Introduction to viking rites - a three part article
I started Windhover Ceremonies to provide a Celebrant service to all regardless of their spirituality or beliefs. I do however find myself well placed to serve those of nature based or other Pagan paths and enjoy creating something meaningful for people, rather than them having to 'make do'. Firmly reestablished in the UK is Heathenry and its various paths such as Asatru. It is important to recognise this is a serious faith path today with a growing number of followers. There are also however many who are inspired by the Viking age, helped in no small part by the wonderful series Vikings on the History Chanel. So if you are a Viking fan or Viking reenactor you too may be on the look out for something, well, a little more Norse.
For someone like me who is first and foremost a student of a path with its origins in the 'Celtic' period of the Bronze and Iron Age, pre history, I find the Viking period especially fascinating as there is such a rich array of historic accounts of the periods and of rites of passage that we simply don't have for the ancient 'Celts'. The oral tradition of the 'Celtic' peoples was cut short when the guardians of their knowledge, The Druids, were slain by the Romans in circa 60 AD on the Welsh island of Anglesey. However the reach of Rome did not make it as far as Scandinavia and therefore the oral tradition continued until it was written down in the sagas.
I have researched and written a three part article 'Viking Rites' to help provide ideas and inspiration for those desiring Viking / Heathen ceremonies. I hope you find the following interesting, beginning with part 1 - baby naming.
viking rites - part 1 baby naming
Throughout history and across cultures, naming a newborn child has always been held as an important rite and it was no different for the Norse. For followers of Heathenry today, including Asatru, we can draw on historical sources for inspiration to mark this most important of occasions.
The sagas make a number of mentions of a ceremony to name a new born, referring to it as 'Vatni Ausa' meaning to pour or sprinkle water over.
The ceremonies were undertaken for both girls and boys.
"Then in the summer when Þórsteinn was twenty-five years old, Þóra gave birth to another son, who was sprinkled with water and given the name Grímr. Þórsteinn dedicated this boy to Þórr, calling him Þórgrímr." (Eyrbyggja saga, chapter 11)
"In the summer Þóra gave birth to a girl, who was sprinkled with water and given the name Ásgerðr." (Egils saga Skallagrímssonar, chapter 35)
I note that both accounts I quote mention the baby being born in summer, perhaps an indication of how the Vikings passed those long Scandinavian winters nights...;)
The ceremony would begin with the baby being picked up, usually by the father, from the ground. This is thought to be an act of acceptance. The naming rite was seen as the official moment the baby became part of the family and when they became protected under Viking law.
Water would then be sprinkled on the child. This practice pre-dates the Christianisation of the region and is subtly yet distinctly different from baptism. In baptism the water is to 'purify' the child, referred to in old Norse during the later Christian period as 'skirn' meaning purification. In the pre Christian Vatni Ausa ceremony the water was to 'hallow' meaning to bless or make sacred, essentially, a blessing from the Gods.
The 'hallowing' or blessing was completed with the sign of the hammer being made over the child, referencing or invoking the protection of the God Thor. Thor, despite his mighty hammer wielding image, is also the protector and blesser of all humankind.
The act of giving the child their name is referred to as 'nafnfesti' meaning name fastening, the same derivative as 'hand fasting'. At nafnfesti it was customary to give gifts to the child. In the sagas of Ragnar Lothbrok, Ragnar is said to have placed his son in his cloak, named him Sigurd and given him a gold ring. A child would then be given gifts again when they cut their first tooth, believed to be the origin of the 'tooth fairy'.
To add authenticity and for those for whom Heathenry is their faith I offer a choice of water for the blessing from Iceland or Norway. Both originating deep within the earth of these ancient lands, my hope is that the waters carry the spirit of these places and their Old Gods.
I hope that I have informed and inspired you, please feel free to get in touch via the contact button above if you would like me to assist with a ceremony.
Read 'Viking Rites' Part 2 here - Viking Marriage.