Things, Signs, and their Meanings
The preferred, though not a necessary, substance for ritual drinking, in whatever form. Traditional beverages were beer or ale, cider, mead, wine (common in Germany, rare in Scandinavia), and various mixtures of fruits, honey, herbs, and malt. Modern practice has added several sorts of strong liquor to the Teutonic drink-list as well.
For those who do not wish or are unable to use alcohol in their rites, for whatever reason, there are several alternatives. Non-alcoholic beers and wines are now available in most large stores, and these are perfectly acceptable, as is non-alcoholic cider or apple juice. Many of the goddesses, and all of the wights, can be blessed with and offered whole milk. The chapter on "Crafts" offers a recipe for a non-alcoholic mead-type beverage which is suitable for designated drivers, children, and other non-drinkers.
(strong beer (4-8%))
May originally have referred to a rather bitter malt beverage with herbs in it. The runic inscription ALU ("ale") was one of the most often-used; it seems to have generally meant "luck, power", which went together with having a plentiful supply of the stuff. In Troth rituals, many folk prefer ales to lighter beers because their strength, dark colour, and richness are probably more like those of the special "strong ales" that were brewed for holy feasts.
Ale is used especially for the Wans and at the harvest-rites such as Loaf-Feast and Winternights, but it can be used for almost any Teutonic religious purpose whatsoever.
(petrified tree sap)
In the old days, amber was cast up on the Baltic coast by the sea; now most of it is mined. Holy since the Stone Age, amber is especially associated with the Frowe and Thonar. Also used as a sign of one's riches, both in the old days and now. A great holder of fiery might, and a very fine amulet against all ill.
The sorts of amber that can be found today are Baltic, Dominican (from South America), and Africa (not actually amber - resin in the process of forming amber). Because of its lightness of weight, amber fakes are also very common. A reputable dealer will be able to tell the origin of the amber.
Amber comes in a range of colours from deep cherry-red to palest yellow. The colour is a sign of its age: the oldest ambers are the darkest.
The word "epli" in Old Norse, literally our "apple", was used to mean any round fruit; the specialization of the word in German and English shows that the apple was seen as the greatest of fruits. The apple is the sign of life through death, fruitfulness springing forth from the grave. In Völsunga saga, when the Wodan-descended king Rerir is unable to get a child with his wife, he sits on a burial mound in search of rede, and Wodan sends a walkurja to him there with an apple that Rerir and his wife eat to become fruitful. Here, the apple is the embodiment of the Völsungs' kin-soul springing to life again. This is also borne out by the name of the apple tree that grows through Völsi's hall: Barnstokkr, the "bairn-stock".
Wild apples have been found in Scandinavian graves since the Bronze Age - three crab-apples were set in the coffin of the child in Guldhøj, perhaps "to give the little child a longer life in the next world than the brief one it had had here on earth" (Gløb, The Mound People, p. 92). There were a great many apples set in the Oseberg burial as well, at least one bucket and one chest were filled with them.
Today, apples (and fermented cider) are used especially at Winternights (as harvest signs), Yule (as a sign of the oneness of the living and their dead kin), and at Ostara, when our golden apples mirror the apples of Iðunn (see "Frija and other Goddesses").
The World-Tree is most often thought to be an Ash (though words have been spoken for the yew). Ash was the wood out of which spear-shafts were made; it is thus tied closely to Wodan. The first human male, Askr ("Ash") was shaped from this tree.
Thought of as the most typical weapon of the Vikings, but sources do not really support this. Battle-axes were used, but swords and spears seem to have been more important. The Franks took their tribal name from a particular type of throwing-axe.
In the eldest days, the axe was a very holy sign (see "Stone Age"). It appears as a warding amulet from the Bronze Age to the Viking Age; it is often thought that the Hammer of Thonar may have developed from the elder thunder-axe.
The bee gives us honey, which is used both for healing (it is an excellent antiseptic and preservative, and was utilized for both purposes in the old days) and mead-brewing, and beeswax, which is used for candles and often for sealing the insides of horns. In the Kalevala, the bee brings Lemminkäinen's mother the drop of life-bearing honey she needs to bring her slain son to life again. The Anglo-Saxon charm to bring down a swarm of bees addresses them as "sig-wives". There are also two bees at the Well of Wyrd, according to Snorri. Though there is no clear tie between the bees and any goddesses (their might is obviously womanly), they are very holy wights and their gifts among the most blessed and luck-bringing elements of our rites. Among the Frisians, a child that had had milk and/or honey on its mouth could not be exposed; the Russians made offerings of honey to the gods and the dead. See Ransome's book, The Sacred Bee.
The name comes from the same root as "book". The beech is a womanly tree, thought in modern times to be tied closely to the Norns and Frija.
Worn by priests of Fro Ing.
The birch is a womanly tree, closely tied to Frija, Eir, and Hella. It is a tree of cleansing and birth-blessing, but also of hiding. It is used most in sauna and in rites of springing fruitfulness.
The basic food, a midpoint between raw grain and ale. A source of life and might in all realms: our word "lord" stems from "hlaford" (loaf-giver); "lady" comes from "hlafdiga" (loaf-kneader). Since most of us are no longer able to bless a winter-slaughtering to the god/esses, bread is the best form for our holy gifts to take.
Caraway seeds were used in old days, not only to flavour bread, but to keep various sorts of huldfolk from stealing it, as they dislike caraway very much. Those who wish to share food with alfs, land-wights, or any other such beings should be careful to avoid bread or cakes with caraway in them, which includes most commercial rye-breads.
See "The Frowe". Associated with seiðr and fruitfulness; may also be a house-ghost in disguise.
Cattle are very holy beasts; there are several references to cattle with gilded horns (as in Þrymskviða and Helgakviða Hjörvarðssonar), and others to magical cattle (as in Ragnars saga loðbrókar). They are generally associated with the Vanir, but are acceptable gifts for all the god/esses and wights.
The cauldron, or kettle, played a very important part in Norse religion. The name or name-element Ketill or Katla (kettle) was very common in the Viking Age and almost certainly first had a ritual meaning. In Grímnismál, Óðinn mentions, "when kettles are heaved off the fire". Grønbech argues strongly for the cauldrons seething the sacrificial feast as embodiments of the might of the three great Wells of Wyrd, Mímir, and Hvergelmir (II, 290-97).
Fermented apple juice. See "Apples". In the States, non-fermented apple juice is often sold under the name of "cider". If real cider cannot be gotten, this can either be fermented as if it were a sparkling wine or beer (most brewer's supply stores will have books or instructions for making such things - look in your Yellow Pages), or, as a last resort, a shot of vodka can be added to give it some extra might.
The basic three are white (birth/bringing forth), red (life/active being), and black (death/concealment). Gold falls into the class of red, dark blue and dark green into the class of black, and so forth. Different colours are associated with the god/esses - sometimes this is traditional, as with "Red Þórr" and Wodan's blue-black cape; sometimes it is a modern creation. We have tried very hard to note the difference between the two in this book.
Used for the blessing-bowl in Kjalnesinga saga. One ON word for it is homonymic with, though likely not related to, the goddess-name Eir, so that folk-etymology or von List-like magical association may associate it with her. Not thought of as a precious metal and thus not fitting for oath-rings.
Rock crystal was often used by our forebears as a holy stone. The Continental Germans of the Migration Age sometimes hung large hex-shaped crystal beads from the hilts of their swords. The rock-crystal spheres of late Migration Age/early Vendel Age women are spoken of under "Frija". Rock crystal in its raw form is sometimes thought of as a stone of the etins, especially Skaði.
In Old High German, crystal was called "ice-stone" and it is well suited to all icy might. The "hrímkalkr" spoken of in Svipdagsmál may have been a glass cup or, as befitted the etin-maid who bore it, a cup made of ice.
Crystal was a common stone in Germanic jewelry, both as beads and as a gem set in silver. An eleventh-century Swedish piece shows a necklace made of hemispherical rock crystals edged in silver: reproductions of this piece have been found to act as perfect magnifying glasses.
The mightiest of all birds. Its shape is taken by etins (Hræsvelgr, Þjazi) and by Óðinn. An eagle sits at the top of the World-Tree. We do not know its name; it is possible that it is the same as Hræsvelgr, who is spoken of in Vafþrúðnismál as sitting in the east and beating forth the winds of the worlds with his wings. There is also an eagle on top of Valhöll. The possible tie between the eagle and Thonar is spoken of in "Thonar".
A tree of the Frowe. A traditional wine can be made from its flowers for her brighter side, from its berries for her darker side. Do not try to make Elderberry mead, as the berries are too acid to blend with the honey.
The first woman, Embla (Elm) was shaped from this tree.
The falcon is the womanly match to the eagle. Both Frija and the Frowe have falcon-cloaks.
Divided into "need-fire" (kindled by friction - discussed under "Waluburg's Night") and "struck-fire" (sparked by flint and steel - discussed under "Thonar"). See the chapter on "Practice".
In the old days, having a glass cup was a major status symbol; a few such pieces made their way up to Scandinavia as early as the third century. Slightly later in the Migration Age, it became common for glassmakers along the Rhine to make glass horns for Germanic folk, who found the material very fair, but were unwilling to give up the traditional horn-shape.
The Goat is the beast of Thonar, and perhaps also of Skaði. As a mighty wight, the "Yule-buck", it is seen during the Wih-Nights (see "Yule").
Always spoken of as "fire" in skaldic kennings (the "fire of the hawks'- land" is a gold ring on someone's arm, for instance). Especially dear to the Frowe, Sif, and Fro Ing, though Wodan is also spoken of as a giver of gold in Hyndluljóð.
The source of bread and ale; the very life of our forebears. Although most of us have no actual fields to bless, in our rites, we speak of grain and use sheaves as signs of all that our souls bring forth.
Hair is a sign of life-might and holiness, the chief marker of beauty in Northern thought. The name "Odinkaur" may well mean "the one with hair hallowed to Óðinn" - that is to say, someone who grew his hair long as a sign of his dedication. The rule-might of the Merovingian kings was all embodied in their hair. It could also be the special emblem of a vow: Haraldr inn hárfagri vowed never to cut nor comb his hair until he had brought all Norway under his rule. Someone who really wanted to might be able to make a case for overriding a short-hair dress code rule on religious grounds.
The Hammer is the symbol of Thonar, and also the general sign of hallowing, worn by true folk as a sign that they hold to the Elder Troth and used as a saining- gesture.
ON hörgr; probably originally a heap of stones. Used by folk today to mean an altar. Those who have outdoor steads prefer to use a heap of stones or a single great boulder; those who do not often have wooden harrows. A small cabinet in which the holy tools can be kept while not in use is very good for this purpose.
The hawthorn embodies the might that wards the wih-stead. Its connection with Hagen ("Hawthorn") may also hint at a tie with the darker shapes of Wodan.
The head was seen as the embodiment of the whole being, the seat of the soul. Small staves carved with heads at one end are often found in Rus settlements and are thought to be god-images of the sort described by ibn Fadlan. The Oseberg sledges and wagon were decorated with heads at the four corners (one has human heads, another has rather stylized cat-heads), and the burial also included ornate beast-head posts, which may have been used in processions. Masks are also very common in Northern art, especially on Danish runestones of the late tenth/early eleventh centuries and worked into the bird-shaped (eagles and ravens) brooches of the late Vendel and early Viking Ages.
Seen in modern times as a symbol of the Frowe's might of love and lust (see "The Frowe").
Heart of the Home
The point from which all might springs, where the high-seat pillars should be set up and all rites should be carried out. If the house has a fireplace, the heart of the Home will be the hearth. Otherwise, you should choose a place, hallow it, and use it for worship thereafter.
Helm of Awe
Used for warding; gives its wearer might and fills those who come against its wearer with terror. Traditional Icelandic sign. The dragon Fáfnir was said to have the Helm of Awe between his eyes.
Plants, most often used for medicinal, magical, or holy plants. Our forebears had a wide range of herb-lore, some of which is preserved in the Anglo-Saxon charm spells (see Storms, Anglo-Saxon Magic) and in folklore. The best general guide to both the medicinal and folkloric uses of herbs is Mrs. M. Grieves' A Modern Herbal.
A sign of hallowing and warding, traditionally put on the walls of houses or barns. One of the most common designs in Germanic folk-art.
Traditional as a Yule decoration. In modern times, thought to be especially a tree of the Mound-Alfs.
The best vessel for ritual use.
The Horse is the holiest of beasts. In old days, eating horseflesh was the specific sign of a Heathen, which is why it was made illegal after the conversion and why such a strong prejudice against it still lingers in English-speaking lands. Next to human beings, horses were the best of all gifts that could be given to the god/esses. Their sacrifice was not practical, as was that of cattle, since they were usually worth more as riding and draught animals than as meat.
According to Tacitus, the early Germanic folk thought Horses to have prophetic powers. A great many bracteates show the image of a man on a horse, which seems to have been thought a particular sign of power.
The Horse is particularly associated with the Wans and with Wodan. It is a beast of both fruitfulness and death. In the latter aspect, its head was used on nithing poles. Horse heads were also buried in Alamannic cemeteries during the Migration Age, probably as protections, and carved on gables for the same purpose.
The great pillars that stood on either side of the high seat, in which the luck of the household lived. In old days they were structural supports of the hall's roof, but that is not usually workable now. Instead wooden pillars or long planks, carved or painted fittingly with images of god/esses, heroes, and forebears, may be set up in whatever place the heart of the home is deemed to be.
The howe, or burial mound, is the meeting point between the world of the living and the world of the dead. Kings and thuls (see below) sat on the mound to speak with the wisdom of their forebears; spell-workers of sundry sorts also sat out on mounds. Helgi Hjörvarðsson was sitting on a mound when he saw the spae-idis who gave him his name, wyrd, and reason for being. In Sweden, offerings were still made to holy howes at Yuletime in this century. The howe is especially ruled by Fro Ing and Wodan.
Sunwynn Ravenwood has pointed out that the word "iron" originally meant "holy metal", which may tell us something of why iron nails were hammered into the pillars of Heathen hofs. Iron is a good ward against evil spells and wights of ill, especially iron knives.
The leek is the embodiment of new-springing might, particularly manly might. Given to Helgi Hunding's-Bane at birth by his father Sigmundr; also, the first herb to grow after the making of the worlds. Especially fitting for Ostara, birth-rites, and weddings. Paired with the womanly linen in a bracteate inscription and in Völsa þáttr.
Cloth spun from flax, the finest native cloth available to our forebears and the best for ritual gear and use in sauna. Embodies womanly might and fruitfulness. Especially holy to Frija and her related goddesses or German shapes, Berchta and Holda.
The mightiest traditional drink of the Teutonic folk, both spiritually and, at an alcoholic level ranging from 13-18%, physically. Technically, an alcoholic drink made with only honey, water, and yeast (see chapter on Mead-making). The term is generally used for any honey-based homebrew, though, including those made with the addition of fruit (properly "melomel") or with herbs and/or spices ("metheglin"). Among the god/esses, especially associated with Wodan, the winner of the mead of poetry.
Traditionally given to house-ghosts; can also be given to Frija and the other house-goddesses. As a gift, it should always be whole milk or even half-and-half, never semi-skimmed or skimmed. Milk can also be blessed as a special draught of healing or might for a human; in this case, semi-skimmed or skimmed is all right.
The necklace is the sign of the Frowe, Nerthus, and perhaps Earth. The four-ringed necklace may be thought of as especially the Frowe's sign.
The holiest of trees. Oak is the tree of Thonar; a lightning-struck oak is mightiest of all. Oak is a very good wood to make a harrow from, ritually speaking; but it is a very hard wood, and is not easy to carve.
There were none mightier than the one who swore a great oath and kept it, none more loathed and looked down on than the one who broke an oath, and none thought more foolish than those who swore an oath beyond their strength to uphold. The oath-swearing itself is an act by which one steps into the garth of the god/esses, and they all hear and witness the words spoken. All should hold back from swearing oaths before they have thought well on them, or before they understand what oath-making truly is. The oath you speak is your very soul, all your life and luck and might together.
Incense; may have been used in elder times, though we are not sure. Some like to use it, some do not. It can be used as a means of cleansing the gathered folk by carrying the burner about and fanning wih-smoke over them, or of hallowing a stead and filling it with a might that is fitting to the work being done. To be strictly traditional, Northern herbs should be used rather than any of the Southern gums (such as frankincense). In modern times, essential oil burners are also sometimes used.
The holy oaths were sworn on an unbroken ring weighing at least two ounces and made of precious metal. Grønbech mentions that "This treasure was as far beyond ordinary possession as the great holiness was beyond the ordinary blessing of everyday" (II, p. 140). Rings were used on the hilts of swords in the Migration and Vendel ages, possibly for oath-swearing or as the sign of the troth between sword-bearer and sword-giver. The very might of the god/esses was embodied in the holy ring used in the hof.
Armrings are also given as a sign of friendship or oaths; one kenning for a ruler was "ring-breaker", for as a sign of favour the ruler would break coils from the gold or silver wires that he wore spiraled about his arms.
Images of the gods are often seen with holy rings, as on the "three-god bracteates" (see "Balder") and the Gotlandic picture-stones. Small figurines of Scandinavian origin which show the ring or wreath have been found in an Eastern Baltic fortress and a grave on the upper Dneps: a bearded man with a sword at his side holds a huge twisted ring or wreath in his right hand and stretches his left out. This may represent a god as holy ring-giver.
Wodan holds the great gold ring Draupnir (dripper), which gives birth to eight rings matching its weight every ninth night.
The writing of the early Germanic folk, still used by Heathens - especially for magical and religious purposes, though sometimes for ordinary communication as well. See Gundarsson's Teutonic Magic, Aswynn's Leaves of Yggdrasil, and Thorsson's Futhark and Runelore in the Hearth reading list.
A sign of warding, used on a bracteate, a picture- stone, and Scandinavian signs which designate historical or natural monuments.
Sign of death and fruitfulness since at least the Bronze Age, most closely tied to the Wanic processions and to Wodan.
The weapon of Wodan, used to hallow something that is given to him and may well soon be destroyed in the Middle-Garth.
Suggested in modern times as a hallowing sign for Frija.
Frija's emblem; sign of Wyrd and of womanly might.
The stag was thought of as the noblest of beasts; both Sigurðr and Helgi Hunding's-Bane are compared to high-antlered stags by their grieving widows. Because Fro Ing fights with an antler at Ragnarök, it is usually thought to be his beast.
Grimm thought that stone-lore was not typical of the Teutonic folk, but since then archaeology has found that our forebears often used various stones as amulets, and the Icelandic laws also mention the use of magical stones. Little work has yet been done to recover the stone-lore of our forebears.
Stones are holy in and of themselves, and fit for blessing or using as focal points of a rite, either as the body of an outdoor harrow or as something set on an indoor one. Vésteinn - Wih-stone - was a common Old Norse name, as was Þórsteinn - Þórr-stone.
Generally used today as a hallowing sign for the Wans.
Always a womanly bird (and used as a first element in women's names); sometimes becomes a swan-maiden, who may speak spae-words. Snorri tells of two swans at the Well of Urðr.
In the Kalevala, there is a black swan that swims in the river of Tuonela (the realm of death). There is no evidence for this in the Norse sources, but one might perhaps think that Hella could have just such a black swan to match the white ones of the Norns.
The spae-idis Kára became a swan to defend her Helgi in battle: as the embodiment of the soul's shining bride, the swan is often seen as the sign of the soul's striving towards the god/esses and of blessing from them.
Often thought to be associated with Thonar (see chapter) or else a sun-symbol. Should not be shown in public, for obvious reasons. A "kinder, gentler" swirling form was also used by our forebears, and may be used by those who cannot get over the recent misuse of the sign by the Nazis. Deosil and widdershins forms were used indiscriminately by our forebears.
Holy to Fro Ing and the Frowe; see chapters for further discussion.
The basic weapon of the well-born Germanic warrior. Most magical of weapons, most frequently named (by a very high factor indeed), most often seen as the embodiment of the family soul. Original weapon of Fro Ing, but used by followers of all the god/esses, with the exception of Anglo-Saxon godmen, who were not allowed to bear weapons (as described in Bede's Ecclesiastical History).
A thule is a speaker of some sort; the word is related to the ON verb thylja (to speak or mumble). Wodan is called Fimbulþulr; Unferth, who challenges Beowulf to a single combat of words and wit in Hrothgar's hall, is also given the title þyle, and the AS word þyl-cræft is glossed as rhethorica (rhetoric). The Danish Snøldelev stone memorializes a man called Gunnvaldr, who was "thule on the Sal-howes" with the inscription of his name and office beside a swastika and a triskelion made of three interlocked drinking horns (now used as the emblem of the Rune-Gild) which some think may have been the sign of the three cauldrons from which Óðinn drank the mead of skaldcraft, Óðroerir (Wod-Stirrer).
Also called triskelion (swirling form). Might whirling from the three great realms of being. The emblem of the Island of Man and the Celtic Manannan mac Lir; also suggested as a possible sign for Heimdallr in modern usage.
A seeress. The word comes from ON völr (staff) and seems to mean "womanly staff-bearer" (cf. the walkurja-name Göndull/Wodan-name Göndlir, and also the early German seeress "Waluburg", whose name stems from the same root as völr). Wodan himself calls völvur up to tell him of what shall become in Völuspá (the Völva's spae) and Baldrs draumar; in both cases, they seem to be etin-wives, and the völva of the latter has lain dead in her howe for some while. There is likely some relationship between the völva and the thule; the titles might even have originally been womanly and manly descriptions of the same sort of gifted seer on the mound, though the title of "thule" seems, at least among the English, to have developed into the more earthly role of hall-speaker or word-champion, while the völvur of Eddic poetry speak (in Baldrs draumar, unwillingly) at Óðinn's behest.
The wain, or wagon, together with the ship, was the chief vehicle of the Wans' holy processions. Among the many names for the Big Dipper was "the Wain"; in Holland, it was known as "Woenswaghen" (Wodan's Wagon) as late as 1470 (Grimm, Teutonic Mythology I, p. 151). Thonar also fares in a wain drawn by two goats.
"Knot of the slain", sign of Wodan, used both in a triple and a unicursal form, though only by those given to Wodan.
Landnamabók (Hauksbók 146) mentions places in Iceland called both "Helgavatn" (Holy Water) and "Urðarvatn" (Wyrd's Water). In Teutonic Mythology, Grimm cites a number of customs having to do with the use of hallowed water - that is, water drawn from a running spring or holy well, usually done just before sunrise in total silence. Water embodies life-force; a deep body of water can also embody the Well of Wyrd. Gifts to the god/esses were often sunk into water in the old days.
The wreath is the living form of the ring. It is a sign of both troth and hallowing. Holy wreaths can be made to be hung up in your house or hall, or used as garlands to bless folk with. Wreaths of evergreen, nuts, and apples are most fitting at Yule-time, birch and pussy willow at Ostara, spring flowers and rowan on Waluburg's Night and May Day, elder at Midsummer's, grain and rowan berries at Loaf-Feast, and grain, nuts, and straw at Winternights.
Sign of hidden might. Runes were carved inside wyrm-ribbons in the last part of the Viking Age and the first part of the christian era; wyrm-prows were used on ships, and "Ormr" was a ship-name as well as a personal name. Very often used in Northern art.
A tree of death, still planted in burial grounds. Perhaps the World-Tree. Closely tied to Wulþur, who dwells in "Yew-Dales", and to Wodan; also to the Yule-time.
Yew is a very poisonous tree. Do not eat any part of it, do not burn any part of it and breathe the smoke or vapours, do not bring it into a house with small children or plant-eating pets. One British occultist in recent times deliberately killed himself by eating yew-berries; an American member of the Rune-Gild accidentally almost killed himself by burning the berries and inhaling their smoke.