Rökkatru Samhain

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!

 

Skål

 

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.

Hindu Festivals: Janamashtami

Today is Krishna’s Birthday! Yaay! Here are a few things you need to know about this festival and the god whom it is meant for.

Well, first of all, Krishna wasn’t technically a god. Yes I know he is worshipped as one and ISKCON devotees believe him to be the Paramatma, the great creator spirit. But in older traditions, Krishna is only an avatar of Vishnu, who lived here on Earth as a human many thousands of years ago. That is how it’s possible for him to have a birthday. He was born on the eighth day of Bhadrapada month – Hindus use a Lunar calendar when it comes to most celebrations; it’s around August-September in our calendar.

Born as one or not, he certainly is a very popular god with devotees. He is said to be very attractive, and is the god of compassion, tenderness and love. I would personally add ruthless politics and trickery to the list due to the role he played in the Mahabharata but that’s just me. Most people worship him as the innocent looking charmer with the flute and cows.

So. How do you celebrate a god’s birthday?

1. Clean the house. Just like you would when hosting a birthday party for a human.

2. Cook something yummy for Krishna. It must be vegetarian. He is said to love butter so you could leave some for him at his altar/statue. I normally cook chick pea curry with puri (deep fried breads) and some sweet dish – this year I have made date laddoos. I will leave a link at the bottom with the recipe for these.

3. Celebrate him! Chant his mantras, watch movies about him; keep him in your mind. A good movie that came out fairly recently and I really liked is OMG – Oh My God. It is in Hindi but you might find it with subtitles.

4. Go to a mandir or gather with friends and keep a vigil. Krishna was born at midnight, so people keep vigil to wait for his arrival and wish him happy birthday.

5. Many people fast on this day (I don’t but I make sure I only eat vegetarian food). If you decide to fast you can do it sunrise to sunset, or until the next day morning. You can also do a light-fasting, with eating only fruits and water. Hard core believers will not eat anything and won’t even drink water all day until the next sunrise.

6. If you are in India or in an Indian community, there are always dance and drama performances to honour him. ISKCON temples are a good choice to go as obviously Krishna is their main god. And of course there is a special tradition to commemorate his stealing butter from his mother’s kitchen: dahi-handi. A pot full of yoghurt is hung really high up. Then people have to make a human pyramid in order to reach the pot and break it. The group who manages to break it gets the blessings of Krishna – and some presents from the organisers.

Happy birthday Krishna, I’m sure you are having a blast this year too!

Chick peas curry:

https://www.cookwithmanali.com/punjabi-chole-chickpeas-curry/

Puri:

https://www.vegrecipesofindia.com/poori-a-kind-of-fried-indian-bread/

Dates laddoo:

https://hebbarskitchen.com/dates-ladoo-recipe-khajur-laduu-recipe/

Lammas — Rökkatru Style

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.

SUPRA

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.

The Unlucky Family featuring Angrboda, Loki, and their children by Hellanim

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.

Skål.

(1) McCoy, D. (n.d.). Jord – Norse Mythology for Smart People. [online] Norse Mythology for Smart People. Available at: https://norse-mythology.org/jord/

Litha — With a Rökkatru Twist

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Found here

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

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

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

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

Blessed Litha.

Skål.

©Tahni J. Nikitins 2019