Falkabarn, formerly Sparkle Puca, has been at the Heathenry thing since the summer of 2012. In addition to blogging, they facilitate rituals structured around the central theme of prayer as protest, and protest as prayer. This includes Seasons of Transition (April and July of 2019), Jarðarblót (April 2020), and as one of the facilitators for Trothmoot's Loki blót (2020 and 2021)
By and large, I prefer combing through academia for information I can use in my practice, rather than consulting coreligionists.
There was someone I knew in my earlier Heathen days who made huge logical leaps from incredibly sparse information. Her…contributions in that vein are more famous in the Marvel and general Hiddleston fandom, but she brought a lot of that into the Lokean spaces, too.
Her assertions were along the lines of “blood oaths were marriages, so Loki and Odin were totes married!” (No.) “Jotunn means cannibal, Jotunheim means ‘cannibal town,’ and they were neanderthals” (What?!) And a lot of wildly inaccurate linguistic assertions. She claimed to have taken some language classes. She was not a linguist. This didn’t stop her, even though it really should have.
She was utterly convinced “Loki” was a cognate of the Proto-Germanic “laguz,” (from which the rune name is derived, yes) and therefore Loki was a god of lakes. Oh, never mind that there was absolutely zero attestation regarding Loki and lakes, or that Proto-Germanic is a reconstruction of a language that was never written down. It was her UPG. Apparently the definition of “cognate” she was using was also her UPG, because she used this word constantly.
Except…”cognate” doesn’t mean, “these words are vaguely similar.” In linguistics, a cognate of a word has the same linguistic root as another word. That is not optional.
The prevailing theory about the etymology of Loki’s name, for the record, is the Proto-Germanic root “*luk-.” It refers to concepts of attachment, ensnarement and closure; we see that in the lore with the stitching of Loki’s mouth, his creation of the fishing net and his binding. Nothing in that is relevant to lakes.
She could have found this out with a two-minute internet search, because that’s how long it took me to compare these etymologies. I’m not a linguist, either. I just know how to Google.
Granted, this was an abnormally bad instance of this kind of behavior, but I don’t put stock into other people’s UPG, for a few reasons. Reason one is pretty straightforward. It’s personal. That is information between you and the deity you work with. It is only reliably true and useful between the two of you.
Reason two is that “unverified” is part of the name, and at this point in my life I’d really prefer running that by an objective (or at least thoroughly-backed) source before adopting it.
I have had UPG-type experiences involving directly given information, and then stumbled upon that same information in a devotional where the author and I were mutually unknown to each other. I’ve also had hunches verified by academia completely by accident. So, yes, UPG does sometimes end up becoming a peer-verified or academically-verified Gnosis. But not always. I’d prefer not to count on it as reliable information until I see it proven. I don’t need to whip out the whole scientific method to feel confident, but I need a second opinion.
Reason three is the tendency I saw among the Tumblr-based Lokean community (myself included, before people smarter than me were kind enough to redirect me) picking up tidbits of unsupported information, and parroting them as if they were proven facts. I’ve got other gripes about the way Tumblr works, but the speed at which inaccurate information spreads is easily the biggest.
I feel like I’ve been burned by what I’ve seen happen to UPG. So, I ran far away from that and ended up as kind of a lore-thumper. I can at least be reassured the lore won’t change to be on trend. Not nearly as much, at least.
Yes, the lore needs to be approached carefully, because, yes, it was written down by non-Heathens. That just means you do more background research to work around the bias. Not consult some random person on the internet whose most compelling credentials are not being a Christian like Snorri Sturluson, and “it’s my UPG.”
It’s a trap anyone can fall into, though. Making connections between information is deeply satisfying, and it’s something our brain does by default with incredible speed. Pattern-matching is a feature, not a bug. And we’re supposed to like and prefer things that are satisfying. Reaching a realization on our own feels rewarding. Having a source of information who is part of the community is comforting.
The problem is that facts and scholarly consensus are going to be more accurate than something that occurs to you while you’re making dinner. Even a bad academic assertion with thorough citations has a trail you can follow for better information. A trained professional has the background knowledge and discernment skills the layperson usually doesn’t have.
A linguist doesn’t equate similar sounding words, because they know how the language and its relatives operate. A lock is not a lake unless it’s a loch.
A historian knows history is written by the victors, but witnesses still leave a trail. Our myths may be transcribed by Christians, but some poetry survived mostly unchanged from before the conversion, and the sagas provide other helpful hints.
A mythologist worth their salt is trained to recognize when similarities between plots and motifs are caused by a common source material, and when they’re just coincidence. A spark nestled in a salmon and a child born from a swallowed pine needle have fascinating similarities to some of Loki’s escapades–but they are only fascinating similarities.
Even though religion is not science, we’re not exempt from carefully examining what we come across.
When I was on a plane to Texas, I was seated next to a very chatty seventeen year old. In between randomly making assumptions about substance use (I’m generally sober, thank you), and incorrectly guessing my age by ten years (to be fair, nobody cards me) she asked me what I was reading. Or trying to read, really. Because she was that chatty.
I told her I was reading a translation of the Poetic Edda. Since nobody who isn’t Heathen or super into mythology to begin with knows what “Edda” refers to, I explained that this is one of the main sources of Norse mythology. She still didn’t know what that meant, so I said, “well you know, like, stories about Odin and Thor and Loki and them.”
That finally clicked for her, and I scrambled to specify “it’s not like the Marvel movies, though. This is a religious thing for me.”
Her response was “wait, you can do that? That’s the best thing I’ve ever heard!”
By disclosing my practice, I had achieved two things:
Challenged the idea that pagan religions are dead, non-existent or inferior.
Challenged the stigma surrounding Heathenry as base and hateful, because I was peacefully sitting on a plane and making the effort to educate somebody.
Visibility of pagan practices is important. I believe in the gods and teachable moments.
This idea that our faiths and our gods are dead leads to a lot of things. People assume nobody has a personal or cultural investment in these deities and their stories. And then they assume it is therefore okay to take these and bend them to their own wills. This leads to miseducation, insulting portrayals, and exploitation by people with a malicious agenda.
Because the general population assumes we don’t even exist, they don’t know enough to separate assumptions from actual practice, and those who are only vaguely aware don’t have the background knowledge necessary to differentiate extremists with an ahistorical agenda, from decent human beings who actually value the gods and the good we can all do for each other.
I’m not saying to go screaming it from the roof tops. It is not always prudent or even safe to open up about your practices, but doing so has a positive effect when it’s well-timed. I used to hide my hammer because I thought it was more “polite” to do that. I didn’t want to make people uncomfortable, knowing that this symbol has been bastardized for the past 80-odd years.
But I realized I was missing out on valuable opportunities to let people ask questions if they recognized it. I was allowing the face of my religion to be the louder and more dangerous contingent. I now make a point of being really, really obviously Heathen while being a decent human being. It shouldn’t be a big deal. In a better world, it wouldn’t be a big deal. But we’re not in that world yet.
There’s a wide variety of tactics available, and I know there are some that work better for other people. Setting a good example and being open to questions is what I’m capable of at the moment, so that is what I do.
In the modern age, some Heathens use the first day of April as a day specifically honoring Loki. This would seem to originate from the day’s associations with practical jokes, and with Loki’s reputation as a trickster. This holiday, however, has even more ancient origins—and in fact comes from the Norse.
The origin of April Fools was a festival called Prettarsdagr1 which took place during the month Einmánuður, the earlier part of which is roughly equivalent to late March and early April in the Gregorian calendar. We have recently discovered the first written account of the festival by an Irish cleric during the year 969 CE2. Archaeological records, however, have turned up rune stones using the Elder Futhark alphabet which suggest this tradition may have taken place as early as 420 CE.3
Some aspects of the Prettarsdagr festival included communal drinking, blots to Loki4 and flytings. Historians believe the emphasis on flyting originates from the aggression common to sleep-deprived humans, caused by the circadian rhythm readjusting to the presence of increased sunlight5. This is in keeping with the social function of flyting in Old Norse societies, in which they are used as a substitute for physical altercations in order to resolve conflict.
Apparent influence of the Norse Prettarsdagr festival on other cultures is evident in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, in which the Nun’s Priest’s Tale describes a rooster named Chauntecleer who is haunted by dreams of his eventual death by a fox—an obvious symbol of Loki6. We can see here a parallel with “Baldrs Draumar,” wherein Baldr is plagued by dreams of his impending death7. In Snorri’s prose version, Baldr is eventually killed by a sprig of mistletoe brought to the blind Hodr by Loki. In Chaucer’s derivation, the mistletoe is replaced by cabbage in which the fox hides. This tale is the first recorded instance in the English language explicitly stating a connection between “32 March” (April 1st) and deception.8
Partly due to the conversion effort in Scandinavia, these rituals began to be divorced from their pagan origins. As more of the Norse officially became Christian, flytings gave way to humorous tales employing increasingly complex wordplay performed in the courts of kings9. One such example would be the poem on which Snorri’s account of Loki’s eating contest with Logi in the hall of Utgarda-Loki is derived10. We see a continuation of the “deception” motif in Utgarda-Loki’s disguising of fire, thought, age and the Midgard Serpent as seemingly innocuous persons and animals, who outstrip Loki, Thor and Thjalfi at every turn.
Rubber chickens may even be a holdover of the Prettarsdagr festival and the deception in “Baldrs Draumar” through the lens of Chaucer11. The rubber chicken has its origins in the performances of court jesters during the renaissance12—the descendants of increasingly humorous court skalds. Chicken carcasses were widely available and were often used in tandem with inflated pigs’ bladders as mock-weapons during performances. There is one such account of a Swedish clown as late as 1900 who used food during his performances to mock the decadence of the upper classes—including a dead chicken.
As of 1900, however, this connection had surely been forgotten.
Now, of course, April Fool’s Day is a day set aside for harmless practical jokes. In modern-day Sweden, for example, many newspapers will print exactly one fabricated story.
Kind of like this post. Check the first letter of each paragraph.
April Fool’s does not have any Norse origins, or even an analogous festival in the original Heathen practice. There is no Prettarsdagr. We still do not have compelling evidence of a cult of worship for Loki. April Fool’s as a blot day for Loki is an entirely modern invention.
But it’s also Easter, so here’s all the Easter Eggs:
A word I literally made up for this post. It would, however, roughly translate to "day of tricks."
Though the Vikings and the Irish would have already been in contact at this time, we have no such documents. I just wanted a year with 69 in it.
Runestones did exist at this time, but they were mostly gravestones. And it's the weed number.
Again, no proven cult of Loki. Therefore, no historical blots to Loki.
Flyting might have been used as a substitute for physical violence, but it has nothing to do with a made up holiday or the transition into spring. The Norse didn't need an excuse for flyting.
The association of foxes with deception originates separately. Foxes were never associated with Loki until very recently, and this association is entirely unsupported by the lore and historical evidence.
There is no parallel. This is an extremely common plot--Chauntecleer even reflects on how common this plot is within the story.
This one's actually true. Canterbury Tales legitimately is the earliest known English attestation of April 1 being linked to trickery.
Flyting officially existed until the 1500s, but ritualized insult poetry never went away. (Rap battles are, in a sense, much like flyting.) There's no reason this would have happened as a result of the conversion, because flyting was not a distinctly pagan practice.
We don't know nearly enough about this story to make these kinds of claims.
It seems like the farther I advance in my practice as a Heathen, the more the simplest things become more and more profoundly moving and enlightening. A gift for a gift is one of the cornerstones of Heathen practice, the gifting cycle is not simply a part of our interpersonal culture, it is the foundation of our sacral practice.
“From the gods, to the earth to us-from us to the earth to the gods” Is the phrase we use when we acknowledge the gifts of the gods as we gather together to celebrate, and we in turn complete the gifting cycle by making our offering to the earth, in honour of the gods and wights both.
41. Friends shall gladden each other | with arms and garments,
As each for himself can see;
Gift-givers’ friendships | are longest found,
If fair their fates may be.
Just three quick housekeeping notes, since it’s the first of the month: comments no longer require approval (which was probably already obvious), I updated the about page (I have a face sometimes!), and the tag system has been reworked. That’s basically everything.
Housekeeping is super boring though. So, I figured I’d post something fun to make up for it.
Folk music is a big part of my life, because my parents would take me to the Philadelphia Folk Festival every August. Now I scream “this is my song!” every time I hear a hurdy-gurdy. It’s genuinely ridiculous.
Since this is a Norse-y Heathen blog, I’m picking out my favorite folk music bands from the Nordic countries to share. Few of these bands use instruments that would have existed in the Viking age, as most of the aesthetic we classify as “folk” is comparatively recent. But I’ve always found music to be an effective way to convey culture, and it’s motivated me to learn languages in order to better appreciate certain poetic flourishes. Plus, some of them are just plain fun.
Eivør is from the Faroe Islands, and her vocals are a little like Kate Bush. (Fittingly, she’s covered “Hounds of Love.”) She works some serious magic with a frame drum, maybe literally. Like, if you told me Eivør practiced seiðr I would absolutely believe you. She’s a classically trained singer, and has performed at Frostrosir, a yearly Christmas concert in Iceland. She also sings in English and Icelandic. Also, if you watch The Last Kingdom you’ll recognize her voice immediately.
This song in particular has been making the rounds in a lot of online Heathen spaces, probably because she sounds bewitchingly ancient in it. (Fitting, because the title is Faroese for “Spellbound.”)
This band is also from the Faroe Islands. Valravn leans more folktronic, and is regrettably no longer in action. Many of their songs are modern takes on folk songs, and they even have one based on part of the saga of Ragnar Loðbrok, “Kraka.” This one, “Kelling” is my favorite, because the strings and synths give it an amazing texture. (Plus, they yell at you to get up and dance, so now you gotta. It’s the law.)
This is a Swedish-Finnish band whose name means “The Heathens.” This one is heavy on traditional instruments, but isn’t afraid to throw in some equally heavy rock drums or electric guitar–or electric fiddle. Some of my favorites are “Räven,” a song about a Huldra, and “Vargtimmen,” which was covered by Finntroll. They’ve also collaborated with Wimme Saari.
I like this song in particular, because it’s about refusing to cut down trees, and man, it’s a banger with a weird time signature.
Since I mentioned Wimme Saari, and I think he’s super neat, I’m giving him his own place on the list. Wimme is a Saami musician from Finland, whose style combines electronic beats with joik–an improvisational and often wordless style of song distinct to the Saami.
As mentioned, he’s also collaborated with Hedningarna for the song “Tuuli.”
Hoven Droven is a Swedish band whose name roughly translates to “Helter Skelter” or “whatever.” (Which is…an odd nuance to keep up with, as an English speaker.) Their specialty is hard rock arrangements of old Swedish folk tunes. Two of the members of Hoven Droven now form the rhythm section of Triakel, which is fronted by Emma Härdelin of Garmarna.
This is one of my top five Hoven Droven songs, because I feel like it exemplifies their style really well.
My community tells me I am an elder now. I guess the grey in the beard argues they have a point. That being said, I am looking at the elders in our community and noticing we really aren’t living up to the reverence we get given.
How many of us have shared the memes about the kids of today being useless, or lacking coping skills, or in ten thousand ways being utterly without capability or worth compared to every generation that has gone before?
Like the myth about how great our music was, we had great music, and we remember the great music. We try really hard to forget about the bad stuff, and the majority of it was terrible. Kind of like today actually.
We had a lot of really spectacularly useless people, a lot of people struggling to get by, a bunch more who didn’t seem…
I finally graduated from college, so I suddenly have a lot of free time on my hands and basically dove right into intense, self-directed study.
Got a snazzy little study binder and everything.
Since I have one part of Ursula Dronke’s Edda translation (I will have to dig for the other two parts, one copy is in a library in Philly so I’ll see if I can access it) I’ve decided to use it as the jumping point for my research. Dronke’s notes are incredibly thorough in explaining the cultural and mythological context of the poems. It is, predictably, really dense, but it’s great for taking notes from and I feel like I’m gaining a lot of new understanding from doing this.
I’m also learning a little bit of Old Norse in the hopes that I can someday, with further study, read and interpret the poems directly. Failing that, since Old Norse has a very flexible word order, I’ll probably try my hand at really simplistic skaldic poetry or writing rituals in Old Norse.
Old Norse also makes me really glad I’ve taken Latin and German, because Old Norse is absurdly inflective.
After I’m done working through the Eddas, I’ll be moving to the Sagas and similar books for cultural context, and studying the Rune poems and looking into magical practices like Seiðr and Galdr. I’m planning on getting ordained through The Ásatrú Community and want to make sure all my bases are covered for their direct ordination option, basically.
This has also involved grabbing as many academic commentaries on Norse mythology, and the culture and language, as I can get my little pixelated hands on. (Which has resulted in a reading list that’s nearly 300 items long. Why do I do these things to myself?)
I have also found some promising kindreds to look into and get involved in, which should also help me cover the community involvement requirement. (I’m not sure how that’s proven, and a signed spreadsheet feels outré, but I’d rather not lie about it anyway.)
This has kept me from maintaining the blog as much as I had hoped, especially considering my plan was to track my journey/progress, but there’s a few drafts ready to go that I might publish soon. Not saying “watch this space,” just that I’m not dead. Not even remotely! I feel more alive than I have in a while. Actually sleeping will do that for you.
I swear to spiderhorse there used to be so many kindreds, moots and blots within reasonable distance from wherever I was. It’s like that fake fact about spiders. I used to be spiders-god-damn-Georg, who lives in a cave and successfully locates 10,000 pubmoots a day.
My options are fewer than the average heathen because of the whole Loki thing (so the Troth goes right out the god damn window unless I’m desperate, and I’m getting there) but even still the number of kindreds you could find with a google search is virtually nihil now.
What the fuck.
There was an amusing discovery along the line, but it needs some background info. Basically, at pagan pride day a few years back I had a kindred leader recommended to me (through someone in The Troth, ironically) based on the fact that his kindred was pointedly Loki-friendly. We talked, I interviewed him on his stances regarding folkism and racism and he seemed less than ideal but tolerable.
I didn’t have a great feeling about this guy or the woman with him (especially her, god she was unsettling) but figured you just have to suck it up and settle for less if you want to get anywhere. Right?
Turns out this dude had plastered his facebook with fylfots.
I was grossed out. I was pissed. He lied to me, pretty blatantly, and literally did something he claimed to have kicked people out of his kindred for. I also wasn’t ready to confront this dude so I decided to profusely apologize to my Jewish friends for the mishap and block the guy instead, vowing never to go near his fucking kindred.
I wasn’t thrilled when I found out they’d signed Declaration 127, and this is a good 90% of why I don’t put stock into kindreds who signed it. (And why I didn’t sign it.) There was clearly no vetting involved.
But I figured I’d check up on them out of morbid curiosity and have discovered that they renamed, are currently without a location and have gotten worse. Do you think I don’t know what “cultural marxism” is a dog whistle for?
So at least I was right in my suspicions, even if they came a little late.