Monday, March 17, 2014

Sorting through Spirituality: Vanatrú in Heathenry

Freja by John Bauer
Public Domain
I have been a devotee of Nerthus for many years, before I knew Her name.  I often hear other Heathens talk about how Heathenry isn't nature-centered - and I know it's not necessarily earth-centered - but my Heathenry is, and always has been.  There's a lot of talk about Óðinn and Thor in the Heathen community, great warrior deities who fight the good fight, delaying Ragnarök.  Frey has His devotees, and Freyja is often talked about as a love deity.  But when people separate Heathenry from generic Paganism by saying that it's not earth-centered, full stop, I think this erases a very important part of the religion of my ancestors.

The Vanir are represented by Snorri as a separate tribe of Gods from the Æsir, and this has prompted the creation of the term Vanatrú (loyal to the Vanir) as opposed to Ásatrú.  Some contend the true separateness of the two tribes, especially in the Anglo-Saxon culture I work in; but there's no question that the deities traditionally identified as Vanir have different attitudes, rites, and expectations than the Æsir.  Frey's priests are described by Saxo Grammaticus as wearing women's clothing and dancing effeminately, and according to the Heimskringla, Njörðr married His sister (suspected to be Nerthus) and had children with Her - an action forbidden among the Æsir.

Though I have honored Nerthus for many years, it's only relatively recently that I began to explore a relationship with Frey and Freya.  Looking for more information on Them, I came across more and more references to the term Vanatrú.  I'd heard it before, mentioned in passing on forums or on some sites talking about Nerthus, but I'd never been very interested in exploring it further.  This time around, I decided to take a look.  Reading websites like Cena Bussey's Wane Wyrds and Gefion Vanirdottir's Adventurs in Vanaheim, and Svartesól's book Visions of Vanaheim, I felt the idea take hold somewhere inside me.  I'm not declaring myself Vanatrú - for one, separating myself from the general Heathen community is not something I'm interested in; and two, I tend to be more lore-based in my Heathenry than many Vanatrú practitioners - but the idea of a truly nature-centered way to practice Heathenry feels like home.

Civilization, culture, and society have their place in many religions; and I think a very important place in Heathenry.  I continue to honor Thunor, Frige, and Woden, because they are the Gods of my ancestors, and because I am a mother, a homemaker, and a scholar.  I can't always wear the hat of eco-activist, and I can't go out and live under the trees and stars, because I have a responsibility to my family and my community.  I can't sacrifice my life to Nerthus like Her slaves of old - but I worship Her.  I continue to honor and offer to the land wights around me.  And now I honor Her children as well; and in doing so I move closer to the cycles of the land, the circles of the Earth.. birth and life, death and decay.  Nerthus is leading me to Her people.  In one of his famous poems, Rumi wrote: "The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.  Don't go back to sleep."  In beginning to honor Ing Fréa and Fréo, I can just barely hear mumbled whispers coming from the dark earth.

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