The elements of nature are the starting point of all, the constant within our ancestral religion. The eternal elements are the building blocks of all of life, and our creation story describes this explicitly. This makes these elements particularly holy for us, and their usage only requires consecration to designate them specifically for ritual, for they are the perfect form of sanctity, the first powers, the holy forms of evolution itself. They can be used to bless, or to send an offering, and we will provide examples in each case on how this was performed.
In examing the lore and certain linguistic patterns, an image begins to unfold of exactly how these elements were viewed. It seems that you have the three creator elements of Water, Fire, and Air. Then you have the terrestrial or created element of Earth, which plays out in our creation story. The fire of the south melts the ice of the north in order to blend within the “windy” Ginnungagap that blends them together. This then creates the seed of Yggdrasil, which becomes the basis for all life in the cosmos. In the same sense we have Óðinn, God of the Wind (also called Váfuðr, or “Waverer” and listed as a name of the wind in Alvismál 20), Hœnir, God of Waters (also called Aurkonungr or “Marsh-King” as related to a water bird, he is also called Vé), and Lóðurr, the “Fire-Producer” come together to create Askr (Ash-Tree) and Embla from trees. That Yggdrasill is also an ash tree is no coincidence here. There are many examples of this throughout the sources, which should be the subject of its own examination.
In the earliest age there was ice, frozen water blended with drops of fertile kvikudropar (Quick- Drops) that are so potent they are actually poisonous (eitr). The ice melted into rime and flowed into Ginnungagap to create the golden seed of Yggdrasil, the very embodiment of the Earth element, and the beginning of life. When Auðhumla, the sacred cow, licked the ice made from this it became aurr, and this substance created the first God, Buri. When Ymir drank from her teats this substance allowed him to sweat out children from his arms and feet. When Ymir died his flesh produced the Dvergar or Dwarves, who are connected to the land that is also made from his flesh.1 Thus, the water becomes the foundation upon which all of this rests, and may have been reckoned as such due to the fact that it is water that is the building block of life, and it is water that is needed to make the land produce crops.
The Hvergelmir well is said to be the source, “whence all waters rise” (þaðan eigu vǫtn ǫll vega. Grímnismál 26). It is said to be the source of all the rivers in the Underworld,2 and it feeds the northern root of Yggdrasill, thus creating a cycle by which the waters return. Its placement there, within the Niðafjǫll mountains, gives us a direct link to ritual design that allows us to understand how to establish sacred space, which we will go into later on.
Water is a blessing, from the crop-inducing rains to the morning dew that becomes honey through the collection of bees. In the Vafþruðnismál 14 we are told this:
er hverja dregr
nótt of nýt regin; méldropa fellir
hann morgin hvern; þaðan kemr dǫgg um dala.
-Hrímfaxi he is called,
who draws each
night anew over the Regin; foam falls from
his bit each morning,
thence come the dew in the dales.
We are told the same thing about the Valkyrjur in Helgakviða Hjǫrvarþssonar 28, where it says:
Þrennar níundir meyja, þó reið ein fyrir
hvít und hjalmi mær; marir hristusk,
stóð af mǫnum þeira
dǫgg í djúpa dali,
hagl í háva viðu;
þaðan kemr með ǫldum ár...
Three troops of nine maidens, although one led,
a bright maid with helmed head. their horses shook themselves, and from their manes
dew ran into the deep dales, hailed down onto lofty trees, thence come harvests to men...
Then, in Grímnismál 26 we have the following passage on Eikþyrnir that alludes to the rain:
Eikþyrnir heitir hjǫrtr,
er stendr hǫllu Herjafaþrs á ok bítr af Læraðs limum; en af hans hornum drýpr
þaðan eigu vǫtn ǫll vega.
Eikþyrnir the hart is called,
that stands over Herjafaþr’s hall, and bites from Læraðr’s branches; drops fall from his horns
whence all waters rise.
So, we see there an overlap between the sacred dew and the rain that fertilizes crops. In every instance we see a sprinkling as the primary function of delivery of this blessing, and thus this plays out in a ceremonial sense as well. It mimics the Sóa blessing of the Blót (see), and the sprinkling of a child at birth, possibly to help them grow as a crop would. We see the blessing of the Gods and their beasts fall from the heavens, and we seek that as the first blessing we will receive through the vatni ausa (See Nafnagipt).
There are other sacred waters besides those in the Underworld, which includes the ones we can establish for ourselves today. In particular we see Baldr related to the creation of such holy fountains with his horse. In Saxo bk. 3 we have the following statement: “The victorious Baldr, wishing to provide water as due refreshment for his thirsty soldiers, bored deep into the earth and discovered underground springs.” In Danish popular traditions we find Baldr as a creator of fountains, and one fountain in Seeland in particular was known for this.1
Water also plays a role within sacrifice as well, with several examples to support it. In the Kjalnesinga Saga ch. 2 it states:
En mǫnnum er þeir blótuðu skyldi steypa ofan í fen það er úti var hjá dyrunum. Það kǫlluðu þeir Blótkeldu.
And the men, when they performed Blót, should cast it into the fen that is outside the door, they called this a Blótkelda (Blót-well).
It is widely accepted that the wishing well has its origin in Mímir’s well, in which Óðinn sacrificed his eye in order to gain knowledge of the coming disasters of the world. Óðinn himself has the name Óski or “Wish-God,” which certainly points us in that direction. The above account is interesting in this sense, because we have Óðinn connected to the well, and his wife Frigg connected to the fen, for she lives in Fensalir or “Hall of the Fen.” In Adam of Bremen’s account (Scholium 134), we have the following statement:
Prope illud templum est arbor maxima late ramos extendens, semper viridis in hieme et aestate; cuius illa generis sit, nemo scit. Ibi etiam est fons, ubi sacrificia paganorum solent exerceri et homo vivus immergi. Qui dum non invenitur, ratum erit votum populi.
Near this temple stands a very large tree with wide-spreading branches, always green winter and summer. What kind it is nobody knows. There is also a well at which the pagans are accustomed to make their sacrifices, and to plunge a live man into it. If he is not found, the people's wish will be granted.
This fen, or bog, should be compared to the punishments presented in Tacitus’ Germania ch. 12, where those who have committed disgraceful crimes are buried alive within the morass.
Another ritual usage of water is in bathing, which is seen as a ceremonial ablution. In the sources on this 1we have an ablution known as Blótbað “Blót-bath,” which signifies a cleansing before or during the rite. We have two sources we can reference regarding this; the first being Tacitus’ Germania (ch. 40), which describes the Nerthus procession of several tribes, which also includes a water sacrifice:
Mox vehiculum et vestes et, si credere velis, numen ipsum secreto lacu abluitur. Servi ministrant, quos statim idem lacus haurit. Arcanus hinc terror sanctaque ignorantia, quid sit illud, quod tantum perituri vident.
Then the car and the robes and (if we choose to believe them) the goddess herself are washed in a mystic pool. Slaves are the ministers of this office, and are forthwith drowned in the pool. Dark terror springs from this, and a sacred mystery enshrouds those rites which no man is permitted to look upon and live.
The other account we can look at is the Risāla of Ibn Fadlan (8), which we need to take with a grain of salt, since many accounts written by foreigners like to exaggerate filthiness in favor of their own culture or religion. But his account can show us that our ancestors had a daily ritual bathing, which was important enough to chronicle:
They cannot, of course, avoid washing their faces and their heads each day, which they do with the filthiest and most polluted water imaginable. I shall explain. Every day the slave-girl arrives in the morning with a large basin containing water, which she hands to her owner. He washes his hands and his face and his hair in the water, then he dips his comb in the water and brushes his hair, blows his nose and spits in the basin. There is no filthy impurity which he will not do in this water. When he no longer requires it, the slave-girl takes the basin to the man beside him and he goes through the same routine as his friend. She continues to carry it from one man to the next until she has gone round everyone in the house, with each of them blowing his nose and spitting, washing his face and hair in the basin.
Tacitus also shows us a similar routine in ch. 22 of Germania:
Statim e somno, quem plerumque in diem extrahunt, lavantur, saepius calida, ut apud quos plurimum hiems
occupat. Lauti cibum capiunt: separatae singulis sedes et sua cuique mensa.
They usually sleep until some time after sunrise, and immediately upon rising they bathe, in warm water as a rule, the weather there being wintry during the greater part of the year. After bathing they break-fast, each having his own separate seat and table.
Although the day was originally not of the heathen calendar, there was the Laugardagr (Bath-Day) or Saturday, that was obviously connected to some form of bathing or ablution. In any case, we can see that baths were a regular part of their lives and we can adopt these practices into our own ceremonial structure, as we shall demonstrate later on.
One thing we must not forget in considering sacred waters is the sea, which is considered holy in its own right. Fishing and commerce become the highest blessings from these waterways and Njǫrðr oversees them both. In Gylfaginning ch. 23 it states “He rules the course of the wind, and stills sea and fire; on him shall men call for voyages and for fishing.” His “course of the wind” (gǫngu vinds) likely refers to navigation within the sea, and the story on his marriage to Skaði, where his home Nóatún is described as by the sea certainly points to this (ibid.). We can also look to Þórr as connected to the sea and fishing as well, for he once drank from the horn at Utgarðloki’s, which was dipped into the sea, and his drinking created the tides.1 He also is the greatest of fishermen, who once fished out the Miðgarðr serpent in his excursion with Hymir.2
In each element we consider the juxtaposition the Jǫtnar represent, for they are the opposite of the Gods and can thus show us how things should be by looking at how they should not be. In consideration of the water element, we look to the Gods as connecting to the holy waters, such as Leiptr, which Sigrún makes a holy oath upon in Helgakviða Hundingsbana II (31). Each day Þórr wades through four sacred rivers, Kǫrmt (Protector) and Ǫrmt (Tributary) and the two Kerlaugar (Kettle-Baths) before heading to the Helþing to judge the dead.1 This leads us to believe that this is not simply a journey he takes, but rather a sacred ablution that happens before he enters the holy stead of judgment, which we will see is identical to the ceremonial space as well.
In Hávamál 61 Óðinn tells us: “Washed and fed let a man ride to the Þing,” which could definitely be related to the sacred rivers Þórr wades through as the “Kettle-Baths.” When we see him in Harbarðsljóð he is trying to cross a river using a ferryman (Harbarð, who is Loki in disguise see UGMII p. 296), even though in every other instance wading across water is easy for him. If a sacred ablution is seen here, it may have related to these specific waters he had to wade through in order to purify himself. This is why he states in verse 13: “A hideous grief it would be to wade through the water to you and wet my burden,” which could have reference to the cleansing we see. If he has already cleansed himself and then enters a body of water that is not sacred, this would make his initial cleansing obsolete.
In this sense, the Giantesses represent the befouling of waters, which relates to this ablution. When Þórr goes to face Geirrǫðr we find the latter’s daughter, Gjalp, raising the river likely by urinating in it: “Then Þórr saw Gjalp, daughter of Geirrǫdr, standing in certain ravines, one leg in each, spanning the river, and she was causing the spate” (Skáldskaparmál 26). We also see Njǫrðr, lord of the sea and the ablution, abused by Loki by claiming that the Giantesses urinated in his mouth.2 It may be that the name Gullveig, meaning “Gold-Liquid” may refer to urine as well, for she is the one who comes to befoul mankind with her evil Seiðr, as seen in Vǫluspá 22. In Skírnismál 35 Skírnir-Svipdagr tells Gerðr:
Hrímgrímnir heitir þurs,
er þik hafa skal
Hrímgrimnir the þurs is named,
who shall have you
fyr nágrindr neðan; þar þér vílmegir
á viðarrótum geitahland gefi; æðri drykkju
fá þú aldregi,
mær, af þínum munum, mær, at mínum munum.
down below the Nágrindr, there may thralls
at the tree’s roots
give goat urine;
a better drink
may you never receive, maiden, by my will, maiden, at my will.
The drink of urine is that of the vile Jǫtnar, the drink of Gullveig, the drink of poison. In contrast to this is the Skírar Veigar (Shining Liquids, Vegtamskviða 12) or Dyrar Veigar (Precious Liquids, Helgakviða Hundingsbana II 46). These are the pure forms of mead, the milk from the utters of Heiðrún, rather than the goat urine of Niflhel. We drink holy liquids, hallowed before the Gods, and bathe in sacred waters before entering the sacred stead.
-Excerpts from Æfinrúnar book 1