Monday, April 18, 2011

More on Gandr and the bare basics of Heathenry (IMO)

In my previous post, I talked about the gandr/gandus as being something akin to the hamr as opposed to being some kind of spirit helper in the neo-shamanic sense. Well, a rereading of Eldar Heid's paper 'Spinning Seidr' has shown me that I wasn't too far off the mark in this assessment. He however, most excitingly for me, links the gandr to spinning too!

My studies on gandr have been a gateway to this view. In several sources, gandr is a designation of such a mind-in-shape emissary that the seiðr performer could send forth. This is evident in the description of the Saami noaidi séance in Historia Norwegie (60–63), and is the most reasonable interpretation also in Fóstbrœðra saga (243), Þiðriks saga (303–04) and Þorsteins þáttr bœjarmagns (76). Several of the early eighteenth-century sources for Saami religion also support this view (Heide 2002:77ff). The word gandr is still in use in Norwegian and Icelandic, and modern Icelandic also has retained the derivative gondull, as göndull. Some of the meanings of these words connect them with spinning. In Modern Icelandic, göndull may mean ‘coarse yarn’ and other twisted items (Sigfús Blöndal 920:282). Gand in modern Northern Norwegian may mean ‘spinning top propelled by a string’ (Aasen 873:207), which closely resembles a spindle twirling on the floor (using a certain spinning technique). These or related meanings of gandr/gand and g ̨ndull/göndull probably existed in Old Norse, as there was not much contact between Northern Norway and Iceland after the Middle Ages.If so, the “spinning” or “twisting” meanings of gand/göndull suggest that the mind emissary that the seiðr performer could send forth could be conceived as something spun or spinning.

Source: Spinning Seidr

So yet again, we're back to spinning. It's perhaps worth noting that the type of spinning in this instance is the supported spindle, in which the spindle, rather than left to drop, is set spinning on a surface while the spinner drafts and spins the fibers before winding. Perhaps this link between the spindle touching the floor/earth and the act of turning creation of a 'mind emissary' is significant? This also makes me wonder if any of the current spinning supersitions about spinning clockwise or anticlockwise were known/had their roots in earlier magical practice involving spinning.

On another note, a friend of mine has recently decided that she's now a Heathen and this got me thinking about what I consider to be the basics and my personal golden rules of Heathenry.

For me, the Heathen worldview boils down to a few, very easy to understand key concepts.


Firstly, the most important concept is that the Heathen worldview is WORLD-ACCEPTING. This can be quite difficult for us when we first become Heathens, because we generally grow up within world-rejecting religions, in which adherents are taught that salvation exists outside of the physical world. The physical world is bad and 'sinful'. Adherents are taught to care more about their souls than their physical bodies and more about what happens post-mortem than what happens in life.

In a world-accepting worldview, the here, the now and the mundane are what is important.In fact, there is no separation between mundane and 'spiritual'. We live in the now and we *cherish* our days on Midgard. From another POV, nothing is ever truly supernatural either. Everything is a part of this world, some things just happen to be largely unseen. All the same, it's natural and all fits into the hierarchy as we do. As an interesting sidenote - door courts used to be called to banish hauntings. The dead were considered to be under the rule of law just as much as the living lol.

Then there are the concepts of of innangard vs utangard, or in plain English, 'inner-yard' and 'outer-yard'. But what do we mean by these?

Basically, on a human level, your 'inner-yard' is your kith and kin. Those that you would bleed for and who would bleed for you. Their falls and failures hurt you and vice versa. The 'outer-yard' is basically everyone else. You have obligations to your inner-yard, to defend and do your best by, but absolutely none to the outer-yard, unless you choose to.

On a religious level, the inner-yard/outer-yard dichotomy can also be applied to religion itself. 'Religion' as a word and concept did not exist in Germanic languages before Christianity came. The word, 'Religion', is itself a loan word from Latin. There are no Germanic cognates. But what we do have are words referring to tribal custom (these words are Thew/Thau and Ewa) and that is entirely the point. There never was one, unified Heathenism. But many, as different and varied as the communities that practiced them. Yes, there were commonalities, but a person's 'religion' was basically the custom of his or her people/tribal group/community.

On another level, the 'inner-yard'/'outer-yard can refer to the cultivated land/human places vs the wild/liminal places. Neo-Paganism has the natural world as some kind of loving, non-harmful environment, full of beings that are just waiting to be your friend as you dance gaily through the fields while wearing green and being all floaty and spiritual. Nature isn't like that, nature can also harm and any cursory glance at folklore can tell you that not all beings that could be come across out there, are friendly (incidentally enough, in a few folktales, when people are being pursued by unfriendly beings from the wild, just the act of crossing back onto cultivated land can be enough to shake the pursuit).

Lastly, you have the importance of reciprocal relationships. The most succinct and beautiful expression of this concept that I've found is the phrase said at rituals at ECT (East Coast Thing):

From the Gods, to the Earth, to us. From us, to the Earth, to the Gods.

Ok, so it's not perfect in its explanation, but it's very, very poignant. Basically, as I mentioned in the part about world acceptance, we and the animals that can be seen are not the only things on this earth. As well as us, there are the wights (land-spirits) and the Gods. The wights can be like our neighbours, or people that we share our homes and land with. If we keep them happy, they'll keep us happy. We might find that nicer things happen to us, that plants grow well on our land and that we have happy homes to live in. If we don't, well...The wights are more immediate to us, as are our ancestors. On a day to day basis, the wights and ancestors are the unseen that Heathens interact with the most (be it an offering of a cup of ale, flowers, homemade bread etc). It's much rarer to go to the Gods (or at least it *should* be) and generally we go as a community.

If we ask for things, we have to pay for them. As the Havamal says, 'a gift deserves a gift'. And it'd better be a good enough gift for what you're asking too!

I've tried reading some of the Heathenry 101 books that are on the market, and the one thing that strikes me every time I pick one of these books up is just how much they complicate Heathenry. It's crazy!

When I first came to Heathenry, I spent much of my time being very, very confused by various explanations of different concepts that, in the end, on deeper examination, didn't really have anything to do with Heathenry in any kind of a historical sense. Reconstructionism has been a sanity saver for me. Concepts like 'the soul complex' or conflated ideas of wyrd and orlog do nothing to help the beginner and yet they're to be found in every, single Heathen 101 book.

This brings me to my two, personal, golden rules of Heathenry:

* Very few concepts are fixed. Heathenry is still in a state of flux and we're all still just trying to figure it out. What's accepted as a theory now, might not be in a few years.

* When you get down to it, what we *know* of historical Heathenry is often devastatingly beautiful in its simplicity. In other words, if a concept is too complex, the chances are that it's probably a new-age invention.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I actually really agree with your little description of Heathenry. It doesn't have to be all complicated and difficult ideas like wyrd don't have to be the first things people learn. Wyrd makes a lot more sense to me now that I've just lived a few years with the world accepting framework and reciprocity and all the rest. After all that just seems to be the natural order of things, ideas like wyrd make sense without requiring an entire chapter of complicated language to exlain them.

Thanks for posting this.