Sunday, 9 May 2010

Iceland-a Holy Isle

Iceland has received a lot of exposure in the news over recent weeks because of the eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano and the consequent disruption to the travel arrangements of millions of people.
However how many people are aware of the special significance of this holy isle? How many realise that the Icelanders were one of the last northern peoples to be christianized in the year 1000 CE under pressure from the Norwegian King Olaf Trggvason? Despite this apparent conversion many of the people still honoured the ancient Gods and Goddesses privately. The Law Speaker Thorgeir Thorkelsson had the responsibility of making the formal decision to accept the alien religion of Christianity at the Althing in that same year. Thorgeir himself was originally a Gothi, a heathen priest. The conversion did not run deep and interestingly Iceland saw the revival of the old religion in the late 1960s and the subsequent formal recognition of Asatru in 1973 by the Icelandic government. At about the same time the old religion was experiencing a revival in other Germanic countries. The Asatru Free Assembly was created in the USA which eventually became the Asatru Folk Assembly and later the Asatru Alliance.
The Ring of Troth was formed by some former members of the Asatru Folk Assembly.
In Australia in 1972 the Odinist Movement received a reassurance by the government that the profession of Odinism would not result in prosecution by the authorities.
In England the Odinic Rite was formed in 1972. A member of their Court of Gothar subsequently created Woden`s Folk in the late 1990s.
Followers of the old religion naturally look to Iceland as a holy isle for it was in Iceland that the Eddas, the sacred literature of the pre-christian Germanic peoples were committed to writing. In addition to the Elder Edda[Poetic Edda] and the Younger Edda[Prose Edda] we have a wealth of saga material which provides us with additional information on the beliefs and practices of the Germanic peoples. Without these writings our religion would be that much the poorer and indeed may have struggled to have ever been revived.
Today in Iceland according to the latest official statistics from 2009 there are 1,395 members of the Asa Faith Society. Obviously this figure does not include those people who honour the old Gods but are not formally alligned with any organisation.
In Iceland there are still 50 known Runestones to be found today.

Saturday, 1 May 2010

Walpurger`s Night/Beltane

Yesterday evening the kindred that I ward celebrated Walpurger`s Night, the eve of the Goddess of May, known in the German lands as Walpurger. Typically after the enforced christianisation of the Germanic peoples this Goddess was `converted` into a christian saint.
The evening of the 30th April and the 1st of May has for millenia been acknowledged as a sacred time in the calendars of the ancient Germanic and Celtic peoples. The Celts themselves call this special time Beltane after the God Belenus. This is generally a celebration of the arrival of Summer in the northern lands. Bonfires would have been lit and young men and women would have danced through the smoke of the fires to encourage fertility.
On the 1st May which even today is a national holiday in may parts of the world maypole dancing is still practiced in some English villages and in small towns and villages throughout the Germanic world. The maypole is of course representative of the phallus.
May eve as with Samhain[31st October] is a time when the portal between this and other worlds is weakened and those who possess psychic powers may experience unusual supernatural phenomena.
In the Harz mountains of Germany where my mother was born the witches would gather on the highest peak known as the Brocken. On a stormy Walpurgisnacht the Wild Hunt led by the God Wotan would chase the Goddess Walpurger and the Harzhexen[Harz witches].