Friday, May 17, 2013

Frau Holle- downloadable PDF

In keeping with the Frau Holle theme from the last post, here is a link to an excellent paper exploring the origins of Frau Holle. The author explores research by Erika Timm not covered in the book I just reviewed in the prior post.

The paper, From Fairytale to Goddess: Frau Holle And The Scholars That Try To Reveal Her Origins by Cat Heath, is available as a downloadable PDF.

It's well worth the read. 

Book Review: Goddess Holle

Title: Goddess Holle, In Search of a Germanic Goddess
Author: GardenStone
ISBN: 978-3-8423-7391-4

This is a book that I wanted to love. It came very close.

There are parts of this book- much of it, in fact- that make me very grateful to have it. Then there are some others that, well... I'm left with a love-hate thing for it.

Let's start off with the positives. There is so little attention paid to Frau Holle in American Heathenry. I went in with high hopes that this book would be a useful resource in getting to know more about her. In that, the book is successful. 

The majority of the book is a collection of fairy tales, folk tales, plant lore, local customs, and descriptions of local sites associated with Frau Holle. The book is quite detailed in the range of extremely similar lore and customs over a wide area, and the various names associated with the regional variances of this goddess. 

From these stories, we see not only the wide land range that Frau Holle was known, but also the wide scope of this goddess. The tales show her to be, at the very least, related to Frigg, Freyja, Frija, Hertha, Holda, Perchta, Berchta, and probably a dozen other names, all with strikingly similar, and in several cases exactly the same, lore associated with them. Frau Holle is shown to be a mother, queen, and wife of Woden. She is connected to birth, death, wells, water, storms, mountains, deceased children, magic, rewards and punishment, elves, bees, apples, and of course, spinning. She leads the Wild Hunt, is often called "the white lady" (both for a connection to brightness and shining, but also to her white dress), and causes snow by shaking her bedding. 

Most of all, she is shown to be involved with the lives of individual people. This is in contrast to much of what is known about other Heathen gods and goddesses. In Frau Holle, we see (at least, this was my ultimate takeaway) the survival of a much older goddess who interacts and takes an interest in every day people. She changes their fate, by sending messages in dreams, helping the downtrodden locate their fortunes. She leaves gifts of small, natural items (like stones, and wood shavings) that later turn to gold. Frau Holle can both comfort and instill fear. 

The one theme that seems to spread through the various fairy tales and folk lore shared in this book, is that she rewards kindness and diligence, while punishing the cruel and the lazy. Being kind to each other stands out as something Frau Holle values, as evidenced by those she showered in gold. And while she's capable of stirring up a swirling storm, it's expressions of kindness, appreciation, and gratitude that seem to please her the most. 

There are other sections of the book with ideas for recipes that may have a connection to Frau Holle, as well as scholarly opinions on Frau Holle, and whether or not she's merely a late figure in German folk lore, or if she actually is a goddess. The author never registers his own opinion on the matter. 

Now, for the not so good/not so bad.

This book was translated from German into English. The translation is a bit awkward, and there are plenty of errors. On the other hand, I appreciate the fact that it was translated at all. There are also large sections of the book that are taken out of other sources, and quoted directly. Those sections do not have the translation errors, and are easier to read. 

The photos inside the book are black and white. The resolution is poor. They leave a lot to be desired. But, this appears to be a self-published book. Any photos are better than none. 

Finally, for the rather irritating.

As I've said, the majority of this book is rich with fairy tales, folk lore, and accounts of local places, plants, and customs associated with Frau Holle, as well as connecting her over large areas and time frames. But, the author pipes in to make little comments about how all of this is, "outdated" and should just be dismissed. He makes allusions to "new research" that makes all of this "outdated" research just all filler. At the beginning of the 7th chapter, The Way of Research, which focuses on some of the varying scholarly views on the origins of Frau Holle, the author states that everything before this was meant as "background and explanation in passing."

Background and explanation in passing? By this point, the reader is now in 165 pages worth of fairy tales, folk lore, plant lore, and poetry, out of 223 pages worth of text (not including end notes and references). I'm sorry, but 165 pages of 223 pages worth of text is not just "in passing". That's the bulk of the book! It's far more accurate to say that the chapter on presenting the various scholarly takes on the origin of Frau Holle, as well as the following 8th chapter, The Way of Theory, are presented "in passing".

If this was really all just background, then the preceding sections on fairy tales and folk tales could arguably have been severely reduced. There would have been no need to list every version of every tale. There are so many similar tales with similar themes, that it started to get a bit monotonous. However, what such a redundancy says to me is that these were known far and wide, and they persisted through time. 

The question remains, however, who is Frau Holle? Is she really a goddess, or is she a late figure, perhaps maybe a forest or water spirit? Is she the forerunner of Frigg and Freyja, or the survival of Nerthus?  While all the tales presented through the bulk of the book indicate the answer is "yes", the author chimes in along the way calling these connections "wrong".

It's fine to say something is "outdated" and "wrong". However, show me. Show me the new information. Show me the new research. Where are the citations for the information that demonstrates the bulk of the book, in essence, "wrong"? When I got to chapter 7, I thought I would finally get this answer. Unfortunately, that's not the case.

In chapter 7 (the scholarly research chapter), the argument is put forth that because there wasn't a static "germanic religion" over a united mass of people over time, and that the Germanic people were actually far more tribal than a unified people (which is correct), that this precludes Frau Holle from being the same as other goddesses, like Frigg, Freyja, Frija, Perchta, and so on. The "outdated" research, mostly by Grimm and his contemporaries, viewed all of Germanic religion as something that was more universal over time and distance. 

I would contend that time and distance do not preclude Frau Holle from being the survival of a much older goddess. It's true that the Germanic people were not one unified, static culture. The similarities of the tales, however, are overwhelming. The same stories are being told over a very large area, in a place where the tradition was an oral one. Imagine how much time it would take word of mouth to spread the details of these fairy and folk tales! But, we're not talking mildly similar stories. We're talking about nearly exactly the same stories.

Keeping that in mind, I think it's very likely that the difference in names are regional variations, but still referring to the same being. Do I think that each of these variants are interchangeable, no. Is Frau Holle a survival of a pre-Christian Germanic goddess, or is she a much later figure? The takeaway for me after reading this book, is that she is- whether or not the author agrees.

My final beef with the book is that the author punts and states that such papers of newer, more modern (ergo, better) research are languishing, hidden away in universities because not enough people are interested in them. I'm sure these sources are listed in the bibliography, However, it would be nice if the author included it in the content of the chapters, as he did with all the research he ultimately dismisses as just "background". 

Fine. Maybe there doesn't seem enough interest. But, please include the article, paper, or book that was used to come to this determination that all the other scholars, including Lotte Motz, were wrong. Maybe it would generate enough interest that they would be published after all. 

In summary, I'm glad I have the book. It's a fabulous collection of information on Frau Holle. The translation issues and the black and white photos are an irritation, but minor ones. The author's position that there is research that apparently no one but him and a handful of academic people are interested in reading, sells his readers short. Hey, if we slugged through reading the poor translation because we are interested in the subject matter, we're probably going to slug our way through dry, academic works as well. 

I would recommend it for people who want a convenient collection of Frau Holle lore in one place, with the caveats to be prepared for less than stellar translation and photos, and some contradictory commentary by the author. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Helið, An Almost-Forgotten Anglo-Saxon goddess

Since my last post was on my thoughts of what role UPG can reasonably play in modern Heathenry, I suppose it's fitting that this post is based heavily on UPG. 

Over the past year, I've been gravitating towards Anglo-Saxon Heathenry, along with the syncretic Celtic-Norse overlap created by invasion, trade, and marriage in both Ireland and Scotland with the Norse. One difference between Anglo-Saxon and Norse-centered Heathenry that may not be a major issue to other Heathens is that the Anglo-Saxons didn't seem to have a particular god or goddess associated specifically with healing practices. Being a Massage Therapist, an Herbalist, and midwifery student, this took a little of the wind out of my sails.
The Norse had Eir, even if there was only a passing mention of her in the lore. Since my initial introduction to Heathenry was from a Norse perspective, it was natural for me to gravitate towards gifting to Eir, and calling upon her assistance in my work in various healing arts. I feel I have a good working relationship with Eir, but that doesn't translate to Anglo-Saxon Heathenry in the same way that the major gods and goddesses do, like Thor to Thunor, Odin to Woden, Tyr to Tiw, and so on. (And that doesn't even deal with the possibility that those correlations are not as identical as the names might imply.)

One potential option for an Anglo-Saxon god to call upon during healing is Woden. While healing isn't exactly what Woden is most known for, he is called upon in both the Nine Herbs Charm and the Second Merseberg Charm. My friend, Morgan Daimler, wrote a nice article about Woden as a potential ally in healing on her blog found here.


A couple of months ago, I learned about an almost entirely forgotten Anglo-Saxon goddess and her potential association with healing. Her name is Helið. There is a short entry online about her on the Wednesbury Shire website here. Helið would be pronounced something like "Hay-leeth", I believe. The only references regarding Helið are that Augustine destroyed her idol, and that John Leland called her the "Saxon Esculapius, or preserver of health." That's really not a lot to go on, but it was a starting point.

I said a bede to her, asking her to help me get to know her. And this is where the UPG alert should be going off with huge, flashing red lights and very loud sirens. (Please see click here for my thoughts on UPGs.) The imagery that came to me was of of a woman about ten feet tall, much larger than a human. Probably a fitting way to "see" a goddess. I saw her with long, blonde hair, a white underdress, and a blue overdress. She was holding something in her right hand that looked like a wand. I "heard" that it was an "applewood wand" used in healing work. She was banging her fists against the wall of a stone building and shrieking. I heard the words, "They desecrated my well!" It was a rather upsetting scene, and it shook me at a core level to bear witness to this. It felt like she had been locked away from her people by this stone wall, which I took to represent a church. I'm not sure if it represented a specific building, or just "the church" as an institution. 

When my prayer/meditation was over, I remained shaken by the experience. Not shaken with fear, but shaken with something more akin to grief. I felt the need to make some effort to make amends in some small way. The first step was making an idol to replace the one that was destroyed. I really don't know anything about working with clay. I made my idol with some Sculpey, which is probably a good thing since it's pretty forgiving and won't dry out before you're done. Here are a few photos of the idol. The proportions of the head to the body are off, but for my first time making anything with clay, I'm pretty proud of it. And no, that's not her flipping the bird, that's my rather rudimentary representation of a wand.

I have baked the clay and it's ready to paint. Now, to just get over my fear of messing it up, since I also know nothing about painting!

An internet search for St. Augustine's Abby near Cerne Abbas turned up something interesting. There is indeed a sacred well at the site, also known as the Silver Well, reputed to have healing powers, as well as a wishing well for girls asking St. Catherine for husbands. A photo of the well is below.

So the second step I took was to find a representation of a sacred well that would work in my apartment. I opted for a tabletop indoor fountain as an appropriate substitute and symbolic gesture. However, the fountain I chose ended up not being well-made, leaked everywhere, and now I'm on the hunt for another one. I have collected an apple branch to make a wand as an additional representation of Helið to place on my vé, but I haven't done anything with the wand-to-be yet.

Something else that I "heard" was that Helið was also a "Bringer of Prosperity". That might seem out of place for a goddess potentially connected to healing, until you consider that the Anglo-Saxon term haelu encompassed health, wholeness, holiness, prosperity, and safety. Rather than reinvent the wheel, a well-written article on haelu was crafted by the lovely Cat Heath, which can be read here.

There is a distinction that I would like to make here. Helið and Eir feel like two very different entities to me. Eir always feels like a purposeful healer, both a skilled herbalist and physician with a calm, reassuring bedside manner. I see Helið, however, as more multi-dimensional, a creative and support force that includes healing, but isn't solely a "healer" in the sense Eir is. To me, Helið feels like the embodiment of haelu.

I will share one last personal story about Helið in the role of healer. On the first day that I said a bede to her, I had been suffering with horrible back pain for a couple of months. It was to the point that I couldn't even stand up straight to for simple tasks, like doing the dishes. I was seeing a chiropractor and doing very gentle yoga to help alleviate the pressure in my spine. After saying the bede and witnessing this scene of Helið screaming and banging on the stone wall of a church with her fists, I sneezed (how lofty and spiritually moving, right?), which resulted in a major "pop" in my back. The majority of the pain was gone with that pop. Literally, it was gone just that fast. Is this really who Helið was? Maybe, maybe not. But, the idea of bringing back recognition of a goddess who may have otherwise been lost to our memory, and focusing on cultivating haelu through her worship is very attractive to me.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Role of UPG in Heathenry

The issue of UPG and what role should it play in Heathenry has been getting under my craw for the past few months, so here's my rant/take on it.

For anyone who doesn't know, UPG = Unverifiable Personal Gnosis, which means some kind of "knowing" or intuited information. It didn't come from reading the lore or any kind of actual evidence.

Every so often, ok- way too often, the issue of UPG comes up in some Heathen discussion, and it quickly turns into an argument between two camps: 

  1. If it's not in the lore, then it didn't happen, isn't true, has no place in Heathenry, etc.
  2. One's intuition is more important than anything else, no matter how wacky or out of sync with what is known it may be.

Both extremes irk me, because both (in my opinion) miss the mark. On one hand, the first approach can become a bit sterile. However, I do appreciate the need for evidence, and not everyone easily connects with his or her intuitive self. So I tend to be more tolerant of that extreme end of the spectrum. 

It is the second approach that bugs me far more. Most of the time, the excuse is some variation of, "We can never know what they believed because too much information was lost, so let's just believe whatever we want."  

Frankly, that's a lot of nonsense. There is a lot of information about the customs, values, and practices of pre-Christian Northern Europe available. Why place one's sole focus on speculation of what might have been lost, when there is ample existing evidence?

One excuse I heard recently is a real doozie. Apparently, it doesn't even matter what elder Heathens believed because every generation does things differently than their parents. Thaaat's right. A religion that holds ancestor veneration to be one of its more important aspects apparently doesn't need to concern itself with investigating what those ancestors might have believed- because it would have just been scrapped anyway. Gotcha. 

One way or another, it all boils down to some excuse to ignore what is known in favor of one's own pet theories, inner voice, etc. I suppose it's easier to believe the voices in one's head, as opposed to picking up a book. I also suppose there is some vanity in believing that you have this or that god on speed dial, or that you're so gosh darn special that a particular god or goddess is sitting on the edge of their seat just waiting to give you the inside scoop. 

So, what role should UPG play in modern Heathenry? This is just my opinion, but I think it can play an important role, within certain parameters: 

  • If UPG is in agreement with what is known, or at least doesn't conflict with something easily provable, then it might be something worth considering. 
  • If UPG doesn't require imposing the beliefs of another religion onto Heathenry in order to make the UPG work, it might be something worth considering. (Beliefs/practices from one faith to another are not automatically interchangeable.)
  • If UPG is in clear opposition to what is known, perhaps it is time to consider that it's not a direct communication from a god, ancestor, wight, etc., and perhaps it is merely one's own ego "talking." 
  • If UPG isn't in agreement with what is known, how far off is it? Is it just a little, or is it way off? Maybe there is room for some of the UPG that isn't too far off, perhaps it is more representative of our modern culture, where we live in the world today, and so on... just be honest about how far away one is actually stepping and why.
  • The possibility exists that the UPG may be something appropriate to only that individual, or perhaps for an individual kindred, and not across all of Heathendom.
  • If one is considering UPG to be a viable "source" of information, then it should be just as open to scrutiny as any other "source" would be. 

I'm not anti-UPG at all, and I have plenty of my own UPG moments. I am, however, anti-make-it-up-as-one-goes-along because that lacks a Heathen foundation. If that's what a person wants to do, that's their choice. But, just admit that what you're doing is making up your own new faith, and stop using the "we can't ever know what was believed because too much information was lost" excuse to get out of doing some reading, or to avoid the possibility that maybe it's not the gods talking to you.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

My Personal Perceptions of Eir (so far)

A lot of folks know that I'm training to be a home birth midwife. The treatment I received (and in some instances, did not receive) from my ob-gyn and the hospital staff was despicable and sadistic. Wanting to give that pain a purpose. I took training for Mother Massage, and now I'm training to serve as a midwife, fulfilling an oath taken in sumble this past Yule (2010). 

I took another oath earlier in the day, privately, to dedicate this year to Eir. My daughter happened to have a very bad respiratory infection, a terrible cough, and was prescribed a nebulizer to help her breathing. There was a moment during blot before the swine was sent forth to the gods (later consumed in the feast), when we had the opportunity to go up to it, say a prayer if we wished, ask it to carry any messages with it. etc. Silently, as I touched the beast, I asked for Eir's intercession on my daughter's behalf, and swore an oath to dedicate this year to honoring Eir. (Incidentally, my daughter recovered both completely and swiftly.)

In my mind, this meant creating altar/shrine dedicated to her, leaving offerings, learning as many aspects of health and healing as possible, fulfilling the related oath of going to midwifery school, and etc. I also saw this as naturally requiring a lot of meditation and contemplation, since there is next to nothing in the lore about Eir, beyond her being the "best of leeches" (best of physicians). This also means that anything thing I believe I know about her is pure UPG (unverifiable personal gnosis), and is only my perception of her. 

I perceive Eir to be purposeful, focused, and capable of handling any emergency without getting frazzled. She is the calm in the middle of a storm, able to balance necessity (which is not always pleasant) with deep compassion. This surprised me, as I have heard others describe her "bedside manner" as being cold and aloof. I suppose this is why UPGs must come with the caveat of "Your mileage may vary". However, I wonder if that perception of her by some is somewhat a subconscious reflection of preconceived notions based on the often cold and sometimes cruel and dehumanizing treatment patients receive in many (certainly not all) hospitals by all levels of hospital staff from CNAs to physicians. 

What does being "best of leeches" mean? I understand Eir to be an expert in any and all forms of health care and wellness. She will use whatever the best method to heal someone, no matter what type/form of medicine or from what culture may have developed it. That may bump some folks, and people are free to disagree. However, my interpretation of what kind of philosophy Eir may have is this: the more a skills a healer can have, the better for the patients. I don't know a single health and/or wellness provider that would avoid a viable therapy because it came from a culture other than their own. These methods would include (but are not limited to):
  1. Modern medicine (surgical procedures, diagnostics, prescription pharmaceuticals, physical therapy, etc.)
  2. Natural and traditional health care (herbal medicines, midwifery,natropathy, massage, nutrition, chiropractic, etc.)
  3. Emotional and mental health (counseling, grief process, depression, mood disorders, self-esteen, self-help, etc.)
  4. Energy medicine (accupressure/accupuncture, reiki, vibrational and sound healing, etc)
I have had to rely on imagination for ideas for offerings, as there is little lore to go on. Often, I chose to have white roses at my Eir shrine. When people are in the hospital, it's common to bring flowers to cheer them up. I chose white as it is reminiscent to me of clean, white bed linens, traditional nurse's uniforms, and doctor's coats. However, at other times, I would place fresh herbs or burn dried herbs.  

There have also been many unexpected things that have happened since dedicating this year to Eir. I have been in just the right places and just the right times to face a lot of old issues, angers, and old hurts that I didn't even know I held. I was forced to come face to face with parts of myself I have ignored and avoided. I have been stressed to the point that I broke down into tears. I cried and cried, in a way I haven't ever done before. I screamed, punched pillows, and just surrendered to the moment and let the tears come. Afterwards. there was a much deeper understanding of myself and a stillness. I felt empty, but in a good way. After a few days to feel more settled, it was time to fill the emptiness, but with ideas and beliefs of my choosing.  

I'm still in that process, choosing the thoughts and beliefs that help and not hurt me. I feel different, but exactly how is hard to describe. I feel like myself. Not "I feel like myself, again." Rather, "I feel like myself, finally." My values and priorities haven't changed, but I approach my life and goals from a different starting point. That starting point is still in flux, there are still things shifting inside, and probably more layers of old thinking to replace. Feeling like myself "finally" isn't final. Free of fetters, I can now be myself. Only time will tell what that might turn out to be.

I attribute this purging of old hurts, this healing of old wounds, and consequently, this shifting within myself to Eir. I cannot prove it is her handiwork, but it's my interpretation of events that began 9 and a half months ago. The timing of these events, so far lasting a little over 9 months, should be plainly symbolic. In some ways, I do feel reborn, but still somewhat unsteady. I look forward to the remaining 3 months, and most likely will renew this oath at Yule this year.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Awesome Heathen Journal

Just a quick announcement, the first issue of  Óðrœrir is out now!  Please check it out.  Lots of good stuff!  Well researched articles, book reviews, impressive artwork... definitely a must read. A downloadable copy is available here:

Offering to Tyr

Yesterday, August 13, 2011, my husband and I made offerings to Tyr. While the toddler can be a bit of a distraction, we generally let the 3 year old watch and participate to the extant that a 3 year old's attention span will permit. Instead, we had the unusual experience of two small children that actually wanted to go to bed somewhat early. This left us with a quiet space to give our full focus to Tyr, and not to the child reaching for the hammer, or bowl, etc. 

After my husband prepared the area and started the ceremony, I read a call to Tyr, written especially for this offering. As sometimes happens, I get a bit of writer's block, and at the very last minute, the words come flooding out. This is precisely what happened, late in the afternoon yesterday (8/13/2011). In addition to a dry wine (my own personal intuition as to what Tyr may appreciate- nothing supported in the lore for that),Tyr was hailed with these words: 

Hail Tyr, the Victory-Giver!
One-Handed is the Wolf-Binder.
Tyr, who does what needs to be done,
When all others are fettered by fear.
The noble, steadfast, and shining star,
A cold, but guiding light you are, Sky Father.
Ancient God of Mists and Mountains- 
The Axis, Irminsul, straight and stern.
Like the tallest tree in the darkest forest,
Stands firm, always, the God of the Thing. 

Following these words, we spoke briefly about our concerns- the economy, the recent riots, our dwindling liberties, world affairs, etc. Corruption that our ancestors could not have fathomed seems to surround us all at every turn. It's all so out of control, and feels very much like a wolf that must be bound. That may seem an impossible task. May we have the sense of purpose, unwavering and unshakable, that we may prepare our family for leaner times. May we sacrifice only what is absolutely necessary, but have the wisdom and fortitude to sacrifice it when the time comes. May we spend more time doing and less time worrying. It is so easy to worry when you take a look at what is happening in our country and around the world. But, worrying just makes you feel like you are doing something, when all it is actually accomplishing is creating stress and exhaustion. 

To my understanding, Tyr is core values, valor, and doing what is right no matter what. Tyr's Justice is not one of slavishly adhering to codes and laws, because legislation is often a far cry from establishing protections for what is fair and Right. To be clear, I'm not advocating anyone breaking the law, but I say this to make the following points.

  • You cannot legislate morality. 
  • You cannot legislate what people think. 

Something else, something from inside a person, is what governs these things. No legislation can give a person that. Those values are instilled during childhood, in their families and their communities. You cannot legislate wisdom. Only experience brings that. And what experiences are we gaining for ourselves? Tyr was the God of the Thing, not because our ancestors called on him for understanding of legislation, but to reach wise, fair and equitable decisions that were in accordance to their way- to connect with that part of themselves that embody Tyr's commitment to what was right, not what was convenient.

Into the wine and into the well, our words were spoken. I chanted runes into the wine before my husband then poured it on the ground.

Looking around at the world today, the world needs a few more people who embody Tyr's commitment to do what is right. May Tyr's influence here in Midgard ever increase. Hail!