StavPosted by Angerboda Mon, January 01, 2018 22:07:14
About two years ago I wrote an article in Swedish about the
philosophy and system behind the martial art within Stav. It became a massive
article, which I planned to translate to English. But my understanding has
somewhat deepened since then. So instead, I decided to write a new article that
is more in line with my current perspective. However, if you read Swedish there
is nothing wrong with the old article.
I would like to clarify that this article is based on my
understanding, and my perspective! I firstly discovered Stav in the 1990´s, and this article is the result of
many hours of studies. I have done my best to understand, and stay true to,
Stavs core. But still, this is my personal understanding and interpretation;
which I hope will benefit both those who are new, and those who has studied
Stav for a longer period.
Most people who has heard about Stav labels it as a martial
art, but Stav is better described as an esoteric educational system. The
martial art in Stav are a tool to practically teach the philosophy within Stav.
To become proficient in martial arts is one step on the road, but it is not the
end goal of the studies.
Stav is highly systemized, even the martial art is
systematized, the reason is that Stav is a “cult” devoted to the Norse deity Heimdall.
Within the tradition Heimdall is understood as the god of logic; education,
systematization, mathematics and so on. If we must relate Heimdall to a deity of
another pantheon, the Greek deity Hermes Trismegistus would be a good
As within many similar traditions geometry plays an
important role in the philosophy. But compared with the southern European philosophical
schools, Stav has a different perspective. The geometrical understanding is
related to the runes, the pre-Christian alphabet of northern Europe.
Within Stav there is a mythological concept that the runes
represent essential building blocks of the universe, comparable with the Greek
understanding of the Platonic solids. This thought has support in the literary
sources of Norse mythology. Odin hung himself on the world tree for nine
nights, and sacrificed himself to himself; which enabled him to call out and
collect the runes. The knowledge of the runes was later passed down to humanity
The runes within Stav is a variation of the younger futhark,
the alphabet used in Scandinavia during the Viking age and into the medieval
The geometry within Stav is not taught with the aid of a pen
and a compass as within many other schools, it is taught by the aid of one’s own body and the martial art within
the system. Stavs ambition is to teach the student how to apply the principles
of the universe as a martial art.
modern standardization, measurements were based on body measures, such as foot,
hand, finger or the ancient measure of a cubit; the tip of the middle finger to
the bottom of the elbow. Before the standardization, geometry played a very
important role, instead of standard measures they relied on proportions when
constructing or doing art. The specific measures would differentiate from one
project to the other, or between one individual and the next.
Within Stav the seventh rune Hagl is associated with
Heimdall, if we stack the seventh rune seven times; we get an image that
consists of nine lines. Both seven and nine are very important numbers within Stavs
numerology. From this illustration, all the other runes can be extracted. The
image also illustrates the web of Urd.; the cosmological web, that connects all
humans to each other and the universe. Simplified we can say that the web of
Urd contains all our fates.
The illustration of the web is also regarded as a map of the
human body, and it shows us cutting lines and points of balance or attack. The
martial art is a way to manifest the underlaying philosophy of Stav. The
illustration of the web correlates to sacred geometry and classical mysticism,
and mathematics in many ways. Anyone who really wants to learn to understand Stav,
needs to spend some time working with this geometric composition.
The rune stances – the basics
of stavs martial art
The first method to internalize the knowledge of the runes within
ourselves is the rune stances, simply put we form the runes with our own body. This
is done in a ritualized way, and we coordinate our breath and our movements.
There are many layers of knowledge transferred through this routine, in its
most mundane form it teaches us to read and write runes without pen and paper. The
ritual also teaches us the movements and body postures utilized within the
martial art of Stav. Furthermore, these postures and movements are regarded as
essential in any genuine martial art; a Stav practitioner will systemise
whatever martial art he encounters with the aid of these basic components.
Each of the sixteen runes correlate to deities within Stavs
variety of the Norse pantheon. In some cases, there is a key understanding of
the mythological function of the deity encoded within the specific stance. For
instance, the stance of the deity of fishing is a rowing position, and the
deity of skiing has a position used in skiing.
The rune stances are constructed in such a way that both our
left and right side will be leading, which develops ambidexterity. With the aid
of the stances we learn the basics of the martial art within Stav. By performing
the ritual daily, we slowly program our body to follow the principles taught by
the system, principles encoded within the runes. The runes and our own body are
the manual that allows us to teach ourselves.
There are five varieties of doing the stances, each
connected to one of the five classes within Stav. Each version teaches the
perspective of the specific class. Some people have misunderstood the five
classes, and believe they are some sort of grading system, they are not. It is
five different archetypes that has a different spiritual and psychological
perspective of the world. All the classes are essential to enable the society
to work optimally. Most of us will naturally belong to one of these classes.
I will give a very short and simplified description of the
classes, since it is necessary later in this article.
The first class is the trell, a person without knowledge or mental
capacity to take responsibility for himself. Few are fixated in this mental
state, but all of us can get caught in this state due to situations we
encounter in our life. The rune stances of the trell simply teaches us the
basic shape of the runes and to breath properly. As a Stav instructor I have
noticed that a lot of people find it hard to do deep breathing these days. Correct
breathing are essential when learning martial arts, but also within spiritual
The next class is the karl class, this is the free person
who provides for himself, traditionally a farmer or a fisherman who worked with
his hands. The bulk of the society are made up of this class. The karl version
of the stances are a bit more advanced compared to the version of the trell,
this is the first “galder” form of the stances, were we use our voice to enhance the
The third class is the herse, or the warrior. The warrior
can be either an intellectual or spiritual warrior, a soldier or a guardian. The
herse version of the stances focus on martial art, and breathing patterns
needed in a combat situation. This version also develops a mental capacity for
combat, and it is highly efficient; not suitable to do too often.
The fourth class is the jarl, which is the priest or the
philosopher, the thinker or the healer. The jarl version of the stances teaches
a meditative and spiritual perspective. This version of the stances could be regarded
as a sort of prayer.
The fifth class is the king, but this is not the same
concept as the modern monarchy. This is a person who is achieved and has
insights that most of us lacks. The variety of these stances basically goes
full circle and returns to the beginning, the trell and the king are in many
ways regarded as each other’s
Practicing the rune stances correlates to concepts such as
mindfulness and meditation, with a focus on here and now. When doing the
stances, we enter a mental place that is free of the stress of everyday life. The
stances help us to focus ourselves and connect with the world around us on a
Meditation and mindfulness may not sound as martial art to
some, but in war and conflict a focused mind will be most helpful.
The cuts and the weapons
Even though the rune stances teach us movements, they are
somewhat two-dimensional, what we strive to get is a three-dimensional
understanding of ourselves in relation to the universe. To achieve this, we do
our basic cuts with the weapons used within Stav. Simply described we move from
one of the basic runic positions to the next, the cut happens in the
transition. The difference compared to the rune stances is that when we move;
the body are forced to adapt in relation to the weapon and the foot work. The
more we practice the cuts, the more precise they will become.
When we move from one position to the other we will also
learn the guards automatically, we move from one safe position to the next,
trying to be covered as much as possible. The attack, or defence, happens in
There are basically two main weapons within Stav, the staff
and the stick. The staff represent any two-handed weapon, such as a spear or an
axe or a two-handed sword. The stick represents any weapon with a one-handed
grip, such as a walking stick, or a one-handed sword. Stav works with
principles, when we understand the basic principle of one-handed or two-handed
weapons we can adapt to the specifics of various weapons. As I wrote before,
Stav is highly systemized, and the smallest common dominator between different
weapons is their length and grip.
It is also more practical to train with wooden weapons
compared to sharp weapons, if you can handle a walking stick or a staff, you
can handle a bladed weapon. The attacking weapon in Stav was traditionally an axe,
which up until modern times was a common practical tool in Scandinavia, that
most people had access to and experience of using. I was personally a young boy
when I was taught to use an axe to cut wood, an axe was a completely natural
thing for a kid to learn to use.
Initially I always teach the new student how to do the cuts
with the two-handed staff, because it is so obvious how these cuts relate to
the postures of the rune stances. Once the student is comfortable with those he
will learn the cuts with one-handed stick. The practical difference is that the
student will have to perform the one-handed cuts with both left and right arm, just
as the rune stances are done with both the left and the fight hand leading.
Within Stav we strive to develop a degree of ambidexterity; that will make sure
that we are not incapacitated if our dominant side is injured during combat.
The two man drills
When we know the stances and the cuts it is time to work on
the two man drills. One person will attack, and the other one will defend
himself. Each weapon and class has a prepared and unprepared response to the
attack; the difference is if we attack into, and defend from, a guard or not. This
enhances our understanding of personal web in relation to other people.
The first class is the trell, his only objective is to
survive, and he has no obligations nor any honour. Usually he will retreat to
gain distance which messes up the attack, so the trell may counterattack.
The karl has an obligation to his family, in his applications
he will not retreat nor forcefully attack. He simply holds his ground and goes
for a safe counterattack once the attacker commits. The karl utilizes small
changes in position and balance to gain the advantage.
The third class is the herse; he is a skilled martial
artist, that will simply go in and dominate the opponent and take control over
him. Sometimes his ambition is to kill his opponent, sometimes his ambition is
to incapacitate him; it depends if his objective is as a soldier or if he is
upholding the law. The Herse often directs his response to weak areas such as
the groin or the kidneys, and the herse attacks come from angles not expected.
The fourth class is the jarl. He understands that he does
not have to be reactive just because someone goes after him with force. He
reads the situation and the opponent and moves in such ways that he controls time
and distances. This is a unique perspective for a martial art, I have not seen
it anywhere else; it really takes someone comfortable in this mindset to pull
it off. Most of us will react when attacked, even if it is just during a
training season. The jarl is not reactive, he is proactive and uses psychology
to control the situation. If the jarl kills or hurts the attacker it is not
done with aggression, it is done with precision and a relaxed mindset.
The king acts brutal and proactive, he simply crushes his
opponent before he has even committed to an attack, he breaks down the lines of
the attacker. It is hard to train these applications, because they are often
somewhat on the edge of safety.
There are prepared and unprepared drills for all five
classes with both two-handed and one-handed weapons. Each drill teaches us techniques
and tactics that we can apply in a martial situation. But the important thing
is to learn to understand different mindsets. The same movement can be done
with completely different objectives.
The aim with these drills is to learn to “take the line” and control the balance point of the opponent, which
again is a geometrical understanding of martial arts. We work with three-dimensional
lines, and by understanding both our own lines and the opponent’s lines we can control and manipulate
the situation in our favour. Stav as a martial art is not just about hitting
our opponent with brute force, it is about finesse.
Simply described; the stances are the perspective of the trell,
we know nothing and starts to learn the absolute basics. The cuts are the perspective
of the karl, we learn to practically use the weapons. The two man drills are
the perspective of the herse, now we are learning martial arts and tactics of
war. The two man drills also teach us the different perspectives of the classes
through martial arts.
The nineteen deities
At this level, the student is taught to manifest the deities
within the system, which also gives a mythological and spiritual understanding
of their character. This can be described as the perspective of the jarl class.
It is still two man drills, but beyond the classes. Each deity is associated
with a drill that consists of several attacks and counter attacks, that
emphasis the use of the specific rune connected with each deity.
There are versions for both the one-handed stick and the
two-handed staff. This is on a quite advanced level of weapon based martial
arts, and there are very few Stav practitioners that fully knows the forms of
the nineteen deities.
The work with the deities is the closest thing we come to
sparring within Stav, but this is not free sparring, but sparring within
controlled premises. The philosophy within Stav is that free sparring teaches
us bad habits, while controlled drills will teach us to read the opponent and
react appropriately to his intentions.
There are fencing techniques and footwork and tactics
encoded within the drills of the nineteen deities. But most importantly, it is
a practical way to use martial art to learn the essence of the Norse deities.
The knowledge transferred through Stavs system just flows over so many layers,
the runic postures in its simplest form teaches us how to read and write runes,
but the more advanced aspects teaches us philosophy and martial arts. The
martial arts on the other hand is a bridge between the spiritual world and our
The perspective of the king
When we have internalized the stances, the cuts, the drills
and the deities, we have learned martial art through the perspectives of the
first four classes. By learning to know which class we belong to, we will learn
how to do the best of our given potential. By learning to know all the other
classes we will also learn how to use their tactics against them. We will also
be able to emulate the other classes and use them as tactics both in martial
situations and in our daily life. The teachings elevate us to the level of a
king within our own realm and class. At this level, the Stav practitioner has
gained knowledge to see the lines of the web, and understands the underlaying
principles of the human conditions in our world.
But the genuine king has a perspective completely beyond
the classes, he moves naturally to where he needs to be. He can read the
intentions of the opponent to such a degree that it may almost come across as
he is attacking, when he actually is defending himself. Just as the highest
deity of the Norse pantheon, Odin, the king can meet an armed opponent with
just a staff. And just as Odin, he will be able to mess up the mind of the
opponent to such a degree that the opponent loses the battle before it has even
Just as the trell, few are fixed in the mental state of the
king, but most of us can experience this perspective if we find ourselves
extreme situations. A couple of the soldiers I have trained has described their
experience of being in this mental state.
The unarmed martial arts of Stav
Stav are primarily a weapon based martial art, and the philosophy
states that if you are unarmed you are in a disadvantage. Unarmed combat is
almost regarded as primitive, yet Stav is realistic and acknowledges that
unarmed combat is a reality we may have to face.
Using weapons is regarded as the foundation that also
develops an understanding of how to do hand-to-hand combat efficiently. Within
Stav´s toolbox there are punches
and kicks, locks and throws and even headbutts; they are all taught through the
rune stances, and refined by practicing with weapons.
As with the armed attacks, any unarmed attack goes for the balance point of the
attacker. It is not enough to hit him with brute force, we want to break his
balance and take control of his lines. The throws are not dependant on the
garments, instead we take control of the opponent’s
balance points, to achieve this we can amongst other things go for their head,
their waist or their legs.
Similarities to other schools of martial arts?
Stav is a martial art, it is not a sport and it is not about
aesthetics, Stav has no concept similar to Bushido. Stav is combat and about
winning, or at least doing the best of the fate you have been given.
Even though this text is just a brief introduction, I hope
it is obvious that Stav has a unique perspective and philosophy regarding
martial art. Stav has its own terminology to describe martial art. Primarily
Stav does not work with techniques, but principles.
The concept within Stav is so different that it is quite
clear to me that Stav has been separated from other schools over a long period
of time. Still the traditional practitioners were in the military, and they
were obviously taught traditional fencing and martial arts during their
One of my students is a Swedish military instructor, who
quickly noticed similarities between Stav and the Swedish bayonet fencing
tradition. Just as Stav, Swedish bayonet fencing is a living tradition. Perhaps
Stav and the Swedish weapon tradition are sprung from the same roots? Or
perhaps Stav got influenced by Scandinavian military teachings?
Some people have claimed that Stav is HEMA, Historical
European martial arts that are based on preserved manuals. But even though
there are similarities, Stav is just too different to be regarded as a part of
the HEMA family. HEMA is based on written manuals, while Stav is a living
tradition, and the manual is encoded in its core. The foundation of Stav is the
rune stances, which can be taught in a day; but then the student has enough to
work with for himself for a long time. The rune stances are the only Stav
manual needed. It does not matter what background a practitioner has; when we
start to understand what we are doing based on the rune stances, we are doing
Stav – an
esoteric educational system
Many martial artists talk about the philosophy within their
schools, but when it comes to Stav the philosophy is really woven together with
the practical applications. The more you understand Stavs philosophy, the more
you will understand the martial art. The Stav philosophy does not encourage or
disapprove of the use of violence, but it gives us capacity to know when it is
called for and when it is better to avoid it. Studying the philosophy also
develops us into responsible human beings.
The concept of the classes will allow the Stav student to start
to explore his own style very soon. The student does not have to spend decades
with a master trying to figure out the master’s
style, before he can try to understand his own. The concept of the classes will
also teach us the value of different perspectives, which develops a tolerance
Stav is an education system, martial art is one of the
courses within the coherent curriculum. Many seem to get hung up on the
question of the age of the system, which really is irrelevant as a student.
There is only one relevant question, do you believe that Stav will give you the
knowledge you are looking for? I hope this text can help you to make a
qualified choice. But Stav is not for everyone, so I cannot answer if Stav is the
best path for you.
This text is just a brief introduction to things that needs
to be practically explored and experienced. The strength of stav is that it is
a living tradition, and I hope it will remain that way. If you decide that you
want to learn Stav, you really need to find a qualified instructor. Make sure
that the teacher is connected to the official lineage of stav. The
international Stav community is not big, any qualified instructor will be known
by the rest of the community.
The problem is that the qualified instructors are few and far
between. It is very unlikely that you can drop in at the local “Stav dojo” and get weekly training. You will probably have to travel
to meet an instructor, and most of your training will be done in solitary by
yourself. But this forces you to move away from the trell state were someone
else is responsible for your development. Another reward is that you are a
pioneer that will learn something very exclusive.
StavPosted by Angerboda Fri, January 27, 2017 17:34:33
I was contacted in early 2016 by a scholar at a university who were eager to conduct an interview with myself, the purpose was to get source material to publish a research thesis about the modern heathen environment. I was a bit reluctant to be a part of it, but after some persuasion I decided to participate even though I still had my doubts. My ambition was to show the academic world a new side of Stav, compared to the way that Stav usually has been described. As always when I commit to something I take it seriously and spend a lot of time on it. Some of the question and answers gave a very unique perspective into the world of Stav.
The thesis has now been published, and to my amazement the description of Stav did not bring anything new to the table. My answers to the questions had not really been taken into consideration even in the cases when they were highly relevant. My impression is basically that the researcher wanted to be able to write in the references section that there were informants from the Stav environment.
I felt that a lot of important perspectives about both stav and heathenism in general came forward in this interview, but the final result did not allow people to get access to it. Therefor I have decided to publish the interview myself on this blog. I have shortened a few answers since they were too long to fit this format. I have also removed a few questions since they were only relevant to this specific research project. I will keep the scholar and the institution he is connected to anonymous.
The interview was conducted in Mars and April of 2016.Q) Organisation (if any)
It is not easy to give a straightforward yes/no answer to this one. Stav originates from a closed family tradition, where the knowledge was passed down informally between family members. In many ways the stav community still works as an informal network, a sort of extended spiritual family Q) How do you refer to yourself in religious terms?
I am religiously a Norse heathen, but the modern concept of religion in terms of dogma is not applicable on what I do. I do what I do for my own benefit, not because someone/something stipulate that I have to do it. Q) How long have you identified yourself by your current religion?
I have regarded myself as a heathen for about 20 years or more, I cannot really remember. I came in contact with stav 18 years ago.
Q) Are there are any other members of your family that are part of your organisation, or attend your rituals?
Yes, my family are involved in the stav activities we arrange, and they are obviously involved in celebrating our festivals. I occasionally do the runestances together with my kids, usually when they ask for it. It is nothing that I dictate that they have to do, but they seem to enjoy it; perhaps because it is relaxing and somewhat meditative.Q) How long have you participated in your organisation?
I have been a part of the international stav community for about 16 years, at points I been more active and at other points I have hardly been visible. Pretty much in the same fashion it works in most modern extended families. Q) Do you have any administrative roles in your organisation?
I do not know if it can be qualified as an organization, but I am responsible for Sörmlands stavhov. I have the function of a “gode”, I both arrange activities and instruct and teach.Q) Are you in communication with Heathens in other countries?
I am constantly in contact with stav practitioners worldwide. I also have contact with people interested to learn about stav from all over the world, some of them define themselves as heathens. They are often drawn towards stav because they feel that whatever they are doing at the moment lacks something that they are in the need for. Q) What is your impression of Heathens in general?
I find it hard to generalize the heathens- they are quite eclectic. But coming from a structured and systemized tradition gives me the impression that many are a bit unsorted. They pick up on ideas that they instinctively like, but they are not too concerned with the origin of the idea, or if it really fits with the Norse philosophy.
When looking into a lot of the runic practices today you will see that a lot of it is actually Kabbalistic, and quite heavily influenced by Crowley’s way of working with Tarot. All of that is fine- but not when you label it as genuine Norse traditions. Another problem is that people let their heathenism being influenced by their preexisting and modern political world view; which they project upon the Norse mythology. Personally I do not appreciate that- I would rather see that they let the long term and deep esoteric Norse perspective influence how they view the world today.
But I am quite optimistic, and I believe that the heathen scene is going in the right direction- but there is still a lot of room for improvement.Q) Are there any experiences with certain Heathens (or Pagans, or Stav practitioners?) that have been significant for you, or that have created a strong reaction in you?
The person that has had the biggest influence on my heathenism and been most significant is obviously Ivar Hafskjold. The reason is quite simple, I was already familiar with Norse mythology and already labeled myself, at least partly, as a pagan when I met him. He quickly made sense to me, and he had a deep understanding in areas where others gave very vague descriptions or had very little understanding.
I also noticed that Ivars teachings were coherent, the mythology, cosmology, runes and elements and classes etc. were incorporated within the same structure, and all the layers were interconnected. I quickly realized how unique this was in a contemporary context. Q) Could you tell me a little about your thoughts and feelings -your relationship- with the Norse gods and/or spirits?
The relationship is what it is, it is hard to label. Sometimes the relationship feels stronger, sometimes not as strong. Q) How often do you think about the gods and spirits?
Most of the time in one way or another. The Norse gods are a part of my daily life. Stav is very structured- the gods are connected with runes, trees, herbs, plants, domains and animals, elements and more. If I see an animal, I will probably start to think about the deity it represents. If I move in a domain or an environment where a god is represented I will notice, the same if I move through a vegetation associated with a deity. If I visit any ancient cult places I will quickly start to look at the surroundings and the vegetation to try to figure out which gods the place may represent.
Within stav the gods are also associated with handicrafts or other activities such as skiing, hunting, sailing, fishing etc. when doing any of these activities I will also relate to the gods. Some gods also represent aspects of society, so I will be reminded of them in some situations.
All the runes equal the deities to me- show me a rune and I will see a god!
Even the martial arts applications within stav connects with the deities and the philosophy in a very profound way- so even when I train I will be reminded of the gods. Out of an esoteric perspective the martial art within stav could be regarded as a manifestation of the gods in our reality. Q) How often do you conduct rituals or communicate with the gods or spirits?
I try to conduct rituals daily, but too often the modern hectic life prevents me. Some other rituals are performed on weekly basis. Other rituals are connected with the festivals of the year. Some rituals are connected with initiations; I only perform those when they are relevant to someone. Other rituals are personal and performed when one feels the need. A few rituals are connected with the healing aspects of stav, and again they are not conducted that often. But the purpose of most of these rituals is to communicate, or at least keep the door open, to the spirits and the gods. Q) Do you think that the way you relate to -and experience the gods- is different from other Norse Pagans, say in Iceland, Scandinavia or the USA?
The way stav associates the deities with different attributes will help the practitioner to develop a very clear image of the gods. This image will be clearer in many aspects compared with the image given by the Eddas. So in some aspects I believe that my experience differs from that of other heathens.Q) Have you ever had an experience that you would term specifically religious or spiritual? If so would you be willing to tell me more about it?
Yes, on several occasions. These experiences are private and not easy to put into words so I think I will leave it for now. Q) Has this experience affected your dedication to your religion or your relationship with the gods/spirits?
Yes, the dedication becomes stronger since it all felt even more relevant. It has also affected my relation with the individual deities, especially in the cases where they have “introduced” themselves – which has given me a deeper understanding of their character and personality.
Q) Has this experience affected your relationship with other Heathens?
For sure- it has made me more alienated with those who does not seem to take it too seriously or those who reenact. I also have issues with the post-modernistic and relativistic interpretations of Norse spiritualism.
Q) Has this experience affected your relationship with society in general?
All esoteric and spiritual work will affect your relationship to society. In some ways it has given me a deeper understanding of different types of people that operates within the society; which has made it easier for me to interact with society in general. In other ways it has made it harder for me to relate to the way that modern society views the world.
A lot of people today seems to regard the world as a backdrop that they move in front of; while the perspective learned through stav and genuine Norse heathenism is that the world is alive- and interacts with you. When you move around the world around you will be affected by your presence and you will be affected too. There are things around you that exists but that are not visible- so we shall not act like buffoons! Which a lot of people seem to do in the modern society; even within the so called neo-heathen community. Q) From what I understand of Stav, there is some use of a hierarchy similar to the grading system in other martial arts, it appears to be based on some aspects of Norse mythology such as Heimdall. Can you tell me more about this?
This is a common misconception about stav- there is no grading within the system comparable with that of other martial arts. Stav is an esoteric system that is designed to help the student to gain certain knowledge; martial art is one of the tools- but martial art is not the final goal.
Heimdall is essential within stav, and there is an understanding of the classes similar to the one described in the Norse poem of Rigstula. The difference is that Rigstula mainly describes three classes- the träl the karl and the jarl, while stav incorporates five main classes- träl, karl, herse, jarl and kung. These other classes are mentioned in Rigstula but not described, and it is not entirely clear that they are referred to as genuine classes either.
Another thing is that Rigstula is written out of a socio-economic perspective, while stavs classes are personal, spiritual and psychological. My personal interpretation is that stav and Rigstula are two tree stems that has grown from the same root.
One of the most essential initiations within the system is to try to find out which class one belongs to. This is not something that the teacher will tell you- he will just guide you and interpret the result. At this stage the student usually do not have the knowledge to manipulate the result. This is the first step to actually learn to know and understand oneself out of stavs psychological and spiritual definition- and I am still very amazed of how well it works. Q) In what ways are the runes of especial value? For many people they appear to have various mystical and magical connotations.
Stav is highly systemized and constructed around the sixteen runes of the younger futhark. The runes are mainly a method of loci- or a memory palace; each rune represents many layers of information and knowledge. If we remove the runes out of stav the system will fall apart.
Within stav the runes are not intuitional as it seems to be in the neo pagan environment; where people regularly are recommended to “meditate on the runes so their character will be revealed so they may make a personal interpretation”. Within stav the associations of the runes are set, once people have that knowledge it will help them to make their own personal interpretations of the mythology trough the runes.Q) Are there any other Gods that are incorporated into the Stav system? Do any of these 'communications' resemble ritual or meditation? (Feel free to wax lyrical!)
The essence of stav consists of three deities, two masculine and one feminine. Heimdall is one of these three and he is probably the most important of them; stav could be categorized as a Heimdall cult. The principle of 2 males and one female deity seems to have been a fairly common way to structure the mythology. There are quite a few myths revolving around two males and one female deity- the Vanirs are one example amongst many.
But altogether there is nineteen gods within the stav system, they are all connected with one of the sixteen runes; a few of the deities are seen in groups and therefor they share the same rune. The nineteen gods/goddesses are connected to the nineteen-year moon cycle, the so called metonic cycle; which means that each deity will represent one year of the cycle. For instance, this year is the year of Loki. The amazing thing is that the knowledge on how to fixate this calendar is preserved.
The main practice of the system is the so called runestances- traditionally referred to as “sette staver”. Easily described the practitioner forms the runes with the body and this has both meditative and martial art aspects to it. The ritual flows over many layers, I will not go into too many details about it. But the information that each rune has a mythological association with a deity, or a group of deities, would perhaps give some indication of one of the layers.
The stances are the fundamental ritual practice within stav- but on top of that there are several other rituals. The intention of these other rituals is also to interact with spirits or deities, or in some cases ancestors. But these rituals are private and family oriented and not a spectacular blot-feast comparable with the blots of the mainstream heathens. Q) Wow. This is great material. One interesting aspect of the Stav - Heathen relationship is that mainstream Heathens talk of concepts such as fylgja, meginn, ande, hamingja etc but seldom give any real time to it. Stav on the other hand seems to deal precisely with maximising and exploiting these powers. Could you tell me more about these aspects of Norse mysticism?
The “Fylgjor” is called “Följor” in stav, and your observations are correct. Mainstream heathens seem to have quite a vague conception of what it is- and a lot of their ideas seems to be borrowed from other shamanistic traditions. The Fylgja does not seem to be essential to most of them, it is just a novelty or something. Stav on the other hand has a very well defined understanding of the Fylgjas.
I will not go into practical details – as I already mentioned people are keen on “borrowing” things, but they tend to forget where it came from and to give credit when credit is due. For me the integrity of stav is very important.
There are mainly two types of “följor” within stav- one that is manifested as an animal and one that is a manifestation of a feminine entity.
If we start with the animal type, these would be labeled as familiars by the terminology of history of religions. Stav has the most comprehensive set of associations available anywhere, far more than within the literary sources. There is also a key understanding of the function of these familiars, which is something neither the neo-heathens nor the academics seems to have clear understanding of.
I will not go into details about the purpose or use of the animal följa. But everyone has an animal Följa, it is just a matter of finding it. Once this connection is established it is not all that much to it- it is just there.
The feminine följa is something else though- to be able to uphold that bond demands dedication and commitment. She is not connected to one single person as with the animal- she follows the family line. She is a guardian of the family and she also provide luck- hamingja- that is why some people seem to mix these concepts together.
Hamingja is the fortune, luck or happiness or success of the family. A family with a poor Hamingja will pass it on to their children, a family with good Hamingja will also pass that on. But Hamingja is not just a concept of wealth or success, it is also a spiritual concept, a good Hamingja also means spiritual wealth. Every generation is responsible for the Hamingja of the family, they should not drain it, instead it is their task to strengthen it. One way of strengthen the hamingja is to be dedicated and do the ritual work directed towards the deities and the följa- those actions will be returned. Another thing is to act like responsible humans within society and towards other people. Perhaps there is a reminiscence of karma associated with this concept?
Megin is strength or life force- comparable with the Asian concepts of prana or chi. This could very well be a later understanding of megin specifically within the tradition. I have not been able to investigate megin out of a general perspective; since I have not found any academic investigations about the subject. So if you are aware of any I would appreciate it. With that said- every time I have labeled something as a later infusion within stav I have had to back off from that when I eventually have been able to research it deeper.
When it comes to “ande”, what I will write is more or less a fusion between stav and the literary sources.
Ask and Embla did not possess ande- “önd gaf Óðinn”. Önd is basically dependent of breath- I believe that there is a linguistic relationship in Swedish; ande/andas. I think the relationship between breathing and “ande” is acknowledged by some scholars. Within stav Odin is associated with the element of air or directed wind. The first thing a student will be taught is correct breathing! It is amazing how many people today who are not able to breath properly. It does not matter if it is martial arts or spiritual work- correct breathing is essential. A person who cannot breathe properly is out of a stav perspective to be regarded as a träl; Loke- the main representative of the träl class, are associated with unfocused or uncontrolled wind. I have written about the misconception of Loke being associated with fire on my Swedish blog.
Breathing techniques is a major part of the tradition- the three most common classes has their own galder form of the rune stances. The basic version of the stances just teaches basic breathing. The karl galder develops this aspect further. The herse galder teaches an extreme form of breathing pattern and technique that is perhaps only suitable on the battle field- it also affects the mind heavily towards a confrontational psychological mode. The jarl galder is meditative and spiritually oriented, and relaxes and slows down the mind. Q) Excellent. I think this really shows how Stav shines, and as some other Heathens recommended for me- that Stav can really be a valuable aspect of Heathen Religion. What do you think, or rather- what do you say to the people that criticise Stav for being a hoax or a derivative of Aikido and other eastern martial-spiritual practices? This must be a key question of conflict with Heathens.
I really do not say anything to them- they have made up their mind and decided that stav has nothing to offer them. I only feel responsible for those who actually could benefit from stav and develop trough stav- and by doing so helping the tradition to prosper.
Statements “like Aikido in Norwegian clothing” shows a complete lack of insights into both stav and Aikido. Over the years I have trained with a fair amount of people with a background in Aikido or other Japanese martial arts- there are huge differences. They usually get a bit shaken up when they encounter stav; the way they move their body in relation to the weapon and their footwork really causes them concerns, and if they have trained a style for 10-20 years it is not easy to shake off.
The way martial arts are perceived within stav are so unique that it is very unlikely that it is a derivate from any other source. I have not seen anything that the slightest resembles stavs philosophy about martial arts anywhere. The rest of the practices within the tradition speaks for themselves; they can only be paralleled within the deepest layers of Norse spirituality and philosophy.
I do not know if stavs authenticity are a key question of conflict, we have actually instructed several prominent members of the neo-heathen community in Sweden over the years. A few of them has praised stav publicly- so it is not a general conflict as such.
Those who loudly has criticized stav never had any personal experiences with it. They seem to be bothered because stav has lineage; which they find threatening to their own agenda. If the only references to stav would have been found in a dusty old notebook they would have been all over it. But with lineage the first step to learn has to be to curb the ego and acknowledging that someone else has more knowledge about the subject. Their ego has already branded them as accomplished rune masters, so it will not allow that; which will work to stavs favor in the long run.
Q) In what ways do you feel connected and in agreement with other Heathens?
I feel a strong connection to those who are genuine and tries to understand Norse heathenism through itself; no matter if they are stav practitioners or connected to “mainstream” heathenism. I do not feel any agreement with those who claim to be heathens but rather should be defined as post-modernistic new agers. Q) Do you think most Heathens feel connected to each other as part of a religion distinct from other religions?
If we talk about the mainstream heathens, I would not know- their practices are quite syncretic and many of the practitioners seems to have engagements in other traditions and practices too. When it comes to stav practitioners; most seems to feel distinct from mainstream heathenism.Q) Do you think there are any major divisions or denominations within the Heathen community?
I believe I look upon the heathen community a bit from the outside, and I do feel that there are two major directions within it; a left or liberal group and another group that is more nationalistically oriented- I am in disagreement with both. Not because their political standpoints as such, but because they project their 20th century ideological garbage upon heathenism; that has roots that goes back thousands of years.Q) What do your friends and family think about your religion?
I do not talk about it too much in social contexts. But I do have a couple of really old friends that follows my blog, they have expressed appreciation. They find it different and they say they would not have learned about the subject otherwise.
Q) How do you think society sees you and your religion?
To be honest I do not have a clue and I am not the slightest bothered. I think it is a problem that many neo-pagans are too concerned about how society may perceive them; so they define themselves in contrast to a stereotypical image they imagine people may hold. Q) How do you think society sees Heathen religion in general?
Again I have no clue- I think society generally lacks an understanding of what heathen religion actually is. Which is not so strange since a lot of those who publicly has promoted heathenism over the last decades seems to lack a sincere understanding themselves. The way that they generally represent heathenism makes it hard for people to perceive it as the powerful spiritual path it actually can be. Q) Does your religion affect the way you interact with other people in society- or maybe affect the way you see society in general?
I used to be at odds with society and really felt alienated from it and the people in it. The stav philosophy has taught me an understanding of society and how it works in a practical and spiritual context. I am still quite critical towards the modern society, since it is nothing organic or natural about it; but I still feel more comfortable about it compared with before I started with stav.
The five archetypes/classes/personalities within stav- which actually are nineteen personalities in reality; also has taught me how to interact with different types of people. I know how to differentiate between a karl and a jarl, and I know how to make things work smoothly with the different personalities, or how to work around them.
Ivar once told me that his family used to teach aspects of the tradition outside their family; but never the system as a whole. There was one aspect though that they never taught anyone; the classes. The reason was that the classes gave them such advantages when dealing with other people.Q) Do you think your country sees Heathens differently than other nations' societies where Heathens are active?
Society will base their impressions of heathens on how mainstream heathens project themselves towards society- and I believe that they project themselves quite similar in most places. Q) You have been a Heathen for many years, in your experience are things changing for Heathens?
Out of a heathen perspective- things will change when the time is right- and when heathens make sure that it changes. The time feels right- but I still have doubts about the heathens committing on a larger scale.
Q) Is Heathen religion itself changing its qualities, values, aesthetics or the people drawn to it?
Most certainly, today there are a few people who genuinely interpret the myths and internalizes the philosophy, then they teach others their understanding. These people do not seem to be driven by their ego; but by their passion for Norse spirituality. Genuine passion will affect other people- the most influential spiritual leaders have been extremely passionate. Q) People say that Heathen Religion has boomed recently, and that it is possibly one of the fastest growing religions in western countries. Do you think this is true? If so, why do you think it is growing so much?
It could very well be true- a heathen band from Norway entered the billboard chart last week. In Europe quite famous music acts proclaim their heathen affection. There are hovs being established all around the Nordic countries. There are two facilities established that are dedicated to stav- one in Sweden and one in the UK. It is quite impressive how things have developed in just a few years.
I think people are in the need for genuine spirituality at this time. They feel how stressed the society is and they have lost touch with a natural way of life. The modern science and atheism are killing the spirituality- or magic if you so will – that people have such a need for. People feel that they are mere production units in a gross economy which they cannot grasp. They feel alienated from their traditional culture and spiritual heritage.Q) Do you think things are getting easier or harder for heathens, - or to live as a Heathen in the world today?
I believe that it is getting harder for everyone to live in this world today- it is unnatural, it is stressed both on a physical level and on a spiritual level. The wheels constantly spin faster. The civilization is not developing organically- it is super charged and artificial.
The ideal is constant growth- which again is based on a linear way to view the world; or perhaps out of viewing the global society in form of a pyramid. Out of a heathen cyclic perspective it is impossible with a never ending growth. The longer this doctrine is the standard the harder will we fall when we revolve back to the starting point.Q) Is there anything specific you think that could make things better for Heathens in society in the future?
The question has some sort of external perspective and presumes that something undefined would assist heathens to prosper in society; it is somewhat a non-heathen way to perceive things. Society will be better for heathens when they start to take responsibility for their own situation; and becomes a force that cannot be ignored or overseen in the society. If this happens heathens will be a major contributor to defining the future society; and the heathen philosophy has so many valuable perspectives that would gain society as a whole.
StavPosted by Angerboda Thu, December 08, 2016 10:24:28
As of lately I have had a few people that has read my blog and found the perspectives given to be quite interesting. Furthermore, these people have set a good example, since there are aspects that they do not recognize; they ask me for the sources and where in the written myths and sagas they can find the information. I wish more people would research the sources when it comes to claims about Norse mythology.
find it important that people understand where this comes from, so I decided to
make a separate post about what this blog is about, and the origin of the information
What I write about has modernly been labeled as “Stav”, if you google it you will find tons of posts about it being a modern constructed martial art. But if you have read my blog you have probably noticed that I have written very little about martial arts, actually only one post in Swedish to be specific.
How I found Stav
I have always had a great fascination of Norse mythology and runes and Scandinavian folklore. I grew up in an area of Sweden where there were traces of Norse mythology and ancient sites and rune stones wherever I looked. I think this sparked my interest and fascination early in life.
My fascination of Norse spirituality, and esoterica in general, evolved over the years. As a teenager it took me on some strange paths, and in a really weird corner I heard the name Stav mentioned for the first time in the mid 1990´s. A few years later a friend of mine searched for indigenous martial arts of Scandinavia, which made me remember Stav; and he started to research it further. In the year 2000 we traveled to England to meet Ivar Hafskjold for the first time. Ivar is the inheritor of the tradition, born in Norway, but now he resides in northern England.
As I already had some knowledge of Norse spirituality at the time, I was fascinating with how well put together Ivar’s teachings were. He was really the only one that I had met that were able to present a coherent version of Norse spirituality. The complexity of the system also made me realize that this was something that must be based on living knowledge of Norse spirituality, one way or another.
What is Stav
Stav is in essence Norse spirituality systemized around sixteen runes, the ancient script language of northern Europe. But it also holds a specific mythology that differentiates from the written sources; and Stav presents a much more coherent version of the myths and the cosmology compared to the sources. Stav also contains herbal lore, and aspects that can be regarded as shamanistic. Stav has ritual aspects, and on top of that it has the martial arts that is also closely tied together with the rest of the philosophy of the system.
Everything is so tightly put together that all aspects feeds and draws from each other. When learning the runes with the traditional method of the system, you will also be taught the martial arts. When doing martial arts, you will develop a deeper understanding of the mythology, when learning the mythology, you will understand the martial arts; and also get a better understanding of the runes.
Even the healing aspects of the system, and the herbal lore and knowledge of the plants can in most cases strengthen the understanding of the spiritual parts and the mythology, and in some cases even connect directly to the martial arts.
Where does Stav come from?
Ivar made Stav public in 1992, which would be the appropriate date for Stav as we know it today. Beyond that there is really no written sources of Stav. But Ivar himself does not take credit for constructing it, he says it is his family’s traditional education system. He learned it as a boy in the 1950´s in Norway, partly from his parents. But also from other relatives, when it comes to the martial art aspects his granduncle, born in the 1890´s, was very important.
The family tradition itself claims longer lineage than this, but the oldest named practitioner we know of by name was born in the 1890´s. He on the other hand is quoted to have said that he had learned it from older relatives, and the family has a very long and documented history in the region.
From an academic perspective it would be quite hard to set a satisfying date on Stav. A system like this has to be researched based on its own integrity. But the first, and most important question, has to be; if the system works and if it works for your needs? If it works it should be good enough for most.
But as an analytic person it is always interesting to reason about the origin of something, which can be done once we have developed a theoretical understanding of the system, and what it contains. Then you need to compare it with the written sources and note the similarities and differences.
Personally I have investigated the structure of Stav, and the mythology, the cosmology and the calendric aspects of the system. I think I can make a very good estimation of the age of these components, and thus the system itself. But I doubt it´s really relevant in the end! The only important thing is what the practitioner is able to learn from the Stav-curriculum. If antiquity is the important thing, this is not what you are looking for!
The source of the blog
So the source of the blog is myself; and my interpretations after hours of conversations with Ivar that has taken place over the last sixteen years. Many of these conversations took place when physically meeting Ivar, both in Sweden and in England. Most of the time we speak in Swedish/Norwegian, which is basically only dialects of the same language; this has given me the opportunity to avoid some of the linguistic and cultural issues that has occurred when Stav has been transferred in English.
My understanding has also been aided by some very valuable contributions from a few Scandinavian academics within relevant fields, that also happens to be Stav practitioners.
This blog is frankly put unique! It is the first time a lot of the information on it has been described in detail in public. The information should be regarded as source material to a tradition that fairly recently was made public. There are no books available, nor any webpages, that describes components of Stav as detailed as I do in this blog. There are also very few that has studied these aspects as deeply as I have, and that would be capable of writing a blog like this.
My understanding of Stav is based on Ivars teaching, but still published out of my personal perspective and understanding of it. Some aspects I have been able to expand compared to what has been preserved of the traditional knowledge, other areas I need to study further. After all, this is a living tradition and every generation will put their mark on it! Within Stav different perspectives and personal interpretations are valued, especially when it is based on serious research.
The information found on this blog is my personal understanding, based on the teachings of Ivar; which comes from the tradition preserved within his family. If you find anything here valuable, it would make me very happy. But do not mistake anything here for mainstream Norse mythology, it is not! This is a living tradition that has kept evolving. In the English speaking world, the written sources have sometimes confused the understanding of Stav more than anything.
If you want to quote anything on the blog, please go ahead. But for your own sake specify the source to avoid any confusion. I would also like to say that text is quite crude; the best way to learn Stav is directly from one person to another, the way it always was taught. There are very few qualified instructors available, even fewer if you want to focus on the spiritual perspective. Stav is not mainstream heathenism.
GeneralPosted by Angerboda Sat, October 01, 2016 18:53:08
a fully modern road network. It has been designed by engineers to be the most
efficient and straightforward paths between cities and regions. Not much
thought has been given to the local environments the roads crosses trough.
Neither have they cared about the animals or spiritual values when constructing
these roads; if there is an obstacle they just remove it or tunnel through it. There
are cases were a modern highway are built right through ancient sacrificial
grooves, which is really upsetting! The only positive thing is that the Swedish
law demands that they excavate the site thoroughly before they devastate it.
Above; what remains of the holy grove besides one of Sweden’s most trafficked roads.
system is sometimes too efficient, one can travel through Sweden without
actually seeing much of it at all. The main roads are always outside the cities
and villages, and at all the exit points are the same gasoline stations and
fast-food restaurants. Finding a decent meal on the road is almost impossible.
obsession of an effective road system probably started in the 1950´s; when
ordinary people were able to get their own cars. Modern logistics probably had
an impact too; since people these days are in demand of goods that is
transported a long way, instead of buying stuff that is manufactured locally. These
modern roads are like scars in the landscape, and the landscape will never be
able to recuperate from the intervention.
and most trafficked road in Sweden is the European route E4, it passes all the
way from the south up to the northern border and crosses into Finland. In the
1980´s they were modernizing a small portion of the E4 in mid Sweden. The
locals were very upset and said that the road would disturb all the invisible
entities living in the forest were the new stretch would be built. The
authorities even got angry letters with threats. According to the local lore
the forest had lots of different entities living in it, such as; vittror,
tomtar and trolls. Even ancestral spirits have been mentioned. As you could
imagine, no one really took these worries seriously, business went on as usual
and the road was constructed. Perhaps they were right? It was probably just
short stretch has an unpropitious amount of incidents on it, it is one of the portions
of the over 1500 kilometers long road that really stands out. There are often standstills
at this place, and there are many accidents. There are incidents were cars have
started to burn for no apparent reason, and there are lots of flat tires and
technical malfunctions. A few people have all of a sudden become very ill while
driving on the road. When researching for this article, I found out that just
during the last few months there has been several cars that started to burn
there and some serious accidents. The latest incident happened yesterday. Who can
tell for sure if the invisible entities are to blame? but sometimes people have
a good reason to be superstitious!
Above: Nothing but a small and modest sign reveals that a murderer was executed on this spot in 1785, he was decapitated after murdering a nineteen-year-old maid.
I am very
skeptical about these modern roads that are constructed by omnipotent bureaucrats
equipped only with a map, a ruler and a pen. Things used to be different! Hidden
beyond these tarmacked roads there is a completely different set of roads;
which people almost has forgotten. These are the ancient roads and trails of
started as small tracks in the forests, initially they were perhaps not even
man made. They can just as well have been trampled up by animals; which made
them a natural and convenient path for humans to follow. When people started to
use them they gradually expanded until someone decided to lay gravel on top of
them to make them more stable and able to carry weight. Sometimes the roads
kept growing, and in some cases they were infused in the modern road system. I
have seen many runestones that are erected just beside a fully modern road, and
the runestone still stands at the same place as it did a thousand years ago. The
road has naturally evolved over a long period.
A runestone in western Sweden, in front of it you see the old road; behind it you see the modern road.
ancient roads were not planned by any engineer, they simply emerged were people
traveled. They were the bloodstream of the old society, and they often pass
right through old settlements and farms. Often the living house is on one side
of the road and the old stables on the other. This was highly efficient since
you could trade with anyone that passed by that had goods, or simply catch the
latest news. It also created a natural mail system since it was easy just to
ask those who passed by to bring messages or goods to the next farm. But these
days it can be bit problematic to have the road right through your yard though,
especially if the road has grown and there is a lot of traffic on it. In some cases,
it has practically meant that parts of the old homestead have been abandoned.
But many of
these ancient roads are still tucked away off the beaten path, only relevant
for the few who lives in the area; some of these roads are hardly used anymore.
These seemingly insignificant roads move graciously trough the landscape and
sometimes two cars will hardly be able to pass each other. I once mentioned the
bad condition of an old road to an elderly man who lived on a farm close to us;
he was the fifth generation inhabitant of the farm, and the last of his line to
keep it. He told me that in the 1950´s the bus to the village used that road,
and the road was not in any better condition back then.
Above: the road the bus used in the 1950´s.
are a good example of all that which has organically grown and been used for
centuries or more; which has been discarded during the last decades.
old roads follow the landscape, they often pass the type of places were
invisible entities would thrive. Perhaps some of the roads were initially
theirs? Due to the longevity of these roads, they are no longer only for the
living; they are the roads of those who has been here many generations before
us! Perhaps their spirits still use them? When walking, or driving, on these
old roads it is appropriate to act respectfully towards those who has used them
before us and those who we cannot see. Too many times have I encountered that
the modern corrupted mind have found it convenient to use these old roads to
drive out in the woods to dump their garbage. This could be very bad idea,
remember the incidents on the modernized stretch of the E4…
ever wondered what Helvegen looks like? The road to the realm of the dead, made
famous by the Norwegian band Wardruna. I bet you it is a seemingly insignificant
trampled old dirt road of Scandinavian fashion; but within Norse spirituality
it is perhaps seen as the most important road you will ever walk upon.
folklore and folk-magic knows the significance of the ancient roads. There is a
lot of spiritual practices in relation to old roads, especially during the lightest
part of the summer, around Balders vigil; or midsummer in modern terminology.
At this time of the year it is hardly dark at all in most parts of Scandinavia,
and according to the folklore this period is accredited extra potential for
road would be totally useless for magical work; because it simply scares all
invisible things away. Not even the wildlife is able to cross a modern and
fenced road, so I doubt the invisible entities are able to do it. I would even imagine
that they simply stay clear of it, just like most entities flees cities when
they become too crowded. The modern roads are efficient, but when it comes to
both the living and the non-living in their proximity; they work as a wall that
keeps things apart.
If you ever
have the opportunity to visit Scandinavia during the summer, you could find
yourself an old desolated road with no regular traffic on it. Look for an intersection
with another old road, and spend the night there by yourself. Something very
interesting may happen to you during that night! But I am not guaranteeing
anything but mosquito bites and birdsong. On the other hand, I am not giving
any guarantees when it comes to your safety either. Spiritual work is not to be
taken lightly, especially not by the urbanized and modern human being! There
are examples of people who have come to Scandinavia to search out the spirits,
and their quest literally ruined their life. An unbalanced mind may not be equipped
to handle what it might be exposed to.
All pictures were taken by myself, during the summer of 2016.
StavPosted by Angerboda Sun, September 25, 2016 00:51:12
have been following my blog knows by now that Stav originates from a family
tradition that has been passed down within a family in southern Norway. Stav
has been labeled as a martial art; but Stav is in its essence Norse
spirituality structured around the runes of the younger futhark.
tradition there is a runic calendar, but as with many aspects of Stav there has
not been that much written about it. Stav is practically still an oral
tradition. I believe this is the first time an in-depth article about the
calendar is published in English; but I will still leave a couple of things untold.
years I did not really pay too much attention to the Stav calendar, I could not
really relate to it. The concept was perhaps too alien to my modern imprint. About
a year ago I decided to investigate the Stav calendar further. I read up on
what some of the most notable scholars in the field has to say about early
medieval and pre-Christian calendric practices of Scandinavia. After I had
studied for a while I was totally blown away by the Stav calendar, it´s
integrity is fascinating, and it is clearly of respectable age.
quickly become a very long and complicated text about the calendric aspects
within Stav, but I am afraid that would defeat its purpose; since very few
would read it. So I have tried to stick to the basics and not make things
overcomplicated. But there still has to be some terminology within the text. I
will start with a short introduction of calendric systems to make this text
There is so
much we take for granted today based on our modern perspective of time, just a
few hundred years ago things were very different. People were dependent that
someone in their proximity could calculate time based on the movements of the
sun and the moon. Calendric calculations were probably an important factor that
contributed to developing the mathematical understanding that laid the
foundation of our civilization. In most old cultures the highest priesthood was
responsible for these calculations, and there was really no difference between
spirituality and science; the separation of the two is just a few hundred years
calendar is called the Christian calendar, or the Gregorian calendar; after the
pope who was responsible for introducing it. This calendar system is basically
just an improvement of an older calendric system called the Julian calendar;
the name comes from the fact that the Roman dictator Julius Caesar was
responsible for introducing it in 45 BC.
Julian and the Gregorian calendars are based on 365 days, the practical problem
is that the number of days do not exactly match the so called tropical year, or
solar year. The Julian calendar will therefore have a discrepancy in relation
to the solar year that increases over time. The concern out of a Christian
perspective is the drift in relation to the March equinox; which is used to
calculate the Easter celebrations, the most important celebration within
Christianity. The Gregorian calendar has addressed the drift with a more
precise system of leap years and leap days.
early history of the church it was the responsibility of the local priest to calculate
the date of the Easter celebration. Some of the priests were not competent
enough to handle the task, which meant that the celebrations could differ
between parishes. Within the Catholic church someone realized around year 800
AD that they could implement something called the Metonic cycle, named after a
Greek mathematician and Astronomer who lived in Athens in the 5th
cycle defines that 235 lunar months almost precisely equals 19 solar years, but
there is some discrepancy which we will come back to. The practical calendric
use of the Metonic cycle is that; if you define a nineteen-year cycle the moon
and the sun will relate to each other in a specific pattern each year of that
cycle. The Metonic cycle has a very long history in calendric systems and was implemented
for the first time by the Babylonians. By utilizing the Metonic cycle the
clergy only had to calculate Easter for each year within the cycle, the Easter
Sunday will be the first Sunday after the so called Paschal full moon. Then
they applied so called golden numbers from 1-19 to each year of the cycle.
our modern calendar is a Roman-Christian way of calculating time, based on a
Christian way to view the world; we count time in a linear fashion from year
zero, the presumed birth year of Jesus, and the progression will just continue
until the end of time.
over to the pre-Christian Norse and heathen calendric aspects. The preserved information
is quite fragmented, but we still have a pretty good idea.
probably celebrated six festivals each year, and a couple of these festivals
were dependent on the sun. On the contrary to common beliefs they did not
celebrate the spring and autumn equinoxes; instead those celebrations seem to
have been delayed with about four weeks. The pre-Christian ritual year only had
two seasons; summer and winter. The summer started sometime in April, and the
festival is still celebrated in Scandinavia. The summer ended, and winter
started, at the so called Alvablot; which would be around the same time as the
modern Halloween celebrations.
pre-Christian Scandinavia they seem to have followed an eight-year lunar cycle,
called the Octaeteris in astronomical terms. This cycle is less accurate
compared to the Metonic cycle of nineteen years. The historical sources tell
that big sacrificial festivals were held every ninth year in Uppsala, Sweden. These
festivals were held in relations with the yearly big winter thing- called Disting
in Uppsala, and every ninth year they had extra big festivities. But in reality
it was most likely every eight years, and based on the eight-year lunar cycle.
To make an easy description, the way they calculated time back then was
different, the ninth year and the next first year of the cycle will be
calculated as the same.
the festivities in Uppsala for nine days, the opening day they held thing and
the sacrifices started during the evening. Then they held the sacrifices for
the next seven evenings. The ninth day they held a thing again, and ended the
festivities. Which meant that they only sacrificed during eight nights, and
each night probably represented a deity and a year in the eight-year cycle. It
is unfortunately beyond this article to describe this in further detail.
important thing to notice is that this way of calculating time is in essence
heathen, it is cyclic; a 24 hours’ day is a cyclic period going from dark to
light and back. A Scandinavian year is also very obviously cyclic, passing from
winter to summer and back. Scandinavian heathenism is in many ways a nature
religion and a lot of the philosophical aspects follows natures cyclic
early medieval period Scandinavia went through a major turmoil when
Christianity were introduced. The change of religion was in many ways a very
painful process and it took hundreds of years to fulfill, if it ever was really
completely done. Around 1150 the church introduced the Julian calendar, which
became the official calendar in Scandinavia.
is quite desolated people still had a need to keep track of their own time, so
they knew when they needed to go to church to celebrate the Christian holidays.
Shortly after the introduction of the Julian calendar the so called runic
calendar staves emerged. They were often made on a big wooden plank or a stave,
which had a lot of runes carved into them. They were constructed in relation to
the Metonic cycle amongst other things; but instead of having golden numbers
representing the years of the cycle, they used runes.
was that the Runic script of the Viking age and early medieval times consisted
of sixteen runes; so three additional runes were made up, so they got nineteen
runes which they could correspond to the Metonic cycle. Seven runes also corresponded
to the days of the week. The runic calendars had various symbols that marked
the Christian festivals during the year.
runic calendars were most likely syncretic; based on old Scandinavian ways of
calculating time, but adopted to fit the newly introduced Julian-Christian
calendar. The epicenter of the Runic calendars was in Sweden, but they are
found throughout Scandinavia and Finland, even in the Baltic countries.
previously mentioned; the Metonic cycle are not flawless, and there were
several improvements made. One important contribution was made by Hipparchus of
Nicaea, who is regarded as the greatest of the Greek astronomers. He calculated
that 3760 lunar months, or 16 Metonic cycles, will be equal to 304 solar years.
But there is a small discrepancy of minus one day.
Scandinavia the common people seem to have been aware of the Hipparchic cycle
of 304 years. In Uppsala in Sweden they hold the Disting market in February
each year. The market was initially held together with the sacrifices that I
mentioned before, when Christianity took over the sacrifices were abandoned;
but the market is still held to this day! The difference is that the market now
is held in accordance to our modern calendar; in medieval times the moon stipulated
when the market would be held.
medieval rule for calculating the Disting market is still known; “the market
starts at the first full moon that follows the first new moon after the day of
three holy kings” (I.E. Epiphany). I have translated this rule from the
earliest notation of it, published in 1555.
Disting market in 1689, a famous Swedish scholar met a 90-year-old man with a runic
calendar that he had inherited from his great grandfather. The scholar talked
with the old man about the calendar in relation to the Disting. The old man
told him that the market had followed a nineteen-year cycle for the past period
of a little more than 300 years; but it had just passed an “Auni” and it would
follow a new cycle of 19 years for the coming period of a little more than
three hundred years. Which meant that the market would be held on slightly
different dates than those who used to occur during the previous cycle.
was intrigued and wanted to know how the old man knew this; he said that his
great grandfather had marked out Auni on his runic calendar stick. When asked
further about what an Auni was the old man said it was a period of a little
more than 300 years. The name came from the old king of Uppsala, Aun the old, that
became 300 years old. Aun is mentioned by Snorri, but in his texts the
calendric aspects are not so apparent. It is not likely that the old man in the
17th century would have been exposed to Snorris work either, so this
is most likely a reminiscence of eastern Scandinavian mythology where Aun
personalizes the Lunar cycle of 304 years. There is also accounts in the story
of Aun that indicates that incidents in his life corresponds to the Metonic
cycle of nineteen years.
1700 the more exact Gregorian calendar was introduced in Norway. Sweden was the
longest protestant stronghold in western Europe to oppose the reform; and did
not reform the calendar until 1753. One practical result of the reform was that
the runic calendars died out, since they did not work in relation to the new
calendar. Some tried to adopt the runic staves to the Gregorian calendar, but
time had simply moved on and they were out of fashion.
aspects of Stav
structured around the sixteen runes of the so called younger futhark, the runic
alphabet that probably was introduced around year 800 AD. Writing is just one
aspect of the runes according to the Stav perspective, there are many other
aspects. Everything within Stav, from mythology to herbal medicine; is systemized
around the runes
other things, there are nineteen deities of the Norse pantheon associated with
the sixteen runes. Some runes have several deities associated with them; and in
these cases the deities have a close mythological relationship. Each deity is
connected to a specific year of the Metonic cycle! The amazing thing is that
this system is totally independent of modern calendars; there is a method
within the tradition that describes how to set this system based on the moon.
The deities associated with each year gives this calendric system a ritual and
mythological aspect that the medieval calendars totally lack. Since the core of
Stav is structured around the nineteen deities of the calendar; this aspect is
something that must have been taken into consideration when Stav was systemized;
it is very unlikely that this would be a later adaptation.
I used to
have some issues with the fact that there were nineteen deities but only
sixteen runes; why not expand the amount of runes as they did on the medieval
runic calendars? I realized how it all fits together when I investigated Stavs calendar;
if you multiply the nineteen gods with the sixteen runes you will incorporate
the Hipparchic cycle. 16 Metonic cycles adds up to 304! (16 x 19 = 304) It can
simply not be a coincidence that 19 deities representing the Metonic cycle are
structured on the sixteen runes. Hipparchus defined the 304-year cycle when he
tried to improve calendric cycles that was based on the Metonic cycle. As
stated previously, the medieval Scandinavians were aware of this cycle.
no longer are any practical use of the Hipparchic cycle in Stav, the modern Stav
community were not aware of this aspect. But since Stav is so highly systemized
it was still preserved in the core of the structure, just waiting to be found. This
is one of the cautions I want to address when it comes to the derivatives that
has come off of Stav during the last decades; the encoded “secrets” within the
coherent structure will be lost in the copies. Those who create the derivatives
will deny their students to be able to uncover what they have not yet
festivals of Stav
medieval runic calendars, the yearly festivals of Stav is not based on
Christian celebrations but on heathen feasts. There are six festivals, Yule,
Winter-thing, summers day, Balders vaki, Summer-thing and Winters night. As
everything within stav, these festivals are structured around the Hagl rune,
where the runes of the deities representing the festival has been placed in a
particular order. Each festival has two runes that represents it, which in
total gives 13 deities, since one rune has two connections. I have the
impression that these 13 deities represent the pre-Christian months of
Scandinavia, but as far as I know there is nothing preserved in the system that
clearly says so. Six deities are not associated with specific festivals; since
they represent the function of ritual leaders, and therefor are relevant for all
relations to the festivals follows what is known about the pre-Christian gods and
the festivals; but as often within Stav the knowledge goes beyond and fills in
the blank spots. The festival year is also woven, which means that the
festivals that oppose each other will also have deities connected to them that
has a relation. The festival year is at the same time regarded as cyclic. There
is nothing random about the festivals of the Stav calendar. I have described
some of this previously on this blog. Another unique aspect is that there is
knowledge on how to fixate the festivals independent of the modern calendar;
something that I myself was not aware of until recently when corresponding with
the inheritor of the tradition, Ivar Hafskjold, about the calendar.
The week of
all weekdays have specific runic relations, and thus associations with deities.
It is common knowledge that the week as we know it has Norse origin. Tuesday is
associated with Tyr, Wednesday with Odin and Thursday with Thor. The relations
of the other weekdays are not quite clear, but within Stav these days have
clear associations with deities too. The ritual week of Stav is dependent on
this knowledge. Sunday is the last and first day of the week; and in accordance
the rune associated with the day is connected to two deities. One representing
death, and the other one continuation. There are several rituals that marks
How old is
the Stav calendar ?
In the core
of Stav we have a cyclic calendric system that not only measures time over 19
and 304 years, it also relates to the yearly festivals and weekdays. This
system has a strong relationship to what is known about medieval and pre-Christian
Scandinavian calendric tradition; but it goes beyond the known historical
systems out of an esoteric and spiritual perspective. The Stav calendar is in
essence independent of the modern calendar.
the calendric aspect are encoded in the core of Stav, it gives a good
foundation to discuss at what time period Stav, as a system, could have been
structured. As already
mentioned, the runic calendric systems died out when the Gregorian calendar was
introduced, this happened around year 1700 in Norway. After that there were no
practical use, and probably no knowledge, to structure a runic calendric system
dependent on the Metonic cycle. So clearly Stavs calendar must predate the
introduction of the Gregorian calendar in Scandinavia.
absolute earliest point something like this could have been created are at the
time that the younger futhark was introduced, which many believe are around 800
AD. These two events give us the timespan we have to relate to. Another key question
is; would the Scandinavians have been utilizing the Metonic cycle prior to the
official introduction of the Julian calendar? If the answer is no, then the
timespan is 1150-1700. For the time being it is reasonable not to go beyond
this time span, even though the Norse sources indicates an awareness of the
comparing the information of Stavs calendar with the medieval runic calendars,
I am personally prone to believe that Stavs calendar has to be early in this
span. The oldest notation I am aware of in Norwegian archives that mentions the
family that has kept the tradition, are from 1348. So I do not feel that I am the
slightest preposterous to claim an early medieval origin. But in essence it
does not matter when the system was structured; those who did it knew more
about Norse mythology in relation to heathen calendric aspects than anyone alive
What is the
practical use of this calendar?
The calendric aspects of Stav is something
totally unique! As far as I know there is no other comparable living calendric
tradition left in Scandinavia. Stav is the only contemporary form of Norse spiritualism that includes a
complete calendric system. Each year has a mythological association which sets
the tone of the year. All the festivals that are celebrated are genuine Norse
festivals, that has a clear connection with specific deities; which gives a
good understanding of the nature of the festival. The actual dates of the
festivals will not be dependent on the modern Christian calendar. Each day of
the week also has specific connection with Norse deities; which gives a
spiritual meaning to the weekdays.
article only describes one aspect of the use of the runes within the Stav
tradition; there are many other aspects that could be expanded and explained in
the same fashion. I find Stav utterly fascinating, and it is something that
really needs to be preserved for the future. There are still so many aspects of
Stav that needs further investigation, but it takes a lot of time and devotion
to do it properly. At this time there are not enough people that really studies
the deeper layers of Stav in relation to historical sources; which is a shame.
13. "Answer me, Alvis! Thou knowest
Dwarf, of the doom of men;
What call they the moon, that men behold,
In each and every world?"
14. "Moon with men, Flame the gods
The Wheel in the house of hell;
The Goer the giants, The Gleamer the dwarfs,
The elves The Teller of Time."
Alvíssmál - The Ballad of Alvis.
StavPosted by Angerboda Sun, March 13, 2016 14:16:40
Within the stav
tradition there is a poem handed down; the poem is basically a description of
the content and knowledge within the tradition. The poem is written in an old
Norse alterative form of metric verse. This form of verse was used in most of the
poems of the Edda, and there are runestones in Sweden written with these types
I would identify the specific form of verse in the stav poem as Fornyrðislag;
which consists of eight lines of text, each line has two emphasized syllables,
and the lines are grouped in pairs by alliteration. It is not easy to express
what you want to say in this form of verse, and good poets were highly regarded
in the pre Norse society. It was a great honor if a poet wrote a verse about your
achievements and character; perhaps comparable to someone commissioning an
expensive painting of them self today.
The ancient poets of Scandinavia travelled around from king to king and
recited poems about the gods, heroes and kings. The king of the gods Oden, was
regarded as the god of the poets, which indicates what a high status they had. Some
of the most revered heroes of the Viking age even made poems as they were
dying; one example is Ragnar Lodbrok- who´s legend has been capitalized by the popular
television show “Vikings”.
I have really tried my best to make a good translation of the stav poem from
Norwegian to English. I have tried to stay true to the meaning, but still tried
to keep as much as the alliteration as possible. The poem has only been handed
down to the modern stav community as eight lines of text, with absolutely no
separations; so I barrowed the separations from Erik Brates Swedish translation
of the Edda poem Vǫluspá.
This is my English translation of the stav poem:
upon skis fare,
staves are done,
by Heimdall´s sons.
The poem describes
seven skills and knowledges. If one reads the Edda poem of Rigstula one will
notice that knowledge and skill is what separates the classes; the further up on
the social ladder, more skills are demanded. Being able to describe these
skills in alliterated verse is a statement in itself. Since stav has been a
closed tradition it should be seen as an internal statement and an internal
definition of belonging to the top levels of society.
describe the poem two lines at the time, since this is the way Fornyrðislag is
The two first lines are “Hounds bait, horses tame”.
refers to hunting with dogs, the traditional way of hunting with dogs in
Scandinavia is by using dogs that keeps the pray at bay until the hunter could
come forth and kill the animal. The method of hunting is very similar to the
way the hunting with cur dogs is conducted in the USA, except that we usually
do not hunt dogs in packs in Scandinavia.
spitz type of breeds used for hunting is very common and amongst the oldest
breeds in Scandinavia; an example of such a breed is the Norwegian Elkhound.
This type of dog is even found in Viking age burials.
stav tradition it is said that they used to breed a large mastiff type of dog.
The indigenous mastiff´s of Scandinavia is more or less extinct, there were not
much use of them after the wolfs temporary disappeared about a hundred years
ago. There is just one breed left, the reconstructed Danish Broholmer.
refers to the knowledge of being able to tame and ride horses; a greatly
revered knowledge in ancient Scandinavia; it is not a coincidence that Oden is
associated with an eight legged steed.
premodern Scandinavia one would need to know more than just how to handle the
horse. The horseman would have to be able to manufacture, or at least maintain,
the equipment needed; which needs skills in leather work. They would also need
to be able to attend the horse if it became ill or injured.
pre-Christian Scandinavians are reputed for their ability to use boats to
travel long distances; people seldom think of the fact that they also were a
horse culture. Some scholars say that
the Vikings probably gathered horses when they attacked the coastal areas; and
then used the horses to swiftly move inland to attack settlements there.
two lines say “falcons fly; upon skis fare”. To fly
falcons refers to falconry, in pre-Christian Scandinavia it was regarded to be a
skill of the nobility; in many ways it was seen as a magical skill to be able
to get a wild bird of prey to work on your command. It would take me a long
time to explain it in detail, but anyone that flew falcons had great respect.
introduced in Scandinavia during the migration period, and it seems that it to
a large extent disappeared during the middle ages. Today falconry is forbidden
in all three Scandinavian countries.
falconry within the stav tradition is quite different compared with the
continental and the English falconry. There were two types of birds that were
used, goshawks and the Eurasian eagle-owl; the owl was not a bird used
traditionally on the continent. Within the stav version of falconry the birds
were flown from baskets that were carried on the back by the falconer. The
birds were trained to return to these baskets after the hunt; instead of
returning to the hand that is the common method within falconry. This enabled
to fly the birds without jesses and bells; which gives stav-falconry totally
different conditions compared to continental and English falconry.
The main prey
within the tradition were foxes that were hunted for their fur, which was a great
income. As soon as the winter came the
traditional stav practitioners used to freeze fish to the ground on a meadow
behind their house; and waited for the foxes to try to come and try to eat the
fish. They watched the spot from their window with the help of the moonlight;
as soon as a fox would appear they sent their bird off right out of the window.
Eagle-owls are nocturnal hunters, and they fly completely silent, the prey will
not even know what hit them. Fox fur were one of the items traded at the winter
thing market; which I have already covered on the blog.
1980´s scientists analyzed the bones within fourteen graves of Viking age
chieftains; the graves were mainly located in the proveniences of Uppland and
Sörmland in Sweden. Twelve
of these graves contained bones originating from birds of prey. There were about
24 birds found in the graves; the predominant species were Eurasian eagle-owls
and northern goshawks.
be able to fly falcons would require more than just flying the bird. The
falconer needs to know how to capture the bird; and how to imprint it and how to
train it. He also needs to be able to manufacture the equipment needed.
fare”, simply means that one can use skis; and could move about in nature to
hunt and support the family during the winter. Oddly enough most stav practitioners
today seems to come from countries were there hardly is any snow, so perhaps it
is hard to relate to this aspect. But in Scandinavia there is occasionally
rough winters. Before there were modern roads and snowploughs; people would
more or less be trapped in their house during the winter, unless they could
associated with skiing is Ull; which is also apparent when it comes to the jarl
version of his rune stance. The stance is still taught children in Scandinavia
when they are learning to ski; it is referred to as ploughing. It is amongst
the first skiing techniques learned; since it is used to slow down when going
downhill. Of course none of the parents teaching their kids have a clue that
they are teaching what we in stav regard to be a runic posture.
refers to the art of shooting with bows, or archery; both as a martial art and
for hunting. It connects with the previous line; Ull is also the god of archery.
The name of Ulls rune is “Yr” which linguistically relates to the yew tree; traditionally
the preferred tree of making bows. According to Norse myths the domain of Ull
is called Ydalar, the valley of the yew. This is one of the instances were the
connection between a deity and rune as it is described within stav can be
confirmed. By using a logical approach to the preserved knowledge, it is
possible to reverse some of these connections; especially when we already have
the key as we do in stav.
stav tradition tells that the stav bow was a quite odd creation; it was a
combination of a spear and a bow, it had a spearhead attached at one end.
Another interesting thing in the oral myths of stav is that the bow could be
used as an improvised shield; redirecting the attack by having the attackers
axe bounce back of the string. It is said that the recoil when the weapon hits
the string is quite powerful and the attackers own weapon could potentially
harm himself on return.
the billows” means to ride the waves by using a boat, the word billows imply
that this refers to the ocean and not a small lake. To be able to travel on a
boat would traditionally demand skills; especially to be able to cross the
ocean. Being able to travel over the sea shows that the traditional stav
practitioners did not see themselves as confined by their geography.
by boat was a venture that demanded resources, and it is a statement on where
the traditional stav practitioners would see themselves in society. A farmer (the
karl class) would perhaps never be able to cross an ocean by boat, and if a
farmer were able to travel on a boat it would be because he was accepted there
by the owner of the boat; therefor he would probably not make a bold statement
that he was able to ride the billows.
done, by Heimdall´s sons” – ties the whole poem together. Staves are done is
the seventh knowledge described within the poem- seven is a key number within
stav. Staves refer to the staves that constructs the runes, and doing staves
refers to performing the rune stances; which is the most essential practise
within the stav tradition. This is essentially where the name stav derives
To be able
to do all the varieties of the stances demands a lot of knowledge about the
runes and how the galders within the tradition is performed. Knowing the runes out
of a stav perspective demands knowledge beyond using the runes as letters.
Heimdall´s sons”; stav is in essence an intellectual spiritual tradition devoted
to Heimdall. Heimdall is seen as the god of knowledge and education, and this
poem is about the expected knowledge of the traditional stav practitioner.
traditional stav practitioners claimed to be descendants of Heimdall, which can
come across as somewhat strange to a modern person. But it was quite common
that Scandinavian nobility claimed to descend from Norse deities, this was an
important aspect of the pre-Christian cult. During the middle ages they
actually had to make up how the deities related to Jesus; since people did not
want to abandon their claim to be related to Norse gods.
not exclude anyone; out of a stav perspective we all descend from the deities;
it does not matter if we are aware of it or not. Anyone that follows the
teachings within stav will honour their relation to Heimdall; and strengthen
their bond to him. As a devoted student of stav I consider myself to be a son
of Heimdall; both spiritually and philosophically. Working with this tradition
will change you; it is just your ego that set the boundaries on how much you
are able to change.
To sum it
all up; the stav poem is a statement or a declaration. The poem describes people that
would be able to live and prosper in all the natural elements; they would be
able to utilize dogs, horses and falcons in the open landscape and in the forests.
They would be able to ski during the winters and hunt with an arrow and a bow.
They were able to travel the oceans. They had an intellectual and spiritual approach
to the myths through their connection to Heimdall.
Since I always like to work with the methods within the tradition, I constructed a bind rune that visualises the information in the poem. This bind rune was very helpful when I memorized the content of the poem. This bind rune shows how specifically you can use the runes within the stav tradition when you are aware of their associations.
that we work with bind runes within the stav tradition is really similar to the
way that Snorri Sturluson describes how to work with verse in his Edda. This
part is amongst the most beneficial portions of Snorris work; out of a
spiritual perspective, yet most people seem to ignore these chapters.
work with bind runes, we utilize the associations of the runes, and the mythological
relations and connections around the rune. Sometimes we also use counterparts and
opposites, very similar to how Snorri describes kennings. The Eddas work with
words, stav uses graphical methods to illustrate the mythology; but when I have
worked with it intensively I have noticed that it often enough ends up in the
with both the poetry and the stav bind runes is to develop a very different way
to use our brain compared to how most modern people seems to think. It
essentially develops a very esoteric and spiritual way of thinking. Those who
is trained in this art will become aware of patterns and under laying
information. The student will be able to see things that is hidden to most
people. The only negative thing that I have experienced is; that the more I
develop this way of using my brain- the harder I find it to relate to modern
How old is
basically impossible to date this poem with certainty; the poem consists of
fairly modern Norwegian words. Perhaps the poem has been linguistically
updated? Perhaps the poem is a newer construction following the old Norse traditions
are parallels to this poem, and to find them we need to go far back; to the
preserved Norse literature. Within the poem Rigstula we find something very
similar when we come to Jarl, the personification of the jarl class. Just as
stav; Rigstula centres around Heimdall. Rigstula describes how Heimdall created
and educated all the classes except the herse class. According to stavs
philosophy Heimdall is still mainly the patron of the jarl class, since he is a
bearer and transferor of knowledge.
To grow in
did Jarl begin;
Shields he brandished,
and bow-strings wound;
bows he shot,
and shafts he fashioned;
Arrows he loosened, and lances wielded,
Horses he rode, and hounds unleashed;
Swords he handled, and sounds he swam.
describes almost the same skills as described by the stav poem. There are two references
to spears and three to archery; if we regard these as redundant information this
poem actually describes seven skills just as the stav poem. But this verse does
not mention runes, it is addressed in the next stanza of Rigstula.
Orkneyingers' Saga, who describes the history of the jarls of Orkney; there is
a poem accredited to Kale Kolsson. He describes that he knows nine skills,
amongst them knowledge of the runes:
I play with open hand,
games and feats so skilful nine;
writing runes to me comes ready;
books I read and smith's work furnish;
I can glide on snow-shoon swift;
doughtily I shoot and row;
Either stands at my behest,
sweep of harp or burst of song."
is also very similar to the stav poem. Kale can play draught, which refers to
the ancient board game Tafl, similar to chess. Kale knows the runes, he reads
books, he can do smiting and ski. He can shoot a bow and he can row a boat. He
can play the harp and knows how to make poetry.
Kale gives the impression of being a culturally achieved person. Which is
expected, he comes from the top level of society. Kale is one of the jarls of
Orkney, and he descended from the mythical jarls of Møre in Norway. The oral history
of stav connects stavs origin partly to the jarls of Møre.
if the stav poem is ancient or a more recent expression of someone’s
creativity; it shows how well stav follows Norse tradition. The poem is written
in an ancient form of verse that most modern people of Scandinavia have never
heard of. Most of the skills mentioned would not be seen as more than trivia to
a modern person; but to anyone living in Scandinavia hundreds of years ago it
would have been seen a statement of belonging to the nobility.
poem in Norwegian:
på ski farer,
StavPosted by Angerboda Sun, February 21, 2016 22:27:36
Recently I have had several request from my English speaking readers to write about the healing aspects of stav. I found that to be a very interesting challenge, it is hard to describe things in text; that as much as the martial arts needs to be shown and taught hands on. I decided to use the healing aspects of stav as a way to show the wonderful and coherent structure of stav. Stav has a very strong core, which I will describe in relation to the specific aspects of the healing techniques within the system. I will also mention a little about the philosophy within stav.
This is a massive text, but I am sure you will find it worthwhile; no matter if you have a specific interest in stav, or a more general interest of Norse mythology.
There are mainly six healing practices within stav; mått, ljosgalder, lokksejd, megin, myrkgalder and teinsejd. These aspects of stav has as far as I know never been described as thoroughly in a publicly available text before. This text is more or less source material to a Norse tradition. Personally I have mixed feelings about publishing this text, perhaps I give away too much?
To be able to help the reader to gain an understanding of this text I need to shortly describe the fundamentals of stav.
There are five classes within stav; tral, karl, herse, jarl and konge. In English they would be translated something along the lines of; the serf, the freemen, the warrior, the earl and the king. These classes are not seen as socio-economical, rather as different personalities that has different perspectives and ways to function in society. I will not go into details, but the tral is someone that is unsorted. The karl is a person who is able to support himself and supply for his family, a working man or a self-employed person. The herse is the type of person that would be suitable to be a policeman, military or working in the judicial system. The jarl is the philosopher, priest, or the healer- someone who is dependent on their mind. Easy described the karl is the hands and legs, the herse is the heart and the jarl is the head. We need a good balance between these classes to enable society to function at its best.
The tral and the king is somewhat extremes, the three main classes are dependent of each other while the king and the tral kind of operates independently. The difference is that the tral is dominated by society and is under its power- while the king is in control of his destiny. These two personalities are in one way the opposite sides of the same coin, and they can flip into each other occasionally.
These classes also correspond with the five elements of stav; fire, ice, air, earth and water. These elements are very important both when we work with understanding mythology or working with the esoteric perspective. It is essential to understand the classes and the elements to be able to understand the philosophy around the healing aspects of stav.
Stav is systematized around the 16 runes of the so called Scandinavian futhark, the letters used in pre Christian Scandinavia. Within stav the runes are more than just a method of writing text; all the runes are associated with the Norse deities, herbs, trees, classes, elements and much more. In practicality this means that no matter if it is about martial arts or healing; the runes will serve as memory aid to supply us with the knowledge needed.
One way to structure knowledge or information is to create a bind rune, all the bind runes within the stav tradition is created around the Hagl rune; the rune associated with the god Heimdall, who is an essential deity within in the stav tradition. Heimdall is seen as the deity of logic and education and intelligence, and he obviously represents the jarl class.
There are four traditional bind runes preserved within the stav tradition; one for each class except the tral. The bind rune associated with the jarl class is sometimes referred to as the healing bind rune, since healing is one of the aspects of the jarl personality.
Stav bind runes will have six runes, or in essence deities, constructed around the Hagl rune that carries the structure, all together there are seven runes in these bind runes if we count the carrying rune. Seven is a very important number within the stav lore- as important as number nine within mainstream Norse mythology.
I will describe the healing bind rune by explaining it clockwise, starting at the top.
The first rune is the rune called Thor, it is the rune associated with the deity by the same name. Within stav Thor is associated with the herse or warrior class. This is a very physical type of personality and they rely on their strength. The healing practices related to Thor is called “mått” which would be pronounced something like “mott” in English. Mått refer to the physical structure of the body, our joints and ligaments, bones and muscles. If you are familiar with the Norse myths, you will notice that the stories about Thor in most cases revolve around his physical capabilities and his strength.
When we work with mått we use massage to loosen up the muscles, and to relieve tension. We also use techniques to manipulate the spine and realign it if needed. The techniques within stav is quite easy to learn and would be very useful in an area where no modern doctors were available. To an extent stav is about being able to care for our family´s needs even when there is no outside assistance available.
The herse, or warrior, needs to be able to walk longer distances which is tough on the feet. Within the mått work there is a very practical foot massage which help to soften up the feet and to make the muscles loosen up and transport the blood easier. The feet are very essential for the whole body, within many homeopathic schools they work the feet to address health issues in other parts of the body. If one is physically fit enough, long walks are also a very good way to heal both the body and the mind.
The next rune is the Hagl rune, as I already mentioned it is the rune of Heimdall, who is a jarl deity. This rune represents the healing method of ljosgalder; light-galder.
Within stav the word galder has several layers of meaning, the general conception from Norse mythology is that galder refers to using the voice or to sing, and that it a sort of traditional way to perform magic. This is one of implementations of galder within stav; when we use our voice in the class varieties of the rune stances we refer to them the galder stances. But in the broader, and more stav specific meaning, galder also refers to the masculine teachings. In this case masculine does not necessary describe someone’s gender, we simply mean that it is a structured way to teach or learn. The feminine teachings are more intuitive; which I will come back to later on in this text. But generally speaking; runes, rune stances and bind runes are regarded as galder. These things can be taught from one person to another person, and it can be mastered through practice. The feminine practices can perhaps never be taught, or fully understood, if one does not have the appropriate personality to learn it.
Light refers to that it is performed in daylight, or in the open to be more specific. It is nothing secret and the subject of this sort of healing is fully aware of what is going on. It can be compared with modern psychotherapy in many ways.
One of the methods within light galder can be described as a sort of hypnosis or assisted meditation. The aim is to help the “subject” to connect with their unconscious levels and connect them with the conscious levels. It is a very efficient tool to help people to learn to know themselves better, I am fascinated of how well it works. As always within stav, this method flows between the psychological and intellectual and spiritual level.
Within stav there is also a tradition of laying runes, which can perhaps be compared with laying tarot cards. Any experienced stav practitioner should have their own set of wooden rune chips. There are other modern practices of laying runes, but stav has its own unique variety which I will not go into details about. Described in its simplest form we ask the person we are assisting to draw three runes out of a pouch; one rune for the past, one for the present and one for the future. Then we analyze the mythological associations of these runes and explain to the subject what we see; this is a good way to get someone to open up and starting to analyze their own situation.
During periods I have very actively worked with drawing runes by myself and it is very efficient, it helped me to clearly analyze the situation and work forward towards a goal. It is up to each one working with the runes to define for themselves if it is psychology or spiritual work; out of a stav perspective it is not important how you define it.
The rune stances are also connected to Heimdall according to stavs mythology; in essence the stances are multidimensional and contains many layers of knowledge and education. Amongst other things the stances teach us to align our body and find our outer and inner balance. The stances are meditative and teach deep breathing which helps the mind to let go of stress and anxiety. The stances are also helpful if someone needs to balance manic behavior or depression.
The next aspect of healing within stav is called lokksejd, sejd is known from the written sources about Norse mythology, and it is a shamanistic practice with the aim to go into a trance. As with galder, stav takes the understanding a bit further, the sejd perspective is a bit broader within stav, it is also regarded as a feminine approach to healing or magic. There are two aspects of sejd within stav; lokksejd and teinsejd.
The rune in this part of the bind rune is the rune mann, it is associated with Freya, she represents the feminine and the karl klass. Freya is the goddess of lokksejd, and according to the written sources she was the one who taught the highest god Oden how to do sejd.
When doing lokksejd one uses a vardlokk to be able to go into trance, this can be described as a very strange type of song that affects the mind. The meaning of the word lokk is multi-dimensional; it is to pull, or to lure, to attract or to tempt. The vard can be described as an entity or spirit, so one calls the helping spirits with the vardlokk. As always in stav and Norse mythology it is an interaction between feminine and masculine energies. Men usually do not as easy go into trance as females, therefor they are suitable to sing the vardlokk; the powerful masculine energy created will make it easier for a female to enter the trance.
Freya represents the unmarried young lady which has not carried any children yet, at this stage of life a female is suitable to work with lokksejd. Since lokksejd has strong effects on the mind, a woman that has a family to provide and care for is advised not to work with this method. Once the children have grown up and left the house she could actively pursue this path again.
The Lokksejd and vardlokk within stav has been transferred down through the generations from mother in law to daughter in law; the daughters of the family were not taught. The reasons for this is that the daughters left the family when they got married, stav was originally a closed family tradition and they did not want the knowledge to end up in other families.
Traditionally in Scandinavia, sejd was done by ladies referred to as Völvas, the Icelandic poem Völuspá is about a Völva seeing into the future. The Völvas traveled around the countryside and offered their services. The Völva was according to the sources able to predict the future or to be able to solve specific problems with the help of the spirit world. The Völva were highly regarded and seen as female priests, it is understood that most Völvas were older females. There have been many graves of Völvas found in Scandinavia, and they are usually quite easily identified since they contain objects associated with the Völva and sejd. Their graves usually contain a so called Völva stave, which is an iron rod that helped them in their work. Often the archeologists find herbs and plants amongst the grave goods that would help the Vövla in her shamanistic work.
There are modern neo pagans who do sejd, but they usually do sejd with the aid of a drum, which is something that is borrowed from the Saamis; the indigenous people of northern Scandinavia. There are not all that much specific information about sejd in the source material, but the sources tell us that sejd was performed with vardlokk. Stav is unique in the sense that we solely work with vardlokk and never use any drums. Stav-sejd is also unique since it is the only known version of sejd that claims being part of a living tradition.
I personally have great respect for lokksejd, I have seen what a deep impact it has on people. Personally I would advise people to be very careful with sejd, an experienced sejd practitioner told me that strange things start to happen after a while, things you cannot really explain nor control. I have noticed that some people do have a “happy-go-lucky” attitude towards sejd, and I do not really feel that it is appropriate.
The next rune in the bindrune is the ur rune, a rune connected with the god Vidar of the herse class. The health practice associated with Vidar is to work with megin.
The old Norse word megin means something like strength, power or might. The god Thor has his belt Megingjörð, when Thor wears the belt his already enormous strength is doubled. Within stav there is again a meaning that is not as clear in the written sources; megin is seen as the life force, comparable with the Asian concepts of Chi or Prana.
I have spoken with people initiated in magical traditions who see megin partly as our life force, but also as our magical potential. These people have the understanding that they have to build up their megin to be able to do magical work. They have the understanding that they can use other people’s megin if necessary, with other words; barrow or steal it from other people when they have the need. This would surely not be a very nice thing to do if the person was not aware of what was happening.
Out of a stav perspective we need to increase our own megin flow, and to rejuvenate our megin sources to stay healthy and strengthen our spiritual connections. The way to do this is amongst other things to do the rune stances, which according to the stav philosophy is the best way to accumulate megin. The megin concept within stav is very interesting, and one can say that the origin and flow of megin comes from the essence of the universe; to fully describe this philosophy in detail would really demand a long text of its own.
But the basic philosophy within stav is quite simple, when you learn to work with your own megin trough the practices of the system; you will also learn to direct your megin towards others. This can be done both with good intentions or with ill intentions.
If someone in our own proximity is wounded our ill, it is according to the philosophy within stav, possible to give from one´s own megin to the receiver. This is called “handpåläggning” in Swedish and “håndspåleggelse” in Norwegian. The English description seems to be “laying on of hands”. The wording is a bit problematic, because we do not actually touch the receiver. This type of healing has been practiced in the folk medicine throughout Scandinavia. Most of Scandinavia is quite rural and desolate, so up until fairly recently people in a lot of areas depended on wise elders when they became ill.
According to the stav philosophy we drain our own resources when giving megin to someone else, and therefore we must be able to regenerate our own megin. We may also exchange poor megin with the receiver, which simply means that if we are not able to regenerate our own megin and clear the negative energies out; we risk to become ill ourselves.
Megin flows through our body, and if the megin flow is blocked we are at the risk of getting ill, a good example is our backs. A lot of people sit too much these days, which weakens our backs and strengthens the wrong muscles in the body; as a result the megin flow is blocked. If we are not cautious we are at the risk of getting permanent problems over time.
I would advise the reader to go back to the initial bind rune and look again, notice how the rune of Thor and the ur rune shares the main stave of the bind rune; mått and megin feeds each other, when we gain physical strength it will increase our megin. When we increase our megin it will benefit our mått. Both deities associated with these runes are herse gods, and the herse is the type of personality that both needs physical and inner strength. Personally I would instinctively connect megin with Thor and mått with Vidar, which is the opposite from the idea within stav; but these two gods are very closely related so I suspect that they both to an extent cover both mått and megin. The healing bind rune are very thought through, which will become very apparent later in this text.
Modern science is for good reasons very skeptical about concepts like megin and practices like “laying on of hands”. But personally I really like the philosophical approach towards life that comes with the idea of megin; we are not separated from universe and our life force stems from outside our own bodies. It is also a very emphatic philosophy that we can share our own life force with other people who are in the need for it; if there is anything this world needs it is empathy.
The next rune is the rune ås, the rune of Oden. Oden is the king of the gods and the god of the kings. But the idea of the king is not comparable with the modern concept of inheritance. Pre Christian Scandinavia was a meritocracy in many ways, the king was elected and was thought to carry good spiritual capabilities. He was seen as the link between the gods and the people and he was also a spiritual leader who actively engaged in religious practices. The king was expected to hold knowledge and insights that other people lacked, and the king was supposed to be able to interact with the gods and to be able to understand and interpret their will. According to some scholars the abilities of the king may have been put to the test before he was elected.
The healing practices of the ås rune and Oden refers to “myrkgalder”, or dark galder. Myrkgalder is performed in the cover of darkness, those who work with dark galder will not reveal what they are doing or the intentions, perhaps they will not even disclose that something actually has been done.
To a degree this is the flip side of ljosgalder; ljosgalder and myrkgalder shares the same stave in the healing bind rune. Someone that is experienced in myrkgalder and that has bad intentions may be very dangerous for other people. But using things like this with ill intent towards others tend to rub off at the sender. If one reads the Norse myths one will notice that the gods who engage in aggressive magic quite often pays a high price for it.
I recently read an academic paper were the author noticed that Heimdall, just as Oden, were able to predict the future; but this did not seem to backlash on Heimdall as it does to Oden. The scholar couldn’t quite understand why it did not affect Heimdall. The difference is that Heimdall does not interfere, he just analyzes and explains what will happen if the gods peruse a specific path. Oden on the other hand interferes and manipulates how things unfold. This is also one of the differences between dark and light galder, when using light galder we only analyze the situation, but we do not manipulate it.
Even though myrkgalder sounds a bit unpleasant it can be used with good intentions, sometimes people are not in a mental stage where you can reason with them at the level needed to work with ljosgalder. Initially we can instead work with myrkgalder to get them back on track, once they are getting a bit reasonable again we can start to help them with ljosgalder.
Since this text works with a bind rune I would like to clarify that bind runes in essence are galder, but it depends on how we use them if it will be categorized as light- or dark galder. There are parallels to the stav bind runes, the most striking ones are the galdrastafir of Iceland. These magical staves were used up to modern times and there were many varieties; some helped to win in court, some helped in matters of love and some helped in battle. The Icelandic glima wrestlers kept staves in their shoes to help them win their bouts. Anyone that studies stav deeply would be able to construct their own bind runes for specific purposes.
As I previously mentioned; galder is also a way to use our voice, partly it is taught trough the stances. But there are also galder in form of verse that have been used in Scandinavia up until modern times. This form of galder are not really used within the stav practice of today. But I still find it relevant to mention it, because it gives a broader understanding of the concept of galder. These galders consisted of short magical poems with the aim to heal broken bones or stop bleedings, or perhaps to get back at an enemy.
The oldest galders that I am aware of are the two Merseburg galders, they stem from 800 AD in Germany. The first one seems to be battle oriented with the aim to free men that has mentally frozen on the battlefield. The second one calls for Wotan (Oden) and other deities to heal a broken leg of a horse. Versions of this galder has been passed down in Scandinavia.
Out of stavs definition these types of galders would be regarded as myrkgalder- they were secret and transferred from one generation to another. They were not disclosed until they were no longer seen as useful and younger generations could tell researchers what their elders did.
The following galder was written down in Sörmland, the Swedish province where I am located, sometime around 1860-1870; the aim is to heal an injured horse. Even though they are a thousand years apart, this galder is almost identical with the second Merseburg galder.
The galder in Swedish:
Dåve red över vattubro, så kom han in i Tive skog; Hästen snava mot en rot och vrickade sin ena fot. Gångande kom Oden:
-Jag skall bota dig för vred, kött i kött, ben i ben, jag skall sätta led mot led, och din fot skall aldrig sveda eller värka mer!
Loosely translated by myself:
Dove rode on a bridge over water, and entered the forest of Tive. The horse trampled over a root and sprained a foot. Oden came walking:
-I will heal your sprain, flesh to flesh, bone to bone, I will put joint to joint; your foot shall never cause you pain nor suffering again.
The above galder is actually a good example of old Norse metric verse, and an example of the longevity of the Norse deities in Scandinavia. The forest of Tive could perhaps refer to Tiveden. Tiveden is regarded as a sacred forest, and the name has been interpreted either as the forest of Tyr or the forest of the gods.
Within stav; myrkgalder comes with an unwritten etic code, we do not mess with people without reason. The spiritual and psychological sides of stav provides the stavgode with powerful tools, which comes with a great responsibility.
The next rune in the bindrune is the björk rune- which belongs to the goddess Frigg. Frigg is the wife of Oden and she represents the matron of the house. The specific form of healing related to Frigg is Teinsejd, which refers to healing through herbs and remedies.
Tein means spruce or twig in Norwegian, the word occurs in other aspects of stav too. The word tein is quite interesting in relation to Frigg. Before the spinning wheel were introduced in Scandinavia the tool used was called a håndtein in Norwegian; a spindle in English. The spindle is associated with Frigg in the sources too, and a maternal family line in Scandinavia is referred to as the “spindle side” of the family.
In the stav tradition the mother of the family was responsible to collect and refine the herbs. She was the one that should be educated and have knowledge about herbs and remedies. First of all, the herbs are used proactively, if one eats a balanced and nutritious diet one is more likely to stay healthy, especially during the winter months. Scandinavian winter is not forgiving unless you have a super market close by, which people generally did not have seventy years ago. Ivar Hafskjold has told that his mother spent most of the year collecting berries and herbs and other things to provide the family with a nutritious diet during the winter.
The herbal cycle of stav follow the year cycle, simply put, things that are rich of vitamins are collected early in the year and eaten fresh when the winter supplies are emptied. During the summer and autumn plants and berries are collected that can be processed and stored for the coming winter. There are also special remedies and tinctures to address specific health issues as a cold or cough etc.
I have already mentioned a few times that all the runes within stav are associated with deities, elements, classes, herbs and trees, amongst other things. The herbs and tree associations give a good core for working with the herbal lore of stav. Those who are interested in magic would also benefit from knowing these associations. It is known that trees played a very important role in the pre Christian Scandinavian cult. Many of the places of worship were concentrated around a “vard tree”, and many of the places of cult were enclosed by specific types of trees.
The problematic thing is that these herbs are Scandinavian and a lot of them are not found in other climates. But notice how this bind rune is constructed- sejd and tein sejd shares the same stave. Partly this is because they are both feminine practices, and Frigg and Freya is closely connected in Norse mythology. But as with mått and megin and galder; lokksejd and teinsejd feed each other! The specific knowledge about the different plants is regarded to stem from sejd. If they traditionally encountered an illness that they did not know how to heal; lokksejd would have been the way to try to find knowledge about what to do, or which plants to use. But it also goes the other way; knowledge about teinsejd can be very beneficial if one wants to explore lokksejd.
It has taken me more than five thousand words to describe the knowledge encoded and concentrated within one single bind rune; that consists of seven runes! Still this text is just an introduction, and there is so much more I could write about this topic. Written text is very crude compared to illustrating knowledge with runes, the geniality of stav is that a lot of information can be condensed into a single graphical image.
It would take a weekend to introduce a student to the methods described within this text, then it would take a few years to become comfortable working with these methods. But it would take a lifetime for someone to really master all of these techniques. Once one is fairly comfortable with the stav perspective the next step is to investigate other traditions, and to compare the knowledge of stav with the knowledge of similar Scandinavian practices. Stav is firmly rooted in the Norse tradition and I have personally found a deeper understanding of stav by studying Norse mythology and tradition.
As a byproduct of this text I hope that the reader gets an understanding of the systematic approach of stav. I also hope the reader get a feeling of the nature of the bind runes; how they flow clockwise- like the year cycle. But also how the bind rune pair runes together and groups the runes in triples, each rune will stand next to two other runes. All these aspects encoded within the bind runes; circular movement, pairs, opposites, and triples are essential within Norse mythology. Someone who really are able to apply this on the runes and mythology have understood a great deal of Norse mysticism.
StavPosted by Angerboda Sun, January 31, 2016 17:28:58
This weekend, at the
start of the month February, we celebrate one of the six festivals of the stav
calendar; the winter thing. I will try to describe what we celebrate both out
of a historical context and the specific way the festival is regarded within
the stav tradition. In the stav calendar there are two things, labelled as the
winter- and the summer thing. They are held during the coldest part of the
winter, and the hottest part of the summer.
The historical things
can be described as democratic gatherings where the freemen of the society could
settle disputes over land or in dealings. Either the disputing parties came to
a settlement or the thing could make a ruling. Any free man could raise their
voice no matter of their social status, and the ruling was binding. The winter
thing was also the place where the coming year was planned, for instance the
dates of the festivals of the coming year was announced at the thing. In the
pre Christian Scandinavian society they did not have a fixed calendar as we do
today. I would suspect that the winter thing also were the place where they
planned the coming Viking voyages of the year.
When the thing was
initiated they would declare “tingsfrid”- witch simply means “peace of the
thing”. Any crime or act of violence would be punished harder if committed
during the peace of the thing, those who attended the thing should feel secure;
the peace included the travel to and from the thing.
No one was above the
thing- kings were elected and denoted at the thing. Some scholars argue that
the ancient things make up the roots of the modern Scandinavian democracy and
peoples trust and respect for the judicial system. The thing created a sense of
justice; people could bring their case to the thing and the society would
protect their rights as freemen. Due to the current developments in Scandinavia,
this ancient respect for the law has started to erode.
Those who committed
atrocities could be deemed as outlaws and lawless at the thing; they were not
protected by the law and anyone that supplied them with food or shelter would
face hard penalties. Anyone was free to kill them whenever they were found. These
criminals would often be doomed to live outside society for a set number of
years- and in the Viking age society that was a very hard penalty. People were
dependent on the protection of society to be able to live in the harsh
conditions of Scandinavia. For people that were not well situated or that
lacked contacts in the other Scandinavian kingdoms; being doomed lawless could in
effect be the same thing as a death sentence.
But the thing was not
only a judicial institution; at the things there were also religious rituals
and practices. The famous account by Adam of Bremen about the sacrifices of
Uppsala, so called blots, took place at the Disting. The Disting is the
specific name used in Uppsala; but the festival corresponds with the winter
thing of stav. The Disir are female entities of the Norse mythology and Freya
is often referred to as Vanadis, the “dis of the Vanir”. Uppsala was the
cultural and religious centre of Viking age Sweden, and perhaps of the entire
pre Christian Scandinavia. Every ninth year they held an extra spectacular
festival at the Disting; this festival is spectacularly described in the book “Deeds
of the Bishops of Hamburg”, that Adam of Bremen wrote between 1073 and 1076.
There were also an
annual market arranged in conjunction with the Disting, to this day the first
Monday and Tuesday of February the Disting market is still arranged in Uppsala.
There is not much of the old grandeur left; but there are an unbroken line between
the market of today and the one arranged during the Viking age. This is one of
many small examples of the unnoticed continuity of the pagan customs of
There have been some
debates on the issue of how many days the big ninth year Disting festivals were
held- Snorri Sturlason says it was held over one week, while Adam of Bremen
says it was held for nine days. The scholar Andreas Nordberg argues very
convincingly that the actual market was held for seven days- with the blots and
religious ceremonies facilitated during the evenings.
In addition the festivities
were opened with a day of a thing- and the first sacrifices were held later
that evening. After the seven days of market and evenings with sacrifices the
festivities were closed by an ending day with a thing; but no religious
ceremony during the last evening.
Nordberg has very
solid arguments: the medieval Christian distings where still held for two consecutive
days; they had simply removed the religious part in between.
-By opening and ending
the festivities with the thing, they were able to expand the peace of the thing
to include all festivities.
-The seven days of
market and ceremonies and two days of things are also the only way to
mathematically add up the amount of animals that according to the sources were
sacrificed during the rituals.
The theory of Andreas
Nordberg is that the religious sacrifices started the first evening after the
first thing- and then continued to the last evening of the market and blots.
There were no sacrifices conducted after the ending day of the thing; the ninth
night was the night were all the magical rituals of the previous eight evenings
would come into effect. If the festival was celebrated in this 1+7+1 order it
becomes very interesting out of a stav perspective. Within the stav lore both 7
and 9 are very significant numbers, which differentiate from mainstream Norse paganism
were most people just regard number 9 as a significant magical number.
The incorporation of
both the key numbers of seven and nine into the festivals of the Disting- reminds
of the way that the runes of the futhark are viewed within the stav lore. The
sixteen runes can be separated into 9+7 to add up the mythological associations
of the runes. This also corresponds with how the traditional opening and
closing ritual of the rune stances were conducted; 1+7+1 equals 9. The modern
variation of the ritual is performed 1+9+1. I am deliberately a bit vague about
this; but I hope the senior practitioners of stav will get something to think
Since the stav
tradition was kept and maintained within a family of a small community; the
judicial aspects of the festival became less important- and the winter thing
evolved into more of a family oriented feast. Ivar Hafskjold has told that
there was still a market arranged in his home village at the time of the winter
thing. A respected Swedish scholar has stated that throughout Scandinavia
traditional markets were amongst the longest living reminiscence of the old
The deities associated
with the winter thing of stav are Frigg and Thor; and the winter thing is
regarded as a feminine festival. Frigg symbolises the feminine and the matron
of the household. In the stav tradition the women were responsible for
arranging the winter thing. The wives baked a traditional Norwegian honey cake
and there were apparently some rivalry about who were able to bake the most
delicious cake. Honey cakes are not stav specific for this festival- they are
commonly eaten in Norway at this time of the year. Honey cake is a very old
Scandinavian pastry; they were supposedly eaten as far back as during the Viking
Thors relation with
the winter thing is partly because he is regarded as a herse deity within stav;
the herse is the class of law and justice. Thor is also the god associated with
strength and power- at the market in the home village of Ivar Hafskjold the men
competed in trials to see who the strongest one was. These types of
competitions are very old in Scandinavia, and they are still held at festivals;
most notably around the midsummer parties in Sweden. These competions are
usually undertaken in a friendly manor, but still with a degree of seriousness
associated with them.
In old Swedish tongue the
month around January was labelled as thorsmanadher, the month of Thor. In
Iceland they celebrate Þorrablót around this time- a festival around the month
of Þorri. During the modern celebration they eat and recite poems dedicated to
Thor. As a side note: The Icelandic letter Þ is pronounced Th- as in the
English pronunciation of thing- or Thor. This Icelandic letter is actually the
only rune that made it into a modern alphabet; and the letter Þ is in essence
the same as the rune labelled Thor within the stav futhark.
The stav calendar is
woven in a very intriguing way, during the counterpart of this festival- the
summer thing; we will find deities relating to the deities associated with the
winter thing. This pretty much goes for all the festivals during the year-
there is nothing random about the stav calendar. The stav calendar is very
helpful for those who are interested to understand how the Norse deities relate
to the year cycle- and as everything in stav it is created around the Hagl
rune. The stav calendar also corresponds very well with the preserved knowledge
about the pre Christian year cycle. The calendar is a topic of its own- and I
hope to address it in due time.
The Christians tried
to wipe out all the pagan festivals celebrated in Scandinavia, but they were
not that successful; in most of the cases they had to settle with disguising
the pagan fests in Christian clothing, or trying to merge the Christian and
pagan celebrations. Today most people on the Scandinavian Peninsula do not take
too much notice of the winter thing; most people recognize this feast as the
starting point of the obsolete Christian lent. In Norway people eat their honey
cake, and here in Sweden we eat our Semla; a traditional sweet roll that have was introduced sometime during
early medieval times. Most of us have no idea that this is an ancient festival
that were significant to our ancestors- but that is of less importance! The
thread may be thin but it is a long thread that goes back through our oldest
ancestors all the way back to the gods.
Do you want to
commemorate the winter thing? Bake a honey cake! Don’t forget to light up a bee
wax candle on your altar.