Lectio Divina: July 23, 2022
I haven’t done one of these in awhile so I thought, since yesterday was the anniversary of my Mani devotional, that I would look at one of the few references that we have in the lore pertaining to Mani. There really aren’t many and in some respects, that’s an incredible freedom in figuring out how to venerate Him. On the other side of that, I do wish we had just a bit more, a prayer, a hymn, something for Him because given how important agriculture and farming were to our ancestors, the House of Mundilfari must have had Their share of devotion, and more so than They receive today. We forget in our urban lives how important seasonal cycles – governed by Mani and Sunna – are to a farmer.
Of course, that’s not how I personally connect to Mani (through farming or agricultural cycles) but it’s something I’ve come to recognize and respect over the years of my devotion to Him. Now, onto the reading.
The passage I chose for today is from the Vafþrúðnismál stanza 23:
"Mundilfari heitir, hann er mána faðir ok svá Sólar it sama; himin hverfa þau skulu hverjan dag öldum at ártali." (1) He is called Turner of Time, He is Moon’s father and also thusly of Sun (2); They (dutifully) journey round the canopy of heaven every day to determine for people the liturgical year (3).
I do augury in the mornings and today’s message was that today is ok, but it’s one that will require patience in many little things, especially the early part of the day. That being said, I hope y’all will be patient with me as I pick my way through this verse. Also, I’m reading devotionally and to some degree theologically, not as a literature major. Do keep that in mind too! So, once I sat and translated this passage to the best of my ability, I noticed a few things.
Firstly, the word “it” may at times imply a dual form, which means it refers to two of something. Some languages have special forms for a pair. Ancient Greek is like that, for instance. If you’re referring to a pair of something, the verb takes a special form. Modern English doesn’t have a form like this. We would just use second- or third-person plural depending on the grammatical case required. If I’ve interpreted this correctly, then it stands out for me. When I read this, that use of the dual, while absolutely grammatically correct also creates a unique connection linking Mani and Sunna. They are a pair; They work together; and devotionally, I have to say this is true. When I think of One, the Other is not usually far behind in my thoughts. When I engage devotionally with One of Them, I often sense in my soul, echoes of the Other far more so than with any of the Other Powers Whom I venerate. While the lore doesn’t say anything about it, I’ve often assumed that They are twins. Regardless, They work hand in hand and the holiness, goodness, and journey of One reinforces the same in the Other (4).
The word himin or ‘heaven’ may actually be translated as “canopy of heaven” which immediately brings to mind, not the heaven of Christian religion but the dome of Ymir’s skull, the gleaming circlet that formed the space-making division between sky and land. When the three creator Gods Oðinn, Hoenir, and Loður slew Their primordial ancestor Ymir, They skillfully formed the scaffolding, the framework of creation with his blood, bones, and viscera. From Ymir’s skull these Gods created the vault of heaven, the sky, the galaxy, the cosmos – all that is above us. The verb skulu denotes obligation and duty (it’s where the third Norn Skuld gets Her name. In the case of skulu though, Cleasby/Vigfusson notes that it carries a relatively positive connotation), so here one might read it that “they must journey everyday around the canopy of heaven.” The word “at” when connected to a verb of motion carries a sense of traveling around the borders of a space or thing (5). So, Mani and Sunna each day have the duty of traversing or circumnavigating the great vault of heaven, the canopy of Ymir’s skull. In doing so, They are reinforcing creation, reifying the moment the three Creator Gods brought the whole structure into being and set it in motion. That means that Mani and Sunna, and by extension the House of Mundilfari, are absolutely essential cosmologically to creation, the ongoing sustenance of that creation, and the fabric of being.
Moreover, the text reads that they are doing this to determine for the people —öldum (6), that is humanity, ártali, not “fate” as I have seen several translations render this passage, but the cycle of the year. I would go so far as to say the liturgical year. This word can be used poetically as a gloss for the Moon, specifically because the Heathen year was partly lunar (7). This makes sense agriculturally– and we have a lot of folklore in Germany, England, Appalachia, and amongst the PA Deutsch about planting according to the phase and/or sign of the moon. Likewise, there are names are given to each month’s moon that often tie into the month’s agricultural happenings, and while the winter and summer solstice are important liturgically, so are the autumnal and vernal equinoxes. Here is an interesting article that mentions why so many calendars are “luni-solar”. Basically, both Mani and Sunna play Their part.
Despite being something of a misanthrope, I think it’s important to note that humanity is mentioned in this cosmological equation too. It is for the good of humanity that the cosmic cycles are thus delineated. We were created, carefully crafted. Our place in the architecture of the worlds was not an accident. Of course, neither are we at the apex of that architecture and piety demands that we know our place to be one of reverence for the Powers, but we matter to our Gods. We matter to our Gods, and They continually bless us in ways large and small and have from the beginning.
The next question I ask myself when reading something like this, after looking at the words in both English and ON is this: what do I do with this? What impact will I allow this knowledge to have on my devotional practice. Every word in this passage has opened up a world and we have so little written on our Gods, especially those in the House of Mundilfari, that each word is a treasure.
- I snagged the Old Norse text from this site. The English translations are mine unless otherwise noted.
- My translation. Dutifully is implied in the use of the it. My Old Norse is pretty basic, but I have to disagree with many of the translations I have read. The translation is usually given “flaming sun” and to the best I can determine, there is just nothing in this sentence to indicate that there is any attribute of Sunna mentioned, other than that of being Mundilfari’s daughter.
- “Sol” is another name for Sunna. Sunna seems to be the more poetic form of Her name. I personally prefer “Sunna”. See entry here. There’s a very interesting note in the Cleasby/Vifusson definition that in Iceland children would greet the sun every morning. If this is a hold-over from Heathen times, which it reads as though it is, then it further reinforces the cosmological importance of the House of Mundilfari in our tradition.
- I never connected Sunna to holiness in quite the way that I do now until I watched an historical special with historian Ruth Goodman. I think it was either her Tudor Farm series or Edwardian Farm series. I can’t recall. What I do recall is that she was showing how a traditional dairy worked and noted that the wife or dairy maids would not only scrub out the churns and other vessels but would let them dry in the sun because it sanitized them. The sun brings wholeness and healing, but also purification. It opened up an entire avenue of exploration for me in how I honor Her, in meditations, and even offerings.
- See Cleasby/Vigfusson here.
- From the noun alda, which in poetry can mean “people.”
- See Cleasby/Vigfusson here.
Posted on July 23, 2022, in Uncategorized and tagged edda, Heathenry, House of Mundilfari, Lectio divina, Lived Polytheism, lore, Mani, Mundilfari, Northern tradition, prayer, Sunna, theology. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.