Video 10-18 (Ritual and Initiation)

10: The Universal Soul

The female superpowers of the Old Norse mythical cosmos were divided into tribes. Giantesses (gygr) were the oldest kinds, giving birth and shape to the world, Fates (nornir) gave the world its destiny, and from the Well of Origin, the Urdarbrunnr, all the norns ascend at the birth of a new individual. Each human being achieves a personal fate goddess (norn) that spins his or her fate throughout life. This norn is also known as a fylgja (follower), because she “follows” her person through life. Another aspect of the follower/fate is the Hamingja, the shape-walker, the part of the human soul that may detach from the body and change shape. The fate, follower and shape-walker all seem to be different aspects of the human soul. They all originate from one source: Urdr, (Origin) the oldest of the Fates or Giantesses, who owns the Urdarbrunnr, the Well of Origin, the cosmic ocean that gave birth and continues to nourish the World Tree (the Universe). Valkyriur are the fates of warriors who have woken up their personal fate-goddess as most fates are sleepwalking, (“daughters of Dvalinn” -- “Hibernation”) they need to be woken up through a ritual of initiation, which is described in Edda poems such as the poems of Helgi Hjörvardssonar, Helgi Hundingsbani and Sigurdr Volsungr. The fate-goddess, awake, becomes a glorious valkyria who will guide, teach and protect her human through life and save him from oblivion in death. A hero would be married to his valkyria -- to his fate-soul. The so-called goddesses, Asyniur, are only Asyniur because they are married to the Aesir, and are all originally giantesses or fates. All these female superpowers were worshipped as a collective -- the Disir -- who were united by the Great Dis, Freya (The Lady). They are also in reality the true immortal souls of individual human beings and of gods. The concept of the female All-Soul may be both of IndoEuropean origin and of Finno-Ugric -- the Sami believed in the Sun Maiden who was the sole origin of all souls -- all souls being female until half of them are changed within the mother´s womb. The Norse population worshipped the Sun as their major deity during the Bronze Age -- in later Norse sources we learn that the Sun is a goddess and that she is called the Alfrödull, the Elf-Shine (or Elf-Splendor or Elf-Wheel). Elves are metaphors for souls in the Norse poetry. Thus there are numerous indications towards the concept of an All-Soul, the Great Goddess, in Norse pagan religion.
The concept of the Great Goddess is a pantheist concept, that is, all the gods and goddesses are aspects of the Supreme Being. The Great Goddess is also the All-Soul, the original soul of everyone together. This is the great mystery of the Goddess. I draw connections here to the concepts of the Supreme Being in India and the All-Soul of the Mystery Cults in classical times.

11: Witches and Rituals of Initiation

In this video, I begin to talk about how a detailed and literal description of a ritual structure of initiation is being revealed in the Poetic Edda, and how the Edda may be read as a complete book, beginning with the Völuspá, the Prophecy of the Witch. The Edda, on one level of meaning, tells the story of the great Initiation, how it came to be, and could easily be used as a manual as to how such rituals were conducted and what they taught. I can only get so far in one video, and here we go, enter the Witch-Goddess to pave the way -- originally for the women only. But, as I will talk about in the next one, the men came along too…Völuspá, the Prophecy of the Witch, is the first poem in the Edda collection, making an introduction and a summary to the book. It tells all the most important events in the history of the cosmos, among them the burning of the witch Gullveigr, who is identified as Freya. The witch arrives just after the norns, goddesses of fate, have been introduced, and the witch is showing how fate may be altered, how death may be conquered. That this event takes up so much space in the poem shows how important it was perceived in the religious community that created it.
Haliurun(-nae) = (Helju-run = Hel´s Secrets): A group of priestesses or sorceresses known from Jordanes´s Getica of 551 AD. They were expelled from the Gothic people after the emigration from Scandinavia and were said to have brought the Huns upon the Goths as a revenge 500 years later.Litilvölva= The Little Witch, the last of a group of nine witches that came with the Icelandic settlers to Greenland during the 10th century. Her name was Torbjörg and she is described as the leader of a ritual of seidr performed by the women on a farm in the Eirik Saga Rauda.Priestess-graves were found all over the Germanic worldfrom about 500 BC and into the Viking Age. Priestesses or witches were buried with full ritual gear, the most important items being their cult staff, their pouch of herbs (often containing cannabis) and magical amulets, and the equipment needed for serving mead in a ritual setting. (Source: Michael Enright “Lady with a mead-cup”.). The last known priestess burial is probably the Oseberg ship burial of 9th century Norway (now to be seen in the Viking Ship House of Oslo), where two elderly priestesses were laid to rest in the most splendid ship burial ever found for anyone and with full ritual gear, including the pouches and the staff and equipment for brewing. The ship was designed for moving in shallow waters, probably to take the priestesses along the coast -- most priestesses just traveled by foot it would appear, these had wealthy patronage and were honored with more splendor even than royalty. There is still a misconception that they were a queen and her handmaiden although this theory has been disproven several times and the findings clearly show their cultic-religious status and the equality between the two women (Sources: Anne-Stine Ingstad, Britt Solli, Gunnhild Röthe).

12: Hanging the Sorcerer -- (the Initiation of Odin)

I begin to talk about Odinn´s initiation as he hung on the World Tree. Focusing on the beginning, the actual hanging and how it was a ritual derived from the ritual of human sacrifice. Historically, such rituals may have actually taken place and have a similar tradition in shamanistic rituals from Siberia. The purpose of the initiation is only discussed in part here, as I will have to continue in the next video, but I begin by telling how Odinn descended to the Well of Origin (Urdarbrunnr) where he picked up the runes of fate that had been carved into the World Tree by the norns. He carves them loose, let them run through his soul in the form of precious mead, and scatters them across the world to be enjoyed by everyone who wants them.
The initiation happened after the war between the Aesir (Odinn´s people) and the Vanir (Freya´s people) had come to an end -- a war won by the Vanir but benefited from by the Aesir, who managed a clever truce: Alongside her family, Freya came to dwell in Asgardr. Odinn and Freya had a strange relationship -- she taught him the art of Seidr and they were married, but were then separated and both went out to travel the world as witches wearing countless names and shapes. What happened when the two were together in Asgardr was the initiation, which involved a sacred marriage.
Sources: Ynglingatal and Prose Edda by Snorri Sturlusson
Völuspá, Hávamal, Grimnismál (about the twelve worlds)Poetic Edda
Hávamál stanzas 138-141 quoted in the beginning.

13: Precious Mead and Sacred Marriage

In the last video I talked about how Odin in Havamal stanza 138-139 describes how he hangs fasting for nine days before he descends into the realm of the fates where he grasps the runes of destiny. I explained how his trial may reflect real trials of initiation that were influenced by a ritual of human sacrifice. In this one I explain how stanza 140, in which Odin continues by learning nine powerful songs and then receives the precious mead, poured out from Poetry Blend (=Odrerir, the cauldron that contains the mead), is referring to something that is described in more detail eariler in the same Havamal poem, stanza 104-110, where Odin enters sacred marriage with a giantess called Gunnlöd inside a burial mound. I explain how this is not only a metaphor for dying in the embrace of the goddess during initiation, but also may reflect real life ritual, as women (priestesses) were known to indeed have had sacred offices where one primary function was to ritually serve mead, and that they were buried in mounds carrying the equipment needed for the serving of mead. Archaeology has also shown that people indeed ritually entered burial mounds, it happened among other things with the huge Oseberg ship burial mound where two priestesses had been laid to rest. I believe that the hanging, followed by a marriage with the lady of the underworld who serves the consecrating mead of resurrection, is indeed a way of describing and explaining an age old ritual of initiation that must have been common during the Iron and Viking Ages in Northern Europe.
 

14: Techniques of Ecstasy

Continuing the talk about the ritual aspects of Norse myths of the Poetic Edda. The poems of the Poetic Edda were written down during the 12th century AD on Iceland. Iceland converted to Christianity in the year 1000 AD, and within four decades, Norway and Sweden had followed. This means that one must be cautious about claiming that the Poetic Edda could be seens as a source to pagan, pre-Christian lore. Did people write down poems that were created within a pagan context and more or less unaltered until they were written down faithfully, or are these poems disfigured or even invented after the fall of paganism? I believe that the Edda poems are true renderings of pagan lore and one of my most important reasons for believing that is because the stories told in the poems follow a structure, a pattern that can only be echoing an actual, real life pattern of pagan ritual. The stories not only follow a pagan ritual structure of initiation, but also reveal detailed descriptions of such rituals. In this video I focus on the part of the ritual structure that I call “the Vision Quest” (involving “Techniques of Ecstasy” as described by Mircea Eliade in his book “Shamanism”), and “the Vision” (usually involving a golden bright maiden in the underworld), two steps of the structured path of initiation that lead to the subsequent steps: the “Descent” (into the Underworld, the Land of Dreams, etc), “the Trials” (usually involving an encounter with a guardian giant or similar), “the Consecration” (involving the ritual serving of the precious mead of poetry, memory and transformation by the Maiden of the Underworld, as well as her “embrace”, the Sacred Marriage), and finally “the Return” (where the initiate returns a sage, a king or a worthy warrior).In this video I use examples from Edda poems Hávamál, Hyndluljód and Helgakvida Hjörvardssonar. I will continue in the next video with examples from the poems of Helgi Hundingsbani, the story of Sigurdr Vosungr (which is such a long story that it involves more than ten Edda poems, of these the most important poems being Reginsmál, Fafnismál, Sigrdrífumál and Helreidr Brynhilds) and the story of Svipdagr (in the poems Gróagaldr and Fjölsvinnsmál).

 15: Vision Quests in Male Initiation Rituals

This video is a direct continuation of the part 14 of this series and should be seen together with that one.
Continuing the talk about the ritual aspects of Norse myths of the Poetic Edda. The poems of the Poetic Edda were written down during the 12th century AD on Iceland. Iceland converted to Christianity in the year 1000 AD, and within four decades, Norway and Sweden had followed. This means that one must be cautious about claiming that the Poetic Edda could be seens as a source to pagan, pre-Christian lore. Did people write down poems that were created within a pagan context and more or less unaltered until they were written down faithfully, or are these poems disfigured or even invented after the fall of paganism? I believe that the Edda poems are true renderings of pagan lore and one of my most important reasons for believing that is because the stories told in the poems follow a structure, a pattern that can only be echoing an actual, real life pattern of pagan ritual. The stories not only follow a pagan ritual structure of initiation, but also reveal detailed descriptions of such rituals. In this video I focus on the part of the ritual structure that I call “the Vision Quest” (involving “Techniques of Ecstasy” as described by Mircea Eliade in his book “Shamanism”), and “the Vision” (usually involving a golden bright maiden in the underworld), two steps of the structured path of initiation that lead to the subsequent steps: the “Descent” (into the Underworld, the Land of Dreams, etc), “the Trials” (usually involving an encounter with a guardian giant or similar), “the Consecration” (involving the ritual serving of the precious mead of poetry, memory and transformation by the Maiden of the Underworld, as well as her “embrace”, the Sacred Marriage), and finally “the Return” (where the initiate returns a sage, a king or a worthy warrior).
In the previous video I used examples from Edda poems Hávamál, Hyndluljód and Helgakvida Hjörvardssonar. In this video I use examples from the poems of Helgi Hundingsbani, the story of Sigurdr Vosungr (which is such a long story that it involves more than ten Edda poems, of these the most important poems being Reginsmál, Fafnismál, Sigrdrífumál and Helreidr Brynhilds) and the story of Svipdagr (in the poems Gróagaldr and Fjölsvinnsmál).That the valkyrias are identical with Freya is a notion promoted by the professors Folke Ström and Britt Mari Näsström and has never been disputed. The most important argument is that Freya in the Grimnismál is said to be receiving the dead in her hall, dead souls that she chooses, and then she sends half of her chosen to Odin´s army in Valhalla and keeps the other half to herself. The Norse term used to describe how she chooses the dead is to “kiosa val”, the exact words used to make up the word “valkyria”, who indeed choose the dead. Along with many other scholars Ström as well as Näsström go further in their interpretations of Freya as Great Goddess of which other female supernatural beings are hypostases (aspects of the Great One), and this is no longer a controversial thesis.The rituals of the Edda describe the initiation rituals of males. However, their initiation involved the waking up of the sleeping Goddess within themselves, and women participated in the rituals as consecrating priestesses representing the Goddess, as well as teachers on the path of initiation as is suggested in the Hyndluljod and in the Gróagaldr. Obviously women who presided over such rituals had initiation rituals of their own, but these are only vaguely hinted at and may have been secret to males, one of the possible reasons why we only get to hear about the men´s path.
 

16: Ancient Ritual and Modern Practice

In this video I talk about how theold Norse rituals of initiation described in my earlier videos could be applied to the lives of modern people. Life is the initiation.
Hel=”Hidden”
Utgardr=”Outer World” (outside of Midgardr, the normal human world or perception).
Jotnir=”devourers”, usually translated as “giants”, they are the forces that devour our souls.
Hlídskialf= The Seat of Openings. This is the seat from which Odinn (the Spirit) may see into all the worlds.
“The Maiden” of the Underworld -- an overwhelming number of the Edda myths circulate around the figure of a “maiden” (“mær”, an unmarried woman) who is described as golden and bright and who resides in a beautiful golden hall protected by mortally dangerous fences guarded either by an old hag or by a giant, or by the fierce hounds of Hel. The hall of the maiden is situated either in Hel or in Jotunheimr/Utgardr. The hero or god who wants to enter her hall needs to have wisdom and no fear and know his own true identity. When she decides to open her doors for him, she will offer “the precious mead” of memory, poetry or knowledge, and the hero or god will be saved from oblivion in death. I see the maiden as an image of the fate-soul(norn, hamingja, valkyria, fylgja) that is said to follow everybody through their lives and spinning their fate. Some are of divine stock and will create glorious fates. Some are of elfish stock and will secure immortality. Most, however, are the “daughters of Dvalinn”, that is, of “hibernation”. The Maiden is often described as sleeping until she is woken by the hero who has no fear. The initiation is about waking up ones own divine fate-soul that lies dormant within.
 

17: Isis in Germany -- or a Mystery Religion?

“Some of the Suebi sacrifice to Isis also. I cannot determine the origin and meaning of this foreign cult, but her emblem, made in the form of a light war-vessel, proves that her worship came in from abroad.”
(Tacitus, Germania, 9)

The Roman historian Tacitus, who wrote about the barbarian German tribes around the year 80 AD, claimed that “the Suebi make sacrifice to Isis.” The Suebi was an alliance of tribes such as the Langobards, the Chatti, the Tencteri, the Semnones -- a cluster of tribes that during the 1st century AD dominated what today is known as central Germany and Denmark. When describing the religions of other people, it was a Roman custom to translate the names of foreign gods to their Roman equivalents, as the Roman believed everybody worshipped the same gods only by different names. They based their translations on the particulars of the cult and the attributes of the deity. This way, Odin became Mercury, Tyr became Mars, and Thor became Jupiter. Most historians, thus, believe (I think justly) that when Tacitus translated the widely worshipped German goddess into Isis, he really meant Nehalennia, and that he used Isis to translate because like Isis, Nehalennia steers a ship. I discuss why I think the ship-argument is too simple. When Tacitus translated the name of a deity, the translations would give a lot of detailed associations in his Roman audience, and what everybody at the time knew about Isis was that she was the Great Goddess of a pantheist religion very popular in the Empire, Isis being the supreme being unifying all other gods and goddesses. Her religion was also strongly oriented around a Mystery initiation. When Roman sources chose to translate the goddess Nehalennia into Isis, it meant that they had perceived a similar religion of the Great Goddess and her Mystery cult.
I show how the basic initiation structure of the Classical Mystery cult is identical to that revealed in the Poetic Edda, and that the goddess Nehalennia has attributes that identifies her with a whole cluster of later Viking Age goddesses -- the ship (Underworld Journey, the Sun Goddess, Ran, Mardallr), the basket of fruits (Idunn, who ensures the immortality of the gods), the dog (Hel-hounds belonging to Hel), and the trinity (the three norns), as well as in her name, which according to Rudolf Simek may mean “to kill” (like in the name Skadi), or “to hide” (like the name Hel). She would most certainly have been addressed as a Lady, like Freyia, and she is seated on a throne, like Gunnlöd, wearing a blue mantle, like the völur (witches, priestesses, Freya). Seeing as this is an ancestral goddess known by attributes that belong to the whole ensemble of goddesses, and being a goddess of everything from war and death to fertility and life, we may assume that we are talking about a Great Goddess, such as Isis.
 

18: Warrior Initiation and Witch Teachers

The examples are taken from the following sources:

Snorri Sturluson:

Ynglinga Saga chapter 4: Freya who taught the art of seiðr to the Aesir.
Skaldskáparmál (Prose Edda): Thor must leave his hammer, power-belt and iron gloves behind in order to fulfill his wow to go unprotected into the giant world and thus show his true courage. He seeks the aid of the giantess Gríðr ["Truce"], who teaches him about the true nature and the weak points of his opponent, and then lends him her magical wand, her power-belt and her gloves so that he may defeat his opponent.

Poetic Edda:

Hyndlulióð: Freya initiates young Óttarr by taking him down into the Underworld, in which a giantess, Hyndla,the she-wolf, teaches him about universal interconnectedness through a séance of seiðr [divination].
Gróagalðr: a young man called Svípdagr invokes his dead mother Gróa ["Growth"] at her burial mound, so that she may guide him and teach him spell-songs. The name Gróa is otherwise known to be that of a völva, a witch-priestess, who heals the god Thor by singing spell-songs over his wounds.

The fornaldarsögur — “The Sagas of Old Times”:

Kjalnesinga Saga, the hero Búi ["Inhabitant"] meets The Mountan King´s daughter Friðr ["Peace"], who assists him in his quest.
Torsteins saga Geirnefjufostra ( The saga of Torstein, fostered by Geirnefja): The hero Torsteinn has to win over the giant Sökkolfr [Dark Wolf = Dark Death] before he can win the love of the giantess Geirnefja. Her name means Spear-Beak, which refers to a deadly vulture.
In the saga of Illugi Gríðarfostra [which means Illugi, Fostered by Griðr], the hero Illugi is saved but challenged by the giantess maiden Hildr [Battle], daughter of the eagle-clawed giantess hag called Griðr [Truce]. Illugi is called Gríðarfostra after his apprenticeship to the mother giantess in a cave.
The saga of Illugi Tagldarbani [The Bane of Tögld], a hostile giantess called Tögld [Chewing One =Death] sends mist and a storm in order to wreck Illugi´s ship. Illugi has to fight the giantess Hrímgerðr [Frosty Enclosure=Death by freezing water] who then becomes his allied protectress.
The saga of Gunnar Keldugnupsfifl: Gunnar wins over the giantess Fala [To Bid For (your life)] in battle, and thus wins her allegiance, help and protection
The saga of Sörli the Strong: Sörli conquers the giantess Mána and she swears her eternal allegiance and help.
The saga of Halfdan Brönufostra [, which means Halfdan, Fostered by Brána] the hero Halfdan is taught the giantess Brána in a cave (a metaphor for death and the underworld). Brána remains a helping and guiding power in the life of Halfdan. She offers magical gifts, herbs, a protective and warning ring, and a ship. She chooses his bride, saves him from fire, saves his sister from being raped, and turns up in his dreams in order to remind him of an old oath he must stick to. In the saga, Halfdan too frees a princess who is a captive of the giants -- another repetitive theme.
The saga of Torstein Vikingsonar Skellinefjas: Torsteinn is saved by a giantess called Skellinefja [Her name means Shouting Beak/Nose, which may refer to the high pitched nasal sound used for performing spell-songs known as galdr. The fact that Torstein is called Skellinefjas refers to her having ownership over him.
The saga of Grímr Lodinkinna: Grímr lies on the battlefield, close to death after having conquered twelve men, when he is saved by the giantess Geirríð[Spear-Ride=Death].
The saga of Arrow-Odd: Odd spends the winter with a giant´s daughter, Hildigunnr [Battle Warrior], who aids him in his quest.
The saga of Egill and Ásmundr, the heroes are helped by the ruler of Jotunheimr, the world of the giants: Queen Eagle Beak and her daughter.

 

One Response to Video 10-18 (Ritual and Initiation)

  1. /jmj says:

    hello again,

    Firstly, thank you for your work and knowledge which is really deep and interesting :) !

    Secondly, some toughts about few subjects but there are so many ! I have also understood that there are patterns and structures but i have never thought to apply these to myths in order to make obvious some structures which construct them ! Until this day, i use them to apply to language that is to say : patterns are structures that prefigures a kind of perception of language so the way we use it is defined by the pattern which underlies it. So the direct connection i made is the alaphabet not myths !

    I have to read again some books through this view. The first one will be the study of the ialian philosopher Giorgio Colli who has a very interesting approach on archaic greece. For him, the knowledge of the greek wise (before the philosophers) comes through ritual and initiation by two gods : dyonisos and appolo and through their initiation mysteries : eleusis and orphica.

    If i mention him, there is another reason. On the orphic poetry and mysteries, there is a similar myth suc as “the well of origin”. “Mnemosyn” which is another word for “memory” is a path to re-discover that kind of fresh water. Its place is in the “hades” (the place of the dead) and in front of it, there are two guards who ask a question and you have to tell them a specific answer, and, then you are known to have received the initiation.

    On the other hand i am learning by know… and by following your videos i know how bad my understandings and readings are. Sighs… So, ok, i will see the others. :)

    best

    jean-marc

    ps : some links to the videos open themselves on youtube not on this webpage.

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