Tuesday, 27 March 2012

F is for FYLGJA

Last week I had an email from a Wiccan friend asking me whether the heathen 'Fylgja' is similar to the 'Fetch'. Not really knowing what a Fetch is but knowing about the Fylgja, I did some research into the difference.

It seems some people (who know what the word Fylgja is!) are under the misconception that the Fylgja is the same as a 'power animal' which you find in other shamanic traditions, or like the 'fetch' in the Wicca tradition. In heathenry we can acquire any number of animal helpers ('Deor helpan' in Old English) but the Fylgja is different. It is " a transpersonal aspect of the self" ("A Book of Seidr", Runic John, Capall Bann Publishers, 2004). This means that while being part of us, it is also an individual being with its own personality. Some say that the Fylgja has 3 aspects: a human of the opposite gender, a shape and an animal. I'm not sure if this is the case, as I've only ever worked with the animal aspect.

So to me the Fylgja is an animal that is part of us but also acts as an individual being. It could be seen as our 'guardian animal' Runic John also writes of it as "the primal aspect of our deepest self, existing as a transpersonal being that expresses our most innate and primal animal personality."

The Fygja expresses our animal nature, the wild subconscious part of our inner self, like when people are described as "being strong as an ox" or "cunning as a fox". This could be seen as a deeper truth that might be a manifestation of our Fylgja.

The Fylgja can be any animal type. You might find yourself having a particular liking for an animal without explanation or have certain traits (cats for me all the way!).

It is our Fylgja that often acts as our second sense, warning us of dangers ahead. It can help us on our inner journeys by acting as a guide through the otherworld and sometimes as a guardian.

In the Otherworld we can shape shift into the shape of our Fylgja to travel in its form in the otherworld or we can send it to perform some particular task. The Fylgja may also be left to protect and guide our body when we journey.

To meet our Fylgja we need to prepare to journey shamanically To meet it,maybe by contemplating it for a few days before. Find a comfortable space where you won't be disturbed. Spend some time contemplating your journey. Ask your Fylgja either out loud or silently to meet you in the otherworld. Your Fylgja might appear immediately or you might need some time searching it out. Call for it to appear and search around until you find it and make contact.

When you find your Fylgja greet it with joy and thank it for appearing. Ask it if it has a name and wait for a response. Ask if there's anything it wants to tell you and tell it that you would like to spend time with it and work with it in your shamanic or magical practice.

When you are ready to return tell the Fylgja and say you'll take it with you. If you receive a positive response and if so list the Fylgja to your chest and see if it merges with your body.

When you return you could dance the power of the Fylgja to bring it alive here on this plane through the movement of your body.

A very powerful and special ally indeed both in this world and the otherworld. My Fylgja is me. I am my Fylgja.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

FULLA - The Sister, Bringer of Abundance and Fertility

In Snorri's "Prose Edda" he list twelve attendants to Frigg/a who live with her in her hall, Fensalir.
Frigga is called first among the asynjur (the goddesses). She is the All-Mother (to contrast with Odin's All-Father) overseeing her attendant goddesses. These twelve lesser goddesses who attend her at Fensalir are seen by some as aspects of Frigga, so not individual beings, who represent the moons.
They can in fact be viewed either as separate figures or as hypostases, or aspects of the goddess Herself– personae which she adopts in order to play a more active role. As a polytheist, I see all the twelve goddesses as separate individuals, with their own personalities, roles and life cycles.

In the list of goddesses Fulla is described as the fifth, although one of the most important and having the closest relationship with Frigga, hence the word Sister, which Alice Karlsdottir names her in her "Magic of the Norse Goddesses".  Her name means "full" - usually taken to mean fullness or abundance.

Fulla is seen in several myths as one of the goddesses seated as judges in the high seats in the great halls of Asgard. Fulla often appears as a goddess of rank and stature and is names among the lawgivers in the 'Skaldskaparmal'. She seems to be a favoured and constant companion of Frigg. In the "Second Meresburn Charm", Fulla (Volla) is called the Sister of Frigg.

Jakob Grimm suggests that Fulla might have been linked to the full moon, because her name is similar to the Gothic word 'fullips' and the Lithuanian Pilnatis - and because Frigg is often connected with the constellation of Orion. This is interesting as in the heathen tradition the moon is often seen as a male deity.

Fulla is described as a beautiful maiden wearing her long golden hair loose, restrained only by a golden band, circlet or snood. The unbound hair will probably be a sign that Fulla is unmarried in old Norse society and the golden circlet a sign of nobility. Karlsdottir likens her long flowing hair to that of Sif and says the band could link her to the binding of the harvested sheaf, so it is possible Fulla represents the fullness and bounty of the earth.

Grimm compares her to the German fertility figure, Dame Habonde or Abundia.

Fulla's primary role seems to be as Frigg's main companion, confidante and advisor.  Fulla has custody of the Queen of the Aesir's ashen casket, which mythologically (according to Karlsdottir again) could symbolise the container of "the divine mother's blessings, prosperity and fertility" and Fulla would be the one in charge of preserving this power until Frigg is ready to dispense it.

In the Grimnismal in the Elder Edda, Fulla is used by Frigg to pass on some misinformation in order to confuse the king, Geirrod, as Odin had been taunting Frigg over Geirrod, thus leading him to have favours revoked by Odin. In Saxo's "Gesta Danorum", Fulla enlists the aid of a dwarf to help Frigg prevent Odin from finding out that Frigg had stolen a piece of gold from one of his statues to make a necklace. A true friend and confidance indeed!

It is also written that Fulla has charge of Frigg's shoes. In those days, shoes were a symbol of wealth and prestige. The foot also has connotation of fertility - both in Germanic and Celtic folklore the foot was often used to indicate the penis. The Jera rune (rune of harvest) is linked to her.

In the 'Gisla saga Surssonar' the hero states just before his death:
          "My Fulla, fair-faced, the goddess of stories, who gladdens me much, shall hear of her friend
            standing straight, unafraid in the rain or the spears."

When we do a sumbel (small ritual involving toasting and drinking) to Fulla we would prepare the harrow (altar) with things to do with abundance and fertility, such as sheafs of corn, some gold or golden objects, a casket and a small shoe.  We then toast her and call to her.


Fulla, Volla, Fylla, Abundia -
Sister of Frigg, Maid of Honour, Hail!

Lady of the chamber,
Mistress of wealth,
Guardian of treasures -
Bring us abundance.

Weaver of the ribbon,
Lady of the ash,
Keeper of the casket,
Adorn our lives.

Keeper of jewels,
Keeper of shoes
Keeper of secrets,
Ward well our dreams.

Come with gift and greeting
Come with fun and folly
Come with lore and laughter -
Sweet sister of the gods - come!

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Eostre and Eostrefest

If you type Easter into a search engine or read about it in any number of popular mainstream or pagan press books, you will find reference to the goddess Eostre or Ostara after whom the festival of Easter is named. These potted histories tend to contain a number of speculations about the goddess, often presented as fact with no references to any sources of information.

So what actual primary historical sources do we have that mention the goddess Eostre? Only one. It's in the 'Temporum Ratione' - the Reckoning of Time by the Venerable Bede, a Northumbrian monk and scholar who lived between 673 and 735 CE. This is an interesting book (in translation!) that covers the solar and lunar cycles, the basis for various calendars, and how to calculate the date of the Christian Easter ceremony and including a chapter called The English Months, that details the calculations of the lunar months. In it he writes:
"The first month, which the Latins call January, is Giuli; February is called Solmonath; March Hrethmonath; April Eosturmonath ..."

And that's all, no description of the goddess or of any feasts for her.

In Grimm's "Teutonic Mythology", he tells us that the Anglo-Saxon name Eostre is related to Old High German adverb ostar expressing movement toward the rising sun.
"Ostara, Eostre seems therefore to have been a divinity of the radiant dawn, of upspringing light, a spectacle that brings joy and blessing, whose meaning could be easily adapted to the resurrection day of the Christian's God."

However, this, although it may be right, is based purely on romantic speculation. Eostre/Ostara could equally well be a goddess who, in the mythology of some ancient Germanic tribe, simply came from the east.

What about modern myths being spread on the net and elsewhere?

There are no Norwegian, Icelandic or other Scandinavian primary sources mentions Ostara. In fact, the name Ostara isn't found anywhere in connection with a goddess. Ostara is simply the Old High German name for the Christian festival of Easter. Because the word is cognate with Anglo-Saxon 'Eostre', and because we have Bede's evidence that Eostre was a goddess, Grimm concluded that:
"This Ostara, like the Anglo-Saxon, Eastre, must in the heathen religion have denoted a higher being, whose worship was so firmly rooted, that the Christian teachers tolerated the name, and applied it to one of their own grandest anniversaries."

The theory that ancient Europeans worshipped a single 'Great Mother Goddess' has long since been rejected by academics but continues to be spouted in popular books.  All we know from Bede that Eostre was worshipped sometimes in April, Bede also mentions another Anglo-Saxon goddess, Hredhe, who was honoured in March, and for whom the month of March was named. If the heathen Anglo-Saxons actually did worship a goddess at the vernal equinox, then according to the only historical source we have available it would have been Hredhe, not Eostre.

The myths of the hare, eggs, hot-cross buns and chocolate are firmly rooted in modern, post-pagn mythology. There is no evidence for any of these practices, even in folklore, in the pre-Christian west.

In my own heathen tradition, I see Eostre as a joyful goddess associated with spring and new growth, through personal experience and communication. We hold festivals and a ritual/sumbel outdoors if weather permits. We make offerings to the wights of the place and welcome Eostre, usually with mead! We make toasts to Eostre, to spring and to new growth.
I'm pretty sure this wasn't how Eostre was celebrated by our ancestors, but it feels right to celebrate her in this way now. And that, in my opinion, is what is most important to her and all the other gods/goddesses.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

E is for Eddas - the handbooks for heathens!

"At home a man should be cheerful and merry with his guest,
he should be shrewd about himself,
with a good memory and eloquent, if he wants to
be very wise,
often should he speak of good things,
a nincompoop that man is called, who can's say much for himself
That is the hallmark of a fool."

So says Odin, the All-Father in the Havamal, one of many of the sayings of the High One, one of the chapters in the "Poetic Edda", a 13th century collection of Norse-Icelandic mythological and heroic poetry, containing all the great narratives of the creation of the world and the coming of Ragnarok, the end of the world.
These mythological poems explore the wisdom of the heathen gods and giants and narrate, amongst other stories, the adventures of Thor agains the hostile giants and the gods' rivalries amongst themselves. The poems also trace the exploits of the hero Helgi and his valkyrie bride, the tale of Sighurd and Brynhild's doomed love and the drama of Gudrum and her children.

One-eyes Odin hangs nine days and nine nights on the windswept ash tree, Yggdrasil, sacrificing himself to himself; the red-beared Thor swings his hammer against the enemy; the wolf Fenrir leaps forward to sieze Odin in his jaws ............. all these would make fantastic pieces of TV or film drama today!

Frorm the creation of the world out of Ginnungagap, the endless void, to the destruction of the gods in Ragnarok, the poetry of the Edda gives some of the best evidence for the religious beliefs and the heroic ethics of the pagan north before its conversion to Christianity in 1000 CE.

Most of the poems in the "Poetic Edda" exist in a single manuscript written in Iceland around 1270, known as the Codex Regius, but many of them pre-date the conversion of Scandinavia to Christianity, so gives us a glimpse into the Pagan north. The 'Lay of Hamdir' and the 'Lay of Alti' are believed to be the earliest Eddic poems. The manuscript is now kept in the Arnamagnaen Institute in Raykjavik, Iceland.

The other book of Edda is the 'Prose Edda' written/compiled by Icelandic author and historian, Snorri Sturluson, who lived between 1174 and 1241. He wrote a treatise on Norse poetry that he called the Edda and has since become known as the 'Prose Edda' in a manuscript known as the Uppsala Codex, a parchment from around 1320. In this he explains the cosmology of the heathen creation myth, with the world formed out of the body of the giant, Ymir. The first part is about the Aesir (one of the sets of gods) and Ymir and is known as the 'Gylfanginning', the Deluding of Gylfi. The second part consists of a series of 'kennings' (expressions and sayings of various kinds).

So what does Edda mean? Opinions differ greatly. The more usual opinion is that the word relates to Odr, meaning poetry or poem and may be translated as 'poetics'.

For heathens, like myself, the Eddas are handbooks of how our ancestors lived, which we can translate into how we can live today (particularly through texts like the Havamal). It also tells us about how our ancestors worshipped and carried out their religious practices. It is true that Snorri, who was a Christian, always wrote from a Christian perspective. So, for example, in the conclusion of the first chapter of the 'Poetic Diction' (second half of Prose Edda), he wrote: "Christians, however, must not believe in pagan gods or that these tales are true in any other way than is indicated in the beginning of the book." However, Snorri was criticised by many narrow minded clergy for bringing the stories of the heathen gods back to life and back into the consciousness of the people. Clergy in Iceland at that time had gone so far as to banish the names of the old gods from the days of the week, so Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday became Third Day, Midweek Day, Fifth Day and Fast Day. They considered the poetry in the Edda sinful as it included the mythology of the old gods. In some cases Snorri was surprisingly supportive. At one point he asked: "What reason can there be for hating and despising a faith which, after all, served our forefathers as a guide to a life full of courage and achievement?"

Whenever the criticism has been labelled against paganism, in particular heathenism, that we have no sacred texts, nor ethical guidelines on life and that paganism has no creation myth, so is not a fully-formed religion, I always point them to the Eddas. In these manuscripts we have a fully-formed creation myth - as bizarre and interesting as the Christian one, but in my opinion, a lot funnier, with men being born out of the sweaty armpits of a giant who was being licked by a cow! We have stories of our gods and goddesses, how they lived, loved, fought and died and we have great sayings by Odin that are still relevant for us today. For example:

"To his friend a man should be a friend
and to his friend's friend too;
But a friend no man should be
To the friend of his enemy."

And finally ...

"No better burden can a man carry on the road
than a store of common sense;
a worse journey, provisioning he couldn't carry over the land
than to be too drunk on ale".