Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Wayland Smith Day

This week marks the custom of 'Thanksgiving' within North America. Tomorrow, on the 27th of November, Christians all over America will sit down to eat meals with their families in what is is essentially an end of harvest festival.

 I must confess, until I sat down to do a little bit of research for this blog-post earlier in the week, I was in complete ignorance as to what exactly Thanksgiving was, and it seems it has its roots in English puritanism. The reason why I started reading into the history was because in America, many heathens celebrate what is known as 'Wayland Smith Day' in place of the Christian Thanksgiving. 

It seemed a bit perplexing to me. Why on earth would they be celebrating a blacksmith God (or Demi-God depending on your interpretation) on a day traditionally to do with the end of harvest? I tried asking a few American groups, but got no answers, and was struggling to come up with the reason. Traditionally, Thanksgiving conjures up the image of Pilgrims and Native Americans peacefully sitting together, the story of Wayland Smith is not a pleasant story, in fact it is probably the darkest tale in all our lore.

The story of Wayland Smith is probably more known to you as the 'lay of Volund' if you've read the Poetic Eddas. The name Wayland has evolved over language variations over the centuries, but at one time the tale of Wayland Smith was common knowledge all over Northern Europe.

I suggest reading the poem here but I shall give a brief synopsis;

Whilst Wayland is waiting alone for the return of his Valkyrie wife, Wayland is abducted by King Nidud. His knee tendons are cut to prevent him from making an escape, and he is placed in a forge on the island of Sævarstöð. There he is forced to work and forge items for the King against his will making fine treasures and weapons .

Wayland's prize sword is taken by King Nidud, and his wedding ring given to Nidud's daughter Bodvild as a prize, and when Wayland see's this when they visit him he plots his revenge.

The rest of the tale goes into detail about how Wayland manages to enact his vengeance. When both Nidud's Son's come to visit the island in secret on the false premise that Wayland would give them some gold, he cuts off their heads and turns their skulls into works of art. 

Later Bodvild comes back to Wayland's Smith to ask of him to fix her (or rather his) ring as she had broken it. He plies her with alcohol, has his way with her, gets her pregnant and then becomes able to fly (presumably by being able to shape-shift into a swan like his Valkyrie wife) and makes his escape.

As you can imagine this tale is somewhat... questionable in its morals, and I couldn't for the life of me work out how it tied in with Thanksgiving, until through reading various material on the internet I came across the similarities with him and a Christian Saint, St Clements. St Clement is a patron saint of blacksmiths, and it is said that it may well be a Christianisation of the legend of Wayland. His day is celebrated on the 23rd of November, which is a stones throw away from thanksgiving, hence Vinland Heathens have merged the two in order to keep involved with the wider society.

When I stop to think about the lessons taught by the poem of Volund and the term 'thanksgiving',  it does eventually once you take stock still make sense. Volund didn't start with any disagreement, but he certainly finished it. In keeping with the harvest theme, you reap what you sow. Moral of the story is don't act a cunt, and people will have no reason to treat you like one.


Wayland Smithy

The Wayland Smithy, a neolithic tomb situated a mile or so from the Uffington White Horse in Wessex, and literally a stone's throw off of the old Roman road (called the Ridgeway) has some beautiful folk lore surrounding the place.

It is said that if you leave an unshod horse next to the stones with a penny at night, by the morning the horse will have been re-shod. 

A Heathen group that I am in affiliation with have experienced strange encounters with someone who can only be explained as a 'wanderer' up at the Smithy whilst camping on the site. I do not wish to retell their tale as it would not be my first hand account (and besides I have not asked their permission to do so) but I will say that my money is on either Woden or Wayland himself making himself known to those he chooses to be worthy.

It really is one of the last places in England to still have its air of mystery about it.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Einherjar Day

Its often quite difficult to rekindle old traditions, that is of course if you can find a traditional from the old ways at all. The problems with a reconstructionist faith is that whilst the basics may be more or less laid down from historical accounts, the smaller customs are more or less left to the imagination.

How the Valkyrie plan on hauling him
out of the battlefield, I don't know. 
In an ideal world, we would try and weed out any of these old traditions by way of studying history and any lore that we have access to, but even that still leaves great holes in our way of life that in reality need filling with something. My argument, although not ideal, would be to start new customs wherever there is one of these holes. Anything that our young folk can carry forward into the future is a bonus, so long as the custom has a meaning, a story or moral to go with it.
I already wrote about the recent holy times we have recently witnessed through October. About the Winterfinding, Halloween and how Guy Fawkes night in the UK is likely a perversion of a Halloween fire rite. That is all past us, and now we approach another date in the British calendar which this year happens to fall on Sunday the 9th of November. That day is Remembrance Sunday.
Remembrance day today is there to mark and respect the Allied fallen in the two World Wars. This is of course a recent commemoration, although it is hard to imagine a time where nations and folk have not held some sort of vigil for their fallen warriors in the past.

Within the Heathen community, Einherjar Day has become a recognised holy day. (The Einherjar are those who have died in battle and joined Odin's hall in Valhalla.) Whilst there is no consensus within the 'Old Ways' (be it Asatru, Odinism etc) as to what this date should be, in the USA and the UK it seems most logical to place it at the time at which the rest of society marks the death of their soldiers.

This however means that we respect all of our folk, from all across Europe who have died in battle. From the first Saxon folk who took up arms against the Wīlisc defenders, to the Luftwaffe pilots who bombed London in WWII, to our young lads who served in the Middle East all the way up until the present day. To the Heathen mindset, there is no longer tribal differences between kin at Odin's hall.

I implore you then to remember the fallen, as all do at this time of year. Do not mourn though. Eat well, and raise a glass to them. Remember them as young men and women, prepared to risk their lives in the line of duty, and prepared to do battle once more in the twilight of the Gods.


Blódhláf: Or, if you prefer it, Blood Loaf.
Like all traditions, the best ones are ones which can be passed onto our young folk easily, and in a way in which they can remember easily too.

This is not in any way a tradition which I've picked up out of any book or any of our lore, but I'm prepared to share this as a great way of passing the meaning on to children. With my first child on the way, I'm already starting to think of things like this which can be used for future generations.

I came up with something I call blood loaf for the occasion. I'm not going to teach you how to suck an egg, so I won't include cooking instructions, but I will tell you what's added to make this special.

Instead of using all water to mix the flour into a dough, add beetroot purée (blend up some pre-cooked, vacuum packed beetroot into a paste.) Finally, after the loaf is in the bread tin and ready to go, add some poppy seeds on top.

The message is painfully obvious: The loaf is blood red to represent the blood lost in battle, the poppy seeds on top are of a more modern meaning, and are a nod to the 'Poppy Day' that is acknowledged now throughout many countries.

This particular loaf pictured above is made with spelt flour, so is much darker in appearance, but with ordinary white flour I'm sure the red colouring is much more prominent and striking.