The Norns, from Stories from Wagner, by Florence Akin
We started the Winter Side on October 14 with Alfablot, a sacrificial ceremony to the elves, with an emphasis on our paternal ancestors. As we approach the darkest part of winter we pause to celebrate the mystical, ancestral, and deified mothers.
The mothers of a family, clan, or tribe have always held special honor in Germanic/Scandinavian tradition. In 95 CE Tacitus, the Roman historian wrote that the Germanic tribes valued women highly, believed they were close to the gods, and that the final word of women was binding and no one would argue with it. If divination was done for the family it was the father who cast the lots. But if it was for the tribe itself, the oldest woman cast the lots. There are depictions of women, usually in groups of three, on stones, altars, and votive sites throughout Northern Europe dating to the 5th Century.
There are stories of elder women in saga and edda poems who are magical, prophetic, and in charge of the sacrificial ceremonies. These human women could be the head of house holds or set apart like the völur or staff carriers who roamed the Northlands giving prophesy and communicating with land wights, ancestors, and the gods. Some of these clan mothers became disr, deified female ancestors who follow the lineage to carry luck, wisdom, and protection into future generations.
The matrilineal side of our ancestry is called the distaff side. The distaff is the stick that holds the un-spun stuff, linen or wool...or the un-spun threads of fate itself. Frigg, the All-Mother of Norse mythology is associated with the distaff. We see her constellation Friggarok (sometimes called Orion) or Frigg's Spindle, above us in the winter sky. She holds the stuff of the universe on her distaff and spins out the threads that create the tapestry of our world.
The Norns are also pictured holding a distaff, spindle, and weaving shuttle. The fate sisters Urd (Is), Verdandi (Is Becoming), and Skuld (Debt) are great mothers of time and space. Their appearance in the cosmos creates time for the gods themselves. They also appear in our deepest need. At a birth they are given special porridge, nornargrot, in hopes that the new born will have a gentle life. And at our death, we sit at their feet as they read aloud our life's work for good or ill. Their judgement is final.
Our local heathen community in Minneapolis celebrates Mother Night on the Winter Solstice. It marks the first of twelve days of Jul, ending the celebrations on January 1, New Year's Day. In our tradition, it is a time to focus on our children, the children of our community. We raise a horn to them, praising them for their best work and offering prayers to help them in the coming months. We raise a horn to praise one another too and to boast about the best we have to offer the community. This is the one time of the year that we, as descendants of stoic and humble Scandinavians, are encouraged to speak about ourselves! It's a very special time of year. We also display our best handiwork on our home altars and light a candle to our maternal line.
Take some time with us this Winter Solstice, 2020, and join in the celebration that honors our mothers, disr, norns, and the goddesses we rely on for deep healing and rooted knowing. Strengthen and honor that part of yourself that mothers you, comforts you, and guides you with unconditional love.