Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Spinning and Weaving in Myths and Magic

Weaving and spinning, once basic household tasks for every woman, have more links to magic, myth and lore than any other craft.

Nornir and Babies
In Northern European Mythology it was the Nornir that spun the Wyrd of Gods and Men (in this context, the word Wyrd is more accurately translated as 'doom' or 'death') and as such, there are many folk traditions concerned with ensuring a good fate for the child. Some even go as far as to keep the woman from all spinning and weaving activities so as not to inadvertantly affect the fate of the child in anyway. One custom practiced by Swedish women is particularly of note:

This belief led to rituals performed by Swedish women, who in the seventh month of pregnancy drew blood from their finger with a sewing needle, and used it to mark a strip of wood with protective symbols. Then she spun three lengths of linen thread, which were dyed red, black, and one left white. The wooden strip was burned, and its ashes mixed with mead or beer. A burning twig from the fire was used to burn apart seven inch lengths from each of the linen threads, which were then boiled in salted water and left to dry in the forest on the limb of a tree for three days. These were then wrapped in clean linen and saved until the day of birth. The white cord was used to tie off the umbilical cord of the newborn. The red was tied around the baby's wrist as a protective amulet, sometimes strung with a bead to repel the evil eye. And the black , symbolic of death and ill-luck, was burned to ash and the ashes buried. Often the afterbirth was buried beneath the tree on which the linen threads had dried.

For magical purposes, spindles were made out of different materials so as to add to the magical properties of the thread being spun. Some spindles have been found made of rock crystals and others, have been found made of amber and jet (otherwise known back then as black amber).

Battle Magic and Causing Death
Given the life and death importance linked to spinning, maybe it comes as no surprise that weaving, the usual goal of spinning was used in battle magic among the Northern Europeans. There are two very well known examples of weaving as battle magic to be found in the sagas. Perhaps the most famous is that of the Raven Banner which was described in the Orkneyingarsaga as:

One summer it happened that a Scottish earl called Finnleik challenged Sigurðr to fight him on a particular day at Skitten. Sigurðr's mother was a sorceress so he went to consult her, telling her that the odds against him were heavy, at least seven to one.

'Had I thought you might live forever,' she said, 'I'd have reared you in my wool-basket. But lifetimes are shaped by what will be, not by where you are. Now, take this banner. I've made it for you with all the skill I have, and my belief is this: that it will bring victory to the man it's carried before, but death to the one who carries it.' It was a finely made banner, very cleverly embroidered with the figure of a raven, and when the banner fluttered in the breeze, the raven seemed to be flying ahead.

Earl Sigurðr lost his temper at his mother's words. He got the support of the Orkney farmers by giving them back their land-rights, then set out for Skittern to confront Earl Finnleik. The two sides formed up, but the moment they clashed Sigurðr's standard-bearer was struck dead. The Earl told another man to pick up the banner but before long he'd been killed too. The Earl lost three standard bearers, but he won the battle and the farmers of Orkney got back their land rights.

Also in the Orkneyingarsaga is the account of a shirt that was woven with either poison or killing magic:

...the sisters pulled off their bonnets, tore their hair and said that if he put on the garment his life would be at risk. Though they were both in tears he didn't let that stop him, but no sooner was the garment upon his back than his flesh started to quiver and he began to suffer terrible agony. He had to go to bed and not long after that he died.

So fundamental is the connection between weaving, death and fate in this worldview that not only is weaving oft used as a metaphor for fate but it was also used as part of a description of Valkyries on the battlefield and their craft.

Blood rains from the cloudy web
On the broad loom of slaughter.
The web of man grey as armor
Is now being woven; the Valkyries
Will cross it with a crimson weft.

The warp is made of human entrails;
Human heads are used as heddle-weights;
The heddle rods are blood-wet spears;
The shafts are iron-bound and arrows are the shuttles.
With swords we will weave this web of battle.

The Valkyries go weaving with drawn swords,
Hild and Hjorthrimul, Sanngrid and Svipul.
Spears will shatter shields will splinter,
Swords will gnaw like wolves through armor.

Let us now wind the web of war
Which the young king once waged.
Let us advance and wade through the ranks,
Where friends of ours are exchanging blows.

Let us now wind the web of war
And then follow the king to battle
Gunn and Gondul can see there
The blood-spattered shields that guarded the king.

Let us now wind the web of war
Where the warrior banners are forging forward
Let his life not be taken;
Only the Valkyries can choose the slain.

Lands will be ruled by new peoples
Who once inhabited outlying headlands.
We pronounce a great king destined to die;
Now an earl is felled by spears.

The men of Ireland will suffer a grief
That will never grow old in the minds of men.
The web is now woven and the battlefield reddened;
The news of disaster will spread through lands.

It is horrible now to look around
As a blood-red cloud darkens the sky.
The heavens are stained with the blood of men,
As the Valyries sing their song.

We sang well victory songs
For the young king; hail to our singing!
Let him who listens to our Valkyrie song
Learn it well and tell it to others.

Let us ride our horses hard on bare backs,
With swords unsheathed away from here!

And then they tore the woven cloth from the loom and ripped it to pieces, each keeping the shred she held in her hands... The women mounted their horses and rode away, six to the south and six to the north.

Weaving was also used in protective and healing magic and there are two accounts of women weaving protective shirts for their loved ones.

Spinning, Weaving and the Law

During and after the conversion period, women were encouraged not to:

name other unfortunate persons either at the loom, or in dyeing, or in any kind of work with textiles
-Elgius of Noyon

While Corrector of Burchard of Worms, ca. 1010, set the following penance for magical weaving:

Have you been present at or consented to the vanities which women practice in their woollen work, in their weaving, who when they begin their weaving hope to be able to bring it about that with incantations and with their actions that the threads of the warp and the woof become so intertwined that unless someone makes use of these other diabolical counter-incantations, he will perish totally? If you have been present or consented, you must do penance for thirty days on bread and water


The soul and afterlife - Recon Heathen stylee
Here's something that's been buzzing around in my head a fair bit recently thanks to reading stuff by a certain Bil Linzie. The concept of non-dualism and the probability that the concept of soul (in the sense that contemporary culture be it secular or Heathen understands it) has absolutely bugger all to do with the actual Heathen worldview pre-conversion.

What do I mean by non-dualism in this sense? Well I'll leave it to Simek to explain because he does a much better job than me in his Dictionary of Northern European Mythology

'Detailed investigations since the beginning of the 20th Century have led to the insight that it is extremely unlikely, at least for the late heathen period, that the North-European peoples had a dualistic belief i.e distinct division between the decomposing body of the dead person and the further existence of his soul. The extant sources suggest that the concept was rather that of the 'living corpse' which lived on the gravemound. Although the saga literature(written 200-500 years after Christianization) is otherwise extremely unreliable for Heathen beliefs, these sources do show unanimity, particularly with regard to these concepts, so widely divergent from Christian thought. Admittedly they may be strongly influenced by the folklore of Mediaeval Iceland. Nevertheless, we may assume that the concept does indeed reflect Heathen beliefs.'

Now this sounds pretty horrendous, right?

Especially when you compare it with the other ideas about a Heathen afterlife flying around that are mostly all filled with more hope than the idea of going to rot in the earth with your ancestors(if it's a family mound) and gravegoods.

Then there's the question of just where does the Draugr come in? Well, it's obvious that not every corpse will become a Draugr and then there's always the Hamr to consider...but more about that further down.

According to Eric Christiansen there are 7 possiblities for the dead Heathen

1.Living with the Gods -a concept not seen until the 10th century and thought to have been brought in as a poetic device.
2. Valhalla -believed to have originally referred to as an actual physical place - a mountain where the dead were interred.
3. Hel -no kennings for Hel as a goddess of the land of the dead until the 10th and 11th centuries - definitely conversion era. However as Lindow points out in his Handbook of Northern Mythology "The place Hel (or the noun hel) originally probably just meant 'grave.'". Simek agrees with this saying that the word Hel was used for hundreds of years to refer to the gravemound.
4. Under the sea (with Ran)
5. An earthly land of the dead.
6 With the poor over the stream.
7. Reincarnation - There are some mentions of reincarnation in the Lay of Helgi Hundingsbani however there are no more in an entire corpus of literature. Also one has to consider the possible leakage of early Christian reincarnation belief into Northern European belief. The concept of 'Aftrborinn' would be the nearest thing in North European culture to reincarnation. Aftrborinn is the passing on of traits, qualities and in some cases duties to your offspring.

Out of all of the possibilities listed above, neither Christiansen or Simek are convinced that the Heathen worldview in pre-Christian times in terms of death went beyond the concepts of Hel or the gravemound.

Another thing that's pretty prevelent in modern Heathenry is the concept of the soul complex with its 9 soul parts. I'm yet to find any evidence or any mentions in any of the original sources that back up the idea that this concept is any older than 30 or so years.

Maybe you're wondering how someone with Seidhr leanings could buy into this...after all, I've sat mounds, I've had countless run ins with the dead and dealings with landvaettir and I have a habit of disappearing off through the worlds(or at least projecting my hamr or dreaming my way).

If anything a non-dualist belief clears up some of the confusion - it's also sort of reassuring in that you will always get back to your body because it cannot be separated from you. What is really going about would be your Hamr (skin) that you're projecting. I also don't see why the dead cannot project their Hamr in this way - as long as they're strong enough....maybe that's why ghosts are reported to fade over time? This kind of clears a lot of stuff up.

I'm having one of the most exciting headblags of my life....can you tell???

Poem transfered from LJ

The Birch Lady and the Wounded Patch
(just something I've been wanting to write about for a while)

There are eyes upon me
In this wood of mists
This wood of birch

I look around
Try to seek them out
My friend watches me

That's when I see her
Pale, slender and full of grace
She moves among the birches
And I follow

As fast as I dare
I run through the bracken
and rocks
To the birches where I saw her
Then I stop

A fleeting glimpse
And I'm chasing again

She leads me to birch
where three grow in a triangle
where branches hang with brooms
And the grass grows dark within

This is her place
I feel her once more as
I open myself to the forest
And bitter Yuletide cold

She's not happy about the people
That meet by the oak tree
So I promise her action
And no harm from me

The trees seem to relax
The winter seems less cold
As I make my way back up
To the wound tree

When we leave the woods, we're followed
Sometimes you see it and sometimes you don't
A large black hare that shifts in our wake.

A week later we come back
Our minds fixed on surprise attack

First we stop by
The birch lady's place
Make goodwill offerings
Of bread men, cider and cake

Then we wend our way
Up the twisted path
To the wounded tree
In its wounded patch

One by one I hammer them in
And my friend walks the ground
As I sing their runes
She carries incense around

I sing to cleanse
I sing of strength
I sing of fury and storms
I curse
I protect

Then comes the point
When the place is taken back
The forest swells up
Reabsorbs this wounded patch

This time we when leave
Nothing follows us on
As we make our way to seas of grass
And circles of ancient stone

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Weirdness - the fini

LOL Yet more unbelievable shit from Cat.

Today I went for a walk to take out the food and wine that I had put out in a kind of a mini Dumb Supper. My original aim was to walk to the Hain and that lovely clearing I found last week and then leave them somewhere private.

However what really happened was way cooler. I didn't even make it to the woods. I was walking along the canal bank below the court house and I noticed this raven hopping around. He spotted me and hopped off away from me and I stopped. Thinking I would try my luck and how perfect it would be to feed those offerings to a raven after the weirdness of Friday, I turned my MP3 player off and crouched down. I opened the bag of cake and the cheeky chappy looked interested. I threw some cake down a little distance away and waited. After looking at it and me for a few seconds, he hopped up and took it in his beak before hopping over to some grass and hiding it under a leaf. While he was doing that, I took the opportunity to sprinkle some crumbs a little closer to me. He came and started to eat and so I decided to pull out some more cake. This time, he took it from my hand and ate it. Some more people started to come along the canal bank and so he flew away. Thinking he was gone, I got up and started to leave. The people passed and so I went back. Crouching again, I pulled out my bag and started to make a clicking noise that I hoped would coax him out. I spoke to him in English and told him how beautiful he was and he came back. I fed him the rest of the bag and it was amazing. Ravens are such beautiful, intelligent and comical birds. At times I could have sworn he was laughing. I am so going to go back, this time with my camera, and try to get some pics of him because he really was a fine looking bird.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Halloween Weirdness

Being as I am from the landmass surrounded by water in Northern Europe known as Britain, there is often some crossover between beliefs and practices that are straight up Heathen, stuff that is Celtic and things that come from the folk traditions of my native area. I don't see this as a bad thing. Balances are important to me and so is the number three. For me, balancing between two things is when I go wrong, however balancing between three is fine. It's like the number three makes a lot of sense in my head.

Halloween is a time where all three of these factors in my practice come together. Winternights was celebrated earlier but that was in Iceland where things are colder faster in the year. By Halloween, the British Isles have usually seen some cold temperatures that signal the start of winter and so it often makes sense for me to celebrate that at the same time as Halloween.

I never do anything too crazy at Halloween in terms of ritual. Or at least that's not the aim. I rather like having a no-shit celebration and then getting to settle down and relax with a movie and a glass of wine or two. Usually I light some candles for dead family members and make offerings to the Gods and Disir. I also leave food and drink for them. When I have my own house, I will probably make a meal for my family and set a place for those that have passed before. There is something beautiful about the Dumb Supper. Slightly chilling but beautiful all the same.

Normally I don't get decked out in anything. The only reason I usually wear a costume is to scare kids that come trick or treating and that consists of a lot of black, a witches hat and a skull attached to a stick. That tends to do it!

This year was different though. I didn't get decked out in any special clothes but I felt really sort of like I had to put my raven feathers in my hair. I don't do that unless I am going to do some serious Seidhr. However this year, it was not so much an urge but a sense of not having a choice in the matter. So I did. I also put on my ritual amber necklace (never usually cracked out unless doing some crazies). Putting this stuff on was just bizarre. But once it was on, I thought to myself 'eeeh, Josh hasn't seen me like this before, I'll take some pics'. And so I did. I then got on with my blot and even though I felt the pull to do some Seidhr at the end, I stopped myself because I really wanted that movie night and Seidhr is something you cannot just do in five minutes. It takes some commitment in terms of time and potential shit scariness. Especially when it comes to dealing with the dead.

After the ritual, I took out the feathers and the amber and then checked the pics to see which to send to Josh. One photo really stood out. I need to give you a little backstory on this so you understand. During the time that I thought that Seidhr was all about trance journeying, I went on a journey. Like all of these journeys, they are pretty realistic to the person experiencing them. In this one, I came across Old One Eye and ended up being asked to sacrifice something in exchange for a gift. At this point, I felt this pain in my right eye, as if it was being ripped out. Being very wary of him, I told him I wanted time to think about it because I didn't trust him as far as I could throw him. He told me that he would allow me that but that I wouldn't have too long. 2-3 months later, on my way home from work for 3 days straight, I was met by two huge ravens(real ones) on the path to the bus stop (which is in the middle of nowhere). They would sit on the fence and let me get within 2 metres of them before flying across my path and leaving a feather in their wake. Ravens aren't rare in my area but crows are much more common and I was leaving work at different times of the day for those three days. I decided to take it that my time to decide was up. So I decided to say yes and see what happened. As soon as I agreed, I felt like I had the most horrendous pain in my right eye that lasted for about half an hour. Eventually it subsided and I went to go and look in the mirror. When I did, for a split second it looked like my right eye was gone.

All the trance journeys I did after that were only with one eye.

I don't do trance journeys really anymore. My idea of Seidhr has changed a hell of a lot. I'm not even sure how to regard the story above. My 3 raven feathers are still packed away at home in England and I get lots of irritation in my right eye before anything of significance happens in my life. And yet I really don't know what happened. I am also not adverse to thinking that I had some kind of delusion because quite frankly that is the better option to making a deal with One Eye.

So anyway back to the photos. I took two of them. One after the other, sitting in the same place. The first one is freaky. My right eye is messed up to fuck, the lighting is somehow different and quite frankly, I look at this picture and I know it is me but I see someone or something else there instead. I don't look like me. The second pic was taken seconds after and is completely different.

First picture:Photobucket
Second picture:Photobucket
So, what do you lot think? Something funky with whatever being? Subconscious Hamr distortion?