelli. Even pictures are hard to come by. Nonetheless, paired with the fact that Loka Táttur, one of the most favorable of the tales about Loki, originates from the Faroe Islands, the apparent inclusion of Loki in a place-name is intriguing. Unfortunately the Loka Táttur is thought to date to the late middle ages, at least 300 years after the Islands were officially and forcibly Christianized. This does not, of course, mean that the ballad is not a remnant of an older tradition, but if that tradition existed we have no further information about it.

Location of Lokkafelli in the Faroe Islands from Google Earth

On that note, let’s turn to the written sources. Despite the heavy Christian influence of many of these sources, it is possible to glean information about old pagan beliefs from them with critical analysis, and there is no figure in Norse mythology more closely scrutinized than Loki.

One interesting piece of textual evidence to consider is Lóðurr. Lóðurr is an interesting figure who is identified in Völuspá as playing a role in the creation of man alongside Odin and Hœnir. He is said to have given the first men either blood or flesh (the translation is a bit troublesome) along with the color or hues of their skin. Aside from this, however, Lóðurr is only mentioned in original sources two other times: in Háleygjatal and Íslendingadrápa Odin is referred to as “Lóðurr’s friend.” The inscription logaþore / wodan / wigiþonar has been brought into discussions of Lóðurr as well, for while the second two names in this inscription have been cleanly identified as Odin and Thor, the first remain is elusive, and both Lóðurr and Loki have been proposed as possible translations. (8)

The reason this is important and intriguing is because, as some readers may already know, Lóðurr is sometimes identified as Loki. Cawley addresses this in his essay The Figure of Loki in Germanic Folklore, where he highlights an apparent “parallel with Loki and Lóðurr, which seems to be a byname of Loki in some Old Norse sources. This is corroborated by evidence from Germany in the name Logaþore on the Nordendrof brooch.” (9)

The identification of Loki with Lóðurr was proposed by Ursula Dronke in The Poetic Edda: Volume II: Mythological Poems. She argued that the occurrence of Odin, Hœnir, and Loki as a trio in the skaldic poem Haustlöng, the introduction of Reginsmál, and Loka Táttur establishes a sound basis for identifying Lóðurr, also paired with Odin and Hœnir, as Loki, and that the kenning “ Lóðurr’s friend” for Odin reinforces this interpretation. (10)

This is particularly important for those who work with and honor Loki, as his positive contribution to this creation myth flies in stark contrast to the depiction of Loki as a devilish or malicious figure. Here, under the name Lóðurr, he is credited for making a direct and vital contribution to the origin of man. This aligns him just as clearly with the forces of creation as his involvement in Ragnarok align him with forces of destruction.

Snaptun Stone

Though in and of itself, this piece of evidence isn’t proof positive of historic cultic worship, it undercuts the narrative which poses Loki as a definitive enemy of the gods and of humanity. Loki has never been a definitive enemy of the gods, as is proved time and again in the Eddas, and here he is not only not an enemy of humanity, but part of the divine trio which gave humanity life. Historically and in religious traditions worldwide, such myths are typically associated with deities who are recipients of cultic worship. Even Prometheus, the Titan credited for creating humanity in Greek mythology and bound for giving humans fire—a figure Loki as often compared to and identified with—had some degree of cultic worship in Athens. (11)(12)

Another interesting piece of textual evidence comes from Saxo Grammaticus, who was writing in the same time period as Sturluson. In the eighth book of his Gesta Danorum, he records the story of a king named Gorm who worships a giant by the name of Útgarða-Loki. Though this name should in theory identify a giant known from Gylfaginning, in which he challenges Loki, Thjalfi, and Thor to a series of impossible challenges. However, the description of Útgarða-Loki’s “dwelling” in Gesta Danorum bears a striking resemblance not to the Útgarða-Loki of Gylfaginning, but rather to Loki after his binding by the Æsir:

“Then he made others bear a light before him, and stooped his body through the narrow jaws of the cavern, where he beheld a number of iron seats among a swarm of gliding serpents…a foul and gloomy room was disclosed to the visitors, wherein they saw Utgarda-Loki, laden hand and foot with enormous chains. Each of his reeking hairs was as large and stiff as a spear of cornel. Thorkill (his companions lending a hand), in order that his deeds might gain more credit, plucked one of these from the chin of Utgarda-Loki, who suffered it.” (13)

Útgarða-Loki is here depicted chained in a cave, paralleling Loki’s binding, and there are described to be venomous snakes nearby, evoking the image of the serpent fastened by Skadi above Loki’s head. The only detail here that doesn’t parallel Loki’s imprisonment is the attachment of “Útgarða,” a word meaning means “outside” or “outyard.” This means Útgarða-Loki is “Outsider Loki.” This distinguishes the giant of Gylfaginning from Loki, who is counted among the Æsir and therefor is an “insider,” while the other giant is an “outsider.” In Gesta Danorum, Útgarða-Loki could be interpreted be a Loki post-binding, who has been cast out from Asgard and thus rendered outsider or Útgarða.

If this is indeed Loki, it is important because this tale describes him receiving worship in the form of devotion, offerings, and prayers. The king Gorm is depicted making offerings and praying to Útgarða-Loki to smooth a disastrous passage by sea, and this succeeds. When the character of Thorkill brings him news of Útgarða-Loki and the chin hair he plucked from the giant’s chin, Útgarða-Loki is referred to as the king’s “own god” for whom he was “zealous” in his worship.

Gesta Danorum is generally considered as depicting, to some degree, Scandinavian history, and in particular the history of Denmark. Given that archaeological artifacts potentially pointing to the worship of Loki have predominantly been found in Denmark and southern Norway, this is notable. These items taken together could indicate that there was localized cultic worship centered around Loki in the pre-Christian era.

With the archaeological evidence and literary evidence taken together, what we have in favor of the worship of Loki is significant, if not definitive. On this front, Loki has confounded historians and scholars just as much as he has confounded them with regards to his basic nature and role in the Nordic pantheon and cosmology.

If I’ve taken anything from this portion of my studies, I find it unlikely that Loki received no worship in pagan Scandinavia, though perhaps it was limited and localized. What I do find likely is that Loki has always been and always will be an enigmatic figure, ever eluding definition. This seems just as much an aspect of Loki himself as his trickster aspect, his connection to fire, his gender-fluidity and pansexuality—it seems a vital core of Loki’s essence and being, and is certainly one of the things that draw so many people to his altar.

(1)Cerbing, M., Lend, K., & Niemi, A. R. (2016). Arkeologiska urgrävningar av båtgravnar och gravhögar, Bitterstad, Hadsel kommune, Nordland [PDF]. Trosmø: Norges Arktiske Universitet. p.p.72

(2)Cerbing. p.p. 86

(3)Madsen, Hans Jørgen (1990). “The god Loki from Snaptun”. Oldtidens Ansigt: Faces of the Past. Det kongelige Nordiske Oldskriftselskab.

(4) Olrik, A. (1908). Loke i Nyere Folkeoverlevering (917288899 720864290 A. Eli, Trans.). Danmarks Folkeminder. p.p 15.

(5) Olrik. p.p 15.

(6) Wills, T. (n.d.). C. Jón Loptsson. Retrieved September 06, 2020, from https://skaldic.abdn.ac.uk/m.php?p=doc

(7) Sturlungasagans släktregister (Ættartölur), 1, Oddaverjar.

(8)MacLeod, Mindy; Bernard, Mees (2006). Runic Amulets and Magic Objects. Woodbridge: Boydell Press. pp. 17–19.

(9)Crawley, F. S. (1939). The Figure of Loki in Germanic Mythology. The Harvard Theological Review, 31(4), 309-326. Retrieved 2017, from jstor.org/stable/1508020

(10)Dronke, Ursula (1997). The Poetic Edda : Volume II : Mythological Poems. Oxford: Clarendon Press. In particular p. 18 and pp. 124–5.

(11)Lewis Richard Farnell, The Cults of the Greek States (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1896), vol. 1, pp. 36, 49, 75, 277, 285, 314, 346.

(12) Carol Dougherty, Prometheus (Routledge, 2006), p. 42ff..

What about the Rökkr?

Though there is much interest in the Rökkatru community in historical evidence of the worship of the Rökkr specifically, the evidence is scant. For those who count Gerd and Skadi among the Rökkr, there is more readily available and more well-known evidence, but even this is somewhat minimal.

For some this lack of evidence has caused some degree of despair: we know so much to have been lost to the wear and tear of time as well as the conversion of the Nordic regions, and the textual evidence we have was largely written by Christian clergy rather than pagan believers. Many idols were likely made of wood, and the environment of Nordic regions isn’t a great one for preserving wood through the ages. Only a handful of bronze and iron idols have been recovered, the rarity of these likely due to the relative expensive nature of producing such an item at the time. Though some stone carvings depicting the gods or their myths have been found, most rune stones are memorials or records of important events, not religious practices. Older stone carvings are often difficult to interpret, and it is generally understood that most interpretations can never be truly confirmed or denied.

The result is that we really know very little about religious practices prior to encounters with literate Christian clergy. This can be frustrating to say the least, as we are often piecing together a religious practice based on incredibly fragmentary information.

Because of this, there’s not a lot of evidence of cultic practices dedicated to any of the gods, let alone those we today call the Rökkr. What evidence exists for gods such as Odin, Thor, and Freyr is more clear cut and readily validated by what remains of the lore, but it is worth noting that, as is so often the case in matters of gods, absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence.

By the Viking era it is unlikely that the Jötnar generally were major recipients of worship, though we have identified a few for whom we have evidence of a cultic practice. As society evolved, so too did the religious practices. It is likely that as the people of Scandinavia moved away from hunter-gatherer lifestyles to increasingly settled and “developed” lifestyles including large settlements and communities, relationships to the natural world inevitably changed. It is likely that as the need to appeal directly to the forces of nature waned with the advent of agriculture and increasingly developed technology, so too did the cultic practices centered around those natural forces.

That the jötnar may have been more widely worshiped in a deeper history does not make the current resurgence of worship less valid. That we do not have clear-cut evidence indicating when figures such as Loki, Angrboda, Fenrir, Jörmungandr, and Hel entered the collective consciousness of the pre-Christian people of Scandinavia does not invalidate their worship today.

Nonetheless, with the aforementioned criticisms that come from other parts of the Heathen community often being levied against Rökkatru, there is a desire to be able to root that honoring of these deities in a historical foundation. The unfortunate truth of the matter is that, unless a review of existing archaeological evidence discovers something which could reliably be argued to be physical evidence of a cultic practice centered around Angrboda, Fenrir, Jörmungandr, or Hel, all we have to go on for these deities are the textual sources.

I don’t want to harp on the point too hard, but it remains very important to remember that the textual recordings of the lore were written by Christian clergy. The Poetic Edda is the only exception to this, primarily because we do not know who the authors of these poems were. We don’t even know where the poems were composed. Common estimates claim the dates of the poems range from 800-1100 CE, and these poems are believed to have represented centuries old oral traditions prior to being recorded. As a result of this, the arrival of certain names in text can be roughly dated, but it can’t be known how long those names and their corresponding identities may have circulated in oral traditions.

To take a relevant example, Andy Orchard claims in Dictionary of Norse Myth and Legend that, regardless the age of the belief that Loki and a giantess produced between them three monstrous offspring, “the name Angrboda seems to date from no earlier than the twelfth century.” (1) Though the poem he cites, Hyndluljóð, doesn’t seem to have a particular estimate for when it was written, it cannot truly be known how long the name Angrboda was passed through poetic recitations, minstrel song, or other means of oral storytelling.

For Fenrir, at least, there is much evidence of his role in Nordic cosmology in the form of runestones and other carvings. A Viking age hogback (sculptures that lay against the ground and are commonly accepted to be grave markers) in Northeast England is believed to depict Tyr and Fenrir,(2) as is a gold bracteate from Sweden dating to the Migration Period.(3) The Ledberg Stone in Sweden is believed to depict Fenrir’s consumption of Odin, and though the stone otherwise generally appears to serve as your typical runestone memorial it does include an inscription in Younger Futhark that has been interpreted as a magical charm.(4) No connection between the charm and the depiction of Odin and Fenrir appears to have been made, however.

Ledberg Stone

The Ledberg Stone was discovered in Ledberg, Östergötland, Sweden

Thorwald’s Cross and the Gosforth Cross both depict Fenrir, but are also both examples of a mixture of Norse pagan and Christian belief. These stones, which blend images of Rangarök and the Christian Judgment Day, therefore may be important evidence of the gods that were recognized by the eleventh century and the way they were seen or understood at that time, but it can’t be known how accurate of a representation they provide for pre-Christian contact Nordic beliefs.

These pieces of evidence don’t provide much insight as to whether there was any historic cultuc practice centered around Fenrir. The surviving textual evidence doesn’t provide much either, though this isn’t surprising. What the text does provide is a certain amount of contradiction and confusion: Scholar John Lindow points out that there isn’t a clear reason why the gods cast out Fenrir’s siblings but chose to raise Fenrir himself, aside from, perhaps, that Odin has a clear-cut connection to wolves.(5)

Odin’s connection to wolves indicates that wolves were not wholly demonized in Nordic society, though they might have posed a threat to livestock and, occasion, typically due to starvation or sickness, humans. This coupled with the choice of the gods to raise Fenrir prior to binding him indicates a deeper and more complex nature to Fenrir’s relationship to the gods, though what that may have been or how it may have been taken at the time is uncertain. Many Rökkatru will additionally point out that according to the lore itself, Fenrir had done nothing to illicit the binding to which the gods subjected him, save for to feature in a prophecy about Ragnarok. In this way, Fenrir’s binding could just as easily serve as a parable about self-fulfilling prophecies as a true condemnation of the wolf.

Nonetheless, there remains no clear cut evidence of historic worship, thought I would argue that none of this necessarily precludes worship. The historical worship of deities considered “dark,” with associations to death, destruction, and chaos is not unheard of, and nearly every god has their dark side, after all. Regardless, we must acknowledge that the hunt for evidence of the historical worship of Fenrir runs cold.

His siblings may fare better, however. Jörmungandr is also featured on the Gosforth Cross, as well as the Altuna Runestone is Sweden and the The Hørdum stone in Denmark. Many runestones feature serpentine figures, but it is often difficult to discern whether any given serpent is Jörmungandr or a simple knot-work embellishment.

atla

The Atla Runestone was found in Atla, Uppland, Sweden

Of the textual evidence regarding Jörmgandr, we again don’t have clear-cut evidence of worship of the Midgard Serpent. Nonetheless, the treatment of the serpent has been, at least from some scholars, much kinder. In his essay “Thor’s Fishing Expedition,” Preben Meulengracht Sørensen argues that textual evidence suggests pre-Christian beliefs about Jörmgandr may have been drastically different from modern-day, Christian influenced beliefs. “[The Midgard Serpent] is part of the cosmic order which will be destroyed if the monster does not stay in place,”(6) he argues, citing variations on the myth of Thor’s fishing trip which see him thwarted in reeling in Jörmgandr by his giant companion, who cuts the line. In the course of the essay Sørensen calls this giant “an involuntary helper” who guides Thor from the realm of civilization, as represented by farmland, to an untamed world of otherness, as represented by the sea. He describes the violent struggle between Thor, attempting to catch the serpent, and Jörmgandr attempting to escape to freedom, as a struggle between up and down, between the tamed and the tame. This is ultimately, he concludes, a tale of the struggle for balance.

Sørensen argues in this essay that the encounter between Thor and Jörmgandr as one reaffirming the balance of the cosmic order as understood by the pagans of Scandinavia. In this argument, Jörmgandr is a vital part of the cosmos which cannot be removed or destroyed without disrupting the balance of, well, everything else. Sørensen additionally claims that as the story was handed down it may have been changed and re-formed by people who were recording it without the original context or understanding of the symbolism inherent in the story, so that it eventually became a story about Thor defeating a monster rather than a parable about the vital cosmic order.

If this interpretation is true, it validates the understanding of rmungandr that some Rökkatru have as the serpent being a protector of Midgard, a guardian patrolling the liminal spaces at the world’s edges rather than a threat or enemy. Not all Rökkatru hold this belief of course, but regardless this interpretation of the myth, despite lack of physical evidence of historical reverence for the serpent, might support modern-day reverence.

Finally we have Hel, or Hela. This goddess of the underworld is often referred to in sayings throughout The Poetic Edda, both in mentions of her halls and their locations as well as in phrases such as “Hel can take him” in Fáfnismál and “Hel has half of us” or “sent off to Hel” in Atlamál. Most famously she’s attested in Snorri’s recounting of the death of Baldr and Frigg’s journey to try to get him back.

There are many more attestations of Hel in the written sources, but perhaps most interesting is the archaeological evidence. Several bracteates from the Migration Period have been proposed to depict Hel as a woman at the bottom of a slope, holding either a scepter or a staff. It is theorized that the downward slope along which travelers are walking, toward the woman posed at the bottom of the slope, indicates the downward journey to the underworld. Bracteates IK 14 and IK 124 are those primarily highlighted as possible depictions of the goddess Hel.(7) Other bracteates that are theorized to depict the death of Baldur show three figures, two typically identified as Odin and Baldur while the third is usually identified as either Hel or her father (and oftentimes killer of Baldr) Loki.(8)

116_Niaer2_Fredrikstad_IK244_OHM

Bracteates are finely hammered discs such as the one pictured above, IK 244. Unfortunately photographs or sketches of IK 14 and IK 124 are proving quite elusive.

If the interpretations of these bracteates are correct, it would fly in the face of scholarly interpretations that demote Hel to a mere literary figure of late and likely Christian creation. Furthermore, arguments that Hel would have received no cultic worship by virtue of being a goddess of death seem to assume that our pagan ancestors would never honor deities associated with death and darkness. This would be to ignore plenty of evidence of cultic worship given to deities like Hekate, Hades-Plouton or Hades-Klymenos, Ereshkigal, Kali, and more. Though these gods may have been feared just as much if not more than they were revered, we know they were recipients of cultic worship. We know that our ancestors did not withhold worship from “dark” deities just because they feared them.

Herein lies the core of Rökkatru: an understanding that simply because something is frightening or difficult to understand, this does not mean that thing is evil or unworthy. A snake may be venomous, but that does not mean that it doesn’t play a vital role in the balance of the ecosystem. A wolf may be frightening and it may occasionally take livestock, but that doesn’t mean that wolves are not absolutely necessary in the ecosystem. A flower may be poisonous, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t beautiful and doesn’t contribute to the fertility of its environment.

Rökkatru is the understanding that a balance between light and dark is the key to life, that death and fertility are linked and interdependent, and that to remove one negates and nullifies the other. It is the understanding that just because we fear the dark or do not understand that which lingers in the dark, that does not mean that dismissing it as evil or unworthy is either wise or correct. It is the value of the twilight—that delicate balance between the dark and the light—as beautiful, necessary, and sacred.

(1) Orchard, Andy. Dictionary of Norse Myth and Legend. 1997. pp 7.

(2) McKinnell, John. 2005. Meeting the Other in Norse Myth and Legend.

(3) Davidson, Hilda Ellis. 1993. The Lost Beliefs of Northern Europe. Routledge.

(4) MacLeod, Mindy; Mees, Bernard (2006). Runic Amulets and Magic Objects. Boydell Press. pp. 145–148.

(5) Lindow, John (2001). Norse Mythology: A Guide to Gods, Heroes, Rituals, and Beliefs. Oxford University Press. Pp 111-114.

(7) Meulengracht Sørensen, P. (1986). Thor’s Fishing Expedition. In G. Steinsland (Ed.), Words and objects: Towards a dialogue between archaeology and history of religion (p. 67). Oslo: Norwegian Univ. Pr. Pp 67

(8) Pesch, Alexandra. (2002). “Frauen und Brakteaten – eine Skizze” in Mythological Women’, edited by Rudolf Simek and Wilhelm Heizmann, pp. 33–80. Verlag Fassbaender, Wien.

8Simek, Rudolf (1996). Dictionary of Northern Mythology. D.S. Brewer. Pp 44.

An Argument for the Historical Worship of the Jötnar

We’ve explored archaeological evidence and analyzed surviving popular texts about the pre-Christian religions in Scandinavia. It’s now time to turn toward scholarship which analyzes the role of the jötnar in Norse mythology and pre-Christian pagan practice.

One essay by scholar Gro Steinsland looks at textual evidence that the jötnar were recipients of honor or worship among the people of Scandinavia. “The Eddaic poetry and Snorri’s testimony,” Steinsland states in “Giants as Recipients of Cult in the Viking Age?”, “demand that both the jǫtunn character of the figures and the combination of giantesses and shrines are to be taken seriously.”

Skadi is one of the most well-known examples of jötnar for whom some evidence of cultic worship may exist. John Lindow in his 2002 book Norse Mythology: A Guide to Gods, Heroes, Rituals, and Belief hypothesizes that a scene in which Loki ties his testicles to the horns of a goat might have associations with cultic ritual and castration in honor of Skadi. (1) With relation to Skadi, Steinsland highlights toponomical studies which show there are many sites whose names appear to be derived from combinations of words with cultic connotations and Skadi’s name. This implies the possibility of physical sites of Skadi worship. (2) She furthermore asserts that “[t]he mythical dwelling of a god has its counterpart in the physical shrine,” claiming the description of Skadi’s home among the homes of the other gods further implies the real-world worship of Skadi in pre-Christian Norse religion. (3)

skadi_by_righon_d46rz7t-pre

Another giantess whose goddess status Steinsland considers is Gerdr. She points out an early twentieth century interpretation of the myth of Freyr and Gerdr which has become widely renowned: Freyr as a sky god and Gerdr as an earth goddess, their union representing the fertility of the crops, something which may have been ritually reenacted every year. Nonetheless, she points out, the man who pioneered this now roundly accepted interpretation of the myth, Magnus Olsen, avoided the issue of Gerdr’s jötunn nature altogether. (4) She notes that, despite the clarity of the Eddas in identifying Gerdr as a giantess, scholars have often dismissed or overlooked Gerdr’s nature rather than grapple with the notion that a jötunn may have been recognized in cultic ritual—in other words, a recipient of worship.

In addition to looking at individual jötnar as examples, Steinsland highlights the story of the horse’s phallus contained in Vǫlsa þáttr, in which a horse phallus is used as a focal point of offering and worship. The word which would indicate the receiver of the offering, mǫrnir, is often translated as the singular masculine word for “sword” despite being in the plural form, which would indicate that it ought to be translated as the plural feminine word for “giantesses.” (5) Despite the fact that grammatically and linguistically the translation “giantess” ought to be preferred, it is often rejected, seemingly as a result of implicit biases within the scholarly community that assume that no jötnar ever received worship.

Scholar Lotte Motz notes that in post-conversation folklore, giant figures were often replaced with demons or devil figures. (6) Through the projection of Christian morality onto pre-Christian figures of myth and folklore, the idea of the giant as demon or devil was perpetuated and solidified. It is possible that this has effected the scholarly treatment of the jötnar, which in any case are treated with similar hesitancy if not outright disdain in some modern heathen circles.

gerdr_statue_by_seejpe_ddnkqx0-pre

Let us now turn to Lotte Motz, who touches upon the intimate relationship of the jötnar which I explored previously. She highlights the fact that the jötnar are not only personifications of natural forces and the natural world, but that Norse mythology depicts the entirety of Midgard to have been created with the sacrifice of the flesh, blood, and bone of a jötunn whereas the Æsir are held apart from the natural world: “Gods do not give of themselves to become part of nature around us, whereas the blood of a giant formed the sea, and his skull the sky. Gods are thus apart and distinct from the world which they have founded and which they rule.” (7)

In many ways such a description of the Æsir as opposed to the Jötunn mirrors human society in the modern era: despite being animals at the core, the vast majority of humanity consider themselves distinct and separate from “nature.” Nature is, in many ways, “othered” in the modern world, much as we see the jötunn “othered” in the Eddas and in many if not most interpretations of the Eddas.

The potential link between the jötnar and the power of nature extends to the nature of kingship in the pre-Christian Norse world. It is not unheard of in cultures around the world for kings and tribal leaders to claim divine right via divine lineage, and the Norse were no exception to this—except, it seems, that many claimed jötunn heritage. This potentially positions the jötunn in pre-Christian Scandinavia as having been recognized as divine powers—that is, as having been a class of gods. In her essay “Kingship and the Giants,” Lotte Motz explores the connection between the jötunn and Nordic kingship more thoroughly.

Motz notes that in some skaldic poems the king’s “conquest of land was visualized in erotic terms, as an embrace and conquest of a woman.” This is, of course, not surprising or unusual. The conquest of land by explorers and colonizers has often been related in erotic terms (the phrase “virgin land” comes to mind) so it seems unsurprising that there might be a similar tradition with regards to the kings of Scandinavia. Motz looks at an example from the poems Hálegjatal and Hákonardrápa, saying that the erotic imagery used in these poems to describe the king’s relationship to the land “is based on the myth in which the earth—jörd— is Óðinn’s wife.” She isn’t the only scholar who has noticed this trend. Though Motz isn’t ultimately sold on Folke Ström’s take on this, she cites Ström as a scholar who has believes this to be in reference to the concept of a sacred marriage between the king and the land.(8)

Jord is not only a word meaning earth in the Scandinavian languages. She is a jötunn closely associated with earth and soil, who also happens to be Thor’s mother. According to Motz this example is neither an exceptional one nor an accident. She goes on to say:

“[Scholars] have not noted, surprisingly, that the ‘divine’ ancestor or bride is frequently not a godhead but a member of the race of giants…This fact is never hidden. Gerðr, ancestress of Yngling kings, is the daughter of Aurboða and Gymir, both giants. Skaði, ‘the shining bride of the gods’, was fathered by the giant Þjazi…The descent of Norwegian princes is traced to the giant Fornjtr and his family in some accounts.” (9)

d6d32c-d8d7e420-95a0-44d0-9c64-a0b21c4c1b8a

Motz lists a number of examples of royal Scandinavian lineages that either traced their line to giants, or claimed relationship to the giants via marriage, fosterage, or friendship. Given the possibility that the giants are anthropomorphized natural elements, Ström’s theory about a sacred relationship to the land may not be entirely off base: the Yngling kings claiming to be descended from Gerdr and Freyr, for example, could be seen to be claiming descent from the earth itself. Gerdr represents the soil of gardens or perhaps even farms, while Freyr may represent the earth’s fertility. Relationships with other jötnar of varying heritage might be seen as a symbolic claim to the untamed power of the natural forces with which that particular jötunn is associated.

But would these claims have been made if the jötnar were considered by the people of the time to be evil and antithetical to the gods? It’s highly doubtful, as such claims might implicitly place the claimants in conflict with the gods and perhaps even weaken their claim to power—if, of course, the jötnar were viewed with the same derision with which many view them today. What seems more likely is that the jötnar were seen as divine, that some jötnar were worshiped, making it a logical move to claim descent or relationship to them as a movement for consolidation of power.

Ultimately Motz says that it remains unknown “why members of a hostile and savage group, intent on destroying the order of the gods, should assist in creating a sacred institution.” (10) Setting aside the possibility that the claim to jötnar heritage might be associated with a sacred relationship to the land and nature, I want to return to something which Motz herself pointed out: that post-conversion, giants and devils become interchangeable. She of course goes on to note that the giants are set in a position of hostility to the ruling faith and suggests this may be cause for the substitution. We know, however, the hostility between the classes could represent a historical appropriation of an older religious paradigm by a newer one, something which Motz takes into consideration in “Giants in Folklore and Mythology”:

“It is true that many waves of immigration washed onto the shores of Northern Europe, each group bringing its tradition of warfare and faith into the new land and accepting also much of what it found…If the giants had, in fact, been the gods of the native population who then became part of the faith of the invaders, we would find an answer to their dual nature: that they were wise as well as monstrous, that they built sanctuaries even though they were the enemy…And as such they were remembered in the tales of simple folk: as those who had constructed the world in its splendour.” (11)

So little writing by pagan believers in pre-Christian Scandinavia about the mythology and beliefs of the time exists, making it nearly impossible to be certain what their attitudes might have been about the jötnar. We must rely on clues in the stories that are left to us.

The clues are hidden in the nooks and crannies of obscure and common texts alike. Though they, just like the archaeological evidence we looked at, may be interpreted in a variety ways, the suggestion they seem to point to—that the jötnar were not viewed as evil forces and that some probably did receive worship—cannot be absolutely dismissed without also dismissing the works in which those clues are found. As we have seen in previously, we don’t have enough textual evidence of the original beliefs and practices to be roundly dismissing these texts.

  1. Lindow, John. Norse Mythology: A Guide to Gods, Heroes, Rituals, and Belief. Oxford University Press, New York. pp. 269
  2. Steinsland, G. 1986: ”Giants as Recipients of Cult in the Viking Age?” Words and Objects; Towards a Dialogue between Archaeology and History of Religion. G. Steinsland, ed. Oslo, pp. 213-4
  3. Steinsland. 213
  4. Steinsland. 214-5
  5. Steinsland. 216
  6. Motz, Lotte. “Giants in Folklore and Mythology: A New Approach.” Folklore, Vol. 93 No. 1. Taylore & Francis, LTD. 1982.
  7. Motz. 77
  8. Motz, Lotte. “Kingship and the Giants,” Arkiv för nordisk filologi. 1996. pp. 74
  9. Motz. 75
  10. Motz. 82
  11. Motz, Lotte. “Giants in Folklore and Mythology: A New Approach.” Folklore, Vol. 93 No. 1. Taylore & Francis, LTD. 1982. pp 81

The Lion, Great of Strength

The Netjeru. Deities of Ancient Egypt–or as it was known by the people of the time, Kemet (from whence the modern religious term Kemeticism is derived). This pantheon was numerous and rather fluid, with multiple myths depicting the same event and different religious cults coming to power or being brought into Egypt from foreign cultures.

Today, I’d like to share one of the many deities whose cult arose from the long-lived Ancient Egyptian culture: a protective spirit whose worship enjoyed its rise in the Late Period (usually designated as being from the 600s or 500s BC to the early 330s BC). He would continue to be a popular god into the Ptolemaic period (Greek rule over Egypt) and even the Roman period (Roman rule over Egypt). Throughout these times and cultural shifts, he was understood as a particularly accessible god, venerated by the common people and featured on amulets.

Meet Tutu. (Known to the Greeks as Tithoes.)


                   God Tutu as a Sphinx, 1st century C.E. or later. Limestone, pigment, 14 1/4 x 5 1/16 x 16 11/16 in. (36.2 x 12.8 x 42.4 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.1509E. Creative Commons-BY (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, CUR.37.1509E_view1_divinefelines_2013.jpg)
Limestone, 1st c. CE or later (Brooklyn Museum)

Tutu is most often depicted as an Egyptian sphinx–he has a human head wearing a nemes, a leonine body, and a snake as a tail. He is often depicting trodding down dangerous animals, such as the snakes depicted in the above statue or the scorpions in the stela below, or walking over arrows, depicting dangers such as the Seven Arrows of Sekhmet that cause illness. As “He Who Keeps Enemies at a Distance”, Tutu is believed to hold sway over malevolent spirits and has the ability to protect his devotees from danger. A mighty son of the goddess Nit (spelled Neith by the Greeks), he is also especially petitioned to protect a person while they sleep, fending off nightmares.

Certain of Tutu’s epithets, such as “Who Comes to the One Calling Him”, showcase his perceived accessibility by the Ancient Egyptian people; this availability has often been interpreted as the reason for the unusual choice in many ancient reliefs to show him with his face frontwards, fully looking towards the viewer.

Limestone, circa 332-330 BCE

So what does all this mean for the modern Kemetic devotee? In my religious practice, Tutu currently dwells on my Kemetic altar alongside my other Netjeru in the form of a sphinx statue, which I’ve adorned with a necklace I made of glass, carnelian, and lapis lazuli beads. Personally, I have found him to not only be as approachable as his reputation suggests, but also to be particularly calm and collected in his demeanor, to a reassuring effect. He always seems to know when there’s a problem, before you tell him anything, and is ready to listen and offer advice or assistance.

Tutu can still be invoked as a powerful personal protector. Petition him if you suffer from nightmares; keep a small altar to him in your bedroom, and offer him cool water before going to sleep. Buy a sphinx charm and cense it with frankincense, then wear it as part of your daily jewelry for protection during the day. Especially during the coronavirus pandemic, Tutu can be a wonderful addition to a personal spiritual practice, as he has the power to keep spirits of illness at bay.

My Protection Prayer to Tutu:
“Fierce Tutu, Great of Strength, He Who Keeps Enemies at a Distance, I offer You henu as I ask Your protection. Son of Nit, guard me from any malevolent manifestations, be they netjeru or netjeri. Master of the Demons of Sekhmet and the Wandering Demons of Bast, protector of the people, in You I trust, and to You I give thanks. As it was in Your temple in ancient Kellis, so may it be now as I honor You here, as You are victorious in all places You go and all evil flees before You. Where I walk, You walk with me, and I am protected. Dua Tutu! Nekhtet!”

*henu: ritual gestures used in Kemeticism to honor the Netjeru; the simple henu to offer praise is done with arms extended forwards, then bent upwards at a 90 degree angle at the elbow, with hands open and palms facing forwards.
*netjeru (malevolent manifestations): illness-causing spirits, such as the Arrows of Sekhmet, can be interpreted as a manifestation of the goddess herself or her messengers; they are included in the dangerous energies that Tutu protects from.
*netjeri (malevolent): non-divine spirits, against whom Tutu guards.
*Kellis: the ancient town with the only known temple to which its main dedication and function was Tutu’s worship.
*“Dua Tutu! Nekhtet!”: a modern rendering of Ancient Egyptian words that may be generally understood as meaning “Praise Tutu! Victory!”

Marduk and Tiamat (“Enuma Elish”: The Babylonian Epic of Creation)

At first glance the story of Marduk and Tiamat in the “Enuma Elish” seems to be a creation story of Mesopotamia as told by the Babylonians. However, the subtext tells how humans mastered the volatile environment of Mesopotamia. Also, the myth grapples with understanding and accepting the cosmos as they understood it.

Layered below this creation myth is the rise of Babylon to become the principal power of the region. The “Enuma Elish” (Note 1) describes the lives of the succeeding generations of Gods, their conflicts with the Gods before Them, and ends with Marduk as their ruler. Each generation of Gods probably represents a prior group of peoples who lived the region. Since Marduk is the major God of the Babylonians, this myth then becomes the story of how Babylon came to rule Mesopotamia.

The myth starts by describing the ancient landscape of Mesopotamia, thousands of years ago. Apsu, the sweet water, mixes with Tiamat of the salt water. The symbol of their union is the mingling of the Tigris and Euphrates with the sea to produce the salt marshes. The sea was much farther inland then, and tides had more effect on the people living there. The landscape of the area is one of river bottoms, tidal marshes, swamps, and wetlands. Even the names of their first children, Lahamu (female) and Lahmu (male) which means “silt,” reflect this as well.

Into this watery beginning, Anshar (male) and Kishar (female) – the Gods of the Horizon and of the Rim of the Earth – are born. These two Gods are the parents of Anu, the Father of the Gods. Anu, the Ancestor of the Elder Gods, is the parent of Nudimmud, Marduk’s father. (Note 2). (Note 3).

The next generation of Gods were Enlil and Enki of the Sumerians. Unlike the first group, these Gods focused on developing agriculture and decreeing divine laws. While Anu ruled the Gods, Enlil granted kingship, and Enki created people. (In a similar story to Apsu and the noisy Gods is Enlil and the noisy humans. In both cases, the Gods tried to destroy the noisemakers, since the activities of farming disturbed them.)

In Tiamat’s case, the noisy ones were the next generation of Gods, who were replacing the original ones. They were draining the swamps, digging the canals, and irrigating the fields. These Gods were taming the “sweet water”, thereby killing Apsu as a God. The efforts of the new Gods threatened Tiamat, since They were transforming the salt marshes into farmland.

The “Emuma Elish” relates it as following: The noise was so great that Tiamat wanted those Gods gone. Apsu, Her Consort, tried to convince Her otherwise, but failed. When Enlil discovered Tiamat’s intent, He killed Apsu. Enlil’s reasoning was to allow the original waters of Apsu to become many forms of being such as canals.

Furious, Tiamat raises an army, which metaphorically reflects the violence of the times. Through continuous irrigation, salt made the land of the Sumerians infertile. Faced with dwindling resources including water, the various cities fought each other to gain these precious resources for their peoples. During this awful time, the suffering Sumerians wrote lamentations describing their misery — bodies melting in the sun and cities shrouded in smoke. Into this war-torn landscape came the Amorites, who adopted the Sumerian culture, and established their main city of Babylon. Under their king, Hammurabi, the Babylonians cemented their empire and imposed law and order in Mesopotamia.

This creation myth, the “Enuma Elish,” relates how the Babylonians came to power and recreated the world, making order out of chaos. Their principal God, Marduk, assumes power over the other Gods and defeats Tiamat. Unable to defeat Tiamat, the Sumerian Gods, Enki and Enlil cede their power to Marduk by granting “Enlil-ship” to Him. Meanwhile, the other Gods confer “Anu-power” on Him. Hence, several generations of Gods pass from importance. The “Enuma Elish” says, “We gave You (Marduk) Kingship, power over all and everything.”

After adopting the myths from the Sumerians, the Babylonians rewrote the creation myth to include the rise and rulership of Marduk. After Tiamat came Anu, who was the original head of the pantheon. With each succeeding generation, Anu shared his power first with Enlil and then with Enki. While They ceded their power to Marduk, Anu remained in the titular rule. In the “Enuma Elish,” the Babylonians acknowledge their predecessors, the Sumerians and the others. But they end the myth with Marduk recreating the world and establishing his reign. He does this by building the world on the bones of Tiamat, one of the Gods of the original peoples living there. Marduk remakes the world as the Babylonians remade Mesopotamia.

Note 1: The Mesopotamians have several creation myths. This is an analysis of one of them.
Note 2: An alternative interpretation has Ashar and Kishar be the children of Lahamu and Lahmu.
Note 3: The Sumerian myths have Ki, as the wife of Anu, help to create the heavens and the earth. Their children, Enlil and Ninlil create the world, and Enki sets the order of everything in the new world.

Works Used.
“Ancient Mesopotamian Gods and Goddesses.” U.K. Higher Education Project. 2011. Web. http://oracc.museum.upenn.edu/amgg/index.html .
Black, Jeremy and Anthony Green, “Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia.” University of Texas: Austin. 1992.
Cicero, Sandra, “A Guide to the Babylonian Tarot.” Llewellyn: Woodbury, MN, 2006. Print.
King, L.W., “Babylonian Religion and Mythology.” Wisdom Library. 1903. Web. http://www.wisdomlib.org/mesopotamian/book/babylonian-religion-and-mythology/d/doc7086.html .
Dickie, Lloyd and Paul Boudreau, “Awakenings Higher Consciousness: Guidance from Ancient Egypt and Sumer.” Inner Traditions: Rochester (VT). 2015.
Jacobsen, Thorkild, “The Treasures of Darkness.” Yale University Press: New Haven. 1976.

How do Norse neopagans typically view Rökkatru?

This is a slightly edited version of an essay originally posted on Huginn’s Heathen Hoff.

In Snorri Sturulson’s Prose Edda, the jötnar are often portrayed as amoral, dangerous, and destructive. In texts which are more blatantly Christianized, they may be more depicted as outright evil.

In our decidedly Christianized modern society, these things feel very bad and frightening. The knee-jerk reaction is to recoil from and demonize them. This is what has happened with the jötnar, despite their integral role in the Norse pantheon—including the lineage of most of the gods including jötnar, and their frequent romantic interludes with the Vanir and Æsir.

The Æsir, in particular, frequently include jötnar among their ranks; like Mímir or Skaði. The effect in the community of demonizing an entire tribe of spirits or deities in the Norse pantheon is palpable: people who honor or worship the jötunn are often just as demonized as the entities they work with. Often this results in outright dismissing them as either evil or stupid and barring them from certain Norse pagan events and spaces.

Unfortunately, due to the widespread destruction and suppression of pagan religions and traditions by the Christian conversion, modern paganism is by its nature separated from its roots. No evidence exists of a continuous line of Norse pagan practice, and if there does exist today someone who is practicing a version of Norse paganism which was handed down to them in an unbroken chain, they are quite good at hiding. What this means is that Norse neopaganism is largely an effort to reconstruct an old religion lifted from its context, based on texts which were written well after the conversion by Christians who grew up in a Christian culture. The subsequent effect of Christianity on those texts is often overlooked. Furthermore, Scandinavia had long-standing religious traditions prior to the much-glorified Viking age, which culminated in the religious practices of the Viking age, and with which most of us are entirely unfamiliar.

Lacking in that context and desperate for source material upon which to rebuild the old Norse religion, many modern pagans latch onto the Eddas and Sagas, treating them as though they are absolute: the last word on the gods and their stories. This is understandable, but the result of clinging to a text without also thinking critically about it is, at its base, a lack of academic accountability. Such a lack of academic accountability has not only failed to offer anything productive to neopaganism as a movement, it has very real, very negative effects on the Norse neopagan community.

hel_by_nicowanderer_damx24h-fullview

I recently came across a forum thread where, amid a very legitimate discussion of troubling things some neopagan leaders have done and said, another note was struck which somewhat undermined otherwise very real concerns: dislike for those who honor the jötnar. One commenter quoted the following from Goði Rod Landreth:

“She [Galina Krasskova] and her Etin-lover1 kin want to muddy the waters on all sorts of theological point in and around heathenry…I do not advise any Tru heathen to read her or her Etin-lover kin.”(1) It should be noted that I was unable to track down this quote to corroborate.

The quote shows clear derision for “Etin-lovers,” or those who honor/worship the jötnar, and seems to focus on their desire to “muddy the waters,” presumably by introducing jötunn worship into their practice and promoting this. The quote was presented in the context of evidence that Kaldera, Krasskova, and others are niþing, defined in the same quote as a person who “nobody is allowed to protect, house, or feed…The outlaw is not only expelled from the kinship, he is also regarded henceforth as an enemy to mankind.”
Ehsha Apple of Witchcraft from Scratch notes:

“According to Bosworth-Toller’s Anglo-Saxon Dictionary: ‘a villain, one who commits a vile action.’ Contemporary use translates to ‘a coward, a villain; a person who breaks the law or a code of honour; an outlaw.’ …A nīþing or nīþgæst (denoting the ‘spirit’ of the person) is perpetually considered lower (as in ‘’neath’—beneath) than those around him.”(2)

Its citation in a discussion grounded very much in the real-world harm done by cultural appropriation and malpractice seems very out of place—though very much in line with more common criticisms leveled at public figures like Kaldera and Krasskova. In many other respects I actually agreed with the criticisms being laid against these authors, who I have have increasingly moved away from over the years due both to the very valid ethical concerns brought up in relation to Kaldera and the outing of Krasskova as a xenophobe.

Doing research on the worship of jötnar can unearth many similar attitudes. One such example is a short piece titled “Why I’m Opposed to Jotun Worship” by Hauk Heimdallsman. In this, Heimdallsman states that he is “violently opposed to the concept” of worshiping or honoring jötnar. Many of the comments that follow fall in line with the expressed sentiment that jötnar are not worthy of worship, but that they are explicitly and solely “destructive” forces, and the question abounds why anyone might worship forces of destruction. Heimdallsman states: “Jotnar are not our Kin. They have shown time and again they are not aligned with us, have attacked the Gods, and show no concern for the lives of us here on Midgard.” In the comments, he does acknowledge the jötunn blood of many Aesir gods and others do acknowledge the lineage of gods being drawn back to the primordial jötunn Ymir, but this is largely dismissed as inconsequential. Heimdallsman goes as far as to say that those worshiping or honoring the jötunn “May as well be a Christian if you want to worship massive destructive forces.”3

This neglects the history of the surviving lore as modern practitioners know it today—lore that was recorded after the conversion of Scandinavia by Christians. Furthermore, the attitude of a good vs. evil paradigm—in this instance framed as a “destructive vs. beneficial”—is itself emblematic of Abrahamic religions, and is likely a holdover of such, considering the extreme Christianization of modern western societies, especially the United States.

One commenter, whose screen-name is Wyrd Dottir, highlighted some of the historical and literary oversights in the original post, saying:

“The Lokasenna doesn’t appear to be derived from a pre-Christian tale, but rather appears to be an example of contemporary Christian Medieval Literature that mimics Lucian’s Assembly of the Gods, in much the way that Snorri uses other elements common of Chrisitian Europe’s Medieval Literature by alluding to other great works (those Western “classics” from Greece and Rome), this is afterall [sic] why he attests that the God Thor is descended from the Greek Agamemnon featured in Homer’s Iliad & Odyssey, and later mentioned in Virgil’s The Aeneid. It appears that the Lokasenna followed the formula set by Lucian, and just dropped in Norse Gods instead… Let us not forget that the lore as we know it was penned almost exclusively of Christian scholars, and it’s not some sacred holy text written by believers, but rather is a text written as ‘entertainment’. If everything was rainbow and sparkles, the stories would be boring. The sheer amount of feud you see in Icelandic literature I think screams of the fact this was entertainment. War and blood makes for a far better story than ‘the crops grew, the people were blessed with abudance, [sic] and the Gods were honored’ to the original audience of the lore, Medieval Christians.” (4)

The fact of the matter is that the history of Scandinavia itself is being roundly overlooked and disregarded when it comes to the discussion of jötunn worship, meaning that the birthplace of Norse paganism is being overlooked, or worse, cherry-picked. To begin with, the religion of the Vikings was not born in a vacuum—it, like many other religions, evolved with the people and culture which practiced it, and there is a plethora of evidence of religious practice across Scandinavia long before the time identifiable as the Viking period or even their immediate predecessor, the Vendals. Shortly, we’ll dive into this historical and cultural context, but first we’ll look at some of the most common misconceptions/misunderstandings about Rökkatru.

Until next time

Skål

(1) Re: Raven Kaldera “Northern Tradition Shaman.” Reply #5. Phillip63. http://www.newagefraud.org/smf/index.php?topic=3819.0
(2) Ehsha Apple (A. “Niþing and Holmgang.” Witchcraft From Scratch, WordPress.com, 4 July 2013, ehshaapple.wordpress.com/2013/07/04/nithing-and-holmgang/.
(3) Heimdallsman, Hauk. “Why I’m Opposed to Jotun Worship.” Post shared to Temple of Our Heathen Gods by Mark, September 14, 2010.
(4) Wyrd Dottir. Facebook Comment, Re: “Why I’m Opposed to Jotun Worship.” Temple of Our Heathen Gods. September 14, 2010.

A Belated Ostara

We’ve talked about honoring goddesses like Gerdr and Jord to honor the fertility of the earth when celebrating holidays that are classically associated with fertility. It would be perfectly acceptable to follow this trend for Ostara as well, but there are definitely other Rökkr and jötnar that would be good to honor during the times we want to acknowledge the fertility that comes with the turning of the seasons.

One versatile Rökkr who could be honored both in seasons of death and in seasons of fertility is Nidhogg. The dragon coiled amid the roots of Yggdrasil but is also said to consume the dead upon Náströnd or “The Shore of Corpses.” The virtue or value most strongly associated with Nidhogg is that of recycling, or alternatively “the value of decay.”

the_roots_of_yggdrasil_by_faqy_dd3hdop-pre

This all would seem to indicate that Nidhogg might be best honored during Samhain—and indeed, I would encourage it—but I would argue that roles such as those occupied by Nidhogg play an important part with regards to fertility. Life without death isn’t a possibility—life is dependent upon death in one way or another to flourish, and this is a truth that Rökkatru seek to honor.

So for Ostara—a holiday which honors the return of spring and all of the fertility and life that that brings—perhaps it might be time to hold a blot for Nidhogg, honoring the vital role that decay (the “recycling” of organic material) plays in the life cycle.

Though we don’t have a great idea of what kinds of offerings might be appropriate for Nidhogg, safe offerings typically include some variety of food and drink—especially mead or goat’s milk. Dedicating time performing some variety of cleaning service might also make a good offering for the dragon so closely associated with “recycling” and cleaning up: I am partial to cleaning up parks or joining/organizing community clean up events, something which could easily be dedicated to Nidhogg’s honor.

As always, I would be happy to hear of any ideas you might have for celebrating a Rökkatru Ostara, or any ideas/practices you have for honoring Nidhogg!

Skål

A Very Belated Imbolc

Imbolc comes on the first of February—which, as you have probably noticed, has come and gone. Again this is rather belated due to mental health troubles, but hey! Now that we’ve received a stay at home order, I have plenty of time to play catch-up, so let’s begin:

Imbolc is traditionally associated with ewes, in particular the pregnant ones who are getting ready to bear their lambs in the spring, as well as cleansing. The mid-point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, it is very much a celebration in the anticipation of the budding fertility of spring. For this reason, though I made the argument that Yule could be a time to honor Gerdr, it only seems appropriate that Imbolc may also be an excuse to hold a blót for Gerdr.

1200px-Skirnir's_message_to_Gerd

Skirnir’s Message to Gerd (1908) by W. G. Collingwood

 

To interweave the more traditional elements of Imbolc, milk could be offered to Gerdr. If you are lucky enough to have a garden, it would be particularly appropriate to pour out an offering of milk onto the soil. If you don’t have the privilege of having a full-blown garden but have planters in which you might grow a small herb garden or other such plants, pouring a small amount of milk into the soil of your planters in honor of Gerdr’s waking and the thawing of winter would certainly suffice (just be careful to not pour too much lest you end up having to deal with a sour milk smell coming out of your planters).

Another good way to pass the time on Imbolc is starting seeds for your garden or planters. The growing of your own food and herbs, even if you’re only able to grow a small amount, is additionally a really good way to exercise a degree of self reliance, which we have previously discussed as being one of the primary values of Rökkatru. So starting seeds on this day both aligns well with the traditional significance of this day, as well as offering an opportunity to start a practice, even a small an humble one, of self reliance.

As always, if you did anything special this Imbolc or have any other ideas how to color this holiday for a Rökkatru practice, I would love to hear them!

Skål.

Time According to the Babylonians

In Mesopotamia, a region long settled by other peoples, the Babylonians had to establish their dominance. By adopting various myths from the Sumerians, and then amending them, they created a sense of the long view of time. Into this invention of time stretching into the infinite past, the Babylonians inserted themselves, thereby breaking the timeline into two parts: before and after their arrival. They grafted the legacy of the Sumerians to themselves. Moreover, possessing a concrete sense of time, the Babylonians then subdivided it in a number of ways, each division of time serving a religious or imperial need. They bifurcated time into two distinct parts – one: circular and repeating, the other: an arrow into the future. These two splits of time complemented each other in the Babylonian mind.

Every New Year which began at the Spring Equinox, the Creation Myth (Enuma Elish) was read. This myth begins with the original creation of the world by Tiamat, the God of Chaos, and Apsu, the God of Waters. Later Anu, a God from the succeeding generation becomes the “Father of the Gods.” Eventually, He cedes his powers to Enlil, from yet a newer generation of Gods, who seeks to overthrow the original Gods. After Apsu is killed, Tiamat wages war on the newer Gods. In desperation, Enlil goes to Marduk, the principal deity of Babylon, for help. On the condition that He is made the Ruler of the Gods, Marduk agrees. After killing Tiamat, Marduk remakes the world from her body.

This creation story cements Babylon’s place in Mesopotamian history. After ages of rule by other peoples and their Gods, Mesopotamia is then recreated by the Babylonians. Generations of Gods follow each other ending with Marduk. Thus, Babylon becomes the terminus point for the timeless past, and the future that is now Babylon. The ritual of reading the Creation Myth every New Year was the intersection of circle with arrow time, and also the combination of both.

In its various forms, the Gilgamesh Epic highlights the nexus of time and immortality. Within this epic is the story of a Great Deluge. Like the Creation Story, the time in the Great Flood is broken into two halves, the world before Babylon and after. According to this myth, the list of Kings before the Flood numbered ten. After the Flood, the Kings reigned from the City of Kish (in Sumer), with reigns consisting of 300 years to 1,200 years. In this story, comes a sense of a long past, a rupture, and then the start of a new age. Because Kish had great symbolic significance, the myth allows Babylon to become the heir to the ancient civilization of Sumer. The story gives to the people of Babylonia, the sense of a great destiny. Babylon is the New World remade from the older world. Once more, time in Babylonian perception was broken, and then welded together again.

The Gilgamesh Epic, itself, focuses on the questions of death and immortality. After his friend, Enkidu dies, Gilgamesh comes to dislike death. Resolving to end death for all, he searches for the key of immortality. During his adventures, various Gods tell him to enjoy life and accept death gracefully. Through a series of mishaps, Gilgamesh is denied immortality for himself and his people. However, he realizes that his city will exist long after his death. His immortality would come from his legacy, which is his city. Babylonians saw this in terms of themselves as the legacy of Sumer. Again it was presented as endless time that was disrupted.

In Babylon, the year was divided into two halves – summer and winter, in explicit circle time. In the myth of Ishtar’s (Inanna) Descent Into the Underworld, winter comes about when Ishtar sends her husband Tammuz (Dumuzi) to take her place in the Land of the Dead. In desperation, Tammuz then seeks help from his sister, Belit-seri (Geshtinanna). After much negotiation with the Gods of the Underworld, both siblings decide to take each other’s place for six months at a time.

Ishtar’s husband, Tammuz was the God of Crops and Flocks. The Babylonians saw Him as the life blood of the land and the sheep. When He went into the Underworld, winter came. At that time his sister, Belit-seri reemerged, and presided over the autumn harvest and wine making. She became the Goddess of Wine and Grapes.

At the Spring Equinox, the Babylonians started their New Year. To commemorate this, the King would enact a sacred marriage with the temple priestess of Ishtar. Their mating was to reaffirm the marriage of Ishtar, the Goddess of Fertility, with her husband, Tammuz. These marriage rites was to ensure that the King was accepted as one of the Gods, and blessed by Ishtar, who also blessed the crops. This was circle time, repeated every year at the same day.

In contrast, the Autumn Equinox was the beginning of the Royal Year. At this time, the King offered First Fruits for the blessings of the Gods for him and his city. Afterwards, he would begin a project such as building a temple. Counting regnal years in Babylon started with the harvest, and was often named for the King’s latest project. The passage of time was demarked by the reigns of kings and their deeds. Again the Babylonian sense of time was divided into two parts, one for the Gods and the other for the kings. Regnal time was inserted as an arrow to the future into the circle time of the harvests.

In their daily lives, the Babylonians were very conscious of the passage of time. They measured days, months, and years (with a nineteen month calendar to tract solar and lunar eclipses). They used artificial time to track governmental and commercial activity for regnal years and fiscal years. Against this backdrop of dividing time into smaller units came the sense of timelessness that rose from living in Mesopotamia. Being conscious of being a part of a succession of kingdoms in the region, the Babylonians both merged their myths with the Sumerians, and divided them into two parts, before Babylon, and after. Time for the Babylonians was to split into two parts, one an arrow pointing towards the future, whilst the other a circle that returned back to Babylon.

Works Used.

“Ancient Mesopotamian Gods and Goddesses.” U.K. Higher Education Project. 2011. Web. http://oracc.museum.upenn.edu/amgg/index.html .
Black, Jeremy and Anthony Green, “Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia.” University of Texas: Austin. 1992.
Cicero, Sandra, “A Guide to the Babylonian Tarot.” Llewellyn: Woodbury, MN, 2006. Print.
King, L.W., “Babylonian Religion and Mythology.” Wisdom Library. 1903. Web. http://www.wisdomlib.org/mesopotamian/book/babylonian-religion-and-mythology/d/doc7086.html .
Cohen, Mark, “Festivals and Calendars of the Ancient Near East Calendar,” PDF. 2015.
Dickie, Lloyd and Paul Boudreau, “Awakenings Higher Consciousness: Guidance from Ancient Egypt and Sumer.” Inner Traditions: Rochester (VT). 2015.
Jacobsen, Thorkild, “The Treasures of Darkness.” Yale University Press: New Haven. 1976.

Kami of Snow & Rain

Having woken up to a beautiful snow day this morning, I thought today might be a nice opportunity to discuss one of my favorite weather divinities: a dragon who brings snow and rain, Kuraokami.

Within the Japanese Shinto religion, you will find many spirits or kami. While the veneration of major kami like Amaterasu-Omikami has become fairly well-known, with proper Shinto lineages even becoming available in other countries (such as the Tsubaki Grand Shrine of America), still many more kami remain largely unknown outside of Japan.

According to the Kojiki, when the kami of fire Kagutsuchi-no-Kami was born, he burned his mother Izanami-no-Mikoto and caused her death. Grief-stricken and infuriated, his father Izanagi-no-Mikoto brings his sword down upon the young fire kami, with several more kami then being born from Kagutsuchi-no-Kami’s blood. It is from the blood that collected on the sword that Kuraokami was born. The Nihongi (or Nihon Shoki) records a generally similar account of Kuraokami’s birth, with the main difference being that Kagutsuchi-no-Kami’s body is cut into pieces, with each piece becoming a new kami. And thus, the dragon god of the valleys’ birth provides his only major myth. In modern practice, there are several official shrines in Japan where Kuraokami is venerated, some of which he shares with other weather kami.

At this point, I’m going to focus on the experience of working with this kami as an American who was completely new to Shinto practices, far removed from the Japanese culture of origin. First, I have set up my altar to Kuraokami utilizing the traditional shrine articles, which is essentially a fixed set of small dishes that each have an assigned purpose; these articles are used for the kami’s offerings. My altar also utilizes other traditional symbols, such as the shrine mirror and a red torii (sacred gate). I have white candles flanking the altar, and a holder for Japanese stick incense (I favor the Morning Star brand’s sandalwood sticks). Now, in a “true” Shinto home altar, these items would all be sitting in front of a kamidana–a small wooden altar box housing the kami’s ofuda. The ofuda is a talisman (usually paper) that one would acquire at a Shinto shrine, and would be inscribed with the venerated kami’s name; it is customarily replaced annually. However, as an American without ready annual access to one of Kuraokami’s shrines, I must admit that my home altar to him lacks an ofuda; instead, I have placed a statue of a traditional Japanese dragon in its place to signify the kami’s presence, which Kuraokami has been understanding and accepting of in my experience with him.

As far as my personal experience in serving Kuraokami, I’ve found him to be a particularly interactive and responsive spirit; in addition to having answered petitions for snow (or to delay it) with considerable reliability, he’s also granted me protection. Aside from making the traditional offerings (which includes rice and salt) using the altar articles mentioned earlier, I will also occasionally use separate dishes to offer other foods, especially when putting forth or repaying requests; as an added note, after the offering is made, the food may be eaten. When approaching this kami, I would certainly recommend making your respect for him clear, as he is strong and can be rather proud. Also, when approaching any kami, an understanding of Shinto purity standards and practices is absolutely necessary.

Here’s an example of a general prayer I’ll use for a common day’s practice, composed with inspiration from translations of prayers used at the Tsubaki Grand Shrine previously mentioned:
Humbly, I approach the Kami in prayer. In the Expanse of High Heaven dwell the exalted Kami. Heavenly Kami, Earthly Kami, all the many myriad of Kami, I offer my respect and gratitude, and ask that You unite and hear my prayer.
Kuraokami, who dwells in the valleys, divine bestower of snow and rain, born of the bloody union of Izanagi-no-Okami’s sword and Kagutsuchi-no-Kami’s body, I offer my reverence and gratitude, and humbly beseech You to cleanse my being of all impurities.
Kuraokami, all Heavenly and Earthly Kami, all the many myriad of Kami, I pray that You bless me with clarity and protection. Guide and teach me.
Sincerely, I speak these words.