folketro

Icelandic Magical Staves

Hulinhjalmur

Hulinhjalmur (“Helm Of Disguise”) is a visual magic sigil that allows the user to appear invisible.

The complex task of creating the ink to make this sigil is done by collecting three drops of blood from the index finger of one’s left hand, three from the ring-finger of one’s right hand, two from the right nipple and one from the left nipple. Then the blood must be mixed with six drops of blood from the heart of a living raven and melted with raven’s brains and pieces of human stomach.

Once that is done the sigil must be drawn out in this ink on brown coal (lignite) and then pressed into the brow, activating this visual magic to prevent your enemies from being able to see you.

- hedendom

Maran

Maran (singular mara, roughly translated as “nightmare”) are terrifying female beings that haunt people at night. They crawl upon the victim’s chest while they sleep, suffocating them and sucking out their life force. If you wake up, you will be breathless and feel as if you have been smothered.

Maran can enter a victim’s home through the smallest of opening, so to prevent this one can sing hymns, blessing as much cow hair as possible and place it in the window. If a mara attempts to enter, she must first count all the individual hairs before entering, leaving her little time to attack before the victim wakes. Alternatively, flax seed can spread around the bed before sleeping and if a mara comes she will compulsively have to count all the seed.

Maran are also known to attack horses which will be found in their stall in the morning appearing to have been ridden very hard. Symptoms will include exhaustion, foaming at the mouth and a matted mane. Hanging a dead bird of prey or painting a hexagonal marker on the stall of the horse will scare the mara away.

Maran are said to be the souls of unmarried women who have died and returned to take the warmth and essence away from the living. It is also possible for any woman to become a mara at night if she is cursed. The curse comes about if a mother attempts to prevent the pains of childbirth using sorcery. A daughter will be cursed as a mara and a son will be cursed to live as a werewolf.

The transformation into a mara starts with a thick smoke that appears to come from the woman’s body, takes it’s terrifying shape and then flies off into the night. The curse can be broken if someone tells her she is a mara the moment she returns to her body in the morning but the timing must be perfect because the woman may lose a finger or toe if the curse is lifted too soon and the body has not fully transformed back to normal.

Artwork by Johan Egerkrans

Vittra

Among mountains and pastures in northern Scandinavia are the Vittra, a small humanoid race that get along well with humankind as long as they are respected and left in peace. They live in large families and are rarely found alone.

Vittra look almost exactly the same way as most people do, though they are smaller in size. Unlike Goblins who wear earth gray costumes, Vittra are red-robed and extremely clean and tidy. They are often seen in traditional costumes, much like the ones people wear on special occasions. Sometimes they can take other forms, such as small striped worms or larvae. Anyone who happens to tread on such a Vittra will experience a pain in the foot and will become seriously ill.

Vittra’s lives do not differ significantly from those of men. They tend to their own cows (called vitterkor) which are all white and very beautiful, but small in stature. They wear bells of silver with a mysterious melodic sound. Its small size notwithstanding, they provide much more milk than human cattle. It could happen that a fäbodjäntor (pasture lass) would stumble across a vitterkor when she herded her own cattle. If she was quick and she threw a knife over the vitterkor then she could keep it as her own. That evening she would be visited by Vittra, who put certain conditions on her ownership. She would be allowed no more than one bucket of milk per day, otherwise the vitterkor would die, and all calves the vitterkor may bare would belong to the Vittra.

The Vittra would criss-cross the landscape with their cattle along vittervägar (Vittra roads). Sometimes it happened that people carelessly built their homes in the way of these vittervägar and because of this they could get no peace in the house at night. The only ways to solve the problem was to either move house or to sleep with the doors open so the Vittra can pass straight through.

Vittra are also experts at milking men’s cows, which they would abduct for up to three days, and when the cows were returned to the owner they now had the ability to give more milk as a sign of gratitude.

Some Vittra prefer to live in lakes, known as vitterjärnar. If you throw a silver coin into the water before a fishing trip you can expect to get a good catch.

Artwork by Johan Egerkrans

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Norse Mythology, Scandinavian Folklore and Viking inspired artwork by Jake Powning

1. This digital painting depicts the stanzas of Runatal in which Odin hangs himself from Yggdrasil as a sacrifice to himself to gain the secret of the runes.

2. Three brothers - Fáfnir, Ottar and Regin.

3 & 4. Imaginative visualisations of the Viking Age warrior inspired by “The First Law” trilogy novels by Joe Abercrombie

5. The Shadow Tomten rides the Night-Warg. Inspired by Harald Wiberg’s illustrations (from the “Tomten” book series) this drawing takes the concept of the friendly Tomten and flips it in reverse! He is the Shadow Tomten who comes from his deep lair to hunt by the moonlight. He takes care of the wild creatures and dreams of blood on the snow and the scent of prey.

Funeral Of Baldr

The fairest, the finest, beloved by all,
Banished from Breidablik, the most beautiful hall,
In death given Draupnir, in Hringhorni to hel,
Words whispered by the wisest that we never will know,
A blind man, a brother, a game gone wrong,
A mistletoe arrow didn’t swear to no harm,
A tricksters deceit, bound to settle the score,
Baldr will return as the earth rises once more.

Words by hedendom
Artwork by galhad

Icelandic Magical Staves

Veldismagn

Where many would think to use Ægishjálmur (particularly in tattoo’s as I have seen), it would often be more appropriate to use Veldismagn.

Where Ægishjálmur must be carved in metal and placed between the brows (acting as a visual magic), Veldismagn is drawn out in blood and placed on the chest. Since tattooing draws blood this might actually activate this overlooked sigil and in doing so create a charm so that nothing evil can harm you and you will return healthy and without sickness from any journey.

- hedendom

A beautifully made, solid silver amulet that dates to the Viking Age and is believed to depict Loke has been found at Øster Lindet.

It is currently being displayed at Museet På Sønderskov in Denmark.

Of particular interest is that there has been little previous evidence that people worshipped Loke back in Viking times and this amulet suggests that is not the case. It seems likely that if this amulet does indeed portray Loke then it would have been worn, in a similar fashion to other amulets such as a mjølner pendant.

Source

The day which Heathens traditionally considered New Year was sundown on the night of the first full moon after the midwinter solstice. On this night, it was believed that the barriers between the realms were at their thinnest. It was a night when many would attempt to commune with the powers and attempt rituals that required crossing between planes of existence. Such rituals would include Årsgång (Year Walking), Spådom (Premonition), Trolldom (Nordic Folk Magic) and doing positive things that would help set a precedent for the coming year!

The artwork comes from an 1875 book and depicts someone partaking in Årsgång.

Gloson

In Swedish folktradition, Gloson is a terrible ghost pig that was a part of the challenges a year walker faced on a year walk (Sw. årsgång). She, the pig is usually a sow, could run between the legs of a person and cleave him or her in half. Sometimes she carried a scroll or a book in her mouth, and the one who snatched it could learn magic.

Artwork by fromfarbeyond and description by suttungsbrew

Loke, eller den som er i midten

The following article was written by Elisabeth Keller of Forn Sed Norway. She is currently reading for a Master’s degree in Nordic, Viking and Medieval Culture at University. She works at the Norwegian Folk Museum. The original was in Norwegian so I thought I would translate it so that others may enjoy it. I have used some translations that include potentially offensive language (such as “gender bender” and “female magic”) but these are the closest translations and I did not wish to colour the article with my own interpretations.

Loki, “The One in the Middle”

Loki is without doubt one of the more controversial characters in the Old Norse pantheon. In this article I will examine his position as a mediator. Loki is constantly between the extremes. This applies to his allegiances, behaviour, morals, ancestry and more. I want to look more closely at three of these different aspects of Loki. His position in the middle of opposing forces, his position between man and woman and especially his intermediary position between the elements of fire, water and air.

Loki, “The Inbetweener”:

Loki is one of the most frequently occurring characters in the Norse myths but does not seem to have had his own following in the Viking Age, since we have not found archeological evidence of a cult or place of worship. The closest we come is the Snaptun Stone, an example of a rock that would protect the blower from the heat of a forge, which appears to be decorated with a figure with a sewn mouth. Such a stone is placed between the fire and blower, roughly halfway between the two. 

He is often described as a beautiful young man, who has a bad character. In this aspect (along with some others) he resembles the Christian devil and he has been compared with both the name and function. I have no doubt that Christian ideas have played an important role in how the Norse myths were written down, and in all likelihood that the representation of Loki will be influenced by Christian ideals and made meaner in the process. It seems only logical, not least because it has the same thing that happened to the Christian devil too. Much of the earlier research has characterised him as a so-called ”evil god” or as a carrier of culture. I would argue that he is both and neither.

In my opinion, Loki is the element that causes change - both good and bad. He is the one who stands in the middle between extremes. Ursula Dronke has suggested that Lodur is part of Loki. This makes sense if we regard Loki as an intermediary between the beginning and the end. In the beginning, Lodur gives the very life blood to the first humans, Ask and Embla. Finally at Ragnarok, Loki leads the giants against the gods. One possible interpretation of Loki’s name is that it can mean “close”, but this is far from certain and there are several other possible explanations. 

Some believe that, as a catalyst of advancement, Loki only contributed to the invention of the fishing net but, if we allow a broader definition of catalyst, I think Loki hass had many a success. Constantly challenging or forcing the gods to seek out new “technologies”, new solutions and not to get stuck in their ways. Ultimately to be prepared for the final battle. He is not chaos, although his actions may seem chaotic, but he has a predetermined goal as he works against the other Æsir. He is the force that drives the story forward, toward its inevitable conclusion at Ragnarok.

As a rogue god Loki breaks all the rules, he is witty and cunning, funny and insulting, but he is not just playing any pranks. He has a silver tongue and can convince anyone of what he wants but also causes much trouble with his tongue and so he gets his mouth sewn together.

He is a liar, a thief and a murderer, but friends of both Thor and Odin. He is a beloved husband, that commands the devotion of his patient and kind wife Sigyn after he is punished for the death of Balder. He sometimes causes both the gods and himself to get into trouble, both by lying and stealing, but usually it is also him who gets them out of it again. He does not do all this for his own amusement alone, but because he has to make sure that the cycle of existence for the world proceeds as it should. At the same time he also makes sure that everyone is prepared for the events at the end of the world.

Loki, “Gender Bender”:

Another great aspect of Loki as the middle person is his ability to change his shape. He is the child of giants but he is counted among the Æsir as a blood brother to Odin himself. Both he and Odin have forbidden knowledge of the female magic called seidr. As Brit Solli points out, this gives him the abilities and characteristics of a shaman. Apparently these skills transferred to him when he mixed his blood with Odin.

He is also a very liberal person and is not ashamed to transform or disguise himself as a women, unlike the other gods who regard this as perverse and shameful (as Thor does when he disguises himself as Freya). Loki has even given birth to several children in addition to being the father of a many too.

Loki’s disguises and transformations are a complete transformation, where he actually becomes whatever he turns into, rather than just taking on the appearance. When he becomes a mare to seduce the stallion Svaðilfari, he later gives birth a foal - Sleipnir. 

In Lokasenna, Odin accuses Loki of having survived underground as a woman for eight years while he milked cows and gave birth. On one occasion he alleges that Loki must have eaten a woman’s heart and due to this he is the mother of all witches. His role as a mother is stressed several times, not least in terms of kennings attached to him. As a man or a woman, he is difficult to define. Using seidr magic he stays in this unsteady and intermediate position. A figure that is hard to understand, who consciously lives somewhere in between what is acceptable for most and that which seems unacceptable to many. Loki defies words and even gender norms and limits.

Loki, “Between The Elements”:

The third and final aspect of Loki’s nature that I want to take a look at is his connection to the elements. He has been proposed as a personification of three different elements. I think he should represent both all and none. Fire and water can only exist if there is something between them. The element with a mythological correlation between these elements must be considered to be air.

The most commonly proposed elementary link with Loki is that he is or may have been a fire god but he loses in a competition against wildfire fire and so I do not see him as a general deity of fire. He is commonly called flammehår and it is not unlikely that Logi is another aspect of him. Logi literally means “fire” and is the brother of Hler (water) and Kari (air). Which interestingly enough are the other two elements he is more or less often connected. Noke is said to be again another aspect of Loke and this name is connected to the element of air. He is also called the celestial wanderer and sky traveller, which are connected with the air and the sky. Loki turned into a fly in order to win a bet against dwarf blacksmith. He has also been interpreted as a water deity because many of his transformations are water-related. He does, for example, transform to both salmon and seals. If we are to accept Lodur as part of Loki, we can also use this to link him to the water-related domain. It is Lodur providing the first people with the life-giving blood and can be interpreted as a parallel to the life-giving water. In addition, he also brought the fishing net to the people, although Anna Birgitta Rooth has suggested that this is one of things that marked him as a spider-god.

In my eyes, the three elements on their own are unlikely to be found as representations in one person, especially since two of them would annihilate each other. Again I find the solution to this is in the intermediate area with Loki. He is extremity and also situated between extremes - fire, water and air.

As I have shown in this brief essay, Loki is not so much a god of contradictions, but a deity or spirit for those between extremes. He is the child of giants but counted among the Æsir by becoming a blood brother to Odin himself. Thus he puts himself in a intermediate position. He is a vile murderer but a beloved husband. A monster and a lover. He is a prolific and excessive man but not ashamed to be a woman. He is a handsome young man, but often with an ugly character. He can convince everyone, but also lie without scruples. He has been suggested as a fire, water and air spirit among many other things. He creates difficulties for both gods and himself, both by lying and by stealing, yet he is also the one that gets them out of the predicament again, often with new acquisitions for the Æsir.

He is neither good nor evil, despite his role in the death of Balder and Ragnarok. He is the agent of renewal and progress in the cosmic plan who always drives the action in the stories toward its inevitable conclusion.

Bibliography

  • Brunvand, Jan Harold: Review in Midwest Folklore, Vol. 12, No. 4, Bloomington, 1962
  • Dronke, Ursula: The Poetic Edda: Volume II: Mythological Poems, Oxford 1997
  • Golther, Wolfgang: Handbuch der Germanischen Mythologie, Leipzig 1895, new edition from Wiesbaden 2004
  • Holtsmark, Anne: Norrøn mytologi – Tru och mytar i vikingtida, Oslo 1990 Solli, Brit: Seid, Oslo 2002
  • Steinsland, Gro: Norrøn religion, Oslo 2005
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The Lagarfljótsormur is a legendary water serpent that is said to inhabit Lake Lagarfljót, Iceland. The earliest recorded sightings of the Lagarfljótsormur date back to the Icelandic Annals of 1345 and have continued to this day.

In their book “Icelandic Folk and Fairy Tales,” folklorists May and Hallberg Hallmundsson describe the origin tale of the beast:

At one time, long, long ago, there was a woman living on a farm in the Lagarfljót district, close by the stream where it broadens into a lake. She had a grown daughter. Once, she gave her daughter a gold ring. The woman instructed her daughter to catch a snake and keep the gold ring underneath it in her linen chest (as, apparently, one did long ago in rural Iceland). She did so, but when the girl went to look at her ring again, the snake had grown so large that the chest was beginning to come apart. Then the girl was frightened and she picked up the chest with everything in it and threw it into the lake. A long time passed, and gradually people became aware that there was a serpent in the lake, for it was beginning to kill both people and animals crossing the waters. 

In 1963, the head of the Icelandic National Forest Service, Sigurður Blöndal, reported seeing the giant worm and in 1998 a teacher and students at Hallormsstaðir School also claimed to have witnessed the legendary creature.

In 2012, an amateur cameraman, Hjörtur E. Kjerúlf, accidentally caught what is thought to be the Lagarfljótsormur on camera. The Icelandic government set up a commission to determine whether or not the footage (shown above) was authentic and in September 2014 their report concluded that the footage was, in fact, genuine and recommended further investigation and research into the Lagarfljótsormur.

Where To Find Our Faith

Regardless of the name you use, be it Ásatrú, Forn Sed, The Northern Tradition, Norse Heathenry or any other title, the question of how and where to learn more about the old ways always comes up.

Academic study is great if you wish to learn how others practice (and I do read and take an interest in what remains from the era) but ultimately the only perfect way to find this faith for yourself is to experience it.

You will not find experiences in books.

You will find it in woods and forests, mountains and anywhere else that makes you re-enter the ecosystem as a participant instead of a viewer.
You will find it in the customs, traditions and folklore around YOU (possibly including but not limited to those incomplete fragments from Iceland many hundreds of years ago).
You will find it in your own heart.

Our ancestors didn’t read books about how to practice. They looked at their world, experienced it, and created our tradition to fit themselves. They did not follow written word like a holy book and try to make themselves fit those words.

I know a heathen brother who has a profound understanding of the old ways and he cannot even read. Yet he is a man of the earth and spends all of his time in nature, where he truly found his faith.

To me it isn’t study. It’s living, experiencing and growing!
It’s a living religion, a way to make sense of our world. Go out and enjoy it!

- hedendom