The Troth Hof
In the speech of the new-born Elder Troth, a Troth Hof is a building given solely to Troth worship and teachings, overseen by a full-fledged Troth Elder. The Troth Hof is owned either by the Troth directly or by a charter group of the Troth. The donation of such a building or the money to build one calls for work with the I.R.S. as well as the Troth itself. A personal dwelling which has simply been given over to religious work is not sufficient: a Hof must be a free structure (like a christian church), ideally able to hold at least 50 folk at one time, hopefully with overnight facilities as well. Recognition of a Hof hangs on the completion of all the necessary paperwork to assign the title to the Troth or its charter group; the Rede requests photos of the outside and inside of the building and a declaration of intent by the responsible Elder. When the High Rede has approved the project and the title has been assigned, the Hof-Elder shall hold a rite hallowing the property as a Troth Hof; this rite shall be shared by as many Troth folk as are able to.
A Hof must have the officers legally required of a tax-exempt religious organization, and keep financial records and records of activities accordingly. Specific titles, as always, are a matter of individual choice.
Hofs are responsible for their own support, which will probably hang on (tax-deductible) donations from the members.
One of the chief works of the Hof is teaching the ways of the Troth; thus a Hof must be led by a qualified Elder with a full grounding in the sundry sources of lore our forebears have left us and the works of the modern scholars who have struggled (with various degrees of inspiration) to make clear and reconstruct the culture and religion of our folk. The Hof's Elder is responsible not only for teaching the lore, but for setting it into practice in ways which are both true to the workings and knowledge of our forebears and workable in our own age.
Not suffering from the vulnerability of a personal dwelling, and being responsible for the teaching and guidance of all folk within its area, a Hof should advertise its presence, location, times of classes and rituals, and so forth, as clearly as possible. Especially in the first years, this advertisement should cover a great deal of territory, as Hofs are likely to be sparsely scattered for some time yet and most true folk are willing to travel a good distance to get to a rite (in addition to the obvious caution about drinking and driving, the probable length of travel time for some is another reason why a Hof should have overnight facilities).
Wisdom, of course, recommends the installation of security systems, fire alarms, and whatever other protections against vandalism or destruction the officers of the Hof deem fitting. While the days of the Crusades are over, there are always a few menaces to society who will seize on any excuse to burn or bash something.
The use of the term "Hof" for a building which functions in much the same way as a temple in most major religions is slightly anachronistic. Although the word is widespread, it first takes on the meaning of "holy stead" in Old Icelandic. Here the holy character was probably secondary to the original meaning of "farmstead"; "hof" came to mean "a large farmstead, where folk gathered to feast on the holy days" - a practise which, of course, strengthened the authority of the large farmholder in question and the centralization of the region. Most accurately, then, the term "hof" would be used for the gathering place in the most common of Troth practises: the gathering of the folk in the house of their local leader on feast-days.
Instead, the Troth has chosen to continue the development of meaning of the Icelandic term "hof". This choice is grounded on the path of growth of the Troth itself. If we are to take our fit place as a great religion, it is needful for us to grow beyond the backyard gatherings. We must have properly authorized central places where we can gather, from which we can distribute information, and which can stand as signs of the Troth's being and might in the community as a whole. This is not to put down the home-gatherings, which were the basic unit of troth in the elder days and are likely to remain so among us for a long time. However, there is also strong precedent for the official "church" in the Elder Troth. The great temple at Old Uppsala is the best-known religious structure of our forebears; another building found in England is also thought to have been a large-scale temple of the Anglo-Saxons. Since no specific term for such buildings has survived, we have chosen to raise "hof" to the large-scale dignity. The term "harrow" is kept for smaller gatherings: it refers literally to the holy stock or stone where the blessings are poured, which may be kept in a backyard, a garage, or, as was done in earlier times, set up in the woods or fields.
There is, of course, no compelling reason not to rent or purchase pre-built spaces for Troth worship. The best hof, after all, is the hof that you have available. In times to come, however, most hofs shall, hopefully, be built by Troth members and associated groups. While it might be said that this article on hof design is looking rather far into what might become, it must also be said that what we do not first shape in the sight of our wills shall never come to be.
The main uses of the hof must be kept firmly in mind when planning its building. Firstly, of course, it is a place of worship, where every detail must work to bring the true folk within closer to the god/esses of our folk. To that end, tradition and aesthetics must be yoked together to produce a structure which, even when it is not an actual reconstruction of an earlier building (or rather, of a theory about an earlier building), nevertheless gives the clear sense of a hof in which any of our ancestors would feel themselves at home - as indeed they must, for it is they upon whom we often call in our rites, and they who live again in our souls. It is to be awaited that the Elder who means to lead the hof shall have familiarized him/herself thoroughly with the principles of Germanic art and such principles of Germanic architecture as remain to us.
Except inasmuch as we know about Germanic architecture in general, we know relatively little about the architecture of Germanic holy places, for two main reasons. Firstly, our ancestors built in wood, except in Iceland, where they used loose stones chinked with turf. The best archaeology can do with this is to reconstruct the floor-plan: if some of the later stave-churches, for instance, had not been preserved intact, the unique beauty of the stave-church roofs would have been lost forever. The second reason for the loss is due to the christian practise of building churches where Heathen holy places have been. Many of these churches are still in use and thus unavailable for excavation. The christian church at Old Uppsala, for instance, is thought by some to have been built on the site of the previous temple; restoration in 1927 did show signs of a long rectangular building beneath the present foundations, but the excavation was not thorough enough to establish whether the site was that of a Heathen temple.
Given our lack of knowledge about specifically religious Heathen architecture, the next tendency has been to look at the early christian churches in the north for evidence of native tradition. All stone-built churches can be safely ignored in this respect. We know that the practise of building in stone spread with the Romans and later with christianity: the Anglo-Saxon kings who had forsaken their ancestors's troth brought stonemasons over from the Continent. In Scandinavia, although the land is by no means lacking in stone, the tradition of woodcrafting was firmly established, and wooden places of worship continued to be the norm for a long time after the Scandinavians had been forced into christianity, even though the more efficient elements of southern architecture were gradually incorporated into their building. As christian Norberg-Schulz points out in his Foreword to Norwegian Wood, in the North, "wood is not just one material among others, but a kind of environmental fact. Norway belongs to a Nordic "wood culture", in contrast to the 'stone cultures' of Mediterranean countries. In the North we have since time immemorial grown up surrounded by wooden walls, we have as children played on wooden floors, and we have known the exciting mystery of the forest." (p. 7) The enduring strength of this tradition is shown in Laxdaela saga ch. 74, where Þórkell Eyjólfsson, who has abundant stone available to him in Iceland, goes to the trouble of importing a huge shipload of timber (and offending St. Óláfr in the process, as he refuses to cut it any smaller than the timber of the king's own church) from Norway for the purpose of building a church in his home country. Although the immediate context is christian, the traditional churches of the south, which Þórkell could more easily have taken for a model, were built of stone.
It can thus be seen that wood is the most fitting and traditional material for a Troth hof. Wood is also best by simple virtue of its being: our forebears first hailed the gods and goddesses in the living groves, surrounded by the holy trees. A wood-built hof keeps this awareness alive, as the might of the trees from which it is shaped still lives within it. It must also not be forgotten that we ourselves are kin to the trees; as we were first filled with might and life by Wodan and his two brothers, so the breath of our words and the might of the god/esses ringing through the hof fills its wood with a life which is like to our own. As spoken of further in the chapter on crafts, wood is also the chief craft-material of the Germanic folk.
Having said this, it must be added that wood has some disadvantages, chief among them being its flammability and relatively short-lived character. Of the roughly 900 stave-churches built in Norway during the Middle Ages, only 30 have survived to the present day - a staggeringly high number, compared to the general survival rate of wooden buildings from the period, and probably attributable to a combination of climactic factors and the relatively limited amount of fighting taking place on Norwegian soil. Hof-builders who live in areas with violent or strongly anti-Heathen tendencies, or who expect to use open flames in or around the hof on a regular basis, may thus choose to build in stone, perhaps using wooden pillars and/or panelling inside the hof to preserve the traditional and spiritual character of our forebears' work. The other advantage of stone as a building material is its acoustical properties, which are greatly superior to those of wood.
Eyrbyggja saga, ch. 4 describes a Heathen hof in great detail. It must be remembered that the saga was probably written some two to three hundred years after the conversion of Iceland; serious doubts have thus been cast on its accuracy. However, this and Adam of Bremen's description of the great hof at Uppsala are the only guidelines we have to Heathen places of worship. Further, the saga is the product of a culture with a strong oral tradition which, due to the peaceful nature of the Icelandic conversion and Iceland's relative isolation, was never disrupted and probably remained relatively uncontaminated by foreign influences. If, at the worst, the saga's hof-description were a product of antiquarian imagination, it was at least written by someone who was far closer to the original than we, steeped in the traditions of his ancestors, and generally better qualified to theorize about Heathen temple furnishings than anyone alive today. Thus, if the saga's description cannot be taken as a totally reliable source for academic research, it at least stands as a better guideline for the reconstructed Troth than any we can currently generate.
(Þórólfr Mostur-Skeggi) let a hof be raised there, and that was a great house: the door was on one of the side-walls by the far end; before it inside stood the high-seat pillars, there were nails in them; these were called god-nails; all inside was a frith-stead. Within the hof was a house in that likeness, which now is the choir in churches, and a pedestal stood in the middle of the floor like an altar, and there lay an unbroken ring, twenty ounces, and all oaths should be sworn on it; the hofgoði should have that ring on his arm at all gatherings. A hlaut-bowl should also stand on the altar, and in it a hlaut-twig like an aspergillium, and the blood, which was called hlaut (lot or blessing?), should be sprinkled out of the bowl. That was blood of the kind shed when beasts were slain as offerings to the gods. The gods were arranged around the altar in this room.
The "afhús" or chancel (the structure compared to a "choir") is the element least likely to be historically accurate, for reasons discussed later; it is possible that in this instance the saga author was "Heathenizing" the type of church with which he was familiar. However, the Hofstaðir excavation near Mývatn unearthed a long building divided into two compartments in just this manner, a hall with benches and a smaller room. There has been much discussion over whether this "Hofstaðir" was actually a holy stead; the question has not been resolved yet. Turville-Petre comments that "its great size shows that it was used for public gatherings, although it might have been used for profane as well as religious purposes" (Myth and Religion of the North, p. 243).
A similar hof-description appears in Kjalnesinga saga (ch. 2). Here it is described how Þórr was most glorified (tignaðr), and stood in the middle with the other gods on both sides (rather like Adam of Bremen's description of the Uppsala hof). Before Þórr was a harrow with much fine craftwork, covered above with iron: there should be a fire which was never quenched, and they called that the hallowed fire (vígðan eldr). On this harrow should also stand a great bowl of copper, into which the blood was poured. The blood should be sprinkled over humans or cattle; and when men made blessings, they should also pour it from above into that fen which was outside by the door, which was called "Blótkelda" (Blessing Well or Spring).
The basic ground-plan for an historically accurate hof would be the long-house. The long wooden building, supported with a double row of earthed posts inside and possibly, like the Anglo-Saxon palace at Yeavering, buttresses outside, is the structure most generally typical of the North and North-West Germanic people as a whole. The advantage of this type of hof is probably the ease with which it can be built; some folk may also feel that the older design brings them nearer to their ancestral ghosts. The disadvantages are its plainness and "primitive" appearance (though decorative woodcarving can greatly better the looks of the whole) and its lack of durability: the later stave church design, where the wall planks and corner posts rested on horizontal sills or, as with Gol Church, on stones, cuts down on the likeliness of rot in the wood. Thatch was probably the most common roofing for this type of building, but also presents a terrible fire-hazard; shingles are preferable.
It has frequently been suggested that the architecture of the stave-church is based on that of the Heathen hof; romantic pictures of the great hof at Uppsala, for instance, often show a stave-church as the main structure. As the oldest stave-church dates from 1100, and the building techniques show signs of southern influence (for example, saltire crosses, bracing planks or "pincers", and the scissor-beam roof construction), this assertion must be dealt with carefully. It is certain that the stave-church is unique to Scandinavia, and the flower of native woodworking and architectural achievement - seafaring folk may dispute the former in favour of the Viking ship; it must then be pointed out that the ship and the stave-church share many techniques of construction, though (despite the best effort of tourist guides to convince their victims otherwise) stave-churches were never made out of recycled ships! It is also reasonable to point out the practicality of the roof-design for larger buildings in the north: the short sharp slopes tend to shed the snow, preventing the destructive buildup of weight. "High-timbered" is also a common epithet of a fine hall, and might reasonably refer either to the very high pointed roof or to the vertical placing of the wall-planks, although the elaborate "pagoda" development of the stave-church roof was dependent on certain southern technical innovations of the post-Heathen period. The stave-church is, then, likely to show the most highly developed form of an architecture which was already solidly grounded in Scandinavia. Although their design cannot be called wholly Heathen, the foreign influence upon these churches seems to be more a matter of practical improvements which allowed the native sense of beauty and architectural tradition to be raised to its highest peak than of changes carried out for spiritual reasons. Therefore, even though a stave-built hof cannot be said to reconstruct Heathen holy architecture, the solidity of the design's grounding in Scandinavian culture and artistic tradition still makes it acceptable for an hof-design today. Such an hof would be both awesome and beautiful, and would-be hof-builders are strongly urged to consider the design. On a practical level, the stave-built stead is likely to take the longest time to set up. It will also be difficult to heat, as the high roof will tend to draw heat from below; this may make feasting in a stave-hof difficult for some in the winter half of the year, as well as encouraging shorter rituals. This may have been less a problem in the time of the design's origin, as the Little Ice Age had yet to set in: most of the Middle Ages were warmer than our own time. No surviving stave-church has any means of heating; you set firepits into a wooden floor at your own risk! More modern means may, of course, be considered as available.
If a stave-design is used, it should be noted that the chancel/apse section (the rounded chamber at the far end where the christians keep their altars) is the most characteristically christian aspect, and in many stave-churches actually appears to have been clumsily tacked onto the central portion; Holan points out that, "even the typical chancel was never an integral part of most stave-churches...In addition, the rounded form of an apse was unnatural given the required wooden foundation beam". It has no place in a Heathen hall. The galley and walkways are likewise secondary, appearing only in the later churches, but serve practical rather than spiritual functions, and therefore may be deemed worthwhile anyway; thus, the final plan for a stave church might appear as a square, or perhaps rectangular structure, held up by posts, with a covered walkway around it.
The size of the hof is, of course, to be determined by means and availability of land. Beyond that, the relevant criterion is expectation of attendance. If, as it ought to be, the hof is used as a feasting hall, the builder must remember that it will need to be significantly larger than a standard church or auditorium to accomodate the same number of people. Allowances must also be made for the space between the freestanding pillars and the walls: the effective space is that within the pillars. As an example: Gol Church, one of the smaller stave kirks (roughly 23 x 16 feet within the pillars), seats 36 middle-sized Lutherans sitting very still in small folding chairs; it might accomodate 20 Heathens at narrow tables. In terms of effective space, the largest of the stave churches is Kaupanger (40 x 20). It should be added that the meagre size of these buildings had much to do with their eventual abandonment, and therefore the construction of larger hofs would probably be good. Long tables with benches running along both sides are the most traditional; it may be thought desirable for the hof's Elder to have a shorter table set crosswise at the head of the hall, at which the Elder and other persons of special worth sit. It is best for the tables and benches to be brought in after the rite for the feast, rather than installed permanently; the tables may then be taken out after feasting when the symbel begins, as was the custom of the Franks during the Migration Age.
Once the building has been constructed or purchased, much work must be put into the furnishings. This is most needful when circumstances have forced the obtaining of a hof in an alien pattern or made out of non-traditional materials. In such a case, the use of tapestries and large woodcarvings or paintings can cover a great many ills and take the awareness of the folk away from any of the building's less than ideal characteristics.
The most important aspect of Germanic holy furnishings, and the one which appears most consistently in the literary and historical sources, is the presence of god/dess-images. These were generally made out of wood, and might have accessories of other types: z.B., the gold- and silver-adornment of the image of Þórr in Trondheim and the silver ring on the arm of the image of Þórgerðr Holgabrúðr, both described by Snorri in Heimskringla. The reference in the prose of Helgakviða Hundingsbana II to Óðinn lending Dagr his spear may also describe an image which held a real spear that could be lifted from his hand for holy uses. We shall also remember the three great gold collars from the Migration Age (see chapter), which may well have been wrought for statues. Beyond this, the images were marked by their primary characteristics: Þórr carried his hammer; Óðinn was geared for battle; Freyr was known by his large phallus. Carving god-figures, or having such carved, need not beggar the hof-builders: such wooden images as have survived are minimally carved, with realism taking a distant second place to the wood's own shape. Anyone who is minimally competent with a set of chisels ought to be able to create acceptable god-images within the Germanic tradition.
The pillars of a hof are the life of the hof; even in later times, a stave church's hallowing lasted as long as the four corner-pillars stood. Choosing these pillars, whether they are a weight-bearing part of the architecture or set up symbolically in a pre-built hof, is an action calling for the closest work with the god/esses. Landnamabók (S123, H95) describes how Hallsteinn the son of Þórólfr Mosturskeggi "made a blessing for this purpose, that Þórr send him high-seat pillars", after which a tree large enough for the pillars was washed up on his land. The images of the god/esses might also have been carved into the hof-pillars, as described in Eyrbyggja saga ch. IV: "Þórólfr (Mosturskeggi) cast overboard his high-seat pillars, which had stood in the hof; Þórr was carved on one of them - the purpose of the action being to call Þórr's aid in choosing his stead. De Vries also comments that the Old Norse word stafr (post/pillar/staff) must have had the meaning of "idol" very early, citing the Lithuanian stabas, "idol", which is a loan-word from the Germanic, and notes that the word is often used in kennings for men (Altgermanische Religionsgeschichte, I, pp. 374-75). Heads, human and otherwise, often appear at the top of stave-church pillars, and these have sometimes been thought to represent Heathen gods, particularly in the case of the one from Hegge Kirke, Valdres, which has one eye closed and its tongue hanging out. However, this particular figure dates from at least two hundred years after the bloody and culturally disruptive Norwegian conversion; the use of grotesque heads at the top of supporting pillars is well-attested in the southern stone models for many of the stave-church elements, and so it is not generally thought that these represent a genuine Heathen survival. It should be added that the Hegge head is of an extremely comical aspect, and appears rather to be winking as it makes a face than lacking an eye. It is likelier that the Heathen pillars (if Eyrbyggja saga is accurate here) were carved farther down the post where they could be seen in relatively dim lighting.
Other ornamentation is, of course, up to the individual, but cannot be too highly encouraged. In addition to the aesthetic impact, which gives much help to the awakening of the soul upon nearing and coming into the hof, well-done woodcarving can in itself be a means of bringing might forth into the Middle-Garth: knotwork, animal interlace, and scenes from holy tales all have their craft. The dragon-heads on the stave churches are fine examples of appropriate decoration. It is fairly unlikely that those particular heads were knowingly meant to frighten away unwanted beings, but they came from a tradition in which that was the original purpose of such ornamentation. Horse-heads may also be used for the same purpose, as may antlers, which still decorate Norwegian mountain-huts to this day, though their purpose has been largely forgotten. The antlers of elk (moose, to Americans) are particularly fitting in this regard, as they may be used to call forth the warding and hallowing might of the rune elhaz, which is strongly tied to the hallowed stead. If animal heads are used, it is best to speak with the land-wights of the stead to find out what will or will not cause offense; lacking a spae-person or trained vitki, this may be done by carrying out a blót and asking the wights to speak through the fall of lots. Although the dragon-prows on ships were known to cause offense to land-wights, the Oseberg burial included several smaller animal-head carvings which may have been carried about on posts during ritual processions, and thus are unlikely to have caused distress. Scenes from heroic tales or our history are also appropriate: the best-known of Heathen stories, the tale of Sigurðr Fáfnisbani, was carved even on the doors of the Hylestad stave-church. The great hof at Uppsala, according to Adam of Bremen, was "totally adorned with gold", and the marginal notes of the same text mention a golden chain, which Sune Lindqvist (Fornvännen XVIII, 1949, 206 ff.) suggests may have been gilded woodcarving seen from a distance.
That tapestries with ritual meanings were used by our forebears is shown by the webs of the Oseberg find, which show what appears to be a ritual procession, in which the horn-helmed figure with his sword and spears or wands (who may be Óðinn himself or an Óðinn-warrior) appears at least twice. If it is needful to hide the hof's walls (if, for instance, they are built out of cinder-blocks or something tacky like that), tapestries are a good choice. The making of them serves as a good project for bringing the folk together as well, embroidery being a skill that everyone can practise. If this is for some reason not possible, good effects can be achieved by the use of acrylic paint on cloth. The only ill effect fabric hangings may have is to muffle the hof's resonance if too many are used.
Electric lighting should be kept to a minimum during rituals and meditational periods; if it must be used, such lighting should be diffused rather than direct. A certain degree of dimness strengthens the sight of the soul; it also strengthens the sense of oneness with our forebears. Clarity is found in the Sun's light, in the hallowed fields and groves; what we have indoors is what the architect Reima Pietila calls the dream of Nordic folk: a "cave of wood", and should therefore be neither bright as day nor dark as the forest at night: a sense of early dawn or late twilight ought to be sought, so that "the posts or staves rise like the trees of the forest towards the dark ceiling, and humans...are transported to a superior world." (Norwegian Wood, p. 8) The hof is too dark when a newspaper cannot be read inside; it is too bright when fine print can be read.
If possible, a Troth hof ought to have several facilities beyond its chief role as a place of worship. First among these is its function as a centre for teaching and the distribution of information. However, a Troth hof should not confine itself to teaching about the religion of our folk, but classes of various sorts (traditional crafts, music, dance, and other skills) should also be offered. The Troth hof shall, of course, need a fairly good library and access to Inter-Library Loan, as research is expected to take place under its blessing and with the guidance of its Elder.
Secondly, a hof ought, if possible, to have a sauna which can be used for meditation and purification prior to ritual and whenever else it is needed or wished for (see "Sauna").
As feasting takes place within the hof proper, large-scale cooking facilities are also important, not to mention the arrangement of legal permissions concerning alcoholic beverages. Ideally, a hof should be able to brew its own mead and ale, which requires licensing of the facility. If the brew is any good, "microbrewery" sales might even help to support the hof! If the brew is not sold, but given away by the Elder or other private person, state laws concerning home brewing may apply: in Texas, for instance, the head of a household may brew up to 200 gallons of beer or wine a year for household use. If alcohol is sold at feasts and the hof is built in a "dry" area, it may be necessary for the hof to register as a private club in which the members pay a nominal yearly fee (along the lines of $1.00, receipt redeemable for a complimentary drink...) for the privilege of drinking there. The Troth does, of course, strongly encourage its members to investigate and obey all local laws.
Go forth and build!
KveldúlfR Hagan Gundarsson, from The Troth Hof, Idunna V, i, #18, Rhedmonth 1993, pp. 3-7, -- with special thanks to Dr. Willard A.E. Larson for making me aware of the reference to the hof in Kjalnesinga saga.