Wednesday, August 6, 2014

HEATHENS IN THE MILITARY: AN INTERVIEW WITH MATT WALTERS

The Thor's hammer that Matt received through
the Mjölnir Project of White Hart Forge
Thanks to Master Sergeant (MSgt) Matt Walters, the Air Force is now the first branch of the United States Armed Forces to include Ásatrú and Heathenry as options in its religious preference list. As Matt explains in the interview below, a member of the military being allowed to select their faith from the list has many positive benefits – not the least of which is having heathens be more accurately represented in demographic reports issued by the various branches of service.

I've written before of the value of having at least an approximate number of worldwide heathens; Matt's accomplishment will provide another source of data for those interested in Ásatrú statistics. Hopefully, this news will inspire heathens in other walks of life to work for positive change in the way their tradition is represented in the wider culture. One person can make a difference. Due to Matt's dedication, the addition took effect on July 29.

Matt joined the Air Force in 1995 and has been deployed to Southwest Asia and Turkey. He is an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Technician and currently works as a planner and advisor in the Pacific Air Force Command (PACAF) in Hawaii.

I would like to thank Josh Heath for contacting me about this story and for introducing me to Matt. Josh is co-founder of the Open Halls Project and was central to the effort to have the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs add Thor’s hammer to the official list of “available emblems of belief for placement on government headstones and markers.” The Open Halls Project seeks to connect military heathens with both military and civilian heathens worldwide. If you're interested in participating or learning more about the organization, click here to visit the official website.

KS – How did you come to be a practicing heathen?

MW – I had, since early childhood, a natural inclination toward Norse mythology. I loved the stories and the study of runes. My parents were on two different spectrums when it came to religion; my mother was a devout Buddhist, and my father was devoutly disinterested in religion as a whole.

Matt and his father after being deployed
In the early 1990s, my dad had returned from a business trip to Germany. He had told me that on a drive through the Black Forest region, he had been struck with the idea that here was where his ancestors were. He said that he felt as though he could feel them standing in the forest looking at him, letting him know that this was where he came from. On his return through that same stretch of road, there was no follow up sensation, but it had left an impression on him. This was uncharacteristic of him to say and caught me a bit off guard. We didn’t really discuss the matter again after that.

It wasn’t until his death in October 2012 that I really dwelled on his revelation to me. I was very close to my dad, and I was the last person to talk with him before he passed. He had been moved to a hospice and had basically held on until I could arrive. We sat and talked for a bit, but after just a little while his mind wandered. As I sat with him his mind seemed to take a voyage – out of the hospital, to memories of World War II, and then finally to family that he recognized. He told me that he couldn’t reach them; they seemed above him, and he had his hand stretched out slightly trying to reach up. I placed my hand under his elbow to raise his arm a little more, to help him reach. He stopped talking after a little while, not responding to my questions or discussions anymore, and within a day succumbed.

Afterward, I did a bit of soul searching, and the story that he had told me about years before kept playing out in my head. I did a bit of research on our family – from our roots in Scotland and Ireland, to the Normans and further inland to near the Black Forest and the ancestors that my dad had felt on his visit there. This started me on the path to figure out who they were and what those ancestors believed. I read various sources, learning about heathens and revisiting Norse tales with a new set of eyes.

Matt with his family
It was finally when I started with research on the Hávamal ["Sayings of the High One," the major Odin poem in The Poetic Edda] that was the defining moment for me. These could have been – and in some instances were – the words of my father. Many of the lessons and advice presented were things that he had imparted to me throughout my life. I felt closer to my father and to my family as a whole when reading this. I knew that this called to me and was where I belonged. It gave me hope that one day, when it’s my time, I’ll go to the same place and be greeted by my family in our halls. I’ll raise a drink with my dad and wait on those that come after us, to greet them and welcome them home.

KS – How do you practice your faith and engage in ritual during regular duty and deployment?

MW – When I think of it, I’ll raise a horn for my folks. I don’t have contact with any other practicing heathens, so any more formalized ceremony seems odd as a onesie. Interestingly, that’s one reason I wanted to be able to select my preference as heathen; so that when enough people self-identify, I might be able to put in a request with the Chaplains Office to try to connect. Also, my mother had a tendency to go a bit overboard with religion, so I’ve chosen to honor my faith best by focusing on my family and keeping right with the natural environment around me. I figure, to live in a manner that would be respected by my father is one of the best ways to honor my faith.

KS – How have your colleagues and commanding officers reacted to your being heathen?

Matt with his youngest daughter
MW – It’s really a non-issue. I tend to be fairly private, so not that many people know as it is. The only interaction with the chaplains was to get the denomination approved as a preference, and that was met with support. My work ethic is well respected, and I support our unit to the best of my abilities. If a person didn’t ask, they really wouldn’t know. Although, I suppose the cat’s out of the bag now, so I imagine I’ll be fielding questions. That’s fine, though. Knowledge of a subject helps lead to further acceptance.

KS – What led to your involvement in the Open Halls Project?

MW – It actually started with an article written here [on The Norse Mythology Blog], about Josh and Cat Heath. After reading about their quest to get Ásatru and Heathen added as a religious preference for military individuals to be able to select, I decided to see what I could do to work that from the Air Force end.

KS – Can you explain what the religious preference list is?

MW – It allows the military member to self-identify what religion or denomination they adhere to. This gives the military a way to have a more accurate view of the religious demographic, and in some cases can allow members of a similar faith to connect through the Chaplains Office. Further, in cases where the member passes away during a conflict, by selecting their faith and having their records reflect what they wish done with their remains, it gives them the ability to have their personal wishes respected in terms of burial and last rites.

KS – What process was in place to have a religious tradition added to the list?

Armed Forces Faith Code Update Process
MW – The process is defined by the service that a member is with. It’s similar throughout the branches of service – Air Force, Army, Navy, Marines – but each will have specific forms or offices that handle these requests. For the Air Force, it starts with a request to a personnel manager, which is routed to the Chief of Chaplains Office for that specific branch, which – once validated – goes back to personnel management to input as a selectable preference.

KS – How did you personally engage with the Air Force in order to make this change happen?

MW – I started by trying to figure out who manages the process. I went to the Chaplains Office for the Air Force Pacific Command (PACAF), and placed an inquiry with them to start the ball rolling. I also looked at the central database for personnel (vMPF) to see if they had instruction for how to get a new denomination added. There was guidance on it, but I think that it was a bit outdated.

I placed my request, and was given a message that it was routed for approval, but no further emails were received. The Chaplains Office was helpful though; they put me in touch directly with the plans manager for the Chaplains Office at Air Force headquarters. That’s where my request picked up steam. The Master Sergeant that I talked to there seemed supportive and also wanted to sort the process out.

Matt in Hawaii with his oldest daughter
Not much longer after that I got a notification that it would be shortly that the approval would go through, and on a whim I decided to check. Apparently only hours before I checked, the personnel office had made the inclusion of the two requested denominations, and I was able to officially be recognized as a heathen. Now any airman can identify themselves as Ásatrú or Heathen in their military records, if they wish.

KS – What meaning do you think adding their religion to the preference list will have for heathens in the Air Force?

MW – With nearly 23% of the force listed as No Preference or Other, it gives us an opportunity to have a clearer picture of exactly how many heathen and Ásatrú there are in the military. This may lead to added chaplain support and a broader understanding of our beliefs. Also, it’s simply nice to be able to feel comfortable being open about who you are, and working in an environment that you can feel supports that.

KS – Do you think this change will have an impact on the recognition of heathens in the other branches of the US military?

MW – I hope so. I believe that the other services are not that far off. There are requests in with the Army that shouldn’t be too much longer, and members in the Navy and Marines intend to make their own requests. The success with the Air Force is encouraging and should give others something to point to as a positive for heathens.

KS – What do you think this achievement means for American heathens outside of the military?

Matt and his daughters
MW – The military recognizing a faith does not necessarily mean endorsement of that faith. However, being able to point to verified members that are heathen or Ásatrú and serve our country can be a topic of pride for our community. Especially with the ideals that many of us hold in high regard, the military tends to be a natural fit.

KS – Thank you for taking the time for the interview, and congratulations on your success! This is great news.

MW – Thank you. I appreciate you getting this message out to folks.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

THOR IS DEAD

Marvel swears female Thor is forever.
Forever? Forever ever? Forever ever?
Actually, Thor has been dead several times in Marvel Comics.

He's also been Captain America, a Christian priest, a clone, a construction worker, a crazy person, a cult member, a divorced architect, a doctor with a bad leg, a dog, an exile from Asgard, a frog, a heathen priest, a horse-headed space alien, Lord of Asgard, a paramedic, Storm, a TV cameraman and a zombie. At the moment, those are the ones I can remember. I may have missed a few status updates.

Given the above, please excuse me for yawning while reading the breathless responses in mainstream media and social media to the Marvel Comics announcement that Thor will now be a woman. I hadn't even bothered to follow links to read any of the "news" stories, but people keep forwarding them to me and asking for my thoughts. I finally did some clicking around, and all was as I expected.

Marvel Comics editor Wil Moss insists, "This new Thor isn't a temporary female substitute – she's now the one and only Thor." As a check on the definitiveness of this definitive statement, please refer to the above list of the company's thunder god incarnations.

One of the female Captain Marvels
There are those among you who seem to be unfamiliar with the way comic books work in the post-"Death of Superman" era. Ever since the 1992 announcement of the Man of Steel's demise generated international media reports and millions of copies of a single issue, DC and Marvel – the two American comic book giants – have periodically killed characters or made other changes designed to fuel media reports and consumer interest.

The more popular the character, the less permanent the change. Superman stayed dead for less than a year. The reports of the deaths of Batman, Captain America and many other household names have also been greatly exaggerated.

Changes of race, gender and sexual preference of supporting characters have also been used to generate media attention and sales. Jewish Lesbian Batwoman got a lot of press. Asian Batgirl brought new attention to the character, for a time – then she moved aside for the return of White Batgirl. Female Robins have come and gone. Captain Marvel (Marvel version) seems to change gender every few years.

Female Loki on Marvel's commitment to "female-centrism"
Marvel gained a lot of attention for its Thor titles when Loki became female. When that novelty wore off, he became a teenage boy. When that novelty wore off, he was zapped back to his original adult age  – thus skipping the awkward post-collegiate years when he moves back into Odin's basement and plays video games while "looking for a job."

The Marvel website claims that the new female Thor is part of some wonderful empowerment plan for young American women: "THOR is the latest in the ever-growing and long list of female-centric titles that continues to invite new readers into the Marvel Universe. THOR will be the 8th title to feature a lead female protagonist and aims to speak directly to an audience that long was not the target for super hero comic books in America: women and girls."

Balder dead? What will they think of next?
This is somewhat reminiscent of the Marvel website asking in 2012, "Does Sif have the potential to be one of Marvel’s greatest heroines?" They answered their own question by canceling the female Asgardian's series after only ten issues. So much for Marvel's commitment to "female-centric titles."

Most people reacting to the Female Thor press release seem to have missed this little tidbit from IGN News: "The original Thor will still be operating in the Marvel Universe, however. He will now be wielding his magical god-slaying ax Jarnbjorn, which he used back in his younger days."

Do you think "the original Thor" will get his hammer back in time for the third Thor movie? Will Marvel re-start his comic book series with a Special Collector's Item First Issue in the lead-up to the film? Can we expect an iconic cover of Classic Thor holding the dead body of Not-a-Temporary-Female-Substitute Thor?

Yawn.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

ART CONTEST – Adult Winners, Midsummer 2014

We had a very large number of entries in the adult division of this year's Midsummer Art Contest, and they were all fantastic! It was very difficult for the judges to rank them all in order, but we finally managed to do it. The artists live in many countries around the world: Brazil, England, Netherlands, Norway, Romania and the United States. The wandering ways of Odin sure have taken him to some interesting places!

Joanne's latest: The Gospel of Loki
All technical issues overcome, both Joris van Gelre and Joanne Harris were able to carefully consider and rank all the entries in the adult division. I greatly appreciate the time that both of them put in. Due to the large number of wonderful entries, the adult division was particularly hard to put in order.

I wish Joris the best of luck with his two post-Heidevolk music projects (:NODFYR: and Wederganger), and I sincerely hope that Joanne's publishers will realize how many fans her Runemarks series has here in the United States – and will release an American edition of her latest, The Gospel of Loki. We like Norse mythology here in the colonies, too!

You'll notice that we have a tie for runner-up this time around. Sveinn and Jorge both earned the exact same total score – only one point away from the bronze medal spot. We think that these two wonderful artists both deserve to have their work seen, and we think that you'll agree!

If you haven't seen the winning entries in the other age divisions, click here for the kid winners and here for the teen winners. Congratulations to all who won, thanks to everyone who entered, and hails to the judges for their work. Stay tuned for the Midwinter Art Contest later this year!

Note: You can click on the art to see larger versions.

FIRST PLACE
Carl Olsen
Age 36
Santa Cruz, California, United States

Carl wrote this about his entry:
Since this sort of contest typically has to do with us (humans) viewing images of the Norse gods, I thought it would be fun to depict a viewing of the human world on the part of the Æsir and Vanir. 
For the midsummer theme, I have a majstång (midsummer pole/maypole) set up in the human world – maybe next to a Swedish lake from the looks of it – while a few of the gods (maybe Þórr, Freyja and Freyr, with Loki skulking in the corner) look on. In particular I thought it would be fun to have the majstång juxtaposed with the world tree Yggdrasill, here portrayed as a shady picnic spot for our mythic cast, but with gargantuan roots showing up in the human world to hint at its "foundational" role in the cosmos.
Carl won third place in Midsummer 2013 contest and third runner-up in the Midwinter 2013 contest. His art is always deeply informed by Norse mythology and culture. This makes sense, given that Carl has both an MA and a PhD in Scandinavian Studies from the University of California at Berkeley, where the well-known scholar John Lindow was his dissertation advisor. You should definitely check out Carl's own blog – Vikings, Books, Etc. I'm very glad that Carl won the top spot this time around!

First Place: Carl Olsen

SECOND PLACE
Nina Bukala
Age 25
Echt, Limburg, The Netherlands

Nina really did a lot of research while working on her entry. While I'm not wholly convinced by her claims regarding ancient beliefs, I think her essay makes very clear why she included the various elements in her artwork.
The notion of the sun being pulled across the sky by a horse was already prevalent in prehistoric Indo-European societies. The simple initial image of one white horse pulling the sunwheel, later developed into more elaborate images including several white horses, a chariot and an anthropomorphic sun god(dess) driving the chariot. Because in the Northern Hemisphere, a left-right motion of the sun can be observed during the day, the sun horse has usually been depicted facing towards the right. Midsummer marks the day when the sun appears highest in the sky. At this point, the sun's movement seems to stop for a moment before reversing direction. While a moving wheel is represented by a tilted cross within a circle, a motionless wheel is symbolized by an upright cross within a circle. 
Among midsummer traditions and beliefs, plants take on an important role. Ferns, for example, were thought to flower and produce seeds only on Midsummer Night. According to folklore, the flower of the royal fern brings prosperity or magical abilities to the person who finds it and was therefore much sought after. The seeds would make one invisible and bring buried treasures to the surface. Midsummer has been Christianized as the feast of St. John the Baptist. Consequently, one herb which is traditionally linked to midsummer throughout Europe, has been named after the saint. St. John's wort, whose yellow flowers represent the sun, were picked at midsummer for their healing powers, protection against bad spirits and for divinatory purposes. 
Ox-eye daisy is a plant so white, that it has been compared to the fair god Baldr and therefore received the name “Baldr's brow.” On a astronomical level, Baldr's death symbolizes the decline of the sun's power after reaching its greatest height at the summer solstice. Cornflower is one of the many herbs that bloom at midsummer. Wild strawberries peak at midsummer as well and have been consumed in Europe since the Iron Age.
It certainly is a striking image! Congratulations to Nina for taking this project so seriously. The judges definitely appreciated it.

Second Place: Nina Bukala

THIRD PLACE
Jennifer Elizabeth Speer
Age 43
Monrovia, California, United States

Jennifer writes, "My artwork represents Yggdrasil and includes the flowers calendula and St. John’s wort, both considered to have magical healing properties." Again, I'm not so sure about the connection between these beliefs and ancient practice, but this definitely is a beautiful and striking work of art!

Third Place: Jennifer Elizabeth Speer

RUNNER-UP (TIE)
Sveinn Fjölnisson
Age 22
Essex, England

Sveinn is a fascinating fellow. Based on his study of ancient languages, he has created a very personal reconstruction of what he considers to be the original Germanic gods that eventually evolved into the Norse gods that we are familiar with. Here's his description of the reconstructed group of gods that appear in his artwork:
Fascinated by mythology and language, my research has led me back to reconstruct a pantheon of the Common Germanic gods which later became Norse and Anglo-Saxon pantheons. 
Here we see the Ansiwiz (Æsir) enjoying midsummer as a family. Fergunaz (Fjörgynn) holds his axe aloft to bless the midsummer cheese and beer they will enjoy. His wife Fergunijō-Nerþuz (Fjörgyn-Njörð) stands by him proudly, resting her hands on the shoulders of their youngest son Þunraz (Þórr), who is brandishing his own mighty axe, for it's many years before Loki will join them and give him Melþunjaz (Mjölnir). Þunraz's older brother and sister, the famous twins, are Ingwaz-Frawjaz (Yngvi-Freyr) and Frijjō-Frawjō (Frigg-Freyja). The loving hand of Frijjō's husband, Wōdanaz (Óðinn), rests upon her shoulder, as she holds their baby son Baldaz (Baldr) who poking his tongue out, enjoys the warm summer air. 
Other figures to spot are, Fergunaz's hawk Wedrafalunjaz (Veðrfölnir) up a tree (creating birds from thought is a trick Fergunaz later teaches to Wōdanaz, who goes one further and creates two) and Tīwaz (Týr) the king of the sky, guiding the goddess Sōwilō (Sól) across the sky, herself being pulled by the glowing steed Skīnfahsô (Skínfaxi). 
The midsummer theme here is mainly influenced from the Latvian midsummer festival of Jani, where they eat cheese with caraway seeds, drink homemade beer, wear floral or oak wreaths in their hair, and stay up all night singing traditional songs by their fire waiting to greet the sun as she returns the next morning.
Sveinn's now studying linguistics at Birkbeck University of London. It's wonderful to have another person who loves this material decide to study it an advanced level. I'm very curious to know where his research will lead!

Runner-Up (Tie): Svein Fjölnisson

RUNNER-UP (TIE)
Jorge Alves de Lima Júnior
Age 45
Campinas, São Paulo, Brazil

Jorge's work comes from a very different creative space than these other entries. Rather than writing a explanation of his research, he sends a beautiful and spiritual description of his entry's conception:
Bifröst like I see – or better, like I feel. 
It is Midsummer Night. The sky is starry. The people gather around a campfire and tell stories – stories of gods and their exploits, stories of living in places in the ambiguous range between dream and reality 
Locking eyes packaged by the narrative, I have a brief and fleeting glimpse. I watch a good distance away what appears to be a bridge, but it is not a bridge. In my heart I know what it is, but I cannot rationally accept its existence: it is Bifröst, the link between worlds.
Jorge's work really does move beyond language and representation into a deeper place.

Runner-Up (Tie): Jorge Alves de Lima Júnior

Friday, June 20, 2014

ART CONTEST – Teen Winners, Midsummer 2014

This year's entries in the teen division of the Midsummer Art Contest were incredibly strong. These young artists are really quite impressive! It's interesting that they come from diverse locations around the world, yet they are all inspired by Norse mythology to create such original works.

Joris during his years with Heidevolk
We were finally able to sort out the technical issues that prevented Joris van Gelre from judging the kids' division, and he was able to study the teen entries and weigh in on the judging with Joanne Harris and myself. I'm very glad that we managed to finally make this happen.

I would like to thank both Joris and Joanne for the time they freely spent considering the artwork, reading the artists' descriptions of their entries, and doing the difficult task of ranking all the pieces. With so many wonderful young artists submitting their work, judging wasn't easy!

The three winners in the teen category show how the wonderful heritage of the Norse myths continues to spark the creativity of young artists across great distances of time and space. These three artworks are very different from each other in subject matter and approach, but the beauty of the old traditions shines through each one in a wonderfully unique way.

If you haven't seen the kids' division winners yet, check them out by clicking here.

Note: You can click on the art to see larger versions.

FIRST PLACE
Eric Matzner
Age 19
Quesnel, British Columbia, Canada

Erik has written a wonderful description of his work:
This painting shows a Midsummer's Eve celebration out near the water. The people are dancing and having a good time. In the background can be seen the fields with crops growing up in a bountiful harvest and the longships waiting to go out for trade and plunder. These symbolize the beginning of the summer months, but also the slow descent of the sun back to winter, when the crops and raided goods will be needed to make it through the harsh northern winters. 
Árvakr and Alsvidr can also be seen riding across the sky. The sun is safe from the wolf Sköll, as the sun is at its highest and farthest from danger. The horses trod on with no worries of the wolf. The fire is being held at a special spot – the old oak tree, ash bushes and large runestone can all attest to the sanctity of this rock outcrop into the ocean.
In a rare case of complete agreement, all three judges independently placed Eric's piece in first place. This is truly a wonderful work, and it is at once original in conception and reminiscent of midsummer scenes painted by the great Norwegian artist Nikolai Astrup. Fantastic!

First Place: Eric Matzner

SECOND PLACE
Nordhild Siglinde Wetzler
Age 15
Korsberga, Sweden

Nordhild submitted a very personal and very creative explanation of her piece:
I chose to draw the most fun part of midsummer – the celebration. 
In Sweden, people dance around the maypole, which they first decorate with greens and flowers. Here, I choose to let them dance about the warmth of the bonfire itself instead. I've included several traditions like feasting, dancing, the symbol of fertility, pagan stone circles, and collecting a certain number of flowers to put under your pillow to see whom you will marry. 
Midsummer was believed to be a time with high magical activity, and Christian priests feared the Devil had more power than during the rest of the year to tempt people. I wanted to show that they were exactly right. People here do dance with supernatural beings like elves and sprites – and celebrate life. Something the little priest hiding behind the tree doesn't like…
Nordhild won second place in the Midwinter 2013 contest. Her entry then had the same sense of night and magic that this new piece does. This young artist certainly has a wonderful spirit!

Second Place: Nordhild Siglinde Wetzler

THIRD PLACE
Christina Bountona
Age 18
Perea, Thessaloniki, Greece

From a southern land of ancient myths, Christina sends an explanation of her artwork's inspiration by a northern land of legendary sagas:
The drawing presents the preparing of the midsummer celebration. In the distance there can be seen human figures carrying wood to their village in order to light up the bonfire. The landscape (rocks, waterfall, cliffs) is based on a real location in Iceland (Þingvellir National Park). In the front, there is the figure of the Allfather, watching the people reviving the old traditions.
Christina really captures the sense of history and the spiritual essence of this wonderful landscape. She is a truly impressive artist, and I am very curious where her creative travels will take her!

Third Place: Christina Bountona

Adult winners will be announced tomorrow!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

ART CONTEST – Kid Winners, Midsummer 2014

We received many wonderful works of art in the kids’ division of this year's Midsummer Art Contest. So many pieces were so good that – for the first time in three contests – we have a three-way tie for third place! The winners are determined by adding together the scores of all three judges, and the total scores were exactly the same for our trio of bronze medalists.

You may have noticed that the announcement of winners has arrived a day later than planned. Joanne Harris and I had already finished ranking the entries, but Joris van Gelre was experiencing technical difficulties viewing that entries that we were, in the end, unable to resolve.

Kári Pálsson in Reykholt, home of Edda author Snorri Sturluson
Our friend Kári Pálsson heroically stepped in as the third judge yesterday and added his scores to ours. Kári is an Icelander who serves on the lögretta (very roughly translated as “board of directors”) of the Ásatrúarfélagið (“Æsir Faith Fellowship”), Iceland’s organization for those who practice Ásatrú, the modern version of the ancient religion of Odin, Thor, Freya and the other Norse gods and goddesses. He is very passionate and knowledgeable about the Old Norse myths and poems, and I am always glad for his input.

Special thanks to both Joanne and Kári for their work as judges. It is much appreciated!

Congratulations to our five winners! The assignment was to create a piece that was on the theme of midsummer and contained at least one element from Norse mythology. Judging was based not purely on technical ability; creativity and connection to mythology were upmost in the minds of the judges. These young artists impressed all three of us, and I hope that they continue to explore the rich tradition of the Norse myths and to create new works of original art.

Three of the five winners have been students of Cathy Yeoman in Victoria, Australia. Her students made a clean sweep of the kids category in the Midsummer 2013 contest, and they took two of the top spots in the Midwinter 2013 contest. Cathy teaches Norse mythology to her Class 4 students, and the results are very impressive. I would like to again thank her for her work in keeping the myths alive. We need more teachers like her around the world!

Note: You can click on the art to see larger versions.

FIRST PLACE
Sheoaka F.
Age 11
Briar Hill, Victoria, Australia

Sheoaka describes her picture: "Odin is sitting on the sweet grass with his raven, Hugin, resting on his hand. Freya is walking her cats. The bonfire is ablaze, ready for the midsummer celebrations."

This piece has such a strong composition and so wonderfully integrates several elements from the myths. Sheoaka won first place in the Midsummer 2013 contest, and her work continues to mature and inspire. We all hope to see more from her in the future!

First Place: Sheoaka F.

SECOND PLACE
Rani K.
Age 11
Briar Hill, Victoria, Australia

Rani writes, "In my picture I drew an ash tree with Hugin and Munin (Odin’s ravens) flying around it, Ratatösk the squirrel jumping about, and a deer nibbling at the grass. Hugin and Munin have come to tell everyone that the midsummer festival is beginning in Midgard."

Rani won first place in the Midwinter 2013 contest, and this new artwork again shows a creative mind and a wonderful spirit. She has created a piece that is both beautiful and instantly classic.

Second Place: Rani K.

THIRD PLACE (TIE)
Emma H.
Age 10
Briar Hill, Victoria, Australia

Emma sets the scene: "It is Midsummer’s Eve, and Freya and Frey are walking along the beach in search of a spot for their picnic. In the background there is the cat-drawn carriage and the smoke billowing up from in the depths of the valleys. That is where the bonfires are. There is also Iduna’s golden apple tree, the apples of which keep the gods young."

Emma won third place in the Midsummer 2013 contest with a whimsical picture of dwarves gathered around a Midsummer Eve fire. This time, she has created a multi-level work that places Freya and Frey in the front, their transportation to Midgard in the middle, and the sign of human celebration in the distance. The tiny cat pulling the cart is the best part!

Third Place (Tie): Emma H.

THIRD PLACE (TIE)
Alyssa Broadwater
Age 12
Pennsylvania, United States

Alyssa says, "In this sketch, I created a small, lighthearted festival among several elves. They've come to together to celebrate the announcement of midsummer as warmer weather surges delightfully throughout the beautiful and delicate forests where they dwell. Before taking to their feast, they decide to have a nice little bonfire to keep spirits high as the cool summer breeze flows throughout the trees."

Alyssa's technical approach immediately stood out from the other entries. Her interesting usage of modern tools of art won her second place in the Midwinter 2013 contest. We're curious to see what she creates for the teenage division next year!

Third Place (Tie): Alyssa Broadwater

THIRD PLACE (TIE)
London Hatrak
Age 9
Belleville, New Jersey, United States

London writes, "This is a painting of Sol carrying the sun across the sky and being chased by the wolf Sköll. The people are dancing around the bonfire to celebrate midsummer."

London impressed all the judges with her sense of composition and her spirit. It will be very interesting to see how her work develops in the coming years!

Third Place (Tie): London Hatrak

Teen winners will be announced tomorrow!
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