New Year gestures

Stepping in with the right foot is one of those small modern superstitions with ancient roots that expresses a timeless valuation of the idea of a good start. And faithful to that notion, the first days of the new year are to me a time for multiple ritual gestures that, taken together, aim at a kind of entry with the right foot in the new twelve months’ cycle. Starting, of course, with the January 1st ceremony, which is one of the longest in my practices.

A long list
In normal conditions, when I mark a date of monthly relevance – like the Nones or Ides – the corresponding ceremony takes about 10 to 15 minutes, as it’s a simplification of my Roman rite, which I reserve for annual festivities and usually extends the ceremony up to 30 minutes. I repeat: in normal conditions. When it’s an exceptional occasion, it can last one hour or more

That was the case with this year’s New Year ceremony. Not because something different happened, though 2017 was fortunate in various aspects, as with the publication of my first book and the conclusion of another. Rather, the length of January 1st ceremony has to do with the number of deities it honours, which has been growing in the last few years and this time reached sixteen, plus the Family Lares and Penates. Almost all of them are recipients of specific prayers and offerings, which naturally takes times – and firewood, while we’re it, since the fire needs to keep on burning regardless of the amount of beverage it’s poured on it.

Structurally, the ceremony is identical to those of other annual festivities, with a beginning and end with tributes to Janus, Vesta and Jupiter and, in between, an invitation, prayer and giving of consecrated offerings to the main deity – in this case, Janus. As with other annual celebrations that occur in days of monthly relevance, there’s also a moment when I burn the Calends’ offerings that were given to Janus, Juno, the Family Lares and Penates during the morning prayers. And then, where in normal conditions the closing gestures would follow, there was yet a list of fourteen individual deities who were honoured with two offerings each, the first as a general tribute and the second with a specific request for the new year.

They are Mercury, Maia, Quangeio, Juno, Hercules, Minerva, Diana, Apollo, Silvanus, Nabia, Jupiter, Fortuna, Spes and Freyr, adding, I repeat, to the Family Lares and Penates, who also get a wreath that’s hanged over the fireplace. In the case of Maia and Silvanus, the offerings are not cast into the ritual fire, but poured into small circular bowls with soil, in harmony with the terrestrial identity of those two deities. Though, truth be told, I’m increasingly seeing Mercury’s mother as a goddess who has a celestial side as well, largely due to Her mythological link to one of the starts of the Pleiades. And speaking of liminality, note the inclusion of Freyr, who normally is worshipped according to an independent rite that fuses Norse and Latin elements, but exceptionally receives offerings according to Roman praxis on New Year. For practical reasons, if nothing else.

The feats of pathways
Then on the fourth day of January, there’s Vialia, which is not an ancient celebration, but rather a modern creation of my doing that’s focused on Mercury and the Lares Viales. Its sense is clear: to honour the god of pathways and His divine host and ask Them, in a more literal fashion, for safety on the road during the year and, in a more metaphoric way, help clearing the paths to success. Of course, with me being a Mercury devotee, the date also has a personal relevance.

Ready for the Vialia ceremony, 2018.

Thus, on the morning of the 4th, as in the morning of the day before, which was the first Wednesday of the month, I offered a candle, anise, cinnamon, wine and flowers to the son of Maia. Then I performed a formal ceremony where I paid tribute first to Mercury and then the Lares Viales with identical offerings: small crackers, raisins, walnut, honey, cinnamon and wine. Both also got flowers, though in different formats, since to Mercury I gave a wreath that now stands in His domestic shrine, whereas the Lares Viales were given a mixture of petals, leafs and wheat which, after the ceremony was over, were cast onto the roads in small portions during a walk. Ideally, I would have done it during a bike ride, so I could cover a greater distance and erect a few cairns along the way, but because it was raining, I ended up adjusting to a tour on foot around the edges of the city and with a few stops at crossroads and intersections.

Apollo and Janus again
There are two more formal ceremonies before concluding the celebrations of the New Year: Apotropalia on the 7th of January and Agonalia on the 9th.

The former is yet another modern festivity of my doing and it’s focused on Apollo, here as a protector and provider of health whose blessings are requested for the new year. The ceremony in His honour follows Greek rite and includes a wreath that’s offered to the god and then hanged over the house door. As for Agonalia, that’s an ancient festivity, in this case dedicated to Janus, who is thus, appropriately, the one who opens and closes the New Year celebrations. The offerings that were made to Him on January 1st, as well as the requests, are repeated in the Agonalia ceremony.

Atlas’ daughter
Of course, adding to this are the monthly offerings that are given in a regular fashion, in this case to Nabia on the 9th and Jupiter, as well as the Family Lares and Penates, on the 13th.

On the latter day, I’ll start honouring Mercury’s mother also, since in the Iberian cult that I’m constructing She’s the only member of the triad that’s yet without regular offerings. And the Ides seem to me like the most appropriate day for it, partly because She’s a mountain nymph and thus with a symbolic link to the peak of the month, just like Jupiter, and also as a reference to the May 15th Mercuralia, which to me is increasingly a festivity in honour of Maia. There’s also an allusion to Mercury’s parents, though I’m unsure about the relation between Zeus and Jupiter. And because, as said before, Atlas’ daughter has for me a certain liminality, having both a terrestrial and a celestial side – which, by the way, is appropriate for a mountain nymph – maybe I’ll alternate in the way I give Her monthly offerings, using the ritual fire in one month and a bowl with soil on the next one. Something that is also appropriate considering the overlap with the Roman Maia.

What’s the use of it all?
Okay, so all of this is lovely, long and probably complex. But what’s it good for, anyway? Am I hoping to have a 2018 without bumps on the road, bad luck, bad news, illnesses or problems, just because I performed a string of ceremonies with plenty of offerings in the first days of January?

The answer is no, I’m not. I mean, it would be good if I could have that rosy scenario and I’ll gladly take it if it’s available, thank you. But as said here and here, a polytheistic system tends to be decentralized, without a single god in control of everything, but with multiple deities with interests and goals that are different, if not contradictory. Therefore, I’m not expecting that those I pay tribute to in the New Year can or will do everything, but I hope – or at least ask – that they’ll lend their hand, even if only as a reaction to something they cannot prevent, but can at least help to overcome. A bit like friends and family, from whom I don’t expect assistance or solutions for everything, but do hope they’ll be present when it matters the most, even if only to help reacting to unfortunate events that neither I nor they can avoid.

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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.