In this article I wish to revisit a subject which I touched upon in Reverence for the Gods inspired by an excellent video on this subject by Survive the Jive: Indo-European Prayer and Ritual I recommend that my readers watch some of his videos. They are extremely informative and they are made by a highly educated young heathen.
As I have stated in my earlier article there is a tendency among some Germanic heathens to regard our ancient deities as little more than supernatural 'kinsmen' who are basically of the same essence but just more powerful than we are. I have meditated long and hard on this issue for it is of great importance to those of us who are trying our best to revive the pre-Christian religion of our ancestors and we must get this right!
Before I address this matter of how we approach the Gods we need to consider the issue of prayer. It is only in very recent years that I have started to speak to the Gods in prayer. For many years I viewed prayer as being associated too much with Christianity along with Judaism and Islam. This is a typical attitude amongst many Germanic heathen, especially Odinists. It I also felt by some heathens that to engage in prayer is tantamount to 'grovelling' and goes against their sense of 'manliness'. It is only for the first reason that I did not engage in prayer. I gradually came to the realisation that this was faulty and as I wanted to deepen my relationship with the Gods prayer is something that I had to engage in. So my desire to get closer in my daily walk with the Gods encouraged me once again to take up prayer; something I had not done since abandoning Christianity in the 1990s.
Having taken that first step I had to decide what form my prayers should take. To a major extent this is determined by the deities who you follow and even in the Woden's Folk Religion there is a great deal of difference and variety amongst heathens. The deities that I feel more drawn to are Thunor and Woden. They have many similarities but many differences too. In matters of protection and blessing I invoke the aid of Thunor. Indeed in a vision given to someone many years ago Thunor has revealed Himself to be my protector and guardian. I will not go into this now but save this for a future article. For matters of seeking knowledge, wisdom and understanding I invoke Woden. In the past I have also invoked Freyja during periods of sickness and I have found Her aid both powerful and speedy. After reading Wulf Ingesunnu's recent book, At-Al-Land. Aryan Mysteries of the Northern Seas (2018, Black Front Press) I developed for the very first time a real interest in Yngvi-Freyr, the divine ancestral God of the Anglo-Saxons and Swedes and I intend to develop my relationship with Him also.
As I mentioned earlier, how we approach the Gods to a large extent depends upon the nature of the deity and the realms of responsibility of that particular God or Goddess. I usually pray standing up, facing one of my indoor shrines which faces north. However sometimes I pray in other places, even sometimes whilst walking down the street. Whenever possible I try to ascertain the cardinal direction of north but this is not essential. It is a pattern which I have got into. I begin by focusing on the deity, meditating on an aspect of their power and begin to directly address the God, honouring Him or Her by pointing out the positive aspects of their behaviour and personality. If it is a request that I am making of the God then I make the request known and draw a connection between what I am asking and the ability of the God to fulfil the request. We know from our ancestral law that gifts demand a gift and often I find it useful when making a request to accompany this with a promise to the God in return. However I have also found from my own experience that the Gods will expect us to honour our promises or they in turn will cause a negative effect to occur so we must not be rash with our promises.
Prayer of course often involves making requests of a deity but can also involve worship as well. I am glad to see that others (including Survive the Jive) also use incense when engaging in ritual activity or prayer. By offering incense we are making a gift to the God and this is a visual sign that we desire to please them-not through fear of the Gods but through love of the Gods. I am not aware of anyone who embraces the Germanic Gods out of fear but that they are drawn to them: they hear the Call of the Gods but we must still treat them with respect. The use of incense also helps to create a sacred space and to prepare ourselves mentally and spiritually. Some may argue that this has all the hallmarks of High Church Christianity but how do we know that incense wasn't used by the priests of the Gods? Are our Gods worthy of less respect than the Christian god?
I mentioned earlier in this article that I usually pray standing up, normally facing north and when I do so I adopt the Elhaz/Algiz rune posture. This in no doubt is due to the influence of Edred Thorsson for he writes on page 51 of Futhark. A Handbook of Rune Magic that the adoption of this runic posture aids "Communication with other worlds, especially Asgardhr and the cosmic wells of Urdhr, Mimir, and Hvergelmir." However as Survive the Jive has pointed out there appears to be evidence that our ancestors bowed the knee when invoking the Gods in prayer. There is evidence to support this theory. We have for instance the remarkable bronze statue of a Suebian warrior kneeling in prayer to the Gods but with arms outstretched. An image of this statue is attached to this article.
In the Faereyinga Saga or as it is also known, The Saga of Thrond of Gate we have an Earl or Jarl Hacon who casts himself down before the feet of an image of a Goddess:
"They set forth along a certain path to the wood, and thence by a little bypath into the wood, till they came where a ride lay before them, and a house standing in it with a stake fence round it. Right fair was that house, and gold and silver was run into the carvings thereof. They went into the house, Hacon and Sigmund, and a few men with them. Therein were a great many gods. There were many glass roof-lights in the house, so that there was no shadow anywhere. There was a woman in the house over against the door, right fairly decked she was. The Earl cast him down at her feet, and there he lay long, and when he rose up he told Sigmund that they should bring her some offering and lay the silver thereof on the stool before her." (chapter 23, translation by F. York Powell)
It is clear from the rest of the chapter that this was not a human woman but the image of a Goddess. This story is repeated in the Saga of Olaf Trggvason and the deity is identified as Thorgerd, the Maid of Helgi. The Goddess and Her relationship with Haakon is also referred to in the Jomsvikinga Saga where Haakon prayed north and knelt down:
"The earl went ashore Primsignd and went away into a wood. He knelt down facing the north and prayed. In his prayers he called upon his protector Thorgerd Holgabrudr. But being angry she would not hear his prayers. She rejected all the offers of great sacrifices which he made, and Hakon thought things were looking very black. It came to his offering her a human sacrifice which she likewise rejected. Finally he offered her his seven-year-old son called Erlingr, and she accepted him. The earl delivered up the boy to his thrall Skopti, who proceeded to kill him." (chapter 32)
There is much more to explore regarding this fairly obscure deity and I intend to do this in the future on my Celto-Germanic blog. The points which I wish to make was the awe in which the Gods were held and how they were approached. We have a much older example of this from continental Germania from Tacitus:
"The Semnones relate that they are the oldest and noblest of the Suebi. Confidence in their antiquity is confirmed by their cult. At a set time, the peoples who share that name and bloodline send embassies to assemble in a forest hallowed by ancestral auguries and ancient dread, and by slaying a man on behalf of the people they begin the barbaric celebration of their fearful rites." (Germania 39.1, Rives translation)
"The oldest and most famous of the Suebi; it is said, are the Semnones, and their antiquity is confirmed by a religious observance. At a set time, deputations from all the tribes of the same stock gather in a grove hallowed by the auguries of their ancestors and by immemorial awe. The sacrifice of a human victim in the name of all marks the grisly opening of their savage ritual." (Germania 39.1, Mattingley/Handford translation)
Clearly the meeting place of the Semnones was held to be sacred because of its continued use over a very long period of time and the blood sacrifices that were offered up to the Gods there. It was also believed to be the place where the tribe has its orgin and the dwelling place of their primary God. The most important part of the passage is this next verse:
"They revere this grove in other ways too: no one enters unless bound by a shackle, as an inferior who makes manifest the might of the divine. If by chance he stumbles, it is not lawful to lift himself up: they roll out over the ground. On that place their entire superstition is centred, as though from there the tribe has its origin, as though there the god is the ruler of all, and the remainder subordinate and submissive." (Germania 39.2, Rives)
"Another observance shows their reverence for this grove. No one may enter it unless he is bound with a cord, by which he acknowledges his own inferiority and the power of the deity. Should he chance to fall, he may not raise himself or get up again, but must roll out over the ground. The grove is the centre of their whole religion. It is regarded as the cradle of the race and the dwelling-place of the supreme god to whom all things are subject and obedient." (Germania 39.2, Mattingley/Handford)
There is no notion at all in any of the above excerpts from either Tacitus or the sagas that our ancestors viewed themselves as being 'equal' in some way to the Gods. They did not consider themselves as 'lesser' men by praying to them or approaching them with awe and reverence. I would therefore ask my readers to give due consideration to how our ancestors approach the Gods for they viewed them as real autonomous deities, not just psychic emanations from the 'Collective Unconscious'!