I beg your forgiveness for the lateness of this post — usually I try to get my holiday posts up a couple of days before said holiday, not several weeks after! I’m sure many of you can understand the stress that comes with this holiday season, including occasional flare ups in mental health concerns — which is approximately why I’m running so late on this one.
The time has come—Samhain is just around the corner, the holiday that is (almost) universally every witch’s favorite holiday.
Certainly it is my favorite holiday, and I have been celebrating it for years with a small, intimate potluck of my best friends and family members who are able and willing to join. This holiday marks the last harvest of the year, and the beginning of the transition from the season of growth into the season of death and hibernation.
Because of this context, coming together to share the bounty of the season in the form of a potluck continues to feel relevant. I have traditionally enjoyed arranging the table around a centerpiece altar for the ancestors and the dead. Over the years this altar has grown to include a statue that puts me in mind of all of those who came before in my lineage, far back past recorded memory, as well as skulls of various animals and a small wooden ghost that, while mostly there to be cute, also signifies the dead who might be passing through. A portion of the meal is set aside as an offering for the spirits represented in this altar.
All of this is fine and good and certainly has its place within a Rökkatru framework—but I think we can make it better. On this holiday which hails the thinning of the veil between this world and the world of the spirits and which and specifically centers death and the deceased, it only seems right to honor Hela, the goddess presiding over one of the Norse cosmology’s many afterlives.
Within not only Rökkatru but Heathenism more generally, Hela is the most recognizably death associated diety. Though it is commonly accepted that those destined for Helheim are those that died of old age, illness, and other such inglorious ways of passing, this is only found in Snorri’s accounts. Other sources for old Norse belief suggest that this delineation may not have been so clear. Nonetheless, it is generally taken for granted that this is where people who experience such deaths are going to go, so it is often taken for granted that many of us will end up in Helheim. As such, Hela is the foremost figure of death in the Norse pantheon.
Within Rökkatru she is an important figure as much for her role in presiding over the underworld as she is for being Loki’s daughter. She is one of the primary Rökkr much as Loki and Angrboda are, and as a goddess of death she is arguably one of the most ubiquitous and most powerful.
So this Samhain perhaps we can represent Hela in our altars for the dead and the ancestors, and save a portion of the meal for her. It is a good time of year to hold a blót for Hela, toasting her with mead, dark beer, or red wine and perhaps pouring some out for her.
If you have the means to safely build a fire, it would not be unreasonable to additionally light a fire and then symbolically douse it in Hela’s honor (perhaps pouring out her portion of a drink onto the fire to do so). This can be done to acknowledge that the summer has come and gone, the days are growing shorter, and we are moving into the season of darkness.
For Rökkatru this is not something to fear, but to celebrate. It is a time to be meditative, to reflect, to rest and incorporate all of the growth of the spring and summer seasons.
The dark season is a time for communties to come together and support one another. Though we don’t necessarily need to worry about the harsh winters and dwindling food stores anymore, there are plenty among us who deal with serious seasonal depressive disorder, and we can support one another through these difficult times, as well as seeking ways to support those who have fallen on hard times and might be dealing with the harsh reality of hunger and homelessness during the winter.
So as we transition into this dark season, let’s take some time to honor She Who Presides Over Hidden Places, and ready ourselves for the cold.
Let me know if you have other ideas for better incorporating a Rökkatru practice into your Samhain celebrations this year. I would love to hear what you try out!
What exactly the values of Rökkatru are tend to be defined by how people understand and experience the Rökkr themselves, and yet there are general ideas about what these values are that seem to be more or less agreed upon. What this means is that Rökkatru read and analyze the lore, and take what they learn from this together with what they’ve learned from their personal spiritual experiences with the Rökkr, as well as common shared personal gnosis, to form an idea of what value or “lesson” each entity in the Rökkr pantheon teaches.
This is part of the reason why defining the pantheon itself—who is included and who isn’t—is an important question. Regardless of whether or not that question has been properly answered (given that depending on who you ask some entities may or may not on the list of Rökkr), we can look at the values that individual Rökkr are generally considered to teach, especially the ones that have been written of. It is also feasible from this starting point to begin analyzing the lore around other entities whose values may not have been explored or defined yet, as well as meditating, journeying, and divining to learn more about these beings and what they represent.
Let’s begin first with those beings that are consistently counted among the Rökkr, and take a look at what their values are generally considered to be:
Loki is in many ways considered the “father” of the Rökkr pantheon, given that he fathered Fenrir, Hela, and Jörmungandr with Angrboda. It is his family that clearly makes up the core Rökkr pantheon, and as a result he holds a place of prominence and importance among to Rökkatru.
Though outside of the Rökkatru and Lokean communities Loki is often known as a liar due to his nature as a trickster, within the communities which hail him it is this very nature that lends to him being associated with the value of self-knowledge. Through his stories harsh truths are often faced or stated, often unwillingly. This isn’t something that Loki only does to others, as seen in Lokasenna. It is something that Loki often undergoes in the stories himself, when he is forced to own up to mistakes he’s made or tricks he’s played and fix them.
In addition to this, many Rökkatru and Lokeans describe a relationship with Loki that demands that they be honest with themselves. Honesty with the self is often described as being a precursor to being able to speak hard truths to others. For this reason, a lot of people will describe this value not as self-knowledge, but as self-truth or self-honesty.
Angrboda can be considered the “mother” of the Rökkr in the same way that Loki can be considered the father. In some ways she may considered as even more deeply rooted in the Rökkr pantheon than Loki: to the best of our knowledge she has never lived among the Æsir and her only tie to them is through Loki, who has made a home among them. She is jötunn through and through.
Very little is known about Angrboda from the lore. She is believed by many to be the volva from Voluspa and is known as the mother of Loki’s monstrous children, but there isn’t much else to go off of. She is a jötunn, however, and the lore makes very clear that the jötnar are an incredibly diverse lot: they are described in all manner of shapes, forms, and sizes. There doesn’t seem to be one single idea of what a jötunn must look like.
Beyond the little that we know from the lore, in modern practice many people associate Angrboda with strength and leadership, particularly in often being viewed as a powerful figure among the jötnar of the Ironwood. This is drawn not only from scholarly inferences and extrapolations (from mentions of an unnamed jötunn woman in Járnvid or the Ironwood in both Voluspa as well as Gylfaginning) but is also informed by Unverified Personal Gnosis (UPG) and Peer or Community Verified Personal Gnosis (PVPG / CVPG).
Due to this association not only of Angrboda as a mother of Rökkr but also as a chief or leader among the jötnar, she is strongly associated with diversity (recall how diverse in shape and form the jötnar are). It is due to this that her value is so often considered to be diversity, and unconditional acceptance of that diversity. On the Northern Tradition Paganism website it is stated that, “Being close to Nature, [the jötnar] understand that diversity is survival and strength, while homogeneity is inevitable weakness.” This is something we do see in nature: homogeneity is often related to genetic bottlenecks, which can be linked to weakened immunity and increases in genetic mishaps that result in overall negatively impacted health.
Given that the jötnar are so closely tied with nature and are represented so diversely, it only makes sense that they should be associated with diversity and the strength. Because Angrboda is often recognized as a very prominent jötnar, it is equally logical that she should be seen as carrying that value of diversity.
I might add that values of acceptance and community would be closely tied with that of diversity, not only because of how we see these three values interconnecting in our world but also because of Angrboda’s assumed position within a community of such diverse entities that are welcomed and accepted no matter their shape, color, or presentatation.
Fenrir is perhaps the most demonized and disdained of Angrboda and Loki’s children. A monstrously sized wolf, he is prophesied to devour Odin at Ragnarok, and otherwise wreak havoc and destruction at this time. It is for this reason that he is bound by the Æsir, during which Tyr sacrificed his hand to Fenrir as a means of gaining Fenrir’s cooperation in their “game.”
Due to this prophecy, which is referred to several times throughout the Eddas, Fenrir is primarily associated with destruction and forces of destruction. This is sometimes generalized to include unbridled chaos and even rage or anger. As such, Fenrir is associated with all those things that we dislike, try to avoid, and in our own selves try to repress or cut out of ourselves.
Because of this Fenrir has become very closely associated with the concept of the shadow or shadow self. This concept originates with Jung’s archetypes, and, simply put, represents the idea that there are parts of ourselves that we want to shut away and not acknowledge, typically the parts of us that are not considered societally acceptable—the parts of ourselves that are violent, sexual, crude, vulgar.
So Fenrir’s value or rule has come to be shadow, or, more specifically, acknowledging and honoring the shadow. This is closely linked with Loki’s values, as one much first be honest with one’s self and know one’s self before they can truly learn to accept, be at peace with, work with, and honor your shadow.
Hela is the goddess of one of Heathenry’s underwolds/afterlives. She rules over Hel (the place with which she shares a name), the realm where those who die of old age, illness, etc. go to reside after death. (As an aside: Huginn’s Heathen Hoff has featured a lovely blog post about how the Heathen afterlife is much more complex than is often realized).
Obviously Hela is most strongly linked with death. In the lore her most prominent presence is in the myth of Baldr’s death, and beyond this there is little else recorded about her beside her notable appearance and her relationship to Angrboda and Loki.
Death’s vision is much different than that of life—it sees what may be overlooked or even unseeable by life, it sees farther than any life can stretch, and in itself is both a truly neutral and truly equalizing force. Think of the Rider Waite Death Card: even kings and popes must come to Death’s door eventually, just as must all others. Because of these factors, Hela’s value has come to be known as vision or perspective.
Jörmungandr is the giant serpent prophesied to kill Thor during Ragnarok, just as Fenrir is prophesied to kill Odin. The perpetual enemy of Thor and child of Angrboda and Loki, Jörmungandr was said to live in the oceans of Midgard (our world) and to have grown so long that his body could coil around the earth.
Jörmungandr is a creature of the in-between, born of Jötunheim but cast to Midgard. The serpent is also felt by some (in UPG/PVPG) to be of ambiguous gender. Snakes have also historically often been associated with death and rebirth due to the shedding of their skins—things which live on the edge of human consciousness and are associated with transition.
These things lend well to defining Jörmungandr’s as liminality. Liminal times and places are often associated with great spiritual and magical power in many European traditions. Translated into more mundane times and places, when humans find themselves in spaces that are liminal they often also find that they places are horribly uncomfortable—and can be periods of some of our most intense growth, depending upon the individuals and circumstances involved. The value of liminality here may be a reminder that these difficult and uncomfortable spaces can be acknowledged, accepted, and valued, respected, and even productively worked with, much in the way that Fenrir reminds us to approach the shadow.
Traditionally Lammas or Lughnassad are celebrations of the beginning of harvest. In Norse paganism there is a correlation to the holiday Freyfaxi or Freyr’s Feast, similarly associated with the fertility of the earth and its bounty.
For those of us walking the Rökkatru path, however, Freyfaxi isn’t quite our flavor. We may want to celebrate Lammas/Lughnassad, but how can we celebrate this traditionally Anglo-Saxon/Celtic holiday in a way which honors our particular path?
My initial thought was to honor deities of death during this season of reaping—Hela who gathers the dead or Skadi who fells her prey. But, though it may seem a bit cliché, I couldn’t help but think that Samhain, the final of the harvest festivals and the holiday most directly and clearly associated with death and the dead, is a more appropriate holiday to honor Hela. Meanwhile Skadi is a distinctly winter goddess.
One important aspect of Lammas which underlies the celebration of the beginning harvest is the fertility of the earth itself, something often associated with mother goddesses. When thinking of mother goddesses within Rökkatru or who align with Rökkatru, two primary deities come to mind:
Jord and Angrboda.
Jord is a jötunn woman who embodies the earth. She is the mother of Thor and is referred to in Gylfaginning as the daughter of Nótt and Anarr. Because she plays no role in the myths and we have no surviving lore about her outside of these tiny scraps, some scholars think she likely wasn’t honored or considered literal and personified in her own right. As is written over at Norse Mythology for Smart People, “’Earth’ here seems to be more of a general concept than a discrete figure.” (1) These are the only hard facts that we know about her. Anything else is conjecture or unverified personal gnosis/peer verified personal gnosis.
Statue titled Moder Jord (Mother Earth) photographed by Alexander Henning Drachmann.
Because there isn’t much known about Jord, and because she could well have been considered a general concept rather than a specific entity (though as a hard-core animist I would argue that even “Earth” as a general idea or concept still has a spirit to be honored) we have a lot of room to get creative in how to honor her. There are many symbolic associations which already exist to draw from in creating a small Lammas blót in honor of Jord: salt is often associated with earth, as in “salt of the earth,” as are the colors green, brown, black, and yellow.
A small blót for Jord on Lammas can be quite simple—with as much or as little extravagance as you desire, you can set up a ritual place incorporating earth symbolism picked up from other places or that is personal to you to create a space in which to make an offering. If you are lucky enough to have the space put offerings directly on the earth, fantastic! Given the spirit of the season, if you are able to get yours hands on a sheath of wheat, or even just a few stalks, giving this to the earth as well as sliced apples and a healthy pour of wine or mead would make a perfect offering to Jord this Lammas.
In honoring the fertility of mother deities during this season of harvest and plenty, now would also be a prime opportunity to honor the mother aspect of Angrboda.
Though she is most often known as a dangerous feminine figure, associated with prophecy, witchcraft, and wolves, she is a notably fertile figure in the Jotunheim: by Loki she is the mother of Fenrir, Jormungandr, and Hela. In many ways she is the mother of the Rökkatru pantheon, so honoring the wild and unbridled fertility of the Mother of Monsters on this day celebrating fertility seems only fitting.
Given that Angrboda is such a prominent, important figure among the Rökkr, a larger or more focused ritual in her honor seems worth investing the time and energy in. Offerings to her on this day don’t necessarily need to be so different from those offered to Jord—in the spirit of the season a sheath of wheat, apples (perhaps spiced and baked or otherwise prepared and endowed with your focus and energy), and wine, beer, or mead are suitable offerings. In addition, however, meat is always a worthy offering for Angrboda of the Wolves.
Lammas is a time for doing astrology, and because Angrboda is a goddess associated with prophecy (often the völva in Voluspa is believed to be Angrboda) this could be something that you work into a ritual for Her on this day. Feasibly astrology could be used as a framework for designing a ritual for Angrboda—offerings could be made, candles or a fire lit in her honor, her names ritually spoken, perhaps even a divination session could be held. Whatever shape your ritual takes is up to you, but in my experience with Angrboda it is good to make sure you are being deliberate, thoughtful, reflective, and checking your baggage at the door.
I would be delighted to hear of any Rökkatru rituals any of you lovelies undertake this season! Feel free to let me know in the comments if you have any alternate ideas about how to celebrate this holiday in an especially Rökkatru fashion, or any alterations or inspirations you may have based on the ideas shared here.
And most importantly, have a blessed Lammas.
(1) McCoy, D. (n.d.). Jord – Norse Mythology for Smart People. [online] Norse Mythology for Smart People. Available at: https://norse-mythology.org/jord/
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.
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:
Also frequently listed among the Rökkr are:
- The Nine Sisters/Undines of the Sea
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.
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.