In the past, it is true that Germanic folk built places of worship outside: varying from huts (as described in text) to large and famous temples, such as Uppsala. It is becoming increasingly common in modern Heathenry to see a construction of such buildings on private land for the use of worship. Within the past year, the first Hof dedicated to Odin was opened in Denmark. So let's talk about what a hof is, some ideas on how to make your own, and all that jazz.
A hof functions in the same way as a temple tends to: it is a building dedicated to the purpose of worshipping or honoring the Gods, and to share teachings. These "Heathen temples" were sometimes referred to as "Godahus" (House of the Gods) and Blothus (House of Sacrifice).Historically, the term "hof" referred mostly to gathering places (even farmsteads) where local folk joined together on feasting-days and celebrations. There is some debate on the etymology of the word "hof", as it was thought to refer to temples but no historical temples have survived to modern times. The term harrow is sometimes used interchangably with the word Hof, though Kvedulf suggests that the Troth's interpretation is a harrow is kept for smaller gatherings, whereas a Hof is meant for larger ones.
There are surviving descriptions of hofs throughout the written lore and recorded history.In Kjalinesinga saga, there is an extended description of a hof made by Thorgrim Helgason: "He had a large temple [...] everybody had to pay a temple fee. Thor was the God most honored there. It was rounded on the inside [...] and the imagine of Thor stood in the center, with the other Gods on the sides. In front was an altar made with a great skull and covered with iron on the top. On this there was to be a fire which would never go out (...) A great copper bowl stood on the altar and received blood which animals or men gave to Thor".A description of Uppsala by King Sweyn Estridsen reads as such: "That folk has a very famous temple called Uppsala. In this temple, entirely decked out in gold, the people worship the statues of three gods in such wise that the mightiest of them, Thor, occupies a throne in the middle of the chamber; Wotan and Frikko [presumably Freyr] have places on either side [...] A golden chain goes round the temple, and hangs over the gable of the building - sending its glitter far off to those who approach".
In modern Heathenry, building of your own Hof can be a very spiritual and dedicated practice. You literally can create your own sacred space in your yard for private worship, for inviting your community or kindred to gather. It is also not uncommon, however, to rent or purpose pre-built buildings for similar dedications (and this latter option may be the most practical for those of us without many resources or whom are not carpenters). Some suggested ideas about hof-making:
- A hof should most traditionally be made of wood. "Wood is also best by simple virtue of its being: our forebears hailed the Gods and Goddesses in the living groves, surrounded by holy trees. A wood-built hof keeps this awareness alive" (Kvedulf).
- A ground plan for a hof may be similar to a long house. Long wooden buildings supported by earthed posts with buttresses outside is typical of North/North-western Germanic people.
- The size of the hof is determined by your personal means and availability of land. As a kindred comes together, money may be raised to rent or purchase a large amount of land on which a large hof could be made. For simpler, personal practice- it may be more practical to buy a storage shed and convert it into a hof or build a small hof similar to a wood-storage shelter.
- Presence of images representing the Gods is one of the forefront requirements of a hof. These images were traditionally made out of wood (like God-poles).
- Other ornamentation, such as carving runes and inscriptions into the pillars, is highly encouraged. It should feel sacred and personal to you, and be a place that connects you to the Gods. Saunas are an optional addition, but the use of saunas was traditional and seen as a form of purification.
A picture of a modern approach to a Hof:
Stave churches are one of the most recognizable and notable examples of Norwegian history and culture. They are unique to Norway, and serve as medieval symbols of Christianity's initial foothold.In the beginning of the Christianization of Norway, Christianity had only made modest marks and changes to the landscape: stone crosses erected to mark sacred ground, more Christian styles of burial, and eventually the building of simple timber chapels to serve for their religious buildings. These simple buildings eventually turned into beautifully designed structures.
Some of the very first and earliest stave churches have many elaborate carvings on their walls and pillars that are obviously from Norse lore, which shows the likely possibility that these churches were converted Heathen hofs.There is much debate as to whether or not these represent true Heathen temples that were later used by the Christians or if they are basically Christian in origin. They are important to note from at least a historical context, regardless.
Pictures of remaining and current stave churches:
A horgr can be defined roughly as a heathen place of worship made from an altar of stone. This is similar in some aspects to a stalli, another kind of altar made from stone. The distinquishing feature of a horg, however, is that a hord is under the open sky and often surrounded by an enclosed circle of stones. It is possible that the Norse built horgr when away from home, as a means of temporary sacred sites or whenever a hof was not near. There are several horgr found at Laufskalavarda Iceland and in other locations known to be inhabited at the time by Norse settlers.
On a side note: This kind of enclosure in sacred space is seen in several other types of gathering places for heathen worship. This designated spaces were called "frid-gardr" (peace-enclosures)."It might enclose figures of the gods or sacred objects, or provide an obvious boundary around holy ground, separating it either temporarily or permanently from the normal world" ( Ellis-Davidson)
Stones in a hogr are either piled, heaped, or stacked.During blots, the sacrifical blood was poured over the horgr. In modern practice, there are acceptable alternatives of blessing a horgr. The blood offering is often replaced with a votive offering of beer, mead, or wine. There are many other variations, such as non-alcoholic alternatives.
An example of a dedication for a horgr someone wrote:
The sacred grove is one of the oldest forms of sacred space that was recorded. Various terms for sacred natural enclosures included "lundr" (meaning grove) and ve (meaning sacred site). Tacitus' Germania is one of the earliest pieces of literature that describes the use of sacred groves: "The Germans, however, do not consider it consistent with the grandeur of celestial beings to confine the gods within walls, or to liken them to the form of any human countenance. They consecrate woods and groves, and they apply the names of deities to that hidden presence which is seen only by the eye of reverence". This makes much sense, as belief in land-associated wights (the landvaettir,sjovaettir, etc) were common.
Sacred groves had their own tradition and way of worship associated with them.No tree within a sacred grove was to be harmed in any way and the gods and goddesses themselves were some times thought to dwell there.There is some reason to believe that sacred groves were, more often than not dedicated to the Vanir or one among their ranks.Elves were also thought to be caretakers of trees and of groves. These groves sometimes found enclosed by silken thread were called elftrad-gardar by the Swedes(Alfta Lothurrsdottir).
Even though hofs would become more prevalent as the Viking Age came to an end the ve was still a place of worship well into the Viking Age and even afterwards. The Christians made it a special point to either build churches in them or cut them down. A song in the Koniginhof mentioned a grove from which the Christians scared away the sacred sparrow which dwelled there and the bishop, Unwan of Bremen made it his special task to have sacred groves cut down (Alfta Lothurrsdottir). Early Christian legal codes reinforce this idea of outdoor worship, as they expressively prohinit the execution of ritual ceremonies on mound, in groves or in the woods, by stone or in sanctuary.
Individual trees, either in groves or elsewhere many times were considered holy. There are numerous mentions of sacred trees in the lore.It was not an uncommon practice to leave offerings at the foot of a sacred tree or for wreaths to be hung on them. The veneration of sacred trees was something that continued into the Christian conversion. In Minden on Easter Sunday the young people of both sexes used to dance, with load cries of joy, in a circle around an old oak. (69) Despite this survival of Heathen custom, the Christians went out of their way to cut down sacred trees. There are cases, however, where the Heathens stood up and would not allow the Christians to desecrate their holy sites according to Grimm (Alfta Lothurrsdottir).
There are other sacred spaces, though these were the view I wanted to mention.
- Our Troth Vol. 2 by Kvedulf Gundarrson
- Hofs, Harrows, and Churches: Towards a Heathen Definition of Church by Diana Paxson
- Religious Practices of the Pre-Christian & Viking Age North by Alfta Lothurrsdottir
- Approaching the Gods: Building the Ve by Cara Freyasdaughter
- Building is Believing: Norway's Stave Churches by Marissa (Mediaeval Musings)
- Myths and Symbols in Pagan Europe by Ellis-Davidson