Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Faining: Righting and Rowning

Good Day, cousin Bjarnharðr.

As we discussed in my previous perspective essay, the essence of the Heathen way lies in many things, but chiefly in what we do, our deeds, the way we outwardly "place the principles of life" in our doings.

People try to compare these "outward acts" to prayer, but we have to beware our ways being conflated with the "prayer" concepts of the Christian mainstream. For most people in the west, "prayer" is a lifting of the mind and heart, through intense mental focus and (sometimes) rote words, to a central divine concept or reality- in most cases, "God".

"Prayer", in its barest form, is a specific form of communication in which one party attempts to obtain something by entreaty to another party. You might recall many of Shakespeare's characters using the words "I pray thee" when asking other characters for something. This is what it really boils down to, when you strip away the religious over-coating.

Sacred Reciprocity

Heathens from the past did pray. There's no doubt there; the account of Ibn Fadhlan shows Rus Viking merchants praying to the Gods for good business, at sites along the great river that had wooden sacred images carved and set up. Those merchants were also making offerings- gifts to the Gods of those places- to add some power to their entreaties. The reason they'd do so is just as simple as pie: in the Old Ways of our Ancestors, "a gift looks for a gift."

Reciprocity is what we're talking about here- when you got a gift from someone, or help from them, you owed them back- no one had to say it, and no one had to ask you to give it back, one day. You just knew this and you did it, because fair reciprocity was a deeply-engrained sacred cultural value. And the ancient culture of our Ancestors was not an accidental culture; it was a consciously created, sacred arrangement which resembled the culture of the Gods themselves.

Thus, if humans believed in reciprocity, it was for more than just practical reasons. Sure, it was practical- society itself was (and to an extent, still is) held together by people exchanging things with one another, everything from goods to help, protection, and good will. But reciprocity has a sacred dimension that goes deeper than just the "outward" form. Reciprocity is a perfect working model of how reality itself really functions- everything exchanges, communicates, transforms, and grows together. That's good Wyrd thinking, and thus, it is good reality thinking.

This all means that the Gods themselves also believe in reciprocity, and act on it. The wise Gods understand that "giving and giving back" is not just good social grace, but a perfect model of how the web of Wyrd itself works. Whatever the Gods have, they gained it from others and gave to others. You will see that the great treasures of our Gods- like Thorr's hammer, Freya's cloak and magical necklace, Odhinn's spear, Frey's golden boar and magical boat- all these things and more were gifts to the Gods from other wights or beings.

If you give a gift to me, I'll repay you- somehow, one day, sooner rather than later. Any Heathen who fails at that duty is seriously missing a crucial part of the spirit of Heathenry and the wisdom of the Ancestors and Gods. If you give a gift to a God, the God will repay it, too- somehow, one day. This never fails- "a gift looks for a gift", or as some translations say "a gift demands a gift."

Our Rus Vikings were giving gifts to the Gods in the certainty that the Gods would reciprocate, and hopefully reciprocate in the way their prayers were asking. This all makes good organic sense.


Now, this talk on sacred reciprocity is far from over, but I've said what I had to say for now. I want to talk to you today about faining- a word that has many meanings in the Heathen world, but only one meaning that we'll be using for our time together as forming Heathen and advice-man. "Faining" means "celebration", technically- a joy-making, and in some branches of the Heathen tree, it refers to a full religious celebration in which people gather, and blots or sacrifices are made to the Gods and Ancestors.

However, in other places- like my farmstead and hearth- faining refers to a religious act for the Gods or wights or Ancestors which does not include a formal sacrifice or blot. We will cover the key concept of blot later in great detail- after all, next to the sumbel, or the ritual of drinking and toasting together, the blot is the central religious practice of Asatru as a whole. But "faining" is a word used by some (as I said) to refer to a less formal, simpler religious act, usually a private one. It is very much the closest thing I think Heathens have to a "personal religious practice" or even to "praying".

Doing personal religious acts is important. Even if they are very simple- such as what I will share with you here- they are channeling one of the most important aspects of being Heathen, something we discussed in detail in our "Being True to the Gods" talk. And that is "properly placing the principles of life in our deeds."

Faining lets us have a few moments of our day to recognize what worthy, sacred things need to be recognized, and to honor that recognition with tangible acts of religion, thus "making those worthy things manifest" and allowing the Wyrd of those things to fully enter our lives and make changes in us and in our world.

"Properly placing the sacred principles" is a matter of recognizing them and honoring them with words and deeds. After that, they are "writ in Wyrd"- chiseled into your mind and heart, and into the pattern of the world itself. They alter your luck; they alter how you think and feel and behave.

Our spiritual path has to be transformative on the personal level, or it really is useless. Unlike most people today, who really see religion in terms of a "one way service" from humans to God, historical Heathen religion was, as stated, predicated on a two-way exchange of power, a reciprocity, between Gods and human beings who had the spirit of the Gods in them. Thus, worship of the Gods and other rites of religion was always about both Gods and humans. This sort of practicality and harmonious wholeness is one of the great blessings of being Heathen.

Now, you know Heathens prayed, but never forget- the underpinning of Heathen prayer were not at all the same as Christian prayer. Christian prayer is (or at least should be) a very abstract form of communion; ideally, you don't pray to "get" something from God- though this fact seems to be lost on 99% of Christians I know- you pray to align your will to God and gain his grace for living.

That's fine and well for the followers of the white Christ, but the followers of the red Thorr have a different way of seeing it. We don't need to align ourselves to the will of the Gods; what the Gods will is for their own lives and the Nine Worlds; humans have their own will that they must discover. We may wish to know the advice of the Gods on many matters- and that, my friend, is crucial in many situations- but we don't submit our will to other beings, giving up on ourselves totally. One wonders what the point of being human would be, if we did this.

Righting and Rowning

Now, since you are walking the path of Heathen Formation, a time has come to "carve new Wyrd" for youself- by considering some perspectives that can help you to change not just how you think, but how you act. For this first voyage of yours into the Heathen way, it is necessary to engage some new behaviors, because deeds are very important. They shape a person, change them from a person whose personal power resonates with their non-Heathen past, into a person whose power or Hamingja resonates with their Heathen present and future.

In honor of this, you have your first "field assignment"- an assignment which I will ask you to keep until next Midsummer, and which I hope will, in some form, become a life-changing and regular practice for you, for the rest of your days. I will ask you to join me (and other fanatics like me) in the daily practice of faining.

Fortunately for you, it only takes a few moments each day, but it can have an enormous and powerful effect on your mind and life. Faining in the format I will suggest for you is good not just for your spiritual development, but powerful for the Gods, Ancestors, and other sacred wights we will want to establish good communion and relationship with.

Remember that the real "Heathen" value of faining is not that you get to "talk to the Gods" or lift up any hearts or minds, but that you get to integrate, in a conscious and tangible way, the good and sacred principles of life. You are quite literally "putting yourself right" with the powers that be- all sacred powers, in a sense.

The first part of my faining-advice here is called (you guessed it) "Righting". This is the first step- you get right with the world and find some peace in yourself. This simple little act should precede all acts of religion, as far as I'm concerned- but never forget, "religion", for us, isn't separate from everyday life. The act of Righting gets you centered and steady, and makes you better prepared for any daily act or challenge.

The Righting act is as simple as pie- and it begins and ends with the simplicity of your very breath. Breathing is the basic act of communion with the world; it was Ond, or life-breath that the Allfather gave to human beings, and so breathing is, in essence, quite sacred. It reminds us of our connection with Allfather and his brothers.

When you're ready to Right yourself, you just step aside to a private, quieter place and take nine easy breaths. Nine is a very sacred number to the Heathen way, for reasons we'll discuss later; it's enough to know that the number nine chiefly refers to the Nine Worlds, of which our human world is just one. Something of each of those worlds is inside us- inside of our full human being. By getting nine steady, calm breaths, you are making a conscious act of steadying and harmonizing your mind and body.

Now, when you've done that, you say the following four things- say them with a good, steady voice.

I follow fain the course of Raidho-beauty and Wunjo-life.
In the world-order right, I take my place for growth of might.
In the great sun of victory, I fear no darkness or defeat.
In the joy of the Gods, of bright-alfs and frithful folk I place my will.

This "Right declaration" does require a bit of an explanation, and so here it is. RAIDHO is the runic principle (a universal mystery principle) of the right order of the cosmos. When the Gods were busy shaping our world, they arranged certain elements and forces to be in accord with the rightness of things- the sun, for instance, was set on her path in accordance with right, and also the moon; night and day were ordered to come in a certain pattern. There is a cosmic order on every level, which the Gods helped to create, and which they still help to sustain. To see that order, to live by it, is to experience the beauty of the cosmic order.

WUNJO is the runic principle of Joy- and life, despite what some revealed religionists may try to tell you, is joy. At heart, life is a very joyful, pleasant thing, even if it does contain elements that may challenge us or threaten us. When you say "I follow fain the course of Raidho-beauty and Wunjo-life", you are saying "I gladly follow the course of the right order and its beauty, and the great joy of life." This first line is a declaration that aligns you with the Rightness of things, and the Joy of things.

Now, when you say "In the world-order right, I take my place for growth of might", you are again invoking, with tangible words, the power of the RAIDHO principle. As you say this, make the sign of Raidho in the air in front of you. It looks like this:

For one brief moment, let yourself see the sacred sign of the rune, in front of you, made of red light. Let that light radiate into your chest and face.

Then, as you say "In the great sun of victory, I fear no darkness or defeat", make this sign in front of you:

And let it radiate into you a bit, as well. This Rune- SOWILO- is the rune of the sun, but it refers to the sun of solar-consciousness, Odin's victory, and high-mindedness, of which we talked in the last conversation.

Finally, when you say "In the joy of the Gods, of bright-alfs and frithful folk I place my will", make this sign in front of you:

This is the Wunjo rune, the rune of joy, frith, peace, and sacred belonging. With this last line, you are saying that you wish for the joy of the Gods, the light-elves (who represent the blessed kindreds in the unseen, including our Ancestors) and the "frithful folk", or your fellow heathens of good will.

And that's it! You are "Righted" by placing these principles. Remember, you must make these gestures- draw the Rune-shapes with your right hand- and must say these lines outloud; the deeds and sounds are where the power is.

* * *

You should "right yourself" every day. I start my day with this simple rite. After your Troth-pledging, if you don't feel the need to do this anymore, by all means, stop. But the Righting is such a simple and elegant way of declaring what is really important about life and Heathenry to yourself, and to all the Kindreds who listen- and taking the runic powers into yourself- powers that really change you.

For the time you are in "Heathen Formation", it is my opinion (and I say this to everyone who asks me for help in this way) that you should do fainings for a particular God, a God who was known for his support of the historical Heathens and their ancient way of life. That God is the God whose hammer you wear daily, friend- Thorr, the Thunderer and Protector of Gods and Men.

The second half of my faining process here is called "Rowning", which means "whispering", technically, and it refers to a "rune", in this case, a secret or a mystery- or even an incantation of types. In my usage here, as with others, it is intended as the act of using words to send a message to the powers.

The twofold process is simple: you Right, then you Rown. The Rowning portion is also short: you simply address the God or wight that you wish to address. You're already steady in your mind and body from the breathing and the runic signing, so it's easy.

Thorr's sacred day is Thursday- "Thor's day." You have a choice at this point. You can Rown or pray to Thorr each day (and I suggest you do) or you can save it just for Thursdays. It is your choice, but at this stage, you may find it more useful to focus on the Old Redbeard more often- maybe just three days a week, as you wish. Whatever you decide, At some point during your day, Right yourself, and then (if it's one of the chosen days) Rown or pray to Thorr. I have a simple address to him for your use below, but before you use it, let me give you another small tip that I have always found useful.

You know that our Ancestors believed that a great Tree connected all of the Nine Worlds. That tree, the world-tree, Yggdrasil, is (of course) not a literal tree, but it is a literal great power, a power that you've been feeling all your life. There is a tangible metaphysical "structure" to the cosmos- all things are connected and there is a great power that we are all situated within, and very much a part of. That power was given the form of a tree by our Ancestors, among other symbolic representations of it.

Everything is a part of the World-Tree. Nothing is excluded; even things about yourself- your breath, blood, bones, body heat. Your thoughts and memories and dreams haunt it; all of the worlds are reachable through it. A poet once said this about it:

"All life is figured by them as a Tree. Ygdrasil, the Ash-tree of existence, has its roots deep-down in the kingdoms of Death: its trunk reaches up heaven-high, spreads its boughs over the whole Universe: it is the Tree of Existence. At the foot of it, in the Death-Kingdom, sit the three Fates... watering its roots from the Sacred Well. It's "bough," with their buddings and disleafings, - events, things suffered, things done, catastrophes, - stretch through all lands and times. Is not every leaf of it a biography, every fiber there an act or word? Its boughs are the Histories of Nations. The rustle of it is the noise of Human Existence, onwards from of old. I find no similitude so true as this of a Tree. Beautiful; altogether beautiful and great."

That was Thomas Carlyle at his finest. To really "Rown" to the powers- any power or wight- you should try, for a few moments after you've Righted yourself, to feel the World Tree's great presence in you. It is, after all, that thing that connects you to the Gods or wights you wish to address. Here's how I express it:

My life is the sap of the Needle-Ash;
My words the wind that shake its branches.

You can say this to yourself before you Rown, or think it- internalize it. At any rate, after Righting yourself and getting a feel for your connection to all things, it's time to Rown- to send words to the Gods or Wights. In your case, Thorr is who you'll be addressing, and here's a formula that you can use. Say the words out-loud, steady, and strong. You can make the hammer-sign in front of yourself (an upside down T) with your fist as you say it, or after you are done.

Thor, hammer's thewful wielder, bane to fell etins and wicked wights
High-warder of Middle earth and all of Gods' homes ay- hear my troth:
Honor to you and your great sib all my days.

This simple rowning formula uses some archaic Teutonic words, but they are included because they have a marvelous affect, owing to their poetry, upon your mind and on any who hear you. "Thewful" means strong or mighty; "bane" means deadly or dangerous, an "Etin" is a giant or a malevolent power; "ay" means "always", and "troth" is a creed of belief. A "sib" is a family. Thorr's family is the family of our Gods.

This rowning establishes Thorr's great roles in the cosmos, that of a warder and protector, and delivers your pledge of Troth to him and the Gods. You need rown no more- Old Redbeard will hear these words and reciprocate in whatever way he will, as these words are technically an offering of types. If you have a special need that day, you can include it yourself in your own words, after the simple formula.

If you have a drink of beer or ale or cider with you, you can pour some out as you say the prayer. You are creating a sacred, two-way relationship. A time will come when you will do this with other Gods and powers.

Never forget: there's no need to pester the Sacred Powers; if you have a true need, something that really sticks in your mind, then fain about it to Thorr. He will help; not for no reason is he called "Man's Well-Wisher." But if you must ask him for something special, don't ask him for things that you can handle yourself. And never forget- a gift demands a gift.

The Time Is Now

Please, make a use of these materials- memorize them for now. You can use them the rest of your life, or give them up later; you will, of course, come up with your own fainings in your career as a Heathen. But for now- for the goal of transformation and doing Heathen Deeds, please use the material here. All of these things I've shown you are easy to remember- just a few lines- and only take a minute or two of your day. Remember to recognize the many subtle layers of sacredness that are wrapped into these simple words and gestures. You will integrate and internalize these things within a few weeks of regular observance.

You will also see that these simple formulas I shared with you here will have other uses, later in your Heathen career. Also, I know you've probably already read it, but turn to "Our Troth: Volume One" and re-read the chapter on Thor. Get to know him and that lore about him.

Raise the Horns!

Your Friend, Ule Alfarrin


  1. I didn't get the second half, the Rowning, until this morning but I did do the first half after I woke up earlier. I feel more at peace than I have for a long time. Especially knowing that I have to come to a job that I hate above most everything. When I get home this evening, this being Thursday, I will do the entire faining and pour some cider to Thor.

    I have a few questions. First, what would an appropriate gift be? Would pouring some cider or beer into the ground be acceptable? In the absence of those what else could be used?

    How are Raidho and Wunjo pronounced so I can say them correctly?

  2. We are going to talk about Blots- full offering/sacrifices- in a later discussion. For now, we are at the level of faining, and will remain there for a bit, as I work my way up in my ability to explain how deep blots really go.

    For now, giving cider by pouring during or after rowning is about perfect- and you can use any alcoholic beverage, especially darker beers or ales.

    The darker beers or ales represent the "third function" of agriculture- the produce of hops, barley and wheat- and Thor was the God of farmers (He was the chief God of the freedom-seeking Icelanders, who moved to Iceland specifically to farm and herd). Thor was a God of farmers because through his tides of activity in the Godly worlds, rain and weather in this world can be affected, and Farmers need good rain and weather.

    Yes, pouring the cider or beer into the ground would be fine. If you have a horn, pour it from your horn. (If you don't have a horn- you need in in double-quick time, but then, I recall you buying one.)

    If there happen to be oak trees nearby- Thor's sacred tree- pour the offering near the roots of the tree.

    In the absence of an alcoholic beverage, you should use either milk, or (as we will discuss soon) a special drink made by boiling two cups of water and one half a cup of honey for about 10 minutes together, and then mixing in a half a teaspoon of allspice, and letting cool, then bottling. It stays good without refrigeration, though you can refrigerate it if you want, and you can use it as a universal "libation" of types- especially to Land-wights, but to any being.

    RAIDHO is pronounced like RIGHT-HO, except the T noise makes a D noise, followed by the light h noise, ending in OH. Another phonetic pronunciation would be RIDE-HO, with the "RIDE" being pronounced like the word "Ride" as in "Ride a horse" and the "ho" just being as normally. The emphasis is on the RIDE part of the word.

    WUNJO is pronounced WOON-YO. The emphasis is on the WOON.

  3. Great! Thanks. I do have a horn but there are no oaks around where we live unfortunately. I have some cider right now but will make the honey mixture at some point. I'll give the full faining a try this evening.

  4. If you want to make larger batches of the honey-drink, just double or triple the proportions- one cup of honey and four cups of water, etc. I have glass bottles with integral rubber stoppers that I use to store it. Pop it in the fridge and it stays good forever.

  5. Hi Ule, I just wanted to comment that honey-drink you mentioned doesn't keep forever. I tried it, and it got lost in the back of my fridge. Three months later I found it, and it had fermented and was growing green stuff on the cork, and had taken on a color similar to the brownishness of seweage. :( I ended up having to use apple cider spiked with some rum I found.

    Just a heads up. :)

  6. Thank you, Aerinndis! I didn't imagine it would last forever, though adding some grain alcohol to it- like Everclear in 1:5 or 1:4 solution- might make its life much longer. Or people could break down and just go with actual mead!