Rise the Wind and Rise the Waves: An Ego-Sacrifice Ritual for Jörmungandr

Note: the following is a person story about my efforts to de-center myself during a time when we all need to prioritizing community. It’s an account I share in the hopes that it might be meaningful and helpful for others who are similarly realizing that they need to engage in a sort of “ego death” to better de-center themselves and prioritize community and movements that aren’t about them, but which they can support. I don’t discuss it explicitly but this is also a story about me beginning a path toward healing from recent traumas and mental health problems. It’s not going to be perfect, and I understand that. I only hope that it might be valuable to other imperfect practitioners seeking to improve in deeply personal ways.

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This holiday post is a little bit different. For many of us time has ceased to have meaning during quarantine, and I’m no exception. If you’re interested in my take on how to celebrate Litha in a way catered to Rökkatru, check out last year’s post. Today, I want to tell you about my inadvertent solstice ritual for myself, for Jörmungandr, and for the world at large.

If you haven’t noticed, the world is in a bit of a state these days. I’ve seen and heard many Rökkatru and Lokeans discussing what they’ve been experiencing on a spiritual level, and it’s interesting to say the least. While there are communities in Africa practicing traditional religious rituals to curse American police and witches and pagans from all over America joined to do spells in support of #BlackLivesMatter (that were additionally supported by Christian prayers, nonetheless) many who work with the Norse gods are reporting a certain rumbling.

I’ve recently seen an uptick in people seeing a lot of activity from Loki and his kind in recent meditations and divinations. I recall seeing at least one person getting the distinct impression that Loki was well at work—and that the entire pantheon was behind him. It only makes sense that the Breaker of Worlds would have a hand not only in a pandemic that had shaken the entire world to its core and in the process us unveiled many ugly truths about our societies, but also in a simultaneous uprising that has laid bare a deep vein of corruption and oppression in a particularly potent system of power. This has been laid so bare that #BlackLivesMatter protests have been staged across the globe.

Now is a time for endings. Now is a time for beginnings.

It occurred to me recently that my own ego was getting in my way, preventing me from more effectively supporting the cause from the sidelines, where I’m stuck due to COVID-19 and close friends and chosen family who are immunocompromised or have loved ones who are. I had to prioritize my community and my ego was throwing a hissy fit about it.

I’m not sure why it struck me then that Jörmungandr could help me with this, but that notion struck me hard and felt right.

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I’ve not worked with Jörmungandr much, though not for lack of trying. Jörmungandr is a deity of the liminal. The concept of the ego is itself a bit of a wishy-washy thing, certainly much more in the realm of the mind and psyche than anything solid and tangible. This made sense to me—and if I wanted to shed my ego like a snake sheds its skin, then it made additional sense that it was the Midgard Serpent that I should petition.

The ritual itself was, fittingly, rather nebulous in my mind. I would go to a body of water, for greater connection with Jörmungandr, and I would enter the cold waves as a minor ordeal. I would cut off my hair—which I’ve been growing out for years and which I had a certain amount of pride in—as a physical symbol of the ego I would be sacrificing to the Great Serpent. I might try to sing, might chant, but I did not know what words.

From the day that I decided to do the ritual, I counted out nine days of preparation for the ritual, which largely took the form of working on undoing energetic blockages associated with recent trauma and mental health problems. That put me at the 21st of June—the summer solstice, though again I didn’t realize that until the day of. Additionally it ended up being the first day of my menstruation, which I wasn’t particularly stoked about but which lent an additional, um….flavor? to the ritual.

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I went to an inlet connected to the ocean. I stripped down to my underwear and walked into the water. It was late morning and the sky was overcast. The water was biting cold, and I immediately began to shake and shiver as I began casting my circle, calling on Jord of Earth, Hati and Skoll of Air, Surtr of Fire, and Ran, Aegir, and their Nine Daughters of the Sea. At last I faced west and knelt in the water and called on Jörmungandr.

“Let my blood call out to you

Great Serpent, the Circumscriber of the Seas

Let my blood call out to you as it calls to all hungry

Watery beasts.

Come find me Jörmungandr of magick and liminal spaces

Where the sea meets the soil.”

For all my attempts to sing these words, my voice was shaking and my teeth chattering as the cold settled into my flesh. My voice was weak but I gave it a try, having been told that Jörmungandr is quite fond of singing.

“Come to me you who encompass Midgard

You whose hide is emblazoned with

The constellations of the Milky Way.

Come find my sacrifice, Jörmungandr

And may it please you well.”

Putting the scissors to my hair, pulled into pigtails for the occasion, and I began to cut.

“Let me shed my ego

Like the serpent sheds its skin.

Come take this ego as offering ad sacrifice

Consume this ego and all its pride and self indulgence

Feast on this sacrifice, Jörmungandr, and feast well.”

I pinned the locks between my knee and took the scissors to the remain pigtail.

“As the snake sheds its skin

So I shed my ego.

As I shed my ego

So let this world shed all its old fetters

Of cruelty, of fear, and hatred;

Of tyranny and terror and oppression.

Let the world shed that heinous skin

And be born anew of all its cold viscera.”

While I spoke, my eyes closed and my face turned out across the water, I felt the waves rise around me. They rocked me, my whole body moving back and forth under the gentle force of their push and their pull. Along with the waves, the wind rose as well. A tree leaned out over the water beside me, and I could hear the wind whispering through the leaves just as I could feel it stirring my now cut-loose hair. For most of the ritual I was too enraptured by the cold of the water to get a good spiritual sense for what was happening around me, but in this moment I felt a great swell within me as I felt the swell of the water around me. I felt and heard my voice becoming strong, commanding, and forceful as the scissors snipped through my hair.

With my hair cut, I dug into the silt and rocks beneath the waves. “Take this sacrifice Jörmungandr,” I half prayed and half pleaded as I pressed the locks into the bottom of the hole and began to cover them with rocks and silt. “Take this sacrifice and take this ordeal—may it please you well Jörmungandr, and I plead you hear our words.”

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It struck me then that I wasn’t quite done. My hair was cut, my sacrifice was made, but something felt incomplete about the ordeal (however minor). Another swell rose up in my chest—an impulse or impression. It felt right to do, and so I dunked myself and my freshly cut hair beneath the cold waves, feeling the shock roll through my body from the top of my head and down my spine. I dunked myself nine times over my buried sacrifice in the waves that were beginning to calm.

After the ninth dunk I stood shakily up. Shivering, I put my hands together and began to thank Jörmungandr and bless their name before bidding them farewell. I thanked Ran, Aegir, and their Nine Daughters, Surtr, Hati and Skoll, and Jord for baring witness to my sacrifice, and bid them all farewell.

When I scrambled out of the water, shaking and covered in goosebumps to where my fiancee was waiting with a towel, I did feel lighter. It had been a sort of catharsis, leaving me less burdened with my own nonsense. More clear of vision, and ready to keep showing up for the fight—however I can, in whatever capacity best serves the community, regardless of my own ego or preferences.

Litha — With a Rökkatru Twist

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Found here

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

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

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

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

Blessed Litha.

Skål.

©Tahni J. Nikitins 2019