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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. 

Notes: 

  1. I snagged the Old Norse text from this site. The English translations are mine unless otherwise noted. 
  2. 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. 
  3. “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. 
  4. 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. 
  5. See Cleasby/Vigfusson here.
  6. From the noun alda, which in poetry can mean “people.”
  7. See Cleasby/Vigfusson here.

Blessings of the House of Mundilfari: Honoring the God of Time

I have been meditating quite a bit on Mundilfari, our God of time. He is the Father of Mani, Sunna, and Sinthgunt. He governs the flow of time. That is pretty much all we know about Him. While the lack of concrete information is frustrating, it’s also an opportunity to throw oneself into the experience of devotion in a way we may not when there is substantial lore.

With our crazy schedules, we’ve been talking about time a lot in my house lately. Is it oppressive or is it a guard and guide? I tend to fall into the latter category – nothing makes me happier than a watch, a day planner, and a nice calendar. As we were discussing these things, I had an epiphany about Mundilfari with respect to time. What follows is my own experience of Him. There’s almost nothing surviving in the lore.

Firstly, I think a clock is a perfect reliquary for this God, likewise a pocket watch. They have something of His understated elegance and also, well, time.  My impression of Mundilfari is that He  rides the flow of time as though He were surfing a wave. He wraps us up in it, protecting our boundaries, allowing us space to do what we need to do–if we recognize and utilize the gift. Far from being a harsh taskmaster, His gift is one that makes Midgard habitable.

I think about what time means in our tradition and how it is the thing that makes it possible for us to be yoked to wyrd. It’s a container for the unfolding of the material world and as such, a container for the unfolding of our hopes and dreams. It guards our day, supporting us and allowing us some control over the expenditure of our energies. It also allows and even helps us in the unfolding and nurturing of our wyrd. That is a grace and a gift.

I know there are problems with time and time management, but I think those are of our making. The three creator Gods crafted Midgard and indeed all the worlds, gave us this magnificent infrastructure and the first thing that happened after that, was that Mundilfari and His children established cyclical time, allowing us to orient ourselves in our world. This flow of Their power : day into night into day again, the turning of the seasons, the cycle of years is a sacred thing, something that sustains that divinely crafted multi-world infrastructure, allowing it the flexibility it needs (to rest and refresh itself) to be self-sustaining. I am coming to think that Mundilfari’s blessings do the same for us too and hopefully, over the next couple of years, I will learn to honor Him more fully and well.

If any of my readers pay cultus to Him, I would love to hear about what y’all do.

The Astronomical Clock in Prague