Aegir’s Feast was a book I wrote almost immediately after I finished the book Nobility. These two books formed the backbone of the presentation I gave for the Midsummer Celebrations the Asatru Folk Assembly held at its Hof in Northern California. This is an excerpt from the book Aegir’s Feast. It provides a much detailed outline of just what we are facing when we begin to deal with the instruction of our youth and how it may not necessarily fit in with today’s expectations of ourselves and the world.
In almost all the great literature we have which pertains to the spiritual aspect of history; feasting is an important tradition. But I think almost anyone who would read this book might agree that the description of the feast is more than just a literary attempt to set the stage. From Beowulf to King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, to the Last Supper and the Marriage feast of Canna, to the feasting table we are preparing to discuss in depth; Aegir’s Feast; there is a wealth of information and suggestions as to how we might “set the table” as it were with regards to how we feast upon the abundance of life.
The romanticized literature of the middle ages and the composition of several cultures which resulted in the big three monotheistic faiths offer us similar suggestions about this feasting tradition. In just about every case there are a few consistent themes. That the assembled individuals are each unique in their personas, that the meal is a grand one with the suggestion of miraculous occurrences and that everyone will walk away from the table on their way to whatever destiny awaits them. Full of the “meal” they require to handle the arduous tasks before them and achieve what greatness may lie in wait.
These fantastic tales have been told for centuries in one form or another but it is in the lore of the Northern Europeans, specifically the Poetic and Prose Eddas which put forth a tale full of meanings we need only to decipher to set a table for the heroic undertakings of our own life.
The Lay of Hymir outlines the preparation necessary to set such a feast. It talks of the ordeals we need to overcome, the state mind which prompts such an undertaking and the location along with the necessary implements. Let’s take a look at this age old story and see if we might surmise as to why it has existed for as long as it has.
It begins as thus:
- 1. Of old the gods | made feast together,
And drink they sought | ere sated they were;
Twigs they shook, | and blood they tried:
Rich fare in Ægir’s | hall they found.
It is of no small significance that the gods have found the rich fare they have in the realm of the ocean giant. I’m not talking about fish either. It appears that the gods have what amounts to be an insatiable appetite. But I think it is more along the lines of a strong and continuous desire to get our attention.
The twigs they shook might be the world tree; Yggdrasil and its creation or the rune staves so hard earned from the all-father. We are all well aware that it is our actions which provide the fresh water which the Norns use to nourish, not only the roots of the tree of our life but that of Yggdrasil as well. Mighty sticks indeed.
The blood is from the Blots we hold to sway the gods opinion in our favor, to give thanks and exchange a gift for a gift. But it would appear that there is something falling short in the relationship between men and gods. Or perhaps there is something which men ought to know but do not. The hunger with which the divine desires to associate with men is never sated. But it is not something we are just given. If the initiate were to be handed the wisdom, power and understanding as represented by our pantheon of Gods and Goddesses, we would find ourselves overwhelmed in short order given the current understanding of faith within the Asatru community. We must earn our seat at the table. That means we are going to have to develop along the spiritual lines intended for us. As with most significant events in the lore with regards to Odin; he will ensure the odds are in his favor. If we look carefully we will see the path we are supposed to take. I cannot imagine Odins interest in us would be anything less than the attention he has paid to so many other details.
So they decide that it is within the rich realm of the ocean where they will find their greatest fulfillment. And for good reason. Water is a powerful symbol across time, geography and culture as something which is holy. It represents life in almost every corner of the globe. Its sacred aspects are evidenced in the runes as Laguz, Issa, and Hagalaz. Each one a representation of water in various states of existence and possibility. The fact that the majority of our being and everything else on earth which walks, talks, crawls or grows is comprised of water is also important to note. It is a connecting element of our physical forms. But it is also a representation of our minds. Not the brain, but the powerful spiritual aspect of our being science is just now beginning to understand and which religion has long taken advantage of.
And just like the water which is vital to life, our minds will assume the shape of the container we place them in. It is very important that the readers of this book understand that the choice of container we wish to use is our idea and no one elses. Much of what I have written suggests that this container is formed when we are very young by the ideals and attitudes of our parents, churchs, schools and geographic location. Suffice it to say that the vessel we may have been given is not suitable for the greatness the gods wish of us. Nor is it suitable for the greatness which we are built for.
Just as Rig once walked the earth imparting the divine blessing which he did, Odin brings the full force of assembled Asgard to feast within the containers which represent our minds. For it is our minds which create the reality we live in. The moment Odin notices what is going on it is written down as such:
- The mountain-dweller | sat merry as boyhood,
But soon like a blinded | man he seemed;
The son of Ygg | gazed in his eyes:
“For the gods a feast | shalt thou forthwith get.”
For much of our life we are content to indulge in the passions and moods so prominent in a society dominated by the extremes of youth. But that joyous playground of the immature mind will not bring about the results expected when Odin, Vili and Ve offered us good sense and a host of other gifts. The giants have always been the primal and immature forces of nature and life. Base and instinctive, ruled by passions and shortcomings. To see one indulging in prosperity within the realm of the emotion driven humankind must assuredly be offensive to the high minded ideals of sky gods. So a challenge is set. A goal if you will. To set a feast for the gods. It is a goal each one of us must also undertake. To set, within our minds, a feast whereby the blessing of the divine might fully be brought to bear on our existence in a manner congruent with our creation. That is; to develop into something far greater than was imagined when we were given the containers to hold our dreams in when we were young.
The roiling tides of life are an ever present aspect of living in the forms which we now inhabit. Ups and downs successes and failures are largely determined by who we allow to sit at our feast. Or more importantly which aspects of the divine as represented by our thoughts and emotions do we allow to fill the containers which represent the mind of our being. Will you attempt to cram the truly fantastic proportions of your allotment into a beer bottle or would you rather that the mead of inspiration be brewed with a cauldron of cosmic proportions? It would seem that Odin wishes our inspiration to emanate from a truly endless supply. One which might sate the gods and fulfill the grandest of our dreams. To whit:
- The word-wielder toil | for the giant worked,
And so revenge | on the gods he sought;
He bade Sif’s mate | the kettle bring:
“Therein for ye all | much ale shall I brew.”
At first glance it would appear to be a resentment at the mind controlling our passions. No one likes to deny the heart that which it wants. And the powerful being which rules the oceans most certainly represents our emotional state in this tale. But the Gods have not chosen the realm of the ocean to enslave and conquer it, they have assembled to enjoy the bounty of it. It is curious since apparently Asgard has more than enough. The successful endeavor will yield a fine union of the heart and the mind to create more than we might ever imagine. It is a very powerful example of creating a balance in our lives which will yield results we cannot fathom when we are firmly in the grips of an all mental or emotional state of being.
All too often people will drift from one extreme of the other. The all mental being lacks personality and spirit, while the passionate individual lacks the mental fortitude to withstand the storm. The union of the Aesir and the Vanir is our first hint that the heart and the mind must act as one to feast in the gleaming halls of the Asgard we might build for ourselves. It is also just a first step.
- The far-famed ones | could find it not,
And the holy gods | could get it nowhere;
Till in truthful wise | did Tyr speak forth,
And helpful counsel | to Hlorrithi gave.
It is the age old wisdom of our grandfathers and grandmothers whose hearts and minds have been tempered with age which will provide us with the wisdom and truth which originates in the union of the heart and mind. Tyr is the finest example of such a character as may be espoused. The suggestions that he may have been the original sky god before Odin places him in that respected position of an elder in my eyes. His understanding of the sacrifice he must make for the good of the tribe is nowhere better detailed than when he loses a hand to the Fenris wolf. How could he have not known when they were planning the rope to bind the wolf that someone would have to accept the responsibility of the deceit. But knowing with his mind and acting with his heart, his tribe will enjoy a period of peace where the people he loves might enjoy life. And again he comes forward with wisdom so that others of us who have ears to hear and eyes to see might revel in that peace as well. Just like our grandparents who would wish to see us succeed at anything we do and often times they will take measures necessary to ensure it can be; Tyr comes forward and demonstrates his knowledge and a willingness to face the fear of his origins.
- “There dwells to the east | of Elivagar
Hymir the wise | at the end of heaven;
A kettle my father | fierce doth own,
A mighty vessel | a mile in depth.”
- “May we win, dost thou think, | this whirler of water?”
“Aye, friend, we can, | if cunning we are.”
Courage, Strength and Wisdom set forth to face the great unknown and secure for the future generation and the seated assembly a vessel so vast that there is no limit to the dreams and successes it might bring forth. It is the same thing with us. We must use courage, strength and wisdom to face those limitations we have been given. We should set about to clearing away the conditioning we have been given in order to fully accept those divine gifts we have been holding on too for so long. Holding on too, fully aware of and completely unable to put them to use in our life. The union of our heart and mind when focused upon a goal gives us an almost unlimited access to the divine. These gods and goddesses represent our own inner powers and faculties which enable us to realize our own desires. Some of us will need it when the scope of the limitations we must remove becomes evident.
- Forward that day | with speed they fared,
From Asgarth came they | to Egil’s home;
The goats with horns | bedecked he guarded;
Then they sped to the hall | where Hymir dwelt.
- The youth found his grandam, | that greatly he loathed,
And full nine hundred | heads she had;
But the other fair | with gold came forth,
And the bright-browed one | brought beer to her son.
Notice that it is a feminine figure which offers the cup. This is a repeated theme in the feasting tradition of the North.
- “Kinsman of giants, | beneath the kettle
Will I set ye both, | ye heroes bold;
For many a time | my dear-loved mate
To guests is wrathful | and grim of mind.”
A second important aspect of the feminine in the feasting tradition is where the stranger may sit. In this case it is her son. Who has gone on the greater things, with a very powerful tribe. He has left the simple beginning behind and returns with honor to lay claim to a remnant of his heritage which he is now worthy to own.
- Late to his home | the misshapen Hymir,
The giant harsh, | from his hunting came;
The icicles rattled | as in he came,
For the fellow’s chin-forest | frozen was.
- “Hail to thee, Hymir! | good thoughts mayst thou have;
Here has thy son | to thine hall now come;
(For him have we waited, | his way was long;)
And with him fares | the foeman of Hroth,
The friend of mankind, | and Veur they call him.
A heroes introduction and a reminder that he has achieved what he set out to accomplish.
- “See where under | the gable they sit!
Behind the beam | do they hide themselves.”
The beam at the glance | of the giant broke,
And the mighty pillar | in pieces fell.
- Eight fell from the ledge, | and one alone,
The hard-hammered kettle, | of all was whole;
Forth came they then, | and his foes he sought,
The giant old, | and held with his eyes.
The mere presence of Tyr and Thor in the giants’ home is a reminder of his failures in an average life. They fall and break like so many of the half-realized goals one might set about to realize. Second place and participation trophies of life. But there is one piece of work which does not and that is the birthright of Tyr. Though he may not have what it takes to handle it himself, he is smart enough to be a part of tribe which will help him.
But the frith demanded of hospitality ensues and a fine meal is shared.
- Eight fell from the ledge, | and one alone,
The hard-hammered kettle, | of all was whole;
Forth came they then, | and his foes he sought,
The giant old, | and held with his eyes.
- Much sorrow his heart | foretold when he saw
The giantess’ foeman | come forth on the floor;
Then of the steers | did they bring in three;
Their flesh to boil | did the giant bid.
It is interesting to note that Thor is known for killing more female than males of the race of giants. The masculine subdues the feminine. Each story has its own fine points. but for a giant, the representation of the grown but emotionally immature male, as in the case of Hymir it is a serious threat. Hymir is ruled by moods and lives with his mother and wife. There are a lot of heathens today in the same boat, big and strong enough to be considered men, but emotionally stunted and threatened at the loss of the feminine in their lives. The same can be said for women with the masculine in their lives. It is a frontier we can waste no more time on. The man and woman making ceremonies of our children will take on a newfound importance. These ceremonies should be done in the absence of the opposite sex and represent a complete severing of the ties. It is a key ingredient towards setting the table. Notice that this table barely had enough to satisfy the mighty hunger of Thor.
One might think that if this was the focus of the story, they would feast, and be done with it. But for some reason they decide to go on a fishin trip. The grizzled old giant and the mighty Thor head out to the water. A competition if you will for the moody braggart to display his prowess and prove to himself and himself alone that he might be capable of something worthwhile. Perhaps even on par with the Gods. Surely he could, had not his son endured a journey and been accepted as a member of this fine tribe which rules over everything it sees? He instructs Thor to secure his bait and balks at his suggestion to row even further out onto the ocean.
- To the comrade hoary | of Hrungnir then
Did Hlorrithi’s meal | full mighty seem;
“Next time at eve | we three must eat
The food we have | s the hunting’s spoil.”
Fain to row on the sea | was Veur, he said,
If the giant bold | would give him bait.
- “Go to the herd, | if thou hast it in mind,
Thou slayer of giants, | thy bait to seek;
For there thou soon | mayst find, methinks,
Bait from the oxen | easy to get.”
- Swift to the wood | the hero went,
Till before him an ox | all black he found;
From the beast the slayer | of giants broke
The fortress high | of his double horns.
- “Thy works, methinks, | are worse by far,
Thou steerer of ships, | than when still thou sittest.”
- The lord of the goats | bade the ape-begotten
Farther to steer | the steed of the rollers;
But the giant said | that his will, forsooth,
Longer to row | was little enough.
- Two whales on his hook | did the mighty Hymir
Soon pull up | on a single cast;
In the stern the kinsman | of Othin sat,
And Veur with cunning | his cast prepared.
- The warder of men, | the worm’s destroyer,
Fixed on his hook | the head of the ox;
There gaped at the bait | the foe of the gods,
The girdler of all | the earth beneath.
- The venomous serpent | swiftly up
To the boat did Thor, | the bold one, pull;
With his hammer the loathly | hill of the hair
Of the brother of Fenrir | he smote from above.
- The monsters roared, | and the rocks resounded,
And all the earth | so old was shaken;
Then sank the fish | in the sea forthwith.
Joyless as back | they rowed was the giant;
Speechless did Hymir | sit at the oars,
With the rudder he sought | a second wind.
In the midst of a simple fishing trip to secure food for a feast, Hymir is astonished and terrified that Thor raises the Midgard Serpent. Right here in front of him Thor has the chance to change the very tide of war and the outcome of Ragnarok. It must surely be a terrifying sight to find yourself in the presence of true greatness far beyond the well cultured ego of an online presence. Thor demonstrates that even in passing, his security as a powerful masculine symbol and God he has what it takes to change the world around him as he so pleases. When Thor is referred to as Veur, he is said to represent the vitality or life force of every man or woman. This is a terrifying thought to ponder for the being whose existence is still very much reactive to almost everything. The weather, the people we come across, the moods which dominate our thinking.
In some stories Hymir cuts the line. An example of the lengths to which the ego driven will go to prevent a change in the world which would demand a growing up if you will. An end of the ability to bluff ones’ way through life by standing behind the false comfort of ceremony and self-importance. To cut the line of another mans’ success before it overshadows your own is perhaps one of the great sins of existence and a denial of the true aspects of our being. In our world; these actions take the form of careful manipulations and half-hearted oaths from lesser men to prevent these ventures into the realm of development for the individual. Very rarely is something done to encourage this development. More often than not, half the story is told and then the insistence of an obligation or shyld because they didn’t do the way we might have. Selfishness rules the roost and it does not foster the setting of a table where the gods might enjoin one to secure the finery one expects from a faith.
Twice more is Thor’s strength tested and in the end he has to slay the whole tribe.
- “The half of our toil | wilt thou have with me,
And now make fast | our goat of the flood;
Or home wilt thou bear | the whales to the house,
Across the gorge | of the wooded glen?”
- Hlorrithi stood | and the stem he gripped,
And the sea-horse with water | awash he lifted;
Oars and bailer | and all he bore
With the surf-swine home | to the giant’s house.
- His might the giant | again would match,
For stubborn he was, | with the strength of Thor;
None truly strong, | though stoutly he rowed,
Would he call save one | who could break the cup.
- Hlorrithi then, | when the cup he held,
Struck with the glass | the pillars of stone;
As he sat the posts | in pieces he shattered,
Yet the glass to Hymir whole they brought.
- But the loved one fair | of the giant found
A counsel true, | and told her thought:
“Smite the skull of Hymir, | heavy with food,
For harder it is | than ever was glass.”
- The goats’ mighty ruler | then rose on his knee,
And with all the strength | of a god he struck;
Whole was the fellow’s | helmet-stem,
But shattered the wine-cup | rounded was.
- “Fair is the treasure | that from me is gone,
Since now the cup | on my knees lies shattered;”
So spake the giant: | “No more can I say
In days to be, | ‘Thou art brewed, mine ale.’
- “Enough shall it be | if out ye can bring
Forth from our house | the kettle here.”
Tyr then twice | to move it tried,
But before him the kettle | twice stood fast.
- The father of Mothi | the rim seized firm,
And before it stood | on the floor below;
Up on his head | Sif’s husband raised it,
And about his heels | the handles clattered.
- Not long had they fared, | ere backwards looked
The son of Othin, | once more to see;
From their caves in the east | beheld he coming
With Hymir the throng | of the many-headed.
- He stood and cast | from his back the kettle,
And Mjollnir, the lover | of murder, he wielded;
So all the whales | of the waste he slew.
Twice it is mentioned that Thor is Sif’s husband and mate all the while he is helping a member of his tribe secure something which is heritage but will benefit everyone. This is the kind of effort we need more of. Men and women who are willing to go the distance to help other members of the tribe heave to the waste which hampers their development. Men who are secure in their relationships and strong of mind and back. It is the confidence we are meant to breed in our own lives. And we can do it by following this example.
You see when we are in possession of a frame of mind that encourages a free give and take which is not laden with misbegotten ideals of selfishness, we are setting the table which will be a delight for the gods to enjoy. A frame of mind which is free from the petty nonsense we see so much of today and much of it was learned from men and women who knew; just absolutely knew, that when the time came they would be forgiven. No matter the damage they had done and the faulty thinking which they had engendered upon their greatest treasure. The going forth of a champion to secure the future of his tribe, his people and his organization is one of the greatest obligations we may ever undertake. It must be done with a frame of mind which is inviting to those high minded ideals of love so many of us are loathe to embrace. Therein lies the challenge of our greatness. Ask any soldier who has won a medal for heroism. Ask any mother who has risked everything for the safety of her children. Everything else was merely an after thought subsequent to the protection and safeguarding of those they loved and the feelings they helped create within them.
In all of this, we have taken a step towards securing the vessel necessary to brew a mead worthy of the gods. That unique substance which offers inspiration to so many of us and provides some small connection to the great stories of our past. If we have faced the fears such as Tyr has and secured a powerful positive friendship based on the goodwill of all we have taken a powerful first step towards identifying the vessel we may need to brew the dreams and desires of our life and share them with everyone held close to us. Not to obligate them to us, but to encourage them that it can be done.
When it comes time to meet the steely eyed gaze of the one who would expect the most from us, have we relinquished the immature passions of a selfish child? It can be a powerful disappointment to look up and realize that after all this time walking the face of the earth that we might have missed the greatest challenge of our existence.
- The mighty one came | to the council of gods,
And the kettle he had | that Hymir’s was;
So gladly their ale | the gods could drink
In Ægir’s hall | at the autumn-time.
To feast and drink in the autumn, during the harvest speaks volumes of what we might expect if grab on to these simple concepts and put them to us in our life. We are on every level simple aspects of the universe given form. From the atoms of carbon, iron, calcium and everything else which were born in the heart of stars to the divine gift of inspiration we are very much an integral part of the world around us. We have what it takes to harness that, imbue it with divine power and put it to use for the betterment of not only our self, but everyone around us.