This rite is designed to bless and bring life and power to your images of the Gods, called Skurðgoðar. This is a very important element in your practice, for your focus within the rite should be upon these images and the deities they represent. The idea is not that the inanimate objects are divine themselves, but rather that they are imbued with a portion of deific strength and identity, which allows us to offer to them as if we were facing the Gods themselves. Their images are symbols of their power, and as such become a centralized force within our ceremony. They become the will of the divine, and our conduit to the worlds beyond. Offer to them and let them see our devotion, our worship, and our praise.
This rite is developed from several sources that explain to us how images or sacred items are preserved or brought to life. In the Ynglingasaga ch. 4 we see Mímir’s head being preserved by Óðinn in such a way:
Óðinn tók höfuðit ok smurði urtum, þeim er eigi mátti fúna, ok kvað þar yfir galdra, ok magnaði svá, at þat mælti við hann ok sagði honum marga leynda hluti.
Óðinn took the head, smeared (smurði) it with herbs so that it should not rot, and sang Galdr over it. Thereby he gave it the power that it spoke to him, and discovered to him many secrets.
In the Gesta Danorum bk. 1 this head becomes a statue, which must contain remnants of the ceremonial idea within it. This passage also relates to the stalli as being a pedestal (see above), whereby Óðinn “mounted the statue upon a pedestal, which by the marvellous skill of his art made to speak when a mortal touched it.”
The idea of smearing or anointing (smyrja) is also found in Friðþjofs Saga ins frækna ch. 8, where the women stand near a fire “baking” Gods, which could either refer to clay or bread, and thus they anoint them:
Eldu var á golfinu ok sátu konur þeira við eldin ok bǫkuðu goðinn, enn sumar smurðu, ok þerðu með dukum.
There was a fire on the floor and their wives sat by the fire and baked the gods, still some anointed (smurðu) and wiped with cloths.
We find the wrapping with cloth in the Vǫlsi þattr, where a horse penis or Vǫlsi ̧ is treated in the following manner:
Kerling stendr upp ok gengr at öðrum megin ok grípr af honum ok segir, at hvárki þetta né annat skulu þau ónýta, þat sem til gagns má verða, gengr fram síðan ok þurrkar hann sem vandligast ok vefr innan í einum líndúki ok berr hjá lauka ok önnur grös, svá at þar fyrir mætti hann eigi rotna, ok leggr niðr í kistu sína.
A woman stands up and walks to the kitchen and grabs the member and says that they should not waste that which can be useful, then she went and wiped it down as carefully as possible and wrapped it inside in a linen cloth along with leeks and other herbs, to prevent it from rotting, and then laid it into her coffer.
We truly believe this account is meant as a parody of the ritual involving the blessing of the Skurðgoðar, and thus can be used here as well. When the refrain given says “May Mǫrnir accept this Blót” (Þiggi Mǫrnir þetta blæti), this is in reference to a group of Giantesses or Troll- Wives, which gives us a basis for the poem in general. Its crudeness and vulgarity match perfectly what we would see in something for these beings, for they represent the opposite of what they Gods represent. Vulgarity is poetry to them, beauty is ugliness, benevolent Gods are pigs or evil- doers (forming the names Sýr for Freyja or Bǫlverkr for Óðinn). In the Gesta Danorum bk. 5 we see Ericus (Eirikr-Svipdagr) in a contest with the Jǫtnar Greppr and that the exchange shows insolence used as poetry and insults as eloquence. Thus, the the Vǫlsi þattr poem likely mirrors some actual ritual where a statue is brought to life.
We can see that again there is a cloth used, there are herbs involved, and this is meant to act as a form of preservation for sacred purposes. This also gives us one of the items to use in the anointing, the leeks, which we have seen the importance of before. The Nine Herbs Galdr could also be beneficial here and this could be recited while performing the ceremony. We also see the linen cloth (called líndúkr), which has been deemed very important in our sacred rites, and would likely be the anointing cloth we also find.
If we were to follow the idea that the anointing in Friðþjofs Saga involves some sort of liquid, it could be possible that this could involve the use of butter, as the Old Norse word for butter is smjǫr, which is basically the same word as smyrja. Indeed, we see this same device utilized in the Vedic sources in much the same way. A blend of the herbs, leeks, and butter would make the concoction practical, as you want the statue to be covered in the substance and allow the material to actual adhere to it, so that it can be washed off afterwards. In some traditions it is clarified butter (ghee) that is used. Here we see butter described in the covering of Gods (Rig Veda 10.52.6):
The Deities three hundred and thirty-nine, have served and honoured Agni, strewn sacred grass, anointed him with butter, and seated him as Priest, the Gods' Invoker.
Jacob Grimm in his Deustche Mythologi p. 63 has this to say on the subject:
By Friðjof’s fault (in Friðjofs Saga) a baked Baldr falls into the fire, the fat blazes up, and the house is burnt down. According to Yoetius de superstit. 3, 122 on the day of Paul’s conversion they placed a figure of straw before the hearth on which they were baking, and if it brought a fine bright day, they anointed it with butter; otherwise they kicked it from the hearth, smeared it with dirt, and threw it in the water.
The idea of bringing a statue to life is one of welcoming, and thus we want to welcome the deity into our home and treat them as an honored guest. This plays out perfectly in the Rígsþula, where the deity is welcomed and honored in various ways, and from this comes special blessings. We must look at our Skurðgoðar in the same way, and give these statues respect and reverence. Regular washing and caretaking, giving a place to rest, and honoring with sacred meals is a way to keep the deity happy and the area they are within blessed. As we see the offerings made through a doorway in the East, we want to reverse this and have the deities enter through this passage in order to bring a part of their being into our area. This becomes a very sacred rite that will bring forth the awakening of the divine within your sacred space.
To give life is to give power, and in our sources the act of giving power to a statue is called Mǫgnut. We find this mentioned in several sources, including Ǫgmundar þáttr dytts:
Þar voru blót stór í þann tíma og hafði Freyr þar verið mest blótaður lengi og svo var mjǫg magnað líkneski Freyrs að fjandinn mælti við menn úr skurðgoðinu og Frey var fengin til þjónustu kona ung og fríð sýnum. Var það átrúnaður landsmanna að Freyr væri lifandi sem sýndist í sumu lagi og ætluðu að hann mundi þurfa að eiga hjúskaparfar við konu sína. Skyldi hún mest ráða með Frey fyrir hofstaðnum og ǫllu því er þar lá til.
There were great blóts there at the time and Freyr had for the longest been most sacrificed to, and the image of Freyr had grown so strong (magnað) that the devil spoke to people from the idol and Freyr had in his service a young and beautiful woman. It was the people’s belief that Freyr was alive, which seemed to be the case in some ways, and they thought he should marry this woman. She would have the most to do with Freyr at the Hof-stead and all that was there.
In the Þórleifs Þáttur Jarlaskálds, ch. 7, we are given a description of an image of Þórr (here called Þórgarðr) where a man’s heart is placed into the statue in order to give it life and mǫgnuðu or imbue it with power. We would not take this as a literal account, but rather a later adaptation of earlier stories, such as that of Mǫkkurkalfi, the clay giant described in Skáldskaparmál ch. 17. The idea is that the statue can be empowered, and the ancient stories speak of them even coming to life and engaging in activities such as wrestling, marriage, giving advice, and so on. We can see from the earlier accounts that this empowerment comes in the form of smearing the statues with special herbs and singing Galdr over them.
Milk could also be considered here as an important liquid for sustaining and giving life, for it would then represent the hvíta aurr of the lore, which is the white substance the Nornir use to maintain the tree, Yggdrasill, as well as the milk of Auðhumla. This milk becomes the substance that gives life to the Gods themselves, for Ymir drinks from the cow’s teats, then sweats the first beings into existence. Buri comes from the ice, who then has children with Ymir’s daughter, Bestla. This is the power of ursvǫl, which allows beings to regenerate, and becomes the liquid of Aurvangaland, where the fruits of men are fruictified to be sent to expecting women. This has its equivalence in Hindu faith as well, where milk is poured upon the murti or images of the Gods.
You may note that there is no invocation (heita) or prayer (biðja) within this ritual, because the entire ceremony is an invocation, a calling to the deity to enter into the carving and leave behind a small trace that brings forth the divine essence within it. This is crucial because that divine essence will be the force that brings the blessings into the sacred space for the folk to partake in.
- Excerpt from Æfinrúnar book 1