A Ritual for Surtr

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.

The Giant with the Flaming Sword (1909) by John Charles Dollman

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.

The battle between Surtr and Freyr at Ragnarök, illustration (1895) by Lorenz Frølich

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.

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.

the_midgard_serpent_by_vyrilien_d491d85-fullview

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.