Take a deep breath!

On the matter of Daesh (aka, the so-called “Islamic State”) and the destruction of Palmyra, there are many things that could be said, but a call to arms is not one of them. Nor is believing in Daesh’s boasts or judging the west as weak for not intervening in full force. For multiple reasons, as I explain in my latest piece at Polytheism.com (my first article is here, by the way).

Be mindful, be practical, be optimistic. Rise above the media frenzy and pierce through the screen. Don’t play into Daesh’s game. Instead, breathe deep, take a long-term view and pour a little something for Lady Spes.

In the meantime, in the spirit of honouring deities whose physical memory is being erased by Islamic extremists, there’s a small empty shelf in my room that I might turn into a domestic shrine to the Middle Eastern god Nabu or Nebo. More on that in due time, though. Still wondering if it will house Him alone, more deities or be a second domestic shrine to Mercury to host “hermetic guests”. An epithet linked to hospitality would go well with that, now that I think about it. And I would have to make new cult images, which, adding to the plan to reorganize my Vanic shrine, means I have a lot of clay work or Minerva and Khnum moments ahead of me. Polytheism – I love having so many gods!

An Iberian Mercury

When you have a particular focus on a particular deity, when you’re a devotee of a god, there’s this drive to read, learn about and get to know His “cousins”, i.e. similar gods from other cultures. If it’s Dionysos, you turn a curious eye to other Powers of beverage and ecstatic fury; if it’s Apollo, you take a look at similar enlightened deities. Sometimes, they even share a common origin, namely if they’re of Indo-European stock. And in some cases, you add them to your religious practices or syncretise them with gods you already worship.

A similar thing happened to me when I started researching and reading about Hermes-like deities and tricksters. Having been a heathen and due to the fact that I do research on Viking Studies, I already knew about Loki, though I gained a renewed understanding of Odin’s table companion since I joined Mercury’s ranks. Bor’s son too is not a total stranger and there’s been an increasing awareness of His ways. Manannán mac Lir is an enticing god, not least because He has similarities with Njord, and that naturally draws the attention of someone who’s also close to Freyr. Lugh is another Celtic deity I’ve been curious about, on His own merit, but also due to His equation with Mercury. There’s Inari, the Japanese fox god or goddess, a gender duplicity that probably owes more to historical incidents than anything else, but is nonetheless fitting for a trickster. Susanoo too is a prankster and I may pour Him libations of sake whenever I happen to get my hands on a bottle of it. And since we’re talking about Asian deities, the bodhisattva Manjushri is sometimes said to be a trickster, as if there weren’t enough hermetic traits in Him – the blade, the wisdom, the mantic dice. Which adds to His appeal for someone like me, who’s fond of the Buddhist school of Madhyamaka. There’s Anubis, whom I added to my regular pantheon a few years ago, and Thoth, who’s been on the periphery of my religious life for some time now. The sacrilegious destruction of statues and shrines carried out recently by Daesh in the Middle East turned my attention to the Syrian and Mesopotamian pantheons, namely Nabu and Enki. The Slavic Veles is a wildly interesting god and then, of course, there are animals – the raven, the fox, the raccoon (childhood favourite!), even the squirrel.

For the most part, however, this was just curiosity, a research topic that allows for a cross-cultural perspective and hence deeper understanding of the individual trickster I’m devoted to. It’s not that I wouldn’t like to worship all of them in some way, it’s just that’s easier said than done. You need time, resources and mental space to properly honour gods on a regular basis and there is such a thing as dispersal, especially if you include in your domestic pantheon several great Powers from different backgrounds, like Loki and Lugh. Occasional offerings are certainly possible, but regular and dully scheduled honours with full formal ceremonies is a different matter.

At some point, however, it dawned on me that I was looking into “hermetic cousins” from nearly everywhere expect my own native land. There’s an obvious reason for that: we know very little about Iberian deities. There are no surviving myths, almost no accounts of their cults, which makes Latin inscriptions virtually the only source of information on Them. What little is known about the Iberian pantheon(s) is squeezed out of surviving names, epitephs, the details of the sites where altars were found, comparative analysis with other pantheons and, in a few rare cases, depictions of animals, plants and the god/desses Themselves. So following my quest for the gods of my homeland, I considered extending that search into something that worked both as a revival of regional cults and, at the same time, a contribution to the world of the Fleet-Footed. To put it differently, just as I’ve come to realize that a Latinized cult of the Vanir is a path within the wider hermetic realm, because it involves a form of “liminaling” and translation, I thought of adding another path, that of Iberian Mercuries, thus reviving both a regional form of Roman polytheism and enriching my increasingly Mercury-focused practice.

Enter Arentius and Arentia. As is generally the case with Iberian deities, information on Them is scarce. Which means there are divergent theories on their natures: They’ve been seen as war deities, river gods and even domestic Powers specific to a small group of people. There are in total nine known altars to Them, four our which dedicated to both Arentius and Arentia, other four to just the former and one solely to the latter. They all come from the Spanish Extremadura and Portuguese Beiras, in the western interior of the Iberian Peninsula. Incidentally, that’s also a region where several other deities are well attested, which allowed Juan Pedreño to propose a new theory on the identity of Arentius and Arentia. Assuming that the gods and goddesses known from the area constitute a regional pantheon, he concludes they could not have been war or water deities, because those roles were already taken. Instead, Arentius and Arentia may have played a role similar to that of Lugus and Rosmerta, something equally suggested by an analysis of divine couples in the Gallo-Roman world. It is Apollo and Mercury who are most commonly coupled with a native goddess or identified with a pair of deities whose names are almost identical. Think of Bormanus and Bormana, for instance, or Visucius and Visucia. In other words, Arentius may have been an Iberian god identifiable with Mercury and Arentia a regional goddess who supplemented the prosperity He’s associated with. It’s only a theory, yes, but a good one nonetheless. If you’re interested, you can read more in this article where Pedreño discusses his ideas in some detail and in English.

Taking that into account, I’ve decided to give Arentius and Arentia a try. To present Them with offerings on an experimental basis and in Roman rite, since their cults were at least partly Latinized in the old days. There’s an historical precedent and an element of tradition there, so that solves the question of how to do it. ‘When’ is a different matter, but given the possibility of a connection with Lugh, something around August 1st seems appropriate for a first contact. However, since a southern climate can result in a later harvest and I already have a feast on August 4th, I decided to go for September 1st. Part of making things work when you worship dozens of gods is having a balanced calendar without too many festivities crammed together. Though this is just an experimental stage and whether it will lead to the inclusion of Arentius and Arentia in my domestic pantheon and regular religious practices is yet to be seen. It depends on how it goes, on how They react – if at all!

Protest and Remembrance

Today’s the Polytheistic Day of Protest and Remembrance, a date set by fellow polytheists in the aftermath of the destruction of sites and statues in the Middle East by Daesh, aka the so-called “Islamic State”. There was a post on the event, published just over a month ago at the Polytheist.com website, as well as a fair share of publicity on Facebook, so today I took a few minutes to write a small prayer on a piece of paper, read it out load, sprinkle it with wine, flour and incense and burn it together with dry pine twigs. It was a gesture of acknowledgement and respect towards the gods of the Middle East, so that temples of words may rise and echo. Translated from Portuguese, it went something like this:

To the gods of Syria and Mesopotamia
I make this offering;
as homage to the deities
of Palmyra, Nineveh, Babylon, Eridu
and elsewhere in the Levant
I burn this paper offering,
this written prayer,
sprinkled with wine, flour and incense.

May it please you,
may it pay you homage,
may it pay you tribute,
may it honour and fortify you.
And may you be remembered and praised,
today and forever,
in your land and beyond it.

May your names echo
in the sands, mountains and rivers;
may your sacred sites
persist and be risen and multiplied.
And against those who today move against you,
unholy and destructive,
denying you and denying life to your own,
against Daesh may you rise
and make their efforts fruitless.

Be honoured,
gods of Syria and Mesopotamia!
Be praised,
gods of the Levant!

2015-07-31 16.36.09

Notes on the ritus aprinus

So it seems my Latinized rite has generated a bit of bitter debate in some heathen circles. Normally, I’d let it be, as I have no intention of pleasing everyone, but in the words of a Terry Pratchett character, the best way to get something done is to give it to someone who’s busy. And since I’m writing a book on Norse mythology (yes, I have formal education on the subject), a paper on the same topic, my first article on Polytheist.com (yes, I’ll be joining the fold) and a book chapter on Vikings in the Iberian Peninsula (also formally educated and a PhD on the matter), I decided to write four notes on the boar rite. Not so much to convince the critics – some people are beyond that – but to clarify my ideas and options, as well as a few details, which may seem puzzling or obscure.

1. It’s not historical
Let’s start with the no-brainer: this is not an historical rite! There’s no record of the Vanir being worshipped west of the Rhine before the Migration Age, so a Vanir-focused Latinized rite to Norse gods will naturally be a new thing. It is, however, historically inspired, in that it takes into account traditional practices from both cultures and blends the two following the historical precedent of Romanized cults. For instance, I considered how the ritus Graecus was, in the words of John Scheid, “a very Roman ritual form”, “an extremely Roman category that would certainly have seemed exotic to Greeks” and “an official category, more or less artificial” (2003: 37). In other words, a ritus Romanus with a few foreign elements thrown in for a sense of “Greekness”. I also took note of the Gallo-Roman culture, which was the result of the Romanization of Gaulish customs under Roman rule – including religion! Native gods were identified or paired with Latin ones, depicted according to the artistic conventions of Roman culture and worshipped in temples that combined classical formulas with native features.

If the Vanir had been worshipped west of the Rhine, they’re cult would probably have taken a Roman guise similar to that of Gaulish religion. Of course, since it didn’t actually happen, any attempt to create an historically inspired Latinization will always involve options that will be different for each person. In other words, how I did it may not be how others would do it. And that’s okay! We’re not all the same and this is not an effort at creating the ultimate and definite Latinization of Norse cults. It’s just one individual’s take. Which is why I didn’t want to call it ritus borealis or northern rite: not only is the name too broad for something that’s Vanir focused, what I constructed is also just one out of several possible historically inspired combinations of customs.

Is it legitimate? Why not simply honour them the Norse way? That was certainly a possibility and it’s something I did for several years. But as my religious identity cemented itself as Roman polytheist, at one point I decided to try and bring into the Latin way the few devotions I had left from my days as a heathen. Yes, I used to be one. And one of the reasons why I left was precisely the sort of narrow-mindedness that is unfortunately common in modern Heathenry and which claims, for instance, that Norse gods should only be worshipped the Norse way, that anything else is appropriation, that heathens should follow a particular theology or avoid honouring non-Germanic gods, either for the sake of historical accuracy or cultural purity (whatever that is). Compare that with Roman religion, which has a strong precedent of syncretism and inclusiveness, of multiple theologies and philosophical schools, and once you get past the re-enactor’s mentality, there’s freedom in being able to practice an ancient and diverse religion in today’s multicultural world without the constant chorus of “cultural purity” or religious fossilization.

So as a Roman polytheist who was born, raised and currently lives in southern Europe, I wanted to bring into the Latin world my long-standing devotion to a few Norse gods. To harmonize it with the rest of my religious practices, thereby simultaneously maintaining my worship of the Vanir and strengthening a sense of Romanitas by following the ancient Romans’ example. And on the back of my head, I also had the knowledge that in the 5th century, the still-pagan Suebi made a home for themselves in the west of the Iberian Peninsula. There’s little record of their religious practices, but one wonders if they initially Latinized them, just as they did with most of their way of life. As I said, while this is not an exercise on historical reproduction, it is nonetheless historically inspired. And it has been a very rewarding experience, one you may or may not agree with, but which has ample historical precedent: same gods have been worshipped differently by different people and cultures throughout History, in Europe as in Africa and Asia, and there is no reason why that shouldn’t be so today. If I were to limit myself to what was done and available in the ancient world, I’d be merely re-enacting a fossilized religion because it stopped evolving in the Middle Ages.

2. Who goes first?
Traditional Roman rite opens with offerings to Janus, the god of beginnings. In De Agricultura 134, Cato adds Jupiter and Juno to the opening and Ovidius speaks of Vesta as presiding over the beginning of the ceremony, since She governs the fire through which the offerings reach the Gods (Fasti 6.303). In my version of the Roman rite, I honour Janus, Vesta and Jupiter in both the opening and closing sections, but when creating a Latinized rite for Norse gods, the immediate question was who should play a similar role.

For that, there were several options. Thor was an obvious one, given the hallowing ability of His hammer, as was Heimdall, since the god who watches over the borders of Asgard seems like a clear choice to mark the ritual limits of a ceremony. I also considered Loki due to the possibility that He’s a Norse equivalent of Agni (see here and here). Odin too was on the list, as He was historically identified with Mercury. There’s a trace of that in the weekdays, with the Latin dies Mercurii becoming óðinsdagr in Old Norse and wodnesdæg in Old English and from which the modern Scandinavian onsdag and English Wednesday derive (Sonne 2014: 189). Another possible trace of that, according to Rudolf Simek (2000: 78), can be read in stanza 48 of the eddic poem Grímnismál, where Odin calls himself Farmatýr – god of cargo or burdens. And Tacitus may be referring to Odin or rather Wodan with he says, in Germania 9, that the Germanic tribes gave special worship to Mercury. There was also Njord, who as a divine hostage is not outside the role of intermediary, and Ullr, who’s mentioned at the end of stanza 30 of the eddic poem Atlakviða with the words at hringi Ullar – by Ullr’s ring! Which ring is unknown, but it could be an oath one, similar to those mentioned in the Icelandic sagas, as in chapter 4 of Eyrbyggja saga and chapter 25 of Víga-Glúms saga. It’s true that Ullr is a minor figure in the surviving mythology, but the keyword here is “surviving”: a look at placenames will show you a very different picture and that’s exactly was Stefan Brink does in his How uniform was the Old Norse religion. It shows that there’s a considerable abundance of Ullr theonyms, particularly in eastern Scandinavia (2007: 117), suggesting He was an important god either at an earlier age or in a different region from that where most of the written sources come from. And since Atlakviða is part of the Sigurðr cycle, whose origins predate the Codex Regius by several centuries, it’s not impossible that the reference to Ullr’s ring is a relic from a different time or place in the transmission process.

Whatever the case, I had two other options on my mind: Freyr and Freya. The former is tied to the idea of friðr, as in Snorri’s Edda, Gylfaginning 24, where it is said that it is good to pray or call on Him til árs ok friðar – for abundance (ár) and peace (friðr). The same idea appears in chapter 14 of Hákonar saga Góða, where a toast is made to Freyr and Njord for prosperity and peace. However, the word friðr also carries the notion of truce, quarter, personal security and even inviolability (e.g. friðhelgr). As D. H. Green states, the pre-Christian idea of peace meant not merely a passive state of no hostilities, but an active one of protection and assistance (1998: 60). Much like the Roman notion of pax deorum implies the protection of the gods and hence the well-being and prosperity of the community. So if I want to start a ceremony by calling on peace between those present, visible and invisible, establishing inviolability or holiness and hint at the bond-nurturing purpose of the rite, it seems like a perfectly good option to start and end the ceremony with Freyr. Furthermore, his role as keeper of peace or guardian is reinforced once you place Him in a Latin context: a phallus was a well-known apotropaic symbol (Adkins 2000: 178), as evidenced, for instance, by this 1st century Roman wind chime or the mano fico sign, which has a sexual origin (Adkins 2000: 140) and is still used in southern Europe. And Freyr, at least according to Adam of Bremen’s History of the Archbishops of Hamburg-Bremen IV:26, is a phallic god.

Then there’s Freya. In the Old Norse sources, apart from having a warrior side, as suggested by Her getting half the slain (Grímnismál 14) and perhaps the name Sýr or Sow in Snorri’s Edda, Gylfaginning 35, She’s also presented as a cup-bearer. When Hrungnir visits Asgard, says Snorri in Skáldskaparmál 17, Freya is the only one brave enough to serve the giant his drink. It’s a task that could be interpreted today as one of servitude, but which in the ancient world was not outside the role of someone as high up as a queen. Consider how in Beowulf the hero is given his drink by his hostess, queen Wealththeow (verses 611-628). Freya is also a Mistress of Seiðr, a type of magic which, according to chapter 4 of Ynglinga saga, originated among the Vanir and was first introduced among the Æsir by Her. And one of the uses of seiðr was divination, as in the case of the seeress in chapter 4 of Eiríks saga rauða, who manages to contact spirits who tell her the future. And finally, consider Freya’s falcon cloak, which is used by Loki in two instances – in Snorri’s Edda, Skáldskaparmál 56, and in the eddic poem Þrymskviða – when he travels to the world of the giants. Judging from other types of shamanic practices, and seiðr does seem to be at least partly rooted in the circumpolar culture of northern Scandinavia (Price 2010: 247-8), the cloak appears to serve the same purpose as the ceremony performed by the seeress in the saga: to travel to or contact the otherworld, much like a shaman journeys in animal form. As such, by being the goddess of seiðr and the lady who serves a drink, Freya is not outside the role of bridger of worlds. That of the guest and host, the visible and the invisible, this realm and the other. Even as a deity of love, a side of Freya Snorri mentions in his Edda, Gylfaginning 24, one can see an ability to join or link two sides. And no, this is not a far-fetched interpretation that would have no place in the ancient world: the goddess Diana, who’s known for Her chastity, was sometimes turned to for matters of love, because the literal hunt She normally stands for was seen figuratively as a pursuit for love (Green 2007: 122-3).

It was based on this that I considered Freyr and Freya for the opening and closing sections of my Latinized rite. And while I could have chosen any of the deities mentioned above, I opted for the Vanir Twins. It wasn’t just the appeal of the brother-sister dynamic, which creates a good balance; it was also a consequence of the Romanization of the two deities: freyr is actually a title, as is freyja, meaning “lord” and “lady”, words that in Latin translate as dominus and domina, the master and mistress of the domus or house. And yes, this is an acceptable rendering of the Old Norse words. As pointed out by Stefan Brink in a lecture he gave in 2005 and which was published three years later, “the Germanic family or household was very similar to the Roman familia” and the head of the household was called hêrro, truthin or frô in Old High German, having “a similar role to that of the paterfamilias in the Roman familia” (2008: 13). Even the etymology of the English words “lord” and “lady” is not outside a paralel, since the former comes from hlaf-weard (bread warden) and the latter from hlaf-dighe (bread kneader) (Brink 2008: 7). He is the head of the family and therefore the one who guards its sustanance while she attends to its production; the paterfamilias governs the house, the materfamilias manages its domestic affairs – pantry and hearth included. In the Roman world at least, Freyr and Freya could have been divine equivalents of those human roles. And hence, in the Latin rite I constructed, He establishes peace and inviolability while She attends to the transformation and transfer of offerings.

Now let me be clear: I am not syncretizing Freyr and Freya with Janus, Vesta or Jupiter. If that’s how you’re reading it, then you’re missing the point. This is not a matter of direct equivalence, but of finding gods who can fulfill the role of, shall we say, “ritual brackets”. There were many options, as mentioned above, some much closer to the Roman model, but I picked one that I enjoy particularly. Again, given that the Vanir were never worshipped west of the Rhine before the Migration Age, a modern Latinization following historical patterns will always produce different results depending on who’s doing it. This is my version, yours may be different and that’s okay.

3. Wreath, bell and hazel
The three ritual tools require an explanation, so as to make sense of why I included them and their meaning. The wreath is the simplest: following the precedent of the ritus Graecus, which adds a few Greek or Greek inspired elements to what is essentially a Roman rite, I wanted to replace the head covering with a garland. A good Norse option would be pine, not only because of its symbolic connection with life, virility and immortality, but also due to the reference to twigs used to sprinkle sacrificial blood in chapter 14 of Hákonar saga Góða. But I also wanted the rite to be practical and since pine isn’t available everywhere, nor does it last long, I opted for wheat. Which is also highly symbolic, both as a symbol of prosperity (well within Freyr’s realm) and of sacrifice, since it was and remains one of the most basic offerings to the Gods. Plus, you can get sheaves of wheat in a flower shop and they’ll last for many years.

The bell is derived from a passage in Saxo Grammaticus Gesta Danorum, Book 6, where a character named Starkather witnesses the heathen sacrifices at Uppsala and is shocked or disgusted by effeminate body movements (effeminatos corporum motus) and the gentle clatter of bells (mollia nolarum crepitacula). This is in many ways a problematic piece of text, since Saxo is far from being the ideal source due to his religious agenda and what appears to be a very liberal treatment of Old Norse sources he never clearly identifies. So there are no certainties on the actual validity of the description of what seem to be theatrical performances during the Uppsala sacrifices. That said, effeminacy would not be out of place in a cult of the Vanir and assuming Saxo’s description has anything to do with Freyr: think of Freya’s lustfulness, which is appropriate for a love goddess and made very clear by Loki in stanza 30 of Lokasenna; think of incest, which Loki accuses Njord of committing (Lokasenna 36) and is a Vanic custom in chapter 4 of Ynglinga saga; and think of how seiðr brought accusations of sexual ambiguity or homosexuality if practiced by men. These are things of the Vanir, so it’s not a long stretch to imagine that their cult should include an element of “womanish body movements”. And if you’re not sure, because for some reason the Norsemen had to be all machos, consider chapter 43 of Germania: the Naharvali honoured gods named Alci, whom Tacitus identifies with the Dioscuri, and their priest wore a female dress. Cross-dressing, it seems, was not outside the religious practices of the Germanic tribes.

Of course, none of this proves that there’s any truth in Saxo’s “tinkling of bells”, let alone that it’s connected to Freyr, so ultimately, the inclusion of the bell was a choice of mine. I’ve been using one during my morning prayers to the Vanir for several years now, so it was a natural addition to mark different stages of the rite.

As for the hazel wand, it’s based on several references in the sagas to hazel poles or höslur being used to mark hallowed ground or peace enclosures. For instance, in chapter 56 of Egils saga, a court of law gathers inside an area marked out by sacred ropes and hazel poles. And in chapter 10 of Kormáks saga, the poles are used to limit the area where a duel is to take place. It was, in order words, a type wood used to set aside, to consecrate or hallow. Which is why I use a hazel wand to make the offerings sacred, i.e. property of the gods and thus set them apart from the mundane world.

4. The flow of it
What is the purpose of the rite? To formalize a transfer of goods between humans and gods. It is the protocol by which something is given or shared and something asked for in return, thus nurturing bonds and ensuring pax deorum. Hence, as in any formal ceremony, there’s an initial call to silence and setting of things in place, just as there’s a gesture of gratitude and departure at the end. And in-between, the purpose of the ceremony is stated, its players are introduced and welcomed and offerings are exchanged. When only small portions are offered, they’re set apart from the human world by being destroyed through fire, thrown into the water, damaged or poured. But when there’s a more obvious element of commensality, in which you partake of what is offered to the Gods, the entire offering cannot be disposed of permanently. It must be marked out as sacred, yes, but in a manner that can be reversed once the deity has received a portion. Hence the salted flour and the hazel wand, used to make something property of the Gods, followed at a later stage by a profanation that returns part of the offering to the human world. This is mentioned in Cato’s De Agricultura 132 and thus one receives food from the deity, eats at His/Her table or shares a meal with Him/Her. There’s an exception to this: offerings given to infernal gods are entirely theirs and must never be shared. What belongs to the dead is not meant for the living. And because the Gods are not mere archetypes, but individual entities with a will of their own, one can never assume that what was given was simply accepted. Divine (dis)satisfaction must be made clear through divination or, at the very least, an expiatory offering must be made to ensure the Gods’ contentment. It’s not that they’re out to get you, but it is a matter of basic courtesy.

ADKINS, Lesley and Roy. 2000. Dictionary of Roman Religion, 2nd edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

BRINK, Stefan. 2007. “How uniform was the Old Norse religion?” in Learning and Understanding in the Old Norse World, eds. J. Quinn et al. Medieval texts and cultures of northern Europe 18, Turnhout: Brepols, pages 105-136.

_________ 2008. Lord and Lady – Bryti and Deigja. London: University College London.

GREEN, D. H. 1998. Language and History in the Early Germanic World. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

GREEN, C. M. C. 2007. Roman Religion and the Cult of Diana at Aricia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

PRICE, Neil. 2010. “Sorcery and Circumpolar Traditions in Old Norse Belief” in The Viking World, eds. Stefan Brink and Neil Price, 2nd edition. London and New York: Routledge, pages 244-248.

SHEID, John. 2003. An Introduction to Roman Religion, trans. Janet Lloyd. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

SIMEK, Rudolf. 2000. Dictionary of Northern Mythology, trans. Angela Hall, 3rd edition. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer.

SONNE, Lasse C. A. 2014. “The Origin of the Seven-day Week in Scandinavia. Part 1: The Theophoric Day-names” in Viking and Medieval Scandinavia 10, eds. Russel Poole et al. Turnhout: Brepols, pages 187-209.

A Latin rite for Norse gods

Note: the following contains only a brief introduction and a presentation of the basic structure of the rite. A more detailed explanation of its elements and their background, historical and personal, can be found here.

This one has been brewing for over six months now and is the latest step in my Latinization of Norse gods. By now, the whole process has reached a stage where I’m considering a new page on the top menu and gather everything in it in a more or less coherent manner, with sections on Latinized Norse gods, rites and festivities. Which also means I should probably come up with a name for the particular, Vanir-focused set of practices I’ve been developing. The words mos aureus – golden custom – are currently on my mind, but I digress.

The following rite is modelled after my Roman one, as befits a Latinization of Old Norse cults. It has three major differences, the first being that the opening and closing offerings to Janus, Vesta and Jupiter have been replaced with tributes to the Vanir Twins – Freyr and Freya. I considered other deities for the role and indeed there were many options: Thor hallows with His hammer, Heimdall watches over boundaries, Odin bridges worlds, Njord is a divine intermediary of sorts, Loki rules over fire (or at least that’s a possibility), Ullr sanctions oaths. But in the end, as I wrote here, I opted for the brother-sister and lord-lady dynamic: Freyr is a god of sacred inviolability, Freya is a bridger of worlds. She’s the Giver of Mead to Guests, Mistress of Seiðr, Goddess of the Falcon Cloak and, in a Roman context, the domina would supervise domestic affairs, including the state of the hearth. So it was with that in mind that I included Her in the basic outline of my Latinized Norse rite. And so far, I’ve received no negative reactions from Freya. As such, while Her brother establishes ritual peace, She connects the different worlds; He opens and closes the ceremony, She allows the offerings to flow during it. And because the Vanir Twins thus preside over the ritual beginning and end, I’ve named it after one thing they have in common: the boar! Hence it is called ritus aprinus – the boar rite!

The second difference is the inclusion of a toasting section – the Propinatio – following the traditional Norse symbel. But because it effectively breaks the sacrifice proper in two, it results in the third difference: an additional section that is absent from my Roman rite. I called it Donatio – donation, giving – in reference to it being a moment where additional things are given, including a consecrated offering that undergoes a ritual profanation or deconsecration and is thus received as a gift from the deity being worshiped.

There are also a few peculiarities in terms of ritual tools: the head should be crowned with a wheat wreath, a bell is needed to mark different stages of the rite and a small hazel wand to consecrate offerings, should there be any you afterwards wish to deconsecrate in order to partake of it. Also, you’ll need a cup or drinking glass, a beverage of some sort and a bowl in which to collect portions of the drink you’ll be toasting with. And as always, if a ritual fire is not an option, even under the kitchen chimney, a separate bowl to collect offerings is an option.

Ritus Aprinus – Boar Rite
1. Praefatio
With hands and face freshly washed, I crown my head with a wheat wreath and ring the bell. Freyr and Freya are each given a stick of incense and a libation; with the latter offering, they’re asked to sanctify the ceremony and bridge the worlds, respectively.

2. Sacrificium

    a. I ring the bell once more and utter a prayer, inviting the deity to whom the ceremony is dedicated. Appropriate epithets are highlighted, laudatory poetry may be added, the reasons for the ceremony are stated (e.g. on this Summer Solstice) and a welcoming offering is made (honey is a good option here);
    b. The main offerings are listed, followed by a request to the god/dess, even if only a general one for His/Her blessings;
    *c. This step is optional. It applies only if I consecrate food I then wish to partake of (e.g. a bread or cake). To that effect, as I utter a prayer, I sprinkle the offering with salted flour, slowly move the hazel wand over it and then cut a slice to be given to the deity;
    d. The offerings are placed or poured into the ritual fire, bowl, ground or water one by one with a short prayer. I ring a bell either after disposing of each offering or after the last one;
    e. Afterwards, it is necessary to know if the offerings were accepted. Some form of divination is therefore required and, depending on the result, the ceremony may go back to point b. or an expiatory offering is presented (e.g. a libation or a stick of incense). At least the latter is needed if no divination system is used.

3. Propinatio
A toast is made to the main deity of the ceremony. I take a cup with beverage – alcoholic or not – raise it with a prayer in honour of the god/dess in question, drink most of it and pour the final portion into a bowl. There’s no limit to the number of toasts and they can be dedicated to different aspects of the same god, other Norse deities, one’s ancestors, housewights, Freyr’s elves, etc. The first one, however, is always to the deity who’s the focus of the ceremony. Toasting, by the way, can be a rite on its own, either formally or semi-formally. Just perform an opening in the likes of the one above and jump right to the Propinatio. Once concluded, perform the first step of the Donatio (f.), make an expiatory offering and close the ceremony as below. The bell, hazel wand and wreath are not necessary for a toasting ceremony.

4. Donatio

    f. I ring the bell again and, with a prayer, pour the contents of the toasting bowl into the ritual fire (or ground or water);
    g. If I have additional offerings to dispose of, like monthly ones that were presented more informally before the ceremony, this is the point where I pour them into the ritual fire with a prayer to the deity receiving them;
    *h. If I consecrated an offering in point c., this is where I perform a ritual profanation in order to make it available for human consumption. This is achieved by touching the offering with my hand while uttering a prayer to the deity to whom the food was given. An offering of gratitude is placed in or poured into the ritual fire (again, honey is a good option);
    i. Just in case one or more deities were in some way offended by or disliked the ceremony, a second and final expiatory offering is made.

5. Postfatio
The Vanir Twins are again honoured and given an offering each, but in reversed order: first Freya, who receives a final libation or stick of incense with thanks for being a bridger of worlds; then Freyr, who’s the first being honoured at the start of the rite and is therefore the last at the end. After pouring the final offering to Him, I ring the bell one last time and remove the wreath from my head, thus closing the ceremony.

As with my version of the Roman rite, the ritus aprinus is meant for fully formal ceremonies. More informal or semi-formal circumstances call for a simplified version of it. And don’t take this as the only way of doing things. That’s actually the reason why I decided not to call it ritus borealis: you can construct alternative Latinized rituals, with a different structure and other deities in the opening and closing sections, and in the end they too will be northern rites. Plus, I honestly enjoyed the boar reference.

Honouring the Sacred King

Midsummer has come and gone and again I paid tribute to Ingui-Freyr as Sacred King at the high point of the solar cycle. It was a chance to strengthen practices I’ve been keeping for over a decade, experiment others and continue the work of building a Latinized cult to Him and other Vanir gods. As part of that effort, I like to imagine how the perfect celebration would be and then take it as a model for what I actually do. It helps building consistency into a festivity that lasts several days and can easily become a series of loose practices with litle unifying logic. I bring this up every few years, but ideally, this what my perfect midsummer celebration would look like.

A horn is blown at sunset before the day of the solstice and at night a procession takes over the streets. There’s joyful music, torches, flags with golden boars and people dressed as elves. Among them moves a wheeled ship that carries a statue of Freyr. The Lord has come out of His temple and parades through the streets towards a temporary midsummer shrine, accompanied by the folk of Alfheim. People welcome them by hanging wreaths on the doors, candles by the windows, cloths and flags, and setting up small tables outside with food offerings for the elves. The morning after, when the midsummer sun rises, a horn is blown again, announcing the start of the longest day of the year, and there’s a fully formal sacrifice to Lord Ingui, by then already housed in a temporary shrine. It is followed by a second procession, this time of a wooden pole that’s carried through the streets and raised in front of the temporary shrine to the tune of phallic chants (like this one). And then there’s a meal open to all who wish to eat at the god’s table or under His pole and toast to Him or any other god/dess. People dance, tell jokes, make libations or may bring additional offerings that are placed near the image and/or burned at a temporary altar. In the afternoon, the statue of Freyr is paraded once more, stopping several times to attend devotional gestures out in the streets – dance, poetry, small plays, floral and food offerings placed inside the wheeled ship – until He returns to the temporary shrine, where a new meal is prepared, another formal sacrifice performed and then people dine and dance around the pole throughout the night. Again, toasts and libations to any deity are freely made by individuals as they see fit. The day after the solstice is all about divination. The god has joined us and been honoured by us, so now people to come to Him with questions and requests. And after that, before the sun sets, a final sacrifice is performed and the image carried back to the temple in a new procession, again accompanied by elves, flags, torches and joyful music, thus ending three days of celebration.

Solstício 20115

This year, taking the above as a model, I marked sunset of midsummer’s eve by blowing a horn nine times and afterwards lighted a golden candle in my domestic shrine to Freyr, hanged a wreath on the front door and two lamps on the balcony wall, under which I set up a small table with offerings to the elves of Alfheim. In the morning after, I blew the horn once more to salute the midsummer sun as I watched it rise from a nearby hill. In past years, I also raised a pole on the same site, but this year I decided to forgo that element and am considering raising it indoors, as one would with the Yule tree. Which means I should be carving the pole and decorate it lavishly. Before lunch, I performed a formal sacrifice to Freyr and presented Him with a wreath I then placed on His domestic shrine. The offerings to the elves were also disposed of in the sacrificial fire. And in the afternoon, I took my bike and rode it to the beach, stopping four times along the way to pour libations to Lord Ingui on farming fields, ringing a small bell every time. The day after, I presented Freyr with juice and honey and later drew a card from a deck I’m experimenting with as a divining tool. And with a final salute, I concluded the midsummer celebrations.

There are more things I’d like to try, more ideas running through my head, but this is a slow process of building a consistent Latinized tradition, so I’m taking it step by step and with a lot of trial and error. Traditions aren’t born traditional: they’re made by persistent practice that survives the test of time and the more approachable and solidly built they are, the better their chances. The next step is to publish a post on a Latinized rite to Norse deities – should come out next week – and down the road I should be putting everything together into one more or less consistent whole with a name of its own. But more on that later.

Hope you had a great midsummer!

Done and published!

After working on it for months, I finally finished a brief overview of the main topics of modern Roman polytheism, to be found in the top menu of this blog. As mentioned in the text, it’s not a crash course on the cultus deorum, but a brief presentation meant to show where it stands in the world of religions and for the benefit of both fellow polytheists – especially the newbies – and non-polytheists. It may still have a few typos and it’s naturally open to modifications, if necessary.

In Pax Deorum!