Rituals for Lost Jötnar: Ámgerðr

Ámgerðr is a jötunn attested in Nafnaþulur under the section “Tröllkonur” or “Troll-Wives.” This is a feminine name derived from Old Norse Ámr and gerd. Ámr means “black,” “loathsome,” “reddish brown,” and/or “dark.” Gerd, as many are already familiar with, means “enclosure” or “protection.”

Thanks to the Nafnaþulur, we have lists of many jötnar (also sometimes called thurses, trolls, or etins) who we have no additional stories or even kennings for. We know that many stories of entities whose stories weren’t widespread, who weren’t widely popular, or who otherwise didn’t play a major role in the primary “canon” of what would come to be known as the Viking religion (despite the fact that Scandinavia wouldn’t have had a universal or monolithic religion) have been lost.

Because of this, I do err on the side of assuming that the names presented in the Nafnaþulur record all that is left of deities and spirits who may have had regional but not geographically wide-spread importance, who may have played smaller roles in forgotten myths, or whose minor roles may have been edited out of surviving myths for the sake of simplicity. It is known that the regional variation and nuance of beliefs throughout pre-Christian Scandinavia was not preserved in the written record as Christianity spread, so it seems safe to assume that the memory many, many spirits, deities, and other entities were similarly not recorded.

Fenja och Menja vid Grottekvarnen by Carl Larsson and Gunnar Forssell. Two enslaved jötunn maids from Song of Grótti.

However—because some of the names listed provide so little context, and the greater context for the Nafnaþulur is of a list of name for various things, including gods and giants, that can be used in poetry, there are some which, due to the etymological similarities to others, I will assume are more adjective than name, such as Ámr, which is listed among the names of giants but is functionally identical in meaning to others listed such as Alsvartr. So bear with me, it’s a bit of a bumpy ride.

As is the case with almost all of these entities, with Ámgerðr we’re working strictly with what the etymology can tell us. The clearest part of that etymology is the aspect of enclosure or protection—she was likely associated with closed in places, just as Gerdr is associated with walled gardens. It’s safe to say that Ámgerðr is additionally associated with darkness or blackness of some variety—this could be a description of her complexion or it could be a reference to the kind of enclosure she’s associated with. Because Ámr has connotation of loathsomeness or unpleasantness, this could refer either to a location or type of enclosed space or to the personality of the jötunn in question.

I’m disinclined to believe “loathsome” necessarily refers to a character quality of Ámgerðr for a couple of reasons. It’s easy to imagine an enclosed place to be “loathsome” in nature. A dark, dank cave comes to mind, as does any form of imprisonment. In addition to this, however, the sagas on occasion do describe people—though typically men—of dark complexion, and tend to describe them as being rather physically unattractive. It’s important to note here that this isn’t portrayed as defining of their character, as these same individuals may be described as attracting plenty of praise, status, and romantic and sexual attraction as a result of their social status or accomplishments. So while the Norse did have ethnocentric beauty standards, their conception of race doesn’t appear to have been used as a reflection on the character or quality of individuals.1

For these reasons I lean toward interpreting Ámr here to reflect on something of a physical nature rather than character. The following is entirely speculative and should not be taken as hard fact: Ámgerðr may have been seen as a woman who was kept in a dark and unpleasant enclosed space of some kind, or who preceded over an enclosed space. She may or may not have been envisioned as someone of darker complexion. Without projecting modern American concepts of race onto the situation, it may be possible to imagine Ámgerðr as being associated with slaves or thralls, living in unpleasant, cramped, and dark living conditions.2 The conception of the class of thralls by Heimdall under the name Rig is described in Rígsmál, and the child who in this story is the the first of the class of thralls is described as “swarthy” or “dark.” So, though slaves and thralls were not determined by the color of their skin, and plenty of slaves in Viking and pre-Viking eras were just as white as the people at the top of the social hierarchy, it may not be too far a stretch to consider that “dark” in Ámgerðr’s name could carry with it an old social stereotype along these lines as well.3

“Rig in Great-grandfather’s Cottage” (1908) by W. G. Collingwood. Rig laid between Great-grandfather and Great-grandmother in this story, and nine months later Great-grandmother gave birth to a strong boy they named Þræll, who would father the class of thralls, serfs, or slaves.

I will remind you that all of this is my speculation based on my research and inferences. If any of this doesn’t feel correct to your own intuition, feel free to disregard it. At this point in our history, we don’t have Ámgerðr’s stories and lore, and no one person can claim to definitively know more about her than what little can be gleaned from her name.

That said, the ritual I’ve designed here rests on these inferences and my intuition. Please feel free to modify accordingly if your intuition tells you something different about Ámgerðr—these rituals are designed to be easily modified, and I encourage you to follow your intuition if it takes you in a different direction than mine.

As with all of these jötnar whose stories have been lost to us, I suggest a safe offering of mead, beer, wine, or liquor. If for any reason any of these aren’t available or safe for you personally, substitute simple buttered bread. This has a strong metaphorical resonance of nourishment and sustenance, and so makes another safe option for just about any entity. You can also easily jazz it up with extra add ons or “toppings” if you want.

Choose a space and time for your ritual, prepare your offering, and you’re ready to go. When the time comes for your ritual, clear and set the ritual space in whatever way best suits your needs and practice. Be sure to have a journal and pen or pencil, as well as your divination tool of choice, on hand. To begin the ritual, kneel over the offering, head bowed, and place your arms/hands in a position of reverence. Say:

“Hail Ámgerðr, Named Among Listings of Troll-Wives

Hail Ámgerðr, Whose Stories are Forgotten

Hail Ámgerðr, Whose Meaning is Lost to Time

Hail Ámgerðr, the Enclosed

Hail Ámgerðr, Red and Brown

Hail Ámgerðr, Lady of the Dark End of the Longhouse

Hail Ámgerðr, Lady of Enclosure

Hail Ámgerðr, Protector of Those In Small Dark Spaces

Hail Ámgerðr, Keeper of the Dark…”

“Ámgerðr, I call on you to receive my reverence, that these small and humble actions may uplift you. Ámgerðr, I call on you to receive this offering ______ which I bring to you to honor you. May it please you well, Ámgerðr of the Jötnar.”

A Viking longhouse. Image from YouVisit, which has a really interesting virtual tour of Viking longhouses.

As with previous rituals for forgotten jötnar, I suggest this ritual be used as a moment to try to connect directly with Ámgerðr and see if you can glean any personal gnosis. To do this, begin by stating: “All that remains to common memory of you, Ámgerðr, is your name. I wish to know more of you, Ámgerðr, and share what stories you may give me that your memory may be better honored. I implore you to share with me now, Ámgerðr. I am listening.”

Sit in receptive mindfulness as I’ve described in previous rituals, for at least five minutes. If you receive any impressions that seem other to your own mind, or any direct messages, take time to do a divination to ensure that what you were receiving was truly from Ámgerðr. If’/when you are confident that what you received was from Ámgerðr, take time to jot it in your journal while it’s still fresh in your mind.

As always, if you don’t receive anything or aren’t confident in what you did receive, don’t feel bad! Perhaps this isn’t the way to commune with spirits and entities for you—you may want to try inviting Ámgerðr to speak to you through dreams, or use your preferred divination tool as a means of communication itself. Keep practicing and exploring until you find something that works for you, and don’t hesitate to adapt these rituals accordingly!

When you’re done meditating, divining, and journaling, it’s time to wrap up the ritual. Bow to place your forehead and palms on the ground. Ground out any excess energy that may have been raised in the course of this ritual and as you’re doing so, thank Ámgerðr for attending the ritual and receiving your reverence and offerings, then bid her farewell.

Sit up, and begin clearing and closing the ritual space in whatever way suits your needs and your practice. As always, be sure to take some time after to hydrate and have some snacks!

The following is Unverified Personal Gnosis and should not be taken as hard fact, but rather with as many grains of salt as you feel comfortable with.

As I meditated, one of the first and clearest impressions I received was of Ámgerðr speaking of the reddish-brown color of some cattle, a fairly clear impression of “the russet of a red cow’s hide…” This was shortly followed by an emphatic, “I am real.” It had the feeling of wanting to be remembered and considered as others of the Norse Pantheon have been. At some point in the meditation, I had the impression of Ámgerðr speaking of having been forgotten as easily and swiftly as “the small people” of the world often are.

I got the impression that she considered herself a goddess in particular of hard toiling and injured women and children, and with this the enslaved jötunn maids Menja and Fenjia from the Song of Grotti seemed to be gestured to as an example. “I started out among the rock and the earth,” she impressed upon me, “I began as the dark spaces below the earth. I arose with the people, as many of us did. I came to those [in darkness and enclosure] because they called to me. That is all.”

She had a very ancient and heavy but gentle presence, it reminded me of the weight of shadows at night. At one point she impressed upon me that “the smell of livestock and hay is sweet to me” and I had the strong feeling that barns would be ideal places for shrines to her.

1Grundy, Stephan S. “Reconstruction and Racism in Modern Heathenry.” Paganism and Its Discontents: Enduring Problems of Racialized Identity. Edited by Holi S. Emore and Jonathan M. Leader. Cambridge Scholars Publishing, Newcastle UK. 2020. p. 135-151

2“Slaves and thralls in the Viking Age.” National Museum of Denmark. https://en.natmus.dk/historical-knowledge/denmark/prehistoric-period-until-1050-ad/the-viking-age/power-and-aristocracy/slaves-and-thralls/

3Rígsþula. v. 6.

Rituals for Lost Jötnar: Alsvartr

Alsvartr is a male giant attested in Nafnaþulur whose name means “All Black.” There is a common theme in getting to know the jötnar this way—they are often associated with blackness, darkness, and ugliness. Alsvartr’s name in particular is believed to refer to the perceived dirtiness and ugliness of jötnar in medieval folklore.1

He certainly wouldn’t be the first jötunn primarily described as hideous, strange, or ugly. Tyr’s father, a jötunn named Hymir, is described as ”misshapen” in the Hymiskviða (The lay of Hymir) while in the same poem Tyr’s own grandmother is described as “very ugly” with “nine hundred heads.” Indeed, throughout the lore and the sagas, jötnar are described in a wide variety of ways. For every beautiful and clever jötunn maid, there is at least one (though probably several) jötunn described as hideous, twisted, and strange as a mark of their otherness.

1902 illustration by Elmer Boyd Smith

To this day the association with darkness as bad, ugly, or other persists. From the fear and derision of animals that aren’t cute or pretty, however important they may be to the functioning of a healthy ecosystem, to the fact that black dogs and cats are less likely to be adopted,2 to the way we treat other human beings based on skin color, the association of dark or black with bad has very real consequences. The global subjugation of people with darker skin, through colonialism, slavery, and more continues to plague our world. Colorism is a problem not only in white-majority locations, but also in places where darker complexion is the norm. This was well explained by actress Lupita Nyong’o, who has in the past talked about wanting to bleach her skin when she was younger. Calling colorism “the daughter of racism,” she described it saying, “I definitely grew up feeling uncomfortable with my skin colour because I felt like the world around me awarded lighter skin…We still ascribe to these notions of Eurocentric standards of beauty, that then affect how we see ourselves among ourselves.”3

Or, as associate professor of counseling at Arizona State University Alisia (Giac-Thao) Tran puts it: “Historically, a lot of communities have held ‘blackness’ as a bad thing and there are lots of connotations of [people who have darker skin tones] being ‘dirty’ or ‘less educated’ that people have culturally transmitted across time, within and outside of their groups.”4

I’m sure all of this sounds incredibly strange to be discussing in the context of revering the jötnar and getting to better know them. From where I’m sitting, it feels necessary to confront these aspects of society that have been normalized through the ages—especially where they present themselves in our lore and mythology. Especially where they are made manifest in the very names of the spirits and deities we work with.

Forest Troll by Theodor Kittelsen

For those who have felt excluded from the greater Heathen community because of their work with the jötnar, I believe this confrontation has the potential to be a powerful one. It feels prudent to note that in Heathenry, some of the language that has been used to undermine or dismiss those who openly work with the jötnar mirrors racist language of our everyday world.5 I’m not going to try to make the claim that racism of the everyday world in any way a direct parallel to derision shown to the jötnar or those who work with the jötnar, but the linguistic parallels are interesting. I can’t help but wonder if it reflects a pervasive, unconscious bias, especially in Heathen groups known for their fetishization of race.

So…what exactly does this have to do with Alsvartr, the mysterious giant who we remember only from a name which likely refers to the perceived hideousness of giantkin? Well, as I mentioned, the jötunn are described in some truly diverse and fantastic ways, though the more fantastic the description the more the reader is expected to identify the entity as “other.”

But for those of us who work with the jötnar, this othering often appeals to our own sense of being other. We’ve been excluded from Heathen spaces, many of us are queer, disabled, people of color, speak English as a second language, are mentally ill, or some combination thereof. In American and English society, all of these things mark one as “other” and often come with some degree of stigma and social bias.

Alsvartr, and other jötnar who are similarly described as hideous, monstrous, or bad for their physical presentations rather than their character, are ones who can remind us of the little appreciated beauty of the other. They can also remind us that, at their root, the jötnar are spirits of the natural world—which can often be strange and frightening, but which also can remind us of the incredible strength to be found in diversity. This is true in a corporate world, even6—but nature reminds us that survival often means the ability to adapt. Diversity is the key to effective adaptation, both genetically7 and intellectually/creatively.8

Given all of this, I believe Alsvartr is a wonderful jötunn to honor with regards to remembering the beauty and vitality of the other, and the necessity of the other in a world which suffers from homogeneity.

Troll Trouble by John Bauer

For the purpose of this ritual, because of the connotation of Alsvartr’s name, I want to focus on the unseen beauty of the other—though this and the intrinsic value of the other are likely to be ongoing themes in later rituals. For now, I want to take the assumption that Alsvartr’s very name and thus, very meaning, is a reflection of dirtiness and ugliness, and I want to turn that on its head.

As to offerings, there’s always the safe and traditional fare to choose from: alcohol, food offerings, candies (I went with dark chocolate). If you have the income to do so, it may be worth considering donating to an organization that serves and uplifts othered populations in Alsvartr’s name and honor. That could be an organization fighting racism, queerphobia, ableism, or otherwise supporting and uplifting people affected by those issues. If you choose to go this route for an offering, find a cause that speaks to you.

When you have your offering selected, a time and place picked out for your ritual, and you’re ready to begin, prepare your ritual space in whatever way best suits your needs and practices. When this is done, kneel over the offering and bow your head, placing your hands/arms in a position of reverence and say:

“Hail Alsvartr, Named Among Listings of Giants

Hail Alsvartr, Whose Stories are Forgotten

Hail Alsvartr, Whose Meaning is Lost to Time

Hail Alsvartr, Mysterious Dark One

Hail Alsvartr, Called Hideous and Monster

Hail Alsvartr, Keeper of Dark Things

Hail Alsvartr, Holder of Dark Spaces

Hail Alsvartr, of Unseen Beauty

Hail Alsvartr, Of Besmirched Giantkin…

“Alsvartr, I call on you to receive my reverence, that these small and humble actions may uplift you. Alsvarts, I call on you to receive this offering ______ which I bring to you to honor you. May it please you well, Alsvartr of the Jötnar.”

In this ritual, before moving on to asking Alsvartr to share some information about him, say: “I offer you my gratitude, Alsvartr, for serving to remind me of the beauty and vitality of the other. Thank you for reminding me that beauty cannot be held and kept in a box, for it is too great, too powerful, and too strange to be contained. Thank you for reminding me of the my power to recognize unseen beauty, and for reminding me of the power inherent in unseen beauty.”

The Sea Troll by Theodor Kittelsen

Close your eyes and reflect on darkness, whatever that may mean to you. What beauty can be found in darkness? This might be the beauty of a deep, dark cave where life thrives regardless of the lack of light, and evolves in astounding and fantastic new ways. It could be the dangerous beauty of the forest at night, and all the vital aspects of life that happen there outside of our range of vision. Maybe its the blackness of the night sky that allows us to see the stars. Maybe it’s the fertility and richness of black soil that gives life to microbes and plants and sustains ecosystems. It could even be darkness of sorrow and grief, which are painful but part of a full range of living, vibrant human emotions and which can, sometimes, offer a great deal of learning and growth.

Speak these reflections aloud to Alsvartr—it doesn’t have been neat, tidy, or pretty. It can be a messy stream of consciousness monologue that you trip and stumble through, so long as its from the heart and meaningful to you. By extension, it will be meaningful to Alsvartr to whom you’re offering these sentiments.

Next take time to reflect on your own otherness, but specifically the aspects of your otherness that are beautiful—however you may define beauty. What makes you other? What gifts do you receive from this otherness that you wouldn’t otherwise receive? What does this otherness allow you specifically to offer to those around you that you might not otherwise be able to offer? How has this otherness colored your experiences, and what beautiful things have you experienced as a result of this otherness that you might not have otherwise? For me, this was a reflection on my mental illnesses, my bisexuality, being a member of a minority within a minority religion, even just being the black sheep of the family. For some it may be hard to find blessings in your otherness, but if you can speak them out loud and take time to appreciate and feel gratitude for those blessings. Speak all of this out loud to Alsvartr.

When you have no more to say, take a deep breath in. Take a deep enough breath that you feel your diaphragm stretch to accommodate it. Then, breathe out through your mouth—a deep, cleansing exhale. Squeeze up your diaphragm to clear out as much stale air as you can, then take in a normal breath.

Having cleared your mind, say: “All that remains to common memory of you, Alsvartr, is your name. I wish to know more of you, Alsvartr, and share what stories you may give me that your memory may be better honored. I implore you to share with me now, Alsvartr. I am listening.”

Sit in receptive mindfulness as I’ve described in previous rituals, for at least five minutes. If you receive any impressions that seem other to your own mind, or any direct messages, take time to do a divination to ensure that what you were receiving was truly from Alsvartr. If’/when you are confident that what you received was from Alsvartr, take time to jot it in your journal while it’s still fresh in your mind.

As always, if you don’t receive anything or aren’t confident in what you did receive, don’t feel bad! Keep practicing, experimenting, and exploring until you find something that works for you, and don’t hesitate to adapt these rituals accordingly!

When you’re done meditating, divining, and journaling, bow to place your forehead and palms on the ground. Ground out any excess energy that may have been raised in the course of this ritual and as you’re doing so, thank Alsvartr for attending the ritual and receiving your reverence and offerings, then bid her farewell.

Sit up, and begin clearing and closing the ritual space in whatever way suits your needs and your practice. As always, be sure to take some time after to hydrate, have some snacks, and journal about your experience with the ritual.

The Farm Troll by John Bauer

The following is UPG and as such should be taken with however many grains of salt you’d prefer:

During my ritual, I felt a great impression of quiet, unassuming love. When I asked Alsvartr to share with me, I received vague impressions, but they added up to an image of a large, lumbering, quiet, and gentle entity I might compare to the beings in Shadow of the Collosus (they always gave me big jötunn energy anyway). I saw Alsvartr as jet black, large, with a sort of smooth roundness that reminded me of weathered boulders. I got the impression of him being a “small” god of dark places, like caves, or perhaps that these were the kinds of places he likes to occupy. There was also an impression of familial ties, perhaps as being related to Nött or even a son of Nött (but remember, this isn’t evidenced in the texts, these are just my impressions from the ritual). There was no impression of partners or consorts, or of children, though. In some ways I was getting a bit of an ace/aro vibe from him. I did get the impression that the old stories about trolls turning to stone in daylight was important to him, and wondered at possible connections.

1Rudolf Simek: Dictionary of Northern Mythology (1993)

2Nakano, Craig. “Black dog bias?” 6 December 2008.

3“Lupita Nyong’o: Colourism is the daughter of racism.” BBC. 8 October 2019.

4Brishti, Basu. “The people fighting ‘light skin’ bias.” BBC Future. 18 August 2020.

5Nikitins, Tahni. “The Demonization of the Jötnar.” Huginn’s Heathen Hof. 4 September 2017.

6Clarke, Lauren. “8 Amazing Benefits of Cultural Diversity in the Workplace.” 6Q Blog.

7Lynch, Abigail J. “Why is Genetic Diversity Important?” USGS. 26 April 2016.

8Nwachukwu, Tony and Mark Robinson. “The role of diversity in building adaptive resilience.” Arts Council, England. May 2011.

Ritual for Jord

Her name quite literally means “earth,” and she is the personification of the earth. Hlóðyn could be another name for her (from the Voluspa) as well as Fjörgyn being generally considered by most scholars to be another name for Jord, serving an indentical function in both lore and in skaldic poetry.1 She is attested in Gylfaginning, Skáldskaparmál, and Lokasenna. Because the word jord simply refers to earth, not all instances of this word necessarily indicate Jord the embodiment of earth.

She is consistently referred to as the mother of Thor by Odin, both by the name Jord and by the names Hlóðyn and Fjörgyn. She is also regarded to be the daughter of Nöt or night by Annar, which simply means “second” or “another” (though her father’s name can also be found in the variant form Ónar or Ónarr, meaning “gaping”). In Skáldskaparmál she’s additionally referred to as the “rival of Frigg and Rind and Gunnlod,” though no stories are preserved about Jord so it can only be inferred that this is in reference to her status as one of Odin’s many lovers.

Due to the lack of lore about Jord, many scholars believe that she may not have been worshiped as a deity, so much as passively recognized as the personification of the earth. The lack of surviving stories about Jord is hardly an indicator that there were never stories about her, however. We know that much of the lore was lost through history and the conversion, and it is possible that this included lore around Jord, perhaps even stories detailing Thor’s conception and birth.

Moder Jord (Mother Earth) by Stephan Sinding

Because so little is known about Jord, it’s a little hard to pick out what might be a good offering to her. Since she is the personification of the earth, instead of offering something tangible in this ritual I strongly suggest making a donation in her honor to an environmental organization which focuses specifically on soil health. Here are a list of 15 possible organizations to look into: https://foodtank.com/news/2019/12/15-organizations-creating-healthier-soil-to-save-the-planet/ I ended up donating to Soils, Food and Healthy Communities for its hands-on assistance of small farms and independent farmers. Bonus: in their donation form they have the option to dedicate the donation, which is a nice perk when donating as an offering!

If money is too tight for this to be an option, then I might try to stick with making a simple food offering, such as buttered bread, which can be buried and subsequently integrated into the soil. If your ritual space is indoors and you have minimal outdoor access, then a simple offering of milk, mead, beer, or wine to be left on your altar for a day and night cycle before being disposed of in a manner appropriate to your practice (or mindfully consumed at the end of the ritual, whichever works best for you).

When you have your offering, ritual space, and time picked out and you’re ready to begin, go ahead and ready your ritual space in whatever way best suits you and your practice. When you’re ready, kneel over your offering to Jord, bow your head and place your arms/hands in a position of reverence and say:

“Hail Jord, Floor and base of winds’ hall

Hail Jord, Mother of Thor

Hail Jord, Sea of the animals

Hail Jord, Daughter of Night

Hail Jord, Daughter of Onar

Hail Jord, Rival of Frigg and Rind and Gunnlod

Hail Jord, Mother-in-law of Sif

Hail Jord, Sister of Aud and Day

Hail Jord, Earth’s Body…

“I call on you Jord to receive my offering of reverence, gratitude, and love. Today I bring to you this gift of _____.

“I come bearing great reverence for the majesty of your body which sustains us—this earth which is both Jord the Bride of Odin and Ymir’s flesh. I come bearing great gratitude for all of the gifts you have given me Jord. I offer you my gratitude for [list the gifts you have received from the earth here—this should be earnest and from the heart]. I come bearing great love for you, Jord, for all of this and more.”

If you have anything you wish to ask of Jord, be it to share wisdom with you, to assist you with something, or anything else, you may do so now. In my own ritual, I took time here to thank make specific thanks to her for assisting me in other ritual and magical workings in which I’ve called on her for aid.

When you are done, if you have a physical offering, lift it over your head. If you don’t have a physical offering, lift your hands over your head and say:

“Hail Jord, Odin’s Bride!

Hail Jord, Mother of Thunder!

Hail Jord, Giver of Life!”

If you have an intangible offering, vow that offering to Jord here, such as: “In your honor I will gift a token of my time, energy, and resources to the health of the soil which is your body. May you receive this gift, may it please you well.”

If you have a drink which you will be ritually and mindfully consuming, do so now. If you will be burying a food offering, do so now. Otherwise, place the offering on the altar where it will be staying for a day and night cycle.

Bow, placing your forehead on the ground with your arms outstretched before you, palms down to the ground. Thank Jord one more time as you are grounding out any extra energy raised in the course of this ritual as one final offering, then rise and bid Jord farewell.

Ritual complete, you may now go about clearing and closing out your ritual space in whatever way best suits you and your practice. As always, be sure you take some time after for snacks, hydration, and journaling about your experience with the ritual.

1Lindow, John (2002). Norse Mythology: A Guide to Gods, Heroes, Rituals, and Beliefs. Oxford University Press. p. 117

Ritual for Rán

Goddess of the sea, married to Ægir, with whom she has nine daughters who personify the waves. Attested in The First Poem of Helgi Hundingbani 30; The Poem of Helgi Hiorvardsson 18; Lay of Regin. She is also attested in Sonatorrek, Skáldskaparmál, Háttatal, Völsunga saga and Friðþjófs saga hins frœkna. Snorri also refers to a work by Hofgarða-Refr Gestsson, where Rán is called  ‘Gymir’s … völva,’ Gymir being another name for Ægir. Though this was just a fragment being referred to, this potentially connects her to the magic arts, supported by references to her as “spæ-wife,”spæ meaning to predict or foretell. She is listed among the goddesses in Nafnaþulur, much like Ægir is listed among the gods.

Scholar Rudolf Simek describes Rán as a goddess of an undersea world of the dead comprised of the drowned. He says that “Ægir personifies the sea as a friendly power, Rán embodies the sinister side of the sea, at least in the eyes of the late Viking Age Icelandic seafarers.”1 This appears corroborated by the etymology of her name, “plundering,” “theft,” or “robbery.” This may well refer to the sinking of ships and the drowning of sailors. She is often described as taking ships and sailors with her net, and those who narrowly escape destruction at sea are described as having escaped Rán’s hand or mouth.

Rán pulling a sailor under the waves using her net. Illustration by Johannes Gehrts, 1901

While less is said about Rán directly, from all of this we can infer that she is the wild, untamable counterpart to Ægir’s hospitality and friendliness. In this divine pair, then, we see two fundamental truths about the sea: it can nourish through fishing and trade routes, but it can also destroy and bring grief. When the sea brings grief, this is laid at Rán’s feet, as in this passage from Sonatorrek (Nora K. Chadwick translation): “Greatly has Rán afflicted me. I have been despoiled of a great friend. Empty and unoccupied I see the place which the sea has torn my son.”

Furthermore she has some degree of magical ability as a völva, likely with powers of prophecy (which in the sagas and eddas are quite common to women). There is also commonly an association between the sea and gold, and sometimes between gold and Rán directly. We see in the Reginsmál that when Loki is sent to fetch gold, he goes to get Rán’s net, and many kennings for gold relate back to the sea, or to Rán and Ægir. It appears that the connection may be related to the sinking of ships carrying gold. This would fit especially with with the etymology of her name.

Given all of this, what might good offerings to bring Rán be? There’s always the usual—mead, beer, and wine. Due to the association with gold, if you choose one of these option I might err on the side of a drink that is golden in color. Otherwise, it may be appropriate to bring emotional offerings of grief to Rán. An offering of gold might be ideal, but many of us don’t have gold to offer up, or if we do it’s of great personal value. Though such offerings are potent, you could substitute coins or a piece of jewelry.
As with Ægir’s ritual, Rán’s would ideally be done near the sea, or near a body of water connecting to the sea. If this isn’t possible, any nearby body of water will serve well. Otherwise, a bowl of salt water will do to represent the sea.

Ögir und Ran by Friedrich Wilhelm Heine

Once you have your offering selected and the location and time of the ritual picked out and you’re ready to get going, go ahead and prepare your ritual space in whatever way best suits your practice. Kneel over your offering and place your arms/hands in a position of reverence and bow your head. While I personally always recommend approaching deities of any kind with a disposition of awe and respect, I especially encourage such an approach with deities that are known to be especially dangerous, and given the historical descriptions and associations with Rán I think it’s safe to say she falls into this category.

When you are ready, say:

“Hail Rán, Unbridled Sea Witch

Hail Rán, Völva of Gymir’s Hall

Hail Rán, Mother of Nine Waves

Hail Rán, Net-Wielder Hail

Rán, Ship-Plunderer

Hail Rán, Robber of Seafarers

Hail Rán, Wild Bride of Ægir

Hail Rán, Holder of Ægir’s Fire

Hail Rán, White-Faced Spæ-Wife of the Sea…

“I call on you Rán to receive my reverence and offerings of _____. I bring this gift to honor you and pray that it pleases you well.”
If you have a specific request of Rán, such as asking for assistance with sea-based magic or perhaps even processing difficult emotions such as grief or associated rage, now is the time do so. Please exercise caution and ensure that you are precise in your phrasing, for at its stormiest the sea can be unpredictable and it’s safe to assume the same of Rán.

When you are done speaking, it is time to start concluding the ritual. As always, I recommend against pouring alcoholic beverages out on the ground in the Americas. You may leave them out for a night and day cycle in an area where they’ll be undisturbed before disposing of them however you see fit, or you may call on Rán to enjoy the drink through you and mindfully consume it yourself. If you are offering coins or items of jewelry and you are able to hold your ritual at a body of water, you may gift that offering to Rán by tossing it into the water. Otherwise, you may bury it, or if you have an altar to Rán and Ægir you may choose to keep the offering there.

However you will dispose of your offering, for now lift it above your head and say:

“Hail Rán, the Storming Sea!

Hail Rán, Keeper of Shipwrecks!

Hail Rán, of the Icy Deep!”

Deal with your offering however you will, then bow to the ground. Press your forehead to the earth and stretch your arms out before you, palms to the ground. Ground out any extra energy that may have been raised in the process of this ritual as an additional offering. Express gratitude to Rán for her presence and bid her farewell.

With that, go ahead and clear and close the ritual space in whatever way your practice calls for. After wrapping up, make sure to take some time to get some hydration, snacks, and journal about your experience with the ritual.

1Simek, Rudolf. 2007 [1993]. Translated by Angela Hall. Dictionary of Northern Mythology. D.S. Brewer. p. 260.

Rituals for Lost Jötnar: Hræsvelgr

Hræsvelgr is attested in Vafþrúðnismál (The Lay of Vafþrúðnir) 37 as: “Corpse-Swallower, he is called, who sits at the end of the world / a giant in eagle’s shape / from his wings, they say, the wind blows over all men.” Hræsvelgr is sometimes also translated as “shipwreck current.”1 In his article “Hræsvelgr, the Wind-Giant, Reinterpreted,” Terry Gunnel suggests that the Old Norse hræ here should be interpreted as shipwreck, with svelgr being literally interpreted as “sea swirl, maelstrom, water stream.” A connection to Thiazi, who also famously shapeshifts into an eagle, has been proposed. Evidence cited for this is a kenning for Thiazi from the poem Haustlöng, “vind-rögnir,” that roughly translates to “wind-divinity.” Because Hræsvelgr is explicitly described as originating wind in the form of an eagle, the proposal suggests that Hræsvelgr may be a heiti for Thiazi, or that otherwise these two have a lost mythological connection.2 He is additionally attested by Snorri in Gylfaginning, where is associated with the north and originates the wind from beneath his wings when he readies himself for flight.

If you know who the artist is, please let me know in comments as I couldn’t track them down. I found the image originally here

In this ritual I am going to assume that Hræsvelgr is, at the least, a distinct aspect of Thiazi that can be called on it is own right, though generally I err towards the assumption that these are individual entities. I do this because many modern scholars writing on polytheism of the past may be implicitly tempted to simplify pantheons by rolling similar spirits and deities together into one—just one of many possible side effects of the implicit bias that growing up in cultures of predominantly Abrahamic religious socialization.

That said, I find the suggestion that Hræsvelgr and Thiazi may the same being or otherwise connected quite interesting, and I find the evidence of the kenning when compared and contrasted with what is known of these entities to be compelling. Because I think there might be something to this connection, I’ve included a kenning to acknowledge this. Otherwise, for the purposes of this ritual I will assume they are distinct, but if you feel inclined to treat them as the same I say more power to you. There’s a lot more nuance and intricacy in the history of the faith we’re reviving, both remembered and lost, and it’s good to honor that in whatever ways we can.

Hræsvelgr has clear ties to wind and therefore air, but could also potentially have ties to the sea or other forms of water. Offerings associated with air in many modern forms of paganism includes incense, so you could consider offering Hræsvelgr a stick of incense (though if you’re doing this ritual outdoors, please plan to stay with the offering until it has fully burned away, which can sometimes take up to 45 minutes). Other offerings of smoke, such as burning something dedicated to Hræsvelgr so that the smoke make carry it into the sky, are also worth considering. Otherwise, good ol’ mead, beer, or wine are always trustworthy offerings to the Norse gods.

Of note for those unfamiliar with the different Nordic letters, æ sounds like “eh.” For this reason Hræsvelgr may be anglicized as Hresvelgr—just so you don’t trip over pronunciation during ritual!

Once you’ve selected the location for your ritual, you have a specific intent for the ritual in mind (this can be as simple as paying reverence, or it can be to make a petition to Hræsvelgr, or any other intent), and you have your offering selected, it’s time to begin. Prepare your ritual space in whatever manner best suits your needs and practices. Set out your offering and kneel before it, bowing your head and placing your arms/hands into a position of reverence. Say:

“Hail Hræsvelgr, Corpse-Swallower

Hail Hræsvelgr, of the North Wind

Hail Hræsvelgr, Shipwreck Maelstrom

Hail Hræsvelgr, Whose Current Ushers the Dead

Hail Hræsvelgr, Whose Stream Carries Crushed Ships

Hail Hræsvelgr, Wind-Divinity

Hail Hræsvelgr, Thiazi’s Mirror and Form

Hail Hræsvelgr, Progenitor of Winds that Blow Over All Men

Hail Hræsvelgr, Who Sits at the End of the World…

“I call on you Hræsvelgr to receive my reverence and this offering of _______. I pray that is pleases you well.”

If you have a specific intention in this ritual, you may state it now. Mine was approximately: “I call on you Hræsvelgr in gratitude for the strength of eagles and power of winds you’ve lent to me in workings past. I call on you Hræsvelgr to acknowledge how you’ve been with me before, and to ask that you continue to be with me in future workings. In gratitude and with due reverence/respect, I bring you this ________ in return for your assistance.”

If you’re a curious little being like I am, you may want to also ask Hræsvelgr for some gnosis on the potential connection to Thiazi: “I seek also knowledge from you, Hræsvelgr. I seek knowledge of your deep history, Hræsvelgr, that lost to the erasure of history and the erosion of time. Some speculate your connection to Thiazi, Hræsvelgr—and I seek to know from your own memory, words, and spirit, what this connection is, if there is any connection at all.” If you do this, plan to meditate for at least five minutes after asking. Keep a state of quiet mindfulness and listen to and feel your surroundings—including any thoughts or feelings that seem to impress themselves upon you rather than necessarily originating from within. Be sure you have a journal easy at hand to journal about whatever impressions you may have received.*

I am of the belief that sharing knowledge you glean about entities that have been mostly lost to time, especially if it is knowledge they themselves share with you, is a way of making offerings to them. Attention, be it in the form of just learning or thinking about an entity, or passive belief, or active worship and ritual, is something that I believe is important to the gods. Remaining within conscious memory feels vital to carrying forth and empowering the spirits of such entities, like food and drink is important for sustaining animal life such ours. For this reason, I feel it can be a powerful offering to share gnosis about Hræsvelgr you’ve received, if it feels right to do so. I’ve had my fair share of instances where it didn’t feel right to share a piece of gnosis, so if anything feels like a for-you-only thing, listen to your gut and do what you feel is right. If it feels right to share, you may promise to share that knowledge with others as an additional offering.

Depending on your offering and the location you’re doing your ritual, you may need to wait for a burning offering to be done burning. If you’re offering drink (and you’re doing this ritual in America) I strongly discourage pouring alcoholic libations directly onto the earth, for reasons I’ve outlined before. Offerings of drink may be left out in a safe, undisturbed place for a full day and night cycle before being disposed of however you best see fit.

Once you’re done and wrapping up the ritual, say:

“Hail Hræsvelgr, Corpse Swallower!

Hail Hræsvelgr, Whose Wings Stir the Wind!

Hail Hræsvelgr, Who Sits at the End of the World!”

Thank Hræsvelgr for hearing you and receiving your reverence and offerings. Bow to the earth, forehead to the ground and palms this time lifted toward the sky. This time let any energy you raised during this ritual lift from your palms and fingertips and drift away on the air.

Close the ritual space in whatever way best suits you and your practice. Once you’ve wrapped it up, this is the part where I recommend you have some snacks, hydration, and take some time to journal about the experience!

1Lindow, John (2002). Norse Mythology: A Guide to Gods, Heroes, Rituals, and Beliefs. Oxford University Press. p. 182

2Kodratoff, Yves. “Iðunn’s abduction: kenningar and heiti in Haustlöng stanzas 2-13.” https://www.academia.edu/36245394/I%C3%B0unns_abduction_kenningar_and_heiti_in_Haustl%C3%B6ng_stanzas_2_13

*I wanted to share what I received, in case you might be curious. Please note that the following is Unverified Personal Gnosis that came from the above ritual, and it should not be treated as gospel or hard fact:

Through the vaguest of impressions and some very crisp, clear images flooding my mind, I believe I received the following from Hræsvelgr: that he and Thiazi were indeed connected, but that now they are both entirely separate from one another and still through the faintest threads sharing some connection. “As the vulture and the eagle diverged,” he said, and though in most of the images that flooded my mind I saw a massive, powerful golden eagle perched atop a sharp stone in a gray expanse of rock and ice in the furthest northern reaches, I got the distinct impression that vulture was likely a more accurate word for the form he takes.

He also gave me the impression that he is very, very old. The story of Thiazi’s father divvying up his wealth among his sons was something I got the impression didn’t belong to Hræsvelgr’s memory, as it happened long after they diverged from one another. I got the distinct impression that Hræsvelgr was from a much earlier, much more deeply animistic stage of spiritual development in Scandinavia, prior to a conception of gods as we know them. Wealth wouldn’t have been much of a concept yet, outside of wealth in the sense of a group’s ability to feed and shelter themselves.

In trying to understand what exactly their connection was or what was meant by “as the vulture and the eagle diverged,” I was first given the impression of cells dividing, and then again the impression of speciation; a sense of what was once one now being two. I’m still not sure that that feels quite accurate to the impressions I was receiving, but I feel that it’s the best I can put into words.

Rituals for Lost Jötnar: Blith

Blith is only known from one source, and all that is known about her is that her name means “friendly one” or perhaps “happy” or “blithe.” It has been proposed that she is jötunn but we don’t have much evidence for this, except that she is with Mengloth, apparently in Jötunheim, who was guarded by Fjölsviðr, who has been identified by some scholars as a giant.

Regardless, in modern Heathen traditions Mengloth is considered a minor goddess of healing, with her nine handmaidens also being healing goddesses with various specialties. Blith is generally accepted to be jötunn and is considered to specialize in issues of the brain, especially mental health issues. As more and more research suggests that more mental illnesses are influences by traumatic experiences than previously thought (including personality disorders and mood disorders and even schizophrenia), I think it is safe to assume that Blith would be a good goddess to appeal to for healing and recovering from trauma.

Imaged sourced from Wyrd Designs

Because there is so very little information about her that has survived to the modern era, you can be quite flexible with how you conduct this ritual. I always recommend bringing offerings, and offerings of food and drink are always safe. Especially with the Nordic gods, offerings of mead, beer, and wine are good ways to go. For this ritual, I dedicated jars of psychologically medicinal herbs to her.

Once you have settled on an offering an a place where you will conduct your ritual, and you have your intent in the ritual clear in your mind, it’s time to begin. If casting a circle is an element of your practice, do so now as you see fit. (I call on Jord for Earth, Ran and Aegir for Water, Surt for Fire, and Hræsvelgr for Wind/Air.)

Set your offering on the ground or on a ritual altar if you’re using one. Kneel before the offering and bow your head, moving your hands and/or arms into a position of reverence, and say:

“Hail Blith, Handmaiden of Mengloth

Hail Blith, Mysterious Healer of the Mind and Heart

Hail Blith, Fellow of Hlif and Hlifthrasa and Thjodvara

Hail Blith, Handler of the Moods of the Brain

Hail Blith, Fellow of Bjort and Bleik

Hail Blith, Keeper of the Weather of the Mind

Hail Blith, Fellow of Frith Aurboda and Eir

Hail Blith, Knower of Sacred Healing Arts

Hail Blith, Mount Lyfjaberg’s Favored Heart Healer…”

Menglöð sits with the nine maidens, including Eir, on Lyfjaberg (1893) by Lorenz Frølich.

If you have a specific request for healing, you may outline your request here. In example, my request was: “I call on you for this favor, Blith: that you may walk the lines of my blood and heritage with me, that you may lend your healing arts to my endeavor to heal the generational traumas I find there…

“In gratitude, I bring you this offering of ______.”

If you brought an offering of food and are conducting your ritual outside, bury the food now where you are conducting the ritual. If you brought an offering of drink and are conducting your ritual outside, pour the offering now as a libation on the ground.

If you are conducting your ritual inside, either leave the offering on your altar or in a safe place where it wont be disturbed for at least twenty-four hours before disposing of it in the way that is the most appropriate to your practice.

If you are pouring or burying an offering, chant the following as you do so. Otherwise, simply position your arms/hands in a pose of reverence to chant:

“Hail Blith as she heeds my call

Hail Blith as she takes this offering

Hail Blith and may she be ever honored.”

Bow to the ground, placing your forehead and palms directly on the ground. Ground out any extra energy you may have raised in the course of the ritual as a final offering.

If it is appropriate to your practice, you may now begin closing the circle as you bid farewell to Blith and to any other spirits you may have called on in your casting.

As always, take some time now to hydrate, snack, and journal as needed.

Ritual for Ymir

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.

Ymir Suckling the Cow Audhumla. painting by Nicolai Abildgaard

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.”

Ymir being slain by the gods (Franz Stassen, 1920)

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.

What about the Rökkr?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ledberg Stone

The Ledberg Stone was discovered in Ledberg, Östergötland, Sweden

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

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

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

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

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

atla

The Atla Runestone was found in Atla, Uppland, Sweden

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

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

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

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

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

116_Niaer2_Fredrikstad_IK244_OHM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Argument for the Historical Worship of the Jötnar

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

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

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

skadi_by_righon_d46rz7t-pre

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

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

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

gerdr_statue_by_seejpe_ddnkqx0-pre

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Evolution of Pre-Christian Nordic Religion

Compared to many cultures around the globe, very little evidence remains of pre-Christian religious beliefs and practices in Scandinavia. By far the best known pre-Christian temple in Scandinavia was the temple in Uppsala, having been attested to in the writings of Adam of Bremen. However, evidence remains scant. Some archaeological evidence of a hall near to the burial mounds of Gamla Uppsala has been uncovered but, because of the decay of building materials, very little evidence remains to be interpreted. These remains have largely been read as being evidence of a hall where both political and cultic practices may have occurred, including sacrificial feasts (1) though some have suggested that this may have been the temple, or served both functions.(2) Even the best known religious sites offer us little evidence to interpret or develop an understanding of Scandinavian religions prior to the conversion era.

Considering the minimal nature of archaeological evidence of pre-Christian religions in Scandinavia, how do we know what we know about those religions? “Apart from the rune stones, contemporary written information about the Viking homelands is almost exclusively the work of foreign clerics,” Else Roesdahl notes in The Vikings, “few of whom had visited Scandinavia. Nearly all these texts are in Latin and they were usually written following political or military confrontations on Denmark’s southern border, or attempts to convert the pagan northmen to the true Christian faith.” (3)

Most of what we think we know about Scandinavian religion before the arrival of Christianity is, in fact, based on writings from contemporary Christian clergy. Yet the history of complex religious beliefs in Scandinavia was established long before the onset of the best-known and best-evidenced eras of Scandinavian history, the Vendal and the Viking eras, let alone before the arrival of Christianity.

b04370a00bda61a4264c35fa91de3a37

Sample of pictographs from Atla, Norway

Evidence of religious beliefs in Scandinavia dates to as early as the Stone Age. “The Stone Age archaeological record paints a surprisingly complex picture,” writes Bryon J. Nordstrom. “Artifacts of bone or amber and petroglyphs and pictographs, such as those in Alta in Norway or the somewhat later ones at Nämforsen in southern Sweden, depict reindeer, moose, bear, birds, fish, whales and humans. These depictions indicate the presence of animist religious beliefs from very ancient times.” (4) Based exclusively on the archaeological evidence we can see an evolution in these animist beliefs (defined primarily by a belief that all things in nature contain a spirit, not just humans). In the late Mesolithic, for instance, occurs new “systematic burial practices that may indicate a belief in an afterlife or veneration of family members.” (5)

This late-era shift in religious practices and beliefs lead to the new practices of the Neolithic age, shifting toward a religious outlook which favored ancestor veneration and practices regarding death and belief in the afterlife. This is evidenced by megalithic graves, dolemens and passage graves. (6) Because of the obvious amount of labor and time expended upon the construction of these graves and because they were used repeatedly, there is a strong likelihood that such grave sites doubled as cult sites.(7)

We come next to the Bronze Age. The tradition of petroglyphs had certainly survived through the ages, the changes in climate, and invasions. By this point in history “the most common images are of ships, circles and wheels, men with weapons, men with exaggerated phalluses, plows, footprints, and occasionally women…they may be sacred images, including the sun, the ships that carried the sun across the sky, and gods and goddesses of the hunt, the field, and fertility.” (8)

1024px-Nämforsen-Petroglyphs

Sample of pictographs in Nämforsen, Sweden

Moving into the Migration and Vendal eras, we continue to have a wealth of archaeological evidence up for interpretation. This evidence continues to come from places of burial and sacrifice and, just as the cultures of these ages “may also be seen as direct antecedents to the Viking Age,” (9) it seems reasonable that the religious beliefs of these ages were also direct antecedents to Viking Age religion. This is especially true when we consider that the only thing directly separating the Vendal and Viking ages are the written records of the Viking invasions of Lindisfarne in 793. (10)

At long last, the beginning of the written record regarding Scandinavia has begun. Because of the great wealth of churches, which housed the aforementioned literate clergymen, Vikings often targeted them. Though they had not yet begun to write about the religion of the Vikings, this marks the point at which the written record can be used to corroborate theories about the archaeological evidence which, in regard to religion, continues to remain inconclusive. Stone carvings continue to be an important source of evidence, such as the picture stones in Gotland dating between 400 and 800 A.D., which depict “sailing ships, costumes, processions, battles, sacrifices, and Norse gods such as Odin.” (11) Though these are among our primary sources of evidence, in addition to grave goods and sites of sacrifice, it is worth noting that “pictures can rarely be interpreted precisely, but they give an impression of ceremonies and rituals and also confirm some of the stories about the gods…” (12)

Details-from-the-Hunninge-stone-from-Gotland-Sweden-showing-the-presence-of-sails

Hunninge picture stone from Gotland

Though it is far simpler, it is neither wise nor advisable to entirely separate these different periods of religious belief from one another. The evolution of religious practices and beliefs is just that—an evolution. These beliefs and practices evolved in tandem with the society out of which they arose. We can see in the Stone Age that animist religions underwent a change as the people themselves shifted from the nomadic lifestyle of the Megalithic age to the settlement lifestyle of the Neolithic. I would argue that the more familiar beliefs of the Viking age could not and would not have taken the shape they did if it weren’t for the shape these earlier religions took and the effect changes in society had on their development and evolution, much like modern people could not exist in their current form without their ape ancestors.

Some disturbances naturally occur which induce or alter this process. These included changes not only in climate but also invasions which brought new people with new weapons, technologies, and cultures, as well as new religions and new gods:

“Some researchers believe Sweden, along with much of the south Baltic, Denmark and Finland, were invaded by nomads whose origins lay along the western slopes of the Ural Mountains…some archaeologists think they brought with them the prototype of the later Germanic languages, including Swedish, and a new set of gods. According to this interpretation, these invaders descended on the peasant farmers of the north, conquered them, became a new elite, and erased the old cultures. Good evidence supports these views: The beautifully crafted boat-shaped ceremonial axes, crudely decorated pottery, and simple individual chamber graves become common and were strikingly different from their counterparts in either of the older Neolithic cultures.”(13) 

Though it is true that these invading forces re-shaped the existing culture, it is drastic to say that they could or would have utterly eradicated it, as is suggested when Nordstrom writes that the invaders “erased the old cultures.” While significant damage to existing cultures can and is often done when a foreign force invades an area, historically this often involves some degree of assimilation rather than total annihilation. We can see this in other instances of invaded peoples straining to retain their culture and new rulers making certain cultural concessions to keep their newly conquered people in the fold.

With specific regard to religious practice and belief, there are plenty of examples of religions meeting wherein the conquering religion assimilated rather than destroyed the other. Take, for example, the Greek Titans: some scholarship suggests that these formidable beings in Greek mythology represent deities from an older religious tradition. This argues that the depiction of the Titans as having been conquered and imprisoned by a younger generation of gods represents a newer religious tradition supplanting the elder. This is a mythological form very closely mirrored in other cultures, including the Babylonians, Hittites, and Phoenicians.(14) Lotte Motz highlights specific examples: “The Giants and the Titans of the Greeks were ultimately defeated by Olympic Zeus; the great god Marduk of the Babylonians opposed those from whom he was descended, who were fighting under the leadership of Kingu.” (15)

I propose that we can see echoes of this myth-form in the war between the Nordic Aesir and the Vanir, as well as the ongoing struggles between the Aesir and the Jötnar. Multiple waves of migration into Scandinavia followed closely by discernible shifts in religious orientation, values, and structures may very well indicate that a series of invading and supplanting cultures introduced a series of supplanting religions. This is in addition, of course, to other environmental factors that were prompting changes in religious focus and values, such as the switch from nomadic lifestyles to settlement lifestyles, often corresponding with a switch between hunter-gatherer cultures and agricultural cultures.

Ultimately while it is hard to definitively interpret the archaeological evidence without textual evidence to fill in the gaps, we can make reasoned assessments based on the evidence we do have. We can additionally study the evolution of other, better documented religions around the world to fill in our understanding of the kinds of patterns and changes that are common in religious evolution. Taking the evidence we do have and comparative studies of comparable myth-forms and religious developments from the around the world, it’s not such a stretch to interpret the primal, often clearly nature-associated jötnar as survivors of an older, primordial animistic religion that set the stage for later Nordic religions.

(1) Gamla Uppsala. “Kungsgårdsterrasserna.” Gamla Uppsala Museet: Gamla Uppsala, 2000. Plaque.
(2) Roesdahl. pp 154
(3) Roesdahl. pp 15
(4) Nordtsrom, Bryon J. Scandinavia since the 1500s. University of Minnesota Press: Minneapolis, 2000. pp 4
(5) Nordstrom, Byron J. The History of Sweden. Greenwood Press: Westport, 2002. pp 14
(6) Nordstrom, Byron J. The History of Sweden. Greenwood Press: Westport, 2002. pp 15
(7) Nordstrom. pp 15
(8) Nordstrom. The History of Sweden, pg 17
(9) Nordstrom. History of Sweden. Pg 19
(10) Pearson. pp 337-353
(11) Nordstrom. The History of Sweden. 21
(12) Roesdahl. The Vikings. pp 128
(13) Nordstrom. pp 15
(14) Burkert, Walter. The Orientalizing Revolution: Near Eastern Influence on Greek Culture in the Early Archaic Age (Revealing Antiquity). Harvard University Press: Cambridge, 1995. Pgs 94-95.
(15) Motz, Lotte. “Giants in Folklore and Mythology: A New Approach.” Folklore, Vol. 93 No. 1. Taylore & Francis, LTD. 1982.