More on Vanatru

There’s been some pertinent comments to the previous post on Vanatru and I feel that the topic needs further discussion, especially with regard to Heathenry at large.

It’s not easy being a Vanic heathen. I know this because I used to be one. There’s a recurrent hostility originating from trends within modern Norse polytheism: those who believe that people should not focus on particular gods, but ought to worship all equally; those who argue that people should focus on their ancestors and local wights instead of gods who, they claim, care little about individual humans; the would-be raider, i.e. those who see Heathenry as a synonym of viking religion and therefore a warrior path with no place for Vanic wussies. And then there are those who carry a huge baggage from Christianity and for whom Norse polytheism should be what a “proper” religion is “supposed to be”: uniform, moralistic, complete with scriptures and a dualistic view of the world (gods and giants, us and them, ours and theirs). When you tell these people that you are a Vanatruar, that you focus on the Vanir or have one of Them as your patron, chances are that you will be frowned up, criticized or shunned. It’s not easy being a Vanic heathen, which is why many prefer to set themselves apart so as to have their own safe haven. Just like many Lokeans do and for the very same reason.

This is an impoverishing trend in modern Heathenry, but one that’s the result of a misguided view of religion as having to be united in uniformity. Yet when you have multiple gods with different agendas, you will naturally have multiple cults with specific forms of worship. And those cults can exist both within their native religious system or stand on their own and move around independently. There’s nothing new about this: Isis was very popular in ancient Egypt, indeed She was and is one of the main deities in the Kemetic pantheon, but She also had a mystery cult of Her own that spread throughout the Mediterranean world, far beyond Her native land and independently of the rest of Egyptian religion. The same holds true for Dionysos, who was and is simultaneously an important element of the Greek pantheon and the focus of mystery cults that can exist outside standard Hellenic religion. This was normal in the ancient world. When you have multiple gods, you will have multiple cults, so there’s nothing wrong in the existence of Vanic religion simultaneously within and outside Heathenry.

Now some heathens (dare I say many?) have a narrow view of History and will point out that there is no clear record of a separate cult of Freyr, Freya or Njord. This is the purist view of the re-enactor and the “lorish” perspective, the notion that the lore is a form of sacred scriptures by which we must guide our lives and religious practices. And it is also a case of Christian baggage. Because the lore – i.e. Eddas and sagas – are late fragments of a religious system. They’re not in any way the whole picture, not geographically, chronologically or even religiously. There’s a reason why Odin features highly in the existing sources: they were largely recorded or produced by poets in a military and aristocratic context, which is basically Odin’s realm. Practices and tales may have been very different in the minds of farmers and fishermen in other parts of Scandinavia and at different times. This diversity existed in ancient Greece, where religion assumed local forms and there were multiple creation myths stemming from different origins, from poetic to philosophical. We know this because there is a relative abundance of Greek and Roman sources; we don’t have the same clear picture for ancient Scandinavia because we have very few sources, almost all of which are late and from a particular context. The lore is neither scripture nor the full picture. And reconstructionism is not viking re-enactment: even if something didn’t exist in the past, there is no reason for its non-existence today if it stems from an historical basis. And the historical fact is that polytheistic religions are naturally diverse and complex in the number of gods, their roles and their cults.

Of course, just as there is hostility towards Vanatru, there is also a form of counter-hostility. Some (dare I say many?) Vanatruar have put up with a lot from narrow-minded heathens and they reacted in the same measure. Hence the emphasis on peace as opposed to the warrior qualities of Odin and Thor, on nature as opposed to a supposed focus of the Aesir on civilization, on UPG as a reaction to a strict lorish view. There is a lot of baggage in Vanatru and it comes from the bad experiences of many of its members with the wider heathen community. People have been hurt and they react by severing whatever ties they can with those who shunned them, thereby stressing differences that are largely artificial. And this too is impoverishing. For if we focus on the peace-loving qualities of the Vanir and ignore or downplay Their fighting aspect because that’s viking war centeredness, we neglect, for instance, an important part Freya’s nature; if we put things in terms of nature versus civilization, we forget that farming communities too are part of human civilization and that the Vanir have a role to play in sustainable urban life; and if we neglect the lore and academia to depend on UPG, we risk building religions disconnected from the past (and we are worshipping old gods, not new ones). Yes, some heathens can be aggressive because they have too much “vikingness” in their heads, but the exact opposite can be just as bad. And the same goes for the opposition between lore and UPG: we need a balance of both to breathe new life into old cults, otherwise we’ll just be making news ones with no connection or regard for the centuries of experience that others have had with our gods.

So what am I saying here? That the label Vanatru makes sense when referring to a subsect of Heathenry. If only heathens could understand that subdivisions are a natural part of a polytheistic religion and that specific cults can both exist within and outside their native system. And if only Vanatruar could be accepted and accept themselves as part of Heathenry without drawing deep borders. But that calls for the end of both historical narrow-mindness and the stressing of artificial differences. And we still have a long way to go on that front, so if you can’t solve the problem and really want to move on, just drop the name. A label is a matter of shared language, in that it must be understood by others while conveying your identity in an accurate fashion – in this case a religious identity. If it is confusing, if it fails to transmit what you want or if it distorts your own practices, just drop it. And in my case, I am neither a heathen, nor do I wish to use something that is so often placed in sharp contrast with Asatru.

The past few years have produced new Vanic traditions, of which Waincraft is perhaps the most notorious example. It’s not Vanatru – at least I don’t think they describes themselves as such – but it is rooted in Vanaheim, so there is a wider community rising. One that is Vanic and polytheist, but not necessarily heathen, since it includes people from different religious backgrounds who share a common devotion for the Vanir. I myself am becoming part of that process by working on a Romanized cult of Freyr. A broader label may be in order.

What makes Vanatru vanic

Every now and then, I come across posts on the principles, tenants or specifics of Vanatru. For those of you who are new to the world of modern Norse polytheism, the term is a mirror word of Asatru, which is a combination of trú (faith) and áss (god; plural Aesir). The latter could apparently be used in a general sense for all the gods, as could tivar and regin, for instance. But there was another term for divine powers – Vanir – which had a more specific meaning and referred only to a particular family of gods, i.e., Njord’s and Freyr’s. So Vanatru means Faith of the Vanir, though trú is often (mis)translated as “true”.

But what makes Vanatru special? What’s so specific about it that it requires a name of its own. I’ve seen several lists of principles and tenants, even extensive articles on the topic, but really people, it all comes down to one thing: a focus on the Vanir. And that’s it! We can go on and on about reverence for nature, peace-loving, open sexuality, friendship and a rejection of war-centeredness, but while these are certainly characteristics of at least some of the Vanir, it’s not that specific to Them. It’s about as accurate as saying that what makes a Catholic is a belief in Christ and saints – and I’ve heard this one many times! – which certainly fits the Catholic profile, but it also fits that of several other Christian churches (e.g. Orthodox, Coptic and Anglican).

So you think one of the specifics of Vanatru is a reverence for nature? That’s true for many forms of polytheism, in that the natural world is not considered a lifeless thing whose sole purpose is to be exploited, but is seen as something profoundly numinous, full of life and power, part of the community and worthy of respect and reverence. “All is full of gods”, Thales is believed to have said, and that pretty much sums up a common idea in the ancient world. There’s divinity in everything and that includes rocks, rivers, trees, the sea and so forth. It’s not specific to Vanatru. It’s not even specific to it when compared to Asatru: Thor is a god of thunder, which makes Him a Power linked to Nature; you can’t even argue that that’s not his primary identity, because His core is thunder. And while the hammer can easily be a symbol of civilization and human craftsmanship, something that could be seen in opposition to the natural and thus Vanic world, dwarfs are enough to question that simplistic assumption. Because the dvergar are landwights, specifically spirits of rocks and mountains, yet they are also miners, smiths and crafters, i.e. makers of the tools and weapons of civilization. Including both Freyr’s golden boar and Thor’s hammer.

The Vanir value peace more than war? It is true that conflict is not in the primary nature of at least some of Them, though that may not be the case with Freya (She is a Lady of the Battlefield and not just a goddess of love). But even if all of Them see war only as a last resort, They’re not the only peace-loving gods: Aphrodite isn’t big on battles and legend has it that when She gave it a go in Troy it did not go well for Her; Demeter cares more about fertility and order than the disruption that is war; Epona too is a Lady of Abundance and though She may have a fighting side (a horse was, after all, a tool of both labour and conflict), it may not be Her primary role. In a way, She’s a bit like Freyr.

Vanatru honours or focuses on the seasons? How’s that specific enough to be a defining trait? The Romans and the Greeks had festivals tuned to agricultural practices, the Egyptians marked the cycles of the Nile and Wicca – we all know it! – celebrates the seasons. Furthermore, if one is to admit that Heimdall is one of the Vanir, how does He fit into the agricultural cycle? Or how is Njord connected to the seasons any more than other non-Vanir sea deities (e.g. Aegir, Neptune or Manannán)?

It is also said that Vanatru is non-discriminatory and welcomes everyone alike, regardless of their gender, sexual orientation or ethnic background. Which is very much in tune with the open nature of the Vanir, who tolerate what some do not, from alternative sexual orientations and life styles to brides from different races. But this is also true of other gods: ask any devotee of Dionysos or Hermes, to name just two well-know gods for their inclusiveness or preference for the outcast and so-called deviants. While tolerance is certainly a Vanic virtue, it is not exclusively so. The polytheistic world has many deities who are just as embracing as the Powers of Vanaheim.

When it comes down to it, the only thing that’s really specific to Vanatru is a focus on the Vanir. Everything else is just gravy, a non-exclusive bonus or consequence of the deities being worshipped. Tolerance, reverence for the land, abundance and generosity, these are all things associated with Vanatru because they are associated with the Vanir and not the other way around. That’s why you can find them elsewhere, because there are more gods that preside over those things, making a focus on the Vanir the only really original trait of Vanatru. So why all the lists, posts and so forth on principles, tenants and etc.? Why the urge to carve an identity with stressed lines?

Perhaps the problem is one of definition by opposition. The very name Vanatru reflects and emboldens that, being a mirror-term of Asatru. It’s almost like a religious alter ego, in as much as people often ask about the differences between the two, and that calls for a constant stressing of separateness. In other words, it feels like Vanatru needs to justify its existence by presenting itself in opposition to Asatru. So if Thor is aggressive, the Vanir are peaceful; the latter are deities of the fertile land, so the Aesir must be gods of civilization; if followers of Asatru value the lore and academia, followers of Vanatru must focus more on UPG (yes, I’ve seen this argument). And never mind about comparisons with other European pantheons and traditions: the point is to differentiate from Asatru. It’s simplistic, downplaying and honestly impoverishing. If we, worshippers of the Vanir, are to grow as a rich and diverse community, we need to move away from a teen mentality of us versus them, which means that we need to stop defining ourselves in opposition to something.

This is actually the reason why I’m dropping the Vanatru label (and will have to edit the About section of this blog accordingly). There’s no point in identifying part of my religious practices with reference to others from which I need to differentiate myself. It’s detrimental, it places things in terms of black and white and ignores the immense grey areas, leaving us poorer as a result. Instead, I prefer the much broader label of Vanic polytheism, which is open enough to include many of the modern forms of Vanir religion, be it Norse, wiccan-inspired, shamanistic or, as is my case, Romanized.

Genital monologue

In the world of pagan and polytheistic fiery online discussions, the latest episode features child pornography, an arrest, public relations, scores of accusations and an unsettling desire to cover your ears and scream “lalala” to pretend something isn’t there. Sannion has been keeping track of it and sharing his own thoughts on the matter (see here and here, for instance). And while I’m usually not in the mood to join what could potentially be another flame war, since that tends to consume time and energy that could be put to better use, I feel inclined to make an exception in this case. It involves more than just bad theology and religious self-centeredness: it’s about abuse, physical and psychological injury and an ineptitude to deal with issues that pagans should frankly be at ease with. So in the spirit of April Fools’ and the Ludi Mercuriales, I’m going to put on a jester’s hat and throw my own two cents into the roaring crowd. A warning, though: it will be a long post.

Kenny Klein, pagan author, musician and priest, was recently arrested for possessing child pornography, a charge he apparently confessed to. Some argue that a collector of such material is not a child molester himself, which is about as logical as saying that a vegetarian can eat meat as long as he doesn’t kill any animal himself. It seems some people fail to grasp the fact that in order to produce child pornography you have to molest children in the first place, making consumption part of the crime. And there’s more: there are also those who argue that everyone makes mistakes and people shouldn’t be severely criticised or punished for them. I can understand that argument if you’re a warden trying to empty a prison complex to turn it into a luxury resort, but otherwise… no! If you make a mistake – a serious mistake! – you’ll suffer a penalty. We can discuss the severity and usefulness of a given punishment, but the fact that everyone makes mistakes does not excuse you from your own and especially not in the case of sexual crimes to which one is a direct or indirect contributor. What this tells me, however, is that some people in the pagan community are more worried about bad PR than with keeping their house clean and that they prefer to defend their own no matter what instead of facing the problems. And in this particular type of problems, they should be better than that. Honestly!

Do you know why the Catholic Church turned a blind eye to sexual abuse within its walls? Because the Vatican has a problem with sex. It’s a sin waiting to happen, a potential highway to hell that should therefore be regulated, restricted and kept to the bare minimum necessary for human procreation. No pleasure, no fun, no beauty. Just put the baby in your properly married wife and that’s it. It’s as colourful as saying that food is solely a matter of nutrients, proteins and carbs, so eat your food pills or Matrix-like porridge and forget about presentation, seasoning, flavour and texture. It’s pure function with no pleasure and the Catholic Church is there to make sure you have none. The Vatican fashions itself as a righteous pussy-sower and cock-blocker, so you can imagine its horror when it was faced with reports of sexual misconduct and crimes. It shatters the self-projected image of the Church, so they did what any dogmatic institution that has a problem with sex would do: sweep it under the rug.

But pagans? You guys are supposed to be at ease with sex! You talk on and on about the union between the God and the Goddess, sometimes explicitly and sometimes metaphorically. You have openly phallic symbols, a festival with a strong sexual background and a tradition of ritual nakedness, even a reverence for the body. Sex should not be a taboo in the pagan world! You should be able to discuss it with the same at ease that restaurant-goers talk about food. And yet when confronted with criminal problems of a sexual nature, you faced it with the same horror and defensiveness as the Catholic Church. Really, pagans? Should I ask if you actually believe in the things you say you believe in? Or are you just putting up a show every time you talk about divine union and the sexual symbolism of Beltane, like teenagers trying to shock their parents?

Now I know it’s not easy to stand up against your own when one of you makes a serious mistake or commits a crime. What will people say of you? What kind of community will you be if you don’t defend your own in times of crisis? But what you should be asking yourselves is what kind of community will you be if, for the sake of PR and absolute loyalty, you let yourselves rot from within. Because pretending problems don’t exist and using shitty technicalities like saying that consumers of child pornography are not actual child molesters themselves won’t get you out of the shit hole: it’s only going to sink you deeper in it. If you want true, healthy loyalty, you will respect those of you who are innocent and victims first and foremost. And you will do that out of loyalty to them, so that those of you who are clean will not be stained by the crimes of the wrong-doers among you. Because if you are unable to dissociate yourselves from criminals, you will be associating yourselves with them. And if, all things considered, you still feel that there are important reasons why you should be grateful to the accused, despite his wrong doings, you will support him as he goes through the punishment for his crimes instead of pretending things didn’t happen or making up foolish excuses as you go along.

Is this a witch hunt? No, pagans, it is constant vigilance, which is a constant need in any group of people. Why? Because there are wrong-doers everywhere. No religion, no community is immune to evil and mistakes. And if you think otherwise and that pagans are somehow purer than the rest, then you are fooling yourselves and going down the same road early Christians did. There will be bad people among you, just as there will be among us polytheists. And the more you grow as a community, the greater the chances that there will be problems and mistakes. The fact that everyone errs should not be an excuse to do nothing and forgive everything: it is the very reason why you should remain vigilant and act when things go wrong! Because they will go wrong at some point and when that time comes you need to act decisively. It’s a matter of trust and trust comes from two things: the knowledge that the people in charge are less prone to make mistakes (also called experience and integrity) and knowing that when mistakes happen, those people will face them head on, honestly and swiftly. You cannot ask humans to be flawless, but you can ask them to be responsible and honest enough to quickly correct whatever goes wrong. If you sweep it under the rug, if you use shitty excuses and downplay things, then you are fooling yourselves and others. And it will come back to bite you. You think mistakes make you look bad? How do you think it will look when people find out you’ve been ignoring problems? If you cannot be trusted to admit your own flaws and do the right thing, how can you be trusted at all? How can others trust you with their work, their money, their children knowing that if things go wrong you will deny it, downplay it and do nothing?

So stop making excuses for Kenny Klein! He committed a crime and he admitted it, which already puts him ahead of pagans who are trying to go around the subject in every way they can and no matter how silly they look. Walk away from him, attend to the needs and loyalty of those among you who are blameless. Make sure next time you act as soon as possible and root out wrong-doers without hesitation. Your leaders and communities will not be good because they are inherently so or because you have good PR: they will be good because they are kept in check and problems will be dealt with as soon as possible.

One last note before I take off my jester’s hat: I may be talking about pagans, but what I said also applies to us polytheists. We must remain vigilant, brothers and sisters. We must be honest with ourselves and others.

Hat off! I’m done!

Going weekly

It’s been almost twenty days since I posted something and there are several reasons for that: academic life, for one, with articles, conference papers and a possible book in the making; also sports, from daily activity to Lisbon’s half-marathon, which took place on this month’s 16th and went very well; and then some ritual activity, namely Minervalia, when I gave my marathon medal to Minerva (She now has four). But when it comes to spirituality, I’ve come to the conclusion that I need more structure. Not in the sense of less spontaneity, but of a greater frequency of ritual.

See, I’m not a priest who lives in a temple and gets paid to perform nothing but religious service. To be a priest, regardless of for how long, you first need training and experience (a lot of it!), enough discipline to strictly maintain your ritual duties and a support system that sustains you through your service. The latter can come from a community (donations or communal funds), but you can also set one up yourself (book sales, courses, personal savings, etc.), both of which cannot be instantly created and most certainly not without a good reason, a lot of work and a good deal of organization. But I’m not a priest, nor will I be one in the near future, because even if I was treading that path, I do not have the necessary training and experience. Not everyone can be a walking window to the divine and those who can will not be one without a cost and a lot of effort.

I’m a layman, one who tries to make as much room as possible for the Gods in his mundane life. I start everyday by greeting or praying to several of Them, I make monthly offerings to some and have at least one yearly festival to over twenty individual deities, plus divine groups (e.g. ancestors) and five heroic figures. And this is what’s scheduled. Libations, adoratios or other quick and easy informal offerings can also be made on a daily basis as opportunity presents itself, be it the sighting of a special bird or a moment of luck that calls for a gesture that says “thank you” or “I hear you”. But these are things that I do as go about my mundane life and sometimes it clashes with my religious life. I may, for instance, have to go on a journey or be abroad on the date of a yearly festival and be therefore unable to perform the proper ceremony. The date may fall on a work day and, since I’m not a full-time priest, I need to work to earn money and cannot simply quit my job. Now, there is nothing wrong with that per se – indeed, it is only to be expected in a layman’s life. It is the natural consequence of a life shared by mundane and religious routines and, as with other instances of shared things, the solution is to be found in compromise. So if I’m away during a festival, I can make a symbolic offering with the vow of performing a proper ceremony as soon as possible; at times, I may skip work on religious grounds, but on other occasions I may have to momentarily change the date. I did just that this month: the Ides of March fall on the 15th, but by then I was already in Lisbon in preparation for the half-marathon, so I made and burned my offerings to Jupiter, my Lares and Penates on the 13th (and consequently celebrated the Nones on the 5th instead of the 7th). But I did this because I have a monthly structure and it is on the basis of it that I work the compromises.

All of this to say that, in an effort to ensure the vitality of my religious practices in the face of mundane life, I’ve decided to start weekly practices. Because it will further consume my time, I’ll be doing it to one god only, though I may expand it in the future. Unsurprisingly, the deity in question is Ingui-Frey, not just because He’s my oldest standing devotion, but also because I’m doing for Him and His kin something that I’m not doing for other gods, which is creating a Latinized cult for Him and other Vanir Powers. And that, besides demanding a right synthesis of two traditions with a modern context in mind, also calls for an open channel of communication, so to speak, which is more easily established if there are frequent offerings, meditation and divination. It is, after all, His cult and as anything new that aspires to become a tradition, it requires divine input as much as it needs human effort.

The choice of the day of the week was almost self-evident: Sunday! It seems entirely appropriate for a bright and golden god who’s also Lord of Elves, the sun being called alfröðull or Elf-wheel in stanza 47 of the eddic poem Vafþrúðnismál. Even the Christianization of the day’s name in modern Latin languages helps: Dominicus, the Day of the Lord, but in this case Lord or Dominus Ingui. So every Sunday, one way or another, I’ll be offering food, prayers or poems to Frey, maybe dance on the fields, bake bread, divine His insight and hopefully keep an open channel with Him.

A poem for Odin

When resorting to Galina’s monthly oracular sessions to contact Freyr a couple of months ago, I promised Odin I would give Him food offerings should be He willing to act as an intermediary. I also promised a poem, which took me a while to write (poetry doesn’t always come easily to me), but I eventually finished it and read it out loud as an offering to Him. And now that the vow is fulfilled, I’m making the piece public.

The wind outside
1.
The chair is soft and the fire warm,
the sun of houses shining in my hall.
There’s food on the table
and wine in my cup,
boar, bread and butter
and the sweat mead of grapes.
The storm rages and the rain falls,
yet in comfort I sit, the lord of my home,
while the wind blows outside.

2.
I heard the unspoken greeting of the guest,
a knock on the door as I sat by the fire.
I saw a wet cloak on a dry stranger
and a bowed head in salute.
I asked him what he wanted,
he answered shelter from the storm.
For an honourable host is a traveler’s friend
and the mighty gods were once merry guests.
So piously I welcomed him as the wind blew outside.

3.
I pulled a chair and took his cloak,
I brought a towel and took his shoes.
I gave him food and filled his cup,
he raised it high and made a toast:
“Blessed are the hosts”, he said,
“and blessed are their housewights”;
Thus we sat, side by side, host and guest,
a pious tribute to the timeless powers,
and he told me a story as the wind blew outside:

4.
“Before the first dawn, before the first dew,
the suckler of Audhumla lived his life-ban.
Enormous, his raven food fed the gaping void
and made the common seat of men:
the sea of wounds filled the land of whales,
the rock of arms pilled the paths of giants,
his helmet-stand raised the hall of clouds.
Then came the shield of heaven and her sister
and thus the kingdom of land was born.”

5.
“Ymir’s flesh begat Durinn’s kin,
the crafty dwellers of Jord’s womb.
Makers of limb bands,
their halls of dwarf house are ever busy.
There the folk of Thorin made man-forms,
images of trees of neck-rings
skillfully carved from forest towers.
And the rulers of stone kept their work,
untouched by life, untouched by law.”

6.
“Then came the sons of Bestla,
three wanderers in the bottom of heaven,
and met Dvalinn’s men by the wide plain of the gull.
In a salt-beaten earth’s bone they entered,
people of Bifrost invited by people of Durinn,
the world’s first welcomed guests.
There the proud shapers of Ymir’s corpse
saw two wooden trees of gold,
untouched by fate, untouched by force.”

7.
“Crafty and caring,
the offspring of Bor dispensed their gifts
and blessed the ash trees of arm-rings:
Vili’s brother gave them breath,
Vé’s brother gave them will,
Odin’s brother gave them senses.
Thus they were born, sons of hospitality,
the dwellers of the kingdom of land,
touched by life, touched by fate.”

8.
He finished his story and smiled,
the guest I’d welcomed in my hall.
He drank his fill and ate his share
and told other tales of time-lost ages.
He never said his name, the Raven-god;
I never asked him, the Spear-Lord.
Yet I knew it, deep down I heard it:
a pious man feels that grim
when One-Eyed looks into your soul.

9.
The chair is soft and the fire warm,
and I sit in comfort, an elder at the table,
joined by sons and their sons as well.
The years have passed, strength has faded,
yet memory endures, the nurturer of men’s souls.
Outside, the wind blows; inside, children gather.
A story is asked by the young scions of Heimdall,
a story is told by the old offspring of Vindhlér:
“Let me tell you of when Odin visited this house…”

For those of you wondering, yes, the poem deals with the creation of the world and the first humans. It’s largely based on Snorri’s work, but the story on the first man and woman is inspired by stanzas 10 and 17 of Völsupá, which may contain an alternative version where mankind is created not from logs on the shore, but from the man-forms crafted by dwarfs and perhaps found in a house by three gods.

A Lady of Flowing Waters

Ara - NabiaOn a stone altar from northern Portugal known as the ara de Marecos, dated from a period when the Romanization of the region was obviously well underway, an inscription alludes to local religious practices. The text, which is not entirely clear, mentions Nabia Corona, Nabia, Jupiter, Lida and a deity whose name cannot be read (only the ending -urgo is visible). It also adds which animals were given to whom and that a sacrifice was performed on the fifth day before the Ides of April, which is April 9th. This is a very rare piece of information in the realm of pre-Christian religions in western Iberia, where primary references to ceremonies and festivities are almost non-existent.

The theonym Nabia or Navia features in other inscriptions from Galicia, northern Portugal, the Spanish region of Estremadura and the Portuguese district of Castelo Branco. She appears to have been the most widely worshipped goddess in northwest Iberia and testimonies of Her cult appear in various sites, from mountain tops to valleys and fountains, in both urban and non-urban settings. Occasionally, She’s given epithets that either connect Her to another deity – as in Nabia Corona, probably linking Her to the Iberian god Coronus (though this has been disputed) – or seem to reflect a local if not tutelary aspect, like Nabia Sesmaca, maybe linked to a nearby castellum Sesm[...], or Nabia Elaesurraeca from the municipality of Sarreaus, both cases in the Galician province of Ourense.

The exact etymology of the name Nabia/Navia has been the subject of debate. It may derive from IE *nau and convey the notion of flowing, an idea reinforced by the names of Iberian rivers, like the Navia, Navea, Naviego and Nabón in northern Spain, as well as the Nabão in Portugal. A connection with the Spanish word nava or ‘valley’ has also been suggested and indeed there may be truth in both possibilities, as valleys can easily be the origin or dominion of rivers and hence allow for a link with water. In the past, it seems She was identified with Diana, since the aforementioned inscription from Marecos is usually interpreted as O(ptimae) V(irgini) CO(ornigerae uel conservatrici) ET NIM(phae) DANIGO/M NABIAE CORONAE or ‘excellent protective virgin and nymph of the Danigo, Nabia Corona’. A connection with sovereignty at some level has also been suggested, based on Her apparent role as a tutelary goddess of several communities, as well as the location of altars to Her on mountain tops and a possible link with Jupiter based on the inscription from Marecos.

Taking all of this into account and coupling it with what little I can gather from pre-Christian religious traditions in my native area (see here), I’ve come to the decision of experimenting with local Powers by focusing on a Nabia Alcobacensis. I stress the experimental nature of this: I may be wrong about the preferred gender and number of local deities of my home town, a doubt aggravated by the fact that I’m not a spirit worker of any sort. Yet a mixture of intuition and rationality tells me that a local form of Nabia is not without substance. This is, after all, a water-rich valley with a nearby mountainous range and what appears to be a very long tradition of lunar cults. A tutelary aspect of Nabia may therefore feel right at home, but time and divination will be the judge of it.

For both practical and symbolic reasons, in choosing a festive date, I kept the ninth day from the Marecos inscription, but move it up one month. Thus I’ll be honouring Nabia of my homeland on March 9th, the time of the first signs of spring, when the rivers are full and the temperatures rising. As for the ritual framework, I’m not sure yet. I’ll probably start by using a basic Roman structure and then go from there to the tune of omens and divination.

Dominus Ingui: rituals (5)

As part of my effort to build a Latin cult of Ingui-Frey, I recently contacted the god Himself in order to get His insight. Of course, not being a spirit-worker, I had to resort to the services of a modern oracle, so I emailed Galina Krasskova, who offers monthly oracular sessions. It seemed the most appropriate option, since she works with Odin and He, like Frey, is a Norse god. I received some answers and, in accordance with what I was told, I’ve constructed a simpler ritual. It’s meant to be less formal, easy to use whenever one feels like honouring Frey, be it with an offering of food, poetry, dance or sex, to name just a few examples; it can even be used to make a vow. It also fills a gap in the rituals I have so far: while the ritus panis is a formal ceremony whereby a bread is shared with Lord Ingui, this new ritual can be used for offerings that are entirely given to the god.

Initially, I thought of naming it after Frey, but it occurred to me that, being a simpler ceremony, it can be used or adapted for ceremonies in honour of other Powers related to Him. So I drew inspiration from the Vanir Themselves and from the rune wunjo, usually translated as ‘joy’, and called it ritus laetus or joyous rite, though the Latin word laetus can also mean fertile, abundant, rich, happy and pleasant – all of which are Vanir things.

Roman dance

RITUS LAETUS
Basically, you just need one or more offerings and a bell. Anything else is up to you and the honoured god/dess, depending on how complex the ceremony is supposed to be, what you’re giving and exactly how. Also depending on its purpose, the ceremony can have three or four parts.

1. Opening (Praefatio)
Ring the bell. Utter or sing a hymn or prayer praising the Vanir god/dess you’re addressing before ringing the bell again.

2. Request (Precatio)
This part is optional. If you’re making an offering with no special request in mind, skip it. However, if you want to ask something in particular – aid, a specific blessing, guidance in divination, etc. – state it at this stage and name your offering(s). If you’re making a vow, utter it clearly, saying what you want, what you’re promising in return and what you’ll be sacrificing immediately as proof of your commitment.

3. Giving (Datio)
The act of giving something to a god implies the act of consecrating or making it sacred, i.e. making it property of the deity. That’s what sacer or sacred means: divine ownership! So this is the point in the ritual where you let go whatever it is you’re giving to the god/dess. To that end, present your offering(s) and ring the bell. Then while you declare it clearly (e.g. “I gladly give You…[specifics]… so that I may honour You”), perform a gesture that signifies the consecration: for instance, if you’re honouring Ingui, use a finger to draw an Ing rune over the offering; if it’s meant for Njord, sprinkle sea or salted water over it; if Freya, try rose petals. Depending on how long it takes you to do it, you can also repeat the words, pray or even sing while you dispose of the offerings (e.g. while pouring or burning them).

This ritual can also be used to offer a dance, sex, a race, a theatrical play, etc, but remember: by consecrating your actions, you’re giving them to the god/dess and not to yourself or anyone else! You’ll be using your own body, your own bodily functions and movements, as divine property. If you’re aware of this and feel prepared to do it, go for it: say the words as you do the consecrating gesture in a way you find appropriate (e.g. in the air, over tools, on the floor) and then perform the actions before closing the ritual. However, if you don’t feel prepared, simply pay tribute without transferring the ownership of your actions, much like one would perform something in the presence and in honour of a guest. Just state your intent and invitation in the precatio, make an offering to your divine guest (e.g. food or a wreath like a welcoming gift) and do your thing.

4. Ending (Exitus)
To conclude the ritual, ring the bell and utter or sing a prayer of gratitude. Make an offering to the local spirits, if you think it’s appropriate, and ring the bell one last time to close the ceremony.