Ceremonies are social events for those who practice Asatru. Honoring the Gods, revering various wights and ancestors, etc, may all be done in private and often do not even require a special ceremony or anything of the sort. So why have a ceremony in the first place? A ceremony does serve the purpose of providing social framework and allowing for communities to gather/participate and because of this it is thought the actions taken in these settings have additional meaning. When it comes to the different types of ceremonies in Asatru, it is important to note that there are various ways they can be done. Some prefer a “High Ritual” type of ceremony, while others prefer a “Plain Speech” ceremony. These differ in the way they are conducted. Either way, ceremony is a public expression and meant to be an affirmation of your beliefs in the community, while affirming and bonding you with your kindred/kin, etc. The most common ceremony you will see in the Asatru community is known as a “blot”: this is a feast/sacrifice type of ceremony with the purpose of offering gifts/honor to the Gods. “In the Book of Blots, Rod Landreth lists the main types of rituals under this context as: celebratory rites, folk-binding, initiatory rites, devotional rites, and several other purposes combined.”(Paxson)
High Ritual Ceremonies vs Plain Speech Ceremonies
High ritual ceremonies tend to be archaic (meaning they speak using poetic language, wear/use sacred cloth, make ‘sacred space’ to do the ceremony in) and tend to also be very highly structured and organized. On the flip side of that, you have plain speech ceremonies, which tend to be very casual (often those participating will wear normal clothes, speak normally, etc) and have a loose construction/framework. Most kindreds/gathering of Asatruars tend to follow the plain speech type of ceremonies- as most simply feel more comfortable in that setting. Which is fine! You want to be comfortable and relaxed in this environment for the ceremonies to go along smoothly. Those who prefer plain speech tend to view this as a “Every day” type of thing, because they generally have the impression that Asatru is just another part of their daily lives. However, there are still those who tend to be more traditional/older in their workings and prefer the high ritual type of ceremony. “The perception of bringing spiritual reality to physical existence is very fulfilling for them.. The ritual symbolism in high ritual (ceremonies) refreshes and reaffirms the esoteric knowledge that underlies the religion..”(Shetler) As with anything, it is up to the individuals.
1. The Opening of the Ceremony
The opening in the ceremony is the time where preparations for the ceremony and what will be doing during its course are made. This is where you “set the stage” for what you will be doing, as Shetler so kindly worded it. You would begin by offering an invitation to the participants to be a part of the ceremony. After this is done, you discuss what the ceremony is, its purpose, why it is being done, etc. This is to make sure everyone is on the same page for the work to be done ahead. Initial rituals tend to be done during these early stages, depending on the group and their customs (invocations, blessings/wardings, etc).
The Opening can be different depending on the High Ritual or Plain Speech setting. Under the High Ritual one, it is common for the Gothi/Gythja (Priest/Priestess) to call the members there to assemble and gather, then together they work to “make the space sacred”. There are several ways this can be done. From my experience, it is often common to light a fire or incense and carry these things around the space you are wishing to make sacred. The purpose of doing this is to clear the area of any harmful/negative influences as well as make an area that is equal in physical/spiritual space. It also serves the purpose of creating a “magickal mood” for the setting. It can be helpful to members in drawing their points of attention to a singular focus/task at hand. In High Ritual ceremonies, once this is done, the invocations are made. These can be to a specific God, a family of Gods, wights, spirits, ancestors, etc. This is where said Gods(etc) are “called upon” to be participants in the ceremony with the others.
Under the Plain Speech type of ceremony, the Gothi/Gythja call the members together to briefly explain what the ceremony is about and how it is going to be conducted. The space is not usually made sacred, though there are exceptions. Sometimes blessings are included in the opening under this type of ritual. Instead of making “Sacred space”, created a mood for the setting can be as simple as sitting quietly for a few moments, calming the mind and clearing the head of thoughts through meditation. Incense may or may not be lit, some groups like to “wash” their altar in fire to “cleanse” it before beginning. If there is invocation to a God/spirit/etc in this ceremony, it is done at this time and it is very simply, in plain speech, without becoming complex. Short, sweet and to the point describes this type of ceremony perfectly.
Some groups like to use the Hammer Rite, created by Edred Thorsson. Its purpose is to define the boundaries of the ritual space and gather attention/focus. If you’ve never looked into it, I recommend it. It is also important to note that the invocation during this process is called “the Call”, “Halsing” or “Bidding”. It is a prayer/request that welcomes and invited the Gods/spirits, etc to the gathering. Most view this as a very important aspect of the ceremony opening, even if simplified.
2. The Body of the Ceremony
This part of the ceremony is where the actual workings are done. “In the body is where the portions of a ceremony specific to that particular ceremony actually take place.. Whether you are performing High Ritual or Plain Speech or a combination of anything in-between, ceremony is about doing something publicly. That may be celebrating a season, marrying a couple, or whatever!”(Shetler)
High Ritual ceremonies tend to have a specific way the body of the ceremony is organized. It usually is composed of several symbolic acts, speeches, invocations, and “ritualized activities”. These types of workings under this setting are meant to bring the spiritual/physical realms together, hence the symbolic acts. These acts can be done in a variety of ways: sometimes members will “act out” the role of a specific entity, “become” an abstraction or concept, or alter the states of consciousness through various means. (I’ve written an article on the eightfold path to altered states of consciousness- this is where those techniques are commonly used: breathing, trancework, etc)
Plain Speech ceremonies tend to be extremely different. The acts, invocations, may often be the same in idea but very simple and direct in context. “It doesn’t rely on esoteric knowledge for understanding”(Shetler). You may see some trancework, and an altering of the states of consciousness, but you rarely will see members/participants in a plain speech setting “act out” or “become” like any specific entity, this is often seen as unnecessary to those who follow this type of ceremony. Simple and direct- this is all the body of these types of ceremony need.
3. The Closing of the Ceremony
This part of the ceremony is meant to “close” the work that has been done, finish anything left to do, and affirm the end of the ceremony. It is common for there to be a giving of thanks during the closing, where the Gods/entities/spirits that were invoked during the opening/body are thanked for their participation in the ceremony. There is also a thanks between the participants, the priest/ess, etc. After a “cooling down” period, where the participants let the energy from the ceremony settle, there is usually a “sacrifice” made. These are offerings made to the spiritual participants in the ritual, and they come in many forms. Sacrifices serve the purpose of demonstrating good will and/or as thanks/token of esteem. It means “to give up something important to you”. In a sense, you pay a price for the work that was done during the ritual. (Some believe that there is no price to be paid, but most see it as honorable to “give a gift for a gift”: meaning, you asked a God/spirit/etc for help and it is only fair and just that you give something in return for the efforts of the entity the was a part of your working).
In various blots, the offering may consist of mead or some other form of drink. It is “consecrated” to the deity or entity that was invoked previously. “The actual consecration consists of a blessing and the “signing” of the horn with the hammer sign or a (specific) rune”. Once the drink or offering has been blessed, the remains are poured into an offering bowl. The bowl is sometimes passed around by each member. Each member typically will say a few words of honor, then take a drink. After each member has done this, the remaining content in the bowl is usually poured on the Earth/put outside/ put in a hole in the ground, etc.
The space that was made sacred under the High Ritual type of ceremony is now “desanctified”. The thanks given tend to be very stiff and formal in wording/actions. If sacred space was made by the lighting of fire/candles/incense, these things are doused. If a circle was walked holding a flame to “make” the space, it is now walked backwards to “open” the space up.) Members are now allowed to leave.
Plain Speech ceremonies have a very short blessing at the end of most ceremonies, occasionally “sprinkling them with mead or water from a blessing bowl”. A brief word-offering is made to the spirits, and everyone leaves after this. Sometimes there is a feast held after the closing of said ceremony, it depends on the group.
A Book of Troth by Thorsson Edred
Northern Magic by Thorsson Edred
Living Asatru by Greg Shetler
Essential Asatru by Diana Paxson