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Són- The Concept Of Atonement In Norse Tradition

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September 30 , 2019 | Posted by Dagaz Issa |

Són- The Concept Of Atonement In Norse Tradition

We have previously discussed the passages on retribution for crimes in the afterlife. This is an affirmation of the ideals our ancestors held in regards to balancing örlög and maintaining social order. Actions must have consequences or codes mean nothing. However, the biggest issue we have is that when people violate the code is there a course to redemption? Is there a way to right the wrongs you have committed and avoid the punishments of the damned? The monotheist way is to beg their deity for forgiveness and hope that he will grant it. Their model is always one of obedience and submission, whereas the Nordic Polytheist model is that of being a good person and doing the right thing.

So in our belief we have a way to correct ones errors, and this method should be utilized within our religious community as a way for those dishonored to reclaim their reputation. The method is atonement, and is firmly attested in our sources (some of which is listed below). Once recompense is settled the matter should be closed, simple as that. Far too often we utilize removal and blacklisting for almost any infraction, while almost never allowing the parties to make up for what they have done. Look at the story of Loki, for instance. This is not a tale about his "trickery" as it has been passed off as in modern neo paganism, but rather is a testament to the Gods' patience towards infractions and how lenient they will be when you face them at the Helthing. They are not our overseers, they are our family. But their patience will only go so far and the most egregious errors must face consequence.

The concept of atonement in our religion is known as Són and is indeed a sacred term referring to a sort of sacrificial reckoning. This is the Afrad Gjalda ("Payment of Compensation") we see in Völuspá 23, when the Gods are asked to compensate for Gullveig Heid's death. It is the weregild discussed often in the Sagas. In Saxo bk. 1 we see Hadding as the slayer of a divine being, who is none other than Freya's husband Odr. When this happens the Goddess appears before him and says:
"Whether thou tread the fields afoot, or spread canvas overseas, thou shalt suffer the hate of the gods, and through all the world shalt behold the elements oppose thy purposes. Afield thou shalt fall, on sea thou shalt be tossed, an eternal tempest shall attend the steps of thy wandering, nor shall frost-bind ever quit thy sails; nor shall thy roof-tree roof thee, but if thou seekest it, it shall fall smitten by the hurricane; thy herd shall perish of bitter chill. All things shall be tainted, and shall lament that thy lot is there. Thou shalt be shunned like a pestilent tetter, nor shall any plague be fouler than thou. Such chastisement doth the power of heaven mete out to thee, for truly thy sacrilegious hands have slain one of the dweller's above, disguised in a shape that was not his: thus here art thou, the slayer of a benignant god! But when the sea receives thee, the wrath of the prison of Eolus shall be loosed upon thy head. The West and the furious North, the South wind shall beat thee down, shall league and send forth their blasts in rivalry; until with better prayers thou hast melted the sternness of heaven, and hast lifted with appeasement the punishment thou hast earned."

With this we must compare the statement in Skirnismal 33, in which Skrinir proclaims the following curse to Gerd for refusing to marry Frey:

"Angry at you is Odin,
angry at you is the Asa-prince.
Frey shall loathe you,
even before you, wicked maid,
shall have felt
the Avenging Wrath of the Gods (Gambanreiði Goða)."

In both instances here an appeasement is made. Hadding performs a propitiatory rite to Frey, which becomes an annual celebration; and Gerd offers Skirnir a horn of mead and agrees to the marriage.

This concept of Són is also found in the rite of the Yule-Boar, which is also called Sónargöltr "The Atonement Boar." This would be a ritual meant to close the year by cleansing the folk of any unknown transgressions, clearing the air of any slights against the Gods, and also look forward to the new year by making oaths on its bristles. Helgakvida Hjorvaþssonar 30 pr says this about the boar:

"That evening the great vows were taken; the sacred boar was brought in, the men laid their hands thereon, and took their vows at the king's toast."

Then in Hervarar Saga ch. 10 there is mention of the Sónarblót, which would be the "Atonement Blót":

"And they would sacrifice a boar in the sonarblót. On Yule Eve the sonar-boar was led into the hall before the king; then people laid their hands on its bristles and made vows."

From this we can compare the research into Mimir's Well, from which Odin drank in order to gain wisdom and see the future. In a passage in Hyndluljod (37) we see kennings for the three drinks of the Underworld fountains. These are Urðar Magn ("Urd's Strength," or Urdarbrunnr), Svalkaldur Sær ("Cool-Cold Sea," for Hvergelmir) and Sónar Dreyri ("Són's Blood" or "Blood of Atonement"), the latter of which we can compare to Snorri's account in Skaldskaparmal 58 on the "vats" Són, Bodn, and Odroerir, all of which seem to be different names of Mimir's well. In this instance we see the same idea with Odin's sacrifice and the looking to the future. It is possible that this drinking in some way cleansed the Allfather, as we see references to this in regards to the dead (UGM I ch. 72-3). At the same time, the Sónarblót is connected to the cleansing of atonement and looking towards the future through oaths and even divination. Ynglingasaga ch. 21 makes this connection to divination:

"King Dygve's son, called Dag, succeeded to him, and was so wise a man that he understood the language of birds. He had a sparrow which told him much news, and flew to different countries. Once the sparrow flew to Reidgotaland, to a farm called Varva, where he flew into the peasant's corn-field and took his grain. The peasant came up, took a stone, and killed the sparrow. King Dag was ill-pleased that the sparrow did not come home; and as he, in a Sónarblót, inquired after the sparrow, he got the answer that it was killed at Varva."

So we can see that the connection here is to make up for the past, in the present, to make way for the future. It is a connection to Wyrd and the balance of örlög, which was integral to our ancestral belief. In order to look to the future you must atone for the past, for this is the way of our people that no crime was left without just recompense being made for the one that violated the laws of our people and gods.