By Oswald OR
“I am aware of my ancestors with me, especially Alfred (my mother’s grandfather). Alfred, you live on through your pen and your bells. Through me your likeness lives on. Wassail”.
These were the words l spoke at the 2001 Heathen Forum Conference during the closing ritual before I drank from the mead horn. I was filled with the sense of my ancestors, especially Alfred. Afterwards I noted that it is becoming ever more common that during the ‘Mead Horn’ I am filled with this sense of ancestors being with me. I start to feel emotional, my eyes mist over, a lump comes to my throat and I am filled with a sense of communion with them.
Honouring the ancestors, and an awareness of ancestors, is an important part of Odinism. It includes one’s ancestors who are known and those who are not known, it includes the Disir and the Folk Mothers, and it also includes the High Heroes of the Folk. To the Odinist the deceased members of the tribe are as real and as present as the ones who are living. Often I am surprised at how few toasts I hear to the ancestors. Perhaps, then, this is a timely article.
Honouring the ancestors was a factor of pre- Christian religion throughout Europe, both Northern and Southern. Written evidence for the honouring of ancestors is greater throughout Southern Europe in the time of the Roman Empire. Many of the honourings were by Germans in the service of the Empire in the form of votive stones. It would be rare also to find a shamanic society where there was no honouring of the ancestors. It was only with the coming of Christianity that the honouring of a family’s ancestors was consigned to history. The need for so many saints and the observance of saints days within Catholicism perhaps not only highlights that the former religion was polytheistic, but that there was a continuing need that was not met by the new religion.
We honour our ancestors rather than worship them. As Steve McNallen of the AFA writes in the AFA’S Asatru FAQ, ”Asatru says we should honour our ancestors. It also says we are bonded to those ancestors in a special way. However, we do not actually worship them.”
It would seem that in England our ancestors moved from cremation to burial around the time of conversion to Christianity. Cremation seems to have been the societal norm prior to this time. Yet if we go back beyond this time, and perhaps more in Germany, it seems that burial mounds were the norm particularly for the highest members of society. We see this in the ”Saga of Volsungen’, where Sigrun son of King Sigmund, descended into the mound of Helgis to converse with him there. Those burial mounds were seen as portals between the worlds where the living might contact those who had died.
In the last couple of years there have been two films with historical themes that have included honour of the ancestors and awareness of the ancestors with us. The first of these is ‘l3th Warrior’. Just prior to the final battle the Viking warriors say:
Lo, there do l see my father
Lo, there do I see my mother, my sisters and my brothers Lo, there do I see the line of my people back to the beginning.
Lo, they do call to me. They bid me take my place among them in the halls of Valhalla where the brave may live forever.
I challenge anyone of our faith to watch this film and not feel emotional and inspired at this point. It may be fiction, it may be fantasy, but it stirs the blood.
The other film is ‘Gladiator’, a film set in Imperial Roman times. We might feel aggrieved by the way the Germanic warriors are defeated in the opening sequence by the imperialist forces, yet this film concentrates on religion several times. I’m sure that the members of Nova Rome will feel more of a connection with what the film portrays, but we can gain something from it as well. The central character, Maximus, is deeply religious and honours his ancestors. He carries a little bundle that contains figurines representing those ancestors. This character’s culture was not that of our ancestors, but nevertheless it portrays an awareness of honour of and connection with ones ancestral kin as being a deep part of one’s religion. This surely must have been a truth that resonated across the whole Germanic world as well as the Roman world.
This is a special time in history. For the first time our scientists consider that they have cracked the understanding of the human genome. We have known that genes exist for some time, but now the complete code is available to us to study. Our Odinic faith teaches us that the blood is holy. Ancestry is a holy thing. We hold that all are not equal and this reaches into the matter of family. Our nobleness, our holiness, our deeds are all energies that can he passed down through our family lines. When we rise above the mire of mediocrity, we are not just creating excellence for ourselves but also for our descendants, on down the line.
Great individuals contribute to great families and great families support great individuals. We Odinists hold that we may receive wisdom and support from our ancestors. Theirs is a subtle form of support. It may be that we never receive a vision of them; they may lever stand in front of us. As we become more conscious of their reality, however, we can forge closer psychic links with them. We may reach out in order to be nourished by them. As we honour them, both in our minds and in our rituals, then we help to build that link with them in a similar way that we build that link with our Gods and Goddesses. Through our honouring and our rituals so we create a clearer channel between them and us and a clearer channel enables more energy to flow.
As one Odinist has written, ”We believe our forebears have passed to us certain special spiritual qualities just as surely as they have given us various physical traits. They live on in us. The family or clan is above and beyond the limits of time and place. Thus we have a reverence for our ancestry even though we do not involve ourselves in ancestor worship as such.”
I have already mentioned that we honour our ancestors within our monthly Blots. There are many of us who will offer food and drink, gifts to our ancestors, perhaps as part of a family meal, perhaps as part of a personal Blot. They are a part of our hearth and so we consider that they are with us always.
The matter of Christian ancestors is a vexed question for many Odinists. They may have died firm in their beliefs, which did not allow for the potential of being accessible to their descendants.
For them they would have believed that they were going to heaven (or perhaps purgatory) or that they were in a non-conscious state awaiting a resurrection. And yet we Odinists can be aware of those ancestors and still show them honour and respect. In our reality they are accessible to us, they are aware of us and they do contribute to the life of our eternal family and tribe. Their Christianity is not an obstacle to them standing in line behind us. They are our kin, for eternity, regardless of their religion. Our tribe includes all those dead and living. They are with us now as much as the living.
Alfred, the ancestor I mentioned in the first paragraph of this article, was my mother’s father. He was one of the most famous bell ringers of his time, ringing across the land of England from the latter part of the 19th century through the fast half of the 20th century. He used to write up the records of peels with super-calligraphy using pen and coloured inks. These records were works of art and many are held in the archives of Bristol City Council. One of his books is in my mother’s custody and will in time pass to me. I was one year old when he died and so I don’t remember him. When I was in my early twenties I found a picture of his wedding to my Great-grandmother. He was exactly the same age in the photo as I was then. I looked into the photo and I saw myself. Then I was the exact image of him. Partly because of this exact likeness and partly because of my love for calligraphy I feel a special link to him.
Another ancestor who is constantly with me is my mother’s mother, Grandmother Rosalind. When she was alive she was the relative I loved the most. In the last year of her life I moved into her house and I was the last one to see her alive when she had her first heart attack. So great was my love for her that I named our daughter, Freya Rosalind, after her. Freya was born within a day of Granny Rose and at her birth I felt that Granny Rose’s energy was in her. Whether this was rebirth in the family line I don’t bow, but there was a special connection. There have been a number of Blots where I have felt my Grandmother with me and then honour her when the mead-horn is passed.
The third ancestor whose spirit is with me is not a direct ancestor. He is Great-great-uncle Ernest the adventurer of my family. He emigrated to Canada and served in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. In the 1920s he served at Baffin Island within the Arctic Circle, and was the only Crown representative and the only White man among the inuit of the area. He served there for a number of years and was there when airmail first started. He had to take the dog sled 250 miles each way to pick up the mail at the last drop-of point. He was a great man who also lived a great love with an American woman. Unusually for those days they never married. Perhaps it was his time among the Inuit, away from European Christianised society that allowed him to challenge society’s norms. Ernest stands as a powerful example to me and I feel the strength and courage of his spirit.
Just as we look to our ancestors, so many of us are also ancestors. We are living ancestors, but one day we will depart Midgarth. Will we then be able to look on at those living descendants of ours, over the generations? Will we lend our emotional support to them? Will we send our blessings to them? I like to think so. There is a beautiful passage of Odinic Ritual in the Ancestors and the Successors section of the monthly Blots.
Now, to our Children’s children and their children we send our words as messengers, the way we shall not pass along: Kinsfolk! Unseen, unborn, unknown! Since we cannot see your face or clasp your hands we send our Spirits through time and space in Odin’s name to greet you
To quote Eye of Odin from their song “The Gift” –
I carry the gift, one link in a chain. 1000 generations, we shall live again.
DISIR AND THE FOLK MOTHERS
Worship of the Disk is closely related to ancestor worship. Many within our faith consider one’s Disir to have been female ancestors somewhere along the family line.
The worship and honouring of the Disir is connected to the memory of the Folk Mothers. The line between Goddesses, Disir and female ancestors is perhaps a little blurred. There are those such as Winifred Hodge who write on Germanic Goddesses. Many readers might make metal connections between the three Goddesses presented by Hodge and the three Norns, the Wyrd Sisters. Pagan readers might also see the Maiden-Mother-Crone aspect of the triple goddess.
At different times and in different locations, our Folk have given deep honour to the feminine spirits who have gone before. They are seen as great protectresses of individual, family and tribe. Gundarsson writes
the ideses act, not only as shapers of the family line, but as embodiments and transmitters of its orlog and the whole spiritual complex associated with it. A family, or aett, which is mighty of soul, will have mighty ideses who look upon its bairns with a kindly mood and give the best of gifts; but if the heritage carries an ill orlog, its ideses will bring that down upon the children of the line.
The Odinic Rite makes provision in its calendar for a date devoted to the Disir. In 200l CE (225l RE) the Odinic Rite reserves 3l Snowmoon (January) for the Norns, Disk and Valkyries. It also specifies a day for the Disir alone on 2 Horning (February).
HIGH HEROES AND ANCESTORS
‘Aesir and Vanir, High Heroes and Ancestors, arouse our kin spirit and aid our defence of our Faith, Folk and Family.’
These are the words we speak year by year in the Sigurd Blot of the Odinic Rite’s Book of Blotar. They are stirring words and remind us that our High Heroes are truly ancestors to us all. When we look back to the Times of Settlement in England there is a strong possibility that most of us have these High Heroes in our ancestral line. But regardless of blood ties, they stand as great ancestors of the tribe, of the Folk.
Most noticeable of these High Heroes are Hengest and Horsa, noble and mighty warriors who took this land of Ing-land by the sword. Again the Book of Blots provides us with some wonderful words about Hugest and Horsa.
”Gothi: Great Hengest came and his brother Horsa with their steel will and their steel people, conquerors. Our steel shod, mail clad folk, the lawgiver and world maker among the families of men. Here they came, bold and intrepid to found a noble realm – our sacred home. Under the White Horse and the Raven they came, shining with the strength of our Gods. Through bloody combat and joyful peace, strife and calm, a great Nation they forged. And through it all they observed the law, pitiless and potent, ever unswerving, ever ordaining – greater than the motes of men who fulfilled it, or were crushed by it. So shall we deem ourselves frith folk or folk of peace. Freedom is wherever we can live as Iong as it pleases a brave heart, where we can live according to the laws and customs of our Fathers, where we are made happy by that which made them happy. But peace and freedom must be won, and guarded from the foe- man and false friends. Stir us again Mighty Ones! Let us love our lands and folk as much as you.
ALL: Hail our Faith, our Folk and our Family. Be with us Mighty Ones. ”
from Festival of Settlement, Odinic Rite’s Book of Blotar.
By focusing on these High Heroes, by honouring them and giving them gifts of honour, and by reaching out for that link, we can feel them with us. They are mighty forefathers of our tribe and are with us forever. For those of us with English blood, Hengest and Horsa stand beside us ever. Their will of steel, courage and spirit of adventure stands as an example to us, and through building a connection with them as Folk Ancestors we can personally drink in of their qualities.
Even greater than these High Heroes are the Gods who also stand as our ancestors. We say that they are our kin. The genealogies of the High Heroes attest to this. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle states the following:
“Their leaders were two Brothers, Hengest and Horsa, who were the sons of Wichtgisel, Wichtgisel was the son of Wicht, the son of Recta, the son of Woden. From that Woden has descended all our Royal Family. (From the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.)”
This again is a part of our Book of Blots and is read during the Festival of Settlement.
If we claim Hengest and Horsa as our ancestors then we likewise claim Woden as our ancestor. We say that the Gods are kin to us. If our Folk Ancestors claimed their ancestry from him, then we too can number mighty Woden as our forefather. The honouring of our ancestors – personal ancestors, from near history, from far history, the Disir and the High Heroes of our folk – is an integral part of our Holy Religion and not to be neglected. Through a deeper spiritual connection with them we forge a stronger link with our eternal Folk and reinforce our awareness that we are an eternal part of Odin’s Holy Nation!