Monday, May 3, 2010


Also Frey, the regent of the gods, took his abode not far from Upsala, where he exchanged for a ghastly and infamous sin-offering the old custom of prayer by sacrifice, which had been used by so many ages and generations. For he paid to the gods abominable offerings, by beginning to slaughter human victims. - Gesta Danorum 3
Today Freyr is considered by many to be one of the Norse pantheon's most gentle and benevolent gods. But a close look at the surviving lore and folk-customs suggests that once upon a time the golden lord of Vanaheim was honored with human sacrifice. The old folk songs about John Barleycorn cut down so that the grain would grow may hearken back to a time when the fields were fed with the blood of a sanctified victim.

Before we scream about the barbarism of this practice we may wish to consider it within its cultural context. For our ancestors, the fertility of the land was all-important: a failed crop could mean slow death for an entire village. They offered up life so that life would continue: by giving of their best, they hoped to ensure that Frey would give of his best. The lessons contained within that holy sacrifice can help us to understand His rune, Inguz.

We should remember that the food we eat died so that we might live. We may avoid shedding blood and eating flesh but we cannot avoid consuming life.  The crops on our farms partake of the same vital force which quickens our being - and if you don't believe they have spirits and even sentience, you may want to speak to your local shaman.  The sacrifice of John Barleycorn and the Sacred King is re-enacted with every meal you eat. Rather than treating it as a nasty relic of our primitive past, you may do better to see it as a holy mystery.  Inguz fattens the animals so they may be slaughtered and brings the crops to fruition that they may be mowed down.

Inguz is shaped like the vulva through which we make our appearance into this world.  Yet it is worth remembering that the day we are born is the day we begin dying. To become embodied is to become mortal: the flowers which blossom in spring must wither with the coming of the frost.  But where Ear speaks of death as a grim finality, to Inguz it is just another doorway. The seed buried beneath the frost will send out new life after the ground has thawed.  Every end gives rise to a new beginning: every birth is really a rebirth.  Meditating upon Inguz can help you focus upon that which you wish to pass down to your descendants and the reasons for which you took on flesh and sinew.  (And for those seeking to conceive, Inguz can help put you in touch with a spirit seeking birth and give you the means to carry your pregnancy to fruition).

Since He is also Lord of Alfheim, Frey's rune can help us in contacting the Alfar and their kindred.  In many ways the Eternal Ones, who know neither age nor sickness, are the purest expression of the force of Inguz. The Elves can bless those they favor with prosperity and fertility and curse those who displease them by withdrawing those gifts.  By contemplating the mystery of life and its continuation which is contained within Inguz, we can avoid falling into the trap of sentimentalizing them: we can know that their world contains beauty and terror, both of which are equally necessary and equally holy.