Category Archives: Heathenry

The Trouble with Trending Tricksters

By Tess O’Teric

The trickster archetype – and more specifically the god Loki – has cropped up a bit recently in popular culture. But should we be careful in how we treat and portray trickster gods, until we understand their context in a belief system?

In Norse mythology, Loki, Loptr, or Hveðrungr is a god or jötunn (or both). Loki is the son of Fárbauti and Laufey, and the brother of Helblindi and Býleistr. By the jötunn Angrboða, Loki is the father of Hel, the wolf Fenrir, and the world serpent Jörmungandr. By his wife Sigyn, Loki is the father of Narfi and/or Nari. By the stallion Svaðilfari, Loki is the mother—giving birth in the form of a mare—to the eight-legged horse Sleipnir. In addition, Loki is referred to as the father of Váli in the Prose Edda.

Loki’s relation with the gods varies by source. Loki sometimes assists the gods and sometimes causes problems for them. Loki is a shape shifter and in separate incidents he appears in the form of a salmon, mare, seal, a fly, and possibly an elderly woman. Loki’s positive relations with the gods end with his role in engineering the death of the god Baldr. Loki is eventually bound by the gods with the entrails of one of his sons.
(from Wikipedia)

Simply put, Loki is a god of the Norse pantheon. Most would describe him as a trickster or chaos god, or as the god of mischief. This flawed, sexually ambiguous deity has experienced a renaissance of sorts in recent years, with the rise of popular films like Thor and The Avengers, which depict the Marvel versions of the Norse pantheon, and of television series such as History Channel’s Vikings, in which the mischievous Viking boat-builder Floki is considered to be descended from Loki himself.

In Thor and The Avengers, the Marvel version of Loki is masterfully portrayed by Tom Hiddleston. Loki is the big bad antagonist in the first Thor film and in The Avengers, and then a supporting protagonist in Thor: The Dark World. And while loving this particular portrayal or the actor who pulled it off is perfectly OK, dropping everything and becoming not only a Loki worshipper but a Lokean godspouse without doing any further research/reading into the matter really isn’t.

A god-spouse, as anyakless puts it, is usually defined as “someone who has a longterm/lifetime intimate relationship with a deity that seems to somehow mirror human marriage (although there can be striking and important differences). This is usually a role officially acknowledged by the deity and confirmed by other members of your community in various ways.”

Now. This, in itself? Fine. How others experience the divine is ultimately none of my – or anyone else’s – business, and the various Norse traditions treat human/deity marriages so differently from one another that it’s not really for anyone to say that it is “wrong”, per se. However while there are plenty of arguments for and against godspousery, I don’t really see any merit in throwing yourself into something like this without doing your homework. This is not an anti-Lokean rant: this is me feeling incredulous and somewhat concerned at what has become a very strange situation. That is, that Lokeanism is “trending” just now, and in turn the definition of a Lokean has changed, too.

In the well-known post, 4 Reasons why Heathens Hate Lokean – by a Lokean, American Heathen blogger Sacred Iceland pointed out that “…about 75% of self-proclaimed Lokeans are now also coincidentally his ‘god-spouse’.”

“…in most cases it has been very difficult for me to identify what the purpose of these unions are, outside of serving the spouse’s own ego and giving them full right to shamelessly indulge in their wet dreams about Tom Hiddl- er… I mean Loki. I don’t mean to discriminate against lonely young women by observing that most recent Loki spouses tend to be lonely young women, but really, I have to call a spade a spade; and it seems that their formula for becoming a Loki spouse was:

1. Saw the Thor movie.

2. Thought Loki was hot.

3. Read online that you can marry Loki and there’s a community of people that take it seriously.

4. Has “vision” where Loki tells them to marry them immediately afterwards

5. Marries Loki.

6. Makes a new Tumblr account in honor of the event.”
(From the Sacred Iceland blog)

 

Before anyone mentions it in the comments section, yep, there are plenty of witches in their thirties, forties and fifties out there now who started out as newbies who loved Buffy: the Vampire Slayer, The Craft or even Charmed. But for the most part, schlock like this was just an overly tacky springboard: these fangirls and fanboys, for the most part, went on to investigate, to read, to seek and to learn. This meant they could then make informed decisions about what path (if any) was right for them. I just hope that brand new Lokeans do the same. The Norse traditions are rich with stories and customs, and to limit your understanding of these to what you have seen in a few movies really is selling yourself short.

 

Further reading:

4 Reasons Heathens Hate Lokeans: by a Lokean – Sacred Iceland

4 Real Reasons Heathens Hate Lokeans: by a Lokean – Reading Heathenism

Ask a Godspouse – Fruit of Pain

Discernment for Godspouses – the Forest Door

Lokean Godspouses: Disbelief and Explanation – Myrkr’s Blog

We Can Learn A Lot from Things that Annoy Us, or what I figured out about the proliferation of Loki’s wives online – Sex, Gods and Rock Stars

 

 

 

 

 

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Hail to Sumbel!

mead-horns

Heathenry in Victoria and Australia is a growing practice, a fellowship that is increasing in knowledge and numbers. Ásatrú and Odinism are a part of a growing community, descendents of Scandinavian countries within Australia are bringing back the worship and reverence of the Norse Gods; often times, it has been inspired by Tolkien. One thing about being Heathen in Victoria, you actually have the pleasure of living in a landscape that feels the colder temperatures similar to Northern Europe. That’s a good excuse to wear the right clothes, a woollen tunic or dress, cloak and hood, and hold your bonfire rite in a pine forest.

Yule is to be celebrated in the Northern Hemisphere in the next two weeks, and for some Heathens, sumbel will be celebrated.

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Jotun’s Bane Kindred, Kansas City

Sumbel (also symbel, or sumbal) was a holy ritual conducted during a blót, a feast or meal by the Norse people in days of old. Sumbel is toasting with a drinking horn – often carried out at the end of a ritual or feast. A drinking horn filled with alcohol – usually mead, but whatever you want, is passed around the room clockwise. It was more solemn than average drinking. Each person choosing to be involved in sumbel will drink and toast in three rounds. These rounds can vary per gathering, desires, and needs. Headed by the Gothi (goði) or Gythia (gyðja) – the holy people – gothi being a priest, and gythia a priestess, the horn is passed around three times each with a different toast.

Often the rounds consist of:

  1. Round 1: To the Gods and/or the Goddesses
  2. Round 2: To the ancestors and/or a personal hero
  3. Round 3: For an Oath, Boast or Toast

1: To toast to the Gods and Goddesses, or the Æsir, you will be raising the horn to whichever God or Goddess sits in your favour at that time. Perhaps you have felt their presence in your life, or you feel an affiliation with them, and wish to thank them. Give your reasons within your speech as to why you speak of them. If you do not like the alcohol, simply pour some onto the ground, the fire, a blessing bowl or anoint your forehead with the ale. Finish your speech with ‘Hail’ and all those in the room will echo you, it’s like an ‘over and out’ sign off of your speech..

raise-a-horn-and-hail-odin

2: Toasting to your ancestors or personal heroes – you must give reasons why you toast to them, why they are your heroes at the time. Make sure your individuals are deceased, it is believed to be ill luck to toast an ancestor not yet dead. You may even want to tell a short tale about that hero, a tale that inspires and instils motivation within you, something that might make sense or imitate your life at that moment. Again, finish you speech with a ‘Hail.’

drinking-horn1

3: In this final round, you will raise the horn in an Oath, Boast or Toast. You may choose one, two or all of these three toasts:

Oath: You may make an oath to do something or improve on something, but be prepared for it to be taken very seriously. Never make an oath on anything you do not expect to be able to complete, the Gods would not want you to be hard on yourself.*

Boast: You may boast about something you have achieved recently, something that you are proud of yourself for.

Toast: You may toast anything or anyone that has brought you happiness in whatever form and has improved your life or well-being, or toast the hosts of the feast and ritual or the attendees.

Don’t forget to say ‘Hail!’

The people present at the feast will listen to your oath and take note of it, as sumbel is a powerful and emotional ritual, you will want to be honest and true to yourself – this oath will be a powerful sacrament – words are very strong, the Æsir are present, and your loved ones and ancestors are there listening. You must be honourable to yourself, so make sure your oath has meaning
to you, and you are capable of implementation.

*Attending sumbel can be quite revealing, you will hear a lot of personal feelings being expressed, have respect for what they say. You may feel the compulsion to reveal much yourself during your toasts, so be prepared to be conveying personal moods and emotions. It is a time of honesty and you will be in a space where people trust each other.

You can choose not to do all of these three things – when you receive the horn, you may simply raise the horn to the Gods, take a drink and pass it on. You are not under any obligation to say anything at all, if you are not comfortable. Some people may not have a God or ancestor to toast to, but they may have an oath or a boast to say. If the horn begins to get quite empty when it reaches you, inform the host or goðar of it and it will be refilled and be blessed by the remaining liquid. Sumbel may end at any time, when those conducting it are ready – may be when the horn is finally drained, all things are said, or the ritual feels to be ending. Sumbel is an open ritual, all people are able to come and go as they please, although the ritual does have a beginning and an end.

Sumbel is NOT a pastime for getting drunk. It is a solemn and serious affair that deserves respect and honour. Those seriously attending sumbel will not want disrespect from heavy drinkers, and may ask those disrespecting it to leave.

Make sure the tip of the horn points down ‘Point down and you won’t drown.’  If the point of the horn is pointing towards the ceiling as you drink, you might find yourself wet with drink, as it will gush out at you rather fast, which can be quite embarrassing. If you can, when you know sumbel is going to be conducted, have a think about what you will say. There is nothing like feeling bad if you have forgotten to say something, even though you should not stress. Often other people’s toasts will remind you to say something when it is your turn. Also do not get too upset if you spill your drink or choke and think it is a bad omen. It will not be, have faith, and you will be satisfied with the sumbel.

viking_med_drikkehorn_0

Make sure the horn points down, or the ale will gush at you very fast. You will be drowned.

Sumbel at Yule

I have attended Sumbel during Yule time, but there is no specific time of the year where it must be done. Our Sumbel was different to the plan above – it consisted of three rounds, but they were only the final round as mentioned above – our first round was a boast to the 12 months past, the second round was an oath made for the 12 months ahead, and our third round was a toast to whatever we wanted. With the dozen or so people in the room, the three rounds went for long enough, you would not want to do any more than that, people often got restless or left early. The final round mentioned in the above list, suggests that you do the oath, or the boast, or the toast, or all three in the same round, saving time.

asatru-man%20drinks

If you do sumbel once a year at Yule for example, your boast the next time can be a result of the oath you took the previous year, and whether you have honestly fulfilled that oath. An oath in turn becomes a boast the following year. It can be a cycle, if you tend to this ritual annually, and can be very satisfactory.

One person at our Yule doing a boast, said they had not much to boast about, when another member spoke up about how that person just became a grandparent, and should not be so modest. If you are modest, people may pull you up for it and request that you be proud of what you have achieved.

a-drinking-horn-300x200

Quaffing will just waste ale. Please take it easy while drinking. Note that the horn tip points up. Not good.

Sumbel in non-Heathen rites

You may not be Heathen, you may not have a drinking horn, but you can still invent your own sumbel ritual. You can use a goblet, toast to your preferred Gods, do three rounds or only one. You could conduct it at dawn, during a rite on midsummer, or during the Celtic New Year at Samhain if you choose. You can use the Strega drink instead. You can do anything! I know people (and I have done this myself on occasions) who conduct a small sumbel during New Year’s Eve instead of getting drunk and wildly partying. They have a relaxing night, and use the midnight celebration to reflect on their past year and plan for the coming one.

You can involve the kids in your sumbel, it can be kid friendly (no alcohol, for example). Kids have boasts and goals as well, you can teach them to set goals this way, and be proud of what they have done.

Sumbel can be become quite a poignant occasion for some people, especially when they make it an annual event. However you chose to conduct it is your own choice, but do not be afraid to make a ritual of it and understand that the Gods and Ancestors will hear you.

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The Importance of Going Outside

I try very, very hard not to get hoity-toity. Not to get cranky and snobbish towards “city” pagans. It’s important to respect that everyone is on their own path.

Sometimes I have to try harder than usual.

Like the time that, not long ago, I met a witch at a large pagan event in a forest. A high priestess, no less. She and her coven were lovely people, and I could’ve sat and spoken to them all night, had I not gotten so upset (not to mention outright worried) after one of our first exchanges.

It went something like this:

Galloway: Anyway, it was great to meet you. Have you been to (this event) before?
High Priestess: No, it’s my first time. I’ve never even camped before! (The coven) don’t really do outdoor rituals. I’m what you’d call an urban pagan.
G: …
HPS: …Yeah, I’m not big on outdoors. <She motions to a copse of pine trees nestled among the eucalypts>. So… Are they natives? Or are they pine trees?
G: <dies inside>.

Most pagan writers, particularly those who write books on Wicca, will agree with Ms HPS.

In his perennially popular Complete Book of Witchcraft (aka “Big Blue“), Father of American Witchcraft Raymond Buckland weighs in on this issue:

Although many Witches meet, and work, outdoors – perhaps in the corner of a field or in a clearing in the wood – it is not always possible for everyone to do that. Many live in cities and towns and are unable to get out into direct conact with the Earth. This does not mean they cannot function. Your temple can be an indoor or outdoor one.
(Buckland, Raymond [1986]. Buckland’s Complete Book of Witchcraft. Llewellyn Publications, Minnesota, USA. p28.)

Sure. An indoor altar/temple works really, really well for day to day practices/blessings. But I tend to disagree after this point. Paganism, after all, is an umbrella term for an ever-increasing number of nature religions. Now, I may be missing something here, but if you are a nature worshipper wouldn’t that mean you would actually have to spend some time with nature?

English Ale, South Australia, 2012

No, this is not a call for each and every remotely pagan-ish person to strip off and disappear into the bush. I am not anti-indoors, or anti-modern age. The internet, especially, has kept pagan folk connected through online discussion groups, forums, mailing lists and so on. More and more people are using Facebook to publicise their pagan events, and countless others run online pagan stores for books, supplies, clothing… you name it.

As funny as we find this, we have met many Witches afraid of dirt and stains…

But what many – including Ms HPS – seem to be forgetting is that, behind all the panne velvet, cheap jewellery and silly names, pagans are nature-worshippers. Or at least they should be.

For me, this means some aspect of their practice should be outside, even if it’s once every now and then. Like Bucky says, circumstances don’t always allow for a full-blown outdoor ritual. I have heard of a couple of surprisingly poignant lounge-room rituals, and some of my favourite footage of the likes of Janet and Stewart Farrar and others shows even they performed indoor rituals from time to time. But unless there is absolutely no alternative, it is important to make an effort when and where you can.


Make an effort to cover modern appliances, regardless of how retro-chic they may be.

Increasingly, the indoor/outdoor debate is becoming a real “wheat from the chaff” exercise for me. I am inclined to agree that the modern pagan has become quite “outdoor phobic”. If you never leave your loungeroom, if you never sit in the sun or wind the windows down in your car, if you make excuses about it being too hot/cold, if you see no power in the still that comes just before a ritual outside on a windy night… Well, perhaps you need to re-assess why you have chosen this spiritual path.

I work hard at not being hoity-toity. I still think city covens are fine, as are city pagans. I just think it is important that they embrace the country and the outdoors from time to time, rather than avoid it at all costs.

– Galloway.

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