Friday, December 23, 2016

Art Contest – Adult Winners, Midwinter 2016

The adult division of the 2016 Midwinter Art Contest had a large number of fantastic works from around the world. We received entries from Australia, Hungary, several locations in the United Kingdom, and throughout the United States. All were wonderful, and the judges had a very hard time choosing between them. Congratulations to all who entered!

I'd like to thank my fellow judges Rufus Dayglo (comics artist for Judge Dredd and Tank Girl) and Diana Paxson (author of Taking Up the Runes and Essential Ásatrú) for the time they spent considering entries and for their thoughtful comments on the works created by these talented young people. This contest would not be possible without their generous participation.

Congratulations to our four winners! The assignment was to create a piece that somehow related to the character and legends of the goddess Freyja and the celebration of midwinter.

This complex goddess has many aspects. The job of the artists was to find something about Freyja that spoke to them and inspired them, then combine it with some aspect of midwinter and create their own original work of art.

The five winning artists created very unique and original works of art. I look forward to their future work and hope they continue to engage with Norse mythology as a spur to their creativity!

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

Chad Nelson
Age 45
Sioux Falls, South Dakota, USA

Chad describes his winning entry:
This woodcut (Freyja and the North Wind) represents the dual nature of the spiritual and nature. In this piece, the nature and serenity of Freyja and my impression of what midwinter represents to me.

My daughter modeled as Freyja for me. I studied the color of light and shadows outside the studio as the sun sets earlier and earlier each day, becoming more and more saturated as the angle of the sun became more oblique approaching midwinter.
All three judges voted this piece in first place. It's a truly powerful work, and Chad completely deserves the win for such a beautiful creation.

Rufus writes, "I absolutely love this piece by Chad! It is a very considered and well-balanced composition and is masterfully executed. I love the light coming through the trees and reflective light on Freya's face. In its simplicity, it shows how much can be achieved in a monochromatic piece. It is a joy to behold!"

Diana adds, "Excellent presentation of the quality of midwinter light. The blending of hair and foliage is beautifully done. Her meditative expression is also very appropriate. Fold this in half and you would have a very nice Yule card."

First Place: Chad Nelson

Julia Hopkin
Age 20

Julia explains her artwork:
A fire burns in the hall under the stars, where Freyja celebrates midwinter. In her height of power at this crucial moment, she rejects grand displays of power and chooses instead to share her energy for life and growth and love in celebration with the women who came to her when they died. Welcoming all newcomers to their hearth, they sing, exchange stories, share food and laughter, delight in their differences and rejoice in their similarities.

Around them, the heavens are still in motion; the sun, unseen, poised on the brink of change, the wolf chasing the moon on its longest journey of the year. But by sharing their love for each other, for their world and for themselves, Freyja and her companions create a circle of hope, generosity and understanding, enough to transcend time and distance, and spread light and warmth throughout the world.
Amazing! I love this piece. The thought and execution are both transcendent and moving.

Diana says, "Beautiful use of color. The night sky is rendered with great subtlety. The wolf is a good touch. Making Freyja’s hair the protective enclosure is very effective."

Rufus writes, "Julia's piece of art has a beautiful warmth, and the clever way the women are depicted as living/dead is a lot of fun! The arcs in the sky and semicircular group of figures offset with the moon pulls the picture together to great effect."

Second Place: Julia Hopkin

Andrew Pappas
Age 25
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA

Andrew describes his entry:
In my submission, I chose to depict Freyja as the magical queen of the winter season. In my painting, Freyja is ridding on her boar Hildisvíni and is flanked by her two cat totems. Behind her head, I put the symbol of wyrd. In her right hand, I put a wintry scepter, showcasing her connections with magic.
A parade of elves accompany her as they work to bring in the winter season. From my many studies of Germanic mythology, I always found the relationship between the elves and the Vanir very interesting, the distinction between the two races graying at times. I chose to represent this relationship by giving Freyja the elvish ear trope to suggesting that the Vanir and the elves could be the same race, the Vanir being a group of ruling aristocrats to the elves.
I really like this piece. It shows a looseness of creative freedom with the source materials while presenting a strong and graceful image. Great!

Rufus writes, "Andrew's piece is gorgeously painted and playful, with the boar Hildisvíni looking out at the viewer and Freyja ethereally looking straight ahead. It's a wonderful fantasy piece!"

Diana comments, "The drawing is excellent, as is the use of stylization and design elements and color. Your interpretation of the relationship between the Vanir and the elves is interesting. I wouldn’t say they are the same race, but certainly they are connected."

Third Place: Andrew Pappas

Tara Cochrane
Age 34
Portland, Oregon, USA

Tara explains her artwork:
In the serene darkness of midwinter, the goddess of magic, love, and war takes a break from her endeavors to drowse beside a roaring fire in the secure sanctuary of her hall.

Freyja is joined by her two cats, who are happy to have a holiday from pulling her chariot. She reclines against the bulk of her steadfast companion, Hildisvíni, the boar itself a traditional symbol of the solstice celebration. In the soporific glow of the fire, Freyja dreams of the events of the coming year.

Through the windows above the hearth, the first rays of the newborn sun are seen emerging over the mountains on the horizon, signifying the waxing of the light of day and the imminent return of plant and animal life to the earth after the cold desolation of winter.
This has such a great graphic design and strong composition. I love the choice of color palette to emphasize the warmth of the fire, rather than the cold of midwinter. Brilliant!

Diana writes, "Good portrait of Freyja as Love’s fire. This would make a good Yule card."

Rufus comments, "A lovely warm composition to help us all through the dark nights! I love the sun peaking through, heralding the approaching spring and rebirth, even in the darkest of times. This piece warms the heart and the hearth!"

First Runner-Up: Tara Cochrane

Stephanie Pasculli
Age 47
Chicago, Illinois, USA
This pencil and watercolor offering is my most heartfelt “thank you” to Freyja. Twenty years ago this past fall, I was gifted her name by an elder in my first spiritual circle and our relationship since has been rich, real, and intense.
Technically, I chose the feminine circular frame to represent one day. The line of darkness literally shows how much time Chicago will be in darkness this Winter Solstice. As an “unseen” spiritual force in my life, I chose Freyja's eyes to be watching from this darkness, but with their own unclouded connection. The moon above is the phase the moon will be in on December 21st as well.
She is wearing Brísingamen, of course, but strung with four golden bands to represent her relations with the dwarves. Fólkvangr is the mountain rising up from the fields behind her.
Spiritually, my tribute is woven into her hair where I have written in the Anglo-Frisian futhorc (as it phonetically transliterates to English the best) the most magically powerful moments of my life. Along with the cursory "Stephanie Lynn was here Ha Ha Ha" and a tribute to my four most “treasure bearing lovers.” Long live the Lady!
Wow! I love how much feeling, wisdom, and thought Stephanie put into this image. It's a truly haunting work of art and expresses aspects of both the goddess and the season in an absolutely unique way.

Diana writes, "Delicate and precise. I really like the use of runes."

Rufus comments, "With the runic devices and use of duality within the circular form, Stephanie's piece very intelligently demonstrates both the balance of the natural and the spiritual realms."

Second Runner-Up: Stephanie Pasculli

Thank you to all the kids, teens and adults who entered this winter. We really enjoyed everyone's work. See you when the next contest rolls around!

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Art Contest – Teen Winners, Midwinter 2016

The teen division of the 2016 Midwinter Art Contest had some incredibly creative entries this year. Each artist presented a very individual and insightful interpretation of the contest theme.

I'd like to thank my fellow judges Rufus Dayglo (comics artist for Judge Dredd and Tank Girl) and Diana Paxson (author of Taking Up the Runes and Essential Ásatrú) for the time they spent considering entries and for their thoughtful comments on the works created by these talented young people. This contest would not be possible without their generous participation.

Congratulations to our four winners! The assignment was to create a piece that somehow related to the character and legends of the goddess Freyja and the celebration of midwinter.

This complex goddess has many aspects. The job of the artists was to find something about Freyja that spoke to them and inspired them, then combine it with some aspect of midwinter and create their own original work of art.

The four winning artists created very unique and original works of art. I hope that they will all continue exploring Norse mythology and developing their artistic skills!

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

Caitlin E. Terwedow
Age 18
Ashton, Illinois, USA

Caitlin provides a detailed explanation of her winning entry:
Freyja is depicted as taking on a number of disguises as she searches for her husband. As a result, you never know what she may look like, which is why I chose to leave her face out of the picture.

I included her cats in the background, and made it after dark with snow blanketing the ground. One of the cats is playing in the snow, and the other is more curious about what she is doing.

In Freyja's hand is a golden apple, showing what I hope looks like a summery scene of an apple tree near a small house. I chose to do this because Freyja shares an attribute with Idunn, fertility, and sometimes the two are depicted as the same goddess.

Additionally, I have this little personal belief that in the winter, Idunn needs to work harder, in order to keep her tree from going into hibernation. Freyja, who is helpful to others across the mythology would probably offer her assistance here and there.

The whole theme I was aiming for however, is that in the deepest times of winter, we can hold hope that spring will be here soon, heralding warmth, and the stories that might be told to each other in the dark when we are waiting.
It's absolutely fantastic to see a young artist who both thinks deeply about her work and has the technical ability to manifest her creative vision. Congratulations for a deserved win!

Rufus writes, "This is a very well-researched and beautifully drawn piece. I am so impressed by the level of workmanship and artistry. The hands are beautifully drawn. It is a very clever composition, and extremely well thought out! I hope you make many more paintings. Your art is fantastic!"

Diana adds, "Drawing and use of color and shading excellent. The apple has a luminous glow. The concept is unusual and thought-provoking."

First Place: Caitlin Terwedow

Anna DeLotto
Age 16
New York, USA

Anna also wrote an explanation of her artwork:
I chose to focus on the feeling of Freyja and midwinter, because I experience the gods mostly as feelings. My image features me (with the brown hair) and my best friend sitting in front of a fire, watching a Yule log burn, and the log has the runes Fé (Freya's rune for wealth), Peorth for luck, and Ós for knowledge carved into it, to represent wishes for the new year as per tradition.

I drew some mistletoe over the door frame, just because I know that was an old tradition as well. The tree is an obvious representation of ancient pagan tradition that many people see as a symbol of this time of year. It's kind of hard to see in the image, but the fire is casting a warm glow over the room, showing that Jól is a time dedicated to love and family. I also chose to make a lot of things shades of red and green for obvious reasons.

There are statues of Thor and Freya on the mantelpiece. The scarf (purple and pink) draped around me and my friend is showing the generosity of love/Freyja, and what happiness can be caused if love is shared with one another.

Freyja, to me, is very generous, loving, and self-sacrificing. My favorite story about her is when she lends her cloak to Loki for the greater good of saving Mjölnir, and when I read the quotes from Þrymskviða, it reminded me of how willing she was to help.

Freya's influence on Jól in my interpretation is that strong sense of love that is always around while performing rituals such as the Yule log and just putting up a tree in your house with the ones you love.
What a thoughtful approach to art! It's wonderful that Anna is able to evoke such powerful and deep associations with the goddess without actually literally portraying her (aside from the small statue).

Diana says, "Excellent use of symbolism – a good portrait of Yuletide happiness."

Rufus writes, "I really love this piece. It resonates with love and friendship, which is perfect for this time of year. All the clever details, like the scarf and statues, add up to make it a well thought out piece of art. It makes me happy to see people care about their friends!"

Second Place: Anna DeLotto

Skye P.
Age 16
Elyria, Ohio, USA

Skye describes her entry:
I drew Freyja standing in a blue dress with her feather cloak on. She’s part human while her face is a falcon, because I read that when her husband Óðr went missing, she used her feather cloak to change into a falcon to search for him.
I also have one of her cats sitting next to her, because Freya has many cats as pets and they are normally represented as gray cats. She used them to pull her chariot, send messages, and assist in casting spells. I added Freyja’s necklace which is named Brísingamen.
Very original! There's a deep thought-process behind the art, which gives real weight to the work.

Rufus writes, "I like this piece as it shows Freya differently than the others chose to represent her. With the falcon cloak, it shows an adventurous and daring side to Freya, and I like all the research you have done. Well done!"

Diana comments, "The structure of the design is very nice. I also liked the way you drew the falcon cloak. I have never seen her as a falcon-woman before, but the beak is effective."

Third Place: Skye P.

Lindsey Boykin
Age 16
Sheffield Lake, Ohio, USA

Lindsey writes:
I drew the moment Freyja’s necklace was stolen by Loki, but instead of the setting being in her bedroom, I drew her outside, sitting in the snow, crying her tears of gold to relate to midwinter. She is crying because now that it is stolen, they will find out her secret.

Her cats represent confusion as to why Loki stole the necklace. Deep down she knew it was stolen because Odin told Loki to take it for his own use.
Lindsey has a very creative interpretation based on thinking deeply about Norse mythology. This engagement with the lore has led to a unique approach to the subject. Great work!

Diana writes, "I really like the expressions on the faces of Freyja and the cats. Putting the theft of the necklace in winter is a nice bit of symbolism."

Rufus comments, "This is a fantastic drawing! I love how you can see Loki fleeing with the necklace off the page. It is a well-drawn study of Freya and a brave composition. You've used a very dramatic pose and chosen the scene carefully. You are very talented!"

Runner-Up: Lindsey Boykin

Adult winners will be announced tomorrow!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Art Contest – Kid Winners, Midwinter 2016

The kids' division of the 2016 Midwinter Art Contest included some fantastic entries. It's always difficult to judge such wonderful works!

I'd like to thank my fellow judges Rufus Dayglo (comics artist for Judge Dredd and Tank Girl) and Diana Paxson (author of Taking Up the Runes and Essential Ásatrú) for the time they spent considering entries and for their thoughtful comments on the works created by these talented young people. This contest would not be possible without their generous participation.

Congratulations to our four winners! The assignment was to create a piece that somehow related to the character and legends of the goddess Freyja and the celebration of midwinter.

This complex goddess has many aspects. The job of the artists was to find something about Freyja that spoke to them and inspired them, then combine it with some aspect of midwinter and create their own original work of art.

These four young artists created wonderfully imaginative works of art. I hope that they will all continue exploring Norse mythology and developing their artistic skills!

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

Rune Hatrak
Age 9
Belleville, New Jersey, USA

Rune writes, "This is the burning of the julbukk [Yule goat]. Above it, you can see Freyja's eyes crying gold tears for her husband. The tears become the fire of the burning julbukk at the bottom."

What a wonderful graphic design! It's strikingly original and powerful. Rune was the runner-up in the Midsummer 2015 contest and now leaps to first place. Congratulations!

Diana says, "The simplicity of this design has a very stark, Scandinavian quality. The Julbock is especially well-done. Good use of symbolism. I could see this working as a Yule card."

Rufus adds, "This is very inventive and captures the spirit of Freyja, and it uses imagination to depict the Julbukk, the golden tears, and the fire. It's a very well constructed and clever idea!"

First Place: Rune Hatrak

Orsolya Nagy
Age 7
Tab, Orgona, Hungary

Orsolya says the image shows "Freyja before the sun rises up."

Such a great drawing! I love how friendly Freyja looks.

Diana says, "Using crayon over lavender paper makes it look as if light is shining through – very effective. The elements in the picture are very well balanced, and I like Freyja’s expression."

Rufus writes, "I love this piece. It is so happy, and I love Freya's cats! I like that Orsolya was so brave using colour, and her drawing of Freya is beautiful!"

Second Place: Orsolya Nagy

Zoë Terwedow
Age 11
Ashton, Illinois, USA

Zoë writes, "My picture is Freyja in the snow when it's snowing. Since we had to draw her in midwinter, I thought of drawing her in the snow when it is snowing. The cats are the ones that pull her chariot."

Another friendly Freyja! What a lovely picture.

Rufus comments, "Beautiful depiction of Freya in the snow. It is atmospheric and makes me so happy! I love how you drew Freya and the cats! The blue and brown are a great complimentary color combination, and the composition is simple, direct, and clear. You are a great artist!"

Diana adds, "The way the snow is shown makes is look very snowy. I really like the expressions on the cats."

Third Place: Zoë Terwedow

London Hatrak
Age 11
Belleville, New Jersey, USA

London writes, "This is a picture of the burning Yule log in the hearth. Two cats sleep in front of the fire as a symbol of respect and reverence for Freyja."

London won second place in the Midsummer 2015 contest and tied for third place in the Midsummer 2014 contest. This is another great work! Part of the assignment for the artists was "to find something about Freyja that spoke to them and inspired them." London definitely did this in a wonderful way.

Diana writes, "The cats look very contented. The runes on the Yule log are a great touch. I also like the way you’ve done the bricks on the fireplace. This is a good picture of the meaning of Yule."

Rufus comments, "It's a great simple composition. I love how you drew and coloured the brickwork. Freya's cats look so happy and warm! There are some lovely details, the horn, the runes, the candles, and fir tree branches. It's a wonderful midwinter piece of art!"

Runner-Up: London Hatrak

Teen winners will be announced tomorrow!

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Wyrd Will Weave Us Together

The Norns by Charles E. Brock (1930)
Wyrd is a concept at the theological heart of Ásatrú and Heathenry. For many of those who practice one of the modern forms of the Old Way, wyrd is a core element of worldview. It stands behind, runs through, and supports our words and deeds. It connects each individual’s present moment to her past actions and to the actions of those around her. It forms a constantly shifting matrix that connects us all as we move through our intersecting lives.

The word wyrd itself comes from the Anglo-Saxon. In the main volume of An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary by Joseph Bosworth and T. Northcote Toller, the first translation given for wyrd is “what happens,” followed by “fate, fortune, chance.” In the dictionary’s supplement, additional translations are presented: “what is done, a deed, an action.”

The Old Norse cognate for the term is urðr, which An [Old] Icelandic-English Dictionary by Richard Cleasby and Guðbrandur Vigfússon translates as “a weird, fate.” The same word is used in medieval Icelandic literary sources as the name for one of the three Norns who sit at the well under a root of the World Tree and “shape men’s lives.”

The Oxford English Dictionary entry for weird gives a wide range of definitions, including “the principle, power, or agency by which events are predetermined,” “that which is destined or fated to happen to a particular person,” “what one will do or suffer,” and “a happening, event, occurrence.”

Taking the Old English, Old Icelandic and Modern English translations and definitions together, there is a curious combination of action and fate. These two concepts seem quite different on the surface level, as those of us raised in a modern western worldview tend to make a distinction between (1) the actions we take of our own free will and (2) the futures that are fated to occur by some deity or supernatural force.

However, for Heathens who believe that “we are our deeds,” the two ideas are inextricably linked. What actions you have taken in the past determine what fate awaits you in the future. This is not mystical predetermination at the whim of an omniscient and omnipotent deity but rather a system of cause and effect determined by actions here on Midgard, the world we inhabit.

This is also not an ideology of rugged individualism in which each Romantic hero singlehandedly determines his own destiny in a triumph of the will. Although your actions add color, weight and strength to the thread of your life, that thread continues to tie you back to your beginnings at birth. As you move through time, your thread is woven together with those of many others to form the tapestry of wyrd. Together, these two basic concepts underscore the connectedness that is at the heart of a Heathen worldview.

Before the first mooring of your thread occurs, it is important to choose your parents wisely. In the United States, we embrace the myth of the American Dream and pretend that every individual has an equal chance of success in worldly things. Wyrd tells us something else entirely, and it is more honest about the realities of this nation.

American Progress by John Gast (1872)
The actions of your parents shaped your wyrd long before you were born, as the actions of your parents’ parents shaped theirs. A child born to a crack-addicted and HIV+ mother in a poverty-stricken neighborhood has a much different wyrd than does one born to an automobile executive or a real estate developer with a deep portfolio of profitable investments. No matter how hard the first child struggles to take control of her own destiny, she will have to trudge a long and difficult uphill road filled with obstacles before she reaches even the starting point of the second.

Much of what we tell ourselves about level playing fields and the benefits of a traditional work ethic is designed to obscure this basic truth of the functioning of wyrd. We seek to deny that past actions have future consequences as we embrace fictions of forgiveness that forward the idea that our deeds can be erased from existence.

Whatever we want the world to be, whatever we will ourselves to be, the past continues to exert its influence on the present. It is this power that is expressed in the idea that wyrd represents “the principle, power, or agency by which events are predetermined.”

This predetermination is not predestination. As you live your life and make constant large and small decisions about what actions to take, those actions slip into the past and affect your present. The thread of your wyrd does not snap and separate from what has been spun in the past, but – with enough effort on your part – it can take twists and turns that change its orientation in the tapestry.

The weaving of the tapestry occurs when the deeds of others intertwine with your own. Your wyrd crosses that of everyone with whom you come into contact – family, friends, classmates, and colleagues. Your deeds affect their wyrd, and theirs affect yours. The more contact you have, the more actions you have taken together, the more closely intertwined your threads in the fabric.

This is not necessarily a matter of choice. If a student in your class who has never spoken to you has been abused by a family member to the point where he snaps, brings a rifle to class, and puts a bullet in your brain, his wyrd has profoundly affected yours – regardless of your own will and desire.

Woman Weaving by Oszkár Glatz (1922)
Truthfully, his abuser’s wyrd has affected yours, and the wyrd of those who drove the abuser to abuse have affected yours. At any moment in time, webs of wyrd spread out from that moment into countless strands tied to past deeds. The farther you move from this moment into the past, the greater the number of individuals that have influenced the present reality.

Taking this thought to its logical conclusion, it is clear that we are all connected. Every day, your wyrd is affected by people you will never meet. An IRS agent in Washington flags your tax returns for auditing because your name reminds him of a college admissions officer who treated him unfairly when he applied for financial aid. A FedEx driver loses the CV you overnighted for a job you really need because she didn’t sleep the night before due to a fight with her father over end-of-life care. A factory owner in China produces a plastic bowl that leaks toxins into your child’s oatmeal because the governor pressures him to ignore safety rules in order to remain competitive in the American market.

In each case, you are deeply affected by an action that is taken by someone with whom you have no personal connection, and their acts are connected to the actions of still others behind them. We cannot pretend that our free will is the sole determiner of our individual fate. We are all connected by the workings of wyrd, even if we staunchly deny its power.

Yet you are not the passive recipient of the wyrd of others. You are not the victim of powers beyond your control. As the deeds of those around you affect your wyrd, your own actions affect their wyrd. The closer your relationship to a person, the more impact you have on her life. Your deeds also spiral out from you, intersecting and interweaving with the actions of others, affecting innumerable individuals whom you will never meet face-to-face.

Despite the Romantic impulse to see ourselves as sovereign individuals and the nationalist impulse to divide ourselves into separate tribes, we are all connected. Together, our individual threads make up one great human tapestry, and each of us has a responsibility to always strive for right action. Wyrd will weave us together.

This article originally appeared at The Wild Hunt.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Art Contest – Midwinter 2016


The theme for The Norse Mythology Blog's seventh art contest is different than it has been in the past. Be sure to carefully read the entire Contest Theme section so that you understand the assignment.

During the winter solstice on December 21, those of us in the northern hemisphere will experience the shortest day and longest night of the year. This may seem early in the season, but it’s really the middle. From this point on, days will get longer as we slowly move back towards summer.

Throughout Northern Europe, there are local traditions that celebrate midwinter. Some of these practices preserve very old rituals. Your original piece of visual art should capture the midwinter spirit.

I strongly suggest doing some reading and research on myth and folklore before you begin your artwork. What characters and concepts can you discover? Can you think of a way to relate them to the contest theme?

If you need some ideas about mythology, browse The Norse Mythology Blog Archive. You can also click here to check out the past Midwinter Art Contest winners in the three categories: kid, teen, and adult. Most importantly – be creative!


Freyja and Loki ride down the Rainbow Bridge
Art by Katharine Pyle (1930)
Your artwork entry must somehow relate to the character and legends of the goddess Freyja and the celebration of midwinter.

This complex goddess has many aspects. Your job is to find something about Freyja that speaks to you and inspires you, then combine it with some aspect of midwinter and create your own original work of art.

Freyja has connections to battle, cats, love, travel, sadness, jewelry, ritual, magic, flight, death, and women. There certainly is a lot to draw on for your entry!

To get you started on your art project, here is how the Icelandic author Snorri Sturluson describes Freyja in his Edda (c1220).

Freyja [Lady] is the most glorious of the goddesses. She has a dwelling in heaven called Folkvangr [Field of the Folk], and wherever she rides to battle she gets half the slain, and Odin gets the other half.

Sessrumnir [Seat-Room], her hall, is large and beautiful. And when she travels she drives two cats and sits in a chariot.

She is the most approachable one for people to pray to, and from her name is derived the honorific title by which noble ladies are called frovur.

She was very fond of love songs. It is good to pray to her concerning love affairs.

She was married to someone called Od. Hnoss [Treasure] is the name of their daughter. She is so beautiful that from her name whatever is beautiful and precious is called hnossir.

Od went on long travels, and Freyja stayed behind weeping, and her tears are red gold.

Freyja has many names, and the reason for this is that she adopted various names when she was traveling among strange peoples looking for Od.

She owned the necklace Brisingamen.

[adapted from translation by Anthony Faulkes]

Snorri also writes about Freyja in Saga of the Ynglings, and says that she taught the gods known as the Æsir how to use the magic of the Vanir, the tribe of gods from which she came.

Njord's daughter was Freyja. She was a priestess, and she first taught wizardry to the Æsir, which was in use with the Vanir.

[adapted from translation by Erling Monsen]

In Þrymskviða (Lay of Thrym), Thor's hammer is stolen. Loki and the god of thunder ask Freyja for help finding it, and we learn of her wonderful cloak of falcon feathers that enables her to fly through the air.

They went to the beautiful courts of Freyja
and these were the very first words Thor spoke:
"Will you lend me, Freyja, your feather cloak,
to see if I can find my hammer?"

Freyja said:

"I'd give it to you even if it were made of gold,
I'd lend it to you even if it were made of silver."

Then Loki flew off, the feather cloak whistled…

[adapted from translation by Carolyne Larrington]

Jacob Grimm wrote about Freyja in his classic work on Teutonic Mythology (1835). He sums up information about the goddess from a variety of sources, provides parallels from later folklore, and offers his own own theories about her and her attributes.

Freyja's tears were golden, gold is named after them, and she herself is called "fair in weeping." In our nursery tales, pearls and flowers are wept or laughed out, and Frau Holle bestows the gift of weeping such tears.

But the oldest authorities make Freyja warlike also. In a wagon drawn by two cats (as Thor drives two goats), she rides to the battlefield and shares with Odin in the slain. Freyja has a wagon like Nerthus, like Holda and Freyr, Wotan [Odin] and Donar [Thor]. The kingly wagon is proper only to great exalted deities.

She is called mistress of the chosen and of the Valkyries in general.

Freyja's dwelling is named Folkvangr, the plains on which the (dead?) folk troop together. Freyja's hall is Sessrumnir, the seat-roomy, capacious of much folk.

Dying women expect to find themselves in her company after death. Thorgerdr in Egil's Saga refuses earthly nourishment; she thinks to feast with Freyja soon.

That the cat was sacred to Freyja, as the wolf to Wotan [Odin], will perhaps explain why this creature is given to night-hags and witches. When a bride goes to a wedding in fine weather, they say "she has fed the cat well," not offended the favorite of the love goddess.

In so far as such comparisons are allowable, Freyja would stand on a line with Venus, but also with Isis who seeks Osiris.

The Edda makes Freyja the owner of a costly necklace named Brisingamen. How she acquired this jewel from the dwarfs, how it was cunningly stolen from her by Loki, is fully narrated in a tale by itself. A lost lay of the Edda related how Heimdall fought with Loki for this ornament.

[adapted from translation by James Steven Stallybrass]

You can do any of these things:

1. Illustrate some version of Freyja and some aspect of midwinter
2. Illustrate the feeling of Freyja and midwinter
4. Create something inspired by Freyja and midwinter
5. Draw something connecting Freyja and midwinter to other characters or concepts from Norse myth and Germanic folklore

You must do this one thing:

Include a short explanation with your entry detailing how your work relates to Freyja and midwinter


In this contest, Marvel Comics characters are NOT considered part of Norse mythology or folklore. Art with imagery from comic books or movies will NOT be accepted. Do some reading and research on myth and folklore, then base your imagery on what you learn.


I am extremely proud to announce the judges for this year's Midwinter Art Contest. I greatly respect both of these incredibly talented people, and I'm very happy that they agreed to participate this year. The three of us will judge the entries together.

Rufus Dayglo
Echoes of the old goddesses in Solid Gold Death Mask
I've been a fan of Rufus Dayglo's art for nearly twenty years. His work for the legendary UK weekly comic 2000 AD and its monthly partner Judge Dredd Megazine is deeply creative, utterly unique, and instantly recognizable.

Rufus somehow manages to bring together chaotic energy with careful craftsmanship to forge a powerfully personal style that makes equal impact in both color and black and white.

For 2000 AD and Judge Dredd Megazine, he's drawn memorable series featuring Strontium Dog's Johnny Alpha, the disturbed soldiers of Bad Company, the awesomely scuzzy characters of Low Life, future lawman Judge Dredd, and new creation Counterfeit Girl.

In 2008, Rufus helped relaunch Tank Girl with character co-creator Alan C. Martin. He continued across six series that are now available in various collections.

Rufus is the artist for several titles published by DC Vertigo: Ghosts, Last Gang in Town, and The Unwritten. He also draws Solid Gold Death Mask for 3A.

Rufus is one of the most consistently creative artists working today. I'm very happy that he's a judge this year, and I look forward to his thoughtful comments on the entries.

Diana L. Paxson
Diana L. Paxson's Taking Up the Runes
After earning degrees in English Literature (Mills College) and Comparative Literature (University of California at Berkeley), Diana L. Paxson was one of the founders of the Society for Creative Anachronism.

She was co-author with Marion Zimmer Bradley on three books in the Avalon series that followed Bradley's The Mists of Avalon, then wrote three further installments as sole author. Her own extensive series of fantasy novels include the Chronicles of Westria and "a series of historical fantasy novels based on legends such as the stories of Tristan and Iseult, King Lear, Siegfried, and King Arthur."

From the late 1970s on, Diana has been a key figure in American Paganism and Heathenry. In 1986, she founded the Fellowship of the Spiral Path, an association of Californian groups that practice "reconstructed European traditions, Earth religion, and Goddess religion."

Her classes on runes in 1988 evolved into Hrafnar Kindred, a group "celebrating a round of feasts and other rituals based on Germanic traditions." Since joining the Troth in 1992, she has served the international Heathen organization as Steerswoman, Rede (Board) member, Clergy Program coordinator, and editor for the journal Idunna.

In addition to her fiction work, Diana has written widely read works on modern Paganism and Heathenry including Taking Up the Runes: A Complete Guide to Using Runes in Spells, Rituals, Divination, and Magic and Essential Ásatrú: Walking the Path of Northern Paganism.

I'm thankful that Diana agreed to serve as one of the judges, and I think she will have great insights as she reviews the entries we receive.


Tank Girl on the cover of Judge Dredd Megazine
Art by Rufus Dayglo
For the first time since the art contests began in 2013, there will be prizes for the first-place winners in each of the three age categories.

Rufus Dayglo has kindly agreed to provide a double prize for each individual winner:

• Personalized and signed original sketch

• Choice of Judge Dredd or Tank Girl print

Rufus is not only a fantastic artist, he's a solid fellow across the board. I'm really grateful for his offer to provide these wonderful prizes out of the kindness of his heart.


There will be three winners in each of the following categories:

Kids: Age 12 and under
Teens: Age 13-19
Adults: Age 20 and up


1. Art must be done with crayon, marker, paint, pen, pencil or digital materials.
2. Original art only; no photos or collage.
3. Art must be kid-friendly; no nudity or violence.
4. No copyrighted characters. Let’s leave the Marvel Comics to the professionals!
5. One entry per person, please.


Send an email to that includes the following:

1. Your full name (kids can give first name and last initial)
2. Your age (as of December 18, 2016)
3. Your location (city, state/province, country)
4. A short description of your artwork explaining how it relates to Freyja and midwinter
5. Your artwork (as an attachment)

Seriously, don’t forget to include your art as an attachment!


11:59 p.m. (Chicago time) on December 18, 2016


Contest winners will be featured on sites
and pages of Norse Mythology Online
Rufus, Diana and I will be judging the entries based on creativity and relation to Norse mythology. Do some reading, do some thinking and make something original!

The three winners in each age group will be featured on the many sites and pages of Norse Mythology Online:

The Norse Mythology Blog

The Norse Mythology Facebook Page

The Norse Mythology Google+ Page

The Norse Mythology Pinterest Page

The Norse Mythology Twitter Page

Your art and your description of it will be posted on all of the above outlets and will remain permanently in the The Norse Mythology Blog Archive.

December 21: Kid winners announced
December 22: Teen winners announced
December 23: Adult winners announced

Good luck to everyone!

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Norse Religion on the ABC

I was interviewed last Thursday for a broadcast of the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) radio program Afternoons. The episode featured in-depth interview segments on three ancient religions: Mayan, Rapa Nui, and Norse. Prof. Andrew Scherer spoke about the Mayans, Dr. Jo Anne Van Tilburg covered the Rapa Nui, and I discussed the Norse.

Hostess Kelly Higgins-Devine introduced my segment like this:
We see them in Marvel Comics, on the big screen – Thor and Odin. How close are those representations to the beliefs of the people who worshiped the Norse gods? You'll find out this afternoon. They may be more multi-layered than we've been led to believe.
A transcription of the Norse religion segment of the program is below. It includes my full answers with producer Jennifer Leake's questions in bold.

What is the Norse religion?

The term Norse religion is really a misleading one. I think it’s much more helpful to speak of Germanic religions in the plural. When I say Germanic, I don’t mean what we now think of as German – of being related to the nation-state of Germany. Instead, I mean a whole cluster of past cultures and languages, of people who spoke what we call Germanic languages like Old Norse and Old English.

Rock carving of spear god in Bohuslän, Sweden
If we step back and take a really expansive view, we can talk about Germanic polytheism that stretches back almost 4,000 years. Way back in about 1800 BCE, there are rock carvings in Scandinavia that show “reverse echoes” of the gods that we know from the Viking Age, like Thor and Odin.

In these rock carvings, there are images of a deity with a spear who seems like the earliest prototype of the god Odin. There is a god with an axe who, over long centuries, may have evolved into Thor.

There are written records and archeological artifacts that document this cluster of religions from this very earliest period all the way to the Christian conversions that finished around 1150. We’re talking about a period that lasts from 1800 BCE to the twelfth century, covering a vast area of continental Europe, Scandinavia, and the British Isles.

We can’t say that there was one great Catholic heathen religion. Instead, there was a large group of local religions over a wide range of time and space that do seem to share fundamental concepts, practices, and beliefs. We usually associate Norse religion with the Vikings, but that is merely one subdivision at a particular time and place of a much larger religio-cultural matrix.

Some of their Gods are still well known today. What is the mythology behind Thor?

The old gods can’t really be reduced to one simple function. We usually think of him in pop culture as the god of thunder. I would ask, what does that even mean? He would just be a god of making a really loud sound, which doesn’t mean anything religiously. Thunder, I would say, is just one manifestation of his presence here on Midgarð or Middle-earth, which is the plane of reality that we live on as humans.

A farmer looks up to Thor in a painting by Max Koch (1900)
If you really want to understand who Thor is, you look at the weapon that he has – the famous hammer of the gods. In the myths, his hammer is the most valued treasure of everything the gods have, because he uses it to defend gods and humans from the giants, who really represent the destructive forces of nature.

This protective function of Thor and his hammer is reflected in actual religious objects. There’s an eleventh-century Swedish amulet that says on it, “may the lightning hold all evil away” and “may Thor protect [me] with that hammer.” It has a protective function, but that shades over into a blessing function.

One of his many secondary names – because all the old gods have long lists of names that they’re referred to by – one of these has been interpreted as “Blessing-Thor,” “Thor, the one who blesses.” In the pop culture version, we don’t think of him blessing things with his hammer, but in the Icelandic sagas, there is record of people making the sign of his hammer over food as a symbol of blessing, like a Christian would make the sign of the Cross.

It seems that Thor’s hammer blessed major life events like birth, marriage, and death – but we know it was also used to claim land and to mark boundaries. In other words, it blessed all the ways that members of a community relate to each other.

We also know that people wore Thor’s hammer pendants – small Thor’s hammers on necklaces. They were very popular in the Viking Age. They seem to be an expression of belonging to a community, both in life and in death.

Another important god was Odin. What was his religious place?

He is also very complicated, like all of the gods of the old polytheistic religions. On one hand, you can see him as a god of language, poetry, and runes. On the other hand, he is a god of magic, war and death. To us, those don’t seem to go together, but the early people – whom we sometimes think of as primitive – often had very complicated theological ideas.

On one side, I think it’s a very deep and beautiful thing. He is determined to learn all he can about the world and about the future, even though what he learns doesn’t make him any happier – because he knows that the doom of the gods is coming, eventually.

Odin at the Well of Wisdom by Willy Pogany (1920)
He is willing to sacrifice one of his eyes just to get one sip from the Well of Wisdom. He is willing to hang himself from the World Tree for nine days and nights with no food and drink, hung and stabbed with a spear, in order to gain knowledge of the runes – the symbols that, according to the myths, were both a writing system and a magical system.

He travels all over the Nine Worlds to ask questions about the origin of the universe, the way things are now, the way the world will end. He risks his life by questioning powerful giants, and he even raises dead prophetesses from the grave to ask what the future will bring.

He has this determination to learn everything he can, to make personal sacrifices to gain wisdom, which I think is an inspiring thing – but the other side can be very frightening.

He learns on his travels about Ragnarök, which lmeans “doom of the powers.” The powers are the gods, so the term means the end of the world, when the giants and the evil dead will rise up and destroy gods, humans, elves, dwarves, the world itself. The giants themselves are destroyed. Everything is destroyed. Then a new world of peace and light rises from the ruins of the old world.

Knowing that this calamity is coming drives Odin to do some dark things. He stirs up war and fighting all over the world. This seems like a horrible thing, but he’s doing it to find the greatest heroes, the ones who win in battle, who eventually he can take to his side to fight on the side of gods and humanity at the end of time.

That’s the image we have of the Valkyries who fly over the battlefield choosing who are the greatest heroes to come up to his hall. Valkyrie means “chooser of the slain.” When the hero falls, the Valkyries take him up to serve Odin.

It’s an interesting thing, because it shades from a god who inspires language and creativity all the way over to a god who causes the turmoil of life in order to prepare for the darkness he knows is coming.

Did the Germanic tribes have any buildings that we might recognize as temples?

Reconstruction of a small heathen temple and altar in Norway
There was a wide variety of practice involving temples and holy areas. We’re talking about a very long period and a very great area on the map.

Tacitus, a Roman writer, reports in the first century that the Germanic tribes laughed at the idea of their gods being small enough to fit into man-made temples, but Adam of Bremen in the eleventh century writes of an enormous temple in Uppsala, Sweden, with statues of Thor, Odin, and Freyr – who’s more of a fertility god.

In between, in this long period, there were various holy groves, sacred spaces, and hofs – buildings dedicated to religious rites that are much smaller than the national-level temple in Uppsala.

Was there any sacrifice in Norse religion?

There was sacrifice going all the way back to the earliest recorded era. Roman authors writing about the Germanic tribes were shocked by human sacrifice, but the other sacrifices they thought were completely normal.

From the first to the eleventh century, there are written accounts of the sacrifice of weapons, armor, animals, slaves, prisoners, and even kings. It was done for a variety of reasons, for everything from assuring good harvests to thanking the gods for victory in battle.

What festivals or occasions through the year did they recognize and celebrate? Was there a calendar of celebration?

We have isolated bits in the written record that suggest that the midwinter celebration was very important and involved sacrificial meals and ritual drinks directed to the gods.

The word Yule that we still use was originally from their religion, and the word itself is connected to one of Odin’s secondary names. The Yule feast was dedicated til árs oc til friðar – to a fruitful and peaceful season. You can see how that shades into Christmas in our modern practice.

During that time at midwinter when you have the longest nights and the darkest point of the year, the barriers between the living and dead were thought to be at their thinnest. It is a pretty terrifying time. The restless dead leave their burial mounds and walk abroad.

The Wild Hunt by Emil Doepler (1905)
The Wild Hunt – which was also associated with Odin – roams the skies and the forests and sweeps up any who venture outside during the long nighttime hours. Some of these beliefs survived as folklore very far into the Christian era. We have records of the Wild Hunt as a folk belief that goes on for centuries, with Christians still believing in it.

One of the sagas from Iceland in the early thirteenth century credits Odin with creating laws that determine when the major sacrifices of the year should be made. It says, “there should be sacrifice towards winter for a good year, and in the middle of winter sacrifice for a good crop, a third in summer, that was victory sacrifice.”

Modern scholars have connected the summer rite with the departure of ships leaving for trading and raiding, and they suggest that a spring sacrifice existed to call for fertility of crops and of livestock.

It really is just fascinating, especially as Norse mythology still appeals to people today. We look at the Marvel Comics depiction of it on screen, of course. That’s an indicator, really, of how it still seeps into our psyche.

Right! I think that Norse mythology appeals to people today at three levels – at the dramatic level, the emotional level, and the spiritual level.

At the dramatic level, they are really great tales of adventure. We keep seeing them being retold. Neil Gaiman, the author of American Gods, has a new book coming out retelling the main Norse myths. There are comics, movies, video games – so many different things that either retell them close to the sources or use them as a starting point to make completely new stories.

The ancient giant falls before the young gods
Illustration by Katharine Pyle (1930)
If you go back to the original myths, the gods create the world from the corpse of an ancient giant. They set the moon, sun, and stars on their courses. Then they create dwarves out of the earth. The first humans are made from trees. A mysterious unkillable sorceress wanders among the gods and teaches them a strange magic.

At the end of the mythic timeline, after long ages of cosmic myths and heroic adventures, the sun and stars are destroyed, and our world perishes in fire and flood. After all that, a new world rises up clean from the waters, new gods appear, and a new age begins.

All of what I’ve just said comes from only one poem, so we’re talking about a wonderful repertoire of deeply dramatic ideas.

When you move to the emotional level – how people, I think, still react to them – the myths appeal to us as an expression of exuberant excitement at the experience of existence.

Thor, for example, really embodies the joy of life lived to its fullest. He drinks unbelievable amounts. He feasts with gods, elves, giants, and men. He takes human children on amazing adventures, which I think is hilarious and doesn’t seem to pop out in the pop culture version.

He has a little boy and girl who are like the Robins to his Batman. He takes them on adventures to Giantland, and they get to have contests with giants. In a Danish comic book which was made into a movie a while back, they have the kids there – but in America, we have more the image of a macho superhero.

Freyja, who is one of the main goddesses, rides in a chariot pulled by cats. Many people have said to me that her greatest godly power is that she can get cats to go in one direction together. She’s known for loving loving songs, loving love affairs. She soars through the skies wearing a cloak of falcon feathers.

These are larger-than-life characters who are able to do what we can only dream of, so it’s very emotionally appealing, I think, to this child that still lives on in us as adults.

When you turn to a third level, to a spiritual level, there’s really a powerful worldview that is contained in the mythology.

Odin never stops trying to learn about the future, even though everything he finds out tells him that the world will die, that he will die, that even the dead who come back from the afterlife will die. Everyone dies. But he doesn’t get depressed and just go home and sit on the couch and watch TV. He keeps searching for knowledge and never ceases fighting against the end and raging against the dying of the light.

I think this is a powerful spiritual view, because it tells us in the myths that the gods will die, but the new gods will be their children when the world rises from the fire and flood of the doom of the powers at Ragnarök. We look at that now, and what does it tell us?

The road goes ever on…
Photo of ash tree in Lincolnshire, England by Kate Nicol
It tells us that we ourselves won’t live forever, but our children will survive us, and their children will survive them. The branches of the World Tree continue to grow, and new leaves appear every springtime.

I think that’s a deeply spiritual and powerful message that appeals to people who actually read the original myths.

Thank you so much for sharing your expertise with us this afternoon. It’s just been wonderful to hear some more about what we call Norse mythology. Thank you!

Thank you so much for having me! I appreciate it.
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