Friday, March 17, 2017

Nine Heathens Speak of Spring

Since the beginnings of the modern Ásatrú and Heathen era in the early 1970s, the revival, reconstruction, and reimagining of a wide variety of religious beliefs and practices rooted in northern Europe have spread across much of the globe. The Worldwide Heathen Census 2013 received responses from ninety-eight countries, ranging from a single practitioner in Algeria to nearly eight thousand in the United States. That’s an amazing spread of a new religious movement in a relatively short period.

The Northern Gods Descending
by W.G. Collingwood

As we neared the vernal equinox and the beginning of spring here in Chicago, I began to wonder how Heathens around the world welcomed the change of seasons. I contacted Heathens in Canada, Costa Rica, Denmark, France, Germany, Iceland, Mexico, Scotland, and the USA and asked them a few simple questions: How do you celebrate the arrival of spring? Do you have a specific ritual? Do you use specific texts? Do you honor specific deities, wights, or ancestors?

In order to avoid any sense of preference, I present their responses in alphabetical order by country. I have not listed any organizational affiliations, since I asked each person to write about what he or she thinks is important as an individual, not necessarily about what any organization they belong to says or does officially. These nine people do not serve as representatives or spokespeople for their national, regional, or local communities. They are simply Heathens offering personal perspectives on the coming of spring.

The diversity of Heathen worldviews and practices shines strongly through in this small sampling. From the philosophical to the spiritual, from family tradition to sacrificial ritual, these answers show how much individual difference exists within Heathenry today. On the other hand, there are commonalities both subtle and overt that weave through the tapestry of these thoughtful reflections. Whether or not you believe that there is such a thing as a larger Heathen community, there are certainly common touchstones that are shared across wide distances.

John T. Mainer (Canada)
The celebration of spring for me has always been not a single action or event. Like our ancestors, I mark the turning of the seasons less by the liturgical calendar and more by the state of the land. The mudding of the fields is the beginning of spring, the point at which you can break the ground with the plow. It is at this time that we gather to do a few things in group ritual.

John T. Mainer (right)

We prepare the tools that we will use in the harvest, sanctifying them at Dísirblót [Old Norse dísablót, “sacrifice to the female deities”] that what we gather be gathered with full awareness of the price paid. We reach out to our dísir [“female deities”], call to those dísir who are closest to us, and ask their guidance for the year to come. Dísirblót is a powerful but somber ceremony, about turning away from the dark, counting the cost of the season past, and making sure we face the season to come with due reverence for what we are given.

Easter is less somber. When the rabbits dance, Easter is come. Quite literally, when the rabbits hit mating season and begin dancing – it’s not a metaphor, they really do it – then Easter is come. We celebrate the way the secular society does, as they stole it from us, and such things as chocolate that have snuck in we gleefully vike back. Easter is for the children. It is the bright face of spring; the renewal, rebirth, the rising of hope; and the giving of thanks for the promise of life that explodes around you.

On May Day or Walpurgisnacht, the last act of spring is the eternal dance at the maypole. Symbolic of the phallic male renewing power of Freyr, the maypole is the rising potency of the earth that we seek to bind to the needs of the folk. The dance at the maypole, the crowning of the May Queen to echo bright Freyja is to give thanks, to celebrate the wild love and passion of renewal.

There is a soul-deep connection between humanity and the land. The turning of the world, the cycles of life are not alien to us. They are a part of us, and in springtime, for our own mental and spiritual health, we need to renew those ties and ground ourselves in the earth that sustains us, that we may better hear the gods, wights, and ancestors.

Esteban Sevilla (Costa Rica)
One of the main problems is that in my country the weather is extremely tropical. We don’t have spring or winter. So I celebrate it around the time the rains should start, some time around mid-April. I don’t celebrate Ostara, since I am mostly centered on the Norse gods.

Esteban Sevilla

What we do is a mix of Sigurblót [“victory sacrifice”] and Várblót [cf. Vár, goddess of oaths]; an offering to the agricultural deities such as Thor, Freyr, and some other fertility gods like Freyja; and for victory we honor Odin. Also, we honor some vættir [“wights”], since we consider them important during this time of change. The spirits will nurture with the rains, and nature will flourish again after the dry season.

We try to read some poems from the Poetic Edda, but this is a thing we are still trying to define, since we still haven’t found a specific reading that matches with the blót’s theme.

Mathias Valentin Nordvig (Denmark)
I used to celebrate the arrival of spring by going to the well of the largest river in Denmark. It is called Gudenå, which means “River of the Gods,” and it most certainly was an important holy river to our ancestors. Along its course, there are several important historical sites such as the city of Viborg, its name meaning “Holy Citadel” or possibly “Holy Mountain.”

The Gudenå in Denmark

Giving offerings to the well of the Gudenå in late April or early May, my celebration of spring is not just a celebration of the cycle of nature, but the health and wealth of the land and nation of Denmark. There are several ancient burial mounds there, and the old Iron Age highway that cuts through the Jutland peninsula runs close by there. This is a site of immense historical, religious, and national power in Denmark where nature, our ancestors, and our land become one.

I have typically given offerings to Freyja, Frigg, and Sága. In this context, they represent a kind of trinity of fertility comparable to the Matronae of the early Germanic cult in the Rhineland. They also represent a trinity of time comparable to the Nornir.

Sága represents history and the iteration of the past. She drinks with Odin every day in her court at Sökkvabekkr [“sunken bank”], and I see this as a variation on the theme of Odin drinking from Mimir’s well to gain knowledge. It is also a variation on the theme of Odin retrieving the Mead of Poetry from Gunnlöð inside the mountain. Mead is therefore shared with the well of the Gudenå.

Freyja is known as the goddess of our land. For two hundred years, our national anthem has repeated this idea. We sing, “There is a wonderful land; growing with broad beech trees; and it is the Hall of Freyja.” Freyja, to me, represents my country with its lush green growth, fertile rolling hills, and imposing wetlands. The physical, the concrete, is that which is present now, not something that exists in the past or the future.

Frigg is associated with the future. This is because she has foresight, and, in my opinion, a hand in the creation of fate. It is her purpose to secure the future and our fate, and I give her offerings for that.

I typically use a combination of Grímnismál [“Sayings of the Masked One”] and Hávamál [“Sayings of the High One”] for my rituals, as I find the idea of using Skírnismál [“Sayings of Shining One”] out of the question. Many would like to see Skírnismál as a romantic love story about the marriage of Freyr and Gerðr, but the fact is that the story is not about marriage and love, but rather coercion and sexual dominance.

Úlfdis Haraldsdóttir (France)
Usually I do a simple blót to celebrate spring, with some food and drink to offer. For this occasion, I usually invoke the landvaettir [“land spirits”] to celebrate the return to life of the earth. I adapt the ceremony each time depending on the current situation of me and my relatives. I have no specific ritual outside from the opening and closing of the ceremony.

Úlfdis Haraldsdóttir

The opening is made by invoking different deities at each cardinal point. I usually have at least Odin and Freyja, and I adapt the others depending on the ceremony – Freyr in addition to Freyja, of course, and usually elves, too. I invoke them and offer to each of them some mead. For the closing I just redo a circle around the place, thank them all for their presence, and declare the ceremony is closed. Quite simple. I don’t use any specific text but do it fully on improvisation, depending on my mood at this moment.

Ulrike Pohl (Germany)
I do not celebrate the arrival of spring in a ritual manner at home. Around the twenty-first of March, what I do is to bring some forsythia twigs and decorate them with painted eggs – empty ones – and place them on the altar. I save eggs, and we dye them. In some years, I get up very early on the twenty-first and collect Osterwasser [“Easter water”], which is supposed to be collected in silence and at dawn. We wash our faces with it, and the rest is sprinkled in the garden. Other spring traditions around here are usually placed around the Easter holidays, for example the Osterfeuer [“Easter fire”].

My community meets around the equinox date to celebrate Ostara. We have a big blót and three very full days. Apart from the blót being in the morning and that we sometimes incorporate a blessing with freshly cut twigs like hazel, it isn’t overly spring-related. Some of us feel like Ostara/Ēostre is a goddess, or at least a goddess name, like a byname of Freyja. I’m not sure.

For me and my family, the arrival of spring is marked by transitions in nature, not necessarily a date like spring equinox. So we enjoy seeing “firsts,” more light and warmth, but we mark it by traditional actions like egg dyeing and bringing twigs inside to force blooms – not so much actions with religious meaning.

Jóhanna G. Harðardóttir (Iceland)
We have a very special ritual in spring. It is called Sigurblót, blót of victory. We call upon Freyr and Freyja and Mother Earth and celebrate that summer has won over the winter. Our celebrations are especially for the children and for the young growth of spring.

Jóhanna G. Harðardóttir (with drinking horn)

There are always the same actions to beginnings of all blóts and ceremonies: light the fire, have something in the horn. I always use the oath ring for the ceremony’s start. I hold it up, sometimes I move it over my head – first left, then right, and at last just straight upwards.

After reciting from Sigurdrífumál [“Sayings of the Victory-Inciter”], I talk about sigur [“victory”]. Not always the same text; it depends on what is on my mind; usually the coming of spring, children, the beginning of the Ásatrúarfélagið [“Ásatrú Fellowship”]. Poems, stories and that sort of thing are absolutely something that I always use, but that is just the spur of the moment. We are living people, and we must do things our way and follow the moment.

We end by having a feast where we eat, drink, talk, sing, and are happy. Otherwise, we are acting upon what is going on in society, with our people, in nature, and so on.

Click here for more from Jóhanna.

Stracy Bryan Salazar Arellano (Mexico)
We celebrate the arrival of spring on the spring equinox within the Ostara celebration. We offer blót to the gods and goddesses like Freyr, Freyja, Jörð, Sunna, Ostara, Eir and Óðr to have fertility, health, prosperity, and much work.

Stracy Bryan Salazar Arellano

Our blót includes some mead, our blood, and blood from a sacrifice -– in this case a rabbit -– offered to the gods and goddesses, irrigating the ground. The meat of this sacrifice is eaten, and the skin used to make bags for our runes, hats, or shoes. We also burn a representation of a sun-wheel. We use the Sigurdrífumál, and sometimes we read some text from the Edda talking about the gods and goddesses included in the celebration.

Páll Thormod Morrisson (Scotland)
Spring in Scotland is humorously expected to be heralded in with a snow flurry, but whenever the sun does show itself, natives like myself are possibly inclined to grump a little less, but acknowledge any seasonal change with a hearty drink.

I don’t really do much ritually beyond a libation to gods and relatives on the other side, and readings from Celtic or Norse myth and legend, being more philosophically minded than religious. As someone who has studied both Celtic and Nordic tradition in a country that had people following either of these paths –- and sometimes a combination of the two -– the deities I honor are reflective of this mixture of traditions.

Jennifer Snook (USA)
Spring is very exciting for us in Iowa. The snow has melted -– finally! –- and we can see the earth again. Our trees start to leaf out. We can get the garden tilled and compost mixed and begin to plant our vegetable seeds indoors. The ice on the pond has melted, we can see the fish again, and be outside without our faces freezing.

Jennifer Snook (in Colorado, not Iowa)

Our family ritual this year, and for years to come, centers around our garden and working outside, during which I think deeply about the land spirits on our property. I do sometimes speak to them when I’m working in the yard, or walking by the garden, or sitting by the pond. We just moved here, so everything is very new, and we are all still getting acquainted.

My experience of Heathenry is outside of texts and deity. For me, it is much more about teaching my girls to think of nature as alive and to celebrate the changing seasons by being mindful and deliberate about how we interact with the natural spaces around us.

Click here for more from Jennifer.

An earlier version of this article appeared at The Wild Hunt.


Eric said...

My family always considers the equinox like a new year. We honestly don't celebrate like we would want, but we recognize the time sow seeds of positive outcomes to harvest later in the year.

Unknown said...

I don't celebrate Spring, also but I hold it in my heart as the snows melt in Nova Scotia, Canada of the Annapolis Valley, I am a combination of atleast 4 ancestories, Norse, Irish and British Celts and ancestors of Norse in France. You see on 1140 The Queen of Normandy's husband was assassinated and on the English Briton lands our Breheny Family gave up their daughter Alice Breheny just a month old or so to the Norse Queen of Normandy so her bloodline would continue, Alice Breheny was raised as a Norman and little was known just whom it was the family that did this so our BREHENY GENEROUSITY should be remembered by the Norse.

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