Sunday, 29 January 2012

B is for Baldr the Beautiful

Baldr the Beautiful is an interesting god to me as he seems to hark to an older shamanic tradition, as do many of the Germanic myths and deities.

Baldr is the second son of Odin. He is the most beautiful and wisest of all the gods.the Prose Edda states:
"There is nothing but good to be told of him. He is the best of him. He is the best of them (the gods)and everyone sings his praises. He is so fair of face and bright that a splendour radiates from him, and there is one flower so white that it is likened to Baldr's brow; it is the whitest of flowers from that you can tell how beautiful his body is and how bright his hair. He is the wisest of the gods and the sweetest spoken, and the most merciful, but it is a characteristic of his that once he has pronounced a judgement it can never be altered. He lives in a place in heaven called Breithablik; nothing impure can be there..."

The story of Baldr contains some interesting elements.

Baldr had been having some terrible dreams about his death. As he was so precious to the gods, the Aesir decided to seek protection for him. Odin journeyed to the other world to discover the reason for Baldr's dreams. There, he awakens a Volva (prophetess, seeress) from the dead who told him about his death. To prevent this, Frigga
made sure he was protected against fire, water, metals, iron, stones, earth, trees, ailments, beasts, birds, poison, serpents... everything except mistletoe as they didn't think it important enough because there was only one small young bush. Loki, as ever the mischief-maker, took a piece of the mistletoe and went to the assembly where, bizarrely the other gods had taken to playing the game of trying to kill Baldr by a variety of means, knowing they couldn't. Only one god, the blind Hodur, wasn't joining in. Like gave him the mistletoe and directed him to throw it, which he did. The dart went through him and Baldr fell down dead. The Aesir were grief-stricken. As Baldr hadn't died in battle he was taken to Hel's realm.

Baldr's body was cremated on a funeral ship which was launched to sea. Many gods, goddesses, giants and nature spirits attended the ceremony to honour the much-loved god. As Baldr lay on the funeral pyre Odin whispered a secret in his son's ear and gave him Draupnir, his ring of power. It was said that Baldr's wife, Nanna, accompanied him into death.

At the request of the gods, Hermod, volunteered to go to Helheim to get him back. Hel said that if everyone in the world wept for Baldr he could return. However, a giantess, Thokk, thought to have been Loki (once again)in disguise, refused to weep, so Baldr was condemned to stay in Helheim. Later, Loki was punished for eternity for this. The Voluspa, another ancient Heathen text, states that after Ragnarok ( the story of the end of the world) Baldr will return to the earth and reign in a new, green fertile land. "A new world will rise, fruitful and green and Hodur and Baldr will dwell again in Valhalla's sacred Walls."

This story contains aspects of shamanic journeying and necromancy. So it hearkens back to earlier pagan beliefs. Baldr travelled to live in Hel's realm. Hermod underwent a journey to the otherworld to ask for his return. Odin woke a prophetess from the dead. Loki changed into a variety of animals and beasts when he was trying to escape the wrath of the gods. There is no reference to a cult of Baldr (though that's not to say there isn't one as only this week evidence of a cult of Ullr has been discovered by archaeologists)though there is evidence of Baldr in songs and sagas. Baldr's death contains elements of the death and resurrection theme and provides reminders of shamanic initiation journeys to the land of the dead that many ancient cultures believed in. The presence of mistletoe provides reminders of vegetation cults. Some (eg Rudolph Steiner) see Baldr's death by Hodur's blindness signifies the loss of spiritual seers ip among Nordic-Germanic peoples.

No matter what is believed, to me it shows that the sagas and myths of the Germanic-Nordic people are not just medieval constructs. They contain much earlier pre-christian beliefs that couldn't be wiped out by the incoming Christian converters and even when written down by Christians like Snorri, the memories of the reality of the shamanic tradition and beliefs are still there. Those memories can't be eradicated. It also shows that there are some people, like Baldr, who are so precious that those who love them want to hold onto them beyond death and that this beauty even survives death. Even the gods feel the deep love for special beings.

Friday, 20 January 2012

B is for Berkano and Bindrune

Berkano is the eighteenth rune in the Elder Futhark and the third tree rune. It looks like a capital letter B with points or two triangles on their sides. It is seen as deriving from an archaic name for birch tree, which is reflected in the ancient poems, though the Anglo Saxon rune poem also refers to it as the poplar.
"Poplar/birch bears no fruit, bears without seed
suckers, for from its leaves it's generated.
Splendid are its branches, gloriously adorned
its lofty crown, lifting to the sky."

Both the Icelandic and Norwegian poems refer to it as birch: "leafy birch" and "greenest-leaved of branches".

The "Sigdrifumal" refers to Berkano as the healing rune.
"Branch-runes you must learn if you want to heal
And know how to treat wounds.
Cut them on the bark of forest trees
Whose branches bend eastward."

Birch is used quite a lot as a herbal oil as an antiseptic or for sore muscles, as a gargle for sore mouth and as a tea to calm nerves and induce sleep. It is useful in pain relief. In Holland a liquid is also used on the scalp against baldness!

Berkano is seen by some (Thorsson, Gundarsson) as the rune of the Earth Mother in her bright aspect as Nerthus and her dark aspect as Hella, as it's dual shape represents a pregnant belly with breasts. According to Thorsson it reveals the mystery of the perpetual cycle of birth, death and rebirth from the womb of the goddess. Gundarsson says Berkano is "the rune of the earth who receives the sacrifice/seed and holds it within herself, guarding and nourishing it until the time has come for it to return to the worlds outside again."

Berkano guards mothers and children, so because of this it can also be seen as the rune of Frigg/Frigga, the most motherly of the Northern goddesses.

In readings and divination it is a rune that turns up at significant passages in life. It indicates birth and becoming, the feminine, the "bringing into being". It is useful in fertility magic and women's mysteries. It is a rune of birth and suggests success for new enterprises or something beginning.

Berkano can be used on its own as a magical tool, through writing, chanting, standing the rune and journeying with the rune into the other worlds. But it can also be used effectively in bind rune magic. This is where a number of runes are written and overlaid to form different patterns that contain the runes. Berkano can initiate the power of the othe runes.

When I was starting out as a pagan I often tried out different kinds of magic, such as candle or crystal magic, as many people have. When I became a heathen I was sometimes disappointed to hear that some heathens don't practise magic. But when I discovered the heathen shamanic path of seidr I was really happy to discover a form of magic I could use which was really powerful and that is rune magic. When I write and sing and stand the runes the power is tangible, running throughout my body, into the earth and into the other realms. Rune magic is very very effective. If you want to give it a go Berkano is a good rune to start with as it is the rune of beginnings. Beginnings of new paths, new knowledge and new powerful magic.

Berkano is an ideal rune for the Pagan Blog project as so many people writing and reading these blogs will find many new beginnings which will change the course of their lives.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

A is for Ansuz.

Ansuz is the fifth of the rune in both the the younger and elder Futharks and in the Anglo Saxon runes. It is probably the most powerful mind rune of all. It is the rune of Odin, the All Father and you can use thisnrune to connect to him to ask for the wisdom of the runes and spiritual and shamanic knowledge. The word Ansuz or As or Os, depending on the tradition, means god or mouth. It is a great rune for writers, like all of us who write blogs, and all creative people.

Ansuz represents consciousness, wisdom, knowledge, speech, poetry and shamanic wisdom.

The Anglo Saxon rune poem says "As is the chieftain of all speech, mainstay of wisdom, comfort to wise ones for evey noble earl hope and happiness.".

Ansuz can be chanted, inscribed or projected to stimulate eloquence and mental activity or to deepen spiritual communication. I often write the runes in the air while chanting them and feel the energy of the rune coming into me. You can also draw the runes over another person like some people do with Reiki symbols, though I find the runes more powerful.

With my hearth we often stand in a circle and stand the shapes of the runes. With Ansuz you stand sideways with both arms pointing downwards. We chant the sound of the runes and send the energy round the circle. So so powerful.

A is also for Ancestors. In heathenry the acknowledgement of the importance of ancestor
spirits in our lives is one of the main parts of our tradition. When we strata ritual or open a circle we welcome the "ancestors that dwell deep in Helheim" the realm of Hela, the guardian goddess of the dead. They walk with us always, particularly our Kin Fylgja, the ancestor who guides us when we journey to the other worlds.

I love being a heathen!

Friday, 6 January 2012

A is for ...

To start 2012 I will attempt to keep to the Pagan Blog project rules of working through the alphabet each week. So A. Many heathens consider themselves as adherents of Asatru, particularly in the US. But I just consider myself as a heathen. I honour all the gods and goddesses, the Aesir and the Vanir and the other and older gads whose names are long forgotten, I practise Seidr, Northern European shamanism. I belong to a hearth. We drum, journey to the nine worlds, chant the runes, do rune magic and divination (galdr) stand the shape of the runes (stadrgaldr) and welcome the gods, goddesses, ancestors and wights of the land. My resolution for this coming year is to do more, to make more of a connection with the gods and goddesses of the northern tribes and to landscape upon which I currently live. I love my path. I look forward to sharing this journey.