Angeyia is attested in Song of Hyndla 37:3, Gylfaginning, Heimdalargaldr, Skáldskaparmál, and Völuspá hin skamma. She is listed as a one of the nine mothers of Heimdall with her sisters Gjalp, Greip, Eistla, Eyrgjafa, Ulfrun, Imd, Atla and Jarnsaxa. The meaning and origin of her name is unknown but some possibilities include ‘harasser’, ‘bark’, and ‘of the narrow island.’
Some scholarship links the nine mothers of Heimdall with the nine daughters of Ran and Aegir, otherwise known as the nine waves, as both sets of women are described as nine jötunn sisters. Some scholars point out that the names of these two sets of women don’t match,1 while others point out that the mismatched names may just reflect two differing traditions about Heimdall’s parentage.2
Nothing else is known about Angeyia from the lore, so there’s no other hard evidence we can use to support either interpretation. There are plenty of modern heathens who believe Heimdall’s nine mothers to be the same as the nine daughters of Ran and Aegir, but as knowing for certain isn’t possible, it’ll be up to you to suss out what you believe on the matter. This small ritual to honor Angeyia could be a good opportunity to ask her input on the matter.
With little information to go on, it’s good to fall back on our staple safe offerings: alcohol or food. Once you have selected your offering and a time a place for your ritual and you’re ready to get started, set up and open your ritual space in whatever way suits you and your practice. Be sure to have a journal, writing utensil, and your favored divination tool at hand. Kneel over your offering, head bowed and hands/arms in a position of reverence and say:
“Hail Angeyia, One of Heimdall’s Many Mothers
Hail Angeyia, Mysterious of the Nine Jötunn Maids
Hail Angeyia, Sister to Atla and Eistla
Hail Angeyia, Sister to Eyrgjafa and Imðr
Hail Angeyia, Sister to Gjálp and Greip
Hail Angeyia, Sister to Járnsaxa and Ulfrún
Hail Angeyia, Magni’s Auntie
Hail Angeyia, Sister to the Slain of Thor
Hail Angeyia, Of the Narrow Island…
“Angeyia, I call on you to receive my reverence, that these small and humble actions may uplift you. Angeyia, I call on you to receive this offering ______ which I bring to you to honor you. May it please you well, Angeyia of the Jötnar.”
Here you may wish to ask Angeyia to share information about herself with you, in particular clarifying her relationship to the nine waves, if any. If you wish to do this, ask your question(s) and meditate or otherwise sit in receptive mindfulness as I’ve described in other rituals. Do so for at least five minutes. If you receive any impressions or messages, take a moment with your divination tool to confirm that these were from Angeyia. If/when you feel confident these messages were truly from Angeyia, take time to write them down in your journal.
Once you’ve taken the time to meditate, divinate, and jot down any notes, you can begin to wrap up your ritual. Bow, placing your forehead and palms to the ground, and ground out any extra energy that may have been raised through the process of doing this ritual as one last offering. While you’re doing this, thank Angeyia for joining you to receive your offerings and reverence. Bid him farewell, and rise.
Now close and clear your ritual space in whatever way best suits you and your practice. Don’t forget to take time after to hydrate and snack!
The following is UPG and should be taken with as large a serving of salt as you feel comfortable doing.
When I inquired about any connection to the nine daughters of Ran and Aegir, I received an emphatic “No” and the impression of stark, rocky mountain points against the blue sky. The message was fairly clear, even if I couldn’t catch all the words accompanying it: “We are of [mountain stone and sky]. The place where the mountain meets the sky—that is where Heimdallr was born.”
Curious if I could find other connections, I inquired for any other names of family members and was given another resounding no, this time with, “You do not have [their names] in your head. That is all.”
1Simek, Rudolf (2007) translated by Angela Hall. Dictionary of Northern Mythology. D.S. Brewer
2Lindow, John (2002). Norse Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Heroes, Rituals, and Beliefs. Oxford University Press.
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.
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
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.”
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
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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 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.
Surtr is a fire giant who, in Voluspa 47, is described as passing from one world to another through Yggdrasil, functioning as a portal, which “shudders” as he passes. Attested again in the Lay of Fafnir 14. In Voluspa, Surtr is described as “moving from the south,” which indicates an alignment or association with the direction south. His name means “black” or “the swarthy one.” He is attested again in Vafþrúðnismál in which Odin and a jötunn named Vafþrúðnir question one another. They refer to Ragnarok, mentioning Surtr’s fire and part in the battle. It is in the Prose Edda that Surtr is associated with Muspelheim, being described in a manner which suggests he is the region’s defender. Surtr and Freyr are slated to meet in battle at Ragnarok, and to slay one another. Of note: Snorri’s descriptions have been criticized as bearing more similarity to the anti-semtic “Red Jews” motif than to the Voluspa source material,1 so (as is always the case with Snorri) it’s wise to take his rendering with a heaping scoop of salt, if you feel the need to take it into consideration at all.
It is generally agreed by both scholars and practitioners that Surtr is a personification of fire. Surtr appears, however, to be specifically associated with volcanic fire, and there’s actually a placename associated with Surtr that demonstrates this. There is a volcanic cave in western Iceland which has long been called Surtshellir, having been recorded as such in a book which details the settlement of Iceland called Landnámabók, though it was only thoroughly documented in the 18th century.2 Place names are often indicators of locations of cultic activity. Though there doesn’t appear to be a plethora of evidence that this site was a site of cultic worship for Surtr, and it is worth noting that Christianity came to Iceland only about a hundred years after it was settled, it is interesting to note that there is a lot of superstition still attached to Surtshellir. Many locals believe that the cave is haunted, and legend says Surtr used to call this cave his home, and perhaps either created or caused the creation of the cave. Scholar Rudolph Simek has stated that he doesn’t believe the idea of Surtr as an enemy of the gods originated in Iceland, but rather that Surtr was simply a personification of volcanic fire.3 I’m not going to make any bold statements here, but this all is quite intriguing, and I for one wouldn’t rule out the possibility that Surtr was honored here in some capacity in the past—even if that capacity was offerings of sheep or goats with a plea to not destroy local villages.
Less relevant to our purposes but still of interest are modern place names. A volcanic island that appeared in 1963 was named Surtsey, or “Surt’s Island,” while one of Saturn’s moons is named for him and a volcano on Io, one of Jupiter’s moons, is named for him as well. Even more delightful is a planet named for him which orbits a star named Muspelheim. Like I said, less relevant, but very fun!
Appropriate offerings for Surtr would include the basic safe options such as mead, beer, and wine, but could also include candles dedicated to him (especially red, orange, yellow, or white candles); matches could be offered to him, so that each strike of a match is in Surtr’s honor; or volcanic stones could be offerings to him, such as obsidian or pumice. If you, like me, just so happen to have easy access to raw coal, offering a chunk of this might also be a decent offering. When it comes to offerings, I encourage you to get creative but don’t push yourself beyond your means or feel bad if you’re limited in what you can offer. The best that you can offer is the best offering, no matter what it is.
Though I have a preference for performing rituals outdoors, performing them indoors is also great! Wherever you perform your ritual—this or any other ritual—you’ll want to ensure that you’re unlikely to be disturbed and will be relatively comfortable, so you can focus on the working at hand.
Once you’ve selected your offering and location and are ready to proceed, prepare your ritual space in whatever way is most appropriate to your practice/works best for you.
When your space is prepared, take some time to center. I like to center using mindfulness of my body and my environment—tuning in to my senses, what I can hear, what I can feel, what I can smell, etc. Focusing on the stimulus input from the environment brings me solidly into myself, into my environment, and into the moment. Once you’ve selected your offering, your location, have prepared your ritual space, and are ready to do so, say:
“Hail Surtr, the Charred
Hail Surtr, Overseer of Underworld Fires
Hail Surtr, the Swarthy One
Hail Surtr, Who Will Meet Freyr in Battle
Hail Surtr, Yggdrasil-Shaker
Hail Surtr, Flame-Blade Wielder
Hail Surtr, Freyr’s Doom
Hail Surtr, Herald of Fire
Hail Surtr, Muspelheim’s Defender…
“I call on you Surtr to receive my reverence and this offering of _______, which I bring to honor you. I pray it pleases you well.”
If you have a specific intention in this ritual besides simply honoring Surtr, you may state that now. My intention (as an example) was: “I call on you Surtr in gratitude for the furious power of fire lent to me in workings past. I call on you Surtr to humbly acknowledge that 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.”
In addition to this, I personally took a moment to offer specific gratitude for the creative power of fire in the form of magma. This particular force of nature is often only acknowledged for its power to burn forests and destroy cities, and sometimes for its cleansing power. Much of the dry earth on which we stand, though, is literally a result of magma activity beneath our feet: the movement of the mantle deep down below moves continental plates, grinding them into each other in ways that can uplift land, making it habitable, or recycle it down back into the mantle. Volcanic hotspots are responsible for the creation of islands such as the one in Iceland, and in the long-run these can also provide habitable ground. Gratitude for this might look like:
“Lastly, I wish to offer my endless gratitude, Surtr, for the movement of the continents that has created the land on which I live. I offer my humble gratitude for your creative forces, Surtr, which makes new land. I thank you, Surtr, for your long-term vision, and for the careful balance between destruction and creation you hold on the flaming blade of your sword.”
As you are preparing to bring the ritual to a close, hail Surtr one last time before bidding him farewell:
“Hail Surtr Who Has Heard My Call!
Hail Surtr Who Has Received My Offerings!
Hail Surtr of Magma and Lava!”
When you are done, properly dispose of your offerings in whatever way is most appropriate for you and your practice (though, as always, if you live in America I discourage the pouring of alcoholic libations directly onto the earth, for reasons previously outlined). If this must be done outside of the ritual circle, then simply bow your head to the earth, placing your palms down on the ground. Ground out any energy you may have raised in the course of this ritual as a final offering. I almost always use this moment to bid farewell to the entity I’m honoring in ritual, usually saying something like, “Thank you Surtr for being with me. With love and with gratitude, I bid you farewell as you go.” Something very simple but respectful and from the heart.
Lastly it is time to close the ritual and clear the space, in whatever way best suits you and your practice. As always, I strongly recommend taking some time after to hydrate, snack, and journal about the experience.
1Cole, Richard. “Snorri and the Jews”. Old Norse Mythology – Comparative Perspectives.
2Browne, George Forrest (1865). Ice-caves of France and Switzerland. Longmans, Green and co. pp. 244–6.
3Simek, Rudolf (2007). Dictionary of Northern Mythology. Translated by Angela Hall. D.S. Brewer. p. 303-304.
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.
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, 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
*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.
While there is minimal and non-conclusive evidence of the historical worship of most of the Rökkr, it is good to once again remember that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. While we may never find the conclusive smoking-gun evidence that many of us would enjoy, it continues to be valuable to dig deeper into the evidence that is available, continue critically assessing potentially outdated interpretations, and looking for further evidence to help us better understand the beliefs, practices, and cosmology of pre-Christian Nordic paganism. In the meantime, lack of historical evidence does not undermine the validity of worshiping the Rökkr within the new religious movement that is Norse neo-paganism and Rökkatru specifically.
There is one Rökkr for whom we have more evidence, however: the much-loved, much-hated, and always contentious Loki Laufeyson.
For those who love Loki, the love is fierce and passionate. For many LGBTQIA+ Heathens, Loki is embraced as representing genderqueerness, genderfluidity, or nonbinary gender due to his tendency for shifting not only form but gender. For those who have experienced degrees of abuse and trauma in their lifetimes, Loki as a deity of change is empowering, a source of strength and an assurance that while the good may not be forever, neither is the bad. Many who work with and honor Loki find a great degree of love and comfort in his lessons of self-honesty, speaking truth to power, and growing and learning through trial and ordeal.
Many who worship Loki see him as the vital instigator of change which prevents the entropy of stagnation, but just as many fear Loki for the chaos he is associated with and his role in Ragnarok. Those who fear, dislike, or mistrust Loki will point out the sheer number of times Loki creates trouble and mischief for the gods, while those who love him are quick to point out that Loki is the heart and spirit of much of the surviving lore and won the gods their treasures, including Thor’s hammer, through those same shenanigans.
To put it bluntly, Loki is a divisive deity—and he is one of the primary gods among the Rökkr. Just as Angrboda can be called the mother of the Rökkr, so too can Loki be called their father: of the primary Rökkr, Loki and Angrboda are parents to Hel, Jörmungandr, and Fenrir. A very contentious family within Heathenry to be certain, but also a very important one.
So let’s look at what evidence there is, starting with a ship burial uncovered in Bitterstad, Norway. A 2016 report from The Arctic University of Norway describes two pendants discovered in association with the burial. The pendants are nearly identical faces cast in silver depicting a man with a mustache, rounded eyes, and mouth that had been set with garnet, though most of the stone inlay no longer remains. “On the back of the two pieces of jewelry were a few remnants of preserved textiles, probably from the deceased’s clothing,” (1) suggesting that these pendants may have been worn as part of the finery in which the deceased was buried.
What is particularly interesting about this, is that the authors of the report put forward the theory that these pendants represent Loki, drawing a comparison to the Snaptun Stone:
“I will present here the not un-problematic idea that these face pendants from Bitterstad can represent Loki. There are two primary things that can point to this. First, the garnets themselves. These have, as we have mentioned several times, historically often related to fire. Fire is something that Loki is often connected with…The other interesting detail is the wrought stone from Snaptun Jutland which depicts Loki after he had his mouth sewn by the dwarf Brokk (Jørgensen 2010, pp. 149-150). Again, we find the relationship between fire and Loki to be interconnected…the images that are on the stone and on the jewelry from Bitterstad are relatively similar. Both figures have a strong mustache, round eyes, sharp marked nose and image of hair. This idea can of course not be proven but may be left as a speculative interpretation of the jewelry from Bitterstad.” (2)
This is only one of several pendants that have been purported to feature Loki, including one found among gravegoods near Härad, Sweden and another found in Vejen, Denmark. The Vejen artifact was originally reported in a press release from Denmark’s National Museet, but the link no longer works, and I’ve struggled to track down information on the Härad piece as well. Nonetheless, photos of both exist, and it can been seen that both images bear a striking resemblance to the Snaptun Stone and Bitterstad pendant, with a mustache and lines across the mouth that have been frequently interpreted as the stitches from the Brokk myth. And of course there is the Snaptun Stone itself, commonly identified as Loki due to the presentation of the mouth, which appears to be stitched. (3)
These and other similar depictions dating to the pre-Christian and conversion era would disprove the claims of some scholars and laypersons that Loki is little more than a literary figment created during pr shortly after the conversion. Furthermore there is evidence, albeit limited, of people and at least one place being named for Loki—something we wouldn’t expect to see if Loki were either a post-Christian figment or reviled in the pagan days of Scandinavia.
Let’s start with the people whose names appear to include Loki’s name. Axel Olrik, in his essay Loke in Younger Tradition, writes this:
“There is one thing that might surprise people who bear Loke from the ancient myths in mind…people actually have been named Loke or Lokke: Among the Norsemen in Northumberland in the 12th century, there was a man called Locchi. In Scandia, Lokkethorp (now Lockarp) was named after a man with a similar name. In Småland, Locke has been preserved as a hereditary surname. On a rune stone in Uppland, the name “Luki” (Loki?, Lokki?) appears…From Norway we know a settler called Þórbjørn loki, and a birkjebein called Þórðr loki.” (4)
Generally speaking Olrik makes the argument that regionally there may have been elemental or other supernatural spirits referred to with names deriving from Loki. Despite expressing the belief that these names likely refer to these spirits rather than the god, he does offer some thought to the contrary:
“In favour of the regard of the personal name as naming after the god Loke, we can mention, that contemporary with the birkjebein Þórðr loki, there lived a man called Auðunn býleistr (named after Loke’s brother). But if there is any connection between the two names (the form Loki isn’t quite certain here), it could be due to the fact that the nickname býleistr (he who is similar to or worse than Loke) was given to an opponent, just because the birkjebeins didn’t know the origin of the name.” (5)
In addition to this, the most common alternate name for Loki, Lopt, appears to show up in a very interesting place: the surname of Snorri Sturluson’s own foster-father. Jón Loptsson (6) was the son of Loptr Sæmundsson, who was born in the twelfth century. (7)
Due to the lateness of this name it cannot, in itself, be cited as evidence of naming conventions honoring Loki (this was more than a hundred years after the conversion of Norway, where he appears to have been born) it may well indicate that Lopt or Loptr may have had some history of use in Norwegian naming conventions. This is noteworthy given the name’s relative proximity to the official conversion of Scandinavia, as this would have been only about two generations removed from the official conversion and within a reasonable time span that we might expect to still find pockets of old worship.
Olrik also notes several place names that appear to be associated with Loki, in particular Lockbol or Lukabol, and Lockesta or Locastum. Unfortunately I’ve been unable to locate further information about these locations outside of Olrik’s references, but if anyone has any leads on these places I would love to hear them. There is one location I’ve been able to identify with more certainty, however, whose name bears a striking resemblance to Loki: Lokkafelli.
Lokkafelli is described as a point on Eysturoy, or “East Island,” in the Faroe Islands. It sits at an elevation of 281 meters above sea level and…that’s about all the information there is to be found about Lokkafelli. Even pictures are hard to come by. Nonetheless, paired with the fact that Loka Táttur, one of the most favorable of the tales about Loki, originates from the Faroe Islands, the apparent inclusion of Loki in a place-name is intriguing. Unfortunately the Loka Táttur is thought to date to the late middle ages, at least 300 years after the Islands were officially and forcibly Christianized. This does not, of course, mean that the ballad is not a remnant of an older tradition, but if that tradition existed we have no further information about it.
On that note, let’s turn to the written sources. Despite the heavy Christian influence of many of these sources, it is possible to glean information about old pagan beliefs from them with critical analysis, and there is no figure in Norse mythology more closely scrutinized than Loki.
One interesting piece of textual evidence to consider is Lóðurr. Lóðurr is an interesting figure who is identified in Völuspá as playing a role in the creation of man alongside Odin and Hœnir. He is said to have given the first men either blood or flesh (the translation is a bit troublesome) along with the color or hues of their skin. Aside from this, however, Lóðurr is only mentioned in original sources two other times: in Háleygjatal and Íslendingadrápa Odin is referred to as “Lóðurr’s friend.” The inscription logaþore / wodan / wigiþonar has been brought into discussions of Lóðurr as well, for while the second two names in this inscription have been cleanly identified as Odin and Thor, the first remain is elusive, and both Lóðurr and Loki have been proposed as possible translations. (8)
The reason this is important and intriguing is because, as some readers may already know, Lóðurr is sometimes identified as Loki. Cawley addresses this in his essay The Figure of Loki in Germanic Folklore, where he highlights an apparent “parallel with Loki and Lóðurr, which seems to be a byname of Loki in some Old Norse sources. This is corroborated by evidence from Germany in the name Logaþore on the Nordendrof brooch.” (9)
The identification of Loki with Lóðurr was proposed by Ursula Dronke in The Poetic Edda: Volume II: Mythological Poems. She argued that the occurrence of Odin, Hœnir, and Loki as a trio in the skaldic poem Haustlöng, the introduction of Reginsmál, and Loka Táttur establishes a sound basis for identifying Lóðurr, also paired with Odin and Hœnir, as Loki, and that the kenning “ Lóðurr’s friend” for Odin reinforces this interpretation. (10)
This is particularly important for those who work with and honor Loki, as his positive contribution to this creation myth flies in stark contrast to the depiction of Loki as a devilish or malicious figure. Here, under the name Lóðurr, he is credited for making a direct and vital contribution to the origin of man. This aligns him just as clearly with the forces of creation as his involvement in Ragnarok align him with forces of destruction.
Though in and of itself, this piece of evidence isn’t proof positive of historic cultic worship, it undercuts the narrative which poses Loki as a definitive enemy of the gods and of humanity. Loki has never been a definitive enemy of the gods, as is proved time and again in the Eddas, and here he is not only not an enemy of humanity, but part of the divine trio which gave humanity life. Historically and in religious traditions worldwide, such myths are typically associated with deities who are recipients of cultic worship. Even Prometheus, the Titan credited for creating humanity in Greek mythology and bound for giving humans fire—a figure Loki as often compared to and identified with—had some degree of cultic worship in Athens. (11)(12)
Another interesting piece of textual evidence comes from Saxo Grammaticus, who was writing in the same time period as Sturluson. In the eighth book of his Gesta Danorum, he records the story of a king named Gorm who worships a giant by the name of Útgarða-Loki. Though this name should in theory identify a giant known from Gylfaginning, in which he challenges Loki, Thjalfi, and Thor to a series of impossible challenges. However, the description of Útgarða-Loki’s “dwelling” in Gesta Danorum bears a striking resemblance not to the Útgarða-Loki of Gylfaginning, but rather to Loki after his binding by the Æsir:
“Then he made others bear a light before him, and stooped his body through the narrow jaws of the cavern, where he beheld a number of iron seats among a swarm of gliding serpents…a foul and gloomy room was disclosed to the visitors, wherein they saw Utgarda-Loki, laden hand and foot with enormous chains. Each of his reeking hairs was as large and stiff as a spear of cornel. Thorkill (his companions lending a hand), in order that his deeds might gain more credit, plucked one of these from the chin of Utgarda-Loki, who suffered it.” (13)
Útgarða-Loki is here depicted chained in a cave, paralleling Loki’s binding, and there are described to be venomous snakes nearby, evoking the image of the serpent fastened by Skadi above Loki’s head. The only detail here that doesn’t parallel Loki’s imprisonment is the attachment of “Útgarða,” a word meaning means “outside” or “outyard.” This means Útgarða-Loki is “Outsider Loki.” This distinguishes the giant of Gylfaginning from Loki, who is counted among the Æsir and therefor is an “insider,” while the other giant is an “outsider.” In Gesta Danorum, Útgarða-Loki could be interpreted be a Loki post-binding, who has been cast out from Asgard and thus rendered outsider or Útgarða.
If this is indeed Loki, it is important because this tale describes him receiving worship in the form of devotion, offerings, and prayers. The king Gorm is depicted making offerings and praying to Útgarða-Loki to smooth a disastrous passage by sea, and this succeeds. When the character of Thorkill brings him news of Útgarða-Loki and the chin hair he plucked from the giant’s chin, Útgarða-Loki is referred to as the king’s “own god” for whom he was “zealous” in his worship.
Gesta Danorum is generally considered as depicting, to some degree, Scandinavian history, and in particular the history of Denmark. Given that archaeological artifacts potentially pointing to the worship of Loki have predominantly been found in Denmark and southern Norway, this is notable. These items taken together could indicate that there was localized cultic worship centered around Loki in the pre-Christian era.
With the archaeological evidence and literary evidence taken together, what we have in favor of the worship of Loki is significant, if not definitive. On this front, Loki has confounded historians and scholars just as much as he has confounded them with regards to his basic nature and role in the Nordic pantheon and cosmology.
If I’ve taken anything from this portion of my studies, I find it unlikely that Loki received no worship in pagan Scandinavia, though perhaps it was limited and localized. What I do find likely is that Loki has always been and always will be an enigmatic figure, ever eluding definition. This seems just as much an aspect of Loki himself as his trickster aspect, his connection to fire, his gender-fluidity and pansexuality—it seems a vital core of Loki’s essence and being, and is certainly one of the things that draw so many people to his altar.
(1)Cerbing, M., Lend, K., & Niemi, A. R. (2016). Arkeologiska urgrävningar av båtgravnar och gravhögar, Bitterstad, Hadsel kommune, Nordland [PDF]. Trosmø: Norges Arktiske Universitet. p.p.72
(2)Cerbing. p.p. 86
(3)Madsen, Hans Jørgen (1990). “The god Loki from Snaptun”. Oldtidens Ansigt: Faces of the Past. Det kongelige Nordiske Oldskriftselskab.
(4) Olrik, A. (1908). Loke i Nyere Folkeoverlevering (917288899 720864290 A. Eli, Trans.). Danmarks Folkeminder. p.p 15.
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.
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.
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 Jörmungandr 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)
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.
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.
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)
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)
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.