The Values of Rökkatru: Part 2

Before I get too far into this, check it out! I did an interview on Rökkatru for Talking My Path by Rebecca Buchanan, who happens to have been the first person to have ever given me a shot at this publication thing. Pretty neat!

Now, to get back to it! In my last post on the values of Rökkatru, I introduced some of the values as embodied by the gods and interpretations of them and their stories. I’ll do the same here, but without the preamble — let’s jump right in.

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My vision of Sigyn

 

Sigyn is best known for being the wife of Loki and the mother of his children Narvi (also rendered “Narfi”) and Vali. She lost her sons when one was turned into a wolf to kill the other. After, she stayed by her imprisoned husband’s side, holding a simple bowl above his head to capture the venom that dripped from a snake tied above him.

This minimal suriving lore leads to the most common interpretation of Sigyn as being a goddess of loyalty and fidelty. As a result, Sigyn’s value or lesson is most often attributed as loyalty, and is expanded upon to highlight the importance of standing by those you love when they are cast out or pushed out.

However, other scraps of lost lore, such as the meaning of her name (alternately interpreted as “victory woman” or “friend of victory”) and the kenning “Incantation Fetter,” we can clearly see that there was so much more to this goddess than has survived into the modern era. Looking to kennings she has received from modern practicioners, including such names as “Balm for the Broken,” “Safe Harbor for the Heart,” and “Lady of Unyielding Gentleness,” we can see a very common theme of how she is understood among her adherents. According to the UPG/PVPG of many in the Rökkatru community, Sigyn offers en encompassing comfort to those who have been wounded and/or ostracized. For this reason I would propose that she additionally embodies the values of compassion and empathy.

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Surt is a fire jötunn from Muspelheim, who is fated to kill Freyr during Ragnarok. The historian Rudolf Simek has proposed that Surt is an embodiment of eruptive volcanic force, something which doevtails well with the interpretation of the jötnar as nature spirits as well with the fact that Eddas were written in Iceland, which hosts quite a lot of volcanic activity.

Surt is yet another for whom not much has been recorded, but according to Gylfaginning, Vafþrúðnismál, and Völuspá, Surt will lay waste to the earth with a flaming sword before the whole mess is swallowed by the sea. For this reason he has also been associated in the Rökkatru community with wildfires.

Volcanoes, wildfires, and the spirit of fire generally is nothing if not overbearingly intense. Surt’s actions in Ragnarok certainly mirror this intensity, and it is for this reason that the value attributed to him is simply that of intensity—pouring your whole heart and soul into what you are doing, and never half-assing a thing.

 

Jord is a jötunn woman who embodies the earth. She is the mother of Thor and is referred to in Gylfaginning as the daughter of Nótt and Anarr. Because she plays no role in the myths and we have no surviving lore about her outside of these tiny scraps, some scholars think she likely wasn’t honored or considered literal and personified in her own right. Some scholars believe it is very unlikely that Jord was recipient of worship in the past, but more represented the general concept of the earth.

Nonetheless, this has not prevented modern practicioners from honoring her and learning from her. As the embodiment of the earth upon which we live, many Rökkatru have come to see her as representing the value of nature or the value of reverence for nature. For Rökkatru, many of whom are keenly in tune with the damage that humanity has done to the planet, this value is of the utmost importance in the age of climate change.

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Nidhogg is best known for being the dragon coiled among the roots of Yggdrasil, ever gnawing upon its roots. Though this is recounted in Grímnismál as a terrible evil suffered by Yggdrasil, along with the rotting of its trunk and eating of its leaves by a group of harts, it is often interupted more as form of therapuetic exfoliation by Rökkatru—in essence, Nidhogg is seen as that which consumes the dead substances which erode from the surface of the world tree.

In Völuspá Nidhogg is also noted as presiding over an underworld called Náströnd, but due to the nature of this underworld as being overtly concerned with moral reprecussion, especially for crimes such as adultry and falsehood, scholars have highlighted this as a possible Christian revision. Nonetheless, this has, in addition to the aforementioned interpretation of Nidhogg’s chewing on the roots of Yggdrasil, has contributed to Nidhogg’s value being understood as recycling.

I might pose a rephrasing of this value to better reflect the nature of Nidhogg in these interpretations of the dragon, and to accommodate our cultural understanding of the word “recycling.” Rather than recycling I might rather describe Nidhogg’s value as the value of decay. All things must decay, even stone which is eroded from mountain ranges into sand. Leaves which fall in autumn decay back into earth, returning nutrients to the soil and providing habitat for insects in the meantime. All creatures which die are consumed by bacteria, fungi, insects, and scavengers of all variteies. Entire ecosystems have decay at their foundation, and though it may not always be pretty to look at, it is important to remember its value.

 

Gerd is best known for being the jötunn wife of the Vanir god Freyr, and is often called the Lady of the Walled Garden. She’s only known from the story of Freyr’s pursuit of her, in which he sends his friend and servant Skírnir to woo Gerd on his behalf. Though she resists repeatedly, she eventually succumbs to Skírnir’s threats and agrees to marry Freyr.

Because Gerd eventually married Freyr, effectively making peace with him and by extension his people, her value has sometime been attributed as that of frithmaking, essentially the concept of making peace and “building bridges” rather than making war.

Based on the UPG/PVPG many have experienced with her, however, she may represent different values to different people. Somewhat ironically I’ve heard multiple women report having good luck seeking counsil and aid from Gerd with regards to stalkers and abusers. Many others associate her more strongly with the walled garden of her name than with the story of her marriage to Frey (myself being among them). Given this her values could just as easily be that of farming and permaculture, especially as a goddess associated with fertile soil (according to commonly accepted scholarly interpretations of the story of her marriage to Freyr) and through this potentially connected to Jord (community gardens and farms which focus on sustainability are one avenue for communities and individuals to address climate change). She could also easily embody the value of survival—sometimes frithmaking is less about building bridges and more about living to fight another day.

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Skadi is one goddess who not all Rökkatru agree upon. Because she is known for having made peace with the Æsir, marrying (and eventually divorcing) Njordr and taking up a hall in Asgard. It is often assumed that this means she has sided with the Æsir during Ragnarok, though this is not attested to in any surviving lore.

Some Rökkatru reject Skadi for these reasons, while others still accept her due to her jötunn nature. Nonetheless, she is still sometimes has the value of self reliance attributed to her as a Rökkatru value, and certainly this is something many in the community value deeply.

Self reliance is attrributed to Skadi as a value due to the nature of her story: when her father was killed by the Æsir she marched into Asgard to challenge them for the loss, taking control of the situation and her life in doing so, and winning a place for herself among the Æsir in the process, thereby exercising absolute autonomy over the direction of her life from thereon out.

Mabon with a Rökkatru Flair

As we cycle our way through the harvest season, we move on to Mabon, the holiday marking the middle of the harvest cycle. Traditionally this is a feasting, reaping, and thanking mother earth, and often include foods such as apples, root vegetables, squash, and pomegranates.

Last time we celebrated Jord as the Fertile Earth and Angrboda as the Mother of Monsters. Now, as we move through the harvest season, it seems only fit to turn our eyes to Gerd, wife of Freyr and goddess of the Walled Garden.

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Much like Jord, Gerd is closely associated with the earth. She is theorized by many scholars to represent the frozen soil in the myth of her “courtship” by Freyr (which looks a lot more like a coercion to our eyes, of course) while Freyr is theorized to here symbolize the return of the summer sun’s fertility. The heat of the sun, therefore, warms the frozen earth and brings her back to a state of fertility.
Gerd is associated with the earth and soil in a much different way than Jord, however. While Jord represents a more generalized version of Earth — in her fullness, roundness, and original wild state — Gerd is more closely associated with the soil of farms and gardens. She has been called the Lady of the Walled Garden, and for many has a strong association with cultivated herbs in particular. I myself had a lovely altar set up to her in my garden at my old residence, where she oversaw my strawberry patch, huckleberries, kale, tomatoes, green onions, and a fig tree.
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Given this background, it seems only appropriate to honor Gerd this Mabon day. As with the other holidays, I recommend doing a small ritual or blot to go with whatever other traditions you might hold. Additionally, if you have the space and ability to do so, dedicating a small patch of earth or even some windowsill planting pots to Gerd makes a good devotional gift.
If you are able, holding your ritual or blot in a place where you touch the earth is ideal. Bringing Gerd an offering of a share of the day’s feast as well as a serving of mead or wine can serve as the central focus of this ritual. If possible, sourcing this meal from local farmers via a farmer’s market is ideal — not only does it support independent, local agriculture, these farms are often more sustainable than those that produce the food bought in your average grocery store. Both of these elements are good and viable ways of honoring Gerd. And, because Gerd is wed to Freyr but not often seen as having aligned with either Æsir or the Vanir yet isn’t often paid much heed by those honoring the jötnar either, taking this time to acknowledge her jötunn nature and blood might be especially courteous and powerful.
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Even those of us who honor the old, primal gods of nature have come a long, long ways away from the the wilderness and the close relationship with nature that our ancestors had. Meditating on Gerd’s jötunn nature as a goddess of gardens and horticulture can provide an interesting look into the transitional areas between the primeval and society: how and where the wild can be tamed or befriended for mutual benefit, and ways in which “darker” and wilder forces creep in and encroach upon spaces we might otherwise think of as light and tame. Perhaps this is one of Gerd’s mysteries — the value and necessity of this mingling, something I think many Rökkatru can attest to and appreciate.
As always, I am interested to hear how your Mabon goes, especially if you try out these ideas for centering your celebrations around Gerd. If you try something else or have other ideas for how to adapt Mabon to Rökkatru, feel free to comment and let me know.
Skål.

Responding to the Crisis in the Amazon

As we hopefully all know right now, the Amazon Rainforest is burning. The vast majority of the fires have been set intentionally. Some of them were set legally, others illegally. All of the fires were made easier, if not possible, by the regressive environmental policies of Brazil’s president Bolsonaro. The fires are not only a serious threat to our already deeply imperiled environment, they are a direct threat to the indigenous populations who call the Amazon home and who have been fighting for so long to protect that home. These fires are being set with the full knowledge of the threat they pose to the people who live there, and is nothing short of a genocidal tactic being used against populations who have been struggling to defend their rights against colonization and capitalistic greed for so long.

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Within pagan and witchcraft communities, people who are distraught and feel powerless to help have been creating and sharing spells designed to send healing to the Amazon. I am not a huge believer in the power of magic on its own, though I believe that magic can be a powerful tool for reinforcing or strengthening some other action you are taking in the world.

For myself, I have started a monthly donation to both the Rainforest Action Network and  the Rainforest Trust. Another wonderful organization to support is Amazon Watch, which works with indigenous people to protect the rainforest. I made my donations in Jord’s name, a earth jötunn mother of Thor. I also evoked her in the small ritual spell I did tonight, and will do for the following two nights, and invite you to join me in doing.

My spell is a modification of one I saw drifting around Facebook. The original called for a bowl of water, a candle, and a piece of agate, quartz, or palo santo. Though I happened to have a piece of palo santo given to me by a friend, I strongly recommend against buying palo santo due to its endangered status, which is directly linked to over-harvesting. I also brought along with me a sterile lancet and biodegradable tissue, a bottle of wine, some fancy salt, and a beer — to make offerings to those I called on.

My spell goes as follows, but feel free to make any modifications that will help you perform the spell successfully:

Sit on the earth. Light the candle before you, and dig a hole between you and the candle. As you begin to speak, hold the [agate/quartz/palo santo] in the flame.

“I call on Angrboda, whose spirit is wild, to oversee and lend power to these workings.”

Pour offering of wine into the hole.

“I call on Jord, who is the fertile earth herself, to accept and manifest this healing.”

Sprinkle offering of salt into the hole.

“I call on Freyr of the Vanir, the god who wields the rains, to bring his gift of rain, to the Amazon that burns.”

Use sterile lancet to draw blood from a finger, dab it up with the tissue and drop this into the hole followed by a healthy pour of beer.

As you speak the next bit, douse the burnt end of the [agate/quartz/palo santo] in the bowl of water.

“I implore these powers, hear our cries.”

Pick up the bowl, and as you speak the next bit, dip your finger in the water and sprinkle it on the candle.

“Bring down the rains to drown the flames burning through our lungs.”

If the candle was not spattered out, blow it out now.

Offer gratitude and bid farewell to those you have evoked, in whatever way works best for your practice.

The Values of Rökkatru: Part 1

What exactly the values of Rökkatru are tend to be defined by how people understand and experience the Rökkr themselves, and yet there are general ideas about what these values are that seem to be more or less agreed upon. What this means is that Rökkatru read and analyze the lore, and take what they learn from this together with what they’ve learned from their personal spiritual experiences with the Rökkr, as well as common shared personal gnosis, to form an idea of what value or “lesson” each entity in the Rökkr pantheon teaches.

This is part of the reason why defining the pantheon itself—who is included and who isn’t—is an important question. Regardless of whether or not that question has been properly answered (given that depending on who you ask some entities may or may not on the list of Rökkr), we can look at the values that individual Rökkr are generally considered to teach, especially the ones that have been written of. It is also feasible from this starting point to begin analyzing the lore around other entities whose values may not have been explored or defined yet, as well as meditating, journeying, and divining to learn more about these beings and what they represent.

Let’s begin first with those beings that are consistently counted among the Rökkr, and take a look at what their values are generally considered to be:

Loki is in many ways considered the “father” of the Rökkr pantheon, given that he fathered Fenrir, Hela, and Jörmungandr with Angrboda. It is his family that clearly makes up the core Rökkr pantheon, and as a result he holds a place of prominence and importance among to Rökkatru.

Though outside of the Rökkatru and Lokean communities Loki is often known as a liar due to his nature as a trickster, within the communities which hail him it is this very nature that lends to him being associated with the value of self-knowledge. Through his stories harsh truths are often faced or stated, often unwillingly. This isn’t something that Loki only does to others, as seen in Lokasenna. It is something that Loki often undergoes in the stories himself, when he is forced to own up to mistakes he’s made or tricks he’s played and fix them.

In addition to this, many Rökkatru and Lokeans describe a relationship with Loki that demands that they be honest with themselves. Honesty with the self is often described as being a precursor to being able to speak hard truths to others. For this reason, a lot of people will describe this value not as self-knowledge, but as self-truth or self-honesty.

Angrboda can be considered the “mother” of the Rökkr in the same way that Loki can be considered the father. In some ways she may considered as even more deeply rooted in the Rökkr pantheon than Loki: to the best of our knowledge she has never lived among the Æsir and her only tie to them is through Loki, who has made a home among them. She is jötunn through and through.

Very little is known about Angrboda from the lore. She is believed by many to be the volva from Voluspa and is known as the mother of Loki’s monstrous children, but there isn’t much else to go off of. She is a jötunn, however, and the lore makes very clear that the jötnar are an incredibly diverse lot: they are described in all manner of shapes, forms, and sizes. There doesn’t seem to be one single idea of what a jötunn must look like.

Beyond the little that we know from the lore, in modern practice many people associate Angrboda with strength and leadership, particularly in often being viewed as a powerful figure among the jötnar of the Ironwood. This is drawn not only from scholarly inferences and extrapolations (from mentions of an unnamed jötunn woman in Járnvid or the Ironwood in both Voluspa as well as Gylfaginning) but is also informed by Unverified Personal Gnosis (UPG) and Peer or Community Verified Personal Gnosis (PVPG / CVPG).

Due to this association not only of Angrboda as a mother of Rökkr but also as a chief or leader among the jötnar, she is strongly associated with diversity (recall how diverse in shape and form the jötnar are). It is due to this that her value is so often considered to be diversity, and unconditional acceptance of that diversity. On the Northern Tradition Paganism website it is stated that, “Being close to Nature, [the jötnar] understand that diversity is survival and strength, while homogeneity is inevitable weakness.” This is something we do see in nature: homogeneity is often related to genetic bottlenecks, which can be linked to weakened immunity and increases in genetic mishaps that result in overall negatively impacted health.

Given that the jötnar are so closely tied with nature and are represented so diversely, it only makes sense that they should be associated with diversity and the strength. Because Angrboda is often recognized as a very prominent jötnar, it is equally logical that she should be seen as carrying that value of diversity.

I might add that values of acceptance and community would be closely tied with that of diversity, not only because of how we see these three values interconnecting in our world but also because of Angrboda’s assumed position within a community of such diverse entities that are welcomed and accepted no matter their shape, color, or presentatation.

Fenrir is perhaps the most demonized and disdained of Angrboda and Loki’s children. A monstrously sized wolf, he is prophesied to devour Odin at Ragnarok, and otherwise wreak havoc and destruction at this time. It is for this reason that he is bound by the Æsir, during which Tyr sacrificed his hand to Fenrir as a means of gaining Fenrir’s cooperation in their “game.”

Due to this prophecy, which is referred to several times throughout the Eddas, Fenrir is primarily associated with destruction and forces of destruction. This is sometimes generalized to include unbridled chaos and even rage or anger. As such, Fenrir is associated with all those things that we dislike, try to avoid, and in our own selves try to repress or cut out of ourselves.

Because of this Fenrir has become very closely associated with the concept of the shadow or shadow self. This concept originates with Jung’s archetypes, and, simply put, represents the idea that there are parts of ourselves that we want to shut away and not acknowledge, typically the parts of us that are not considered societally acceptable—the parts of ourselves that are violent, sexual, crude, vulgar.

So Fenrir’s value or rule has come to be shadow, or, more specifically, acknowledging and honoring the shadow. This is closely linked with Loki’s values, as one much first be honest with one’s self and know one’s self before they can truly learn to accept, be at peace with, work with, and honor your shadow.

Hela is the goddess of one of Heathenry’s underwolds/afterlives. She rules over Hel (the place with which she shares a name), the realm where those who die of old age, illness, etc. go to reside after death. (As an aside: Huginn’s Heathen Hoff has featured a lovely blog post about how the Heathen afterlife is much more complex than is often realized).

Obviously Hela is most strongly linked with death. In the lore her most prominent presence is in the myth of Baldr’s death, and beyond this there is little else recorded about her beside her notable appearance and her relationship to Angrboda and Loki.

Death’s vision is much different than that of life—it sees what may be overlooked or even unseeable by life, it sees farther than any life can stretch, and in itself is both a truly neutral and truly equalizing force. Think of the Rider Waite Death Card: even kings and popes must come to Death’s door eventually, just as must all others. Because of these factors, Hela’s value has come to be known as vision or perspective.

 

Jörmungandr is the giant serpent prophesied to kill Thor during Ragnarok, just as Fenrir is prophesied to kill Odin. The perpetual enemy of Thor and child of Angrboda and Loki, Jörmungandr was said to live in the oceans of Midgard (our world) and to have grown so long that his body could coil around the earth.

Jörmungandr is a creature of the in-between, born of Jötunheim but cast to Midgard. The serpent is also felt by some (in UPG/PVPG) to be of ambiguous gender. Snakes have also historically often been associated with death and rebirth due to the shedding of their skins—things which live on the edge of human consciousness and are associated with transition.

These things lend well to defining Jörmungandr’s as liminality. Liminal times and places are often associated with great spiritual and magical power in many European traditions. Translated into more mundane times and places, when humans find themselves in spaces that are liminal they often also find that they places are horribly uncomfortable—and can be periods of some of our most intense growth, depending upon the individuals and circumstances involved. The value of liminality here may be a reminder that these difficult and uncomfortable spaces can be acknowledged, accepted, and valued, respected, and even productively worked with, much in the way that Fenrir reminds us to approach the shadow.

Lammas — Rökkatru Style

Traditionally Lammas or Lughnassad are celebrations of the beginning of harvest. In Norse paganism there is a correlation to the holiday Freyfaxi or Freyr’s Feast, similarly associated with the fertility of the earth and its bounty.

For those of us walking the Rökkatru path, however, Freyfaxi isn’t quite our flavor. We may want to celebrate Lammas/Lughnassad, but how can we celebrate this traditionally Anglo-Saxon/Celtic holiday in a way which honors our particular path?

My initial thought was to honor deities of death during this season of reaping—Hela who gathers the dead or Skadi who fells her prey. But, though it may seem a bit cliché, I couldn’t help but think that Samhain, the final of the harvest festivals and the holiday most directly and clearly associated with death and the dead, is a more appropriate holiday to honor Hela. Meanwhile Skadi is a distinctly winter goddess.

One important aspect of Lammas which underlies the celebration of the beginning harvest is the fertility of the earth itself, something often associated with mother goddesses. When thinking of mother goddesses within Rökkatru or who align with Rökkatru, two primary deities come to mind:

Jord and Angrboda.

Jord is a jötunn woman who embodies the earth. She is the mother of Thor and is referred to in Gylfaginning as the daughter of Nótt and Anarr. Because she plays no role in the myths and we have no surviving lore about her outside of these tiny scraps, some scholars think she likely wasn’t honored or considered literal and personified in her own right. As is written over at Norse Mythology for Smart People, “’Earth’ here seems to be more of a general concept than a discrete figure.” (1) These are the only hard facts that we know about her. Anything else is conjecture or unverified personal gnosis/peer verified personal gnosis.

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Statue titled Moder Jord (Mother Earth) photographed by Alexander Henning Drachmann.

Because there isn’t much known about Jord, and because she could well have been considered a general concept rather than a specific entity (though as a hard-core animist I would argue that even “Earth” as a general idea or concept still has a spirit to be honored) we have a lot of room to get creative in how to honor her. There are many symbolic associations which already exist to draw from in creating a small Lammas blót in honor of Jord: salt is often associated with earth, as in “salt of the earth,” as are the colors green, brown, black, and yellow.

A small blót for Jord on Lammas can be quite simple—with as much or as little extravagance as you desire, you can set up a ritual place incorporating earth symbolism picked up from other places or that is personal to you to create a space in which to make an offering. If you are lucky enough to have the space put offerings directly on the earth, fantastic! Given the spirit of the season, if you are able to get yours hands on a sheath of wheat, or even just a few stalks, giving this to the earth as well as sliced apples and a healthy pour of wine or mead would make a perfect offering to Jord this Lammas.

In honoring the fertility of mother deities during this season of harvest and plenty, now would also be a prime opportunity to honor the mother aspect of Angrboda.

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

Though she is most often known as a dangerous feminine figure, associated with prophecy, witchcraft, and wolves, she is a notably fertile figure in the Jotunheim: by Loki she is the mother of Fenrir, Jormungandr, and Hela. In many ways she is the mother of the Rökkatru pantheon, so honoring the wild and unbridled fertility of the Mother of Monsters on this day celebrating fertility seems only fitting.

Given that Angrboda is such a prominent, important figure among the Rökkr, a larger or more focused ritual in her honor seems worth investing the time and energy in. Offerings to her on this day don’t necessarily need to be so different from those offered to Jord—in the spirit of the season a sheath of wheat, apples (perhaps spiced and baked or otherwise prepared and endowed with your focus and energy), and wine, beer, or mead are suitable offerings. In addition, however, meat is always a worthy offering for Angrboda of the Wolves.

Lammas is a time for doing astrology, and because Angrboda is a goddess associated with prophecy (often the völva in Voluspa is believed to be Angrboda) this could be something that you work into a ritual for Her on this day. Feasibly astrology could be used as a framework for designing a ritual for Angrboda—offerings could be made, candles or a fire lit in her honor, her names ritually spoken, perhaps even a divination session could be held. Whatever shape your ritual takes is up to you, but in my experience with Angrboda it is good to make sure you are being deliberate, thoughtful, reflective, and checking your baggage at the door.

I would be delighted to hear of any Rökkatru rituals any of you lovelies undertake this season! Feel free to let me know in the comments if you have any alternate ideas about how to celebrate this holiday in an especially Rökkatru fashion, or any alterations or inspirations you may have based on the ideas shared here.

And most importantly, have a blessed Lammas.

Skål.

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

Who are the Rökkr?

The easiest answer to the question “Who are the Rökkr?” is that they are a subgroup of jötnar that have been highlighted by devotees and practitioners as occupying a special or important role, particularly roles associated with the darker sides of the natural order (decay, death, chaos, etc.) So let’s start with the jötnar (singular: jötunn).

The jötnar are a class or delineation of entity in the Norse pantheon. They are often, though not always, described in strange and fantastical ways—sometimes monstrous and sometimes beautiful, but almost always primal. They are so frequently associated with primal energies and natural forces that many, including myself, believe they are a remnant of an older, animistic hunter-gatherer religion which arose in a pre-agricultural Scandinavia, much as the Titans of the Greek pantheon have been viewed.

There is some debate about whether or not the jötnar can be considered gods. A few are listed by Snorri Sturluson among the gods, but godhood according to Snorri’s Edda is almost exclusively reserved for the Æsir and Vanir. Notable exceptions to this are Skadi and Gerdr—both female jötnar who gained a place among the Æsir, and both scenarios involved marriage to Vanir who were already considered to be gods.

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Jötnar are most often called “giants” in English, but the word has also been translated at “trolls,” “etins,” and more. Painting by John Bauer.

The debate about what exactly constitutes a god is one that is quite a bit above my pay grade, but I do believe that there is sufficient evidence in comparing and contrasting Germanic mythological forms not only with the Greek but also with the myths of the Babylonians, Hittites, and Phoenicians (all of which preserve in their mythologies the existence of older, more primal gods being subverted by newer pantheons1) to believe that the jötnar are older, primal deities. The mythology we have inherited is fragmentary at best, having been collected into a written format only after Scandinavia had begun converting. The myths themselves often seem to refer to other stories which are entirely unknown. This doesn’t even take into account the sheer length of time people have occupied Scandinavia and the long evolution of the religious practices the first people in Scandinavia brought with them, as well as the co-mingling and evolution of religions brought by subsequent immigrants into the area. Given all of this, I tend to err on the side of believing that the jötnar were once gods, and that the passage of time and the erosion of their myths and legends doesn’t change that.

There are too many jötnar to list here, though I am in the process of compiling a list of jötnar mentioned in the Eddas and sagas as well as their associations and what is known about them. This list will be shared when it is completed in a post of its own, so hopefully it will suffice for now to say that there are many of them. They show up in the myths wearing many different shapes and forms, some more and some less human, and they show up with all variety of morality and motivation. As a group they seem largely amoral, something which fits in nicely with the interpretation of the jötnar as nature deities/spirits. Individual jötnar are known to behave in ways that are more antagonistic toward the Æsir while others, such as Gerdr and Skadi, actively make peaceful alliances with the Æsir.

Within the ranks of the jötnar are the Rökkr. Which deities do and do not fit into this list is up to interpretation, as Rökkr is not a sub-pantheon defined by the old myths in the same way that Vanir or Æsir are. Rökkr is a new delineation conceptualized by modern practitioners, and what precisely defines the boundaries of what makes an entity Rökkr or not is, as is much of Rökkatru, in flux due to its newness. Generally though, there are certain deities which are consistently named among the Rökkr:

  • Loki
  • Angrboda
  • Fenrir
  • Hel/Hela
  • Jörmungandr

Also frequently listed among the Rökkr are:

  • Sigyn
  • Surt
  • Nidhogg
  • Skadi
  • The Nine Sisters/Undines of the Sea
  • Rind

This is not an exhaustive list of which deities do and do not fit into the definition of Rökkr, but it is a starting place to begin getting to know what Rökkatru is all about. Each of these deities carries with them particular lessons and values that are important to Rökkatru and the communities that Rökkatru practitioners are developing. This is a list that we will look at more thoroughly later, and will very likely be expand on as well.

Next time, we’ll take a look at what the values of Rökkatru are.

Skål.

1 Burkert, Walter. The Orientalizing Revolution: Near Eastern Influence on Greek Culture in the Early Archaic Age (Revealing Antiquity). Harvard University Press: Cambridge, 1995. Print. Pgs 94-95.

Why I Work With Deity-Class Spirits

Within the American Heathen community, there seems to be a consensus that the gods are the ones that you go to last. First, you are supposed to develop a relationship with your ancestors, then with the wights of the land and the wights of the home, and then, finally – if necessary – with the gods themselves.

I’ve always found this a bit problematic, as I don’t easily connect with spirits that aren’t deity-class spirits. I actually find it a bit depressing, sometimes, since I have such a difficult time connecting with ancestral spirits and with the wights around me. Then I feel bad about getting depressed. After all, I have what so many other people seem to want – the ability to communicate fairly easily with the gods.

I did not start out with that ability – it is one that I eventually developed as I grew more and more into the Pagan world and mindset and left the monotheistic worldview behind. It took a lot of work for me, as I grew up in the middle of the Bible Belt, and I had a lot of trauma associated with the Christian god – namely, that despite my avid belief and worship of him as a young child wasn’t enough for him to ever step forward into my world and answer the prayers I leveled at him for the situation I had to deal with at home. He was yet another example of someone who abandoned me for no discernible reason.

That took a few years to unravel in my mind, and then I also had to start reading up on polytheism itself to begin to comprehend how the universe could be structured if there wasn’t a single god at its helm. That was rather difficult for me, as my mind kept coming back to this realization that there had to be something at the source, something that generated everything.

Reading mythology really helped me come to understand that the “something” I was perceiving was the Primordial Ocean, that which existed before creation. It is, in different religions, also referred to as the Abyss, the Ginnungap, Chaos, or the Void. No matter which religion’s mythology I examined, I always found the First Principle to be the same – life emerged from the Primordial Ocean, the Universal Matrix that existed before creation itself occurred.

That helped resolve the fact that things always seemed to go back to one, but that one gave rise to a plurality, and the gods were a part of that plurality. That, to me, doesn’t make the gods simply one being, as they were generated by the Primordial Ocean. Like children who are born to parents are not, in fact, just their parents with a different face on, I do not view the gods as being the Primordial Ocean personified in an infinite number of guises.

I see the gods as holding the powers of creation that gave rise to them, but not as that which created them. That means I can view the gods as separate, individual entities who have agency and plans of their own, rather than stepping back into a monotheistic worldview that sees the gods as nothing more than a divided part of the Primordial Ocean.

Once I was able to perceive the gods as separate entities of their own, with their own desires and goals, then I started to hear and see them around me. It was like, just reaching the realization that the gods themselves were individual beings opened the doorway for me to be able to communicate with them. Once that happened, the Norse gods were the first to show up in my life, and they are the ones who have been with me ever since.

I think it’s important, however, to note that as a child, when I still firmly believed in the Christian god, I had no trouble communicating with him. I very much knew he was real, and I talked to him regularly. I have never, in my entire life, doubted that the divine exists, because I’ve always known that it does – it is hard to deny the existence of someone who has communicated with you.

I think that was another reason it took me as long as it did to pull away from the monotheistic worldview – I knew that I was pulling away from someone who had once been a friend, a friend that had hurt me in a way that I could not forgive. I had to figure out a way to be okay with creating that separation, and that took some time. I am not a person who easily gives up on others, even to my own detriment.

Once I managed to severe that relationship and embrace the polytheistic mindset, I found friends in the gods that I knew would never betray or hurt me the way that the Christian god had. They helped heal the hurt that had been done to me by a one-sided spiritual relationship, and they taught me how to trust them. That is why the Norse gods will always be the gods that I turn to first – it was them who showed me that the worth I had was merely in my existence, not in what I could do for them. They showed up, wanting nothing but to make their presence known to me, and I learned to love them in a way I cannot adequately express.

The work I do for them now is work I do for them out of gratitude for all they have already done for me, not out of a sense of obligation or requirement. I continue to serve the gods in the capacities I hold because I know that I could walk away from all the responsibilities I have taken upon myself, and they would let me. They would be sad, but they would understand. They give me the freedom I need to be the person I am, and that, in turn, induces the deepest sense of loyalty in me that I can gift to anyone. I never feel trapped by the gods, as the chains of responsibility I wear are the ones that I wrapped around myself.

It is the gods, however, that engendered my ability to learn to trust in the spirit world after being hurt by it. There is still a level of mistrust that I hold towards the wights of the land and home, as I grew up in a home that was full of spirits. I have started to work on healing those relationships, as I have grown to the realization that those spirits in my childhood home did what they could to help me, but they couldn’t do much due to the limited power they hold. I did not understand how limited that power was as a child, but I do now. I may never be incredibly close to the wights, but I do view them with reverence and treat them with the respect they deserve.

It is much more difficult for me to connect with my ancestral spirits, not because they ever did anything to harm me but because of something my mother did to me as a child. In the familial tradition I practice, it is possible to prevent someone – to lock them – from being able to access certain parts of the spirit world. This is generally only done when someone is being threatened by spirits and is removed when they have learned enough to defend themselves, but it is weird that my mother prevented me from accessing my ancestral spirits. I didn’t learn about this until a couple of years ago, and it took the intervention of a god before that particular lock on my spiritual abilities was broken.

There is a lot there for me to process, and it will take time for me to approach the ancestors I wish to work with. I have been hurt by many, many people close to me, and generally, the people who have hurt me have been family members. That makes it hard for me to want to open myself up to the potential of pain that some of my ancestors might cause, as I still struggle to trust other people – alive or not.

I work well with the gods because I have learned to trust them, and I understand that the foreignness they hold to humanity causes any misunderstandings I have. I do not try to hold them to human standards, and it is probably because of their non-human qualities that I find it easier to trust in them. I trust that I will not ever fully understand the actions they take, as they cannot be simply explained by human morals or concepts. I work best with the gods because they are the spirits that I find myself most capable of trusting.

I also understand, now that I’m older, that the gods have preferences for the humans they interact with. The gods choose their followers as much as we choose the gods. Sometimes, we are not compatible with the gods we choose, and those gods never step forward into our lives. I realized, a few years back, that the Christian God never betrayed me or abandoned me  – he just wasn’t interested in me.

Once I realized and accepted that the gods are choosy, I realized that it is basically impossible for the gods to betray anyone. It is, however, possible for the gods to reject someone. That is why it is so important that when you approach a god you have never honored before, to be okay if that god tells you no. We just aren’t compatible with all the gods, and even some we wish would work with us will turn us down. There are millions upon millions of gods out there, however, so the chances that you can find a god who will step forward into a relationship with you are pretty solid – I’d say almost guaranteed.

©Kyaza 2019