By Mark Puryear
First published in ORB 211, Spring 2259
As a ceremonial religion, Odinism utilizes various implements in the worship of our deities. These items are sacred symbols embodied within the very strata of our ancestral belief system, which allow us to connect to the ritual purpose of communication with the Gods on a deeper spiritual level. They are focal points within the blot that empower the flow of the rite itself. Indeed, each artifact we use is seeped in traditional lore, combining their imagery with what we know from our sources in connection to deities and ancestors. It is this symbolic nature that makes them so important in our observances, for when the gathered are aware of their significance and value, and understand their lore, this heightens the meaning of the experience. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a symbol is worth a million pictures, and it is with this in mind that we perform blotar.
In studying the lore of our faith, we can discover correlations to these holy objects and find more ways to understand their purpose in our celebrations. Often times, the sources are quite clear in their descriptions, but in other places they can also be more obscure and allegorical. Sifting through this information is vital in understanding our ancient religion, and will help us to create more traditional modes of sacrifice. To become more knowledgeable in the lore is to see through the veils of figurative language and poetic metaphor to find the true core of wisdom lying within. In relation to the artifacts, we take this understanding and put it into action as we honor our Gods and Goddesses.
We are going to look here at four of our most sacred artifacts and the lore surrounding them. There are certainly others, but most would agree that these are extremely valuable. Most importantly, these items have more customs surrounding them than others.
Not necessarily an “artifact” per se, it is still the most sacred object in any ceremony, the only one to actually be personified as a God. In Havamal 68, Odin tells us that “fire is best among the sons of men”, which we should look at in both a practical, and a religious sense. To our ancestors, fire was the only light, the only warmth to be had. In Northern Europe, this certainly would have been a necessity, and as a central tool of survival there is no doubt as to its sanctity as a sacrificial device. It chases away cold and darkness, and thus would be considered the most powerful weapon against the wights of chaos and frost—Jotuns, trolls, and demons. The idea of burning witches at the stake has its roots in pre-Christian European practices, where it was thought to be the only thing capable of truly destroying their evil natures. Consider Voluspa 21, where the Gods are said to have raised the witch Gullveig on spears in “Har’s hall” (Valhall), where “they burned her three times,” although she was able to return, for her malevolence surpassed all others.
An artifact used with the fire is the Julleuchter “Yule-Lamp,” a pyramid-shaped candle holder bearing a heart (symbol of Freyja) and a six-spoked Yule “Wheel” (representing the six ages of time) on all four sides. This may have been the vessel used to carry the fire around a tract of land to sanctify it. In The History of the Gotlanders, Thjalfi, Thor’s companion, purified Gotland, which had previously sunk into the sea every sundown, only to rise at sunset, to be exposed to the dangers of night. He carried the friction-fire around the island, driving out the dark forces that caused this, thereby “fixing” the island in its place. In Eyrbyggja Saga ch. 4, “Thorolf carried fire around his land-claim.” In Landnamabok ch. 60, “Saemund was carrying fire around his land-claim.” In ch. 90, “Jorund carried fire around the land”. Thus, we would use the flame to consecrate any area of land, including the sacrificial stead, or V6.
The most sacred form of this is the friction-fire, also called the Naudeldr—”Need- Fire”. The use of this in ritual goes back to the proto- Indo-European era, where it was personified as a deity. To the Hindus, our religious cousins, this would be Agni, who is the equivalent to our Heimdallr. The story, as pieced together in our Teutonic epic, relates that Lodurr “The Fire Producer,” who tends the great World Mill, Grotti, witnessed the millstones creating the sparks from which Heimdallr was born, and thus came the first fire-auger. The nine giantesses who turn this mill are thus Heimdallr’s “mothers,” and he himself is called Vindler “The Turner,” the one who turns the fire-auger.
In connection with the above account of Thjalfi’s purifying Gotland, it is said in a Hindu source (Indische Streifen) that there was a land that “was formerly unsettled and was entirely buoyant (had an unstable foundation) before it was burnt (sanctified) by Agni.” As God of Fire, Agni bears offerings to the Gods, as well as the higher elements of men they die (Rigveda 1: 27. 1, I: 67. 1, 1: 128. 6, and elsewhere), and thus Heimdallr would be seen as performing the same service. In connection with this is the tradition from Ynglingasaga where it states that “it is our belief that the higher the smoke of the pyre raises in the air, the higher he will be raised whose pile it is”; the same should be considered with our offerings.
The oath-ring, or Eidbaugi, should not be viewed solely as a sacred implement upon which solemn vows are made. Indeed, many items are known to be used for this purpose, and our sources tell us that we can make oaths “by ship’s bulwark, by shield’s rim, by steed’s shoulder, by the sword’s edge” (Volundarkvida 34); “by the southward verging sun, by Sigtyr’s (Odin’s) hill, by the steed of ease … ” (Atlakvida 30); “by Leiptr’s limped water, and by Unn’s ice-cold altar” (Helgakvida Hundingsbana 11 str. 29). What makes the ring special is its symbology, as well as its purpose as an emblem of the priesthood, or goðorð.
Like the white collar of the Catholic priests, we use the oath-ring to differentiate the goði or gyðja from others, for it represents their position among the folk. This is an ancient custom, one that is mentioned in the Islandingabok: “A ring of a prescribed size should be placed on the altar in every main temple. The goði of that temple should carry the ring on his wrist to all regular Things, where he should conduct the procedures. Before that, he should wash the ring in the blood of a bull he has sacrificed himself.”
The washing of artifacts in the blood of bulls is mentioned elsewhere, as in Hyndluljoð 11, where Ottar (Odr) is said to have an altar devoted to Freyja, his wife. Here the Goddess states: “He raised a shrine to me, made of stones; now that stone has turned into glass. He newly sprinkled it with the blood of oxen.”
It is likely that the ring itself is consecrated in Ullr’s name, since it says in Atlakvida 30 that “the often sworn oaths [were] formerly taken … by Ullr’s ring.” The significance of this is based upon Ullr having once taken Odin’s place as ruler of the Gods, when the All-Father had been banished by the Vanir (Saxo bk. 3).
The oath-ring cannot simply be a normal, run-of-the-mill bracelet, otherwise it would not be useful in designating the goði or gyðja. There is a tradition connected to this in giving the ring a special form, so that it can be noticed as that of the goðorð. In several sources we see the ring in the form of an encircled serpent, which represents it as binding the oath-giver with the never-ending circle, while reminding them of the punishments in Niflhel for oath-breakers. It is said in Voluspa 39-40: “A hall she saw standing, far from the sun on Nastrands, the doors opened to the north; venom drops fell through the roof-holes. The hall is made from the backs of twined serpents. There she saw wade through heavy streams, perjurous men and murderers…” Here are the proofs for the ring in serpent form:
Volundarkviða, strophe 6, states that Volundr “set red-gold with precious gems and closed the Lindbaugar well together.” Lindbaugar are “serpent-rings” or “serpent-formed rings.”
The above rings are created from a single parent similar to Draupnir, in that other rings drop from it, though not as many. In Volundarkviða 12, Volundr is captured by Nidad and robbed of his sword and ring. Nidad is identical to Mimir, and in Historia Danica (bk.8) he is called Gudmund (Guthmundus), and is found with the ring in his possession. Here, when one tried to steal it, “the armlet turned into a snake and fell with the tips of its fangs upon the man who wore it” (cp. Viktor Rydberg’s Investigations into Germanic Mythology vol. I ch. 51, 87).
In Skaldskaparmal 4, J6rmungandr, the Midgard-Serpent, is called “the ugly ring” (inn ljoti hringr). In Gylfaginning 34 it is said that Odin “threw the serpent into the deep sea that surrounds all lands. But the serpent grew so large that now, out in the middle of the ocean, it lies coiled around all lands, biting its tail.” Therefore, it is identical to the Greek symbol of the Ouroborus—”Tail-Engulfer,” which is presented in the form of a ring. Jormungandr means “The Great Gandr”, and the gandr can be a wand or other sacred object, which in this case would be a ring. Thus J6rmungandr would mean “The Great Ring.”
Archaeologists have discovered armlets and bracelets with the serpent motif in Northern Europe, so we know that someone was wearing them. They are somewhat rare, which is fitting if only the goðar possessed them. We should duplicate these rings and see to it that every goði and gyðja in our nation has one to wear in recognition of their role.
The drinking-horn may well be the most ancient artifact as described in our lore. It too has a serpent motif, as found in several sources. In Historia Danica (bk.8 ) a stolen horn lengthens “into a dragon (ormr may mean “dragon” or “serpent”), then took the life of its bearer”. In Skaldskaparmal 66 it states: “Next I see a finely inscribed serpent on the splendid yeast-flood [ale] tunic [horn].” In Guðrunarkviða II str. 22: “All kinds of staves were engraved and painted on the horn, which I could not interpret: the long heath-fish [serpent] of Hadding’s land, unharvested ears of grain, and animals’ entrances.” In ancient societies the serpent was often viewed as a symbol of wisdom, and in the North was often carved on runestones with runes on its back. The idea here may be to impart that wisdom upon the imbiber of the mead, which originally came, in part, from Mimisbrunnr, the well of wisdom.
The name for this is Urarhorn—”Aurochs Horn”, and it is possible that the first of these came from the very first aurochs, Audhumla herself, according to the lore. Her name means “The Hornless Wealth-Cow,” which may be related to why Ymir, the primeval Jotun, was slain by Odin and his brothers. In the Hindu sources it is a demon, Ahriman, who is the murderer of the original cow, and is then slain by the Gods, his blood forming a sea that drowns all the other monsters (Bundehesh ch. 7). His equivalent in Rigveda is Purusa, who is sacrificed by the Gods, who then create the world from his body (X: 90). Many scholars have noted the similarities between these figures and Ymir.
So it is possible, though it cannot be proven, that Audhumla’s horns were removed by Ymir, or by the Gods after she was slain, and with them made the Gjallarhorn. There may even be two Gjallarhorns: the one Mimir drinks out of (Gylfaginning 15), and the one Heimdallr keeps and blows (Gylfaginning 27, Voluspa 47, Hrafnagaldr Oðins 16).
The blot-bowl (blotbolli) is the central offering vessel within the ceremony, and can often be used in lieu of a drinking-horn. The sacred mead, or sometimes the blood of a sacrificed animal, is held within the bowl. A hlautteinn (sacrificial -twig) is then dipped into the liquid to be sprinkled on the folk for the blessing of the Gods, while the contents are poured out in libation to those being honored.
The use of bowls in ritual is another ancient custom reaching far into the proto-Indo-European era. The Vedic Hindus used the same tree believed to have formed human beings in the creation of their Soma-cups. This has been identified as a fig tree, the Acvattha or Ficus religiose, and was also used in making the medicine boxes of healers. The sacrificial vessels being made from the wood of these trees led to their being called “the home of plants” (Griffith’s Rigveda, see also Investigations into Germanic Mythology vol. 2.1 pg. 67, Rigveda I: 135. 8, X: 97. 5).
So we see in the Hindu sources that the tree of life, that which was used to form the first couple, was also used in the creation of these vessels. In comparison to this, we should look at the origins of the English word “bowl,” from Old English bolla, “pot,” “bowl”. It is related to “bole,” from the Old Norse bolr, “tree trunk.” Bolr also means “stem,” “tribe,” “origin.” So, as with the Hindus, we find vessels, trees, and the origins of humans connected. In our sources, it is the ash tree, Yggdrasill, “the best of trees” (Grimnismal 44), that was the source of our most ancient ancestors, Askr (Ash-Tree) and Embla (her name has been erroneously interpreted as “Elm-Tree,” but actually is derived from the Sanskrit ambhala “mother,” cp. Sonatorrek’s embluaskr “EmblaAsh”). Thus it would be the ash that we would make our bl6t-bowls from.
The bowl was not only used in blessing and libation, but also in swearing oaths and entering into an inheritance. In the latter case, “the full bowl, which is called the Bragarfull, is brought in. The [the heir] should stand up, make solemn vows to be fulfilled afterwards, point to the four corners with the vessel, and thereupon empty it” (Ynglingasaga ch. 40). At Yule, the “sacrificial boar was led in, on which guests laid their hands, and then made solemn vows at the Bragarfull” (Helgakviða Hjorvarpssonar prose between strophes 30 and 31).
This connection to Yule is interesting, since we find in later traditions that the wassail bowls were made of a specific wood, that of the linden tree. In the wassailing folksongs of England (one of which is given in the Odinic Rite’s Book of Blotar, pg. 76), it is mentioned: “our bowl it is made from the bright linden tree.” It may be that the converting Christians replaced the ash, as Yggdrasill, with the linden in its traditional symbolism. In Gisla Saga Surssonar it is said that the merciful dead receive Hel-shoes from a linden tree in the Underworld. However, it is most likely that this tree is Yggdrasil! itself, whose branches spread out through all worlds.
The more we investigate and understand these customs, the more connections we make, the more profound our ritual experience will be. Our faith is one of symbols and metaphor, of poetic imagery and esoteric wisdom. The deeper we delve into the mysteries, the further our spiritual development continues, taking us higher in our journey of forging a bond with our beloved ancestral deities.