All that is known of Ymir is that he was born from the fires of Muspelheim and the ice of Niflheim when they collided in a “great bang” in Ginnungagap. In this way, he can be seen as the anthropomorphize iteration of the chaotic but endless creative potential of the Ginnungagap. He took nourishment by nursing the primeval cow Auðumbla, who also came out of Ginnungagap. He also reproduced asexually, and as such became the ancestor of all the giants and many of the Æsir as well. Due to his asexual reproduction, many consider him to be hermaphroditic. His descendants in the form of Odin, Vili, and Ve slaughtered Ymir and from his remains (the pure, primordial stuff of creation) fashioned the world. His has at least three other possible names, Brimir, Blain, and Aurgelmir. Though he is described as being “evil,” there is no textual evidence for this and the concept may be of Christian influence, as there’s little to no evidence that the pagan worldview of the Norse really had a place for the binary construct of “good” and “evil,” though “chaos” and “order” may be more likely, amoral counterparts.
Due to the nature of Ymir’s state in the mythology, this ritual will be much more about honoring the memory of a great and beloved ancestor, one who gave rise to all life on Earth (for without the pure, primal, creative force of his body, life could not have thrived). Nonetheless, bring an offering of milk to this ritual—if possible, the freshest and locally sourced milk you can find, but it’s okay if you need to stick to the basics. This ritual should be conducted outside with direct contact with the earth.
Pour your offering into a favored mug and set the mug directly on the earth. If your practice involves circle casting, cast your circle. I like to call on Jord for Earth, Ran and Aegir for Water, Surt for Fire, and Hræsvelgr for Wind/Air, and in addition I typically call on Angrboda (my patron, whom I view as a goddess of witches and völvar) to oversee my working. When you have centered yourself and are prepared:
“Hail Ymir/ Brimir/ Blain/ Aurgelmir
Hail Ymir, Mountain’s Bones
Hail Ymir, Earth’s Flesh
Hail Ymir, Sea’s Blood
Hail Ymir, Tree’s Locks
Hail Ymir, Skull Dome of the Sky
Hail Ymir, Ginnungagap’s Mirror
Hail Ymir, Element of Creation
Hail Ymir, Progenitor of Jötnar
Hail Ymir, First Ancestor…
”From you we have all come, to you we will all return. I honor you and all your names, Aurgelmir, Blain, Brimir. You, First Ancestor of Earth and all her progeny; first ancestor of all jötnar and of Æsir; you whose primal creative force enabled us to be—I offer you my greatest gratitude, honor, and love.”
Lift the mug or cup of milk toward the sky, head bowed.
“Though I can give you nothing which does not already originate with you, I bring you this offering in loving spirit and gratitude for your unwilling and unknowing sacrifice at the hands of your grandchildren.
“Hail Ymir, Whose Bones are the Mountains!
Hail Ymir, Whose Flesh is the Earth!
Hail Ymir, First of Ancestors!”
Lower the milk, and pour it out directly onto the earth. If you are near a body of water, feel free to pour the milk out into this as well. If you are unable to conduct this ritual outside, I recommend simply pouring the milk onto the ground after the ritual when you are able to go outside, or otherwise leaving it on an altar for a day or so.
“And so I honor your spirit and your sacrifice today, Ymir, First of All Ancestors. I thank you, I honor you, and I bless your name.”
Set aside the mug and bow to the earth, laying your forehead directly against the soil with your arms stretched forward and palms face-down on the soil. If you’ve raised any energy during this working, ground it out into the earth as a final offering. Again, if you’re unable to do this outside, that’s okay — you can do this indoors as well, and just focus on sending that excess energy down to the earth below your home.
Sit up and thank Ymir for receiving your offering and being with you on this day, and bid farewell to his spirit. If you have cast a circle, begin to take it up now, or do anything else appropriate to your practice to close out the ritual.
Prepare three offerings, or to make three offerings. Ideally this would be a piece of fiber-art handiwork of your own creation to sacrifice in a ritual fire or traditional tools of the Nornir to consecrate and dedicate to them in the ritual. Alternatively, a bonsai tree to dedicate to them, including dedicating every act of caring for the tree to them, in representation of their care for Yggdrasil (this would mean an ongoing conscientious, mindful care of the bonsai tree, including watering it only with naturally collected water, not tap water). Yet another option would be to ritually clean your home—dust, sweep, mop, etc—and dedicate that time and energy to them as an offering. If all else fails, an offering of mead or wine and buttered bread is always a safe offering.
Ensure that you will not be disturbed during this working.
Bring at least three offerings—one for each of the Nornir. Optional: bring a fourth offering for the Nornir as a collective. Set up your ritual altar in your selected space. If casting a circle is part of your ritual practice, do so in whatever means suit your practice. I like to call on Jord for Earth, Ran and Aegir for Water, Surt for Fire, and Hræsvelgr for Wind/Air, and in addition I typically call on Angrboda (my patron, whom I view as a goddess of witches and völvar) to oversee my working.
Kneel at your altar and bow your head. Bring your hands and arms into a position of reverence which feels correct to you, and begin to call upon the Nornir to join you and be honored in your ritual. To do this, begin with calling Urðr by name, then chant nine kennings for her.
“Hail Urðr, Keeper of the Well
Hail Urðr, Spinner of Thread
Hail Urðr, Life Alotter
Hail Urðr, Crafter of Fate
Hail Urðr, Eldest of the Nornir
Hail Urðr, Most Mysterious Sister of Wyrd
Hail Urðr, Progenitor of History
Hail Urðr, Knower of All That Has Been
Hail Urðr, Overseer of All That Has Transpired…
“I hail you and call you to receive my reverence. May you be ever honored, Urðr, Spinner of Wyrd.” Place your offering for Urðr on left side of the altar. “I bring to you a humble offering of ________, and pray that you sit it fit to accept.”
Repeat with Verðandi:
“Hail Verðandi, Maker of Laws
Hail Verðandi, Weaver of Threads
Hail Verðandi, Setter of Fates
Hail Verðandi, Constantly Becoming
Hail Verðandi, In the Making
Hail Verðandi, Knower of All In Making
Hail Verðandi, Keeper of What Is
Hail Verðandi, Ever Present
Hail Verðandi, Who Precedes and Overtakes the Immediate…”
“I hail you and call you to receive my reverence. May you be ever honored, Verðandi, Weaver of Wyrd.” Place your offering for Verðandi in the center of the altar. “I bring to you a humble offering of ________, and pray that you sit it fit to accept.”
“Hail Skuld, Claimer of All Debts
Hail Skuld, Snipper of Threads
Hail Skuld, Holder of Shields
Hail Skuld, Decider of Battle
Hail Skuld, Who Will Claim the Dead
Hail Skuld, Who Numbers Among the Valkyrie
Hail Skuld, Youngest of the Nornir
Hail Skuld, Seer of All Futures
Hail Skuld, Knower of All Fates…
“I hail you and call you to receive my reverence. May you be ever honored, Skuld, Who Cuts the Threads of Wyrd.” Place your offering for Skuld in the center of the altar. “I bring to you a humble offering of ________, and pray that you sit it fit to accept.”
Depending on what you have brought to offer, either dedicate the items to them (a simple process of cleansing the items within the ritual in whatever manner best suits your practice, followed by engraving the items [or pot, if it’s a bonsai tree] with the name(s) of the Nornir the item is to be dedicated to, and a statement of dedication. If it’s a bonsai tree, this statement should include the specific dedication of each action of care as a dedicated offering to the Nornir), burn them in a ritual fire if this option is available to you, or move to the next part of the ritual. If your offering is an action, such as cleaning, do that now, and return to the altar when you are finished.
When your offerings have been appropriately made, next hail all three Nornir as a collective:
“Hail the Nornir
Hail The Fates
Hail the Wyrd Sisters
Hail That Which Has Been, Is Becoming, and Will Be
Hail Keepers of Yggdrasil
Hail Tenders of the Tree
Hail Those Who Carve Runes in Yggdrasil’s Bark
Hail Measurers of Destinies
Hail Most Powerful Jötunn Maids
Hail Those Who Have Ended, Are Ending, and Will End Ages…
“I hail you, Sisters of Wyrd and Weavers of Fate. I call on you to receive my reverence and be honored.” If you have brought a fourth, physical offering, place it at the top of the altar now and say: “In gratitude, I humbly offer you this ________ and pray that it pleases you well, you Keepers of the Threads.” If you intend to dedicate a non-physical offering, such as the energy and time of cleaning house, wait to do this until after you have stated the intention of your ritual.
Next, state the specific intent of the ritual. Write this out beforehand so you can word it precisely and recite it when the time is right. This may simply be, “I bring you here to honor you, to remember your names, and to pay you homage,” or it may be a request such as, “I bring you here to humbly request [whatever it is you seek].” These are only examples—the intent can be whatever you need it to be, just be certain—as with any ritual or magical working—that you are thoughtful and precise in your wording.
If you are dedicating time/energy/or some other non-physical offering, conduct this offering in a mindful, meditative state now, stating, “In gratitude, I humbly offer you this ________ and pray that it pleases you well, you Keepers of the Threads.”
Once all offerings have been appropriately made, take this opportunity to conduct a divination is this is a part of your practice, otherwise meditate mindfully and listen to/feel your environment. Take note of any thoughts or emotions that seem to impress themselves upon you rather than to originate from within, and record these or the results of your divination when you are done.
When you are ready close the ritual, raise your face to the sky and call:
Spinner of Wyrd!
Weaver of Wyrd!
Who Cuts the Threads of Wyrd!
Hail the Nornir
Wyrd Sisters and Weavers of Fate!”
Bow your head and hold your hands/arms in a position of reverence that feels right to you.
“I offer you my sincerest gratitude
And I thank you for your presence here.
I pray these humble offerings have pleased you
[And await what wisdom you might share]*
And now I bid you farewell
So much as one can to those
Who weave all Fate and Time.
Honor and Blessings to your names—
*Modify/change this to acknowledge your request, if you made a request. Otherwise, you may leave this line out if you so choose.
Place your hands and forehead to the altar or to the ground and let any excess energy that may have built up in you through the ritual flow out of you and into the altar/earth as an closing offering. Once you have grounded out that energy, stand and close the circle if you cast one, or otherwise “close down” the ritual space. If you have laid out offerings such as drink and food, leave them on the altar for at least 24 hours before burying them or otherwise disposing them according to your practice. If you have dedicated specific objects to the Nornir, place these on an altar (either a general altar or one specific to the Nornir, but preferably not on an altar that is already dedicated to another, specific deity) or another place of reverence. If applicable/appropriate, you may consider designing the ritual altar with the intention of it being a permanent fixture, but this is up to what feels right for you.
When you’re all done, have a snack, hydrate, journal about the ritual, and take a little rest.
As part of the greater project that is this blog, I have begun doing my best to catalogue the jötnar in order to provide a comprehensive list with information on them gleaned from historical sources and community verified personal gnosis, as is applicable. As I’m still working on this, my current spiritual journey/the time and isolation of the pandemic has taken me in yet another direction: writing and conducting a minor ritual of honor and reverence for each of the named jötnar. I figured this is a good place to share those rituals.
Due to some of the other things I’m doing in my spiritual life right now, I’m writing rituals for some of the jötnar sooner than I might have otherwise. Once I have completed the rituals necessary for my current trajectory, I will move to writing and publishing these rituals in alphabetical order.
Without further ado, the first of these rituals was written for Hyndla.
Attested in Hyndluljóð (The Song of Hyndla). She is a keeper of knowledge of ancestral lines. Freyja attempts to flatter her, calling her “sister.” She seems uninterested in helping Freyja and her chosen, Ottar, chastising her for lying about the identity of the boar (Ottar) and then refusing to give Ottar “the memory-beer” Freyja requests until she is coerced by Freyja summoning a ring of fire around her. Even then, she stipulates that the draught given is laced with venom that will bring Ottar an ill-fate.
Based on this, it is very advisable to approach Hyndla with humility and the utmost honesty. Be clear on what your intentions and motivations are with yourself before you go to Hyndla, so that you may be as honest and direct with her as is possible to be.
Prepare for the ritual by reflecting on your intentions and purpose, and the motivations behind them. Write this all out on a piece of paper, and fold it up nice and tight. Prepare an offering as well—I am fond of offering drink, or a share of a meal. Hyndla has wolves, and through this association meat is likely a safe offering. Mead or beer is often a safe offering for the gods of the north. Staples that would have represented vital resources in the days of our ancestors, such as butter, bread, and milk are always good offerings as well.
Determine whether you will set up a ritual altar or simply lay your offerings on the ground/floor/earth, and prepare accordingly. This can be as elaborate as you want, or as simple as an offering bowl placed upon the earth—though I do suggest considering finding a stone to utilize as a ritual altar, symbolizing her home “in the rock and the cave.”
Once you have your reflections written down and folded and your offering selected and a place picked out to conduct the ritual, cast your circle if this is an element of your practice, and as you see fit. (I call on Jord for Earth, Ran and Aegir for Water, Surt for Fire, and Hræsvelgr for Wind/Air.) Place the folded paper in the bottom of a bowl and place the offering on top of it (if your offering is a liquid of any kind, you may pour it directly onto the paper).
Kneel before your altar/offering. Prick your finger or otherwise extract a drop of blood or a hair to add to the offering (either of which both symbolizes your bloodlines and offers a tangible sample of your genetic heritage). As you are pricking or plucking, (when you are done, lift your arms or hands into a gesture of reverence) begin to chant:
“Hail Hyndla who lives in the rock and the cave
Hail Hyndla, Keeper of the Memory-Beer
Hail Hyndla, Völva of the Mountains and the North
Hail Hyndla, Rider of Wolves
Hail Hyndla, Guardian of Knowledge of the Ancestors
Hail Hyndla, Keeper of Bloodlines
Hail Hyndla, Overseer of Family Groves
Hail Hyndla, Accuser of Freyja and of Ottar
Hail Hyndla, Who Sees the Webs the Nornir Weave.
“In awe and reverence Hyndla, I bring to you this offering of ________. I hope in this way to honor you.
“I come to you with this intent and purpose, Hyndla, not only to honor you but to find my way to my ancestors that I might [state your purpose/intention/motivation].
“I ask that you be with me Hyndla, as I undertake these endeavors. I ask [state your petition or petitions].” Place your hands on either side of the bowl with the offering and paper in it, and bow over or to the offering. “Please accept these humble offerings I gladly and in gratitude give.
“Thank you, Hyndla, for hearing my call.
Thank you, Hyndla, for receiving my offerings.
Thank you, Hyndla, and may you be ever honored.
With gratitude and reverence I leave this offering to you, and bid you farewell.
Place your hands and forehead to the altar or to the ground and let any excess energy that may have built up in you through the ritual flow out of you and into the altar/earth as an closing offering.
If it is appropriate to your practice, close your circle. If you have a particular way of disposing of offerings, do so. If not, I recommend leaving it in a safe place (where pets or other animals won’t get into it and potentially make themselves ill) for at least a full day before burying it in a similarly safe place. Bury the folded paper with it as well.
When you’re all done, have a snack, hydrate, journal about the ritual, and take a little rest.
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.
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)
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Jörmungandr 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)
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.
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)
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 jötunnnature 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 jötnaras 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.
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)
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.
Lindow, John. Norse Mythology: A Guide to Gods, Heroes, Rituals, and Belief. Oxford University Press, New York. pp. 269
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
Motz, Lotte. “Giants in Folklore and Mythology: A New Approach.” Folklore, Vol. 93 No. 1. Taylore & Francis, LTD. 1982.
Motz, Lotte. “Kingship and the Giants,” Arkiv för nordisk filologi. 1996. pp. 74
Motz, Lotte. “Giants in Folklore and Mythology: A New Approach.” Folklore, Vol. 93 No. 1. Taylore & Francis, LTD. 1982. pp 81
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.
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!”
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.
“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.
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.
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
(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.
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.”
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!