Saturday, March 7, 2015

Issues About Reckoning Heathen Time, part 1: Winterfylleth

How we reckon the passage of time is an another area of how we acculturate ourselves as modern Heathens. With this series I intend to go into my theories about Heathen time reckoning, and I will admit upfront that I am woefully under-researched on this topic, but I still wanted to bring it out for discussion anyway.

One aspect to bringing the Germanic calendar back into modern use that I feel has been neglected in our modern revival efforts is to take better account of the original agricultural context it came from. I think this is strongly illustrated with current interpretations of the meaning of the Anglo-Saxon calendar name of 'Winterfylleth'. Strictly translated this means 'winter-filled' and the 'filled' is often thought to refer to the full moon. I have yet to find a good reason for this in any of the lore or literature I've been able to find on the topic; besides just the context of it being a month name and that the Germanic calendar ran on lunar months. If one was just wanting to designate it as 'winter-month', then the suffix of -mónaþ is already well established in the other month names. If it is meant to talk about the status of the moon, there is a whole other list of specific names for the full moons that are independent of the month names.

Here's what I think. The information I've been able to find defines a lunar month in the Germanic calender as being from the first sighting of the waxing crescent to ending with the dark of the new moon. That would make Winterfylleth, this year by my reckoning, having started on September 30th and lasting until a day or two ago. If anything, special emphasis is on that first sighting of the crescent as it establishes a new month, not on the full phase, which seems to be reserved for other observations.

On the other hand, there is a strong pattern in the naming of the months that relates to the working activities of a northern climate farm with livestock. The month we've now just moved into, Blót-mónaþ, at its core is about slaughter and sacrifice; natural activities to prepare for the winter as the herd is culled to the best of the breeding stock that can be supported by the winter fodder collected. Later in the spring you have 'Þrimilki-mónaþ' (3 milkings month), when your livestock is calving/lambing, later in the summer 'Weod-mónaþ' (plant month) when the vegetable harvest starts, followed by 'Hærfest-mónaþ' for the grains/crops and then you come back around to 'Winterfylleth'. With the two previous month names being associated with harvest and crops and the one following it about herd culling, it just makes logical sense that 'fylleth' in this case is about filling the pantries, graineries and haylofts in preparation for winter. This is particularly important since this is how you know how much fodder you have for the winter, which determines how much of your herd you can over-winter. To my mind that is a much more pragmatic interpretation than a vague reference to the moon.

I have a lot more thoughts on time reckoning and I will continue this series intermittently as I am to put together further postings.

In frith and to the greater good of our folkway.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

From the Hearth: Cultural Eating!

When we as Heathens gather together, it can be under a variety of contexts. It may be a blót, a sumbel, a study session, a kindred/hearth birthday or anniversary, or any reason that gives us an excuse. Each of these events can be drastically different from one kindred to another depending on the customs of that group. Despite all this variety of experience, there is one underlying universal principle. We all like to come together around good food!

Food is one of the most defining and stable elements of a given culture that can outlast the loss of language and other traditions. While a given dish might have started out because it what was available and needed, given a specific geographic and historic location, it becomes an immersive experience and way to reconnect to our heritage. Enjoying lefse with Thanksgiving dinner at my Norwegian grandmother's apartment and krumkake at Christmas with my other grandmother in Iowa are cherished memories.

Since the goal of this space is for me to put out my thoughts about how bring heathendom into modern life, one way to do this is to incorporate more dishes with Scandinavian and Germanic origins into our diet that will create more such memories. This also dovetails nicely into my own healthy eating goals that take their inspiration from such people as Michael Pollan, Sandar Katz and the Slow Food Movement which is all about bringing back the enriching experience of eating Real Food and embracing the process involved.

Our first experiment has been to naturally ferment sauerkraut. The doing is more of a method than a recipe:

Start with a head or two of cabbage, pickling salt, very large mixing bowl and a large non-reactive container; in this case we used a convenient one gallon sized jar.

Clean it out real good if needed, find a plate or something can be used to keep the cabbage below the brine and if needed something to weight it down (a pint jar filled with water works well). If you don't have a plate or disc, then just reserve a couple whole cabbage leaves.

Once this is all assembled, then you shred the cabbage and toss it into a large bowl in layers with salt sprinkled onto it. Next is the fun part - the shredded cabbage needs to be bruised a bit, squeeze and kneed it with your hands, use a mallet, whatever works. The goal is to have the salt extract the water in the cabbage and make a tasty salt brine which will favor the lacto bacteria which creates the souring lactic acid as a byproduct.

Fill your container, packing the cabbage down tightly. Place your weighted disc or tuck those whole leaves you saved on the top. You want to keep all the shreds under the brine. If you don't get enough water from the cabbage after the first 24 hours has passed, then you can add some brine of just salt and water to it - you only need to make sure the cabbage stays covered. It will release some gasses as it ferments, so either cover the top with cheese-cloth or better yet use a fermentation water lock.

That’s really all there is to it. Let stand 2-6wks at room temp and then either transfer to root cellar or fridge to slow down the ferment or can it to stop it all together. One of the historically important things about sauerkraut is that the fermentation process release bio-accessible vitamin C from the cabbage and gave our ancestors a crucial source of this nutrient through the winter when other sources were scarce.


Sunday, March 1, 2015

Introductions and Basic Principles

Welcome to Beyond Ragnarök!

Here you will find my thoughts on Heathenry, History, Homesteading and everything in between that is part of building a living tradition.

To start out I wanted to make a quick list of some basic definitions and principles that will shape what you find here. I encourage you to respond with any questions or comments you have -- just keep it polite and constructive.

  • Heathenry: I am using this word as a general term for all the paths rooted in the indigenous spiritual traditions of Northwestern Europe. The core of this is found the regions of Scandinavia and Germany, but can include where further cultural exchange with the Finns, Rus, Central European, Slavic and British/North Sea island cultures. Asatru is just one variation among many modern reconstructionist practices. 

  • Ragnarök: There are many interpretations on the story of Ragnarök and one of the more popular  is to equate it with the conversion of our folk to the transplanted foreign religion of Christianity. While that is but one interpretation among many, I do not intend to devote much of this blog to debating which is better. The focus here is not about how historic heathendom fell, but how are picking our collective cultural-selves back up, dusting off and moving onwards. To use it instead as a way to understand any kind of societal collapse and paradigm change. Our challenge is to take what has survived of our cultural heritage and restore it into a life-way that is relevant to today. Its not enough to prepare to survive what our world is going to throw at us, but to enrich our lives with meaning so our folk thrive. 

  • Folkish/Tribalist/Universalist? Personally, I do see Heathenry as a familial-ethnic religion; meaning I feel that you have to have some genetic or cultural connection for this to be appropriate for you. In my view, to attempt to practice heathenry without such a connection is just as culturally inappropriate and potentially offensive as if I were to try to join an Anaanshinable medicine society -- not being connected to that cultural group in any way. That being said, virtually all modern heathens have an ancestry that can be traced back to very divergent locations and Christian ancestors that effectively broke our direct connections to our heathen gods and ways, so we are pulling together tenuous shreds of familial and cultural connections. These connections do not always have to be genetic either; adopted or married into a family with heathen cultural connections is enough, and if one really gets down to it, even being raised as a first language speaker of a germanic language (such as English) is itself one possible cultural connection. In the end, Heathenry is largely about family and ancestors -- learn more about them and that is best guide on which path is best and as such I fall somewhere in between Folkish and Universalist, rejecting the absolute position of both. 

  • Blót. I do think whether it's mead, bread or flesh, your offering to the gods is the effort you put into it. The more 'pure and proper' the finished item offered is, the better. Brew your own mead, make your own bread... you get the idea. Specifically, when it comes to animal sacrifice, I do think it is appropriate if you know the animal, how it has been raised, with a good quality of life and is killed skillfully, without unnecessary trauma.

  • Wights. What I have thus far studied about our Folkway has lead me to the conclusion that it was historically much more focused on the near-wights than on the gods. Some people have special relationships with a given god(s), but it is not a requirement to be 'Heathen'. It is important to call out to the gods on feasts and at sumbel, but, for example, better to remember to give the Nisse their rice-pudding on Yule.

Hopefully that gives you an idea of where I'm coming from. Look forward to upcoming posts on Heathenry, Preparedness, Homesteading and more!