Lesson Four of the Intro to Heathenry course deals with worship, the where and the how. In Part 1, we’ll go over some of the different Holy Steads; places of worship.
First of all, where do you live? In a city? In the country? An apartment?
If you are lucky you are living where you want to be and the way in which you worship can be adapted to those circumstances.
A holy stead is a place of worship, indoors or out, that has been hallowed in some way to define the space sacred. Hallowing can be achieved with a few words of intention, the placement of objects, sprinkling with blood or mead with the aid of a twig, or with a Hammer rite. Myself, I use words of intention in a ritual space, both indoors and out.
Some examples of Holy steads are the ve, frithgarth, groves, wild places, rivers-wells-springs, hofs, homes, howes or barrow mounds, and harrows.
An area set apart from daily activities. It is also called wih-stead, meaning filled with might. It is considered to be partly in this world of Midgard and partly in the hidden worlds. It can be defined by fences, or with posts carved with runes and filled with crudely, on not so crudely carved images of the Gods and Goddesses. Great care with word and deed is to be taken when inside the Ve.
Any enclosure, such as a yard or field where frith is maintained. A Fridh-geard, or fence of frith, was outlawed in England to prevent heathenism at one time.
Natural places of holiness consecrated to the Gods by the Germanic folk which were written about by Tacitus. Rites of communion, inspiration and divination were performed.
The ancestors often marked natural outcroppings, crags, tops of mountains, and often any high place was a good spot to commune with the Gods and Goddesses. Hildhskjalf, the Old Norse name for Odin’s seat is made up parts meaning high mountain and rocky crag.
Rivers, Wells, and Springs
Running water was thought to contain great might and was used to hallow objects for ceremonial use.
Originally a farmhouse used as a temple that shared as a dwelling. In later times only a temple, not a dwelling.
One’s personal home may be used like a hof by dividing a section, either permanently or temporarily to perform holy rites or religious celebrations.
Howes, or barrow mounds, where kin were buried and worshipped by their descendants.
Like an altar, traditionally outdoors, made of stacked stones, or a single large stone. Ale or mead from blessings can be poured on it. Blood of sacrifices made by the ancestors was poured on harrows.
Great steads are ancestral gathering places that were visited by communities far and wide. Generally they were maintained by holy folk in their respective communities. Great steads can be found across continental Europe in Denmark, Norway, Sweden, as well as, Iceland, Germany, and Great Britain.
Lejre, traditionally a seat for Danish Kings since the migration age. There is a large Viking Age burial site and a hallowed mound from the Iron Age.
Odense, on the isle of Fyn, is a name derived from Odin’s Ve.
Gudme, also on Fyn, is a name derived from Godheimr; World of the God. The remains of a Great Hall have been found there along with gold plaques stamped with figures believed to be Gods and Goddesses, including an image interpreted as the wedding of Freyr and Gerdr.
In Heimskringla, a temple with the image of Thor and another with Freyr is described as existing in Trondheim, although none exists there today, possibly destroyed by Olaf Tryggvason’s forceful conversion to Christianity upon the people in the tenth century.
Skogn is where a large burial mound called Alvshaugen can be found just north of the town’s church, dated to 300-600 CE.
Gamla Uppsala, or Old Uppsala is the home of a great temple described by Adam of Bremen. It’s roof was adorned with gold, a great evergreen outside and a well at its foot where sacrifices were drowned, and sacrifices, nine of every kind, where hung from the trees around it. The original location is not precisely known, although it is thought to be nearby to the three great burial mounds there from a description of the hills forming an amphitheatre around it.
There are many mountains in Iceland called Helgafell, or holy mountain. On one, it is said that if one is able to ascend to the top of the mountain without looking back or speaking, a wish will be granted.
Thingvellir is the location of the great Thing, or gathering, in older times.
Godafoss, the name of a waterfall, is the place where Thorgeirr the law speaker threw all his statues of the Gods and Goddesses after declaring Iceland a Christian nation. Visitors to Godafoss, in present day, offer gifts to the waters there, to the holy ones waiting in the depths.
Teutoberger Wald is where a group of natural stone pillars called the Externsteine stand. It is near to the place where Arminus drove back the Roman invasion of Germany.
Godesberg, Wodan’s mountain, is where the Franks worshipped Odin.
Drachenfels, the Dragon’s Crag, is where Sigurdr slew the dragon Fafnir, according to legend.
Many barrows and menhirs were set up by the inhabitants of Britain before the coming of the Celts. The celts maintained them as did the Anglo-Saxons that came after. Later, Christian churches were built on these sites.
Near Uffington, in Oxfordshire, is the White Horse Stone. The White Horse was the banner of the Saxons in the time of Hengest and Horsa.
Also near Uffington is Weyland’s Smithy, a barrow, where if a horse is left unshod with some coin, upon returning, the horse will be shod. Many craftsmen make blessings to Weyland here.
Yeavering in Northhumbria is where an excavation uncovered the remains of a great Saxon Hall and the pillar known as Irmunsil.
On mainland Orkney, a ring of stones similar in size to the famous Stonehenge can be found. They are called The Ring of Brodgar and nearby another ring of stones called Stones of Stenness.
Reading / Sources:
Eyrbyggja Saga Ch 1-4
Teutonic Religion Ch 13