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.