Poetic Heathenry – Vǫlospá

I want to talk about poetry. Every Heathen knows the importance of poetry to the reconstruction of our religion; Eddic and skaldic verse from Scandinavia, as well as the charm-verses and epic poetry of the West Germanic literatures provide a wealth of material that shapes our understanding of what Germanic religion was, guiding us to an experience of it today. These poems are rightly valued for the lore that can be gleaned from them.

However, our ancestors did not experience these poems solely as chunks of religious, historical, or otherwise cultural information, but also – even primarily – as art. Specifically, in a primarily oral culture, they experienced these poems aurally; their internal structures, their rhythms, their assonances (primarily – but not exclusively – alliteration), gives each of these works of art its own character and texture beyond the meaning of the words. And that doesn’t even cover elements of performance such as whether the poems were declaimed, chanted, or sung, nor what melodies they might have had if sung – this is a somewhat debated topic that I want to go into in a later post.

So, having had a great desire to understand these works of art from a more originary point of view, I began to study everything I could find on the Germanic poetic tradition, as well as the wider Indo-European poetic tradition in which it occurs; I then studied what I could find on the pronunciation of early Germanic languages, and began to memorize poetry. I am still working on this project, but I feel that it is time to share some of what I have gained, including recordings of early Germanic poetry in the pronunciation that is as close as careful linguistic reconstruction can get to the sound of these languages at the time of the composition of the poems. So, two things remain to be said:

A Note on Pronunciation: I have based my pronunciation in each of the works in this series on that reconstructed in Early Germanic Grammar by Joseph Voyles. For Old Norse mythological poetry for instance, I am assuming a pronunciation of around 1000 CE, when the shift of /w/ to /v/ had not yet occurred; when long vowels had nasal variants for historical reasons; and when the consonants /l/, /r/, /m/, and /n/ had voiceless variants for other historical reasons. The occurrence of nasal vowels and voiceless sonorant consonants is an important aspect of spoken Old Norse that is not, however, reflected in the writing system (except for oral ár and nasal áss in the Younger Futhark). For instance, the word spelled hár has four different pronunciations, each with it’s own meaning:
/ha:r/ “hair”
/ha:ṛ/ “high”
/hã:r/ “tholing pin”
/hã:ṛ/ “shark”

A Note on Text: Some of these poems have more than one version. Many Eddic poems, for instance, occur both in the Hauksbók manuscript as well as in the Codex Regius manuscript; these versions can vary quite a bit, much as one might expect from poems in an oral tradition. Rather than trying to parse between the versions and come up with an Urtext, I take an additive approach: I don’t want to leave anything from any version out, and therefore I include it all. I think of this as an “Oral Omnibus” approach.

So, what follows is a recording of the Vǫlospá, performed in a declamative, sometimes chanting style. I encourage you to seclude yourself somewhere without other distractions, and just listen to the sounds of the Old Norse language, woven deftly together by a master skald more than a thousand years ago.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Analysis (to be read after listening)

An important part of oral poetry is the use of repeated phrases or structures to link different parts of the poem; this gives the poem an internal structure. It seems that there are two kinds of repetition at work in the Vǫlospá: the first is a repetition of particular half-lines, full lines, or full strophes, such as:

Þá gengo regin ǫll· á rǫkstóla ginnheilǫg goð· ok um þat gættusk


… vitoð ér enn eða hvat?


Geyr (nú) Garmr mjǫk· fyr Gnipahelli, etc.


Þá kømr…

This kind of repetition seems to have the purpose of cueing the listener to the section of the poem that they are listening to: the strophes beginning with “Þá gengo regin ǫll” do not overlap those ending with “vitoð ér enn eða hvat?”, for instance. These seem to be two distinct sections, the latter of which has a subsection within it: the series of strophes set off by repetition of the strophe beginning “Geyr (nú) Garmr mjǫk…”. So, we might see the first section as a recounting of what has happened up to the moment of Óðinn questioning the vǫlva, and the second section as being her predictions of what is to come, with a subset of that – Ragnarǫk – being intensely highlighted by the triple repetition of an entire strophe at the beginning, middle, and end of that section. The strophes beginning with “Þá kømr” seem to begin with the response of the gods to the events of Ragnarǫk, and extend past the end of the world to what happens after.

The second use of repetition seems to be used to draw parallels between specific strophes far distant from each other in the poem, as though to provide a sense of symmetry between earlier and later events. One subtle example is that both of the main sections mentioned above begin with a mention of Heimdallr and hljóðr, which latter term means “listening, hearing” (something for which Heimdallr was renowned) or even “silence”, presumably silence for the purpose of listening:

Hljóðs bið ek allar· helgar kindir meiri ok minni· mǫgo Heimdallar


Veit hon Heimdallar· hljóð um folgit

Other examples are the parallels between the strophes beginning:

Þá kná Vála· vígbǫnd snúa…


Þá kná Hœnir· hlautvið kjósa…

As well as between the strophes beginning:

Sal sá hon standa· sólo fjarri…


Sal sá hon standa· sólo fegra…

So, we learn something about the craft of poetry from this analysis, over and above the skillful use of alliteration and meter that is on display. We also learn that periodic repetition of parts of verse, from phrases to strophes, can signal the existence of a sub-unit within a longer poem, parallel to how a musical phrase can define a movement in a piece of classical music. Similarly, specific combinations of words, or phrases within a line can set up parallels between verses in different sections, as indications of symmetry. A further study of early Germanic poetry will doubtlessly reveal new depths to the art of poetry, which I hope will inspire scops and skalds to come.

For Fôsite

Ik êdilena hebbe· aldsedzen hêred

thet fîand hêde twelef· farande setted

stiûrelâse on strâme· stallâse wêron

waterlâse on wêge· wêpherta bisetten

hopelâse on heve· herdtholiande.

Trâst in nêde· trachtadon swîthe

himelward stemma· hebbande semin.

Hwâ was thet god· hwâ hêrede thâm

the glîsandere egge· goldbrechtere mith

stiôrede stevene· stêdigum werthe

hêligum lande· and hove axa

hwēr Êsa wei· âsega bistôpen?

Hwâ godum under· glîande wêpne

thene huvel thanna hiû· hlemme swēra

â ondbindand· and êwen riucht

water lîvendich· wîdere erthe?

Lêsede hî lâre· lêrede bi walla

thet webb warlda· wordum timbrand

alderlâs werde· endelâse burna.

Âsegena êrist· êsa on himile

Fôsite formêst· felefiâ hêra

stilla strîda· stalle frâna

fram glîsanda sele· on goda felde

hleste ûs bilêf· hlûdere sunder bêre

lâre ûs lêr· lerninge erken

diâpeweven têknar· dâgolere wesinge

fêitha undertiuch· and fîanda hat

minrere nîtha· mêre stiôra

sôth ûs in swîge· swîklâse retha

fêra ûs wale· thet finden wî riucht

and alle unriuchte thing· âmmêr formîthen

Balderes bern· brecht riuchtere

thû nêdtriûwe· and Nêtha mâch

holda Hâga· hêliges blôdes

sâ mei â walla· êwalange.


I have heard the ancient tales of ancestors

that an enemy had set twelve adrift –

rudderless on the current, they were steadless;

waterless on the wave, they owned weeping hearts,

hopeless on the sea, hard-suffering.

They eagerly desired help in hardship,

heavenwards lifting voices together.

Who was the god who heard them,

who with gold-bright, gleaming edge

steered the stem to a steady island,

to a holy land and the court of the axe

where law-speakers trod the path of the gods?

Who among gods with the glowing weapon

hewed the hill with a heavy blow,

releasing water and eternal law,

living water from wide earth?

He loosed lore, he taught by the well,

the weave of worlds into words building,

ageless truth at endless wellspring.

First of lawspeakers of the gods in heaven,

Fôsite foremost, many-cattled lord

stiller of strifes, firm judge

from glistening hall on the gods’ field

grant us a hearing apart from the loud uproar,

teach us lore, pure learning,

deep-woven tokens of secret being,

feuds quieten and foes’ hate

diminisher of enmity, glorious steersman

in silence tell us truth that does not forsake,

lead us well so that we may find right,

and always avoid all unright things

bold one’s child, bright judge,

thou true-in-need and keen one’s boy,

kinsman of the High One’s holy blood,

so may law well up for long ages!

A Wedding Song

In honor of Shane and Anna Ricks, two incredible people who absolutely belong together, and whose wedding was one of the best and most wonderful I have ever attended.

Þás wordrím mínne· wel geheorcna
bore gedéfe· Brósinga goldes
Holde ic singe· heortes sóðe
Fríge fægerost· fréocwén heofones.

Hwæðer on feorran· Felascíene hlýstest
hwæðer be neahha· Néomiende híerest
oþþe áhwǽr on eorðan· oþþe upheofone
Giefende geunne· gíedwillan úrne.

Þec mágena ond mǽgða· métunga gladiaþ
þec wera ond wífa· weddunga gladiaþ
þec bearn gladiaþ· beorðor gesynde.

Glædnessa ágief þú· þissum gódum twá
hǽl ond hǽlþo· ond heorþ trumne
welnesse ond weorþ· ond wǽrtréowe
líf ond lufusǽl· lang géar ætsamne
ond cildsǽlðe· for cynnéacan.

Þú blíðmód gyden· úrne gebéd unne
síen þás wermann Shane· ond þís wíf Anna
be þínum willan ond welan· geweddod sóðe.

Fríge fægerost· fréocwén heofones
Beorhte ic telle· breostcofan tréowðe
þú wísfæste ides· Wédnes þéoda
þás wordrím mínne· wel geheorcna.


Listen well to this worn-rhyme of mine,
kind bearer of the Brósings' gold;
Gracious One, I sing heart's sooth,
Fríge fairest, noble queen of heaven.

Whether from afar, Greatly-Beautiful, thou listest,
whether nearby, Sweet-Sounding, thou hearest,
or anywhere on earth or up-heaven,
Giving One, grant our song-will.

Meetings of youths and maids gladden thee,
weddings of men and wives gladden thee,
sound births of children gladden thee.

Gladness give thou to these good two,
luck and health and a firm hearth,
wellness and honor and pledge-troth,
life and love-blessing, long years together,
and child-blessing for the increase of kin.

Thou blithe-mooded goddess, grant our prayer,
may this man Shane and this woman Anna
by thy will and weal be wedded truly.

Fríge fairest, noble queen of heaven,
Bright One, I tell breast-cove's truth;
thou firmly-wise lady of Wóden's tribes,
listen well to this word-rhyme of mine.
Weddunge Sang – “Wedding Song”

Foldan Sang

That kam mī innan gêste· grōnara singan ertha
sevon innan mīnum· swiglara Folda
the bar snelrōf Thunar· sigidrōgo waldig
mōdthrakono managro· mārispāhum Irminon
siu the berhtskônōsta bar· blīkwlitigōsta
ferahtōsta Frīa· frūa radures
siu the uppan bōsme irum· birid ôdago
thius lofsālig godin· lėndios gumono.

Mōdar manno· menn thus wonōd
būad sia diopo· brêdum thīnum landum
mōdar manno· menn sindun gifōdid
alsō barn drūda· brioste thīnum
mōdar manno· menn sindun gilėggid
līk of thīneru wambu· at līfdago naht.

Brâda wis blīthi· bedasōkiandum
Molda wis mildi· Mannes kindum
hwan ferah flīhid· Folda gef ūs āst
thīn luva bi līvum· langum ūs sėlli
sō givis thū ūs· alsō gevad wī thī
fullum herton· frôlīkum thankum.


It came into my spirit to sing of the green Earth,
into my mind, of the shining Fold,
who bore bold-famed Thuner, mighty victor
of many mood-battles, to famously-wise Irmino;
she who bore bright-sheenest, most shining-faced,
wisest Frīa, heaven’s lady;
who upon her bosom beareth richly
– this praised goddess – lands of men.
Mother of men, men thus live,
they dwell deeply in thy broad lands;
mother of men, men are fed
as dear children at thy breast;
mother of men, men are laid,
bodies on thy womb at the night of life-days.
Broad, be blithe to plea-seekers,
Mold, be mild to Man’s children
when life flees, Fold, give us mercy,
give us thy love during long lives
as thou givest to us, so we give to thee
with full hearts, with joyful thanks.

Blood & Fire

(originally published on Ordgeþanc, on 5/26/2014)

Modernity makes much of the revolutionary. Modern nations have been founded upon revolutionary wars, and the concept of revolution continues to supply an aesthetic ideal for youth, a heady mixture of equal parts anger and hope. One suspects that, in the West, this desire for revolution is the desire to make real the mythos of the Day of Judgement, to bring the desired terminus and dealing of justice upon the unrighteous.

Experience recommends caution.

The ethic of the revolution is the ethic of the avalanche, or better still, of the forest fire. It is the ethic that sets off vast destructive forces with their own patterns of being and movement that do not pay heed to men. The revolutionary raises voice and hand against the old and, to his mind, the corrupt; some forests need the fire, and are better afterwards for it. Revolutions feed themselves, though, and are rarely sated by the achievement of their initial aims: the revolution is never complete enough, never successful enough, but must be furthered and protected from “reactionary” tendencies. Thus, the revolutionary ethic sees any growth, any striving upward as a thing to be put down, as an invitation to the flame. All must be burned for the revolution, all cleansed by fire, over and over again in more violent and frequent conflagrations until all is reduced to equality in the democracy of ashes.

For those of us seeking to rebuild after centuries, millenia of destruction, I think the better ethos to follow is that of the forester: to find a place to defend against revolutions, wherein to allow growth, development, the burgeoning complexity that abides in healthy, living systems, be they ecologies or religions; to plant one’s deeds carefully and patiently, seeding what one wants to have flourish generations and centuries on. This must be long, patient work; what grows quickly does not stand long, and the sturdiest things grow the slowest.

(originally published on Ordegeþanc, on 8/24/2013)

“The religious impulse and the artistic impulse are one.”

I was told this by my mentor early on in my Théodish career, along with a number of other pronouncements of wisdom which have all, over time, proven to be true. While I don’t think that all of my ideas on religion can be boiled down to this one, it does certainly loom large in the constellation of those ideas, and it has certainly informed much of my religious practice.

Art, as I understand it, is a manner of expressing that which is too large for the intellect. At a certain point, words arranged into logical statements lose their explanatory force, and beyond that there is no more reason, only feeling. Words themselves seem to come unmoored from their referents. Nothing fits. Nothing seems to be the right thing to say. No descriptions can covey the enormity of what is in front of you.

There are, of course, ways to express the indescribable, so long as sincerity is given more weight than certainty. These ways are poetry, music, dance, all that falls under the name of art. True art is the skill of expressing the indescribable, of relating something that the intellect falters with, of taking a flash of inspiration and carrying it in a vessel to others so that they may see it – feel it – too.

Emotions are ultimately ineffable, and so form the content of a great deal of art: love, in all of its moods and guises; longing; fear & awe; sorrow. Anyone who has truly felt love deeply – or truly known profound loss – knows that these are things more powerful than oneself, that they take one up and do with one what they will, and the thought occurs: behind something so powerful there must be a god.

The gods themselves are more ineffable yet; love and loss are known to the entirety of humanity, but how many have felt the presence of Wóden? How many have felt the eyes of Þunor upon them? These experiences – even when strong – are subtly complicated, difficult to express, and known these days to only a few. It is therefore very important that there be skillful artists who can bring us, in different modes and manners, a part of the mystery that is the being of a god.

I would like to introduce you to such an artist. Her name is Jesseca Trainham. After seeing a triptych of Wóden that she did for my friend Jeffrey, I contacted her and asked about the possibility of having some images of the gods made. This began a fruitful and warm conversation about symbolism, ritual use, and what, exactly, I wanted in an icon. The results are pictured below.

I am deeply grateful to Jesseca for producing such incredible works of art. These are now on the altar-shelf in my house’s “holy corner” by the table, and I plan and hope that they will remain in my family for many generations to come.

If you wish to disseminate the images, please be respectful of the artist and include her name, so as to spread her renown. She is doing something important, and deserves recognition.

Ing icon – front
Ing icon – back
Þunor icon – front
Þunor icon – back
Wóden icon – front
Wóden icon – back

Religion & Art

Seeing, Feeling, and Thinking

(originally published on Ordgeþanc, on 12/04/2011)

It has been said that small-minded people talk about things, the mediocre talk about people, and the intelligent talk about ideas. I think that approaches to religion, to the gods, can be divided in the same way. Such a division need not imply a hierarchy of ways of approaching the gods going from lesser to greater, although that hierarchy is often implied, which I want to get back to later.

First, there are the “things” of religion: cult objects, “fetishes”, idols, visual symbols, descriptions and iconography of the gods’ appearances, parts of the physical world that are associated with specific gods such as mountains, rivers, and forests, and also living things such as specific animals or birds; in short, all of those ways in which divinity is approached through the senses.

Second, there are the “personalities”: specifically, the personalities of gods as we know them from myths, and with whom we identify, or whom we identify against; these are the ways that the gods are approached through the emotions.

Third, there are the “ideas”: theologies, mysticisms, or the web of concepts that might be associated with a particular god, and that form lines of conjunction and relation between gods; these are the ways that the gods are approached through the intellect.

Sensory experience being basic to our interaction with the world, the sensory part of religion is the first experience of the gods for most people: for instance, one might see lightening, hear thunder, see an oak tree, see the famous bronze figure of Þórr from Iceland and think “This is Þórr”.

Later on in the development of one’s religious understanding, one might identify the figure of Þórr in the myths as the reality of the god, and reject the reality of what is available to the senses, as if to say “That was merely a symbol or a reflection of the reality, but this is the real Þórr.” This is where most people stop.

Some people might go further, and come to a theological understanding of Þórr, wherein “Þórr” seems to be a concept or a web of concepts, e.g. Force, Protection, Warriorhood, etc. one might then reject the mythological “person” of Þórr as likewise a symbol of the reality of Þórr, which are these concepts; the idea of Þórr is seen as the ultimate reality, of which the sensory and emotive elements are mere shadows and reflections.

It seems to me that this progression from sensory to emotive to conceptual is not enough, and there must be another level of understanding that very few these days have reached.

For one thing, the rejection of the visible, audible, and tactile apprehension of the holy for the emotional apprehension, and the rejection of the emotional apprehension for the conceptual apprehension, seems to privilege ever greater abstraction. If a linear progression of further abstraction is the key to understanding the Holy, then we might say that each god, even taken as an abstract web of concepts, is symbolic of some other thing, something beyond gods, and that we may as well then dispense with the idea of gods altogether, and give idols, myths and theologies little or no credit for being about anything real. There exist such schools of thought today, and I think that that ground has been well-trodden, to the point that I have no interest in it as a direction of thought. I think there is another way, a more interesting way that does not result in the intellectual rejection of everything about our religion.

This is not to say that abstraction or intellectual understandings of our gods are going in the wrong direction; merely that they are incomplete. The problem lies in the rejection of the sensory for the emotive, the emotive for the conceptual. One who has reached the level of understanding gods as concepts must then make the full circle, and see that coming to know a god through the senses, through the emotions, and through the mind are all important: the idol, the mountain, the thunderstorm; the Þórr of the myths; the ideas and concepts associated with Þórr; all of these partake of the being of the god. Someone who has this insight can come back to the beginning, and see the idol, hear the myth, and know the concepts like they are new, and experience the presence of the god in all of these ways simultaneously.

There will always remain something of a god that is beyond knowledge, beyond human understanding, but experiencing gods in things, in personalities, and in ideas, all together and at the same time, gives a broader and deeper understanding than any one of these singly.

Change and Continuity

(originally published on Ordgeþanc, on 9/7/2010)

These days, one finds everywhere the notion that change has overtaken the world in the last few centuries. From the scientific advances beginning in the Renaissance and the erosion of faith in the dominant Christianity that accompanied them, on to the technological advances that enabled the Industrial Revolution and its attendant upheaval of societies’ means and aims of production to this day, change has been the byword of existence for quite some time. This change has been accompanied everywhere by philosophical trends that first lauded the dawn of the Age of Reason and the unshackling of human labor and intellect, but which have since gone to describing with horror the Age of the Titans, of Technology without Purpose, of the Machine.

These philosophers and their criticisms of the modern world deserve to be taken seriously, and the upheavals that occur with the greater changes in society are keenly felt when and where they happen; I’m thinking mainly (but not solely) of the change from primarily rural agricultural societies – and hunter/gather societies in many places – to primarily urban factory/technology/market societies that started with the Industrial Revolution and has continued until today, and all of the other changes that that greater change entails. It occurs to me as I write that this great change, whatever it might be, is not finished, and might never be finished until human life is snuffed out by the excesses and imbalances set in motion by this change. Suffice it to say that we have not yet entirely “changed over” into the mode of life that would seem to be the logical end of this particular centuries-long trend, and I’m not sure that we really ever entirely can (regardless of how much we might damage, in the meantime, by trying).

So, this is our “changed world”. One of the early victims of this “changed world” has been the authority of Christianity, a result that a Heathen like myself might well praise. However, it hasn’t been merely Christianity’s authority that has suffered, but the authority of religion itself in Western culture (Christianity itself having uprooted the authority of other religions). That result is, I think, less than praiseworthy, and has resulted in a number of unforeseen consequences which I won’t elaborate on here; I think that religion is, on the whole, a good thing (despite some highly pervasive bad examples of it), and that its loss is the loss of something ineffably valuable.

Many people disagree, of course, both on the worthiness of religion itself and, in a perhaps softer disagreement, on the role that religion ought to play in this “changed world”. People who, like me, pursue the practice of ancient religions and cultures often have to deal with the question of these religions’ and cultures’ relevance in the modern “changed world”; this is true for “mainstream” religions as well, for instance Catholicism, which has an uninterrupted history of practice going back to the Roman Empire. The question of relevance is ostensibly even more serious for religions like mine, which do not have such an uninterrupted history. For instance, people can (and do) question to what extent early Germanic culture, even only Germanic religion (as though the two were separable), should or could be brought into the modern “changed” world. Others argue that there is no place in this “changed” world for old religions like ours, which are better forgotten.

This whole line of thinking raises some questions for me. I think that there are many criticisms that could be raised about this point of view, not the least of which being that it is based upon a linear notion of progress that is ultimately derived from a specifically Judeo-Christian view of time. That is, the notion that things change over time generally for the better, and that one neither can nor should want to “go back” or “turn back the clock” is not a matter of objective fact so much as one of a worldview that is strongly pervasive in Western culture, but by no means universal or necessarily correct. One could simply (though certainly not easily) change how one views the world, and the criticism from the notion of “progress” loses all meaning.

In general, I see the role of religions like mine as having the same relevance in the modern world as a vaccine in a diseased body. If we are not a product of the main trends of the last few centuries, it is because these trends represent overall decay of a body that was, I think, already sick; Western Culture – seen as a whole – invited its own decline by its excesses and its poor foundations. Our goal is not to revive Western Culture; this goal is taken up by other radicals than us. No: we, and people like us, are here to revive the cultures that preceded Western Culture and which were, to greater or lesser extents, incorporated into that Borg-like collective. We are rebuilding cultures that were once viable and able to survive vast changes, because we think that they can be that viable and hardy now. Also, importantly, we revive these cultures because they are ours: they belong to us as an inheritance from our beginnings, and conversely, we belong to them as well.

Or, from another perspective: we are – to whatever in Western Culture remains of the organic cultures that preceded and were incorporated into it – something like an immune response, a reaction from within Western Culture to break free of this artificial thing and to return to a kind of culture more natural to us, more in line with our own manners of being. From this point of view it can be seen that the movement towards religions like ours has its roots in the Romanticism of the 19th century, which was a reaction against the industrialization and urbanization of the time. Romanticism, which inspired great art, also inspired a great deal of scholarship; it began the scholarly interest in pre-Christian European religions, in native European religious and cultural identities. Romanticism’s art and scholarship inspired the interest among some people to go back to practicing pre-Christian European religions. We, therefore are part of that same current of reaction against, rejection of, modernism and its tendencies to dehumanize and denature.

So, now that I have attempted to establish our roots and our place in and relation to the modern world, does this reaction against the changes of “modernity”, changes that now seem to define the everyday existence of many people, have any hope of success?

To answer that question with a question: has the world really changed that much, and are the evident changes fundamental, or merely on the surface of things? To many, these will seem like ridiculous questions. It seems obvious that the world has changed, doesn’t it? One might point to all the technology we have, and what it allows us to do, as evidence of the world’s fundamental difference from how it was a century ago, much less a millenium. I am uncertain whether technology is capable of changing existence in a fundamental fashion (or even the fundamentals of our experience of it), but technology certainly seems to have changed things: more powerful scientific tools give us a greater knowledge of physical existence; communications networks allow us to know what is happening around the world in an instant; weapons technologies allow us (at least in part) to wage war from afar; agricultural technology “liberates” the vast majority of people from having to grow food for a living (although I am by no means convinced that this is a good thing). All this is so, but I don’t know that any of these things really “change” the nature of the world in any fundamental sense. If anything, I think that technology gives an appearance of change that is ultimately a distraction from the underlying continuity of things, and thus from an interaction with – and understanding of – the underlying and eternal things about reality.

Nor do find much evidence that human nature has changed. People still have the same instincts and emotions, and largely want the same things as they always have. The change that people feel in the world is, I think, rather in their understanding of and relationship to the world. As an example, there is the notion that things are reducible to material, mere matter with no other meaning or existence than as objects to be shaped and transformed by human will. This kind of thinking enabled the Industrial Revolution, and the results of that revolution continue to lead to that kind of thinking.

This kind of sea-change in people’s understanding of and approach to the world leads, I think, to the flourishing of many lines of thought that would have been clearly absurd, if not unthinkable, in previous eras. I find that many people these days have a number of ideas that they seem to hold precisely because they are at odds with old wisdom. Of course, such a thing only makes sense from the point of view that states that things are fundamentally different now than they ever were before. If that isn’t true, though – and I think it’s not – if things haven’t really changed all that much, then old wisdom is still useful, especially in circumstances where the seeming newness of things has apparently deprived people of any wisdom whatsoever.

And that, when it comes down to it, is what religions like ours really are: old, traditional wisdom, ways of understanding and interacting with the world and with existence that we firmly believe have a great deal of value in the modern world; and this not despite the fact that these ways are old and from another time, but because of that very fact. Part of how people like us serve as an antidote to modernity is by questioning the modern rejection of traditional wisdom. Religious projects like ours are predicated on the belief that the world has not changed so much that traditional wisdom is useless, and that traditional wisdom helps to remedy the alienation from the world that is part of modernity.

In another essay, I hope to look at the implications the ideas in this essay have for how people these days approach the practice of ancient religions. Specifically, I would like to look at the fear of or disdain for tradition that I’ve seen among some Heathens and other Reconstructionists, and how that is contradictory and ultimately self-defeating.

… the Beginning

“Myth is not prehistory, it is an eternal reality that repeats itself over history.”

Ernst Jünger

This Old Saxon hymn is one that I sing on Twelfth Night.

(Originally published on Ordgeþanc 12/31/2016)

Hwē mah wārlīko· gimang wermannum
werthigōsta tėllian· waldgodo dėdio
thero thea ādrosto· ēsi makodun,
hwan godu werolda· grôta skappun,
ertha brêda· uphimil hôhan
ėndi wallandan· wāgsêo diopan?

Sō munan ik mōt · medo mah ik drinkan
af themo Alswīthon· eofullen horne;
Sōtho mīnan sang· singan mīk lāte
sō sōthword ekir· singan ik mah.

That fregoda ik mid ferahum· forawitono mêstono
that ertha ne was· noh uphimil
noh bôm nênig· noh berg ne was
noh swigle sterron· noh sunna ne skên
noh māno ne liuhtida· noh was the māri sêo.

Thanna Wōdan wrisi· thena wildan slōh
thrīrosum than slōh· thuris ovargrôtan
gėgin argan eton· mid ordum slōhun:

is blōd warhtun· bremflōdu mikleru
wellandum watare· wāge brêdum
themo ėgislīkeru ahu· ėndi ovardioperu;

is flêsk warhtun· foldu brêderu
grunde wīdum· grōneru wurthi
erthu areru· jak alberanderu;

is bên warhtun· bergum stênīnum
holmum hôhum· huvilum stėgilum
wīdum fėlisum· wundargrôtum;

is hār warhtun· hardum diopum
bômholtum brêdum· berewidum thiustrum
waldum grôtum· wundarmirkum;

ôgon is warhtun· alsehanderu sunna
wīdglōiandum rathe· welglītandum skildo
māran mānon· themu metandan ôk;

hôvidbên is warhtun · himiles thakke
wegakkare sunna· wandarfelde mānon
that sterrono land· stormo ermanero;

githāhtium is warhtun · thiustria wolkanun
ėndi ūstwolkanun· althėkkianda
stormwolkanun grôta· strīdiga ja grimma;

tandium is warhtun · torne stênos
harde fėlisos· hėviga lėia
unôthia klif· ėndi ênharda;

brāwum is sia warhtun · bergandian riki
eder swīthlīkan· īsarnīnan tūn
brêda marka· bittara withar fīandun
etonum undar· in ūtlandum
jak middelgarde mikilum· mankunnies hême.

An medeme wahsid· middelgarda
brunnon ovar diopōstum· bôm hôhōsta
an sôthe bi sūli· sōnastėdi standid
sia ēsi thār· ādrosto samnodun
ja dōmos rėthodun· dag ėndi naht
morgan ja namodun· ėndi middendag
āvand ja ūhta· alle mahlidun
tīdi tō tėllian· that tal gēres.

Sunna sia sėttidun· swigle sterron
of wegum iro āwėndian· ja wathalōndan māno
hevan tō hėbbian· hêtun sia than
Ôst ėndi West· Ertha an rande
North ėndi Sūth· nithara radure.

Wōdan tō were· ja wīve than gaf
thrīrosum than gaf· tharflīka geva
līf gavun līk gavun· lud ėndi āthom
ferah gavun gêst gavun· farwi ėndi hêli
Mannes kunnie· māgum askes.

Irminsūl hêtid· aska grôtōsta
hôh ist that bôm· hwīte sindun asti
wīd ist the strunk· wurti sindun diopa
brêdum undar astium· brunno wellid
thār webbia thria· wėllu an sittiad
Wurd ist thero êrista· Werthanda ōthara
skerrad of stokkum· Skuld thea thriddia.
Mahtig sindun thea webbia· mahtig that wėbbi
mahtig iro giskap· ovar mannum ėndi godum.

Hôho in bôme· in hevanwangum
in tīrlīkum sėlium· tīwos giwonod;
diopo undar erthu· gidwerg būad
ėndi bihwelvide· hėlwonārios;
mankunni an middie· in middelgarde.
Hôriad an hevane· gī hôhe godu
ūs hēr anskauwad · mid unwrêthum ôgon!
ūsa gibed unnun· blīthie ēsi
that that irminbôm· eomêr stande!


Who among men may truly
tell in the worthiest way of the ruling gods’ deeds
those that the gods did earliest,
when the gods shaped the great world,
broad earth, high up-heaven,
and the welling, deep wave-sea ?

As I must remember, so may I drink mead
from the ever-full horn of the All-Wise;
True One, let me sing my song
so that I may sing only words of truth.

I learned of the greatest fore-knowers among men
that earth was not, nor up-heaven
nor was any tree, nor mountain,
nor shining stars, nor did the sun shine
nor glowed the moon, nor was the famous sea.

Then Wōdan struck the wild giant
one amongst three he struck the over-great thurs
against the evil giant they struck with points:

of his blood they wrought the great brim-flood
welling water, broad waves,
the awe-like water and overdeep;

of his flesh they wrought the broad earth
wide ground, green ground,
ripe and all-bearing earth;

of his bones they wrought stony mountains,
high hills, steep cliffs
wide boulders wonder-great;

of his hair they wrought deep woods
tree-holts broad, forest-woods dark
forests great, wonder-mirky;

of his eyes they wrought all-seeing Sun,
wide-glowing wheel, well-glistening shield,
and also the famous, measuring moon;

of his head-bone they wrought heaven’s roof,
Sun’s way-acre, Moon’s wander-field,
the land of stars, of great storms.

of his thoughts they wrought dark clouds,
and storm-clouds all-covering,
storm-clouds great, battlesome and grim;

of his teeth they wrought bitter stones
hard boulders, heavy rocks
unlight cliffs and very hard;

wrought they of his brows a protecting hedge,
a strong fence, an iron fence,
a broad march, bitter against foes,
between giants in outlands
and great Middleyard, mankind’s home.

At the middle of Middleyard grows,
the highest beam over the deepest well;
a judgement-stead stands at the well by the pillar;
there the gods gathered themselves earliest
and spoke dooms, day and night
and morning named, and midday,
evening and early-morning all spoke,
time to tell, the year’s tally.

Sun they set, shining stars,
to wend on their ways, and wandering moon,
then they ordered to heave heaven
East and West on Earth’s edge
North and South below the sky.

Wōdan then gave to man and wife,
one among three, then gave needful gifts:
life they gave, body they gave, shape and breath,
life they gave, ghost they gave, color and health
to Man’s kin, to the relatives of the ash tree.

Great Pillar is called the greatest of ash trees
high is the beam, white are branches,
wide is the trunk, roots are deep;
under broad branches a well flows,
there three weavers sit at the well:
Wurd is the first, Werthanda the other –
they score upon staves – Skuld the third.
Mighty are the weavers, mighty the web,
mighty their fate over men and gods.

High in the tree, in heaven-fields,
in glorious halls gods dwell;
deep under earth dwarves live
and the hidden Hell-dwellers;
mankind in the middle, in Middleyard.
Hear in heaven, ye high gods,
see us here with unwroth eyes!
grant our prayer, blithe gods,
that that great tree forever stand!

The End…

For years after I first became a Heathen, I struggled with the meaning of Yule: as a child, Christmas had been my favorite holiday, and research into Christmas customs had led me, eventually, to Heathenry. Yet as a Catholic child, I knew what Christmas meant. I had no such understanding of Yule, and that caused me a great deal of angst.

Thus, one of the most important moments in my religious education was when I read about sacred time in Eliade’s “The Sacred and the Profane”, and that end-of-year holidays across cultures draw most if not all of their meaning from end-of-world myths. I immediately began to see connections between the customs that I had studied and the general schemata of celebrations occurring at the end of the year/world in a vast number of cultures the world over. Thus, I drew connections between Yule and the myth of Ragnarǫk.

(I know that there are those who think that the myth of Ragnarǫk, even the entirety of both Eddas, have little if anything to do with Germanic religion as it was practiced and understood. I am aware of their arguments and, respectfully, I differ.)

So here is something that I wrote in Old Frisian, borrowing freely from both the Old Icelandic Vǫlospá, and the Old High German apocalyptic poem Muspilli. This is one of the hymns that I sing on Mothernight, the first night of Yule.

(Originally published on Ordgeþanc 12/10/2016)

Thet hêrde ik rêda· thâ riuchtwîsa
thet Winter skal kuma· thi wunderlang
ône Sumur ênich· ne sefte weder
swart skal thâ skîna· Sunne therefter.

Thâ skal thi hund jella· fora helledore
bende skal bersta· blôdiga renna
thâ dâda mugun alle· diâpithe ûtrunna
âk on hrêwei kuma· hellewenere.

Brôthera skelen hiâ bēra· âk tô him bana wertha
swesterlingar· sibbe skelen forderva
herd is thet in hâmum· and hôrdôm mizil
skathatîd, skefttîd· skeldar send klovene
windtîd, werchtîd· êr thiu warld falleth
ne mei ênich mann· ôthere sparia.

Thet bâm warlda· biviath mith windum
este skeddath· all ondrêdath
Etenar mith orloge· tô Êsum farath
Hâga mith hâvde· hâmelîke rêdeth.

Sâ thet himelisk horn· jihlûded wirdith
and him thi warldwaldere· on thene wei urhevith
thanne hevith him mith· herana mêstera
thet ist all sâ frevellik· thet him nâmann jifiuchta ne mei.

Thâ Wêda with wolf· thene wilden rîdeth
Walfeder falleth· in warges maga
wîdere steppeth· wrêzelik sunu
bodeme twisk and himile· balmûla rendeth.

Thâ skal thi warldslanga· mith Wîthuner strîda
thi werch ist jewêpned· under him wîch forbilgth
kampum send sô kreftlik· thiu kâse ist sô grât
skel hî in thêra wîchstede· wund bifalla
and in thâm sîthe· sîlâs wertha.

Wîchthuner with werm· thene wrêthen strîdeth
dâthslachta driupith· mith duriga hamre
bana hî wirthith· thes baluwermes
hwande nêdra êttre· thâ nitherfalleth.

Thach wênath that manich· werthige godamenn
thet âwerded werthe· in thâm wîge Thuner
sâ thet Êsathuneres blôd· on erthe jesîpith
sâ urbarnath thâ bergar· bâm ne jestandith
ênich on erthe· â ordrukniath
foraswelketh hit môr · swilath logum thi himel
môna falleth· middeljerd barneth
stên ne jistanth· thane stêringedei hider farith
farith mith thâm fior· ferch tô ofbarna
thâ ne mei thanna mage ôthra· helpa thâm muspille fora
thanne thî brêdlik brand· forabarneth all
and fior and luft· urfurviath hit all
hwêr ist thanne thiu merke· thêr jâ mann mith magum sînum facht?

Erthe skal rîva· âk uphimel
Sunne tâwath hia swart· sîgeth Folde in mere
hwirvith of himele· hêdere stêra
springith hâch hête· with himel selven.

Eft skal up kuma· ôthrere tîde
erthe ût thēra â· âmmêrgrēne
thâ water fliâtath· waldar blôiath
âk unsiâde· ekkerar waxath.

God skelen samnia· et gadringelôch
âk mêna thêr· on meindômar
erva skelen wenia· in Alfederis hove
and thêr skelen walda· wathemar goda.

Uppa hrênere erthe· mith hâgere froude
menn skelen wenia· in morgen nîa,
Sunne skal rîsa· sê skal walla
bâm skal blôma· men balu wilia.

That I heard the right-wise say,
that the wonder-long Winter shall come
without any Summer nor soft weather,
the Sun shall then shine black thereafter.

Then shall the hound bay before Hell-door,
fetter shall burst, bloody-one shall run,
then may all the dead flow out of the depths
and the Hell-dwellers come on the corpse-way.

Brothers shall threaten each other and become each other’s banes
sisters’ children shall ruin kinship,
that is hard in the homes, great whoredom,
scathe-tide, shaft-tide, shields are cloven,
wind-tide, warg-tide, before the world falls,
nor may any man spare others.

The tree of worlds shakes with winds
branches shudder, all are in dread
etens fare to the gods with war
High One secretly speaks with a head .

As the heavenly horn is sounded,
and the world-ruler heaves himself onto the way,
then heaves with him the greatest of armies
that is all so bold that no one may fight against it.
Wóden rides against the wild wolf,
Walfather falls in the warg’s maw,
Wider steps the vengeful son,
between ground and heaven rends the bale-maw.

Then shall the world-serpent against Wîthuner strive,
the warg is weaponed, the battle will begin between them
the fighters are so strong, the cause is so great
he shall fall wounded in the battle-stead
and become bereft of victory in the way.

Fight-Þunor strives against the wroth worm
drops death-blows with brutal hammer
becomes the bane of the bale-worm
then falls down from the adder’s poison.

Though many worthy gods’ men ween
that in the fight Thuner becomes wounded,
so that Êsathuner’s blood seeps onto the earth,
so the mountains burn up, no tree stands
any on earth, waters dry up
the moor consumes itself, heaven burns with flames
moon falls, middleyard burns
no stone stands, the day of destruction fares hither,
fares with the fire to burn lives away
then may kin not help the other before the Muspille
for when the broad brand burns up all
and fire and wind sweep it all away
where is then the march where before a man fought with his kin?

Earth shall split and up-heaven
Sun shows herself black, Earth sinks in the sea
the clear stars whirl in heaven
high heat springs against heaven itself.

Afterwards up shall come, another time,
earth out of the water, ever-green
then water flows, forests bloom
and unsown acres grow.

Gods shall gather at the gathering-lea
and think there on mighty dooms
heirs shall dwell in Allfather’s court
and there shall rule the gods’ holy places.

Upon the clean earth with high joy
men shall dwell in a new morning,
Sun shall rise, sea shall well
tree shall bloom, but bale fade.