Wealthy in Each Other’s Company

For three years now, I’ve been hosting a ritual to Jörð on the Saturday before Earth Day.

Photo by Robert L. Schreiwer

At first, the motivation behind these rituals was a bit selfish. Finally realizing the severity of the climate crisis was crushing, which should be unsurprising given that it is literally the biggest threat ever posed to living things on this planet. I vividly remember laying face-down in the dry clay, alternately crying when lucid, and dissociating when not. Even a few minutes earlier I would have still found the phrase “dirt-worshipping Heathen” obnoxious, but I couldn’t exactly act like this wasn’t a fair accusation now.

The thing is, this existential fear isn’t new. It was only new to me. And the reason it was new to me was because whiteness and my family’s class status had insulated me from having to actually confront it. I can buy my life off the shelf if I so choose, enabled by colonial government and exploitative industry. This crisis has been ongoing for literally everyone else, for hundreds of years.

This sense of interconnection that the looming threat of climate change brought me should have been intuitive. But the world built on my behalf requires being separated from the earth. The comparatively new sense of a sprawling, tangled web of fate under my feet filled me with cold-muscled fear.

Like most people who crack under the strain of pretending to cooperate with absolute bullshit and feeling like everyone else knows something you don’t, I brought it to therapy. My therapist tried his damndest to instill some hope in me for life on earth—namely Lif and Lifthrasir as a metaphor for plastic-eating, thermophilic microbes, should they evolve in our absence. But none of this took away from the core fear that the world is ending for real.

In part because I already associated the events in ragnarök with the carbon cycle, I decided that the way to cope with my eco-anxiety would be through designing rituals again. This time, something heavily inspired by Völuspá.

Initially, what I had in mind had zero resemblance to the way I do Jarðarblót now. I had originally contemplated something theatrical, angry, and involving fake blood and scorn poles. I still have the unfinished papier-mâché horse head on a shelf in my closet. But eventually, something clicked.

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For Jörð

Mín móðir hon er sum ein blóma
Hon er sum eitt livandi træ.

My mother, she is like a flower,
she is like a living tree.

– From “Mín móðir,” by Eivør.

Jörð does a lot for us.

She has given us the land we stand on. The water we drink, the plants and animals we eat, or bring into our homes to care for because we find them charming. All of this comes from her.

Even in our houses intended to buffer us from nature–built from the wood and stone, glass, and petroleum-derived plastic she provides–we strive to bring her in. We throw open our windows. We stop to smell and collect flowers, keeping them in vases made from sand-derived glass and dirt-derived ceramics. We seek out hiking trails and camping trips, buy little chunks of shiny rocks and metal mined from underground to adorn our bodies, and look forward to lying in the grass once the weather warms up and the winter thaw dries out.

When we die, Óðinn or Freyja or Hel take care of our spirits. But Jörð takes care of our bodies. She turns us into something new.

We love and admire her, even if we don’t realize it. Everything we have comes from her. I think as humans, we also fear her. But I suspect that this is why she is Thor’s mother. He softens the forces of nature. He protects us if we need it.

We owe her so much, and I hope we will someday manage to repay that debt. For her benefit, as well as our own.