Patreon Topic 26: On Regional Cultus

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From Maleck Odinsson comes this topic:

“Regional Cultus. Not just in the realm of honoring the local spirits, but also in how the gods are reflected differently in different times and places.”

When I first started writing on this I was approaching this purely from an academic perspective, noting the resources we have available to us are mostly coming after conversion and almost all the earliest sources through Christian writers. The scholars and academics who later gave us interpretation and understanding of these sources, and even the archaelogists, all are operating within a Protestant Christian dominated background.

Generally, our Gods in the academic fields are not being approached as Gods. We have living, dynamic relationships with Them. Even over the course of my life my cultus with Óðinn has gone through changes, so I would hardly expect in a generation other Heathens to carry anything like the same relationship as I. When I began to worship Him, He came to me sometimes as Father, but mostly as Rúnatýr, and Yggr primarily. He was fierce, harsh, and a taskmaster in the early times. He still is at times.

How the Gods are reflected differently in different times and places depends on how the Gods fit into the landscape/environment we live in now, and the relationships we hold with Them. I would have a far harder time relating to Skaði if I lived in a place without snow, and relating to the Gods of the ocean is a lot harder for me here in the Great Lakes than it is when I visited the ocean. I still hold cultus for the Gods of the ocean, but it is a more remote one, less in-my-face than that of the Great Lakes Goddesses.

A big difference in regional cultus I can confidently point to is mine with Jörð, Freya, Freyr, and Gerða. I relate to Jörð through the Earth I stand on, and while Jörð is still Jörð wherever in Miðgarð I go on Her, I relate to Her differently here, especially in my home, vs a hotel room. The difference between worshiping Her on land I have helped cultivate vs a hotel room is quite stark. I have no relationship to the land in a hotel room beyond a place to rest my head. My thanks to Her is much more general, eg She is of the place, and I am grateful for Her being the floor and eventually the ground beneath my feet. Contrast this with the relationship I hold with Her being the good, black Earth I helped to till and plant in that our good harvest has grown from. My cultus with Freya, Freyr, and Gerða is embedded in no small part in that same gardening. It is not that I cannot relate to Them outside of the home, the hearth, or the garden, but that it lacks the specific ways in which our relationships flow as they do there.

The asparagus plant is one group of vaettir in which I relate quite a bit to these Gods locally. As before, I associate Jörð with the garden it grows in. The plant itself clearly associated with Freyr given its virility, fertility, and phallic shape. It is also associated with Gerða in that to harvest it, it must be cut down, and this fits in with my understanding of Freyr as a Sacrificed God whose blood renews the fertility of the Earth. Freya I associate with the pollinators, especially the bees and their sweetness, and the preparation work that must go on so the plants can prosper. It is not just through the garden and all the vaettir within it that I relate to these Gods. I relate to these Gods through the actions I take with the land. Tilling, planting, gardening, weeding, harvesting, all of this is done in relationship with the landvaettir, with Jörð, with Freya, with Freyr, with Gerða, and with the Ancestors, especially those who farmed and/or gardened. All of this with just one kind of plant. How much more so with a garden! How much more so with a biome!

Regional cultus grows from our living relationship with the environment, and if I can find that much connection in and through a single plant then we can certainly make them through the land we live on. It is worth pointing out that Yggdrasil holds the Worlds, and the Worlds are also in relationship with one another. Asgarðr and Jötunheimr are across a river, Ífingr, from each other. Jotunheimen is the name of a range of mountains in Norway. The Worlds are said to be in different direction, eg Niflheim to the North, Muspelheim to the South. We can likewise locate our relationship with the Nine Worlds in such ways, much as our forebears did with regard to directions and the landscape. Perhaps rather than strictly in the East, Jötunheimr is in or has connections to the World in the far more wild forest behind the home. A special rock becomes a hörgr, a stand of trees a vé, and from there perhaps new relationships form with Jötun Gods.

It is really hard predict how regional cultus will develop over time. After all, my family has only lived in Michigan for five generations, including myself and my children. Between major predicaments like climate change and peak oil, the unfolding of the next election and the consequences from that, our unique land here in Michigan, and the unfolding relationships we hold right now, it is anyone’s guess how it will develop. Given the ongoing Work and relationship I have with Óðinn, our strong commitment to direct experiences of our Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir on the land we live, and our work on the land, we will have many avenues to understand our Gods and develop relationships through.

Patreon Song/Poem/Prayer 25 -For Dionysos

If you want to submit a request for a prayer, poem, or song to be written to you privately or to be posted on this blog or my Patreon for a God, Ancestor, or spirit, sign up for the Ansuz and above level here on my Patreon. This prayer was requested from Alec for Dionysos.

Honey-spattered hands

Wetten the jar

Stirring in the magic

Patience, patience

Brewing takes time

Juice-soaked feet

Dance in the barrel

Pouring down the magic

Patience, patience

Brewing takes time

Green-stained hands

Collect the basket

Simmering the magic

Patience, patience

Brewing takes time

Calloused hands

Grind the mill

Boiling the magic

Patience, patience

Brewing takes time

Protrygaios! Theoinos! Agathos Daimon!

Blessed are the Ways You have taught!

Blessed are the Ways of patience, patience

For brewing takes time!

Patreon Song/Poem/Prayer 20 -For Apollo

If you want to submit a request for a prayer, poem, or song to be written to you privately or to be posted on this blog or my Patreon for a God, Ancestor, or spirit, sign up for the Ansuz and above level here on my Patreon. This prayer was requested from Alec for Apollo.

Sweet apples bloom red under Your light

The orchards sing with birds

The bees alight among the flowers

You set the music of Summer

Glorious light dapples down

The nymphai and naiades dance in the holy places

Trees and waters sway

Your gentle song brings dance

Warmth spreads in the field

The winter harvest is sewn

The summer harvest is taken

Your Presence brings life

Hail Apollo, ever-shining, ever-brilliant, ever-glorious!

Patreon Topic 13: Óðinn and Loki

If you want to submit a topic you would like me to write on for this blog or my Patreon, sign up for the Uruz or Thurisaz level or above here on my Patreon.

Note: Until now I have referred to folks by their level of Patreon support. For some of Patreon patrons I will now refer to them by a name I have permission to use. This makes it easier to find posts, and easier for me to organize them. Thank you to all my supporters on Patreon!

From Fen comes this topic idea:

“Inspired by your recent post, would it be possible to talk more on your experiences with the relationship between Odin and Loki?”

My relationships with every Heathen God, Ancestors, and vaettr has been mediated in some way first through Óðinn. Yes, even my relationship with Fenris. My relationship with Loki came about through Óðinn. I sometimes jokingly refer to this phenomena with the Heathen Gods as “Come meet my Family!” but as much as I find the phrase amusing, it is quite true. I came to know Frigg, Þórr, and the other Aesir through Óðinn, and through Loki I came to know His family.

When I first began worshiping Óðinn it was only Him. Then, as I began digging into the lore at the same time as I was developing a relationship with Him, I kept running into Loki whether or not I wanted to. When I sat down and read the Lokasenna and the reference to Their blood oath was made when Loki spoke to Óðinn in it, something clicked hard for me. For all that folks up to this point had made a big issue of offering to Loki to keep Him away or to stave off issues in ritual, here, through Óðinn, I was being brought into relationship with this God.

This is where things get interesting. In loving Óðinn I came to know and love His Family, and part of that Family is Loki. Through learning to love Loki, I in turn came to love His Family, despite how much Fenris in particular scared the Hel out of me (pardon the intentional pun). My portion was to wrestle with that discomfort with His Child as much as it had been to wrestle with my discomfort with Loki Himself previous.

Through all of this I understood fairly quickly that I could not indulge or entertain the idea that Jötnar = evil, because both in the lore I was studying and in my emerging relationships with several Jötun this was simply not the case. Worshiping Óðinn and Loki shattered a lot of early binary thinking that still exists in many forms of Norse and Icelandic Heathenry, something I am deeply grateful to Them both for shattering. It expanded my understanding of the Gods, of course, and it also forced me to look at the binaries of understanding around Ancestors and vaettir. In coming to understand my Gods in deeply powerful, personal, and in some cases boundary and binary-shattering ways, it did the same for my Ancestors and vaettir.

As far as understanding the relationship between Óðinn and Loki, I have gotten some flashes of brotherhood, and things more intimate than brotherhood. In other words, some of the interactions I have seen between Them point to Them being lovers. However, it has never been my interest in digging into that with Them. Not because such a thing repulses me on principle -no, I just do not want to dig into my Father’s sexual exploits with my spiritual Uncle. I’m good.

Given I am an Odinsson there’s some things about Óðinn I’m okay with not digging too deep into. I have other things and other ways of relating to these Gods in my life, and if I want advice on sex and such I would be sure to reach out to either one, but Their relationships are just that. It’s worth pointing out that I do not ask similar questions of Óðinn and Frigg of Their relationships either. It’s rude, not my business, and if They wanted me to know (for…whatever reason) I am sure They would make a point for me to know it.

Knowing both of these Gods has revolutionized my life as a polytheist and a Heathen. It has brought what had been a relatively stationary understanding of Ancestors and vaettir into a much more complex understanding. When I was primarily a priest of Anpu and devotee of Bast, while also worshiping Lykeios, Lupa, and Brighid, I did not have anywhere near the experiences I began to have with land spirits that I did when I came to understand Them through the lens of landvaettir and húsvaettir. Oh, They were there and real, that much I knew. However, despite doing regular offerings and prayers to Them I did not receive anywhere near the response I did until after I became a Heathen. Likewise, most of the spirits I interacted with at this point and time were the Dead, and most of my Ancestors were quite quiet. So in ways great and small coming to know, worship, and develop good relationships with these Gods completely rewired my spirit and relationships with everyone and everything around me.

Patreon Song/Poem/Prayer 13 -Praise of Mars

If you want to submit a request for a prayer, poem, or song to be written to you privately or to be posted on this blog or my Patreon for a God, Ancestor, or spirit, sign up for the Ansuz and above level here on my Patreon. This prayer was requested from Fen for Mars.

O unsheathed blade!

O furious reveler in battle’s shroud!

O burning pitch!

O heaving stone!

O roaring gullet!

O crushing hammer!

O stabbing spear!

O unleashed battle fury!

O peerless shield!

O unbowed helmet!

O armor-clad peacekeeper!

O ever-vigilant soldier!

O interlocked strength of the phalanx!

O ceaseless pounding of the pecker’s beak!

O ferocity of the pack’s hunt!

O sharpness of the bear’s claws!

O combat’s joining!

O warrior’s exaltation!

O the harvest’s joy!

O the founder’s friend!

O the ever-loving Father!

O the peerless Avenger!

O receiver of vows!

O fastidious preserver!

O bountiful huntsman!

O Supreme One!

O Victorious One!

O Ever-Holy Mars!

We Walked Among the Dead

We walked among the Dead today

We walked side by side

Before, beyond, behind, with broom in hand, we walked where They still lie

We came upon the Warrior Dead, those Who held the Line

We came upon the Straw-Death Dead, who peacefully reside

Yet came we upon the Head of Graves, of this great and powerful host

What gave us pause and tears to shed were the youngest that hurt her most

She could not say why she sobbed, only that she must go

And in her face, as I kept pace, I saw the place of fear and woe

It has been said that tears are gifts unto the Dead

Each drop acknowledges the life from the mortal coil it shed

We must each take our rest deep within the Earth

I can only hope I have been an Ancestor of worth

(I began writing this September 8, 2014 and finally found the words to finish it.)

Thinking on Modern Concepts of Money and Fehu

Something that is a current in many of the documentaries, blogs, and YouTube videos I watch is our modern society’s relationship with money. Money as we generally experience it in modern society is through the lens of fiat currency. This is true whether we are talking about the US dollar, kroners, or cryptocurrency. As I began to think on these things the Rune Fehu came to my mind.

Before I get into where Fehu gets into all of this, let us look at how modern currencies operate.

The US dollar ceased to be on the gold standard June 5th, 1933. On August 15th, 1971 dollars to gold ceased to be converted at a fixed value. What tethered the modern world’s reserve currency to any notion of physical boundaries disappeared a long while ago. Fiat currencies are the majority of the world’s currencies. So if there is no way that currencies are bound to physical things of value, where, then does our money come from?

All money is loaned into existence.

Both Investopedia and Chris Martenson of Peak Prosperity have explanations that agree on this. What does it mean for us that all money is loaned into existence with no backing to the currency by a physical object to which the value of money is tied?

As Michael Ruppert pointed out in the documentary Collapse:

Before the great growth of populaton which occured with the advent of oil came this revolution in the monetary system as well. There was a time when a pound sterling actually meant a pound of sterling silver. There was only so much silver out of the ground. You couldn’t print silver, it was something real. You cannot print any more money than there is energy to back it up.

That last point is deeply important especially since the banking sector relies on fractional reserve banking. Again, quoting Michael Ruppert:

Then there is Fractional Reserve Banking. If you brought me $10 deposit I could make $90 worth of loans just based on having that $10 in my drawer. It is all calculated that not everyone is going to come in and want their cash all at once -that’s a called a run on the bank. When I lend now a total of $100 based on that $10 deposit that is more money I create out of thin air. Well gee, that means that in order to pay off whoever gets that money [that person] has to make more money still to feed in at the bottom so that the banks can create still more money.

Because all money is loaned into existence at interest this means that the economy as a whole is constantly having to produce money, and thus, all those things tied to the economy have to keep on producing things that make money to keep up with the demand of the economic system. When a company goes under, unable to pay back its debts and defaults that money entirely disappears from the economy. Likewise, when I pay back a loan. This encourages debt to a degree heretofore unseen.

This kind of thing simply does not exist in nature. You cannot take any more carrots out of the ground than there were carrots growing to harvest. You cannot take any more milk from your cow than she is able to give. You cannot pull any more oil out of the ground than there is to be had.

The Rune Poems are quite simple and profound in what they have to say about Fehu. These translations I found on The Ragweed Forge. Fé, Fé, and Feoh are the respective Rune to each poem.

From the Icelandic Rune Poem:

Wealth
source of discord among kinsmen
and fire of the sea
and path of the serpent.

From the Norwegian Rune Poem:

  1. Wealth is a source of discord among kinsmen;
    the wolf lives in the forest.

From the Anglo-Saxon Rune Poem:

Wealth is a comfort to all men;
yet must every man bestow it freely,
if he wish to gain honour in the sight of the Lord.

The first two poem sources note that wealth is destructive among kinsmen, while the last calls it a comfort. Fehu, the proto-Germanic reconstruction of the root to the Rune in these poems, translates to cattle. Fé and Feoh are both related to the word cattle and the concept contained within it: mobility, wealth, and mobile wealth.

It makes sense that Fehu is related to cattle. Cattle are a significant source of wealth in Proto-Indo European cultures for a few reasons. First, maintaining any size of herd is expensive due to their need for pasture. The land, the ability to hold it securely, to staff it, and to care for it need resources all their own to work allow for this. Second, cattle produce immense amounts of milk from the cows and any cattle slaughtered for meat produce a lot, as well as a lot of skin, fats, and bones, all useful for an incredible varied amount of foods and goods. Third, they produce incredibly useful manure that returns vitality to the soil and allows fields to grow green and tall. Cattle, in turn, require healthy places to range, protection, and care from those who raise them. There is reciprocity bound into the relationship as a mandate for animal husbandry to work -at all.

Contrast this with how our modern systems of money and value are utterly divorced from these relationships. Cattle cannot grow forever, cannot exponentially reproduce in their lifetime. They die. Like every other living being they go through a life cycle of birth, maturation, decline, and death. There is no International Bank of Cattle. To be sure, there are cattle ‘stocks’ per se, but these are based more on how much poundage a given rancher can squeeze out of their cattle. The rancher is actively encouraged by the economic system to ignore what is best for the cattle, and ultimately, their own livelihood and continued wellbeing, in order to squeeze a few more pounds onto their animals prior to slaughter. The maximization of profits at the expense of the cattle’s comfort, health, wellbeing, as well as that of the lands they graze, or in the case of CAFOs, the bare minimum square footage they occupy prior to being slaughtered. The introduction and continued use of sub-clinical doses of antibiotics, used to increase the weight of animals so they produce more meat for slaughter, now is affecting the ability of antibiotics to kill diseases. We now have diseases developing or that have developed resistance to every available antibiotic.

The way our money system works defies the value that Fehu, even on a basic reading of its etymology, presents to us. Go deeper. Fehu, in the idea of wealth, presents not only living concepts of wealth in that wealth is in the land, water, air, and our relationships with the living world. I firmly understand Fehu as living in right relationship. Cattle can only grow healthy, well, and in numbers able to keep the herd and the humans who work with it healthy in this way.

Why do both the Icelandic and Norwegian Rune Poems warn of Fé being a source of discord among kinsmen? In the Icelandic Rune Poem it is called the fire of the sea and path of the serpent. The fire of the sea is a kenning, as gold is often referred to in fiery terms and it was often raided for. The path of the serpent, in my understanding, is a direct reference to Fafnir, the dragon featured in the Volsungasaga who is slain by Sigurd. The path of the serpent is greed, hoarding, miserly behavior. Wealth accumulated for its own sake, not shared with the community, not allowed to flow, turns poisonous. What should be a healthy relationship with things of value, shared with the community, with friends and loved ones, when kept to oneself turns destructive, destroying both the ability of the hoarder to give and the community to receive. It destroys good bonds of hamingja, denies the vaettir the ability to circulate and develop relationships with those who the wealth would help, and in doing this, stops the wealth’s own ability to be a positive force. Fafnir’s lair is described as desolate, and the air and water around him as poisoned. If we understand the idea of wealth to be those things from which value is able to derive, eg good soil, clean air, clean water, right relationship with all these things, and so on, then the hoarding of wealth allows these things to be destroyed or spoiled. One could easily look to a modern Fafnir as the landowner who simply sits on land, allowing the buildings on it to crumple and blight a neighborhood. One could easily look to a modern Fafnir as the company that operates in a town for years then, once it has entrapped the local economy and destroyed local businesses, when it downsizes or goes abroad for cheaper, more exploitable labor, it leaves behind all its effluence and rips apart the town as it goes. Then it is free to do it again in whatever town it finds itself down the road.

So what of the wolf in the forest in the Norwegian Rune Poem? The wolf was a consistent source of strife for the farmers. You can invest countless hours of work in maintaining your herds of cattle, sheep, or flocks of birds, and find at least one if not many eaten. Those animals were going to help you and your family survive the oncoming harsh winter. Now, they go to feed something that neither lives in your community or contributes to it.

The wolf lives in the forest, meaning it is utgard (outer yard aka outside) to the innangard (inner yard aka interior) of the farm. When looking at the Norwegian Rune poem, the idea I get is of the outsider coming in to disrupt the right relationship wealth has among kinsmen. A prime modern example would be the Pennsylvanians featured in the documentary Gasland. The companies that came in to set up fracking sites made a situation where one neighbor who profited via their mineral rights were pitted against their neighbors who did not until towns, even neighbors, were at each others’ throats over fracking deals being made. Whereas the Icelandic Rune Poem is a caution against the path of the serpent where wealth is hoarded and poisons both the person hoarding it and those around them, the wolf in the Norwegian Rune Poem is the outsider who ravages or pits neighbor against neighbor, profiting from the discord and gaining wealth for themselves and depriving everyone else of it. Since the wolf in this case is utgard, having no bonds of loyalty to those innangard, its disruptive force is even more impactful as it breaks good, healthy bonds of hamingja as well as those of right relationship between communities and the sources of wealth that sustain them and allow them to thrive. The wolf gets its meal in the form of the broken communities it leaves behind and the community gets to clean up after the slathering wolf who bounds away from the community’s slain lambs, licking its chops.

Contrasting these two poems, thankfully, is the Anglo-Saxon Rune Poem. Where the previous two cautioned against the dangers of wealth, this Rune Poem extols its virtues. Indeed, wealth is a comfort to all. Good air, clean water, good soil, right relationship, and the ability to provide for one’s community and self through these things is a source of deep comfort. Without the ability to bestow it freely, and receive it in kind we are left either to hoard it or destitution. Which Lord’s sight would we gain in honor? In my view Odin or Freyr works here. Regardless, when wealth is allowed to flourish the good things of that wealth circulate. From here we are able to give good Gebo to our Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir. Without wealth our cup is empty. We cannot make offerings from an empty cup. The potential of wealth, and indeed money itself to do good is there. It needs to be cared for and allowed to flow to do so healthily. We must be free to care for the land, air, water, and our communities. We must be free to work with the sources of wealth, to bring up good things in it and from it, and to exchange in good Gebo with each other. Fehu’s usual entrance in Runic dictionaries of ‘cattle’ belies the deep ties and right relationships it requires.

So what of modern money and Fehu? If we understand that wealth is not money, but rather, money’s value is derived from wealth, it presents a very different understanding of things compared to how modern society operates. A fiat currency is only able to be exchanged as payment for goods and services because we, as a society, have decreed this currency is able to be used for that purpose. Untethered from any real good, such as gold, which could serve to give it a basis in reality for its value, money’s value fluctuates based on availability in the economy, at how much it is borrowed into existence, and the price of the goods it is able to buy. In the end, money in our society is backed up by the amount of energy that makes it able to purchase goods and services and to pay taxes and our faith that it is a good medium for exchange. This way of organizing how money works directly impacts how we care for all the sources of wealth, our communities, and ourselves. If the only way attain the value of a thing is to price it in terms of what x amount of dollars can buy y thing then unless the sources of wealth can be readily exploited and converted into cash they are deemed relatively worthless. This is why a single room apartment in New York City, cramped and with thin walls, can cost upwards of $2,000 a month where a two bedroom apartment here in Michigan can cost around $800 to $1,000 a month. This is why vacant farmland, cut up and parceled to sell to homeowners, can run anywhere from $1,500 to $5,000 an acre just depending on how close it is to the nearest city.

Fehu requires us to tend the things from which wealth flows. The land, air, waters all must be tended so cattle, mobile wealth, can flourish. So we need to not only protect the land, air, and waters, we need to work to regenerate them. Yellowstone found that when wolves were reintroduced it had huge knock-on effects because rivers would come back and flourish. This was because the trees which held water and held the soil together were not being destroyed by hungry animals. This, in turn, allowed more and more of the park itself to flourish. Fehu, then, requires balance and true appreciation for those things which are the very sources of life, of wealth, and of the good things we can make of this life. We must be living well both spiritually and physically with the Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, and with one another. The soil and water must be healthy so the grass is healthy, so that in turn the grass is healthy so the cattle is healthy, and we who eat the cow then are healthy as well. What we value needs to be valued in life and in death. Slaughtering a cow is still a big undertaking. They need to be cared for well, they should be slaughtered humanely, they are heavy, and their body can make a lot of food and tools. All of this requires preparation, skill, and care to be taken with each step. Even without slaughtering a cow, while the excreta of cows is a potent fertilizer and balancer to the soil, it can only be so if it is allowed to compost properly so it does not present as a vector for diseases to soil, water, to the cows, or to us.

I agree with Kelly Harrel’s point in The Runic Book of Days: as the first Rune in the Futhark, Fehu is the warming power of Muspelheim where Uruz is cold solidity of Nifelheim. Both these Runes are thethered not only to physical concepts but to the spiritual and intellectual ideas found within the Runes. Again and again, wherever I look, Fehu is homeostasis, living balance found in living with the environment one is in. It is not peace; that is another thing entirely. Imbalanced, Fehu is the out-of-control population of hooved animals eating a piece of land to death, hot manure spread over soil, but not allowed to decompose. Imbalanced, Fehu is the path of the serpent and the wolf who breaks the boundariess of the yard, leaving privation and destruction behind.

Our ideas of money, then, should be oriented towards those things which allows the wealth of the soil, the water, the air, our bodies and our spirits to be healthy. This, in turn, makes our money useful to all these things while giving it the opportunity to grow in a useful way rather than for its own sake. When we herd we place boundaries on where the herd is able to go to protect the soil, the water, the air, and the cows themselves. We need to do the same with our money so it does not all leave us, just as we need to give it room to move and be useful. For our purposes, the budget shares the same purpose as the fence with cattle, and the objectives we turn our money toward are similar to the pastures we raise the cattle on. When it comes to Fehu and money I ultimately see a regenerative relationship should we keep in right relationship. The money we ‘graze’ today as investments can come back to us as good cows whose lives we honor by using everything they give us to its best extent. Ideally, we grow our sources of wealth and our money as we would actual cows: by making strong relationships that our descendents are able to benefit from and grow long after we become part of the Ancestors.

My Roots Reach Deep

My roots reach deep

Into soil and stone

To the core of Fire in Jorð

 

My roots reach deep

Into history and home

To the hearth of every Ancestor

 

My roots reach deep

Into trial and triumph

To the soul of each spirit worker

 

My roots reach deep

Into weft and warp

To every diviner’s domain

 

My roots reach deep

Into blood and battle

To the heart of each ulfheðin

 

My roots reach deep

Into Ash and Elm

To the First People

 

My roots reach deep

Into Odin’s steed

To roots entwined with Roots

 

My roots reach deep

Into Urðr’s well

To the waters shared in life

 

My roots reach deep

Into Flame and Frost

To the Eldest of our Kin

On Níðhöggr

A while back I was asked to share my understanding of Níðhöggr by a fellow Heathen. Vikings of Bjornstad lists the meaning for Níðhöggr’s name as ‘Malice Striker’. The first section of the compound name, níð, is related to malice, insult, and strife. The second is related to beheading, striking, blows, or chops. Not much survives on this dragon/serpent survives from the lore. Among the places to look for Níðhöggr are in the Prose Edda, both in Gylfaginning and Skaldskarpamal, and in the Poetic Edda Grimnismal and the Voluspa. While the lore refers to Níðhöggr as male, my interactions with Níðhöggr have leant me to understanding the dragon as female.

I relate to Her as a God of Rot and Death, and a God of the Gravemound as well, especially seeing interlinks between the rotting of death and the eating of poison. My family’s compost heap is dedicated to Hela and to Níðhöggr, as we see Níðhögg as eating the poison of Yggdrasil and the making of it into the healthy new earth that is renewed. The gravemound takes in the Dead and the new growth results within it, holding the power of the sacred items deposited within it and the new growth above.

Most of my understanding and beliefs regarding Níðhöggr is from direct experience of seeing Her and interacting with Her. When I was saw Her, She was chewing the corpses of the Dead, taking the poison of Their lives, Their misdeeds. She does the same with the root of Yggdrasil She chews on, not to damage it, but to prevent poison that is collected in Helheim and the Nastrond from killing It.

A powerful insight of dragon symbolism, at least in terms of how I see it in Norse/Germanic/Scandinavian culture/myth is that part of their destructive nature is what they sit on. In Fafnir’s case it is his bed of gold and the greed associated with it. In Níðhöggr’s case She is lying in the midst of traitors, oathbreakers, and is sitting with the rot and poison of Yggdrasil’s root. She chews on the traitors, oathbreakers, and outlaws, as well as the root of Yggdrasil. One of the passages in the Voluspa says She sucks the blood of the slain. I see Her doing similar, chewing and sucking on the poison in the root of Yggdrasil, removing the rot so it stays healthy. It also explains why Her/His hall is the Hall of Serpents dripping poison because that is Níðhöggr’s environment. My fellow Heathen likened it to a poison dart frog, and I think that’s a fair reading of Her too.

It is telling that the only time She emerges in myth is during Ragnarok and She isn’t destroyed, but takes up roost again beneath the ground. I find Her very purifying, as She has been in the midst of all that rot, poison, and uncleanliness, and yet, She has not lost Herself to it. She engages with this Work before and after Ragnarok. She is rejuvenating and dangerous, the Chewer of Corpses and Warder against Poison. As outlaws and traitors were among the worst one could be, and both were put into the utgard of society, I see Her as a boundary-keeper since She gives these dangerous and vile Dead a place to go to be contained, chewed, composted so they do not harm the community or rest of Yggrasil. She is the God that chews the rot beneath the Tree, rejuvenating both the root and the soil in which Yggdrasil’s root rest; necessary and holy.