The Faery Faith In The Northern Tradition
(Originally published at Imbolc 1996)
Within the streams of the Irish, Scots and Welsh Celtic traditions there is, for each, an underlying "Fairy Faith" or older tradition. The British "Fairy Tradition" may be an echo or remnant of this Celtic heritage. Less evident, though still discernable, is a similar vein within the Northern Tradition. As the religion of the groups of people we label loosely as Teutonic was the last pagan religion to succumb to Christianity, perhaps it had more time to accumulate extra layers, covering the faith it evolved from. The later warrior-like deities of the Northern Tradition, such as Odin and Thor, are the best known pagan gods generally, as many children's books and comics show. They also feature strongly in the mythological texts - the Prose and Poetic Eddas from which the greater part of our knowledge concerning the Northern Tradition is derived.
The Eddas tell of a war between Odin's Aesir and the Vanir, a family of fertility deities who date back to the Bronze Age. This conflict in the myths could recall a time when an agricultural culture clashed with the later, more nomadic and mobile Iron Age warrior tribes. The Aesir and Vanir, after a long war, formed an alliance and later intermarried, just as their human followers did in the lands they invaded. Frey and Freya simply mean "Lord" and "Lady". Much of Native British Paganism can be traced back to this root.
Perhaps it's possible to reach further back, to a time when gods and giants were just beginning to be distinguishable, one from the other. Even Odin was said to be the son of a giant. There is a sense of the myths of the Aesir and Vanir overlapping and obscuring each other. They also jointly cover a deeper layer. This ancient level of the Northern Tradition has to be dug for but there is enough material sitll available to assume that there is an older "Fairy Faith".
References to Rinda, Kari, Loge and Hler are sparse but meaningful. These are primal, elemental forces. They may be used to form a basic framework on a wheel or circle in the same way as the more commonly known Pagan or Wiccan versions. In this tradition Earth is not an element but the "whole", the Goddess Erce, an all-purpose Earth Mother. Ice, air, fire and water are the elements that together form the Earth. If soil is examined microscopically gaps are found between the rock particles which contain small air bubbles, water droplets and other water molecules which are bound to the particles. This water is unavailable to plants so could correspond to ice. The fire element reminds of the heat at Earth's molten core. Ice can also be thought of as a fifth element but for the purposes of this article we will use the former model.
Rinda, Goddess of the Frozen Earth, is the one for whom most information is found in the texts. Rinda, Rind or Rindr is Vali's mother, who was wooed, some say raped, by Odin to beget a child who would avenge Balder's death. She is threatened with a savage curse before submitting. An obvious interpretation here is of the dark, hag aspect of the Goddess, the unyielding frozen, barren earth of winter refusing to accept the fertilising power of the sun. The rune associated with Rinda is Isa, the ice rune, itself hard and cold yet concentrating and protective.
There are only four runes which are both non-invertable and non-reversible: Isa, Gebo, Dagaz and Inguz. These serve as keys for elemental forces at the compass points. The corresponding colours for the quarters are the black of midnight in the north, the red light of dawn in the east, the white light of the high midday in the south and the grey or misty-coloured twilight in the west.
Kari in Old Norse means "wind", especially in the form of a "gust" or "squall" and represents the primal power of air. Kari is named as an ancestor in Norwegian prehistory, rather like Woden, from whom British monarchs trace their descent. Kari or Karei is also a Malayan god of thunder for the Semang people which hints at his great antiquity. The rune Gebo is used to invoke Kari and the power of balance.
Loge may be thought of as another name for Logi, the giant who personifies fire. Not the domesticated variety, but the wild or "need" fire which the god Loki challenges in "Gylfaginning". Loge was also the name give to a demi-god by Wagner, chosen to represent fire generally, so there is some confusion yet Wagner's sources and inspirations are evident. Loge and the power of transformation are invoked with the rune Dagaz.
Hler completes this cycle with the element of water. The name simply means "sea". He is the giant/god of the sea, Aegir, whose daughters are the waves. The Danish island of Hleysey now named Laesso may possibly have been named after Hler. In "Skaldskaparmal" verse 1: "He (Hler) lived on an island now called Hlesey. He was very skilled in magic." There is a tempting hint here of a cult or teaching centre. Ingwaz is the appropriate rune to invoke Hler and the powers of empathy. The gestative quality of Ingwaz reflects the fact that all life originally came from the primeval sea.
A similar wheel could be constructed of different deities, giants, elves or dwarves along with the runes of Isa, Ansuz, Kenaz and Laguz or some others to represent the quarters. The above is based on information gleaned from folklore and the Eddas. Erce, along with Rinda, Kari, Loge and Hler, with their corresponding runes, form an interlocking web of elemental, runic forces which are no less powerful than those of the Aesir or Vanir.
The faery tradition and manifestation of the elemental forces are largely and unjustifiably neglected in the Northern Tradition, but for those who do work with them they bring an enhanced understanding of the workings of northern magic.