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.
StavPosted by Angerboda Tue, December 29, 2015 16:42:26
There are actually scholars who claim that we know absolutely nothing about the pre-Christian beliefs of Northern Europe. The poems and stories of the Eddas were written down by Christians in early medieval times, and according to these scholars we do not have any reliable sources of how the Norse viewed the world and the universe. There are undeniably some Christian influences within the written sources of the Norse mythology; but these scholars take this way too far and claim that the myths completely were made up by Christians. According to these people we do not even know for certain which gods the Scandinavians worshiped before they became Christians.
This could perhaps be plausible for those who know absolutely nothing about the subject, but the Eddas are supported by many other sources. There are illustrations on rune stones that show the same stories as within the Eddas. There are the famous pictures stones found on the island of Gotland that portray Oden and his eight legged horse exactly the same way as they are portrayed in the Eddas.
(Above- wooden figure of Odin- the picture was
taken at the historical museum of Oslo.)
There are place names found all around Scandinavia with the ending of hov, ve or lund, these endings indicates that these were places of worship. Often the first part of these place names is the names of the deities found in the Eddas. I just need to take the car around my area for an hour or so to pass by numerous places dedicated to gods such as Oden, Thor, Ull, Frej and others. One common name is Fröslunda- which means the grove of Frö/Frej, there are also places called Torslunda, Ullunda, Skadevi, Odensala etc.
The Scandinavian folklore supports the Eddas, through the folklore people had a living understanding of the gods up until modern times, and there were both stories and songs passed down from one generation to the next. One example is the song called “Hammarhämtningen”, the fetching of the hammer, variations of this song has been handed down throughout Scandinavia since pre-Christian times. The fetching of the hammer is merely a variation of the poem Þrymskviða that is found in the poetic Edda.
(Above- a rune stone in Södermanland, Sweden; with
an illustration of Mjölnir, the hammer of Thor.)
There are also stories written down by people who visited Scandinavia, or people who got in contact with the Norse outside of Scandinavia, there is also archaeological remains that support the information in the Eddas.
If we keep the above in mind, those who claim that “we have absolutely no knowledge about the pre-Christian beliefs of Scandinavia because everything was made up by Christians”- come across as uneducated and ignorant. Without taking it too far, we can claim that these people are intellectually dishonest, and in many cases it is quite obvious that these people have an agenda, for one reason or another. These people are not qualified to make any statements at all about Norse mythology.
(Above a picture of “Odens
flisor” located at the island of Öland in the Baltic sea. The folklore around
this monument supports the Eddas. There are several similar monuments called
“Odens flisor” in different parts of southern Sweden.)
There are also people that claim that stav is a modern invented martial art, and that stav is just copied from Japanese styles. One prominent member of the neo pagan community publicly stated that “stav is just people doing Aikido in Norwegian clothing”. This could perhaps be plausible for anyone that knows nothing of the subject. If this person knew anything at all about stav or Aikido he would quickly notice the differences. Stav is not a martial art in essence; it is a philosophical and educational system, the martial arts are just one of many practical expressions based on the philosophy within the stav tradition. Stavs philosophy is based on Norse mythology and the runes; therefor stav has a very different structure compared to Japanese martial arts.
The pre-Christian beliefs of northern Europe shared the same fundamental principles and the same pantheon, but the specific perspectives varied between regions, clans, or between different layers of the society. Myths with different perspectives are collected within the Eddas and therefor they differentiate a bit and put emphasis of different deities. A lot of scholars and neo pagans really have a hard time getting their head around the subject due to this. The version of the mythology described within stav is unique, since it is coherent and all the layers fit tightly together. The stav mythology has a different motor and driving factor compared to the Edda of Snorre Sturlasson, some of the deities are also described a bit differently. Some events within the stav mythology are also different compared with the medieval influenced descriptions of Snorre Sturlasson, and the mythology of stav is clearer about many specific details.
Within stav there is also a coherent description of the Norse cosmology, which is something that the Eddas completely lack. Once again, the cosmology within stav follows the written sources but takes the knowledge further and makes it meaningful. Most of the modern interpretations and illustrations I have seen of the cosmology do not follow the written sources even slightly.
The mythology and martial art of stav is systemized around the sixteen younger runes, the runes were the ancient letters used in Scandinavia before the church introduced the Latin alphabet. The runes served as a parallel writing language in parts of Sweden up until modern times. Within Stav the runes are primarily not used for writing, they are used as a memory aid to remember and internalize mythological associations. All of the runes are associated with deities, elements, classes and a lot of other things.
(Above – a rune stone in the town of Eskilstuna,
There are no contradiction between the understanding of the runes within stav and the perspective given by serious scholars, but stav takes the understanding further than the scholars. Stav connects and systemizes the knowledge in a way that it is not possible for scholars to do with the information they have at hand. But for us who comes out of a stav perspective, it is possible to reverse engineer a lot of the information by using linguistics and information found in medieval rune poems. The runes have names that imply certain associations, a couple of runes will be associated with deities through their names, and a couple of runes will be associated with trees. Some names of the runes associate them with elements, and so on. When modern neo pagans or scholars investigate these associations it gives a really fractured understanding of the runes and their associations. Within stav every single rune is associated with deities, trees, herbs, elements, animals and classes and more! All together this gives the sixteen runes hundreds of associations. The system fits very well with what is known from the sources, but it takes the understanding so much further.
Trough literary sources and folklore it is known that some of the deities are associated with trees and herbs- in stav all the deities have these connections. Through the sources some of the deities are associated with animals, or so called familiars, in stav all the deities have these associations. There are more familiars within stav than known from all the literary sources together- but even more importantly, within stav the knowledge of why these familiars are important is preserved.
The really unique thing with stav is that it connects the runes, the mythology and the cosmology into a coherent structure. You can follow a logical path from the runes, to the cosmology to the deities and back. This is not possible to do in any other contemporary system of Norse mythology or within the modern interpretations of the runes. Stav provides a graphic structure that helps the student to understand and analyse the mythology- again a very different perspective compared with the Eddas, but no contradiction. The poems of the Eddas and stavs visualisation of the mythology trough the runes completes each other.
(Above- the famous rune stone at Rök in
Stav also incorporates the classes of the Eddic poem of Rigstula into the structure. The understanding of the classes described within Rigstula is basically socio-economic and describes the levels of the society. Stavs perspective is more philosophical and spiritual- and very personal; again there are no contradictions, only a different perspective. My personal impression is that Rigstula and stav are parallel traditions. A lot of people studying stav have tried to understand the classes through Rigstula, which is fine; as long as you are aware of that they have a different perspective. In a modern context stav is the only Norse form of paganisms in which the classes are meaningful in a spiritual and practical aspect. Here in Scandinavia most neo pagans do not even bother trying to interpret the Rigstula, they do not find the poem relevant and meaningful.
Compared to modern neo-paganism; stavs structure enables the stav practitioner to focus on the deeper and important levels, instead of spending time trying puzzle it together. I have spent a lot of time studying stav in depth, and I have compered stav with the literary sources. I have also read a lot of academic papers covering norse mythology, specifically researching the areas were stavs mythology at first glance differentiate from the literature sources. Those who claim that stav is a modern creation simply come across as uneducated and ignorant. Often enough, it is quite obvious that many of the critics of stav have a personal agenda, for one reason or another. Over the eighteen years I have been involved in stav; I have heard a lot of negative opinions about stav, but so far I have not heard any qualified criticism.
Stavs authenticity or age has no real relevance for the practitioner- the only thing that is relevant is our personal gain. No matter if you are drawn towards stav from a martial arts perspective or out of a spiritual need; there is only one way evaluate stav- and that is by investing some time in researching the system. Perhaps you will find that it is nothing for you, or perhaps you will come to the same conclusion I did; that stav is something very valuable to you. Either way, do not let the self-proclaimed experts of the internet make the choice for you.
The first step to learning to know yourself through stav- is to quit being a “trell”! Trell is often translated as slave, but this is not really a correct translation. A trell is basically someone who is not free and who is not a master over his own destiny. In the pre Christian society a trell was someone who had to work for someone else, with little financial gains in return- but there were also trells that worked for the king and that were very wealthy. Historically a trell could be able to win their freedom. In the psychological perspective of stav- a trell is simply someone that is not capable of taking control of their own destiny, people who need others to tell them what to do and what is worth pursuing. Out of stavs psychological perspective; most trells would be able to win their own mental freedom.
(All pictures found in
this blog post were taken by the author- please feel free to use them as long
as you specify the source.)
(Above - old Uppsala, probably
the most prominent cultural and religious centre of pre Christian Scandinavia.)
StavPosted by Angerboda Wed, July 08, 2015 01:25:07
The ambition with this
post is to try to show the core of stav, through layers that most Stav
practitioners are not aware of. This has not been covered as extensively in
Stav has been labelled
as a martial art, but martial art is just one of the components within Stav,
and the martial aspect is not the essence of what Stav really is. Sometimes
Stav is described as a holistic system that covers body, mind and spirit. Stav
contains herbal lore, mythology and psychology and philosophy. All the
knowledge within the system is structured around the sixteen runes of the
The foundation of the
system is the rune stances- which is a daily ritual performed by the Stav
practitioners. It can simplified be described as forming the shapes of runes
with one’s own body. The stances has a meditative and spiritual dimension,
the stances also teaches the student correct breathing and aligns the body. The stances are the key to understanding the martial art
of the system, the stances teach the correct positions and movements. The
meditative state of the stances also develops the correct mind-set for the
martial arts. There are five different versions of the stances within the
system, one for each class. In their simplest form the stances is a convenient
way to teach someone the shapes and forms of the runes when there is no pen or
paper available. The more advanced forms, called galder stances, teach the
student the names and sounds and associations of the runes. The stances are essentially a way to transfer many
layers of knowledge in a systemised and structured way.
Stav is extremely
systemised; there is no other tradition of Norse paganism known today that
is as structured as Stav. Everything within the system follows the same
principles and the same logical path. There is one deity within the Stav
pantheon that represents logic, intellect and learning; Heimdall. Heimdall is
also regarded as the connection point between gods and humans- no interaction
between them is possible without Heimdall. Heimdall functions as a mediator
that helps the humans relate to the gods- but he also helps the gods to
understand the humans.
All the runes within
the system are important to make the system holistic, and all the runes within Stav
have connections to deities, animals, plants, trees, classes and colours amongst
other things. But there is one rune that is essential, the Hagl rune, which
also happens to be the rune connected with Heimdall.
Within the traditional
Stav lore the Hagl rune is stacked seven times to create an illustration that
visualises the web of Urd. All the individual runes are regarded to stem from
this illustration. According to the Stav mythology the web of Urd connects the
humans with the universe.
Within stav there is
also an illustration that is used to visualise the seven worlds of the
cosmology. The Hagl rune is the only rune within the younger futhark that could
be used for this purpose. It is only logical that the rune is the rune of
Heimdall, since Heimdall is seen as the connection point and guardian between
the worlds. Heimdall is not an active defender such as Thor though. Heimdall
stands watch and warns the other gods when danger is coming. Heimdall awaits
Ragnarok, but it is not his task to try to prevent what is unavoidable.
There are several
traditional bind runes preserved within the tradition. These are constructed
with the Hagl rune as the carrier; again, the Hagl rune is the most suitable of
all the younger runes. The purpose with the bind runes is to learn and memorize
important knowledge. All the mythological knowledge that is associated with the
runes is utilized when constructing or decoding the bind runes. The bind runes
are read clockwise, but one also needs to consider the pairs and the triplets
that naturally occur around the Hagl rune.
The bind runes can
contain everything from mythological knowledge to practical information. The
bind runes help the student to evolve the thought pattern one tries to learn
when studying stav. It is appropriate that the bind runes are created around
the rune that is associated with the deity that represents logic, learning and
There is a traditional
calendar within the Stav tradition, it is constructed around a Hagl rune; all
the other runes of the younger futhark has been placed in a specific way around
the staves of the Hagl rune. The calendar shows the festivals over the year,
and how all the deities relate to the year cycle. No other rune within the
younger futhark could be utilized for this task either. I would recommend those
who study Stav to really take time to understand the calendar. Apart from Easter,
which is the only genuine Christian infusion to the Scandinavian festivals, the
Stav calendar shows the traditional celebrations of Scandinavia.
The Hagl rune is also
used to illustrate attack angles within the martial art of stav, it can also
show the movements and directions that the five classes prefers during a
Within stav the five
classes of the Norse mythology are essential, they are regarded as five
archetypical personalities that are necessary within a community for it to be
able to exist and prosper. The Edda poem Rigstula describes in detail how the
god Heimdall created the classes. Heimdall is reincarnated as human under the
name of Rig. Heimdall then forms and educates the classes in the different
areas they need to have knowledge about. The only class he does not educate is
the Herse class, I.E the warrior class. Heimdall also teaches the humans how to
interact with the gods. Within Rigstula the classes are described out of a
social- economic perspective, within Stav the classes are regarded more out of a
psychological and spiritual perspective. My impression is that the Stav
perspective shares roots with the views described within the Rigstula, but the
perspective within Stav makes up a parallel tradition.
Since the five classes
hold such a vital role within Stav, the Stav practitioner will have the
opportunity to study Stav based on his own needs and ability. When one has
reached a deeper understanding of Stav, one will have a personal version of the
system based on one’s own personality.
Stav has been passed
down through a family that has a very strong mythological connection to
Heimdall, Heimdall can be seen as their patron god. The theoretical frame work within
stav comes out of a jarl class perspective. Within the tradition Heimdall is
seen as the protector of the jarl class, in the same way as Thor is the
protector of the common people. The jarl is the type of person that tries to
gain an intellectual and structured overall perspective. Stav is unique in the
sense of how it connects folk lore, mythology,
runes and martial arts into a coherent system. In principle one will never leave the archetypical personality one belongs to,
but if one studies Stav for a longer period of time one will evolve a type of
jarl perspective since that is the perspective of the whole system. When
studying Stav one will also come to understand that all the classes are essential
in a society.
Heimdall really must
have been a much more important deity in the pre Christian Scandinavian society
than one can interpret from preserved sources and archaeology. Most of the
deities have lots of place names connected to them here in Sweden, Heimdall
stands out, there are hardly any names at all connected to him. There are no
signs at all that there been any cult directed towards Heimdall, even though he
gave humans invaluable knowledge. But considering how we view him within stav-
he is perhaps not the sort of deity that is honoured with gifts and offerings.
In the younger Edda of
Snorre Sturlasson there is an interesting reference out of a Stav perspective;
Snorre tells us that a kenning (euphemism) for Heimdall is the enemy of Loke. According
to the Eddas the animosity started when Loke
killed Heimdalls friend Ottar. Heimdall and Loke will eventually kill each
other when this world ends during Ragnarok. Too often these depictions are
regarded as trivia and left without any deeper conclusions. Within the stav
mythology Heimdall symbolises rational thinking and analytic capabilities and a
long term perspective. Loke is erratic and spontaneous and lives for the
Snorre also mentions a
kenning for head; Heimdalls sword. This kenning stem from the now lost galder
of Heimdall, so it is hard to really analyse the deeper meaning of it. But from
the perspective described within this text, it would be reasonable that
Heimdalls main weapon is his intellectual capacity.
Stav is a logical and
structured form of Norse paganism that is constructed around Heimdall and woven
around the Hagl rune. In essence Stav is a cult devoted to Heimdall, but
Heimdall is not honoured with offerings or worship. Heimdall is honoured with
the properties that represents his character; education and knowledge, logic
and structure. The gods needs to be honoured in an appropriate way to their