Common Misunderstandings About Rökkatru

There are a lot of misconceptions and misunderstandings about Rökkatru. A lot of those misconceptions begin with one big one: the idea that Rökkatru are unfamiliar with and/or have never studied the lore.

Rökkatru is an incredibly diverse group of Norse neopagan practitioners, so it is important to remember that every individual within Rökkatru will have varying views on these things. Not every follower of the Rökkr has read the lore or studied it in depth. In fact, it has been pointed out that there are Lokeans—who are not necessarily Rökkatru, though many might also identify as Rökkatru, just as not all pagans are Wiccan—have indeed chosen to turn away from and reject the primary lore sources due to the Christianized nature of those sources. Many of the Rökkatru I spoke to for the writing of this, however, and the majority of the Rökkatru in the communities I have frequented, are quite well versed in the lore.

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The Twilight of the Gods by Willy Pogany

Out of this context we can better understand the assumption that many, many Rökkatru come up against, which is that Rökkatru is the same/interchangeable with the practices of Raven Kaldera. This is despite the fact that Kaldera himself has gone out of his way to call his spiritual path something else entirely (“Northern Tradition Shamanism”) and doesn’t claim any label under the umbrella of heathenry. The assumption here is that Rökkatru use the writings of Raven Kaldera as primary sources for their practice in place of the lore.

While many Rökkatru do have a fraught relationship with the lore (that whole having been written post-conversion and by Christian authors thing is a bit of a sticking point, to put it mildly) and the writings of Kaldera and his ilk are common sources for Rökkatru, Kaldera can be just as much of a contentious figure within Rökkatru as without. Kaldera does associate with Abby Helasdottir, the woman credited with coining the term Rökkatru, and often references her writing or features it in his books. Given this background it is understandable that some would make the assumption that Rökkatru practitioners are followers of Kaldera’s, but this simply isn’t true.

Within the Rökkatru community there are those who are just as concerned about some of Kaldera’s seemingly questionable ethics as there are without the community. I’ve seen concerns within the community about the depth and breadth of the role UPG plays in Kaldera’s work just as frequently as I’ve seen people praise it. Kaldera himself never calls what he represents in his writings Rökkatru, but rather Norse Tradition Shamanism.

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An illustration of Víðarr stabbing Fenrir while holding his jaws apart by W.G. Collingwood

The unfortunate truth is that there simply aren’t many people who write openly about the Rökkr like Kaldera does, and of those of us who do write openly about honoring and working with the Rökkr, even fewer of us have as wide of an audience as Kaldera does. Our developing “canon” is incredibly limited, so new practitioners don’t have a whole lot of choice in terms of pursuing further knowledge about the Rökkr and practices related to them. Far more than indicating that we’re all “fanboys” of Kaldera, this indicates rather that we need more vocal voices in the Rökkatru community, writing for and about the community and for and about our gods.

In speaking with community members for this post, that was actually something that was brought up by a couple of people: the desire for books written by people other than Kaldera and his associates that are more directly and specifically written about and for Rökkatru. There was even a desire expressed for books that aren’t turned out by Kaldera’s publishing company—more independent authors publishing through other companies or on their own. Plenty of people within Rökkatru like Kaldera’s work, but it is clear that there are also those within the community who would like something more.

Despite that common misconception, it is from the perspective of having studied the lore that most Rökkatru will push back against perhaps an even more prominent misunderstanding: that the jötnar are inherently evil. This is something that I will go into further depth with in a later post, but suffice to say that there is very little (if any at all) textual evidence to suggest that the jötnar are anymore amoral or “bad” than the Æsir. Many Rökkatru (myself included) will be quick to point out that for every “wicked” deed committed by a jötunn in the lore, there is an example of the Æsir behaving duplicitously: committing a murder that so offended the Vanir as to initiate a war between the two tribes, using trickery, dishonesty, and thievery to make off with artifacts from the jötnar, etc. One of the many examples that could be offered up to illustrate this point is the framing within the lore of Ymir as evil—without offering any examples of what the primordial jötunn who was sacrificed to create the world might have done to warrant such a label. Rather, deeming him “evil” seems to primarily serve as a means to justify his murder.

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Ymir is attacked by the brothers Odin, Vili, and Vé in an illustration by Lorenz Frølich

Many Rökkatru will further point out that there are many characteristics of the jötnar which mirror the Titans of Greek mythology—which have been speculated to be primordial nature deities. This is another subject I’ll dive deeper into at a later date, but the characteristics of the jötnar more closely align to animistic nature deities or spirits than they do with demons. Regardless, it is sadly common within other branches of heathenry to talk about the jötnar like the “demons” or “devils” of Norse paganism, a sentiment clearly rooted in the highly Christianized nature both of the lore and of modern western cultures. Many neopagans additionally come from a Christian background, so this outlook also seems like to be a carried over bias from that Christian background. It is through study not only of our own lore, but of other pagan and animism practices which leads Rökkatru to honor the jötnar and step up to defend them.

More commonly than seeing the jötnar as forces of darkness and chaos, Rökkatru tend to see the jötnar as embodying the power and divinity of nature—entities to be revered with respectful fear. One person used fire as an example of her meaning: fire can both keep us warm at night, heat our food, boil our water, but it can also consume whole forests and leave houses ravaged. Any natural power is a double edged sword, coming with certain benefits while also posing threats. This, most Rökkatru will argue, is the nature of the jötnar.

One might point to Ragnarök as evidence of the evil of the jötnar—and a Rökkatru practitioner might quickly respond that the story of Ragnarök is written to favor the perspective of the Æsir over the jötnar. They might also point out that the framing of the Ragnarök story within the primary source, Völuspá, indicates it is likely heavily Christianized if not an outright Christian fabrication that doesn’t fit into a broader pagan narratives from a values standpoint. (1) They might also note that, having been compiled with the other poems in the Poetic Edda in the 13th century, the story itself could easily have functioned as propaganda during the conversion of Northern Europe. Most Rökkatru will not completely disavow Ragnarök, however, so they might also point to the cyclical nature of the universe and the suggestions within Völuspá of Ragnarök being part of a cycle of destruction and creation. (2)

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Loki breaks free at the onset of Ragnarök by Ernst H. Walther

Whatever one’s individual takeaway on the subject of Ragnarök, most Rökkatru are likely to argue that it is not a clear cut indicator of the evilness of the jötnar. As with all things religious or spiritual, it remains up to interpretation.

As a result of many of these misconceptions about Rökkatru, there is a general impression that the core of Rökkatru is chaos for the sake of chaos or darkness for the sake of darkness; that revering chaos and darkness is an excuse to act in bad faith or in a way which is harmful to others. Far from this, Rökkatru is rather much more about the balance between light and darkness.

As has been pointed out, the etymology of the word Rökkatru is connected not just with the darkness of night, but rather with twilight—that cool, shadowed point between night and day, the pivot-point upon which light and darkness balances. “The night is dark and full of terrors,” but that doesn’t mean that we turn fully away from the darkness to seek comfort in the light, and conversely we do not turn fully away from the light to seek the oblivion of the darkness. Rather, Rökkatru is about recognizing the value and necessity of both poles, and seeking to honor both the light and dark aspects of nature, of the universe, and of our gods—as well as all the gray area in between.

 

Skål

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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

The Politics of Rökkatru

Now that we have established at least some of the core values of Rökkatru, it is time to turn to the politics of Rökkatru. Though it may not be immediately obvious why it is necessary to discuss the politics of a budding minority religion, given the sociopolitical environment Rökkatru was born into and has been growing into, and the degree to which politics and religion have become muddled and intertwined in America, it is not something to be glossed over. Given that Heathenry as a whole is plagued with white supremacy and other forms of bigotry, it seems especially important to establish the politics of this new branch of Heathenry.

Though Rökkatru is not a unified or organized religion by any means, and there is wide diversity in the views and opinions held by those who practice Rökkatru, there has been some movement in online communities to firmly establish Rökkatru as anti-bigotry. In particular, some Rökkatru communities online have declared themselves in open opposition to the Asatru Folk Assembly, a Heathen organization widely known for espousing white supremacist, transphobic, and homophobic rhetoric.

The desire to form a visibly inclusive, anti-bigotry Heathenry has been voiced commonly enough within Rökkatru communities online that it seems safe to say that this is the most commonly shared sociopolitical outlook of Rökkatru. Considering that the values of Rökkatru include such values as diversity, acceptance, and community, and that the Rökkr themselves often represent the strength of nature’s diversity, it does follow that Rökkatru’s politics would be inclusive.

Furthermore, alongside the Lokean community, it is Rökkatru which boasts the highest degree of diversity among its ranks, in particular with regards to gender identity and sexual orientation. As the Rökkr are associated with shape shifting, in particular Loki who is known to shape shift not only into other animal forms but also into different genders, many Rökkatru see representations of their own fluidity in gender and sexuality reflected in their gods. Nothing within Rökkatru is strictly binary or easily confined to a box, which permits its followers a level of self-acceptance many were unable to find in other spiritual paths that adhere more closely to traditional, hetero- and cisnormative binaries.

In part because of the strength in diversity that the gods themselves represent, as well as the fact that many who might call themselves “misfits” have found spiritual home within Rökkatru, it is a path which has grown in the direction of inclusion and acceptance. Though within the ranks of adherents the most prominent form of diversity is in gender and sexuality, inclusivity and acceptance are extended to all those who fall outside of mainstream society’s hegemony. As a result, Rökkatru has not only been developing as a religious movement which values acceptance, it has been increasingly priding itself on being an anti-bigotry spiritual movement.

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Original design available for purchase on tee shirts at Mind-art Passion

Not only is Rökkatru anti-bigotry, it also deeply values environmentalism. Again we see this in the values of Rökkatru, especially in those represented by Jord and Gerd. Caring for nature, especially in the age of climate change, is a key element of Rökkatru sociopolitical identity, and not just because of what Jord and Gerd represent. All of the Rökkatru deities are generally considered to be closely associated with nature. Some may have direct and explicit connections to natural forces, such as Surt (wildfires or volcanoes) or Aegir and Ran (the ocean). Others seem to mirror more vague natural energies, such as Hela (death), Fenrir (destruction), or even Angrboda (who is closely associated with wolves and generally associated with wild things).

With a couple of deities that specifically highlight the importance of caring for and working closely with nature and the earth, as well as how interwoven the Rökkr are with natural forces as a whole, it is clear that this is a path which reveres the natural world. Because of this, environmentalism has become a core element of Rökkatru political values. It is not unheard of, in fact, for people to make donations to environmentalist nonprofits in the name of a particular deity as a way of making an offering to that deity. For example, some people might donate to organizations that are dedicated to cleaning our oceans in the name of Jörmungandr (who is known in the lore to occupy the seas surrounding Midgard) whereas others have donated to wolf sanctuaries or other organizations that protect wolves in Fenrir’s name.

In an increasingly polarized sociopolitical climate, and staring down climate change and rising fascism along with an increase in visible violence towards marginalized communities, all of these political values boil down to a deep value of activism. Rökkatru as a whole does not seem to look well on inaction in the face of injustice, though there is an understanding of the limited abilities of some members of this immensely diverse group (limitations in time and finances, in physical, emotional, or intellectual ability, etc).

Activism in the name of Rökkatru spiritual practice can take many forms. We’ve already discussed the concept of donating to relevant nonprofits in the name of a god/dess as a form of offering. I have extensive experience volunteering with disadvantaged and marginalized youth in part as a form of devotional service to Sigyn, which you can read more about here. Those who are able have in the past shown up at counter-protests to represent this inclusive Heathenry in the face of white supremacist and Neo-Nazi appropriation of sacred symbols as rallies. Some have even shown up as part of the black bloc or with Antifa protesters to disrupt rallies of bigotry.

Ultimately, Rökkatru is made up of individuals who all hold different values and political views. Not all of these views are necessarily complimentary, and not all Rökkatru practitioners would even consider themselves political. The most commonly represented political views within Rökkatru communities, however, have repeatedly proven to prioritize acceptable and inclusion, environmental care and well-being, and active action on these fronts.

Skål.

P.S. If you enjoyed this you might enjoy Is It Any Wonder, a narrative piece I wrote for Gods & Radicals that imagines what Rökkr deities might look and act like living in the modern world.

Mabon with a Rökkatru Flair

As we cycle our way through the harvest season, we move on to Mabon, the holiday marking the middle of the harvest cycle. Traditionally this is a feasting, reaping, and thanking mother earth, and often include foods such as apples, root vegetables, squash, and pomegranates.

Last time we celebrated Jord as the Fertile Earth and Angrboda as the Mother of Monsters. Now, as we move through the harvest season, it seems only fit to turn our eyes to Gerd, wife of Freyr and goddess of the Walled Garden.

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Much like Jord, Gerd is closely associated with the earth. She is theorized by many scholars to represent the frozen soil in the myth of her “courtship” by Freyr (which looks a lot more like a coercion to our eyes, of course) while Freyr is theorized to here symbolize the return of the summer sun’s fertility. The heat of the sun, therefore, warms the frozen earth and brings her back to a state of fertility.
Gerd is associated with the earth and soil in a much different way than Jord, however. While Jord represents a more generalized version of Earth — in her fullness, roundness, and original wild state — Gerd is more closely associated with the soil of farms and gardens. She has been called the Lady of the Walled Garden, and for many has a strong association with cultivated herbs in particular. I myself had a lovely altar set up to her in my garden at my old residence, where she oversaw my strawberry patch, huckleberries, kale, tomatoes, green onions, and a fig tree.
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Given this background, it seems only appropriate to honor Gerd this Mabon day. As with the other holidays, I recommend doing a small ritual or blot to go with whatever other traditions you might hold. Additionally, if you have the space and ability to do so, dedicating a small patch of earth or even some windowsill planting pots to Gerd makes a good devotional gift.
If you are able, holding your ritual or blot in a place where you touch the earth is ideal. Bringing Gerd an offering of a share of the day’s feast as well as a serving of mead or wine can serve as the central focus of this ritual. If possible, sourcing this meal from local farmers via a farmer’s market is ideal — not only does it support independent, local agriculture, these farms are often more sustainable than those that produce the food bought in your average grocery store. Both of these elements are good and viable ways of honoring Gerd. And, because Gerd is wed to Freyr but not often seen as having aligned with either Æsir or the Vanir yet isn’t often paid much heed by those honoring the jötnar either, taking this time to acknowledge her jötunn nature and blood might be especially courteous and powerful.
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Even those of us who honor the old, primal gods of nature have come a long, long ways away from the the wilderness and the close relationship with nature that our ancestors had. Meditating on Gerd’s jötunn nature as a goddess of gardens and horticulture can provide an interesting look into the transitional areas between the primeval and society: how and where the wild can be tamed or befriended for mutual benefit, and ways in which “darker” and wilder forces creep in and encroach upon spaces we might otherwise think of as light and tame. Perhaps this is one of Gerd’s mysteries — the value and necessity of this mingling, something I think many Rökkatru can attest to and appreciate.
As always, I am interested to hear how your Mabon goes, especially if you try out these ideas for centering your celebrations around Gerd. If you try something else or have other ideas for how to adapt Mabon to Rökkatru, feel free to comment and let me know.
Skål.

Who are the Rökkr?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Also frequently listed among the Rökkr are:

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

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

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

Skål.

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

Cultural Context, and Why It’s Helpful

For many followers of minority religions in America, we are converts who likely didn’t grow up in a similar culture to that from which these religions originated. For this reason, when desiring to have an effective and smooth relationship with a spirit from another part of the world (and often another time), it is going to be very helpful to study the culture they’re originating from and the practices they are accustomed to for communicating with their devotees.

This topic came to my attention again recently when I was looking for a better statue to use for Dà Yé, only to find that many people were confusing him with Tù’er Yé. You see, “Dà Yé” is an endearing title modernly given to the spirit often known as Tù’er Shén, a name that translates as “Rabbit God”. As you can guess, the name Tù’er Yé translates similarly. Now, this is where cultural and historical knowledge would have made the difference between these two spirits glaringly obvious. Tù’er Yé is named such because he is actually a rabbit; he lives on the moon with the goddess Cháng’é and is often depicted as a somewhat anthropomorphic rabbit riding a tiger or other mount. Tù’er Shén is not literally a rabbit god, god of rabbits, or anything like that; “rabbit” was once a slang term in China for a gay man, and this is what Tù’er Shén truly refers to. Because this slang term means that “Tù’er Shén” would be comparable to saying “Fag God” in America, he is often more respectfully addressed as Dà Yé instead. Accordingly, he is also represented as a man.

And this is what cultural context is, and how it’s applied.

Iconography usually cannot be taken at face value; imagery found in Hinduism or Buddhism are great examples, as the representations and items/symbols present often tell a spirit’s entire story or relate their area of focus, if you know how to read it. More importantly, if a potential devotee can be thrown off this easily with just a glance, then reading myths or trying to understand practices is of course going to seem nonsensical without any cultural understanding for all the things written between the lines. For instance, if you come across common hoodoo practices involving using gator paws for luck or holding onto your money, but you personally come from a place where gators are just a foreign danger, you may be wondering what gators have to do with money; part of this is because, in the cultures where these practices (and the gators in question) can commonly be found, a gator is good eating and leather.

In short, do your homework. It’ll come in handy.

On Taking Things One Step at a Time

Want to have all of the fun, with none of the work? Then magic likely isn’t for you. If you do interact with other magical practitioners, you’ve probably seen someone try to do something that left you with many questions–foremost among them often being, probably on multiple levels, “Why?”

Across magical traditions, I’ve watched people attempt feats for which they were ill-prepared. It seems to elude some practitioners, especially newer ones, that magic is a skill like any other and requires practice to progress. I’ve played Operation a few times, but I highly doubt you’d want me rummaging around in your giblets with that as my only practicing qualification. Perhaps the tendency of many modern authors to water down practices or draw rocky cross-culture parallels is partially to blame. After all, you don’t go to a pediatrician for neurosurgery just because it’s “technically all medicine, so it’s close enough”.

My preferred illustration of all-enthusiasm, no-preparation endeavors is many peoples’ use of the spirit board, if only for its sheer frequency and modern infamy. Now ubiquitously recognized as the ouija board (“ouija” originally having been a particularly successful brand of the board), this tool is understood by many modern spiritualists to work by channeling the energy of spirits. (Skeptics insist the spirit board and similar divinatory methods work via the ideomotor phenomenon, but that is irrelevant to our discussion.) Due to their modern notoriety, I doubt I need to list any examples of possible problems that can arise when the uninformed use them, and I’ve met plenty of practitioners who refuse to touch a spirit board out of fear, despite the fact that they can be used just as safely as any other divinatory device, should you take the time to learn how. Yet, while many tools have consequences associated with misuse, it seems that these consequences are overlooked entirely in most cases; for example, almost any method of divination opens spiritual contact, which means that even tarot cards likewise have a small chance of welcoming an undesirable spirit.

There also seems to be a notion that everything should just be available to everyone, all the time. This makes for a dangerous mindset, for what should be obvious reasons; similar reasons for which we wouldn’t want dangerous weapons to be constantly and freely available to all. In some traditions, the serving of certain spirits or participation in certain practices is withheld until necessary or a certain level of training/initiation has been reached, not for the purpose of being exclusionary (as often seems to be the assumption), but for the purpose of protecting people from attempting to handle spirits or practices that they are unprepared for and that could backfire badly on themselves or others. I know a metaphysical shop owner who, when asked by a customer what Goofer Dust even was, simply advised against the woman buying it; this is because, if not used carefully, Goofer Dust can have more severe effects than intended on the target or cross the practitioner using it. (Also, I’ve seen a few people online talk about using Goofer Dust for protection; this is decidedly inadvisable, and not the purpose of it.)

If you find yourself taken with the idea that you should do something for which you’ve lacking or nonexistent training, think carefully about why you’re doing it and the potential ramifications if there’s a problem that you lack the knowledge to remedy. Why do you want to perform this practice? If it’s just to feel cool, then it may not be worth the potential consequences of the practice backfiring. Do you really need to perform this practice, and do you need to perform it now? There are situations for which you might have an urgent need of magical assistance, perhaps in the case of a health crisis, wherein you would simply be left to make a sincere try using your best judgment. Do you need to be the one to perform this practice, rather than seeking a trained professional? I understand that, for many within pagan and other minority faiths, finding a local clergy member or such is simply impossible. However, thanks to the internet, you may be able to find an online contact who could at least advise you on the matter; even finding a good literary source to review will help.

Keep in mind, none of this is in any way an attempt to discourage any particular person or practice, but simply an appeal to practicality. There are many useful magical skills that can be acquired and shared, but they take time to master. Everything in life is a process. There’s no race in magic, or need to compare to others. Take your time. Understand the tools and practices, and understand how they work and how to spot a problem, before diving into the deep end.

In the ever-wise words of Professor Oak, “There’s a time and place for everything.”