Heathen Kinship Blessings
Harvest Blessing is a celebration of the bounty that we
have received from Midgard over the past year.
During this time of year the Vikings were at the tail end
of the bountiful Summer season. They have been experiencing a full diet
with fruits, nuts, meats, and vegetables. The Harvest blessing was
traditionally celebrated on the first full moon after the fall equinox.
During this time the vikings would have to decide what food stuffs they were
going to try to preserve throughout the winter that was coming, and what food
stuffs would be better eaten before it spoiled. Animals that seemed too
weak to survive the winter might be culled now, rather than waste valuable feed
on an animal that might not survive the winter.
Harvest Blessing in modern times is a time when we all
get together with our kindred families and give thanks to all the gods and
goddesses (but especially to Freyr). Our focus is on the things that we
have accomplished in the last 12 months. We recognize that whatever we
have achieved (or haven't achieved) is a result of our own hard work, and that
good hard, steady work produces good results. As Heathens we may ask the
gods for strength to accomplish what we need to do, but we do not ask them to do
things for us. This is one of the primary differences that set Heathens
apart from other religions. During the Harvest blessing we take credit for
the things that we have done, but we still thank the gods for giving us this
bountiful world on which to do those things!
Sometimes referred to as Lithasblot, lammas, loaf-fest,
Freyfaxi, or Hlaefaes
harvest festival; giving thanks to Urda (Ertha) for her bounty. Often alms are
given to the unfortunate at this time, or loaves in the shape of the fylfot (the
Sun-wheel, which fell into regrettable disrepute during the dark times of the
second World War when the symbol was perverted as a symbol of chaos and
darkeness). Interestingly, Lithasblot 1941 was allegedly the time when the
magical lodges of England performed rituals to keep the Nazi forces from
invading their country; which may have worked, since Hitler eventually abandoned
plans to invade Great Britain. Lithasblot has long been associated with
ceremonial magic and magical workings.
In Heathenry, we dedicate this holiday to Freyr,
one of the highest gods of the North – and a particular favorite of the Swedes.
Historically the Swedish royal family, the Ynglings, claimed to be descended
from him. Freyr is a fascinating character and completely different than the
wilder gods he shares Asgard with.
One of the main ideas behind polytheism is the idea of tribal gods – that
certain gods associate themselves with certain people, becoming the patron gods
of a particular tribe. So Zeus, Posiedon, Aphrodite, etc. are patron gods of the
Greek people. Lugh, Morrigan, Bridget, Epona, etc. are gods that watch over the
Celts. Isis, Seth, Osiris, Horus, etc, are the tribal gods of the Egyptians.
Jehovah is the tribal god of the Jews. Shiva, Ganesh, Lakshmi, Kali, etc are the
tribal gods of India. These gods are not in competition with each other for
followers; watching over all of humanity is a big job.
The Northern people extended tribalism and recognized two sets of gods – the
Aesir and the Vanir – although they only worshipped the Aesir. According to
Norse myth, there was a great war between the Aesir and the Vanir which ended in
favor of the Vanir, although it was a tough fight on both sides. The peace
treaty included an exchange of hostages, and the Vanir sent the Aesir three of
their favorite members – Njörðr (say Nyore-thur, with the “th” like “they”) and
his twin children Frejya [Fray-uh] and Freyr. The three Vanir quickly integrated
themselves into their new home in Asgard, and the twins Frejya and Freyr became
two of the most worshipped deities of the North.
Freyr is a fertility deity, and likenesses of him have been found with the same
over-sized man-parts that Priapus, Kokopelli, and other fertility gods from
around the world are proud to strut in statuary. So, what do man-parts have to
do with the harvest season? Well, in traditional cultures, the fertility of the
crops and fertility of humans were similar enough concepts to be spiritually
linked. In addition, in northern custom a field’s production (i.e. the fertility
of a field) was directly linked to the luck of the town’s chieftan (and hilarity
ensues regarding the size of the chief’s…fields). In fact, one of the rare forms
of human sacrifice found in Norse history is when years of continued “bad luck”
– natural disaster or warring neighbors or whatever – caused a village to rise
up and demand their leader offer himself as a sacrifice to appease the gods
(thereby making room for a new leader who would hopefully change their luck. Or
at least be less crappy at his job).
Because of this tie between the town cheiftans and the
luck of the fields, it makes sense that Freyr, a fertility god, was also
considered a god of good leadership, encouraging frith and
prosperity for a community. While chaotic Odin was appealed to during times of
war for his cunning and battle rages, civilized Freyr was turned to during times
of peace. In fact, “Freyr” means “Lord” in the British sense of aristocracy
(remember that the theory behind an aristocracy is that they will take care of
people as benevolent leaders – that they will be “noble” in both senses of the
word). In some places, Freyr is known as Yngvi-Freyr, or “Lord Yngvi”, and some
historians theorize that the god’s actual name is not Freyr, but Yngvi, but that
people called him “Lord” (much as Christians often call their god Lord instead
of Jehovah) until Freyr became regarded as his name
Freyr is also ruler of the elves and when he cut his first tooth the other gods
gave him Alfheim as a present. He owns a magical boat called Skíðblaðnir
[skeeth-blawth-near] that always has a favorable wind and will fold up to fit in
your pocket, and he rides a chariot pulled by a boar called Golden Bristles
(because his bristles glow in the dark). And that’s just the coolest name EVER
for a pet boar.
Another popular story about Freyr is told in the poem Skírnismál.
[skeer-nis-mall] Freyr sits on Odin’s chair, from which he can see the whole
word, and spies Gerðr, a beautiful jötunn (the jötnar were the enemies of the
Aesir). He falls madly in love at first sight, and his servant/good friend
Skírnir offers to convince Gerðr to marry him in exchange for Freyr’s famous
sword that never misses its mark. Freyr readily agrees, and from this point on
Freyr fights his battles with a pair of antlers (in fact, his future death at
Ragnarok, the Norse Armageddon, is credited as being because he gave up his
sword for love). Many people view the story of Gerðr and Freyr to be symbolic of
the union of rain (Freyr) and Earth (Gerðr) to make the harvest.
In all the records and histories I’ve seen Freyr
is beloved as a god that brings fruitfulness and peace, a god who is clever in a
fight but more concerned with matters of the heart than the battlefield, a god
who teaches wise decisions and strong ties of kinship. It is perfect to honor
Freyr at the start of the harvest and ask his blessing as our hard work – be it
in the field or in the workplace – bears fruit.
A blessed Hlæfæst to you and yours! (And if you want to ask Freyr to send Texas
some rain, that would be much appreciated!)