Quick Note: Norse Mythology and Heathen Ritual

Just a couple quick notes for the Heathen-minded today.

If you aren’t already reading Dr. Karl E. H. Seigfried’s amazing The Norse Mythology Blog, then you’ve been remiss. I first mentioned the blog back in June for its in-depth interview with Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson, chief priest of Iceland’s Ásatrúarfélagið. The blog is one of the most content-rich affairs for lovers of Norse mythology I’ve ever seen, and two recent features, his answers on Norse myth and religion questions posed by a high school student, and a massive five-part (part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5) interview with fantasy author M. D. Lachlan (author of “Wolfsangel” and “Fenrir”) that covers everything from literary influences to using the Wolfsangel symbol.

Asatru in Iceland, photo by Dr. Karl E. H. Seigfried

“You have said that, “in the Norse myths, the runes and the history of the Vikings we have a huge cultural treasure. We shouldn’t hand it over to morons without a fight.” No argument here. In the novel, however, you acknowledge the non-Viking origins of the symbol, writing that it is “not one of the twenty-four runes given by Odin.” When the witches first see the Wolfsangel, they have varied interpretations. Some see it as a thunderbolt, some as a werewolf. “Others,” though, “saw a different meaning in the rune, one that it would bear down the centuries until one day someone gave it a name. Wolfsangel. This was not a word the sisters would have recognized, though its sense was clear to them – wolf trap.” Did you choose this symbol because the book was originally intended – as you’ve said in interviews – to take place in WWII? Did you first plan to use it as a Nazi symbol, then reset it as a rune when moving the action back to the Viking age?”

The whole blog is a treasure, and has a clear archives page that will guide you to the important interviews and articles Dr. Seigfried has produced.

Meanwhile, here at Patheos, columnist Eric Scott writes about his experiences with a Seidhr ritual, and how it made him wonder if he could be a Heathen (in addition to being a second-generation Wiccan).

“I knew immediately that this appealed to me. I had known of the Norse myths since I was a child, of course, and had always felt fondly toward the gods of Asgard, but I had never experienced them so directly before. And yet I was, in a way, frightened: I had heard the heathens talking before the ceremony, and the way they talked, there would be no going back from this. They even signed contracts declaring that they would have no other gods before these, a declaration which, then and now, fills me with unease. I felt both at home and in a deeply foreign place. I was a Wiccan; I had just begun to discover just how important to my identity Wicca was. Did I want to be a heathen too? For that matter: could I even be both?”

It’s yet another thoughtful column from Scott, and no doubt there are Heathens out there with opinions as to whether one can be Heathen and Wiccan both, or if you must choose.

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  • Gallowsburden

    he has a nice blog. very interesting. but what a Seiðr ritual has to the with the Gods, i dont know lol id like to see some historical evidence of that lol and yes, it is IMPOSSIBLE to be Wiccan AND Heathen. they are very different philosophies and ethics with very divergent practices. it doesn’t mean they cant work together in civil society or anything but they are VERY VERY different. *boom* there is 2 Heathen cents.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t mean to be dismissive, but given that many so-called seidhr rituals today seem to bear little resemblance to anything described in ancient sources as being seidhr and instead seem to be nothing other than warmed over Harner-type Shamanism mixed with a little bit of Norse Wicca, it is no surprise that Mr. Scott felt at home.

    In any case, the people he was involved with seem pretty off the beaten track of heathenism. “They even signed contracts declaring that they would have no other gods before these, a declaration which, then and now, fills me with unease.” Really? I’ve never heard of heathens stealing the First Commandment from the Old Testament and rewriting it for their own use. That fills me (even as a decidedly non-eclectic heathen) with unease as well.

  • http://www.magickal-media.com Alice C. “A.C.” Fisher Aldag

    I was just musing to myself that Norse Wicca might be a good path for Mr. Scott to explore.

  • Pitch313

    I don’t think that I’d ever have become a Heathen instead of a Neo-Pagan Craft practitioner. But that particular distinction, if it even existed in the decade when I grasped that what I believed and did actually had a name and others with a like world view, only came to be important much later.

    My ties to deities, guardians, myths, and powers Norse and circumpolar was–and remains–more personal and heartfelt. And it suits Craft as I appreciate and engage it. Odin could be a wandering witch…or a wandering witch journey with Odin…

    In my experience, plenty of folks don’t make or feel any obligation to make a one or the other decision about Heathenism vs Paganism. They do both, and well and deep.

    Seidr as I have experienced it as questioner-participant is a powerful and insight-generous ritual procedure. I understood, however, by the time seidr had been regenerated and I got to take part that I was not that sort of seer, nor would be.

  • Dreamsinger

    Thank you for the breadth of your coverage. The number of differing interpretations in your postings is both amazing and amusing. I guess religion being the semantic equivalent of constant argument hasn’t changed in the last few thousand years. Keep researching or we won’t learn anything, I suppose.

  • Krystal H.

    I would also recommend that he look into Norse Wicca, perhaps even a tradition like Seax Wica.

  • Charles Cosimano

    Was this before or after they went off to raid Constantinople and ended up in Japan? (Because we all know you can’t go back to Constantinople.)

  • Galllowsburden

    even old New York was once new Amsterdam…. why they changed i cant say…

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    It changed in colonial times when that region went from a Dutch colony to a British colony.

  • http://profiles.google.com/camille.klein Camille Klein

    Aaaaaand somebody didn’t get the joke.

  • http://heathenfaith.blogspot.com Norse Alchemist

    -snickers- good joke

  • Anonymous

    People just liked it better that way

  • Druidkirk

    He might also look into the Norse hearth in ADF. More reconstructionist than Wicca but not as single minded as Asatru seems to be.

  • Jrsibley

    The Wolfsangel is *not* runic. It is specifically Continental German, *not* Scandinavian. (and BTW, runes were codified (EF ca. 200s CE if not earlier) well before Odin as such (possibly late Vendel/early Viking period) was codified! See the book “Lady with a Mead Cup”) Also please look at the Wikipedia entry for the Wolfsangel (which is pretty good).

    Incidentally, I do have a copy of an abridged “Wehrwolf” which was a limited edition printed for Heinrich Himmler.This symbol is bigtime linked with the pre-Nazis and Nazis and now, with neo-Nazis and skinheads. On its side, and with the crossbar elongated somewhat, the Wolfsangel forms the “SS” “rune” used by the Waffen SS.

    If some elements in modern Asatru are using the Wolfsangel, this is not only shocking and disgusting to me, but tells me that those elements aren’t purely Scandinavian, but are incorporating Nazi and skinhead symbols and concepts. Fortunately, our local Kindred is far more interested in the actual historical material than this 20th century “Germano-Romantic” stuff. And equally turned off by Nazi/skinhead symbols.

  • Anonymous

    What precisely do you mean by Odin being “codified?” I honestly have no idea what that is supposed to mean.

    Enright’s idea that Odhinn (or his continental equivalent) is a late-comer to the pantheon is not universally accepted by scholars and is based on what seems to me to be rather weak evidence. Certainly, the god the Romans call Mercurius according to the interpretatio Romana is as far as I know universally agreed to have been Wodan (or, as he would have been called in the 1st century, Wodhanaz). Given that these references go back at least to Tacitus (ca. 98 CE), I really do not understand what point you are trying to make about the runes being well before Odin, but then as I already mentioned, I have no clue what you mean by Odin being “codified.”

    As to the Wolfsangel, it is, as you say, continental Germanic and arises much later than the runes and has no real relation to them. However, I do not think that “the Nazis liked it” is reason enough to condemn something. The Nazis liked Beethoven too, after all. You mention Der Wehrwolf. Hermann Loens wrote der Wehrwolf long before there was a Nazi party. I have read it and while its story of strong peasants banding together to defend their homes from predatory outsiders during the Thirty Years’ War is far from politically correct by today’s standards, it is pretty far from a book of Nazi ideology. For the most part, I think the Nazis saw it as an effective moral booster at the end of the war, when they were losing and hoped to encourage individuals to resist the Allies in the same way that Harm Wulf and his neighbors do in the book.

    I’m pretty sure the runes used by the Nazi Schutzstaffel were simply two S runes (for SchutzStaffel), not an elongated Wolfsangel. Do you exclude the S rune from your personal practice due to your dislike of things Nazi?

    While I do share some of your distaste for romanticized, misconstrued history, whether it comes from Nazis or from elsewhere, I did not realize that Asatru needed to be somehow “purely Scandinavian.” While Asatru does get most of its basis from Scandinavian sources, it has always looked further afield to related Germanic peoples, including those of the continent and the Anglo-Saxons. Indeed, much of modern Asatru vocabulary is Anglo-Saxon, somewhat due I suspect to the influence on Asatru of Theodism in the ’90’s, but not exclusively due to that.

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    I don’t think that I’d ever have become a Heathen instead of a Neo-Pagan Craft practitioner. But that particular distinction, if it even existed in the decade when I grasped that what I believed and did actually had a name and others with a like world view, only came to be important much later.