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!

I wonder…

Ullr genealogy

Let me be clear: though there are suggestions of a connection between Freyr and Ullr in academic circles, the above genealogical table has absolutely no academic value! It is purely based on a dream and some subsequent thinking. It’s meant for modern religious consumption only, though it’s not even remotely clear if it has any value whatsoever as modern lore. Still, there you have it and there’s more going through my mind as I write this. As if I didn’t have enough topics to brainstorm on.

Dreaming of half siblings

At the start of this month, I had an idea for my Freyr shrine that involved redecorating and expanding it to include up to five statues, in essence making it a place where I can concentrate the northern part of my religious practices, which has been expanding from a few Vanir to a more diverse group of deities. Not sure if it’s just me feeling more secure about it and therefore less hesitant about increasing the number of Norse gods in my domestic pantheon or if it’s like opening a floodgate and once you start Latinizing one of them, you end up having others in line.

In any case, since the shrine has been Freyr’s for over a decade now, I naturally want to preserve his focal status. This means that his statue should be at the centre and on a higher level than all the others, but it also amounts to making a new and smaller image of Freyr, as the current one is too big for a shelf that may house as many as five. Currently, the other gods I’m considering are Freya and Njord, which shouldn’t be a problem, plus Thor and Ullr. The former has been under consideration for some time now, but the latter is an old soft-spot of mine who has so far remained outside my practices. That may change in the near future and I wonder if there’s an element of intra-divine relationships to it, for if my devotion to Freyr brought his father and sister into my domestic pantheon, it is perhaps unsurprising that worshiping Thor results in his stepson stepping in.

So, in order to know if I have his approval for all of this, for the past few days I’ve been asking Freyr if He is willing to share his shrine with the aforementioned deities and if a centre-stage position is agreeable to Him. And for the past two nights, I’ve been having dreams about clay statues of the gods breaking or falling apart, which could be my mind fabricating things out of current thoughts or it may have a meaning that I’m not yet sure about. Tonight’s however was an exceptionally intriguing dream, because it included a piece of information that’s not in the known lore: that Ullr is Freyr’s half-brother.

I did not see that one coming! Is there anyone out there with a similar UPG?

It clicked!

Back in December 22nd, I celebrated the winter solstice. I know it was officially on the 21st, but over here the solstice proper – i.e. the moment when the North Pole is further away from the sun – happened at 23:03 hours, long after sunset, which means that the renewed or reborn sun rose only on the 22nd. As has been usual for me these past several years, I marked the occasion in multiple ways, one of them by performing a ceremony in honour of Ingui-Frey, whose birthday I commemorate at this time. I offered part of a walnut muffin, wheat and consecrated a small bread, a slice of which I then burned together with the other offerings before profanating the rest of the loaf and later eat it. I also toasted to several gods and wights, pouring portions of the beverage into the ritual fire. It wasn’t a perfect ceremony and I obviously need to work it more before it becomes a fluid set of words and gestures. But still it felt right at the end and there was a sense of connectedness that lasted for several hours after. And this despite my doubts on which Norse gods to honour in the opening and closing sections. At that moment, my instinct said Freyr and Freya and that’s what I went for, making a tribute to Them at the start and end of the ceremony. And later that day, long after the ritual fire had died out, it clicked!

When you translate the Old Norse freyja to Latin, you get domina, the lady of the domus or house. Another possibility is matrona, especially if one takes into account that Freya is said to be a mother, that she’s called Vanadís – the dís (lady, woman) of the Vanir – and that the Disir may have something in common with the Germanic Matronae. And once you put the translated freyja in a Latin domestic context, you get the female ruler of the house or the mater familias. Precisely the person in charge of overseeing domestic affairs in the ancient household, which presumably included the hearth. Could this mean that Freya can act as a Norse equivalent of Vesta? She’s certainly not a virgin – so far from it! – and we know very little on domestic religion in ancient Scandinavia, but the role of intermediary between humans and gods is not entirely out of place when it comes to Freya.

Freya by ©Relotixke

Freya by Relotixke

In Old Norse lore, besides being a warrior goddess, She is also a cup-bearer. In Snorri’s Edda, when the giant Hrungnir visits Asgard, She’s the only deity brave enough to serve him drinks (Skáldskaparmál 17), a job that in the ancient world would not be bellow Her status; indeed, even a queen might do it, as suggested in Beowulf, where Wealththeow, Hrothgar’s wife, serves the hero his drink (610-625). In that sense, Freya resembles a valkyrie: fighter, cup-bearer and choser of the slain – though She chooses half for Herself and not Odin (Grímnismál 14). There’s certainly more to Her than that, but there’s also that! Another side of Her is that of Mistress of Seiðr, a form of Old Norse magic that has shamanic elements, namely spirit-work, possession and journey, all of which imply direct communication or interaction with different plains of reality. A trait that is reinforced by Her cloak of falcon feathers that allows its bearer to travel in the form of that bird. And once you combine all of this, you get a goddess that is no stranger to bridging worlds. She connects the host and the guest, the human and the divine, this realm and the other(s). Even Her role as a Lady of Love implies the ability to join two sides.

This is not the same as saying that She’s the goddess of the ritual fire – though She may be connected to that element through Seiðr – but that would be more of a problem if I was trying to construct a heathen rite. Since my goal is a Latinized one, the placing of Freya in a Latin context solves the issue. Every time a deity is imported, He/She is adapted to the host culture, losing or gaining features: Apollo in Rome did not have all of the functions He had in Greece, Hercules in Greco-Buddhism is a much more philosophical character than the classical warrior of the Twelve Labours. And another example, one from Catholic practices that was once explained to me by a History professor, is that of Saint Augustine, who is believed to alleviate sore eyes, because in Nordic countries his name recalls the word auga or “eye”. Context changes things, it adapts them. And if freyja in Latin translates as a divine domina, then She can preside over those things that a leading female figure would be in charge of in an ancient household. Which includes the domestic and hence ritual hearth. And with this I may have stumbled upon the answer I was looking for.

There are of course other deities that could open and close a Latinized Norse rite. Loki, Odin, Thor, Ullr, Njord, Heimdall, Frigg, Forseti, all of them are legitimate options. But the thing with Freya is that if you start the ceremony with Freyr as a provider of peace and holy inviolability, you get a brother-sister dynamics that feels fluid: He opens and closes, She makes it flow in-between; He’s the sergeant-at-arms that leads a parliament’s opening procession and guards the assembly against violence, She’s the presiding figure that moderates the exchange of words and gestures; He guards, She makes it work. Freyr and Freya, Dominus and Domina: twins, lovers and ritual partners. It feels natural!

The only question left is does She accept the role? If the Gods are not archetypes, I cannot simply use Them as ritual tools. I need Them to say They’re willing to do something, though the sense of connectedness I got for several hours after the midwinter ceremony suggests that I may be on right track. Divination is therefore required, which will be the next step.

Like a matryoshka

Sometimes, you wonder about the bigger picture, the wider perspective where things fall in place like pieces of a larger puzzle. For good or for bad, being an historian means that I have the habit of thinking about that a lot, since I’m expected to detect long-term trends that go beyond the immediate consequences of specific events. So when I wondered about being on a Hermes trip, my mind sort of saved the idea in the back of my head and kept working on it while I moved on with my everyday life. Until it produced a new thought two or three days ago.

When I first wondered about a hermetic pattern, I considered it from the point where Mercury became part of my religious life. There was certainly a background, one that made it extremely easy for Him to become a focal point of my practices in a short amount of time, but the square one was that online conversation, as well as my first prayer and offering to Him. But then my mind wondered about the differences between conscious and unconscious religious life, at which point it triggered another idea: what if the Hermes trip can be traced to long before that initial hello to Mercury? So I gave it a thought, connected a few dots and eventually reached the question of whether I’ve been on a road that’s part of a wider road which in turn is part of a greater individual trip. Like a Russian matryoshka doll, where a series figurines are inside larger ones.

See, the reason why I specialized in a particular field of History is because in my early days as a pagan, I gained an interest in Ingui-Freyr after going through an encyclopaedia my parents have at home. Eventually, that interest became religious, leading me to Heathenry, and in an effort to understand the native culture and cult of the god, I started doing research on Norse History and mythology. In fact, religious devotion and academic work nurtured each other. That’s nothing new among reconstructionist polytheists, but it was that dynamic that led me to Sweden to do a Master’s in History a few years later. If I had not developed an interest in Freyr and Heathenry, things might have happened differently. But I did and while I was in Sweden, I first researched about what later became my doctoral topic, which is now taking the form of a book to be proposed for publication. At the same time, it was after coming back from Sweden that I turned to Roman polytheism and it was during my PhD that I started working on a Latin cult of Freyr and began worshiping Mercury. In a way, it all fits and the dots connect.

So if I’m on a Hermes trip, I’m wondering how far back it stretches and how big it is. Because when I think about it, I am where I am because at some point in my life I was, so to speak, a guest at Freyr’s place. He was truly a patron, in the most practical sense of the word, in that He hosted and nurtured my interest in a given topic, leading me to where I am today. And now I find myself doing that very hermetic thing that is bridging worlds, be it by translating a Norse cult into a Latin context, taking it from one cultural realm to another, or by working Norse topics in Portuguese academia (or vice-versa). I guess you can call it “liminaling”, i.e. doing things in a liminal fashion, with one foot in a world and another in a different one. All thanks to that initial look at the letter F in an encyclopaedia fifteen years ago and the ensuing religious interest. So I guess the question now is how far my devotion to Ingui-Freyr is actually a doll inside a larger Hermes matryoshka? Of course, this may be nothing more than my mind trying to find rational patterns in a series of random events. That possibility is always there, but so is its opposite and I wonder if there’s a winged foot behind the whole thing. This calls for divination…