Thursday, October 31, 2013

Winter Night

Winter Night


A cold and wet start for Winter Night.  The trick or treats have gone and the dumb supper is set out.  I left out Grandpa's favorite white wine paired with Father's favorite candy.  I call to the Ancestors tonight, may they bring peace and luck through the coming year.  The carved pumpkins will be lit throughout the night and sage will smolder on the altar to protect the home and those within from any harm.

The year is turning, and we stand at the crossroads.
Remember as you keep your vigil tonight,
That Darkness yields always to Light,
As Light yields always to Darkness,
And so shall it be, always and forever,
And so mote it be.





Tuesday, October 22, 2013



Samhain is known by most folks as Halloween, but for Wiccans and Pagans it's considered a Sabbath to honor the ancestors who came before us.  The fields are bare, the leaves have fallen from the trees, and the skies are going gray and cold. It is the time of year when the Earth has died and gone dormant. Every year on October 31, Samhain presents us with the opportunity to once more celebrate the cycle of death and rebirth.  It is a time to reconnect with our ancestors and honor those who have died. This is the time when the veil between our world and the spirit realm is thin, so it's the perfect time of year to make contact with the dead.
For the Norse it is Winter nights.  In the old calendar, winter begins about Mid-October; however this holiday may move about in the calendar depending on your seasons, many match it with Samhain. It is a time to celebrate the completed harvest and honor the ancestors.  It marked the beginning of a time of indoor work, thought and craftsmanship.  It also honors God Odin in his Wild Hunt. The mood is one of conserving resources against the scarcities of the coming cold season. This is a time of the year when the animals which could not be fed through the winter are killed and preserved. Usually at least one such animal was the subject of sacrifice with the kin, eating the held meat during the feast.  Libations of ale, milk or mead are traditionally poured onto the Earth as an offering.  Apples may be offered to the fallen ancestors.  Hay may be left out for Odin’s horse Sleipnir.  Odin’s mighty steed thus marks the kindred home as one of welcoming.

To the ancient Germanic people, death was never far away and it was viewed as a natural and necessary part of life.  Starting on this night, the great divisions between the worlds was somewhat diminished, which can allow the forces of chaos to invade the realms of order, the material world conjoining with the world of the dead.  At this time began the Wild Hunt in which the restless spirits of the dead walked amongst the living.  The dead could return to the places where they had lived and food was provided in their honor. 

Depending on your individual spiritual path, there are many different ways you can celebrate Samhain, but typically the focus is on either honoring our ancestors or the cycle of death and rebirth. This is the time of year when the gardens and fields are brown and dead. The nights are getting longer, there's a chill in the air and winter is looming. We may choose to honor our ancestors, celebrating those who have died, and even try to communicate with them.


All Hallows’ Evening is a yearly holiday observed around the world on October 31.  Typical festive Halloween activities include trick-or-treating, attending costume parties, carving jack-o'-lanterns, lighting bonfires, apple bobbing, visiting haunted attractions, playing pranks, telling scary stories, watching horror films, as well as the religious observances of praying, fasting and attending vigils or church services.


Dumb Supper

The dumb supper is one way to acknowledge the presence of our ancestors on the night of Samhain. It is believed that on this night, the veil between the realm of the living and of the dead is extremely thin and that our ancestors can come back to visit. The dumb supper consists of setting an extra place at the dinner table to welcome them back and to share in their company as we used to when they were living amongst us. It is a great family ritual that teaches that death is a passage and that the ones who have passed on are never really forgotten.


Jack O' Lanterns

The Irish and Scottish people began making lanterns by carving scary faces into turnips or potatoes and placing them into windows or near doors to frighten away the wandering evil spirits. In England, large beets were used. Immigrants from these countries brought the tradition to America where they found the pumpkin, a fruit native to America that made the perfect jack o' lanterns.

New Year

Sunset on Samhain is the beginning of the Celtic New Year. The old year has passed, the harvest has been gathered, cattle and sheep have been brought in from the fields and the leaves have fallen from the trees. The Earth slowly begins to die around us.  This is a good time for us to look at wrapping up the old and preparing for the new in our lives. Think about the things you did in the last twelve months. Have you left anything unresolved? If so, now is the time to wrap things up. Once you’ve gotten all that unfinished stuff cleared away, and out of your life, then you can begin looking towards the next year.


Fire Festival

The bonfires were to warm friendly spirits and ward off evil spirits and also represented the Sun which they wished would return, bringing heat and growth. It was custom to give an ember from the fires to attending families, who would then take it home to start a new cooking fire. These fires were believed to keep the homes happy and free from any lost evil spirits.


A Prayer to the Ancestors

This is the night when the gateway between
our world and the spirit world is thinnest.
Tonight is a night to call out those who came before.
Tonight I honor my ancestors.
Spirits of my fathers and mothers, I call to you,
and welcome you to join me for this night.
You watch over me always,
protecting and guiding me,
and tonight I thank you.
Your blood runs in my veins,
your spirit is in my heart,
your memories are in my soul.

Sunday, October 20, 2013


In Norse mythology, Ragnarok is a series of future events, including a great battle foretold to ultimately result in the death of a number of humans and Gods.  The occurrence of various natural disasters and the subsequent submersion of the world in water.  Afterward, the world will resurface anew and fertile, the surviving and returning Gods will meet, and the world will be repopulated by two human survivors. Ragnarok is an important event in the Norse canon and has been the subject of scholarly discourse and theory.
The event is attested primarily in the Poetic Edda, compiled in the 13th century from earlier traditional sources and the Prose Edda, written in the 13th century by Snorri Sturluson.

Ominous prophecies and dreams had long foretold the downfall of the cosmos and of its Gods and Goddesses along with it. When the first of these prophesied events came to pass – the beloved God Baldur was killed by Loki and consigned to the underworld – the Gods had to face the fact they could no longer escape their tragic destiny.

In Midgard, the realm of human civilization, people abandoned their traditional ways, disregarded the bonds of kinship, and sank into a wayward, listless nihilism. The Gods weren’t exactly innocent of these same charges, however. They had broken oaths and fallen short of their expectations of one another on many occasions.

Three winters came in a row with no summer in between, a plodding, devastating season of darkness and frigidity.  The God Loki and his son, the dreaded wolf Fenrir, who had both been chained up to prevent them from wreaking further destruction in the Nine Worlds, broke free of their fetters and set about doing precisely what the Gods who had imprisoned them had feared. Yggdrasil, the great world-tree that holds the Nine Worlds in its branches and roots, began to tremble.  The Earth will shake with Earthquakes. 

The far-seeing Heimdall, the watchman of the Gods’ fortress, Asgard, was the first to spy a vast army of giants headed for the celestial stronghold. Among the gruesome mass was the Gods’ fickle friend, Loki.  Heimdall sounded his horn to alert the Gods, who were no doubt alarmed and despairing.
The giants set about destroying the abode of the Gods and the entire cosmos along with it.  The Gods are assisted by the heroic dead, those who had died in glorious battle and had been taken to live in Valhalla and await this final battle.  Fenrir, the great wolf, ran across the land with his lower jaw on the ground and his upper jaw in the sky, consuming everything in between. Even the sun itself was dragged from its height and into the wolf Skoll’s stomach.  The wolf Hati will catch the moon and mangle him. The stars will vanish.  Surt, a giant bearing a flaming sword, swept across the Earth and left nothing but an inferno in his wake.

At last, in the ultimate reversal of the original process of creation, the ravaged land sank back into the sea and vanished below the waves. The perfect darkness and silence reigned once more.

But this age of death and repose did not last forever. Soon the Earth was once again raised from the ocean. God Baldur returned from the underworld, and the gladdened land became more lush and fruitful than it had been since it was created the previous time.  Some of the Gods will survive, others will be reborn. Wickedness and misery will no longer exist and Gods and men will live happily together. 

Two humans, Lif and Lifdrasir, who hid themselves deep within Yggdrasil, will see light. For although the sun was eaten by Skoll, she will give birth to a daughter no less fair, who will follow the same sky-path and light the world.  Lif and Lifdrasir will have children; there will be new life everywhere on Earth.

This cycle of birth, life, death, and rebirth for which Norse mythology provides an archetype occurs at every scale of existence: the cycle of the seasons, of day and night, of the phases of the moon, of the life of any organism, and of the flourishing of life between mass extinctions.


For Comfort when the End of the World is Prophesied

Time has erased their reasons for doing so, yet we know that all times are governed by your will. Remind us of the renewal of all creation that you have initiated. Each dawn is a renewal, so let us rejoice in the renewal of the cosmos. If, instead, our brothers predicted the end of all things, remind us of our mortality. We are like a vapor, that appears for a moment and then vanishes.  If the end is to be tomorrow, or even today, empower us to pray with even greater fervor for comfort. Amen.


Sunday, October 13, 2013

Rite of Passage: Death

These rituals were connected to the change of status and transitions in life a person experiences, such as birth, marriage and death.

The Viking-age peoples general view of death was it is inevitable.  Many believed that the time of a man’s death was determined at the moment of his birth by the three Norns, the women of destiny who lived under the World-tree Yggdrasil.
The rituals for the dead in Norse society varied from between different regions, different times and different social classes. The Norse pagan religion taught that, with few exceptions, the dead didn't go anywhere; bodies stayed in their graves. Yet at least some of the dead were buried in rich graves furnished with all sorts of objects for daily life. And some of the dead were buried in ships or in ship replicas, as if they were going on a journey. It's hard to relate the grave finds with the religious ideas found in the old Norse literature. And at least some of the rich grave goods must have been placed simply to impress the neighbors.

The poorest people were buried in a simple hole in the ground with a few belongings. Warriors were sometimes cremated, with their swords bent and shields broken, although this practice is more common in the times before the Viking era.

Most people were buried lying on their right side, along with a few of the things they used in everyday life. A prosperous man might be buried along with his horses, slaves, weapons and a variety of household goods.

In general, graves were not marked. Only the mounds remain. However, some graves were marked with stones or formations of stones; such as the boat shaped grave markers at the Norse era cemetery in Denmark.

Devotion to deceased relatives was a mainstay in Norse religion.  Ancestors constituted one of the most ancient and widespread types of deity worshipped in the Nordic region.  It is understood that some sort of ancestor worship was probably an element of the private religious practices of the farmstead and village. Often times. in addition to showing adoration to the standard Nordic Gods, warriors would toast to “their kinsmen who lay in barrows”.


There seems to be no one unified conception of the afterlife.  Some may have believed that the fallen warriors would go to Valhalla to live with Odin, others may have believed that there was no afterlife concept.


Spiritually, most people have heard about Norse Heaven Valhalla.  For Wiccans, this is similar to Summerland.  Odin built Valhalla, a great hall of the heroic dead where the wounds were healed and the feasting was forever.  Today, a solider that died on the frontlines might go here.  Odin would gather heroes and warriors who were slain in battle and bring them to Valhalla so they would fight alongside the Gods, in an attempt to strengthen and save the Gods in the final battle at the time of Ragnarok.

Some have heard about Norse Heaven Freya's Field.  Freya had the privilege of taking the first half of the souls of those warriors who had been slain in battle, while the remaining souls of the dead warriors belonged to Odin.  As leader of the Valkyries, she had considerable power.  Actually going onto the battlefield, Freya would gather them up and take them back with her to spend the after-life in her home (Folkvang, “Field of the Folk” ) in perpetual rest and recreation.  As a sweet and generous woman, she always invited their wives or lovers to come and live with them. 

Few have heard about Norse Hell Niflheim.  It was primarily a realm of primordial ice and cold for the dishonored dead.  Today, a solider that puts his or her rifle down and runs the other way might be sent here.  Even if he or she dies on the battlefield, they died with no honor.  Or if someone murders another person for fun they might be sent here.  The realm of death, Helheim, shares this part of the vast, cold region.  Also situated on this level is Nastrand, the Shore of Corpses and where the serpent Nidhogg eats corpses and gnaws on the roots of Yggdrasil.  Nastrand was the house or level for criminals, no feasting or rest. Nidhogg was a dragon that devoured the corpses of evil-doers.


And for the common dead, there was the realm of the dead, Helheim.  It was icy cold (like a corpse) and filled with slush, cold mud and snow.  But like its ruler (Goddess Hela), Helheim had many levels or sides and is described differently throughout records.  Souls of people who had died from sickness or old age, and for the souls of any other people whose deaths had not occurred through battle, were sent to the Goddess Hela.  Today, if a person fell off their roof and died they might be sent here.  Or if a child is murdered in the night they might be sent here.

Her realm is below the World Tree and is separated from the world of the living by a rapid river that the dead have to pass. The Prose Eddas say that the entryway to Hela's realm was guarded by the hellhound named Garm. Once through the gates, she judged them and decided whether their spirit was good or bad and to what degree. Then, after Hela had made had her assessment, she gave each soul it's just reward. Depending upon how they had been judged, the souls of the dead were settled into one of the nine levels of Helheim, which ranged from what might be seen as a form of paradise, all the way down to the dark horrors of Nastrand.

When someone dies and enters Hela’s realm, it was almost impossible for anyone on Earth to get them back. Even the Gods could not evade death.  The tale about the Death of Balder is one of the best descriptions of the journey into Helheim that I know of.  The story of Baldr's death is very old. Images on gold bracteates from the 6th century illustrate the story of his death...


"...The God Balder dies.  The Gods arranged a lavish funeral for their fallen friend. They turned Baldur’s ship, Hringhorni, into a pyre fitting for a great king. When the time came to launch the ship out to sea, however, the Gods found the ship stuck in the sand and themselves unable to force it to budge.  Not even mighty Thor could budge it.  After many failed attempts they summoned the brawniest being in the cosmos, a certain giantess named Hyrrokkin (“Withered by Fire”).  Hyrrokkin arrived in Asgard riding a wolf and using poisonous snakes for reins.  She dismounted, walked to the prow of the ship and gave it such a mighty push, the land quaked as Hringhorni was freed from the sand.

As Baldur’s body was carried onto the ship, his wife, Nanna, was overcome with such great grief that she died there on the spot and was placed on the pyre alongside her husband. The fire was kindled and Thor hallowed the flames by holding his hammer over them.  Odin laid upon the pyre his ring Draupnir and Baldur’s horse was led into the flames.  The ropes were cut and the flaming ship drifted out to sea with Odin's black ravens fluttered about the mast. 

All kinds of beings from throughout the Nine Worlds attended this ceremony: Gods, giants, elves, dwarves, valkyries and others.  Together they stood and mourned as they watched the burning ship disappear over the ocean.
Soon after, Hermod rode the eight-legged horse Sleipneir, who knew the way to Hela.  Hermod rode nine nights through ever darker and deeper valleys on his quest to rescue the part of Baldur that had been sent to Hela.  Finally, they reached the bridge that separates the world of the dead from the world of the living.

When he came to the river Gjoll (“Roaring”), Modgudr, the giantess who guards the bridge, asked him his name and his purpose, adding that it was strange that his footfalls were as thundering as those of an entire army, especially since his face still had the color of the living.  Hermod stated that he was the son of Odin and was seeking Hela to find his brother Balder.  He answered to her satisfaction and she allowed him to cross the bridge into Hela’s realm.

Hermod followed the dark road which soon led him to the gate.  There the fearful dog Garm stood snarling and straining at his leash but Hermod spurred his horse.  Sleipnir leapt high over the gate.

Upon dismounting, Hermod spotted Hela’s throne and Baldur, pale and downcast, sitting in the seat of honor next to her.  Hermod spent the night there, and when morning came, he pleaded with Hela to release his brother, telling her of the great sorrow that all living things, and especially the Gods, felt for his absence.  Hela responded, “If this is so, then let everything in the cosmos weep for him and I will send him back to you.  But if any refuse, he will remain in my presence.”

Hermod rode back to Asgard and told these tidings to the Gods, who straightaway sent messengers throughout the worlds to bear this news to all of their inhabitants.  And, indeed, everything did weep for Baldur – trees, stones men, Gods.  Everything, that is, save for one giantess: Thokk, who was none other than Loki in another disguise.  Thokk coldly told the messengers, “Let Hela hold what she has!”

And so Baldur remained with Hela until Ragnarok, when, after the cosmos was destroyed and re-created, he returned to bless the land and its inhabitants with his gladdening light and exuberance..."

There is more in the story about how Balder dies and what happens to Loki.  The whole story can be easily found online, The Death of Balder, or leave a comment if you want the whole story posted.

Death is the cessation of all biological functions that sustain a living organism.  It is natural.  Today there are many different types and practices associated with it but it is inevitable.

Hail to you, O gods and goddesses,
those of you who guard the underworld
and guide the dead on their final journey.
At this time of cold and dark,
I honor you, and ask that you watch over me,
and protect me when the day arrives
that I take my final journey.

So may it be!


Saturday, October 12, 2013



Niflheim or Niflheimr (the "Abode of Mist") is one of the Nine Worlds and is a location in Norse mythology which overlaps with the notions of Niflhel and Hel.  Niflheim was primarily a realm of primordial ice and cold, with nine frozen rivers. According to Gylfaginning, it was one of the two primordial realms, the other one being Muspelheim, the realm of fire. Between these two realms of cold and heat, creation began when its waters mixed with the heat of Muspelheim to form a mist or steam.  From the whirling mist and fire came the first being, Ymir.

Ymir is not truly a deity, more of a primal frost giant.  He is said to have spawned the entire race that became known as the Jotuns or giants, without a mate.  He came to an end by Odin, Vili and Ve in the early days of creation.  With his death, the land became a realm for the dishonored dead.

In Ancient times, ice was a constant factor in the day to day lives of the Norse. It threatened their crops, their ships and their livelihoods, almost throughout the entire year. To the people though, it also served as a symbol of creation from which all life eventually springs forth.

Niflheim is the far northern region of icy fogs and mists, darkness and cold. It is situated on the lowest level of the universe. The realm of death, Helheim, shares this part of the vast, cold region.  Also situated on this level is Nastrand, the Shore of Corpses and where the serpent Nidhogg eats corpses and gnaws on the roots of Yggdrasil.

Nidhogg is a powerful dragon or serpent who dwells in Niflheim and continually gnaws at the roots of the World Tree Yggrassil, which will eventually cause the tree to collapse.  When he is not chewing on roots or corpses, he trades insults with an eagle that lives at the top of the tree; the messages are carried up and down the tree by a squirrel.

After Ragnarok, there will be a hall here for the punishment of murderers, oath breakers and philanderers.


Hail to the Land of Mists, from whence the Giants came,
One of the Two from which all the Worlds