|"Global perspectives for an American audience"|
The item was broadcast on “The World,” a nightly show hosted by Marco Werman. It was ostensibly a news item on the addition of Thor’s hammer to the official list of “available emblems of belief for placement on government headstones and markers” by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs – an event that was widely reported by the pagan media back in May, but completely ignored by mainstream news media and religion reporters.
|The new government-approved|
Thor's hammer grave marker
PRI ➵ design mag ➵ blog ➵ press releases ➵ actual involved heathens
Clearly, the producers at PRI (Public Radio International) googled “thor’s hammer va decision” and contacted the author of the first result. I discussed this issue with Jason. He said, “I agree that it's problematic when you get too many degrees of journalistic separation between the story and its source. I would never hold myself up as the sole source on a story like this – only for additional context or background. I was uncomfortable with being the only source and would have gladly handed over my role to a heathen directly involved in the process.”
|Memo to PRI: Marvel Comics ≠ Religious Texts|
On Monday of this week, I started a letter-writing campaign via my Norse Mythology Online sites on Facebook, Google+, Pinterest and Twitter. I called upon heathens and the heathen-friendly to “send a polite letter [to Public Radio International] expressing your great disappointment in their complete and utter disrespect for minority religions.” I asked why PRI had not contacted Josh Heath, an army veteran who was at the center of the quest to have Thor’s hammer approved as a grave marker. I spoke at length to Josh and his wife Cat about their work in my three-part feature on “Heathens in the Military” for The Norse Mythology Blog earlier this year. Their efforts on behalf of Ásatrú military via their Open Halls Project should have been at the core of PRI’s piece, but were not even mentioned.
|Sveinbjörn Beinteinsson's 1992 autobiography|
On Wednesday, Porzucki recorded a twenty-minute interview with me on the nature of Ásatrú and the meaning of Thor’s hammer. She also interviewed Josh Heath. As with me, she first had a very long background conversation with him, then recorded an interview for broadcast. I put her in contact with Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson and Jóhanna G. Harðardóttir – leaders of the Ásatrúarfélagið – but she never spoke to them.
On Thursday, “The World” aired a short follow-up story. Between the two of us, Josh and I had spent nearly three hours on the phone with Porzucki. In multiple emails, we had sent her background information, contacts, sources and images. The final piece was two-and-a-half minutes, with a few seconds from each of us. There was no apology given on-air or on the website. The online story has been “updated,” but still features the chubby guy in the movie costume – and no apology for the disrespectful original story.
|Marco Werman: No Apologies|
I’m not surprised by any of this. I’ve written before about public radio’s poor coverage of minority religions (as part of an article on “Obama and Ostara”). What did surprise me was the amazing response to my call for a letter-writing campaign. There are a lot more HOPI (heathens of positive intent) out there than even I thought, and they are ready to call out the media when their religion is misrepresented. This is a wonderful thing.
What follows is the complete text of my answer to PRI about the meaning of Thor’s hammer. I understand that the media edits interviews down to fit time and space constraints, but I also feel that this case was bit extreme – especially given the questionable nature of the original piece and the massive criticism it received. I hope that readers will find my summary of symbolism interesting, and I offer it as a thank you to everyone who stood up for Ásatrú and wrote a heartfelt letter to public radio.
|11th-century runic inscription to Thor|
from Runic Amulets and Magic Objects
by Mindy MacLeod & Bernard Mees
Here I carved for you help, Bofi.There is a fish inscribed on the amulet, and the reference to the gods being “under him and over him" suggests Bofi is on the water. The line about Thor’s hammer coming “from out of the sea” refers to the famous myth of Thor’s fishing trip, when the god struggles to pull the destructive World Serpent up from the sea's bottom and throws his hammer into the water after the monster. This is clear example showing that the hammer is a representation of Thor’s sacred function – a symbol of his protective role.
Help me! Knowledge is certain for you.
And may the lightning hold all evil away from Bofi.
May Thor protect him with that hammer which came from out of the sea.
Flee from evil! It gets nothing from Bofi.
The gods are under him and over him.
The protecting function shades into a blessing function. One of Thor’s many secondary names has been interpreted as “Blessing-Thor.” In the Icelandic sagas, there is record of people making the sign of the hammer over food as a symbol of blessing. In the myths, Thor uses his hammer to bless both a marriage and a funeral pyre.
|Swedish Bronze Age carving of godlike figure|
blessing couple with large axe or hammer
The blessing ritual seems to have been a practice that lasted in some form for over 2,000 years, from the Bronze Age through the Viking Age. The later literary sources suggest that the hammer was used to bless the bride, probably as a fertility symbol – a practice that is clearly related to the practice of blessing newborns with the hammer to welcome them into the community.
|Swedish memorial rune stone with Thor's hammer|
Images of the Thor’s hammer appear on Viking Age memorial stones in Sweden and Denmark, many with direct written appeals to Thor to bless the monument and burial site. The texts generally follow a formula and say “May Thor hallow these runes,” “May Thor hallow this memorial” or simply “May Thor hallow,” but one Norwegian inscription actually says “take to yourself the body lying beneath this stone.” Many Thor’s hammer amulets have been found in burials over a wide range of time and place, and their inclusion again suggests a protective function. In one myth, Thor brings his dead goats back to life with his hammer, with suggests a connection to resurrection or welcoming into an afterlife that may be related to the funeral imagery.
Taken together, the historical evidence suggests that the hammer blessed major life events – birth, marriage, death – but it was also used in feasting, claiming land and marking boundaries. In other words, it blessed all the ways that members of a community relate to each other. So, wearing the sign of the hammer is an expression of belonging to a community – in both life and death.
THOR’S HAMMER PENDANTS
|10th-century Swedish Thor's hammer pendants|
Today, heathens who wear Thor’s hammer amulets or place it on their grave markers are consciously continuing the ancient usage. The symbolic thread that runs strongest through all eras and places and people is a sense of community. By wearing Thor’s hammer, you are declaring that you are part of a specific community.
|Ritual Thor's hammer|
crafted by Josh Heath
In that sense, the hammer of Thor has done what the ancient people believed it could – it has preserved the community and enabled it to survive across the boundaries of life and death. That’s pretty amazing.