Polytheist meme, #2

Here’s the second question from Galina Krasskova’s polytheist meme:

2. What does your tradition do to increase the power and flow of blessings?

Heathen/Norse folks have a variety of strategies within our tradition to help community members out. Here are the ones I see most often (not listed in order of importance or frequency):

1. We pray. I.e., we tell the Gods what’s going on and explicitly ask for their help. I’ve always considered myself blessed to be part of a spiritual group that gets to hear the Gods talk back, in one way or another. (Rant warning: It never ceases to amaze me how a certain subset of Heathens have a knee-jerk reaction to anyone mentioning prayer. It’s quite possibly the most ludicrous attitude I’ve seen in Heathenry, and I’ve seen some doozies. Typically it’s the tough-guy, I’m-a-f*cking–Viking, we-don’t-bow-to-nobody types are the ones who have this reaction. Of course we pray, you dolts. What do you think we’re doing at a blot or sumbel when we honor the Gods, tell them what’s going on, and thank them for their help? Get rid of that Christian resentment crap already and get on with the business of being a Heathen. End rant.)

2. We galdr over people. When I think of galdr, I think of it as something we do as a community on someone’s behalf. That’s not the only way it is used, however; in fact, pretty much anything that involves using runes in magical context will likely be augmented with some gadring. Galdr is the ritual chanting of the runes with the express purpose of invoking their power–to heal, lend strength, draw something to you, whatever–also, historically, to cast “battle fetters” upon an enemy. (Isn’t “battle fetters” a cool term? I can just see a bunch of crazy Norse women standing directly behind the battle line, chanting and sending out negative woo against their enemies.)

3. We make bindrunes. Bindrunes are two or more runes, which, when combined, blend the energy of the runes involved. This is a very useful tool, as the runes often need to be used in conjunction with one another to narrow their focus to your specific need. They also concentrate the power of these runes and become a good focal point for your intent. There are a wide variety of theories as to how one should be created; to me, it makes most sense just to combine the runes to tailor them to your specific goal. Other people write out a word in runes and then combine those runes into one bindrune. (I’m not a fan of this approach because it looks messy, and it also seems to me to just be a Norse-ified version of numerology.) They can be drawn on objects or people, and as I stated above, are often combined with galdering. A common bindrune is this:

Screen Shot 2014-08-04 at 8.39.48 AM

This is Gebo (X) plus Ansuz (the thing that looks like an F with downward-angled diagonal lines). On a literal level, Gebo means “gift” or “exchange”, and Ansuz indicates breath, “the Gods”, or Odin specifically. So, the goal of this bindrune could be to ask the Gods to bestow luck (gifts) on the wearer.

You have to have a very clear intent while making bindrunes, imho. Aside from looking messy, even if you only put two runes into your bindrune, it will likely end up looking like every other bindrune in existence. People who see your bindrune will probably have this type of reaction: “So, er, this is two Raidhos put together, facing each other. You’ll be traveling soon, I take it?  Hmm, no, wait–it’s Othala plus Isa. Way to chill out the family drama over your grandparents’ will. Oh, it’s Tiwaz plus Gebo, you say? You’re going to court soon to get paid back for your share of the damages? My bad.” There’s only so many ways straight lines can combine.

Also, each rune covers a variety of (sometimes completely unrelated) concepts. For example, Uruz (upside-down, angular capital U) in the Icelandic rune poem is all about rain showers and ruined harvests. But the Norwegian Rune poem tells us this about Uruz: “Dross comes from bad iron; the reindeer often races over the frozen snow.” To which you can reasonably respond, WTF? Finally, the Anglo-Saxon rune poem gives us the definition that is the most commonly accepted interpretation nowadays–aurochs (extinct species of giant bovine)–great physical strength and endurance. So, do your research and be very clear about which meaning you’re aiming for. This is not a time to be sloppy with your magic or spell-casting.

4. We ingest the runes. Back in the day, this was done by inscribing the runes on some tree bark and then scraping that bark into your mead or food. Personally, I like to use baked goods for this purpose, inscribing runes into the dough. At feasts, sumbels, or blots, people often draw or galdr runes over food and then imbibe it.

5. We are hospitable. I’m not entirely sure if this fits within the scope of the question, but Old Norse and Germanic cultures (as well as many others) had very strict cultural norms around how to be a good guest and how to be a good host, and the consequences that would befall you if you fail at either. I think the reverse is also true; being the generous, good host will earn you the favor of the Gods, and they will give you blessings accordingly.

6 thoughts on “Polytheist meme, #2

  1. Hi Vicki, you can check out all that Odin has to say about it in the Havamal, which is a well-known and oft-quoted section of the Poetic Edda.There’s a good translation here if you’re interested: http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/havamal.html#wanderers

    Here are some of his main points:
    Hosts should:
    –Make sure their guest are given a place to warm up, are given food and drink freely, and be generous with whatever is its they have to share.

    Guest should:
    (after the section about checking to make sure no one in the hall is intending to ambush him–Viking age society and all that, you know)
    A guest should be cautious, aware, and observant. Guests shouldn’t drink too much, talk too much, be greedy, overstay their welcome, mock their hosts or other guests, be a know-it-all, or in general make an ass of themselves. Guests should think before they speak and be truthful. They should also be generous with whatever it is that they have to share.
    Sound advice in any age, in my opinion.

  2. Galdr is more than just intoning rune names. It’s a wider variety of sound/language based magic, including the use of certain kinds of poetry. There’s a poetic meter called Galdralog (I may be spelling that slightly wrong) which is specifically for that purpose, based on the manner of the repetitions, and I read some articles that talked about how it was considered rude (and this carries over into the patterns of speech in Nordic languages today, apparently) to repeat a syllable in short order, so if two adjacent words end and begin with the same syllable or consonant, it’s customary to only say that consonant once, effectively concatenating the two words into one word joined at that syllable.

    Fascinating tidbits all over, beyond the methods extrapolated by Ol’ Uncle Edred and his Ceremonialist spackle. I have nothing against intoning runes, of course, but the poetry and music aspects of Galdr interest me quite a bit more.


  3. Oops, I didn’t unpack the reason for the rudeness – it was presumed that such repetition of syllables indicated Galdr, and thus it was a potential attempt to enchant the listeners. Apparently they were very aware of the potential of rhythmic, repeating language to induce trance and persuade without logic, and were very wary of it.

    Mind you, I have no idea how accurate the articles I read *were* about the history of this phenomenon, but it did reinforce what I already had learned about Galdr with respect to repeating sounds and trance induction.


    • No worries, thanks for the extra information. There is, as you show, a lot more to any of the Nordic/Germanic magical practices than I gave here. But it’s a good place to start to think about what Heathens/Asatru/Norse types do when we talk about doing magic.

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