Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Trollkyrka

As a student of folklore, I am always on the lookout for the genuine remains of Heathenry in the body of folklore from many European nations. Despite the great regional variations in the nature of folklore, nearly every nation's own folk-wisdom and stories contain deep and penetrating insights into the pre-Christian impulses and even practices of former times.

With great pleasure, I stumbled across a fine poem discussing the Trollkyrka, a hallowed place for the ancient Gods in the wilds of Sweden. I enjoyed what I found so much that I felt the need to share.

The Trollkyrka (Troll-Church or Troll's Church) is a rock formation in the heart of the Tiveden Forest of Sweden. This forest is 'famous for its scenery and throughout history notorious for its wilderness and dangers; historically a hiding place for outlaws'. Wikipedia says "the name (Tiveden) is very old and disputed. -Ved is cognate to English Wood and the first part of its name, Ti-, either means "god" or refers to the god Tyr. Tiveden separates Närke from Västergötland, and was formerly a frontier between the Geats and the Swedes. The national park area has never been inhabited, but there are several ancient remains of human activities such as worshipping grounds and sacrificial sites.'

The Tiveden Park site mentions more about the fact of many Pagan holy sites being present in the forest. It says 'There are several caves, the best known being Stenkälla, an old sacrificial site from pagan times. There is little animal life in Tiveden, but there is a large capercaillie population. The flora is also poor, since the biotope is stony pine forest.'

Along with the Stenkalla, the Trollkyrka stands out. It is a high butte of stone, that is reached by a long, meandering path. The local folklore surrounding it is a rich source for modern Pagans and Heathens of the Northern Tradition. The Trollkyrka, itself an ancient Horgr or sacrificial ground/site, is called so for the fact that Christianity associated the Heathen Gods with "trolls"- and by "trolls" they meant malicious spirits.

I have written extensively on Trolls in my book Helsongs, as well as on the subject of Trullskapir, the magical art of manipulating and influencing potentially dangerous spiritual powers towards ends directed by the sorcerer. As I point out in that work, the term "troll" is a very complex term, and its original meaning is far from clear. It does refer to any manner of natural powers and spiritual powers, which run the range from friendly to dangerous, depending on what segment of folklore you are reading. Even in Heathen times, it's likely that the term "troll" didn't always mean something desirably natural or good- it has been suggested that it may have always held a dangerous connotation.

Naturally, "troll" took on a far more sinister meaning with the advent of Christianity in the Northlands- an actual formal renunciation of Paganism was required of Christians baptised in Scandanavia which denounced "Odin, Thor, Tyr, and all the other Trolls worshipped by (the) people." The Trollkyrka, being a former Pagan holy site, and apparently one that was used as such up until very recent times, would be remembered in Christian folklore as the home (or church!) of Trolls.

Trollkyrka was believed to be a dangerous place for Christians to go, and for a very surprising reason: the Wikipedia article on Trollkyrka says:

"According to (the folklorist) Lidman, old people used to say: "No Christian can go there. The mountains of the troll church belong to the heathen trolls. If a Christian ventures there, he will come to grief."

In fact, local tradition relates that the mountain was used not long ago for heathen rites and that anyone who was not initiated and saw it risked either to be buried in a bog in the forest or sworn into the brotherhood. These precautions clearly indicate that the rites took place as late as the period 1604-1735, which was a time when there was a penalty of death on practising such rituals."

The folklorist Carlshult was doing research on the folk-traditions surrounding another nearby monument of the Tiveden forest, the Skaga Stave Church. A few words about this stave church are in order- according to history, the Church-body in Sweden in the 1800's decided to demolish this beautiful stave church, which was built originally in the 12th century by Skaga, the daughter of a Viking with the rather intimidating name of "Ramunder the Evil".

In a frightening twist of Fate, the Black Death (a plague widely believed in the North to be the work of angry Heathen Gods, venting their frustration on the people parting from the Old Ways) devastated the area of Tiveden, leaving it uninhabited, and the existence of the church was actually forgotten as it stood lost for a century or two before a party of bear hunters just stumbled across it.

In the 1800's, as I said before, the church leaders decided to demolish the church, and one of the reasons given was to "punish" the local people for the persistence of heathen beliefs and practices in the area. Somehow, the Church always manages to get re-built, however, and was rebuilt very recently, following its original design.

While researching these topics, Carlshult came across a poem of great power, at least from the perspective of those interested in the persistence of ritual and mystical practices from Heathen times to now. The poem, which documents a ritual observance of a Heathen holy season at the Trollkyrka, goes as so:

"The procession creeps on a meandering path
Preferably unseen to the Troll hills.
A mass shall be held for three days,
This will be the beginning of the holiday.

The frock is long, so it reaches down to the ground,
The socks are sharply pointed,
The hood is pulled down so that the holes for the eyes fit.
Everybody looks alike except for the height,
The prelate counts their number.

The password is given in a low voice,
The prelate blows three times in a horn.
The fire is kindled with nine kinds of wood,
That is the old custom.
A sacrifice is offered to the spirits,
Everyone is sprinkled with the blood.
The best part is gifted to spirits,
What remains is to be consumed by the men.

In the midnight hour
When stars glitter,
The prelate asks for silence
And this is obeyed by all the men.
They fall down onto the ground,
The prelate looks grimly at the heavens.
And incantations and summons echo in the dells
The prelate is summoning spirits.

Everyone received an answer to their question,
No one heard from another man what the answer was."

A bit of analysis is in order, though the poem speaks admirably well for itself. The "Holiday" (Holy-day) is unknown, though I like to think that this poem records a general ritual used for any season of Heathen importance. What is striking is that a procession takes place to the Horg or the Hallowed Area at the Trollkyrka (processions into and out of holy places are a common fixture in many pre-Christian religions, and even today, Catholic masses begin with the procession of priests and their attendants up to the Altar) and the attendees are dressed in a striking manner.

They apparently have long, sharply pointed socks, long frocks, and hoods with eye-holes in them. Surely some of this was for the sake of remaining anonymous if they were seen, and for a good fright factor in the same event, but there may be more to it- they would appear quite ghoulish in the right light (or should I say lack of light, or perhaps torch or moonlight) and this kind of costume could have represented a hiding of the human identity and an assuming of a visage intended to convince spirits that they belonged to the spirit-world. The notion of dressing like spirits or putting on masks and disguises at "between times" or holy seasons and rituals is not unheard of in the shamanisms of primal societies, and a yearly distant show of this same practice at Halloween is well known to us all.

Of all the parts of the ritual outlined in this poem, however, I'd be willing to bet that this part- the odd dress- is the most "modern" addition. It's hard to imagine the common people of Heathen times really dressing in this manner at every ritual sacrifice, and indeed, such a thing would have been mentioned. However, as we shall see, there is more happening here than just a ritual sacrifice. The last part of this ritual-program seems to be a genuine working of Seid or Trance-sorcery in which Spirits are summoned and questions are asked of them by the gathering. The odd dress on the parts of the participants makes a bit more sense in that light; these are not merely "the Heathen laypeople", but people performing Seid.

The next parts of the poem are pure poetry- the "prelate", or the rite-master, gives a password and blows a horn three times- very powerful, indeed! The nature of the password is not known, but it's easy to guess what was happening there; he was formally calling to the Gods or the local Spirits by their names or by-names. His horn blasts summon their attention or perhaps their full presence; no doubt one blast is sent to the heavens, the other to the corners of this world, and the last to the land of the dead below.

The sacred fire of their rite and their sacrifice is composed of "nine woods"- nine, the number again and again mentioned in all Heathen lore, is without a doubt the most sacred concept, then and now. The poem ends this portion by saying "this was the old custom". How old? I can assure you that the practices this poem is outlining are as old as the hills.

A straightforward Heathen Blot is described next, a blessing, a sacrifice and sprinkling with blood. The portions of the sacrifice are shared by men and the spirits- this portion of the poem is a marvelous and direct proof that Blots were being done at a very late date, and at sites holy to Heathenry since very ancient times.

The final and most powerful part to me is the "Seid" rite that is detailed- "in the midnight hour", the participants are sent to the ground in silence while the rite-master sings chants or invocations, and each person "received an answer to their question", though "no one heard from another man what the answer was."

In other words, Spirits told each person their answer. We can recall the Sagas here, where the Volva in Greenland receives her answers, on behalf of the questioning public, directly from spirits that she sings to summon as well.

All in all, this gem of folklore is something that every modern Heathen should pay attention to, and more than one modern Traditional Witch should look to it as well, as a pattern for genuine modern day revivalist rites. I believe that there is power in this pattern, and I well know the power of it, as it is a pattern that I have used for many years now in my own practice.