Question 14: The Goddesses in the Northern Tradition
Thank you again, Freki Ingela, for this question:
What are your thoughts of the feminine divine in Germanic polytheism? I notice that very little is known about the household Gods, the Gods that women in their homesteads would have revered, the deity of the hearth, for example. This is a problem for me (I am a woman) and to be really honest although I am proud of my ancestral Gods I have a feeling that we have lost too much knowledge of the non-warrior Gods, the Gods of the women, the family, the hearth fire – so much so that we must look to kin-religions, such as Roman polytheism, to try to bridge the gap where so much knowledge has been lost. What are your thoughts on this?
That our ancestral lines were sundered is one of many great tragedies. The loss of traditional communities, and much of the lore, rituals, and sacred sites have been a hard blow to recover from. The power of religious movements such as the Northern Tradition is that we are living ties back to these things as much as we are carrying them forward. It is worth remembering that at some point someone had to bring in a new rite, story, or commission a sacred site to be built. Our Ancestors had to do this at one point. One of our greatest challenges is that there have not been a line or tribe of living people, at least until relatively recently, to carry on what will inform our own traditions, rituals, and sacred sites. Despite this heavy loss, the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir can, and should be asked to inform this revival.
When it comes to how to worship, wherever possible I try to keep within the tradition in question. I think that looking to other religions for inspiration can be a powerful thing, yet, I also recognize that Roman polytheism is a different way than German polytheism. There are different underlying assumptions in either religion, different cosmologies, and different ways of worshiping the Gods right and well. While I am not strictly opposed to mixing traditions, I advise care and caution in doing so, as one practice or way of doing things may be fine in one culture but not translate well, if at all, to the other. It is also worth mentioning that the Romans recorded aspects of Germanic life prior to conversion, i.e. the writings of Tacitus and Julius Caesar, so it makes sense to go to investigate these Roman sources.
I wish there were more resources available to us. I wish that more had survived, especially from before the period of conversion. There is a great gap of knowledge, even in what little we do have and know, between the Goddesses and the male Gods. I think that, for what we have remaining, there are many Goddesses who Germanic, Scandinavian, etc. polytheists can call upon who may well fill many of the roles you cite here. I feel that Sif is often overlooked, for instance. She is mentioned very little in the sources, namely in Skáldskarpamál where Her hair is cut by Loki, and in the Lokasenna where She serves Him mead in Aegir’s hall. She is a powerful, graceful Lady, one whom my family reveres for Her generosity and patience.
If one is looking for a Goddess of the home, I think of Frigga, Sif, Sigyn, and Frigga’s Handmaiden Syn. I have read Roman polytheists had Gods for parts of the door and threshold. Rather than look to the Romans for such a Goddess, I believe Syn would be one to worship and call upon as a Goddess of doors, their locks, and thresholds. It says in the Gylfaginning (not the most current translation, but it is free) that:
“The eleventh is Syn: she keeps the door in the hall, and locks it before those who should not go in; she is also set at trials as a defence against such suits as she wishes to refute: thence is the expression, that syn is set forward, when a man denies.”
As far as a Goddess of the hearth fire Itself, why not worship and revere Sinmora? While the etymology of Her Name is still debated, as well as Her identity as Surt’s husband, She and Loki’s Daughter Glut, are the only Goddesses of Fire in the Northern Tradition that I know of. Some would balk at this, given The are jotun. I have yet to read where either Goddess means us harm, however, and given I have been praying to Them for some time, I have found both, especially Sinmora, to be a patient guide, and teacher in working with Fire. If you mean a Goddess of the hearth where the fire is contained, the Goddesses I mentioned in terms of the home may be ones to worship and revere. Also, for some reason, Snotra keeps coming to mind. It may have to do with Her Name meaning “wisdom”, as a great deal of wisdom is learned around the home fire. It may also have to do with the wisdom required in keeping the fire well, including the etiquette and understanding required to treat the firevaettir well.
Part of the challenge in living this path is reconstructing and reviving what we can, and being open to the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir filling in quite a bit of what is no longer with us. It is worth remembering, however, that reconstruction is a methodology rather than a religion. My path is reconstructionist-derived; I recognize I do not strictly adhere to a reconstructionist model. Sticking to the source material where possible and exploring where our Gods’ stories come from is a good springboard. This does not set aside the importance of knowing the stories, doing research, and the like. When confronted in situations like these, where there is a lack of stories and resources like archaeology, I am going to lean more heavily on my and others’ personal experiences with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir.
A great, powerful, and often untapped resource seldom considered are one’s Disir. These are the women who kept things together, who cared for the house, and who kept the traditions alive in Their time. They may well do so again, if you ask Them. The Disir keep the lines well, and many of the older ones might be interested in teaching you what They have to offer if you show interest and are respectful. Whether or not you ask Them to help with connecting to the Gods, or walking the path, I believe it is more than worth it to set some space aside for Them, if you have it to give, and cultivate a good relationship with Them. I would offer similar advice in regards to the Goddesses since They, far more than I, can give you good direction on these things.
Update: I included Glut in the section where I wrote about Goddesses of Fire. I knew I was missing Someone in this section and She just came to me.