Ritual – Professing Heathenry

A public “profession of faith” is a tradition for converts to Xianity and some other religions. There is no reason that one should be required to make such a statement to consider oneself heathen.1 However, the ancient heathens were not converts (with the possible exception of blended tribes and some wives and concubines from places such as Ireland). The conversions we read about were from heathenry. So it could be argued that we just don’t have data from within and should follow examples from religions that have tended to have converts. Also, and more importantly, some kindreds expect it. In Edred Thorsson’s A Book of Troth, it is the first third of the ceremony of induction into a kindred.2 The Raven Kindred Ritual Book treats it as an expected thing: “Profession is one of the most important ceremonies in Asatru. To profess one’s belief in and kinship to the Gods should be an important turning point in one’s life and the beginning of a new understanding of the self. . . . In our kindred we usually profess people after beginning the ritual, but before we offer the formal blot.”3 And most importantly, many heathens personally feel it necessary. In their Ravencast podcast on the topic, after emphasizing that a profession is not mandatory, the Carrons go on to say “However, it seems to [us] that most Asatruar get to a point” where they do want to swear troth to the gods – whether publicly or privately.4

It should not be a surprise that a kindred (or equivalent group) would require a profession of troth – a ritualized commitment to the gods – as part of becoming a member. After all, a kindred is a group of heathens, whether or not it requires an exclusive commitment to our gods. However, a profession, whether public or private, is an oath.5 For many of us, particularly those who have never married, it is the first oath we have ever sworn. There are well publicized examples in modern society of people breaking promises, perjuring themselves, and even breaking solemn oaths.7 In fact there are examples in the lore.6 But in ancient times, oath-breach was never taken lightly. Punishments went as far as outlawry, which amounted to a requirement to exile oneself. In ancient times and throughout the Middle Ages, people swore not only on holy and symbolic objects – the “oath” ring, a great stone representing the earth beneath all our feet, a sword, similarly in modern times in the West a Bible – but with witnesses who were either punished along with them if they broke the oath or took their property if they did so (compare the modern system of bail, families putting up the title to a house as bail, and bail bondsmen taking the pledged amount if the accused person breaks the agreement to appear in court). It can be argued that the reliance on witnesses represents the decay of the original heathen expectation that one would honor one’s word.8 However, an oath, kept or broken, affects one’s wyrd, and hence that of one’s associates. An oath sworn to the gods or before witnesses, as a profession oath is, especially as part of joining a kindred, explicitly affects the witnesses, one’s family, and of course one’s kindred members. It is of course a personal decision to commit to our gods, but it is a “plighting of troth” in the old Germanic words, and it implies a commitment to the values associated with our gods. The examples of troth-breach in the lore are examples that prove the rule that a heathen must do everything possible not to be forsworn, and the seriousness when it happens. And above all one should avoid breaking an oath to the gods.

So if you are not sure, don’t rush into a commitment to our gods. If you prefer not to commit to being exclusively heathen, or have a prior oath to other gods that you do not wish to break, then it would be altogether better not to swear to have no other gods, even though it will exclude you from some kindreds and some organizations. Better that than swearing an oath you do not really mean. Say what you mean in your oath when you do make one.9 And it is no disgrace if you never do. Heathenry is a religion of actions; you may wish in honor to forgo the action of a formal oath, or perhaps in your way of seeing it is not necessary and what you do as a heathen will suffice to establish your loyalty to our gods.

If you do profess heathenry, whether publicly or privately, one reason for doing so may be that you want to formally repudiate a former religion. In particular many of us were baptized Xian as infants and some may even have been confirmed as teenagers or adults. One can simply say goodbye to one’s former religion and its deity or deities. I offer the following statements as suggestions:

“I renounce the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”

“I hereby declare, I am no longer a follower of the Witches’ Way and the Wiccan Rede, and from this day forward I will follow a new path, the Northern Way of the Æsir and Vanir.”

“Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, you are no longer my God and I am no longer bound by your commandments; I renounce my baptism in your name and the commitment I made to you and to the [name of church] at my confirmation.”

“I no longer consider myself a Hindu; today I take my leave of the Hindu gods and turn to the Northern Gods.”

Some people feel that they need to more strongly repudiate the religion they were raised in; in particular, that they have an opportunity and in some measure a duty to throw back the insults our heathen ancestors were forced – often on pain of death – to hurl at the gods. We have a record of the oath Saxons were forced to swear as part of the baptismal ceremony.10 This can be heathenized. Here is Edred Thorsson’s renunciation of Xianity based on it:

Speaker: Forsakest thou the angels of alienation?

Candidate: I forsake the angels of alienation!

Speaker: And all the services of the White-Christ?

Candidate: I forsake all the services of the White Christ!

Speaker: And all the Christian works?

Candidate: And I forsake all the works and words of the so-called father, and his son named Jesus, and their unholy spirit!11

A simpler version: “I forsake all the works and words of the Desert God, of the Father, and the Son, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, and the angels and devils who are associated with the religions of that god.”

But as Edred says, this may not be necessary. What is essential in a profession of heathenry, if you make one, is the commitment to our gods and the heathen way. As the Carrons put it in their Ravencast, “formalizing your intent.”

Some kindreds have a required form of words. In such cases, I will emphasize again, you should be sure you have no problems with any of it. The Carrons recommend, wisely in my view, that you at least co-write it: “The structure should be written by you . . . . It’s your oath to the gods . . . . If you’d prefer that someone else write the words . . . that’s ok too.” Here are some ideas. Edred parallels the Saxon oath of renunciation quite closely in his affirmation of faith:

Speaker: Trustest thou in the mighty All-father?

Candidate: I trust in Woden, the mighty All-father!

Speaker: Trustest thou in Thunar, warder of the world?

Candidate: I trust in Thunar, warder of the world!

Speaker: Trust thou in Freya and Frey, the lady and lord of our folk?

Candidate: I trust in the Lord and Lady of our folk!12

The oath in the Raven Kindred Ritual Book (which is also an oath to Raven Kindred) is:

I swear to ever uphold the Raven Banner of Asgard, to follow the way of the North, to always act with honor and bravery, and to be ever true to the Aesir and Vanir and to Asatru. By the Gods I so swear. By my honor I so swear. On this Holy Ring I do swear. Hail the Gods.

The rite of initiation into a kindred in Kveldulf Gundarsson’s Teutonic Religion merely has the candidate specify why s/he wishes to join, and formally accept the responsibility of membership: “I take this gift as a sign of my troth: troth to the gods and goddesses; troth to my fore-gone kin; troth to my kin who are here. So shall it be.”13 However, the ceremony in the “Hallowing” chapter of Our Troth, which builds upon it, has quite a long oath:

Within the clan-ring I stand, with gods and goddesses and all my fore-gone kin about me. Now Vár hear my vow! I pledge this troth as my own. . . . I pledge my troth to all the Ases and Wans (Æsir and Vanir); to all my fore-gone kin who dwell in the hallowed mounds and the garths of the gods; and to those living folk who share the troth of the North. I put my trust in all the gods and goddesses . . . . May they ever bless me as I strive to show forth the atheling-thews of the true, to hold the holy wights of our folk in high worship, and to care for my kin and the true folk about me. . . . Vár and Tiw hear me; so it is spoken!14

And finally my own suggestion:

Gods and goddesses of the North [or: Gods and goddesses of my forefathers and my foremothers], Æsir and Vanir [or: Ases and Wanes]. Today, on this ring [or: upon the holy hammer], I commit myself to you and to the way of the Northern folk. [Optional: Except that I do not forget and shall continue to honor my oath to _____] In you is my faith; the Germanic way is my troth and my path from today on. Until such time as I may bring this oath to a close, I will honor you and the wights of the land, the waters, and the home and will walk the heathen way as best I can in honor. Before Vár, before all the gods and goddesses of the North, and in memory of my heathen ancestors, I make this oath.

Note that I have inserted wording here for those who wish to leave an escape clause for the future rather than seek at that time to take back an oath before the gods; those who have a prior oath they do not wish to repudiate; and alternate phrasing for those who have heathen ancestry and those who so far as they are aware do not.

Edred Thorsson, Kveldulf Gundarsson, and the authors of the Our Troth “Hallowing” chapter all include an adaptation of the vatni ausa heathen baptism ritual and a re-naming of the candidate (whom Kveldulf refers to as “Child”). The adoption of a heathen name is no longer expected. Many heathens feel it is contrary to our values of honesty and straightforwardness to use a different name in heathen circles. And you may already have a pagan name, online identity, or other sobriquet by which you are known long before you reach the point of formally professing heathenry. On the other hand, you may have professional reasons, or a concern for the security of your family, that make it advisable for you to make a wall between your mundane identity and your participation in public heathenry, on-line or off. Or you may see a name change as a forthright sign of your commitment to the heathen way. You may be saddled with a pagan name that no longer reflects who you are and what you believe, or a baptismal name that you feel inappropriate for a heathen. I know of three heathens who have gone so far as to change their names in law, and two others who are considering doing so. So if you wish to take a new name, I would only point out that it is not the near-universal custom in modern heathenry that it was decades ago; and give you a couple of cautions. One is to be as sure as you can, if you take a name in one of the Old Tongues, that it is grammatically correct and means what you think it means. The other is to beware of taking a name that commits you to a particular god or goddess as your patron (fulltrúi, fosterer), much less labels you his or her son or daughter, or goði or gyðja. Such names come better later after you have walked a way down the heathen path and come to know all the gods and goddesses better, and perhaps best from others after you have wrought a reputation.

Sources:

1. The Ravencast Asatru podcast on this topic, for example, emphasizes that it is a choice: “Do you have to have had a profession to be considered Asatru? No.” Dave and Sandi Carron, http://ravencast.podbean.com/2007/05/23/asatru-101-profession/#comments

2. p. 164; “Work of Coming into a Kindred,” pp. 163-66; St. Paul: Llewellyn, 1989.

3. “Profession”; Lewis Stead and the Raven Kindred(s), later editions titled Ravenbok, available in multiple versions online, some with revisions by J.S. Pereira, and 3rd ed. Wheaton, MD: Asatru Today, 1994.

4. URL in Note 1.

5. The Ravencast says at one point, “Do not at this point make an oath.” They seem to be drawing a distinction between swearing and making an oath that I do not understand. I regard them as synonyms; a vow, an oath, something one swears are all equivalent in my view. Some heathens would go further and say any promise, but in any case any promise to or before the gods is of the greatest seriousness, and a profession is such a promise no matter its wording. I think the Carrons may mean, “Do not oath to perform a specific action; at this point, just swear that you are heathen.”

6. Víga-Glúmr, in Víga-Glúms Saga, repeatedly swears an ambiguous oath on the ring in hofs, in order to evade a charge of murder. Óðinn is also accused in Lokasenna of being dishonest, and himself admits in Hávamál to deceiving Gunnlöð. Týr/Tíw/Ziû’s promise to the wolf Fenrir was a deliberate deception on Óðinn/Wóden/Wodan’s orders.

7. There are several good treatments of the seriousness of oaths in ancient and modern heathenry, on and off-line. In his chapter on the topic in Our Troth, (v. 2: Living the Troth, p. 450), Daniel O’ Halloran reminds me that even after the conversion, King Alfred’s lawcode prescribes 40 nights in prison for breaking a lawful oath; 2nd ed., ed. Kveldúlf Gundarsson, Berkeley: The Troth (North Charleston, SC: Booksurge), 2007. Víga-Glúmr forfeits his family treasures and loses his luck and hence his position and his land.

8. The Oxford Icelandic-English Dictionary, commonly referred to as Cleasby-Vigfusson, under “Eiðr” points to an increasing reliance on “oath-helpers, compurgators, or oath-volunteers after the dissolution of the Icelandic Commonwealth, and to the maxim in law Eigi verðr einn eiðr alla, “A single oath is no evidence for all (cases)”; 2nd ed. Oxford: Clarendon, 1957, repr. 1975. Legal formulæ could also contain ornate wording to enforce the seriousness of an oath; the beautiful and lengthy “ so long as” formula in the goði oath used in Iceland today that begins Meðan eldur brennur / vindur vex, “As long as fire burns, / wind blows” is actually taken from the segment of a truce oath in the lawcode Grágas (trygðamál) prescribing how long a breaker of the oath will be vargr (hunted like a wolf – the corresponding Anglo-Saxon term is wearg). See Cleasby-Vigfusson “vargr II.” and Jan de Vries, Altgermanische Religionsgeschichte v. 1 (2nd ed. Berlin: de Gruyter, 1956, repr. 1970), p. 217 (spelled Tryggðumál).

9. In the “Hallowing” chapter in Our Troth v. 2 (2nd ed.), co-written by Rod Landreth, Diana Paxson, Mike Smith, Ben Waggoner, and Swain Wodening, pp. 468-69 it is suggested the Pledger end his oath with these words: “Thus do I swear: should I break this oath, let me be named a warg [vargr/wearg], the worst of wights, and cast from all the wih-steads and dwellings of men!” In my judgment such a clause is overblown, rash, and I would advise strongly against it or anything similar. Indeed, in keeping with the seriousness of the commitment, I would rather advise someone to swear “Unless and until the wishes of my heart shall dictate that I end my relationship with the gods and with heathenry” and give him or herself an out. You have changed once; people do sometimes change again. Or simply leave it be and end the oath after you swear your troth.

10. Not to be spoken aloud for obvious reasons, and hence placed here rather than in main text: Ec forsacho allum diaboles uuercum and uuordum, Thunaer ende Uuóden ende Saxnôte ende allum thêm unholdum thê hira genôtas sind. “I forsake all the Devil’s works and words, Thor/Thunor/Donar and Óðinn/Wóden/Wodan and Seaxnét/Saxnôt and all the monsters that are their associates.” Jan de Vries, Altgermanische Religionsgeschichte v. 2 (2nd ed. Berlin: de Gruyter, 1957, repr. 1970), p. 18.

11.A Book of Troth, p. 164.

12. A Book of Troth, p. 164.

13. pp. 245, 246; St. Paul: Llewellyn, 1993.

14. v. 2, pp. 468-69.