Nordic Animism Podcast With Rune Rasmussen
We were fortunate enough to talk to Rune Rasmussen about Nordic Animism and his upcoming Runic calendar and book which will be available soon on the Northern Fire website. Rune is historian of religion who describes himself as an anthropologist. His main focus for his PHD was actually in Afro Atlantic religions but through his studies, he has looked into Nordic religion to gain new perspectives on how to look at these religions.
In the podcast, Sean and Rune explore some of the traditions of engaging and respecting the spirits of landscape, seasons and nature in the North Western part of Europe. Alongside the podcast that you can listen to below, we wanted to go into a little more detail about some of the things the guys discussed...
The Runic Animist Calendar
The idea of creating a calendar started from his interest in Nordic reckoning and the idea of using runes as a way to keep track of time. He became aware that there is a lot of material out there that people just don’t know about and wanted to share that knowledge.
The Nordic Animist Calendar is available on Northern Fire here.
Without wanting to give too much away (as we would definitely recommend reading Rune's book about the Runic Calendar), our modern months are fixed in relation to the solar year which is why certain festivals and the solstices fall around the same dates each year. However, previous calendars related to the lunar calendar which was in relation to the phases of the moon. This means that on the Runic Calendar, every day around the year has a runic signature or 2 runes that mark each day; the first marks the week day in relation to solar year and the latter marks the day in relation to the cycle of the moon.
The Nordic Animist Year is a book by Rune Rasmussen which is also available on Northern Fire here.
Saint Erik of Sweden
In the podcast, Sean and Rune discuss the appropriation of symbolism in the conversion from old Norse religions to Christianity. One of the examples they discuss is how symbolism consistent with the Aesir god Freyr is used in remembrance for King Eric of Sweden who was martyred at Uppsala in 1160 and became a Christian saint. He is often depicted with a blooming branch as well as a sword and Swedish traditions included processions on his feast day from the cathedral to Old Uppsala to petition for a good harvest. Similarly, Freyr was the Norse god most associated with a bountiful harvest which seems like too much of a coincidence for there to be no link whatsoever.
The relic casket of Saint Eric is on display today in Uppsala Cathedral (image above) and although with saints and martyrs from this period, relics and remains are often displaced / lost / false, it seems highly likely that his remains are intact. A forensic analysis conducted in 2014 showed healed wounds consistent with battle injuries (he campaigned in Finland during his lifetime) and also wounds consistent with his death (decapitation and stab wounds to the back, an area which would have been covered with armour during a battle).
Today, Eric is still the patron saint of Sweden and his head appears on on the coat of arms for the city of Stockholm.
The Bryggen Rune Sticks
The rune sticks can be found in the Bryggen museum in Bergen, Norway. For many, sticks such as these will have been simply used to pass on messages in a similar way to a letter or short note. Amongst the sticks is an ominous message between husband and wife instructing the other to come home as they had evidently spent too long in the ale house… However, amongst the other rune sticks found, there are religious inscriptions and magic charms showing the crossover period between Pagan and Christianity. It was quite common for Christianity to appropriate existing customs and practices as a part of the conversion process but it is fascinating to see both magic charms and religious Latin inscriptions side by side.
Rune Sticks at Bryggen Museum
One of the traditions involving horses touched upon during the podcast hails from Wales where the natives have some odd traditions...
This horse skull was decorated by Sacred Knot Tattoo for our Winter Celebrations last year (photography by Jay Massie)
On Christmas Eve people go around door to door with a horse skull, usually mounted on a cloaked individual on a leash and sing for food and drink. The person behind the door is supposed to sing back the song and ask why they should let them in. From here a freestyle song can take place. This is meant to be conducted in Welsh, the language descended from the pre Saxon people of Britain.
The Mari Lwyd enamel pin designed by Sacred Knot and Dyrs Hjarta Art. Available now on Northern Fire
It is also interesting to note that in Jutland, Denmark, there is also a tradition where a "hell horse" is sacrificed around the time of modern day Halloween. The horse in question was usually old rather than particularly hellish and was left out in a frozen field to starve to death as an offering.
Or maybe the horse skull tradition goes back as far as the times the White horses were carved into the hillsides in South England. Overall, there are 16 hills in England (mainly Wiltshire) containing white horses made from exposing the underlying chalk. We will probably never know the reason for this veneration but clearly across a number of cultures and across a number of time periods, the horse was important...
Photograph by planb photography and you can read about other chalk horses on their website here.
King Aun of Uppsala
During the podcast, Rune makes reference to the story of King Aun from the Yngling saga in relation to the cycle of festivals at Uppsala. For those unfamiliar with this story, the Ynglinga saga itself was written by the Icelandic poet Snorri Sturluson in the 13th Century and is effectively a history of Norse kings starting with the gods and refers to the founding of the Yngling dynasty at Uppsala, Sweden.
According to this saga, King Aun himself was a 5th Century Swedish king who ruled from Uppsala and was known for his wisdom and for his preference for peace over war. When attacked by a Danish prince, Aun was forced to flee from his capital and live in Västergötland where he lived for 25 years until the prince who attacked him, Halfdan, died.
Returning to Uppsala as an old man of 60, Aun chose to offer up his son as a sacrifice to Odin in return for a longer life and was told that this act would allow him to live for another 60 years. However, 25 years later, Uppsala was attacked once more and Aun was forced to flee to the North west. As before, the foreign invader ruled at Uppsala for 25 years before his death.
Once again, King Aun returned to Uppsala and realising that 50 of his promised 60 years had passed, decided to sacrifice another son to Odin hoping for a longer life. Instead, Odin informed the king that he would remain alive for as long as he sacrificed one of his sons every 10 years and for each son he sacrificed, he was to name a province of Sweden after the number he sacrificed. The king agreed and continued to live although his body became weaker and weaker with age. Finally, after the sacrifice of his 9th son, he was so old, that he had to be fed like a baby suckling on a horn. Even so, he was intent on sacrificing a 10th son but this time, the Swedes refused. The old king died in his bed of old age soon after and was buried in a mound at Uppsala.
This depiction of the story of King Aun was created by Dyrs Hjarta Art specially for this blog. You can see the old king overseeing what he hopes will be the sacrifice of his 9th son to an ever watchful Odin above...
Whitby Krampus Run
During the podcast, Rune mentioned the annual Krampus run in Whitby which is an event we had not heard of before now... Looking at the video below, I think after Covid restrictions end, we may end up there!
In modern day Scandinavian countries, the tradition of the Julebuk (or Yule Goat) is merged with general Christmas/Yule decorations and the goat is often made by trying straw together with a red ribbon.
However, in the past, the tradition looked quite different to the decorative remembrance today and according to sources from the 17th century, the Yule goat was a regular occurrence across Scandinavia. Back then, someone from the village would dress up with a goat skull on their head and go into the houses shouting insults and generally causing a scene! The Yule Goat is then rewarded based on quality of his performance with amongst other things, beer and once he had taken his fill (and of course finished insulting the household), he would move on to the next house!
It is unclear where this tradition began or what it was to symbolise but many have suggested that the goat is associated with the Norse god Thor and his goats Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjóstr) who pull his chariot across the sky. This would make sense as the winter would be a time where food is scarce as amongst the Norse myths, we are told that Thor once slaughtered his goats in order to provide food when staying with a poor farmer who had nothing to spare. The next morning, the deity brought his goats back to live using his hammer Mjolnir and carried on his journey.
We will leave it up to you which tradition you prefer to follow but in Llandudno, as there is no shortage of goats, maybe it is time to introduce the Julebuk custom to Wales!
Blog Compiled and written by Duncan Reed
Find out more about Nordic Animism and follow Rune's work on YouTube here.