There's been a powerful disturbance in the Force the last couple days.
Yesterday, the group that calls itself the Asatru Folk Assembly left a Facebook post which I have screen-cap't at right....
PaganSquare is a community blog space where Pagans can discuss topics relevant to the life and spiritual practice of all Pagans.
The Sif doll seated on the harvested wheat. This is a Lithuanian doll that I bought in an amber shop along with some amber in 1989. Shortly after I dedicated part of my garden to Sif last year, I was walking past the display of folk art in my house where I used to display this doll and it called to me to dedicate it to Sif. So I did a dedication ritual, which I related in my post A Doll for Sif. I moved the doll to my Spiritual Souvenir display, which is kind of a wall altar.
I almost always make, remake, or repurpose things to dedicate rather than buying things new for that purpose. I feel that conserving resources is part of how I live as a heathen....
The Wheel of the Year is different for me than it was for the ancient Northern Europeans. I live in the Mojave Desert in southern Nevada. Part of respecting nature is respecting local conditions rather than trying to stick to what a book says should be because that's the way the ancestors did it.
Last December, as I related in my blog post Planting Heritage Wheat for Sif, I planted locally adapted arid-lands wheat in a small garden area dedicated to her. Here are my results. I harvested this wheat in early June....
I dedicated a small doll to the grain goddess, Sif, to keep in the Spiritual Souvenir Shrine on my wall. I had had the doll for years, having bought it in the Soviet Union when I was in college, but one day I suddenly looked at it and thought "Sif." It has pale yellow hair, but its hair was all messed up from the years, so I restyled it. While I was trying to smooth her hair down, some of it fell out!
I had to fix that somehow. So, of course then I had to make the hairstyle better than before, because in the myth where Loki cuts her hair and then goes and has the dwarves make her new hair, the renewed hair was better. So instead of retying the pony tails with the orange thread the doll came with, I retied it with gold thread. I completely unintentionally re-enacted the grain myth where her hair is cut and then replaced with hair of gold, symbolizing the harvest and regrowth of the grain. Now it's a Sif doll for sure!
Image: Sif by Relotixke
This photo is my altar for a holiday sumbel and blot, such as Yule. Sumbel is the toasting and blot is the blessing.
Altars for different purposes will have different things on them. This one is a portable altar used for community ritual. A permanent altar dedicated to a god or ancestor or to the gods generally, also called a shrine, would generally have fewer working tools and more symbols, and would probably include representations of the gods or other beings to whom it is dedicated, such as statues or pictures, and possibly sacrifices to them. Some Asatruars keep shrines and some don't, but any Asatru community ritual includes a sumbel, and most include a blot.
The altar for a sumbel has to include something to drink since sumbel is a toasting ritual. Asatru uses a drinking horn for this ritual. We use a cow's horn to honor Audhumla, the sacred cow who was the first self-aware being. Our mythology says that before time began or the World Tree grew, Audhumla licked the gods and the giants out of the ice and nurtured them on her milk. So a cow's horn represents the Great Mother.
There are two bottles and two horns on the altar in this picture because one bottle and horn set is for alcohol and one is for a non-alcoholic beverage. This altar also contains a bottle opener. This isn't a dedicated holy bottle opener, just the normal one from my kitchen, but being used for ritual means this opener is going to have a bit of specialness about it even after being returned to normal use. It is traditional to toast with mead, but other beverages work, too.
The altar for blot almost always contains all the things for sumbel as well because sumbel usually comes first and then blot. In the old days, the blot bowl caught the blood of a sacrificed animal, keeping the blood from touching the ground, and then the blood was sprinkled over the participants to bless them. In modern times, the bowl is partially filled with water, and then the dregs of the horn are poured in the bowl after the sumbel, and the mead / water mixture is sprinkled over the participants to bless them.
The pine branch on the altar is the asperger, which is used to sprinkle the water onto the participants. This pine branch is from a sacred pine tree I maintain at my home for this purpose. Before the main ritual, I ritually cut the asperger from the tree with this ritual knife. The knife can then go on the altar, on my belt, or can be put away.
This basic altar contains only the things necessary for the ritual. It can also be decorated with seasonally appropriate decorations, symbols of the gods, and anything meaningful to the godhi or gythia (the conductor of the ritual) or to the ritual participants.
Hoarfrost sparkled on the dark ground, reflecting harsh nearby ballfield lights that did not illuminate the tree-dotted lawn of the park. It was winter 2009. Local heathens of the Las Vegas area gathered to welcome a new baby, who was wrapped in a large fur blanket against the winter cold. The kindred sponsoring the event consisted of a core group of heathens among a larger a group of non-heathens in a Renaissance Faire guild, so, some of the people gathered there wore modern dress, some were in Renfaire or re-enactor garb, and some wore a mix of both.
The kindred’s godhi, or priest, was going to perform a baby blessing and naming ceremony. The godhi was having a bad time with a chronic health issue right then, and did not feel up to calling power, so he asked me to perform the blessing.
I was there as a community member, so I did not have any of my ritual stuff with me. I looked around for things I could use, and saw that there was a bottle of mead for toasting (sumbel) and blessing (blot.) The baby’s family’s sword was firmly stuck point first in the ground. I could work with that. That would be the conduit for the ancestor honor transfer. The ancestors were under the earth, and the sword was part in the earth and part above it. In heathenry, there are many different traditions about where the dead go and what they become after death, since heathenry draws on a vast time period and many different, although related, cultures. In many of the ancient cultures, there was no clear line between the grave mound and the elf mound, and that idea survives in the modern saying that the dead have gone to stay with the elves. An early story about the interior of a grave mound showed the dead fighting each other in endless war, very much like the Viking age depiction of Valhalla. So, the direction of the ancestors is down, in the earth.
I mentally tallied what was and was not essential among the things that were not there. I could do without a blotbolli (blessing bowl.) I would pour the mead from the horn directly onto the asperger. I had to have an asperger, a tool with which to sprinkle the blessing liquid on the baby. Many dark shapes of pine trees stood out against the stars. I would cut a pine branch, except that I did not have my ritual knife with me either. Years ago, when I had been asked to make a rune stick for a friend, I had pulled on an oak branch and a stick had snapped off in my hand, cleanly as if cut. I resolved to repeat this feat tonight.
I went to a pine tree, and caressed its needles. I spoke to it, and asked it for the use of its branch for the holy ritual. The branch snapped off in my hand.
We gathered together for the ritual. In an Asatru baby blessing, the mother has already given form to the child, body from body, and now it is time for the father to give to the child. I directed the baby’s father to place one hand on the hilt of his family sword, which was firmly stuck in the earth, and one hand on the baby. I narrated, “You are the link between your ancestors and your child. The might and main and the honor of the ancestors is coming up from the earth, through the sword, through you, and into your child.”
All those gathered there toasted the child with mead in the sumbel ritual. I asked the parents what they named their child. I poured mead over the asperger and blessed the child by his name in the names of the gods, the ancestors, and all wights (spirit beings) of good will. As we did not have a blotbolli to pour out to the land wight, I poured the rest of the bottle to the land wight. I returned the pine branch to the land. The ritual was done.
Image: graphic by Karen Arnold. via publicdomainpictures.net
2015 was going to be the last Ravenwood. Prudence has been putting on Ravenwood since the early 90s, with her local group Freya's Folk, and at first under the umbrella of the national organization The Ring of Troth, and then the American Vinland Association, which was one of the two successor organizations to the old RoT, the other one being The Troth. Using a state park for heathen festivals had always been intended as temporary, and Prudence had bought land farther north years ago. She has been slowly improving the land at Folkvangr over the years and is almost ready to pass it on to someone who will start holding festivals on it. This campground in the redwood forest held a glow of nostalgia, but it was time for the last one.
I was very invested in going to the last Ravenwood, both emotionally and literally. Emotionally invested, because Ravenwood had been my first experience of the heathen community. It was the place where I first met other Asatruars, after having only known Wiccan Pagans in high school and college. Ravenwood was a heathen festival held on Mt. Tamalpais in California, near where I used to live in Sonoma. I had not attended since I had moved to Nevada in 1995. Literally invested, because I intended to sell my books there, I had bought copies of my new book No Horns On These Helmets, and of my nonfiction books, to sign and sell at a vendor table at the festival....