The Alvablot season draws nearer. Now, I know that’s Samhain or even Halloween or possibly Allhelgona to some people, but for me, it has always been and will always be Alvablot. Two years back, word went around in some “fornsed” circles over here in Sweden that the Alvablot should be made a very public ritual, that one should publish photographs of your own loved and departed ones directly on the internet, and so on and so forth. Needless to say, this particular brand of stupidity never caught on – for obvious reasons, it might be less prudent to do so – and we are now back to celebrating Alvablot as it always has been celebrated, according to Asatro. Here, I should like to add that I find most of the “fornsed” environment, small as it is – it’s getting smaller by the day – extremely shallow and sometimes lacking in even basic knowledge, nor very successful in its attempt to create an artificial culture, all of its own.
And speaking of shallowness… if anyone out there finds this blog objectionable, or too polemic, for whatever reason – I can’t think of any one – can you, oh gentle and well esteemed readers – and you’re still reading this, then – my mind isn’t the only one being overly shallow,.. or so it would seem.
Alvablot is supposed to be a quiet, dignified time of celebration for the dead. It is a time when you should be remembering your departed loved ones, and those who have gone before you. This is best done in solitude, and in silence, without pumpkins, trick or treating, ghouls, ghosts or whatever trappings stores now try to sell to us. Surely, no one within their right mind would remember their departed ones in such a way, although to some, any excuse, new or old, is a reason to get drunk or to celebrate – like children or young adults always do, and always have done, for that matter. Not that it matters much to me. I choose to spend an hour, this dark evening – ahead of a gathering storm – in memory of the very first Heathen or Pagan I ever knew – closely – and who died – peacefully and which much dignity – as a Heathen woman too, at the ripe old age of 95 years.
She survived two out of three of her own children, five siblings – all her older relatives, and at the time of her death, she was mourned by seven grandchildren, 12 great grandchildren and what remained of her generation, since by that time, she was the oldest living person in her home village – a place called Väsby, Luggude Härad (once Ljotgodaland – Ljot has nothing to do with an old Norse word for bright, it is a form of “Göt” or Gaut, that is to say to pour, as in to perform a libation, or Blot – “Ljote” in Dalecarlia or Up-Sweden later became a term for the devil) which never amounted to very much. Today, it’s just considered to be an outlying suburb to the old mining community of Höganäs (coal mine closed in 1961) and only houses some 300 people, in all.
Once you begin to overturn stones in the area, though – so to speak – you’d find that Väsby, named after “Ve” or “holy place” is very old, and indeed, the place crops up on the very oldest Swedish early 17th century maps of the province. Earlier, it used to be nominally Danish. close nearby lies another village named Kattarp,named after Freyja’s cats (once, it was spelled Katta-thorpe) or possible “cat” as a form of slur-word or curse – witches are commonly thought to keep cats, after all, although the term “cathouse” means something else… as does Hasslarp, another little village named after the old custom of “Hassla vall” or its hazel sticks, thrust into the ground, which is a common way of marking off a sacred enclosure….
Still – her world – when it began in 1903, was anything but ancient. Väsby had electric light, and running water at least in places. Some three households in the village even had telephones, an astounding modernity for the time.. just across the Sound, you could make out cities like Elsinore or Copenhagen, which already had some 300 000 inhabitants, and in the nighttime, these places shone brightly enough. She came from a long line of farmers, born into a farming community, but ended up a city dweller. Her first name, by the way – it had been carried in the family once before by a younger sister who died even before she was born – was Hilma, which comes from “Helm” or “Hjalmar” despite what it says on Wikipedia nowadays. A Valkyrie name, after a fashion, since it means “helmeted woman” . and come to think of it, it fitted her well, for if anyone was headstrong or stubborn, she certainly was.
Nordic langaugas, by their very construction, differentiate between older relatives on the father’s side, and on the mother’s side, which is traditionally seen as weaker. English and German languages do not. The word for maternal grandmother, in Icelandic, for example is Elli, which also is the name for the personification of old age, which Thor has to fight in the story of his journey to Utgårda-Loki, while the name of the paternal grandmother, on the other hand, is Edda, the great clan mother, keeper of knowledge and as old as the hills, capable of remembering a time before time itself, “arla i urtid, då örnar golo“
Now, my paternal grandmother would of course very vehemently deny any such claims to glory – or whatever. “I am not s-u-p-e-r-s-t-i-o-u-s” she would say with great emphasis, and always point out how much she hated superstitious people, “mindless superstition“, every habit too conservative, or any such… This was not the only thing she hated, though. She never was overly fond of christianity or priests to mention one thing, even though she ended up being married to one – my grandfather – for the better part of 35 years. For the rest of her life, though – 42 years in all, she preferred to live alone, visited on occasion by children or grandchildren from afar, or elsewhere in the country, but otherwise keeping very much to those she used to know from back home…
“Mindless Superstition” !
First time I noticed something peculiar about her, or what she really believed in – but never said a word about to outsiders – was at the tender age of four or five ( I can’t remember which) when I paid a visit to the old Väsby churchyard with her – where once a Gudahof stood. There is also a “hill of crosses” – not so grand as the Lithuanian ones (Siaulai isn’t the only one) or a small “boot hill” there, as the churchyard still incorporates what used to be bronze age burial mounds, and dominates an otherwise rather flat landscape. When we passed the church wall – it is always being restored, for some reason – the entire structure crumbles, even today – due to what it’s built upon – namely more of the dead – we saw a few headstones, that used to belong to her grandmother and grandfather in turn… “Now,” she said “granny and gramps will be arg, seeing this. Here their stones stand, removed from their graves, with no reason, uselessly…“. Very matter of factly – like children always do – I pointed out to her – she must have been some 65 years at the time – that if you were dead, you couldn’t see or feel nor hear anything much, but then, she explained to me what “arghet” really means. Now, to some – who do not know any better – the concept of “Aergi” or “Rag” means a kind of perversion of some sort.
Not to the people of Ljotgodaland, though.
“Arg” in German still means a fit of blind rage, uncontrollable anger, just like “ragr” for its part, stems from “rage”. At the Björketorp stone, in neighbouring Blekinge province, for instance, you will see an entire monument devoted to the power of “arg-ness” and with the very oldest found curse in runes, all over Sweden, stating that the one who destroys the gravesite, will be forever and ever cursed with anger.
“Uthabara Spá” – “Jag spår Fördärv !“
Now that – is only the surface of it. My paternal grandmother, you see, used to believe in the power of “ond hug” or “wishing unwell” although this isn’t something for the unwary, as it has its setbacks, as you doubtlessly are aware. But, let’s not move ahead of ourselves. Then, she turned to my as of yet five year old self and said, very calmly – as we came to the “hill of crosses”: “Now, turn my head away from the church, and the cross you see there. When I’m dead, turn my head so I can see the ripening rye, over in that field, over there. This is the land I came from, and in death, I want to return thence…“
She had other little mannerisms and traits too – although “one never should be s-u-p-e-r-s-t-i-o-u-s,” as already stated. She would draw an inverse “T” shape in the dough, when making bread, as her mother before her and many others before had always done – no reason really – except that “bread ferments better that way“. Much later in life, I got to know what this meant. The Sign of the Hammer, of course. Rain, from above, making the fields grow, as Thor and Freyr do meet. And again – little well-meant words of advice, muttered to my mother, and everyone else who had “married into” the family. “Du skall aldrig gå och lägga dig arg!” for instance – or “you shouldn’t go to bed while angry” – for if a woman – or a man – falls asleep with something still unresolved with her or his partner, as the case might often be, then anger can become an almost discorporate force, and cause cold spells, fever or more serious disease, the next morning thereafter, and if husband and wife sleep “on their anger“ for more than three nights in a row – well, you can consider that relationship to be over, and done with. Remedies do exist – there is nothing a good “kitchen witch” can’t fix – but I’d better not get into what the remedies are supposed to be.
As I grew older, and in my teens – I discovered certain books – in public libraries for the most part – like witchcraft researcher Bengt Ankarloos famous “Att stilla Herrevrede” (“curbing the Lord’s wrath”) – about a famous witch trial in the year of 1652-53 at Vegeholm, Asboland Härad, only some 30 km’s distant from Väsby. The last witch trial of Scania province – mind you – as well as the last death sentence for witchcraft, occurred as recently as in 1753, but in another part of the province, far to the south…
At 24 years of age, I was going to marry, in a neighbouring country – outside of Sweden – but still close to home. My old granny – whom I visited more and more seldom – didn’t offer any best wishes or consoling words, on seeing a photo of my wife to be. Instead, she predicted that the marriage would last four or five months, at the very best. She started out with little fussy things, which I considered to be “old wives tale’s” at best, like flaccid handshakes – never a good sign in a female, and worse still in a male – or “a woman not able to eat meat, or to handle her sausage” (strangely enough, I never even found one vegetarian that was much good in bed) and then proceeded to show me one of her family albums…
Even at 85 years of age, this “Edda of Eddas” still talked in a sort of singsong voice, at times, and with much convicition. I can’t really describe to you quite how she could sound or come across at times, but picture – if you will – a sort of female version of Ralhp Stanley, singing “Oh Death!” perhaps – but in a more pronounced southern accent.
Not that she was troubled much by the idea of death. In the mid 1980,s her hips joints were beginning to give out – she raised a family and three children through two world wars, and one major age of depression. She never made much of it, although at times, there are days when I suspect that there were certain things she withheld on purpose. Living close to the sound – and occupied Denmark, married to a priest, and involved with the Red Cross., she must have seen or known some… Certain village priests, in those days, ran a “lifeline” of sorts. She did tell me a little of it – of this police Constable in Helsingborg, name of Olson, and his superiors. Olson was all behated in town, after the war, and if anyone ever was the victim of “wishing unwells” he certainly was. As rumor would have it, Olson was a little too friendly with the German officers over at Elsinore, as not a day went past without him crossing by ferry, to discuss the refugee situation and whatnot. What no one knew, however; was that Constable Olson’s Husquarna Pistol holster would be empty – going back on the ferry – as he always made a point of washing his hands after coffee breaks, over at the German side of the straits. Years later, it was revealed that this one man was a member of the famous “Helsingörs Syklubb” which was anything but a sewing association for little old ladies – and while washing hands – he also passed along his m 40 Husquarna through the bathroom window, straight into the hands of members of the BOPA. As for these some 200 men, 39 did not survive the war. They all died for their country – Denmark – and were it not for Constable Olson, none of their 1000 actions of resistance wouldn’t have been possible.
Back to those family albums, and her prediction on why my first – and only – attempt on marriage wouldn’t last…
She showed me a photo of one family member from around 1880 – well before her day and age. Then, my grandfather and she herself while still young. Next, the wife of my uncle (twin brother to my dad) my mother and my wife to be thrown in there for good measure. What did all these women have in common, besides the fact that they all ended up being divorcees… – Well, not a thing. The time frames were different, the settings different, the clothes and hair colors and all such different… but one thing immediately struck me… the facial expressions were all the same… the eyes, general lenght, complexion and looks, all the same type of woman…
Now, that got to me, somehow…
We all like to think that life’s not pre-determined, and that there is no such thing as irrevocable fate, or destiny. Not when it comes to the “big” things in life, marriage, occupational choice, place of residence et cetera. Most “modern” people would deny any possibility of not choosing freely, or according to genes, rather than anything else (there is no other way to explain it – why would four generations of males within one family, one after another, choose the same type of spouse, at least in the “looks” department) – but my oldest living relative thought that she knew better, in this instance.
And she was right, of course. I still loathe her for it – but save that – we never had any other problems.
Other forms, which “ond hug” (read more about the concept of “Hugr” and what it is here) could take, would be a small whirlwind, or a vortex. If seeing this at a cloudy summer’s day, my grandmother would say “Ond hug går i rågen” and just leave it at that. Some people, usually a little more headstrong than others, would become “Hugstark” and could set discorporate entities in motion. She also used to believe in ball lightning, for instance, an electrical phenomenon that was denied and refuted by most scientists throughout the first half of the 20th century. It was only after rearchers began experimenting wih high volatge discharges into water (wartime submarines sometimes would be an environment where “artificial” ball lightning would be created) that it was proven to exist.
Ball lightning has rarely been captured in broad daylight, nor do people nowadays think that it can be controlled by will alone, made to “turn” or even insisted that it can be made to work like some sort of magical weapon against your enemies, which was the Ljotgodaland way of seeing things. Some time in the very rational and businesslike 1950′s, my own father saw a small ball of lightning in downtown Malmoe, as it bumped along the street after him, bouncing and hissing as it went on. Diving into a doorway, he rarely missed it exploding just above an iron manhole cover in the street, and when relating this episode back at home with some half-hearted words like “Id better look well to myself in the near future” his mother would go “Oh no son, you shouldn’t – but I tell ya – there are some other people round here, who had better look well to themselves“. And she just left it like that. Never even bothered to finish the sentence, or mentioning the “others” by name.. Needless to say, no one in the family ever saw another case of ball lightning again, but then – the phenomenon is supposed to be exceedingly rare…
When questioned about her innermost beliefs, she would answer very much like Turid, the old woman in one of the Kristninga Sagas, if my mind is correct about this one. Now, Turid was well over 80, when she met Thangbrand, the murderer and Saxon Missionary priest, as he arrived one day too late for the Allthingi. Turid, too old and too weak in the legs to walk home, would sit on a stone, sunning herself in the sun, when Thangbrand happened to come by, and asked her if she had heard about christ. Turied denied ever seeing him, saying that “no one ever saw or met christ, except like a dead image on a wooden cross” and then Thangbrand asked her if she was a woman of Thor, then. Turid answered that she wasn’t. “Never seen or met him either,” she said.
“But I tell you what” she went on to say – “The God who made sun has to be my God. By all accounts, he is good, as he makes the young men stronger, the women prettier, and sure as grass is green, that God wouldn’t mind me sitting here for a while, resting my tired old bones in the sun“.
Towards the very end, she almost went tired with the World around her. Not a good sign, and uncommon, as she didn’t exhibit it before. When the later infamous “Great Nordic Biker War” flourished at its worst – the Reinfeldt years weren’t long in coming – and her home town – Helsingborg – wasn’t like it used to be, someone shoved a hand grenade down the exhaust pipe of somebody’s car, right outside her driveway. As she now was a “senior citizen” a reporter came by, trying to make a radio interview (only time her voice ever went on tape, as far as I know) thinking he’d get a suitable answer, a bit “moral indignation” to gloat over.
The Hasslarp Sugar Mill
But in her sSouthern accent, she said something like this, but in Swedish…
“Well, y’all. I been livin’ here darn near my whole life, and once, young folks of Hasslarp and Kattarp used to kill each other with knifes, or pitchforks, up at the old sugar mill. And those boys that weren’t dead, all went to tha big house. But come new times, and in this day and age, they have all these newfangled motorcycles and them here ma-sheen guns and whatnot. Now, after my reckoning, he that Thomas Möller kid - he do good for the Angels – one grenade don’t do anything, but firin’ an anti-tank missile into his club house – now that is cheatin’ – and that here is the one thing I can’t stand…”
After that tirade, the reporter cut her off the air, so she never went public on the radio, although I sometimes think she should have. She almost came across like a Scanian version of “Ma Baker” perhaps – along the lines of “lies – you all lyin’ against my boys” but that, in retrospect, nor at the time, sums up anything of her character. She could be a wild woman at times, and as the youngest sister to four older brothers, she did have a mean streak in her, and it wouldn’t mellow out or soften the slightest with old age. She kept herself going throughout, and never accepted any help, nor did she want any help from society. I told you she was Heathen, and she died a born-again (and again and again !) Heathen too.
She could remember a great many things, and predictions that had gone all wrong, now that we have mentioned her attitude towards the press. Before World War one, it was thought that the advent of the telephone would make wars impossible. Surely, elder statesmen and diplomats could talk to each other, and therefore, newspapers said, World peace would be at hand. After World War one, it was believed that poison gas – lewisite, phosgene and other substances – would make war a thing of the past – or possibly eradicate all of mankind. As we all knew, neither prediction came true.
World War Two came instead, and at least according to herself, she could see it coming, already at the 1928-29 stage. After that – Atom Bombs – and more predictions about Peace on Earth for ever, and the Kingdom being at hand. My grandmother just shook her head, for her part, and kept on being a kitchen witch, well into the 1950′s. By the 1960′s they said that the advent of TV would change the World. Yet again, World Peace Being close at hand, Tv being so much better than old movie newsreels, bringing the uglier sides of human nature straight into your living room, som that you and the whole household would think up better ways to avoid it all. Later still – the Vietnam war – much televised – and still more wars – and very recently the coming of the Internet, which my grandmother also saw and witnessed.
It is not like she was very much impressed. Her whole attitude, finally, was one of “Packe schlägt sich – Packe Verträgt sich !” in German, or to say it in English – the more things change, the more they stay the same. People are no better, and certainly no worse than they used to be before, inventions or not, wars or peace, life or death, and that is all there is to it, really…
One early May morning – in Freyja’s own month -, she was found dead in her bed, and she died peacefully in her sleep, as she had retired to rest after a long working day. Among her last possessions was a poem, copied in a small notebook her daughter – who is still alive – gave to her once. It was by Pär Lagerkvist, a Swedish Nobel Price Laureate almost no one outside our country has ever heard about, and it goes like this:
Some day you will be one of those who lived long ago.
The earth will remember you, just as it remembers the grass and the forests,
the rotting leaves.
Just as the soil remembers,
and just as the mountains remember the winds.
May your peace shall be unending as that of the sea.