For Heathens, this is one of our holy symbols. It may, in fact, be our holiest of symbols and it’s certainly the one that the majority of us wear to indicate that we are Heathen (in much the same way a Christian might wear a cross or a Jewish person a star of David) (1). I’ve been meditating a lot on what the Hammer means, especially since it seems I cannot wear it these days without questions and occasionally direct hostility. The more I think about it, the more I realize that this gift, crafted by the duergar, given by Loki, wielded by Thor for the good of the worlds is the most important symbol we will ever bear.
Thor is a God Who brings holiness. There is nothing foul or polluted, wicked or spiritually wrong that He cannot conquer. He renders His protection without contract or stipulation. For this reason, He is called “Friend of Man.” More than any other God, He watches over Midgard – the human world, our world – ensuring that it maintains its integrity (despite our own depredations of our home). He travels with Loki, the God most gifted at finding loopholes. I think this is particularly important. I think that very special care must be taken when the Gods act directly in our world, that doing so promiscuously threatens to weaken the very scaffolding They seek to maintain, and perhaps Loki is Thor’s favorite traveling companion because between the Two of Them, They can find all those loopholes too, never missing an opportunity to drive back evil and entropy threatening existence (2).
I often think that Thor is one of the Gods most often underestimated. Despite one of His by-names being “Deep-Minded,” despite the fact that He is the Son of Odin, despite the fact that He is the son of the earth (Fjorgyn), the Goddess Who provides all we need to sustain our world, He’s quite often dismissed as … a dumb jock. He’s pigeon-holed in a way that I also see with Goddesses like Freya. We reduce Him in our minds to a one-dimensional character in a book. I don’t think this is purposeful or intentionally disrespectful, I think it’s what we’ve been programmed to do by popular culture, by the way our Gods are treated in academic writing, by the way they’re treated in comparative lit., and by the way They were treated by the working-class founders of American Heathenry. But our Gods are not characters in a set of stories. They are living Holy Powers, Immortal Beings, the Creators of our very existence and the space in which it plays out.
Consider a few of His by-names (heiti ): Atli (The Terrible), Einriði (One Who rules alone – in other words, I interpret this to mean that He is more than capable in and of Himself of purifying and rendering holy, and carries the blessing of the sovereignty of the land through his Mother), Harðhugaðr (strong spirit, fierce soul), Rymr (noise, which makes me think of how sound, like rattles, drums, bells, chanting, etc. is often used to clear spiritual pollution and purify people, places, and things), and last but not least Veurr (Hallower, Guardian of the shrine). Thor hallows. Wherever He is, whatever He touches, wherever He chooses to make Himself manifest, there He hallows and in hallowing creates space where the enemies of the Gods simply cannot exist.
Thor’s hammer, then, is a sign that the Gods are engaged with us in the ongoing process of creation. It is a sign that They guard us, that Thor girds the world against dissolution, against entropy, against all that would threaten the cosmic and divine architecture. Like His mother, Thor provides. He sustains. Like His Father, He battles back the enemies of the Gods. Like He, Himself alone, He renders holy those places He has been, those spaces through which He has passed. When we wear the Thor’s hammer, we are signaling that we too are aligned with divine order. We are signaling that we stand with Him in maintaining, protecting, and most of all nourishing that which the Gods have created.
So, wear the hammer proudly. When people ask you about it, or the ruder ones challenge you for wearing it, explain exactly what it means and hold your ground. We must not give up a single inch of space, not in mind, not in body, and not in soul. That hammer signifies that we are hallowed ground, reclaimed, rededicated, consecrated to our Gods, committed to Thor’s protection. Wear it proudly, wear it mindfully, and every time you touch it, give thanks to this God Who sustains His Father’s creation.
- Some Scandinavians will wear it as a cultural symbol and then of course it’s endlessly misappropriated by individuals who have no faith in the Gods, but you see the same thing with other religions’ symbols too, at least the latter use by the godless.
- I think there are cosmic rules that the Gods adhere to, blocking how directly They may act in our world. This is hinted at most fully in the Homeric corpus but I believe it holds true amongst our Gods as well, that the more they violate those structures They Themselves have put into place, not only the more They weaken the cosmic architecture, but more importantly, They provide openings for the Nameless, that unnamed force – the Kemetics called it Isfet, Native Americans had different names for it – that ever hates and threatens divine creation to also come in. I think there’s a cosmic détente and no God is better at finding ways to act without violating that détente than Loki.
Grounded and centered, having offered to the Gods my morning prayers, and having lit incense to the ancestors I sit comfortably and consider the following meditation.
I reach up with my consciousness, through endless boughs of an enormous Tree, and its leaves whisper with secrets. I am one of those secrets being whispered and sung up the gnarled knots of that ancient Tree. It exhales me up beyond the worlds.
We exist within the breath of a God. We ride that breath into being. We exhale that breath back into the mouth of the All Father at the moment of our death. We are tied to everything through His breath and it pulses around us, the steady hand of the storm. I breathe it in down into my crown. I am alive. I am Odin sitting atop Hliðkjalf and I wear the crown of sovereignty. Nothing can separate me from this God. He has knit Himself into my soul.
It is Mani to Whom I reach as I move to my third eye. He is an ancient God and all manner of folly He has seen and dismissed. He forgets nothing and yet He is luminous. I pray that my mind and my heart may be luminous too, that I may rest in the House of the Moon, and may my Sight be always true.
My throat is filled with Loki’s fire. It burns away deceit. It cleanses and renders and because of it I speak true. His is the crucible in which I am ever refined. He hones my courage.
My heart is Sigyn’s hall. She protects and tenderly nourishes all that falls within Her care. She keeps my heart steadfast and the gentle flame of devotion burning within it. I look to Her that my soul might be constant. In such things, She does not yield.
In my gut, the seat of my will, I think on Thor. Mighty Thor with His chariot and gleaming hammer, He fights off pollution. He girds the world against dissolution. He will never be overcome. With Him at my back, I know that I will always be able to align my will with the divine order. Thor will keep me clean, the Holiness He bears will keep me focused.
In my sex lies Freya’s gift, roaring, liquid heat connecting me to life and primal desire. She is Mistress of Sesrumnir and Her blessings are holy. She teaches us to find joy in living. I strive to remember this.
At my root, lie the mysteries of Frigga’s hall. She grounds me in piety and respect, reverence, and power. She is the All-Mother and Her touch makes everything sacred. She roots me deep in the purest iteration of myself and throuh Her all magic flows.
Beneath my feet breathe the bones of the dead. Thousands of generations of ancestors having passed through Hela’s hallowed halls. They walk with me and when necessary lift me up. There is no place I can go where they are not and in times of danger they are an honor guard. With each step I thank them. With each step I am grateful.
In my hands, I feel the echo worlds. In my right hand I hold fire, in my left hand I hold ice. There is the holy chasm in between. All of creation is within me and I see the moment the Gods willed the worlds into being. I stand with Them then, again and again. I am willed into being too with each and every prayer. I am sustained and my prayers fall like nourishing water from the well of memory upon the Tree. It is sustained too. It is enough.
I reach above me with my right hand drawing power up from the dead and from the living earth and down from the most secret powers of the heavens and it is right and good and I touch my brow and chant:
Til ykkar, Oðinn og Regin,
I touch my belly and intone: rikið.
I touch my right shoulder and intone: krafturinn
My left shoulder: dyrðin
I cross my arms over my heart: nú og að eilífu
I bow my head in reverence: Amen.
And it is done.
(my photo: “the World Tree”. Do not use without permission).
An accessible yet in-depth guide to this increasingly popular pre-Christian religious tradition of Northern Europe
Heathenry, is one of the fastest growing polytheistic religious movements in the United States today. This book explores the cosmology, values, ethics, and rituals practiced by modern heathens.
In A Modern Guide to Heathenry readers will have the opportunity to explore the sacred stories of the various heathen gods like Odin, Frigga, Freya, and Thor and will be granted a look into the devotional practices of modern votaries. Blóts, the most common devotional rites, are examined in rich detail with examples given for personal use. Additionally, readers are introduced to the concept of wyrd, or fate, so integral to the heathen worldview.
Unlike many books on heathenry, this one is not denomination-specific, nor does it seek to overwhelm the reader with unfamiliar Anglo-Saxon or Norse terminology. For Pagans who wish to learn more about the Norse deities or those who are new to heathenry or who are simply interested in learning about this unique religion, A Modern Guide to Heathenry is the perfect introduction. Those who wish to deepen their own devotional practice will find this book helpful in their own work as well.
(Most of this is drawn from a conversation I’m having with several other spirit-workers and NT shamans. We’ve been discussing and exploring our cosmology, specifically the Norse creation story. I write a bit about that here and this delves a bit deeper into some of the ideas expressed in that piece. This is speculative, posted mostly to give myself a record of my thoughts).
|I don’t think it’s possible to over-emphasize the importance of our cosmogony. I think any understanding of the way Heathenry and the Northern Tradition works must start with an exploration and understanding of our cosmogony, because that is the lens through which we are expected to engage with the world, relationships, and everything in between. I’ve occasionally seen the primal Gap (Ginnungagap) described as a ‘womb’ but I really do not like the image of a ‘womb’ for the Gap. It’s too much a gendered term. The Gap is a crucible and for many reasons that I’ll be discussing here, precedes any idea of gender.
Likewise with the runes: one often ascribes gender to them (and they can in fact present as gendered) but I think it’s perhaps a mistake to assume that any gendered presentation represents the actual nature of the rune itself, and for many of the same reasons as with the Gap.
I’ll start with the runes because in many ways, they’re easier to touch on than our cosmogony. From my experience, some specific rune spirits might take on a gender, but as a whole, they’re not what we would term masculine and feminine in their essence. I think this is important…I don’t think that like the Odu, (with whom I have seem the runes often compared) they’re building blocks of creation. Instead, I think they in some way expand and expound from the Gap, almost like agents provocateur, instruments that carry that synergy wherever it needs to go, especially at the points where wyrd begins. This is all speculative theology but the runes are not of this world. They were never of the human world (at least not the elder. I have suspicions about the younger. I suspect that the younger were born of the elder, and born to be a more direct bridge to this world, are more inherently connected to this plane of existence). They take on gender, or can take it on, when they enter our world/state of being but within their own natural realm, the Gap, it is an alien idea.
I think we really have to be careful of co-opting gendered language for these things. That’s immediately a category and a limitation and for those things that are beyond temporality and even materiality, it’s important to resist that urge. All the more so as those terms carry so much weight in our culture. We reduce the power of these Forces (the Gap, the worlds within the Gap before creation, even the runes) when we make them feminine or masculine. We reduce their nature, blocking it off and culling it down, parceling it out when we ascribe to it those categories that limit with respect to substance and manifestation. Sometimes it’s inevitable. We need a means to discuss these things after all, but I think with the runes, we can deal with them as they are, and the Gap as well without projecting our own gendered language onto them. (I do think that within the rune families, rune spirits will choose to appear in a variety of genders but I think it’s an assumed guise for our sake. Half of learning how to work with the runes is a matter of us learning how to communicate with them, and them learning our interior symbol system, i.e. how to communicate with us. Taking on gendered forms may improve communication). When we begin exploring our cosmogony, we’re challenged to move beyond ideas of gender as these somehow inherently meta categories of universal structure.
The first actively gendered force that we have is Audhumla, the sacred cow and that is crucial. Once materiality is yoked to temporality, once it’s out of the Gap and into Being, once there is substance, it’s filtered through Audhumla, that feminine force that brings Ymir into being and starts the process of embodied creation
I remember thinking about the creation story and thinking, “where the fuck did the cow come from?” but it’s an IE motif: the active principle of embodied creation, once things have moved into materiality, is a cow: a feminine, or rather female force. Cows were wealth, abundance – we see this in the runes too with fehu, domestic cattle and wealth (versus Uruz, initiation and the challenge of the wild aurochs). It’s potentiality for abundance, the power of manifestation (I believe even Audhumla’s name means ‘wealth.’). That’s a different level from the moments preceding creation and again from creation itself, at once removed from the Otherness of the Gap. For most of us, I think that when the runes present as gendered, that’s here, in our world/state of being, not in the Gap, not their origin point and that difference is significant. It may be that there is how the runes are there, and how they can choose to be here, or how they are filtered through here.
I think we need to step back and examine how often we contextualize based on gender. The moment you ascribe that category, you’ve put a limit on something. You’ve also humanized it. Now sometimes that happens. Our Gods taken on gender for instance…note I said ‘take on.’ I don’t’ want to limit Them by assuming They are bound in any way to it. They take it on. When we start talking about cosmogony, we’re pre-human, pre substance, pre material and categories (like gender) no longer apply. They don’t exist yet. So for this, we have to move away from how humans experience the world, and our assumed position of necessity to its order, and look instead at how things are without filtering it through humanity as a necessary lens – because these things we’re discussing here existed/came into being, well before we did.
To further complicate things, Old Norse, like many IE languages is a gendered language. This means that nouns have grammatical gender (they can be masculine, feminine, or neuter. It doesn’t have anything to do with what that noun might be usually, but instead is a way of categorizing based on morphological terminations). In some respects, looking at grammatical gender can be enlightening. It’s one more level of analysis but certain concepts and ideas, certain types of being are beyond gender, beyond any human category. When we’re talking about something similar in so many ways to the Platonic Agathos, Nous, and Psykhe, we’re not dealing with something yoked by gender. Gender is a material limitation. I do with the runes, think of them as gender fluid to some degree, but largely because I ‘m not sure gender has any relevance in THEIR realm…whereas it’s part of ours, and like a costume they can put it on or take it off at will to communicate specific things in their interactions with us.
Once we start looking at cosmogonic principles, however, up until the point of material creation, the point where suddenly there is materiality and temporality, and *substance*, gender has no meaning. Once we get to substantive realms/states of being, then gender becomes a thing, because then, by virtue of being substantive, there is already limitation.
Insofar as we have substantive concepts, I think bringing gendered language into it can be interesting (both grammatically for analysis and ideologically). As noted above, it’s another level of analysis when we’re doing theological exegesis. The cosmogony, however, before the moment when materiality comes into being as a result of friction between worlds (opposing forces) doesn’t exist as we might comprehend it.
So this morning I was reading through my own book “Neolithic Shamanism,” which I co-wrote with Raven Kaldera, looking up some random information on the Norse Wind spirits and Gods which I’d forgotten and I came across this line:
‘In Northern legends, the shaman-god Odin gave humanity that final wyrd-giving and life-giving breath.” (p. 271)
After the initial “oh shit, I wrote that?” lol, I just sat back a bit floored. Now I’m an Odin’s woman; I know that Odin gave us breath. After the creation of the first mortals (Ask and Embla) from drift wood, at the beginning of the worlds, the three Brother Gods, Ođinn, Lođur, and Hoenir bestowed the gifts of breath, warmth and hue, and intellect/sentience respectively on them. Odin came last, (and yes I alternate between the Norse and Anglicized spelling of His name for convenience and out of habit) breathing that first life-giving breath into their bodies and this is what began the unfolding of their wyrd. I know that, but I don’t think I ever stopped to really think about what that means.
In my article “In the Beginning,” I start parsing out the deeper theological meaning inherent in our cosmological tales. I think all such stories are encoded means of narrating and conveying the worldview of a particular tradition. They help elucidate the lens through which devotees of that tradition engage with every part of their world. These stories structure our world so there can be a lot to unpack in each of them.
In looking at the creation of humanity, we are given a moment out of time, a moment in the narration of the creation of being, wherein the Gods bestow particular gifts. Each gift given fetters us to both temporality and materiality – corporeal being. These gifts likewise make the unfolding of wyrd possible. The gift giving is a process of animating corporeality and attaching it to wyrd – the gift not just of tangible gifts of breath, blood, and sentience, but of fate and the means to change and be changed by it. With temporality (and wyrd) comes the gift of evolution, of transformation, of death, and of the ancestors. Time becomes conceptual.
What caught me this time in contemplating Odin’s initial gift to us, is the direct link between that primal breath and life, and then life and wyrd. I’ve always assumed that the Gods were subject to Their own wyrd, but reading this makes me wonder. If active wyrd is tied to corporeal life, if it comes into play, if it begins to take effect on/for a person at the moment that person draws breath then it is a thing tied specifically to both corporeality and temporality – to neither of which are the Gods subject. Creation, which includes most specifically the creation of matter is a process, which in and of itself implies that linkage to temporality. In and of Themselves, the Gods have no need of that. They precede its creation. I know we have stories of the Gods being born, but I think what we’re really dealing with, at least with the Norse creation stories, is the moment a Holy Power takes on certain names and forms, parses out a portion of its own, independent being, narrows itself for communication and interaction with us, a necessary concession to beings fettered by temporality and corporeality i.e. humans. That…that is hugely profound. There is so much, after all, of what every Deity is that is beyond our capacity as corporeal creatures to comprehend.
To say that Odin breathed life into the first humans, and to equate that as binding them to wyrd (which I do and it does – a child’s wyrd begins the moment it draws breath. Until then, there is no point of connection. Until then, there is only potential and abstraction. Birth mirrors the initial moment of the creation of materiality and its yoking to time. Our ancestors can work off their wyrd, correct it, strengthen it, and help us to do the same, but there is no new wyrd being generated, no new layers being created. We can inherit wyrd from those who have gone before us, but they are not still creating further wyrd. There does seem to be a correlation between life and the beginning of active wyrd vs. death and its ending or tying off).
So if that is the case (and I believe it is), then all the stories we have hinting that Odin and the other Gods cannot escape wyrd, must of necessity be interpreted differently. The question must then be asked: whose wyrd?
If wyrd is the one force to which even the Gods must bow (as our lore teaches) and if wyrd is also tied specifically to temporality then we are dealing with cosmic law. We are dealing with a force that is not bound to the Gods, but rather us. We are dealing with a framework of causality and consequence generated by us, our choices, the choices of our ancestors, and descendants (and overseen by the Nornir). It’s the inherent infrastructure of creation. We’re also dealing with the loop-hole of free will. I posit that it’s not so much that the Gods are bound by Their own wyrd, but that they’re bound by the law of ours. They cannot undo that which we create for ourselves because to do so would completely undermine free will and one chip in the edifice of the structured order of creation would risk undoing the whole thing.
All of which demands reinterpretation of the forces surrounding Baldr’s death, usually presented as a matter of it being impossible for Baldr to escape His wyrd. (This may be another forthcoming article. I’m not going to dwell on it right now). It also demands reevaluation of exactly what Odin was doing when He gave us that animating breath. I can’t help but find it even more powerfully significant that one of the defining moments of the Odinnic canon occurred on Yggdrasil, when He hung for the runes. Yggdrasil is where Urda’s well lies, and where the Nornir lay and order the threads of wyrd we pattern. There is a deeper connection to Odin as shaman-god, creator-god, murderer of His ancestor Ymir, and bringer of fate and destiny to humanity. To be bound to wyrd, after all, is to be bound to that against which we may both measure and challenge ourselves. Be our wyrd good or bad, we are defined by how we meet it.