Ritual for Rán

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ögir und Ran by Friedrich Wilhelm Heine

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

When you are ready, say:

“Hail Rán, Unbridled Sea Witch

Hail Rán, Völva of Gymir’s Hall

Hail Rán, Mother of Nine Waves

Hail Rán, Net-Wielder Hail

Rán, Ship-Plunderer

Hail Rán, Robber of Seafarers

Hail Rán, Wild Bride of Ægir

Hail Rán, Holder of Ægir’s Fire

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

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

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

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

“Hail Rán, the Storming Sea!

Hail Rán, Keeper of Shipwrecks!

Hail Rán, of the Icy Deep!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gosforth_fishing

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

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

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

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

“Let my blood call out to you

Great Serpent, the Circumscriber of the Seas

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

Watery beasts.

Come find me Jörmungandr of magick and liminal spaces

Where the sea meets the soil.”

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

“Come to me you who encompass Midgard

You whose hide is emblazoned with

The constellations of the Milky Way.

Come find my sacrifice, Jörmungandr

And may it please you well.”

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

“Let me shed my ego

Like the serpent sheds its skin.

Come take this ego as offering ad sacrifice

Consume this ego and all its pride and self indulgence

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

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

“As the snake sheds its skin

So I shed my ego.

As I shed my ego

So let this world shed all its old fetters

Of cruelty, of fear, and hatred;

Of tyranny and terror and oppression.

Let the world shed that heinous skin

And be born anew of all its cold viscera.”

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

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

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

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

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