Types of Sacred Steads: the VÉ
The Vé or shrine is the simplest set up we can create for our worship, and one can be crafted in the home, or set up within a natural landscape. The word itself denotes a holy sanctuary that was even applied to the þingtaðr. In the Eddas and skaldic poetry we are given phrases and terms that relate the realms of Gods to the Vé, such as in Hyndluljóð 1, where Freyja states “we must ride to Valhǫll, and to the holy Vé” (ríða vit skulum til Valhallar ok til vés heilags). In Vafþrúðnismál 51 we are told that after Ragnarǫk Víðarr and Váli shall “live in the Vé of Gods” (Víðarr ok Váli byggja vé goða). This can be likened to both the idea that the realms of the Gods are holy sanctuaries, and that the Vé itself is a “realm of the Gods,” because it is the place in which we invoke them. Indeed, we see this same idea in the Vedic religion, in which the altar is seen as the “home of the Gods” (10.12.7 and elsewhere). The idea is that what you are establishing here is holy, and should be seen as such. It should come as no surprise, then, that one of our Gods also bears the name Vé, and he is one of the creator Gods identical to Hœnir, who is the priest of the Gods that will again “choose the lot-wood” (hlautvið kjósa) after Ragnarǫk.
While the Vé is not the most prolifically mentioned of the holy steads, we describe it here first because it can become the model upon which all other areas are developed. You can create a Vé within the Blótlundr, within the Hof, or within the Vangr, so it should be our starting point here because it can be used in so many ways and becomes the catalyst upon which we create a space dedicated to our Gods. There are several places that one can be established, which should be examined. The first we shall look at is the Haugr or grave-mound. This is a very important aspect of worship that connects one to the power of their ancestors, and is seen as a very special place in honoring the dead and the Gods.
Because of this the Haugr is also called Blóthaugr and was so sacred that when Saint Ólaf destroyed a certain mound he was able to still use the area to force people to give up their faith and pay tribute there:
Olafr konungr lætr þar brjóta blóthaug þeirra hæidingja en þvi var hann svó kallaðr at jafnan er þeir hǫfðu stórblót til árs ser eðr fríðar skylldu aller fara aþenna haug ok blóta þar fyrr sǫgðum kvikendum ok baru þangat mikit fé ok lǫgðu I hauginn aðr þeir gæingu frá Ólafr konungr...
King Ólaf had the Blóthaugr of the heathens destroyed there, and declared that whenever they held a a great Blót for a good harvest, or for peace, they should all go to this mound and swear allegiance to him before all beings and bring large amounts of money and put this into the mound before they left king Ólafr...
- Ólafs Saga hins helga ch. 18
The mound is also said to house images of Gods as well:
Í garði þessum er haugr, hrœrt alt saman, gull ok silfr ok mold; skulu menn þar til ráða; en í garðinum stendr goð Bjarma, er heitir Jómali; verði engi svá djarfr, at hann ræni.
Inside this enclosure is a mound, with gold, silver and earth all mixed together in it. Men are to attack it. But inside the enclosure stands the god of the Bjarmar, who is called Jómali. Let no one be so bold as to plunder him. – Ólafs Saga Helga ch. 143
Within these mounds are the Haugbúi, who are ghosts of ancestors one can communicate with. It is said that disturbing their mound or seeking to steal from them can incur their wrath.1 The mounds protect sacred areas, such as Þingstaðir (Thingsteads), and people who give homage to them can receive blessings from the dead, such as the case with Þórkell, who wished to become a poet, and received this blessing from the deceased Hallbjǫrn, who was buried at Þingvellir.2 The mound can be benevolent, or it can bring about a Draugr, an undead monstrosity that will terrorize the area.3 We have already seen the sanctity of the door-frames, and note that this will also be a part of the creation of the Vé.
The Vé is also a place where the þing is held, as we see in the concept of the Vébǫnd, which is a rope stretched around poles in order to separate the space from the mundane. In Egils Saga ch. 57 we see a description of this:
Eiríkur konungur var þar og hafði fjǫlmenni mikið; Berg-Ǫnundur var í sveit konungs og þeir bræður, og hǫfðu þeir sveit mikla. En er þinga skyldi um mál manna, þá gengu hvorirtveggju þar til, er dómurinn var settur, að flytja fram sannindi sín; var Ǫnundur þá allstórorður. En þar er dómurinn var settur, var vǫllur sléttur og settar niður heslistengur í vǫllinn í hring, en lǫgð um utan snæri umhverfis; voru það kǫlluð vébǫnd.
King Eiríkr was there numerously attended. Berg-Ǫnundr was among his train, as were his brothers; there was a large following. But when the meeting was to be held about men’s lawsuits, both the parties went where the þing was set, to plead their proofs. Then was Ǫnundr full of big words. Now where the þing sate was a level plot, with hazel-poles planted in a ring, and outside were twisted ropes all around. These were called Vébǫnd.
In other settings we see these hazel-rods placed within a square, the difference perhaps being in the purpose of the usage. In this case, the Vébǫnd becomes a dómhringr or “judgment ring” where legal matters are discussed, in the case of combat or ceremony they were a square (see above). This ring of judgement would decide if and when criminals were to be sacrificed:
Var þar þá helgistaður mikill, og þar stendur enn Þórssteinn, er þeir brutu þá menn um, er þeir blótuðu, og þar hjá er sá dómhringur, er menn skyldu til blóts dæma.
There was a great and holy stead which stood on Þórr’s Steinn, on which men were broken and sacrificed, and there is the dómhringr where men were condemned to be sacrificed. –Landnamabók ch. 73
In any case, we see the Vé as the holy stead upon which we engage in the holy worship of the Gods, as well as their duties as judges. This is likely the reason why the priesthood or Goðorð were both officiates of ceremony and judges at the þing.
This Vébǫnd will be seen again in the description of the Hof, where the great temple in Uppsala was surrounded by a golden chain. This idea of a bond that surrounds the sacred stead, and the connection of this to fate, doom, and the Web of Wyrd is solidified by this golden bond, which is also called ǫrlǫgþáttir “threads of destiny.” Here is the passage regarding this in Helgakviða Hundingsbana I v. 3:
Sneru þær af afli ǫrlǫgþáttu,
þá er borgir braut í Bráluni;
þær of greiddu gullin símu
ok und mánasal miðjan festu.
They twisted with might the ǫrlǫgþáttir
as the hills broke
they laid out
and under the moon's hall fastened it in the middle.
The orientation of the Vé (facing North, entering from the South) is established in Vegtamskviða 8-9 where it states that Óðinn rode to Hel to seek the dead vala for prophecy. We should consider this passage in light of everything we have discussed regarding establishment of the Vé using the grave-mound, the eastern door, and praying to the north. This concept is also seen in the Chronicon bk. 6, ch. 23, in regards to building a Hof. Here is the passage in question:
Þá reið Óðinn fyrir austan dyrr,
þar er hann vissi vǫlu leiði;
nam hann vittugri valgaldr kveða, leit í norðr,
lagði á stafi, froeði tók þylja, frétta beiddi,
unz nauðig reis, nás orð of kvað...
Then rode Yggr
to the eastern door,
where he knew there was
a Vǫlva's grave;
over the wise witch, he began
to chant Valgaldr,
towards the north looked,
potent rúnar applied,
a spell pronounced,
an answer demanded,
until compelled she rose,
and with deathlike voice she said...
We shall examine both how the Vé can be set up as a Grind and as a Dómhringr, so that each can be used accordingly. In this sense we can set up our Vé using what we have gleaned from the sources, and begin utilizing this throughout our practice. Here are the features of the Vé:
1. A Nine Square Grid drawn onto the ground. Size is determined by gathering. Always use measurements of 3.
2. Four hazel-poles placed at the semi-cardinal directions (NE, SE, SW, NW), allowing for passage at the proper cardinal points. These would be the corners of the square.
3. A rope or chain (Vébǫnd) should be tied to these poles, allowing for passage in the southern and eastern areas for entrance and offering.
4. A door frame in the east to place offerings through, this is “Delling’s Door.”
5. Stalli or Hǫrgr placed in the center of the grid, facing North (see).
6. A Pillar (Stalli) for each Skurðgoð, which would be set up in the three Northern quadrants.
7. The Hver or mead-vat placed in the North before the central Skurðgoð.
8. The fire and Ásketill placed in the south.
9. You can add your own aesthetics such as torches, greenery, symbols, etc.
Here is what the layout of the Vé would look like:
-Excerpt from Æfinrúnar-book 1