Winterhammer

A Progressive Heathen Blog

Ideology and Symbology in European Metal Music: In Search of Context

This semester I opted to complete a pedagogical project for my Music 7007: Race Gender and Class course in lieu of writing a traditional term paper. This project required me to prepare a graduate-level lecture and teach it to a group of classical musicians. I’ll teach that class on Tuesday, and it will be my first time teaching Master’s-level students, which is exciting for me. My topic will be the Norwegian metal scene in the 199os, how it shaped European metal thereafter, and the ways Northern European symbols like Thor’s Hammer and the Elder Futhark have been used in metal music.

I won’t be able to upload the materials for that class to Academia.edu, since the platform doesn’t really support the sharing of pedagogical materials. So I’m uploading them here. Please feel free to download them, modify them, and use them in your own teaching.

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Unverified Personal Gnosis: Mediating the Supernatural Among Heathen Women

I undertook a bit of primary research last semester on the topic of unverified personal gnosis among Heathen women. The results of that research became the underpinning of a PhD term paper I’ve uploaded to my Academia.edu account. Here’s the abstract:

Contemporary Northern European-inspired Neo-Paganism (also called Heathenry) is a vernacular religion practiced by individuals and small groups which thrives, in part, on gnostic experiences mediated by the individuals who have them. This gnosticism, sometimes labeled “unverified personal gnosis,” is a nuanced supernatural transmission of knowledge rooted in a substratum of supernatural beliefs and practices which are part of Heathen religion for many adherents.

My research on this topic synthesizes the surveys of six Heathen women about unverified personal gnosis with selected critical literature on the ethnographic study of belief. The gnostic experiences of these women are highlighted in the contexts of their various demographics, the syncretization of their belief systems, and the impacts of unverified personal gnosis on themselves and their communities of faith. Also explored in gnostic contexts are the role of shifting gender dynamics in these communities and the relationship of early Northern European literature to Heathen belief and practice.

As part of the aforementioned synthesis, I utilize David J. Hufford’s work on traditions of disbelief to draw conclusions about the contested nature of both the term “unverified personal gnosis” and the experiences it describes. I also utilize Diane Goldstein’s work on the structure of supernatural narratives to theorize that Heathen narratives about gnostic experience often conform to a four-part structure. Finally, I explore the ways Heathens contextualize discussions of supernatural beliefs and practices with the aforementioned early Northern European literature in mind and propose several directions for further research.

You can access the paper here.

Documenting the Creation of a Rune Set

During Yuletide, I made a set of runes using birch wood I brought back from Iceland in April of last year. Because I’m a folklorist, I thought it might be interesting to document the process in pictures and share them with you. The tools and the burning/soldering kit (not shown) were gifts from my husband (I’ve needed proper electric tools for a while now), the cutting board oil is made of coconut oil and essential oils that smell faintly of lemongrass, and the velvet comes from my grandmother’s quilting stash, which I inherited in the late nineties before she passed away.

I usually allow a set of runes to germinate for at least four seasons; two to cure the wood, one to make the runes, and one to let them rest before blessing them. I prefer to make runes at Yuletide, and I’ll bless this set on May 1st when I return from Newfoundland. Meanwhile, it sits on the altar in my studio at home in Nova Scotia, sleeping as the snow falls outside.

This is a particularly sacred set for me, since I traded an oath for the wood. Later, I laid that wood out under the summer solar eclipse to charge it. Given the creation of the runes at Yuletide and the blessing of them at Walpurgisnacht, they promise to be powerful conduits, and I plan to utilize them with that in mind.

Here are the photos. Click on the arrows beneath each one to advance the slide show.

Mitre Saw Setup
Mitre Saw Setup
Mitre Saw Set Up to Ensure Rune Blanks of Equal Size
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I Forbid Neo-Nazis the Symbols of My Faith

First and foremost, I want to make something clear. As a person of Western and Northern European descent, I condemn and repudiate Neo-Nazism, Neo-Nazi ideology, and President Donald Trump’s support of them both. Neo-Nazis and other racists aren’t saving the world for me, and I never want to benefit from what they’re creating.

I’ve been Pagan for thirty-two years, so I’ve weathered my share of misunderstanding as a result of my faith. But I wore the symbols of that faith proudly even so; the pentacle when I was practicing Wicca in my twenties, the Celtic cross when I practiced Druidry in my thirties, and the Thor’s Hammer I wear now as a Heathen. I always believed, and still do, that it was important to be the Pagan in the room and to answer any questions my non-Pagan family, friends, and colleagues might have with clarity and kindness.

In the wake of the Neo-Nazi violence in Charlottesville, Virginia last weekend, I believe strongly that I need to be a Pagan in the room again. Fortunately, I’m one among many whose minds and hearts have been moved to speak out both against Neo-Nazis and on behalf of the sacred symbols they’ve desecrated with their hateful ideology. I’m writing now to add my voice to theirs.

If you’re not Pagan, you might recently have seen Neo-Nazis use symbols you don’t recognize. Here are a few I do recognize and a brief usage description of each. Please note that these descriptions are not intended to be comprehensive.

Elder Futhark: A runic alphabet once used among Germanic and Scandinavian people. Among contemporary Pagans, it is often used as a system of divination.

Othala Rune: This is a letter in the Elder Futhark. Among contemporary Pagans, it represents family, culture, and heritage.

Valknut: A symbol associated with Odin in the historical record, it continues to be associated with him among contemporary Pagans.

Thor’s Hammer: A symbol associated with the protection of Thor in the historical record, it continues to be associated with him among contemporary Pagans.

Celtic Cross: A symbol associated with both early Paganism and early Christianity, varieties of the Celtic cross are worn by both contemporary Pagans and contemporary Christians.

As a contemporary Pagan, all of these symbols are sacred to me. I make and use rune sets for divination, of which Othala is a part. I wear either a Valknut or a Thor’s Hammer (usually the hammer), and I have worn the Celtic cross. Indeed, many Gaelic Christians of my acquaintance wear the Celtic cross as well, and this blog entry also stands in defense of that symbol for them.

None of these symbols is inherently hateful, either in their historical or contemporary contexts. Rather, they have important cultural significance to the people whose ancestors created them, and they have both personal and sacred significance to contemporary Pagans. If you’re Christian, think about how horrified you are to see the cross burned as an act of racism. If you’re Muslim, think about how horrified you are to see your declaration of faith on an ISIS flag. That’s how it feels to have the above symbols used by Neo-Nazis. It breaks my heart and leaves me weeping as I write this. It is a desecration I cannot and will not stand for.

I am only one voice. But I forbid Neo-Nazis the use of my sacred symbols. If you are a Neo-Nazi who uses my symbols in this way, you are desecrating them and bringing shame upon my faith and upon the ancestors of people who hold these symbols as cultural artifacts. I demand that you stop right now, and I call upon all Pagans of good conscience to make the same full-throated, public statement. At the very least, we help non-Pagans understand that these symbols are not inherently hateful. At most, we reclaim them for use by ourselves and our descendants.

“Where you recognize evil, speak out against it, and give no truces to your enemies.” — Old Norse proverb, from the Hávamál, st. 127

A Discussion of Solitary Seidh Work Methodology

I’m a revivalist Heathen, academic, and fiction writer, which makes for an interesting approach to cosmological and theological ideology and practice. In short, I recognize that there are substantive holes in the lore, but I honor what we have, and I also honor my own process of interaction with the transpersonal. As a longtime solitary practitioner, that process of interaction is decidedly personal, which is to say that I haven’t studied with any particular Heathen organization or individual. With this in mind, and because I do have a specific process for undertaking seidh work, I thought it might add to our ongoing revival of the practice to write about it here. I’ll start with some relevant personal background, followed by a discussion of my toolkit, and end with a paragraph or two about the method itself.

Background

The gift of sight runs in my family, passed down on my mother’s side. My grandmother, an old church Apostolic Pentecostal who believed in gifts of the spirit, would occasionally tell my mother and I that ‘the Lord came to her in a dream’. This was always followed by a prophetic pronouncement of some kind, and these were accurate enough that she (1) believed they came from the Lord, and (2) believed the content of the dreams themselves was a glimpse into the future.

My first prophetic dream was about the onset of my menstrual cycle. Shortly after I turned 12, I dreamed that I would bleed for the first time at home surrounded by specific friends. This came to pass a few months later when my mother went out with her best friend, leaving that woman’s daughters to babysit at our house and visit with me and my sisters, which was an uncommon occurrence. Since then, I’ve had a number of dreams and waking visions about everything from automobile accidents to house fires to family deaths which have come to pass. I’ve also seen for the people in a Spiritualist context, worked as a professional clairvoyant, tarot card reader, and rune reader, and I’ve become a rune smith. In all, I’ve had and used my sight for thirty-six years, long enough to sometimes wish I didn’t have it. After all, who wants to know in advance that family members are about to die and newly-married friends will soon divorce?

I’ve also completed the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids training course consisting of the Bard, Ovate, and Druid Grades, and I was an OBOD tutor for two years. One of the cornerstones of that work was the development of internal landscapes for the purpose of undertaking spiritual work. By the time I completed the training, I had established and journeyed to personal groves, places of interaction with guides and guardians, and many other non-physical locations. The work I did was rarely called shamanic, and it certainly wasn’t called seidh. It was also largely self-focused. However, it taught me to visualize the intersections between the personal and transpersonal and to navigate them, which is foundational training for trance journey work.

Two more pieces of background bear mentioning. I studied briefly with a Zen Buddhist group in Maine and have also attended several Shambhala meditation retreats in Nova Scotia. As I hope to discuss at greater length in a future blog post, meditation focuses the mind for the purpose of centering attention on the present moment. Of course, trance journey work of any kind is a complicated undertaking which involves far more than just the mind, but if an active or “monkey” mind can interrupt meditation, you bet it can interrupt seidh. Because of this, various principles of mindfulness meditation have found their way into my practice. Another technique I employ is the use of shamanic drumming during seidh work because patterned drumming, ecstatic dance, and indeed mindfulness meditation itself can and do create the altered state of consciousness a shaman/trance journeyer/seidhkona needs to undertake this work.

Finally, there is the matter of the lore itself. I’ve already mentioned that I know how to write, know how to read, and know how to stain. I’ve also studied Northern European Pagan cosmology and theology for about twenty-five of my thirty-two years as a Pagan, though I believe the Valfather called me early on and sent me out to wander awhile before I came home. Some of this study has been casual and need-driven, and somewhat less of it has been academic (so far). I’m also continuing to study the lore as I cultivate my seidh practice. I’ve taken my spirituality on pilgrimage to Glastonbury and more recently to Iceland twice, where I’ve made specific oaths and undertaken a bit of research on the huldufolk.

Toolkit

So this is my toolkit. An ancestral gift of sight and the longterm cultivation of it via clairvoyance, tarot, and runes. Completion of the OBOD training course and the teaching of it. Mindfulness meditation training. A working knowledge of the lore, if not a complete one. Pilgrimage to holy places as circumstances permit. It’s a fairly individual package and lends itself to differences in the way I practice seidh from the ways other people have revitalized the practice, but it produces results, which I’ll discuss a next.

Method

I first began seidh work in earnest shortly after I graduated from the OBOD Druid Grade. I wanted to learn more about the lore, and I wanted a gnostic experience of the cosmology, so I decided to combine the two. This manifested as the methodical exploration of Yggdrasil I’m still undertaking, which includes visiting the nine realms as appropriate (this is an especially risky proposition in some respects, and so there are realms I haven’t visited yet, nor may I ever), meeting the Gods, undertaking work at Hela’s instruction in Helheim, meditating more deeply upon the runes, and so on. I also work with the help of specific allies, which I won’t name here, and I’ve collected a few spiritual objects of power to be used while I’m journeying.

In practice, this is what a trance journey looks like. I identify or am given a task (take a gift to Heimdall and give him greetings, guide a beloved, departed companion animal into Helheim, visit my allies, ask an important question, etc.). If the task requires a deeper understanding of the lore, I do the research first. This might mean revisiting my knowledge of Heimdall, for instance. Once that work is completed, I go to my altar, put in my earbuds, and start a track from an album called “Double Drumming for the Shamanic Journey.” A bit unorthodox, I know. But while I can trance and drum at the same time, I can’t trance, journey to accomplish specific tasks, and drum at the same time. Sometimes I’ll also focus on my breath or count to ten and back once in order to encourage mental focus before beginning the journey in earnest. The specifics of my internal landscapes (or my versions of of Yggdrasil, Helheim, and the like) are really of no consequence, but I will say that I’m always met by a primary ally who journeys with me and who is sometimes assisted by other allies. I undertake the work, note any interactions I have and messages I receive, and return when the drumming track ends.

At the end of this journey, I return all the way, eat something, and journal the entire experience from research to meal. In all, this process takes the better part of a day, so I’m tired when I’m done. Still, I’m alert to messages in the outer world triggered by my journey work, which are both frequent and reliable, and I add these to my journal. I would end by writing that because it’s taxing, I don’t journey often, and at present I have a backlog of seidh work that needs doing because of this.

Conclusion

I’m not a reconstructionist, and I’m not a Hrafnar trainee (though I have respect for Hrafnar’s methods and count one of its teachers a close friend). I also recognize that in several important respects, I’m still learning the ropes, as it were. But I’ve cultivated this method and used it often enough that I thought my experience might be helpful to fellow seidh workers, so here you go. How is your experience similar? How does it differ? I’d appreciate your insights.

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