I know this Mystical blogging month is supposed to be more about our role in the wider Heathen community as mystical types but quite frankly I'm not so sure about that whole thing at the moment. Not for other people, no, I still think that Heathen mystics should be working with the community as much as they can and bridging that gap. But it's just when it comes to me that it gets problematic.
Over the past year I've worked hard to try and work positively for the community but it just seems that no matter how hard I try, me trying to fit into the community is kind of like trying to get a round peg to fit into a square hole. I can kind of go in if I pull myself in and make myself small enough but I'll never belong or fit. I can never really be myself. I'm not squishy, so I can't really reshape and/or remould myself either.
I would be lying if I were to say that this isn't kind of upsetting. Especially with my strong beliefs about the importance of community and how much I would like to be part of that.
But really, what can I do?
On to happier things now...
One of the things I've been looking at recently is looking at old charms from texts like the Lacnunga, the various collected Old English charms and the Merseburg Charms and trying to figure out modern usages for them.
Some of these charms lend themselves quite easily to modern usage and have still kept much of their Heathen qualities. Zum Beispiel, one of the charms for birthing problems.
Se wifman, se hire cild afedan ne maeg, gange to gewitenes mannes birgenne and staeppe thonne thriwa ofer tha byrgenne and cwethe thonne thriwa thas word:''this me to bote thaere lathan laetbyrdethis me to bote thaere swaeran swaerbyrdethis me to bote thaere lathan lambyrde''
(The woman who cannot manage to have children, should go to a departed man's grave and then step over the grave three times and then say these words thrice:
Let this be my remedy for the horrible delayed birth
Let this by my remedy for the grevious difficult birth
Let this be my remedy for the horrible lame birth)
Another charm that also lends itself to our modern needs is the 9 Herbs Charm. I've found chanting the section about mugwort over an infusion of mugwort to be most effective. Especially when the chanting is done in Old English. There is something about the sound and feel of that language that just works with magic. Hence the reason why I've been singing my hallowings in Old English for years now.
Some charms need some 'stretching' or adapting. One of these charms is the First Merseburg Charm:
Eiris sazan Idisi, sazun hera duodersuma hapt heptidun, suma heri lezidunsuma clubodun umbi cuioniouuidi.insprinc haptbandun, inuar uigandun.
( Once the Idisi alighted here, settled themselves here and there;
Some of them fettered the prisoners, some hindered the war-group,
some laid hold of the bonds.
Make loose the fetters, drive off the enemy!)
Now very few of us are taken prisoner or require that a 'war-group' be hindered, we live in the now. However this doesn't stop us from looking at the basic ideas of this charm. Being bound by enemies and dealing with those enemies.
This could refer to everyday situations, you don't need to be a soldier to find yourself backed into a corner, unable to get out and at the mercy of enemies. This kind of thing can happen in the workplace, in your social life or even magically. With these kind of charms, very often a kind of story is told about the basic ideas, but that doesn't mean that we should be limited by the story! Of course the story is powerful, there is power in tradition, but the usage of these story/charms seemed to have been quite abstract when compared to the content of the story at times.
Some other charms have refrains that can be repeated and used as a chant, for example the 2nd Merseburg charm:
''ben zi bena bluot si bluodalid zi geliden sose gelimida sin!''
(bone to bone, blood to blood
limb to limb, so be glued)
This would be an effective generalised healing charm. Chants like that can build and build until the magic worker is quite literally seething with it.
So that's one of the things I'm working on at the moment. Crawling through old charms and figuring out how they can be relevant or made to be relevant today. Not just Old English ones too - I've also been looking at Norwegian Trolldom charms. Some of them for during childbirth and healing need no adaptation whatsoever. Different systems of magic have different 'rules' and methods of working. I'm hoping to learn more about the rules of Old English/German and Scandinavian magical traditions. After all, there is power in Tradition.
I would like, if I may, to introduce you to a rather strange and varied species.
The species I am talking about is the Heathen male. There are many different types of Heathen male and as a longterm observer of the species, I have noticed several types emerge.
The Wannabe Viking
This first type is perhaps the most prolific and easiest to recognise. The Wannabe Viking is usually has the biggest Thor's hammer you've ever seen and then just in case you don't quite get it - a t-shirt - also with a huge Thor's hammer. The Wannabe Viking will talk tough...and very loudly. He probably doesn't realise that Vikings weren't the be all and end all of Viking age Scandinavian culture. He also probably doesn't think much about women - except in terms of 'loot' and 'booty' or even.. 'wench'. The more respectable among them may even think along the lines of 'Valkyrie' but only because of the serving drinks angle.
The Wannabe Viking can most often be found at Heathen events, mouthing off loudly, mead horn in hand and talking absolute bollocks. But hey...as long as he looks tough, what's the problem??
The Theodish King
The Theodish 'King' likes social hierarchy - especially one where he gets to be at the top of it without having to work hard to get there. People obviously don't recognise his greatness though and except from a few sycophants that would be better off roleplaying or just being honest with themselves and taking that step to being an S&M slave - everyone else will probably think he's a jerk.
These types can come in all shapes and sizes. Some may even look normal...ok, I said 'some'....They're not so easy to spot but look out for the sycophants asking dumb questions like 'Does this _____please you my lord?'
The Theodish King's greatest fear is for people to find out the truth - that he's really covering up rather dramatically for his inferiority complex which comes out rather magnificently if challenged about anything.
These are usually the chaps that look like they *still* wet the bed. They usually dress quite gothic and if you ask them why they play with Loki, they get all whiny and bang on about discrimination. They also blame Loki for anything they fuck up usually saying 'Loki made me do it!' so as to avoid accepting any personal responsability for their actions.
Having said that - I've come across Lokeans that don't fit this mold and although I still personally don't get the 'Why Loki' thing, I don't mind them.
I still have my reservations about being in a blot/faining with Loki involved though....
The Great And Knowledgable One
This variety sits on forums and seems to talk down to anyone with a pair of tits and vagina - of course - a woman couldn't possibly know more than he.....and of course he would only ever have consulted research put together by a woman when he was a 'beginner'.
Of course the thing he dreads most is it getting out that he's actually still probably a beginner and he's trying to cover up his lack of knowledge instead of doing what he should and asking questions and learning.
These are often the most stoic of all. They are only alive because Odin lets them be...or whatever.
They do not question anything and often can be spotted because they're speaking in some bad version of 'Olde Englishe' (They go to the 'shoppe' instead of the shop)
This boy is easily spotted because he's still living like it was 699AD baby!!!
It's just a pity that the police/fire department/hospital/his neighbours can't understand that.
The Lesser Spotted Lovely Decent Heathen Man
These are very difficult to spot and if you do happen to come across one - snap him up!! He lives in the now, he treats you like an equal (but still has enough of the traditional about him to make you go weak at the knees), he has a good sense of humour and often makes you laugh. He doesn't take himself too seriously and has a sense of honour that makes you feel safe.
Like I said ladies- snap them up if you find them!
Most people have only ever heard of the oracular Seidhr ritual in conjunction with the Hrafnar group and like the Hrafnar group, I'm looking at Eirik's Saga Rauda for my recon clues.
However I differ from Hrafnar on one rather key point. I don't believe that the Vardlokur are sung with the intention of singing the Seidkona or anyone else on a journey. I believe they are songs for enticing in the spirits. For pulling/enticing them in.
Why do I think this?
In the past I have come across songs which, when played alter reality, they facilitate that 'shift' between normalcy and that state in which the dead come through. Certain combinations of notes, certain 'feels' of music.
I know from personal experience that it is possible to 'pull' them in however I would much prefer that they come willingly.
There is also this section from Eirikssagaraudr:
But on the morrow, in the latter part of the day, she was fitted out with the apparatus she needed to perform her spells. She asked too to procure her such women as knew the lore which was necessary for performing the spell, and bore the name Varblokur, Spirit-locks. But no such women were to be found, so there was a search made right through the house to find whether anyone was versed in these matters.'I am unversed in magic,' was Gudrid's reply, 'neither am I a prophetess, yet Halldis my foster-mother taught me in Iceland the lore which she called Varblokur.' 'Then you are wiser than I dared hope,' said Thorbjorg. 'But this is a kind of lore and proceeding I feel I cannot assist in,' said Gudrid, 'for I am a Christian woman.' 'Yet it might happen,' said Thorbjorg, 'that you could prove helpful to people in this affair, and still be no worse a woman than before. Still, I leave it to Thorkel to procure me the things I need here.'Thorkel now pressed Gudrid hard, till she said she would do as he wished. The women now formed a circle all round, while Thorbjorg took her seat up on the spell-platform. Gudrid recited the chant so beautifully and well that no one present could say he had ever heard the chant recited by a lovelier voice. The seeress thanked her for the chant, saying that she had attracted many spirits there who thought it lovely to lend ear to the chant-- spirits 'who before wished to hold aloof from us, and pay us no heed. And now many things stand revealed to me which earlier were hidden from me as from others.
As you can see for yourself in the above excerpt from Chapter 4 of the aforementioned saga - Thorbjorg categorically states that the chant had attracted many spirits.
Unfortunately we don't know exactly what Gudrid chanted/sung and so logically, the would be practitioner of oracular Seidhr is left with two choices.
a. Give up and forget the idea
b. Use the information that can be deduced as to the nature of the chant in order to write a new one that can be used.
From the above excerpt, we can easily surmise that the Vardlokur had several characteristics.
* It had a rhythm to it. All chants have a rhythm.
* For a chant to be a successful and memorable chant, it had to be quite short and have repetition. This can still be seen in most chants from folklore. Another possible aspect of such a chant could be 'counting' as can be seen in chants such as the 'Magpie chant' (one for sorrow, two for joy etc etc).
From these two facts we can possibly also surmise that the Vardlokur is something that is at once hypnotic and yet builds into something a little more ecstatic.
Another thing to take into account is that some children's chants have a tune to them. From personal experience I know that certain tones and rhythms have different effects and that some indeed attract the dead.
One interesting angle that I have considered in writing new Vardlokur comes from a couple of things that the Viking Answer Lady says in her essay 'Women and Magic in the Sagas:Seidhr and Spae' (http://www.vikinganswerlady.com/seidhr.shtml)
Where a Saami or Siberian shaman would rely upon the beat of a drum to achieve the ecstatic trance, the völva requires a special type of chant, the Varðlokur. No words have been preserved of this chant, but since the Varðlokur had been used by Guðríðr's foster-mother as a lullaby, it seems likely that the chant was repetitive and soothing in character.
and also her references to the law codes in Anglo-Saxon England that suggest that Spae-craft was not necessarily a dead art during and after the conversion period:
The spae-wife is not absent in Saxon England, either, for a Christian penitential states:
Si qua mulier divinationes vel incantationes diabolicas fecerit, I annum poeniteat, vel 3 XLmas, XL dies, juxta qualitem culpae poenitentis.
"If a woman makes prophecies and incantations by diabolic means, she is punished for one year, or 40 masses, 40 days, with the punishment being proportional to the guilt" (Crawford, 107).
Could it be possible that somewhere, floating around there is an early folk song/ballad/chant that holds remnants of an Anglo-Saxon variant of the Vardlokur? In the same way that some Heathen lore was preserved for the Christian audience by Grimm's fairy tales, could it be possible that there is knocking around out there, a really old folk song that in some way preserves parts of the Vardlokur or derived from it? Although I am unsure as to where the Viking Answer Lady comes up with the 'lullaby' link (I can only think it was something expressed in the untranslated text as opposed to the translation that she herself gives on the site), if it is the kind of song that could have been used as a lullaby, it may have been quite an innocuous chant of the kind that can still be spotted in English folk chants to this day.
Chants along the lines of
'Jenny Wren fell sick upon a merry time,
In came robin redbreast and fed her cakes and wine'
seem innocuous though they contain fragments of folk belief that, although not ancient, refer to a form of Pagan belief.
So I have been searching not only for possible chants/folk songs/ballads that could have been referencing enticing the dead (even in an abstract manner) but chants/folk songs or ballads that could possibly (either from their tunes or subject matter) be used in such a way. There is a power in tradition and it would be good to use it.
Here's something that's been buzzing around in my head a fair bit recently thanks to reading stuff by a certain Bil Linzie. The concept of non-dualism and the probability that the concept of soul (in the sense that contemporary culture be it secular or Heathen understands it) has absolutely bugger all to do with the actual Heathen worldview pre-conversion.
What do I mean by non-dualism in this sense? Well I'll leave it to Simek to explain because he does a much better job than me in his Dictionary of Northern European Mythology
'Detailed investigations since the beginning of the 20th Century have led to the insight that it is extremely unlikely, at least for the late heathen period, that the North-European peoples had a dualistic belief i.e distinct division between the decomposing body of the dead person and the further existence of his soul. The extant sources suggest that the concept was rather that of the 'living corpse' which lived on the gravemound. Although the saga literature(written 200-500 years after Christianization) is otherwise extremely unreliable for Heathen beliefs, these sources do show unanimity, particularly with regard to these concepts, so widely divergent from Christian thought. Admittedly they may be strongly influenced by the folklore of Mediaeval Iceland. Nevertheless, we may assume that the concept does indeed reflect Heathen beliefs.'
Now this sounds pretty horrendous, right?
Especially when you compare it with the other ideas about a Heathen afterlife flying around that are mostly all filled with more hope than the idea of going to rot in the earth with your ancestors(if it's a family mound) and gravegoods.
Then there's the question of just where does the Draugr come in? Well, it's obvious that not every corpse will become a Draugr and then there's always the Hamr to consider...but more about that further down.
According to Eric Christiansen there are 7 possiblities for the dead Heathen
1.Living with the Gods -a concept not seen until the 10th century and thought to have been brought in as a poetic device.
2. Valhalla -believed to have originally referred to as an actual physical place - a mountain where the dead were interred.
3. Hel -no kennings for Hel as a goddess of the land of the dead until the 10th and 11th centuries - definitely conversion era. However as Lindow points out in his Handbook of Northern Mythology "The place Hel (or the noun hel) originally probably just meant 'grave.'". Simek agrees with this saying that the word Hel was used for hundreds of years to refer to the gravemound.
4. Under the sea (with Ran)
5. An earthly land of the dead.
6 With the poor over the stream.
7. Reincarnation - There are some mentions of reincarnation in the Lay of Helgi Hundingsbani however there are no more in an entire corpus of literature. Also one has to consider the possible leakage of early Christian reincarnation belief into Northern European belief. The concept of 'Aftrborinn' would be the nearest thing in North European culture to reincarnation. Aftrborinn is the passing on of traits, qualities and in some cases duties to your offspring.
Out of all of the possibilities listed above, neither Christiansen or Simek are convinced that the Heathen worldview in pre-Christian times in terms of death went beyond the concepts of Hel or the gravemound.
Another thing that's pretty prevelent in modern Heathenry is the concept of the soul complex with its 9 soul parts. I'm yet to find any evidence or any mentions in any of the original sources that back up the idea that this concept is any older than 30 or so years.
Maybe you're wondering how someone with Seidhr leanings could buy into this...after all, I've sat mounds, I've had countless run ins with the dead and dealings with landvaettir and I have a habit of disappearing off through the worlds(or at least projecting my hamr or dreaming my way).
If anything a non-dualist belief clears up some of the confusion - it's also sort of reassuring in that you will always get back to your body because it cannot be separated from you. What is really going about would be your Hamr (skin) that you're projecting. I also don't see why the dead cannot project their Hamr in this way - as long as they're strong enough....maybe that's why ghosts are reported to fade over time? This kind of clears a lot of stuff up.
Weaving and spinning, once basic household tasks for every woman, have more links to magic, myth and lore than any other craft.
Nornir and Babies
In Northern European Mythology it was the Nornir that spun the Wyrd of Gods and Men (in this context, the word Wyrd is more accurately translated as 'doom' or 'death') and as such, there are many folk traditions concerned with ensuring a good fate for the child. Some even go as far as to keep the woman from all spinning and weaving activities so as not to inadvertantly affect the fate of the child in anyway. One custom practiced by Swedish women is particularly of note:
This belief led to rituals performed by Swedish women, who in the seventh month of pregnancy drew blood from their finger with a sewing needle, and used it to mark a strip of wood with protective symbols. Then she spun three lengths of linen thread, which were dyed red, black, and one left white. The wooden strip was burned, and its ashes mixed with mead or beer. A burning twig from the fire was used to burn apart seven inch lengths from each of the linen threads, which were then boiled in salted water and left to dry in the forest on the limb of a tree for three days. These were then wrapped in clean linen and saved until the day of birth. The white cord was used to tie off the umbilical cord of the newborn. The red was tied around the baby's wrist as a protective amulet, sometimes strung with a bead to repel the evil eye. And the black , symbolic of death and ill-luck, was burned to ash and the ashes buried. Often the afterbirth was buried beneath the tree on which the linen threads had dried.
For magical purposes, spindles were made out of different materials so as to add to the magical properties of the thread being spun. Some spindles have been found made of rock crystals and others, have been found made of amber and jet (otherwise known back then as black amber).
Battle Magic and Causing Death
Given the life and death importance linked to spinning, maybe it comes as no surprise that weaving, the usual goal of spinning was used in battle magic among the Northern Europeans. There are two very well known examples of weaving as battle magic to be found in the sagas. Perhaps the most famous is that of the Raven Banner which was described in the Orkneyingarsaga as:
One summer it happened that a Scottish earl called Finnleik challenged Sigurðr to fight him on a particular day at Skitten. Sigurðr's mother was a sorceress so he went to consult her, telling her that the odds against him were heavy, at least seven to one.'Had I thought you might live forever,' she said, 'I'd have reared you in my wool-basket. But lifetimes are shaped by what will be, not by where you are. Now, take this banner. I've made it for you with all the skill I have, and my belief is this: that it will bring victory to the man it's carried before, but death to the one who carries it.' It was a finely made banner, very cleverly embroidered with the figure of a raven, and when the banner fluttered in the breeze, the raven seemed to be flying ahead.Earl Sigurðr lost his temper at his mother's words. He got the support of the Orkney farmers by giving them back their land-rights, then set out for Skittern to confront Earl Finnleik. The two sides formed up, but the moment they clashed Sigurðr's standard-bearer was struck dead. The Earl told another man to pick up the banner but before long he'd been killed too. The Earl lost three standard bearers, but he won the battle and the farmers of Orkney got back their land rights.
Also in the Orkneyingarsaga is the account of a shirt that was woven with either poison or killing magic:
...the sisters pulled off their bonnets, tore their hair and said that if he put on the garment his life would be at risk. Though they were both in tears he didn't let that stop him, but no sooner was the garment upon his back than his flesh started to quiver and he began to suffer terrible agony. He had to go to bed and not long after that he died.
So fundamental is the connection between weaving, death and fate in this worldview that not only is weaving oft used as a metaphor for fate but it was also used as part of a description of Valkyries on the battlefield and their craft.
Blood rains from the cloudy webOn the broad loom of slaughter.The web of man grey as armorIs now being woven; the ValkyriesWill cross it with a crimson weft.The warp is made of human entrails;Human heads are used as heddle-weights;The heddle rods are blood-wet spears;The shafts are iron-bound and arrows are the shuttles.With swords we will weave this web of battle.The Valkyries go weaving with drawn swords,Hild and Hjorthrimul, Sanngrid and Svipul.Spears will shatter shields will splinter,Swords will gnaw like wolves through armor.Let us now wind the web of warWhich the young king once waged.Let us advance and wade through the ranks,Where friends of ours are exchanging blows.Let us now wind the web of warAnd then follow the king to battleGunn and Gondul can see thereThe blood-spattered shields that guarded the king.Let us now wind the web of warWhere the warrior banners are forging forwardLet his life not be taken;Only the Valkyries can choose the slain.Lands will be ruled by new peoplesWho once inhabited outlying headlands.We pronounce a great king destined to die;Now an earl is felled by spears.The men of Ireland will suffer a griefThat will never grow old in the minds of men.The web is now woven and the battlefield reddened;The news of disaster will spread through lands.It is horrible now to look aroundAs a blood-red cloud darkens the sky.The heavens are stained with the blood of men,As the Valyries sing their song.We sang well victory songsFor the young king; hail to our singing!Let him who listens to our Valkyrie songLearn it well and tell it to others.Let us ride our horses hard on bare backs,With swords unsheathed away from here!And then they tore the woven cloth from the loom and ripped it to pieces, each keeping the shred she held in her hands... The women mounted their horses and rode away, six to the south and six to the north.
Weaving was also used in protective and healing magic and there are two accounts of women weaving protective shirts for their loved ones.
Spinning, Weaving and the Law
During and after the conversion period, women were encouraged not to:
name other unfortunate persons either at the loom, or in dyeing, or in any kind of work with textiles
-Elgius of Noyon
While Corrector of Burchard of Worms, ca. 1010, set the following penance for magical weaving:
Have you been present at or consented to the vanities which women practice in their woollen work, in their weaving, who when they begin their weaving hope to be able to bring it about that with incantations and with their actions that the threads of the warp and the woof become so intertwined that unless someone makes use of these other diabolical counter-incantations, he will perish totally? If you have been present or consented, you must do penance for thirty days on bread and water