Over at the NY Times, Tara Isabella Burton penned a very interesting piece about Weird Christianity. It’s well worth reading the whole thing, despite the fact that she’s talking about Christianity, because I think a lot of what she says has relevance within Heathenry, too. (It’s also worth noting that Rod Dreher (of whom I’ve written in the past) has been on a tear about “Weird Christianity” lately; here, here, and here.

Now, of course, some wag will doubtless say “all Heathenry is weird”, and in the context of the wider culture, this might be true in some sense. But this is talking about weird religion in the context of that religion, and that’s where the interesting bit comes in.

First, definitions. By “weird”, Ms. Burton has a very specific meaning:

What we have in common is that we see a return to old-school forms of worship as a way of escaping from the crisis of modernity and the liberal-capitalist faith in individualism.

Setting aside the Christian-specific examples in her article, one can see where this can apply within a Heathen context. All too many Heathens are what the Christians call “accommodationist”. That is, changing their religion to accommodate the pressures of the broader (secular-modernist) culture.

A perfect example of accommodationism is the 1890 “revelation from God” to the Church of Latter-Day Saints that polygamy was suddenly not a good thing. This was a necessary change because it was clear that Utah would never become a state without it. And so religious dogma was set aside in order to accommodate the wishes of the larger culture.

We see this all the time in the imposition of modern political ideologies within Heathenry, particularly from the Left (although explicit National Socialism on the right, while significantly rarer, does exist). One has to look no further than the movement of American Asatru from its original folkish roots in the 1970’s, to the stark division between folkish and universalist today. At least a large segment of Asatru accommodated the pressure to avoid even the appearance of anything based on ethnicity (at least European ethnicity).

We see this in all sorts of other ways within Heathenry, too. The use of modern language in ritual rather than the elder tongues. The use of Wiccanate ritual structure (which itself ultimately derives from ceremonial magic), with its casting of protective circles and invocations and the like. The lack of proper blót (as in, animal sacrifice), in favor of votive offerings. The use of street clothing, or (worse) “Sunday best”, or (worst) “plain clothes” like Amish wear. Yes, that’s really a thing among a few dozen Heathens (although because one of them is head of the Troth, you’d think they were half of all heathens around the world). Magic is nonsense, and at best a fantasy to be avoided. Men and women are interchangeable, and there’s no societal role that is related to gender. There are many other examples, but the general gist is that the religion changes to accommodate the society.

I don’t include the “Eightfold Wheel of the Year” in this, as it’s not so much evidence of accommodation as an influence from the very beginning. It was at the time the only model out there, to be fair. Since the 1970’s, research has yielded a much different calendar (calendars is perhaps more accurate) and it’s more respect for tradition (even if it is only 50 or so years old) than accommodation to modern expectations that keeps it in use.

One might ask, why is this a bad thing? Surely, as society changes, and grows, and new ideas come to prominence as we know better and discard old ideas. That’s good, right?

Well, it may be good in a secular sense, but from a religious point of view, it’s terrible.

The point of religion is to provide a framework for understanding and interacting with the world. Religion’s claim is that it retains the right to define what is, and is not, moral and proper. If those definitions can and do change based on the ever-changing whims of society, then their own claim to being able to define those things is undermined. In essence, religion abdicates its own role to society, and in so doing, finds itself without a reason to exist.

Fortunately, there is within Heathenry a group which seems immune to this phenomenon, for a variety of reasons. That’s Theodish Belief. Because it is centered on the religion of the sacral leader, it can better withstand the buffets of popular opinion.

Too, the principle of Freedom of Conscience, which states that nobody can say “you can’t be Theodish because you believe X” (whether X is folkishness, or Communism, or whatever), has left Theodish Belief largely immune to the ideologically based witch-hunts which have plagued Asatru and other forms of Heathenry since the 1990’s. Which isn’t to say there can’t be the occasional rotten apple; every barrel has a few. But they are dealt with at the individual or organizational level, and don’t rise to the level of Theodism as a whole.

Thus, Theodism endures, with its “weirdness” intact. The use of ancient languages in ritual, the wearing of ritual clothing, the acceptance of Politically Incorrect attitudes by its members, and the occasional animal sacrifice into the bargain.

Long-time readers of this blog will recall that I love to see how other groups perform ritual. Well, that’s not changed, and today we’ve got a two-fer.

Obviously, because of the current restrictions thanks to COVID-19, most large rituals can’t happen, but we have today some video from last year and the year before, showing two different Beltane rituals; one in Britain and one in Ireland. Neither is specifically Heathen, but I think both are instructive in their own way.

The first one comes from Glastonbury in 2019:

You can tell right from the beginning that it’s a Wiccan ritual. The calling to the corners, the “hail and welcome”, the “God and Goddess”, and so forth.

That said, I do like the imagery of the Green Man, the May King/Queen, and the engagement of the audience in the dancing. Live music is great, even if the whole seems a bit disjointed and feels more like a street fair than anything. And the yii-yii-yii noise people keep making sounds more at home at a soccer match than a religious ceremony.

But then we get into a proper procession, with a drum-supported chant, as they bring the Maypole through the streets of the city. I note the Maypole is carved with runes, quite incongruously. Some people think slapping runes on everything makes it more holy or cool, or something. I’m much more of a runic minimalist these days.

That said I love the fact that there’s a procession through the streets, with live music. The finding of the May King is well done, too. But then they get into a straight-out-of-Llwellyn Wiccanate ceremony, and although I found the costumes and the music conducive to ritual, and the planting of the May Pole well done, the ritual as a whole felt… off. It lacked a certain authenticity. Like it could have been at a renaissance fair.

But they finish with the dancing of the Maypole, and again the live music is a welcome highlight. But I just can’t shake the feeling that there’s something both silly and contrived.

The second one comes from Uisneach, Ireland, in 2018:

This one has a lot in common with the first. There’s the live music, and the own seems to have turned out for the event. There are costumes, but somehow this seems a bit less contrived and a bit more organic.

In a way, I think the Christian elements of this event make it better for me. The women in white are led by two with what are obviously halos, and others can be seen with what look like horns. But everyone is wearing white, which speaks of a certain ritual unity, and something less chaotic than the Glastonbury video.

It’s also the case that it is much more obviously a fire festival, and the fact that it’s done at night highlights that. I have no idea how old the dance at 2:45 is, but it feels like something that just sort of grew up over the centuries. I love the spiral fire forms, which again feel like something that stem from antiquity, even if they aren’t older than the Victorian era. The great bonfire at the end also just seems more authentic to me, precisely because it is evocative without being overt in what it’s trying to portray. It leaves the exact interpretation up to the viewer, as opposed to the sacral marriage of the May Queen and May King, which was a bit too on-the-nose.

In this case, it seems to me like the additions of modern technology (the lights in the headdresses and drums) add to the effect, rather than detract from it. Because the whole is so obviously a ceremony focused on fire and light, it seems right.

On the whole, although I personally preferred the second video, I found much to commend the first. The procession and live music was excellent, and the carnival atmosphere felt right. But the intrusion of Wiccanate ritual felt forced, and detracted from the celebration of the holiday. By contrast, the second video, which was an unapologetic and unexplained fire ritual, felt more organic and “real” to me; it felt like something that would have been done for hundreds of years on that hill.

Carrying on from part one of this series, we have seen a fair amount of evidence suggestive of the fact that the celebration of St. Walpurga was mapped onto a pre-Christian goddess associated with “the miracle of the grain”. Let’s see what else we can glean on this major-yet-still-enigmatic holiday. Specifically, it’s most famous association; witches.

Grimm tells us that it is possible to join the witches who are out and about on Walpurgisnacht by the act of ritual inversion. That is, one put’s one’s clothing on inside-out, and moves backwards towards a crossroads. Then one is, presumably, picked up by the witches to join them in their sport at the Brocken. (Grimm IV, superstition #1082)

In Sweden, the day is celebrated with bonfires and fireworks, with the belief that these might frighten off the witches who were known to fly to their gatherings on this evening. This is echoed in Grimm IV, supersitition #138, where he says that witches cannot hurt the corn in a field, if the farmer fires a shot over it.

In Germany and Sweden, they were said to meet at Mt. Brocken, which is the highest peak in the Hartz Mountains (the name Brocken seems to go back as far as the 12th century, when “Broken” is mentioned as the name in the Saxon World Chronicle, but the etymology of the name is not known with 100% certainty). 

While there’s a wealth of information on the day in German sources, this English source (Aubrey, Remains of Gentilisme) encapsulates it well:

‘Tis commonly say’d in Germany that the witches do meet int he night before the first say of May, upon an high mountain, called the Blocksberg, situated in Ascanien, where they, together with the devils, do dance and feast; and the common people doe, the night before the said day, fetch a certain thorn, and stick it at their house-door, believing the witches can then doe them no harm.

The detail of the thorn to protect the house of course recalls the Biblical account of the Hebrews, who painted their door jams with the blood of a lamb in order to be passed over by the Angel of Death who was visiting the firstborn of Pharaoh’s subjects (Exodus 12). 

In Ditmarschen (just to the northwest of Hamburg, Germany), we are told:

…they kindle great fires on the hills and crossways, which they call ‘baken’ (beacons). The boys and young people bring straw and dry boughs from all parts, and the night is passed amid rejoicing and dancing about the flames. Some of the larger youths take bundles of burning straw on a fork, and run about swinging them until they are burnt out. On the island of Femern (which was peopled from Ditmarschen they in like manner celebrate the 30th April with the lighting of beacons (bakenbrennen). (Northern Mythology, Benjamin Thorpe, vol III, p. 6)

From the same source we see that “If a man desires to know what sort of a wife he shall have, he must ride on Walpurg’s night on a broomstick to the stable, and knock thrice, then go to the pigstye and hear what pig grunts, whether an old or a young one. His wife will be old or young accordingly. (Hassleben [central Germany])”

Also, “…no persons should go to bed, lest the witches should come and bewitch them. (Rauen [just east of Berlin])”. Nor may  cat be allowed into the house, lest it be a witch.

It is also the case that witches are not limited to the Brocken. Grimm tells us “At the end of the Hliss, as thou nearest the Duier (Duinger) wood, is a mountain very high and bare, named uf den bloszen sollen, whereon it is given out that witches hold their dances on Walpurgis night, even as on Mt Brocken in the Harz.”

Llwellyn Lloyd, in his wonderful Peasant Life In Sweden (1870) gives us a wonderful description of the fire-related element of the evening’s celebrations:

Huge bonfires, which should be lighted by striking two flint stones together, blaze on all the hills and knolls. Every large hamlet has its own fire, so that one may at times see from twenty to thirty within the same parish. The youth of both sexes assemble from all parts of the country at these fires, when, forming a ring (two or three rings, the one within the other, if the company is numerous), they dance around them until the night be well advanced. Whilst the young are thus enjoying themselves, the old folk take note of the several fires, and carefully mark if their number be odd or even; as also if the flames incline to the north or to the south. ‘In the former case, they believe the spring will be cold and backward; but in the latter, genial and mild.’ (Lloyd, p. 234)

Here we note the connection of bonfires with the Walpurgisnacht celebration, and the connection (in Sweden, at least) with weather-prediction and the sort of Maypole Dance mingling of the sexes that we see in Germany and elsewhere on the Continent (although usually the practice in Scandinavia is transferred to Midsummer). 

In his 1913 work “Balder the Beautiful: The Fire-Festivals of Europe and the Doctrine of the External Soul”, J.G. Frazer (this was Volume 10 of the third edition of The Golden Bough) makes note of several fire-related customs attached to the night:

Similarly, in Bohemia, on the eve of Fires on May Day, young people kindle fires on hills and eminences, at crossways, and in pastures, and dance round them. They Day in leap over the glowing embers or even through the flames. The ceremony is called ” burning the witches.” In some places an effigy representing a witch used to be burnt in burning the bonfire. We have to remember that the eve of May the witches. Day is the notorious Walpurgis Night, when the witches are everywhere speeding unseen through the air on their hellish errands. On this witching night children in Voigtland [on the modern border of Germany and the Czech Republic] also light bonfires on the heights and leap over them. Moreover, they wave burning brooms or toss them minto the air. So far as the light of the bonfire reaches, so far will a blessing rest on the fields. The kindling of the fires on Walpurgis Night is called “driving away the witches.” The custom of kindling fires on the eve of May Day (Walpurgis Night) for the purpose of burning the witches is, or used to be, widespread in the Tyrol, Moravia, Saxony, and Silesia.

Frazier gives us another fascinating tidbit in a later footnote (on p. 171):

The Blocksberg, where German as well as Norwegian witches gather for their great Sabbaths on the Eve of May Day (Walpurgis Night) and Midsummer Eve, is commonly identified with the Brocken, the highest peak of the Harz mountains. But in Mecklenburg, Pomerania, and probably elsewhere, villages have their own local Blocksberg, which is generally a hill or open place in the neighborhood; a number of places in Pomerania go by the name of the Blocksberg.

It’s interesting to note that the connection between the name “Blocksberg” and witches is still current in the German collective consciousness, as the audio and later TV cartoon series Bibi Blocksberg demonstrates. Frazier provides yet more detail with the following quote from R. Kuhnau, Scheslichen Sagen, p. 69:

In the county of Glatz [in Lower Silesia, now in Poland, but then in Germany] the people believe that on Walpurgis Night (the Eve of May Day) the witches under cover of the darkness seek to harm men in all sorts of ways. To guard themselves against them the people set small birch trees in front of the house-door on the previous day, and are of opinion that the witches must count all the leaves on these little trees before they can get into the house. While they are still at this laborious task, the day dawns and the dreaded guests must retire to their own realm.

Something similar is known in Marsala, Sicily, where witches are said to be compelled to count the grains of salt that might be placed before them. 

I think it’s safe to assume we have a connection between May Eve (aka Walpurgisnacht) and witches, as well as an association with fire (specifically bonfires, which seems to echo the same traditions as we see at Midsummer). There are recurrent patterns mentioning the need to protect against these witches; whether it be the house itself or the fields of grain. The (presumably unprotected) grain fields are also held to be a place where the witches can be contacted and the individual can even join their company. So we do now see a connection of the grain goddess with the witches who go about on this night.

Next we’ll see if we can tie this back more specifically to figures or myth-complexes we see in Norse and other Germanic pre-Christian culture.

Edred Thorsson’s latest book is not only a departure from his usual magically-focused works, but it is possibly one of his most important books to date. As the title implies, Re-Tribalize Now! (sub-titled “A step-by-step guide to cultural renewal”) focuses on the project of realigning culture along the ancient tribal model, with a focus on the pre-Christian Germanic experience, although other cultures and religions (including the Celtic, Zoroastrian, Jewish, and Islamic) are discussed as well.

The book is slim (117 pages), but dense, and nearly half of its length is taken up with appendices. The table of contents is as follows:

  • Preface
  • Introduction
  • Definitions
  • The History if Tribes: Historical Tribalism in Europe
  • General Tribal Theory
  • Tribal Practice
  • Re-Tribalize Now!
  • Appendix A: Questions and Answers About Re-Tribalization
  • Appendix B: Germanic Concepts of Sovereignty
  • Appendix C: Names of Some Major Germanic and Celtic Tribes and Their Meanings
  • Appendix D: On the Development of a Tribal Constitution
  • Appendix E: Development of Gender-Specific Organizations
  • Appendix F: Sources for Further Reading and Research

As can be inferred from the TOC, the emphasis is on Germanic culture and history, but others are included as well. Even the Oyotunji African Village in South Carolina (which I wrote about several years ago) gets a mention. One very valuable, but often overlooked, item is the discussion of failed attempts at retribalization over the years. An examination of such failures can be very instructive, and the book points this out to good effect.

While there is a good deal of practical advice in the book (such as how to set up a tribal constitution, etc.), its real value is in the more inspirational area, demonstrating how tribal organization was once the norm, and giving a clear path to how it could be once more. The theoretical aspects of tribes are discussed in depth (ethnic, ideological, linguistic, and material), as well as the importance of some sort of unifying founding myth.

On the whole, this is a wonderful little book, very densely packed with information (as should be expected in something written by Edred Thorsson, whose depth of knowledge is apparent on every page). Highly recommended.

You can buy the book here (affiliate link).

There is a confluence of several events (about which more in the future, perhaps) that has had me thinking about my experience in the Normannii Theod, led by Dan.

I did, and do, like Dan as a friend, and probably always will. But his time as leader of the Normannii did damage not only to the tribe itself and its members, but also to Theodism (and Heathenry) as a whole. Many of these issues stem, I think, from the fact that Dan himself never went through the vital institution of thralldom (where one is deemed without worth, and learns many valuable lessons not only about Theodism, but themselves as well). I know when I did so, I came out with a new humility and understanding of my own limitations that I did not have before.

One of the things that the Normannii never seemed to fully focus on were the Gods Themselves. There were people in the leadership of the tribe who were absolutely sincere and most talented in their desire to embrace the Gods and put Them front and center. And they made valiant attempts to do so. But ultimately the Normannii became wrapped up in ego-driven attempts to aggrandize the leader rather than please the Gods and serve the tribe as a whole.

The effect on Theodism as a whole was shattering. People began taking sides, accusations were tossed back and forth, and a large number of Normannii hived off to start their own theod. I had my own part to play in some of that, and there are certainly things I would re-do if given the chance. Hel, it all drove me out of Theodism and back to Asatru for several years, and I know others who the whole Dan-thing drove out of Heathenry altogether. But ultimately, a lot of the problems stemmed from an attempt to out-Dan Dan, rather than a sincere attempt to undo the damage he wrought. Finally I returned to the Normannii in the misguided hope that I could help temper some of Dan’s worst impulses. That (obviously) failed, and the rest is history.

Theodism has spent years in an effort to “de-Danify” itself. Most of the dangerous and self-destructive elements that were added to the robust central core of Theodism are now, thankfully, gone. There must be more to Theodism than pomp and ceremony and flowery speeches, more than serving the ego of men who do not themselves love the gods more than themselves, and more than politics and trying to out-do everyone else.

Theodism is about a path to the Gods. It is about bringing people together to discover the sacred through the mystery of Sacral Kingship. And going forward, that is the sort of Theodism I intend to pursue, hopefully having learned through close examination of what does not work. Internal meaning, not external form.

Walpurgisnacht, also known as Valborg, Rood Eve, and May Eve, is celebrated on the 30th of April. The current name comes from the Catholic St. Walburga, whose canonization day is May 1st (hence Walburga-eve on April 30). Because she was an historical figure, and is known to have lived (rather than being merely a mythological figure as some Catholic saints), the name of the celebration can thus be traced to no earlier than the 8th century, as she lived from 710-777 CE.

The saint herself has been identified with a broader tradition of pre-Christian “grain miracle” goddesses who were transformed into Christian saints. According to Pamela Berger’s book The Goddess Obscured , the earliest known representation of the saint shows her with stalks of grain, and later folklore associated her with good crops and the peasant class. Berger gives this very interesting folk-tale associated with the saint:

One night a farmer who feared it was going to rain was bringing his harvest home on a wagon. Suddenly he encountered Saint Walpurga. She was fleeing and asked the peasant if he would hide her among his sheaves of grain, for her enemy was following close behind. The peasant accepted and “hid the saint in a sheaf, for that reason was Saint Walpurga fashioned [or modeled] in a sheaf.” Hardly was the saint hidden when the fiendish white rider came by. The peasant quickly made the sign of the cross and was happy when the danger was past. Saint Walpurga climbed out of the grain sheaf (or out of the wagon on which the grain sheaves were piled), thanked the peasant, and told him to watch carefully over his grain. The peasant continued home, and the next morning he was overjoyed to find that his grain had turned to gold. – Berger, pp. 62-63

This translation of grain to gold as a reward for helping the goddess is known as “the miracle of the grain” and is a motif seen in the stories of several other saints, including Radegund (France, 6th century, so during the reign of the Merovingian Franks), Macrine (Carolingian France, 9th century), Brigid (Ireland), and Milburga (Anglo-Saxon (Mercian) England). 

Grimm tells us that “On Wapurgis-eve let him that has cornfields fire his gun over them, and the witches cannot hurt the corn.” This is  an allusion to the notion that witches, as a general class, would spoil crops out of malice, and might be related to the modern belief that noisy fireworks will drive off witches. The act of shooting a gun over the fields recalls the idea of casting a spear over an enemy to dedicate them to Odin (i.e., the act of firing the weapon over the field places it as the property of, and thus under the protection of, the Gods). (Grimm IV, superstition #138)

Walpurgisnacht, also according to Grimm, is a night when one can go into the green corn field in the hour before midnight and listen. One will then hear tidings portending the rest of the year. Again we see a connection with corn (a general term for grain), as well as a connection with divination. (Grimm IV, superstition #854)

All in all, there seems an excellent case for the notion that the celebrations around April 30/May 1 were originally dedicated to an agrarian goddess of Germanic provenance. The fact that we see the motif in Germanic cultures across northwestern Europe points to this. But are there any grain-goddesses in the Germanic conception that would fit the bill?

Many will say, “Sif, of course!” Based on the Victorian association of her golden hair with ripening grain, but that association has since been disproved by scholars based on a number of factors. Gefjon, with her links in the mythology to plowing, is a possibility. Frigg and Freyja are such catch-alls that I hesitate to put yet more associations on their respective plates, but they remain possibilities. Little is known about Nerthus, at least by that name, and she seems to have disappeared (again, by that name) shortly after Tacitus wrote about her. Jord/Fjorgyn fits the bill better than most, if only based on the “Earth mother” identification she shares with Nerthus.

That might be fertile soil in which to dig (sorry, I couldn’t resist) as we continue this series on Walpurgisnacht. We’ll see what comes of it.

So here’s a headline you don’t see every day:

Israel: Pagan priest Einar calls for recognition by State

FTFA:

Einar, an Israeli Jew who is a pagan priest in the Asatru community, imagines a future in which the paganism of northern Europe is finally recognised as a legitimate religion in the Jewish State, so that its members are no longer forced to practice it on the fringes of society.

“We’ve already chosen the ideal place for our sanctuary,” Einar said.

“It’s a wooded area in the Golan Heights. There, immersed in nature, we can celebrate our rites and lift up our offerings to the gods,” he said. …

“The Asatru community here has a thousand members. There are 20,000 pagans in Israel overall,” Einar said.

Since the community’s members can’t have a fixed meeting place, they maintain contact through phone messages and periodically gather in places immersed in nature.

There, they make sacrifices to the gods using various animals (cows, chickens, sheep, goats) and then eat the meat.

Huh. Honestly, I’m not sure why he wouldn’t explore the rich heritage of pre-Biblical Israelite polytheism, but maybe making offerings to Odin is a bit more palatable to Israeli sensibilities than Baal.

This is a weird bit of news, and I’m still trying to figure it out.

Apparently the Asatruarfelagid in Iceland has received thousands of Euros from religious leaders in Thailand, to help with the construction of their temple outside Reykjavik. You can read the story here (and there’s a link in that story to the original in Icelandic), but no real reason for the donation seems to be present. It just sort of fell out of the sky at them. 

Must be nice! Unfortunately they’re still way over budget and construction has halted until they can make up the difference.

Two members of the Asatru Folk Assembly have been drummed out of the Georgia National Guard because of their ties to the group, according to the Associated Press.

Dalton Woodward and Trent East were “outed” by an antifa group out of Atlanta, and since the AFA is currently on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s list of hate groups, the Guard seems to have acted on the tip and discharged them. 

I’ve made no secret of my disdain for the AFA in recent years (they’ve definitely swerved way far to the right since the change in leadership), but I also think it’s particularly vile to doxx people who hold beliefs one disagrees with, and to take away their livelihoods just because you don’t like their opinions.