September 22 marked a very successful Winter Finding ceremony on the SU campus, led by Michael Espinoza, a first year and practicing Heathen.
Students may have seen the emails sent out to the list serve inviting people to participate. Heathenry, or Asatru, is a present day revival of the pre-Christian polytheistic beliefs and practices of the Norse and Germanic peoples that inhabited present-day Scandinavia and Germany. In drawing on these ancient religious principles, Heathenry seeks to provide a viable spirituality for modern people who find themselves uninspired by more common religions.
The Norse believed in many deities, divided into two groups known as the Aesir and the Vanir. Modern Heathens look to the surviving sources of Norse belief, the Icelandic texts known as the Prose Edda and the Poetic Edda, and to the values espoused therein for guidance.
“The surviving Norse writings relate not only the doings of the Gods as the Norse understood them,” explains Espinoza, “but describe how an honorable life is to be lived through such virtues as hospitality, courage, and strength-both physical and emotional. Although Heathens worship the Gods at certain times throughout the year, we also especially try to honor the Gods each day through excellence in thought and action.”
Some of the more important deities for the Norse and modern Heathens include Odin, head of the Aesir family and known for his wisdom, Thor, revered for his strength and prowess in battle, and Freyja, a patron of women and noted for her beauty. She is both a goddess of love, and of battle. Other important Norse mythological concepts include the division of the world into several realms connected by Yggdrasil, the World Tree, and Ragnarok, the final battle between the gods and their enemies.
This year, the Autumn Equinox (one of two days of the year along with the Spring Equinox in which the globe experiences equal hours of day and night) fell on September 22. The Winter Finding ceremony is held on this day to bid farewell to the passing summer and to prepare for the rigors of winter. The Norse, like the other pre-industrial societies of Europe, depended heavily on a successful harvest in the fall to make it through the winter, and so they took this time to thank the gods for all that had been given during the harvest and to ask their protection during the cold of winter.
The ceremony, or blot as it is called in Old Norse, consisted of an invocation to Odin and the other deities to establish a link with their divine presence, an offering to Odin and his horse Sleipnir of cider and bread for sustenance in the hard months ahead, and boasting, in which every member of the group spoke well of someone they knew who had acted with great honor and was worthy of praise. After the gods were thanked for their presence, the blot en ded, leaving time for general socializing.
“I’m really pleased with the group that came out,” Michael said after the ceremony, “I’m the only Heathen on campus as far as I know but I would like to get a group started just to educate people about Heathenry and get them talking about it, as there are a lot of negative stereotypes that I would like to dispel, such as all Heathens being white supremacists or Heathenry being a youthful phase, when that really isn’t the case in reality.”
When asked when the next blot would be, he said that he would try to plan one for each month and that “it would be awesome if we could get a lot of people together for a feast at Yule in December.” Michael would love to take any questions about Heathenry via his email.