This may very well be the most important rite of passage in the life of any person, especially where a boy becomes a man. It has been thought that the ceremonial aspects within Asatr tradition have been wanting in this area. I believe that this may be in part due to the lack of understanding of the fundamentals of this passage in cultures around the world. Once one obtains this knowledge, which to me was best presented in Robert Bly's Iron John, you can easily discover this ceremony, fully manifested in the Hávamál. Here Bly comments on the researches of Mircea Eliade in Rites and Symbols of Initiation:
"…in his reports of initiation experiences in dozens of cultures all over the world, mentions that initiation of boys begins with two events: the first is a clean break with the parents, after which the novice goes to the forest, desert, or wilderness. The second is a wound that the older men give the boy, which could be scarring of the skin, a cut with the knife, a brushing with nettles, a tooth knocked out." Iron John, p. 28
The strophes in Hávamál that give us a clear picture of the Asatrú rite of passage into adulthood are those that depict Odin's trials to obtain the Fimbulsongs, the 18 runes:
139. I know that I hung on the wind-tossed tree nine nights, by my spear wounded, given to Odin, myself given to myself; on that tree of which no one knows from what root it springs.
140. Bread no one gave me, nor a horn of drink, downward I peered. I caught up the runes myself- wailing I learnt them, then fell down thence.
141. Nine fimbulsongs I obtained from the famed son of Bolþorn, Bestla's father, and got a draught, too, of the precious mead drawn from Odrœrir.
142. Then I began to bloom and to be wise, and to grow and thrive: word came to me from word; deed came to me from deed.
143. Runes thou wilt find, and unexplained characters, very large characters, very potent characters, which FimbulÞulr (Mimer) drew and the oldest powers made and Odin risted.
This instance in Odin's life is the one that transcended Him from an inexperienced youth to the highest of the Gods. It also parallels all that we know of the initiation of boys into manhood. The parallels follow:
1. A separation takes place from all others as Odin remains alone (though probably His whereabouts are known and others can reach Him as is implied in strophe 140. They can give Him bread or drink, but for the sake of His quest do not), hanging from the trunk of the World Tree.
2. He has been marked by His own spear, as a sacrifice of Himself to Himself. That is, He created the suffering necessary to continue His journey.
3. He fasts, which gives him enlightenment, an important tool in obtaining the power of the runes.
4. When He has completed His task, he is given a gift (and, as we shall see, gives a gift in return,) that of a drink from the sacred mead fountains and the knowledge of the runes.
In strophe 142 we see that Odin was previously without His vast wisdom and greatness. It was this rite of initiation, his own üntergehen ("undergoing"), in Nietzsche's terms, that allowed him to begin his ascension. For our purposes we should look at what each strophe represents, then use this to adapt a suitable rite for our sons. I say sons because the initiation is primarily for them. The Goddesses have given girls a natural rite of passage, which is certainly celebrated but leaves them without the need for an imposed ceremony to help define the moment of transition into womanhood. This theme will be expanded as our investigation proceeds.
In the first line of the 139th strophe we find Odin hanging from "the wind-tossed tree." This is a very significant passage, one which should bring our attention not only to the tree, but also the wind. Odin is the God of wind, and it may be for this reason that the tree is "wind-tossed." Being bound to the tree represents the connection to the wilderness, to the "Wild Man" as Bly and others have pointed out. He has severed the bond with his parents as is needed to become a man; once the bird has learned flight, it leaves the nest. It should be pointed out that the tree is a phallic symbol, born from the womb of the Earth Mother, Frigga, and here represents the entire cosmos. Release from the bonds of the phallic tree, after being separated from the ground of the Earth Mother, may first of all represent the separation of the boy from the parents- first the mother, then the father, and secondly may represent some sort of death, a release from the symbol of life.
It is no coincidence that the Asatrú symbol of life, the Rune Man for Elhaz, and the Asatrú symbol of death, the rune Eihwaz, Yr, or Calc, both also represent trees. To be released from the tree is to "die" and it will be through connection to it that we are to be reborn.
The strophe's next line says that Odin wounded Himself with His spear as a sacrifice of self-to-self. Here is what Bly has to say of such wounds:
" The old initiators then make the young man, through the wound given in ritual space, double-hearted. Now the man has the physical heart he has always had, but also a compassionate heart. He has a double heart." (Ibidem, p.129)
Bly pointed out earlier in his work that "the spear when drawn is also a phallus, so that a pictured wound is also a vulva." So, the infliction of pain in ritual with His spear is something Odin uses to achieve what women have naturally. It is no wonder that the Germans revered their women so highly, as Roman observer, Tacitus, reported in Germania, chapters 8 and 45.
Odin undergoes these trials so that He can be a wise, compassionate judge at the Þing of the dead near Urdr's Well (cf. Teutonic Mythology, chapter 73; Viktor Rydberg.) Other qualities the divine judge will need are wisdom and strength, both gained from draughts of mead. An exhortation for compassion as part of Aryan bearing and being expected from an elder is voiced in the Seir, Paradigm 30, ". . .with compassionate bearing, help all ascend upward by example, goad, or teaching."
In the next strophe we learn that Odin is fasting, abstaining from food and drink in order to see clearly the wisdom of the runes. Later, another source tells us that mead becomes for Him both food and drink. This fasting occurs in most cultures in such circumstances for it is universally understood that to see clearly, one must be freed from the comforts of satiation. Seir, Paradigm 46 addresses this, ". . . journey foodless, sleepless, past the world of men and behold Powers and spirits teach you." Once He has fully connected to His own primal being, He "wails" out in inspired ecstasy or fury and gathers up the runes.
It may be possible that He has a direct link to His uncle, Mimer, who is "BolÞorn's famed son" throughout this experience. I say this because in strophe 140 Odin tells us that He caught the runes Himself, then in strophe 141 we are told that it was Mimer, who gave or threw (cast?) the runes that he had caught. After He caught them and "wailing" learnt them, He then falls down in strophe 140.
This falling down may represent an actual or symbolic death for in the next strophe we find Odin near the mead cisterns of the lower world, which is importantly, also the realm of the dead. He was obviously in the higher portion of the World-Tree, probably near His home, Asgard, for He has to "peer downward" to catch the runes Mimer has sent to Him.
Mimer, who is obscurely introduced in strophe 141, is an important part of this event, for he plays the "wild man" of the Iron John story. He is Odin's mentor, who introduces the uninitiated youth into the new life as a man. This is a sacred act, one sadly missing in modern culture. Bly tells us, "Women can change the embryo to a boy, but only men can change the boy to a man. Initiators say that boys need a second birth. This time a birth from men" (ibid., p. 16). He also says, "A boy cannot change into a man without the active intervention of the older men. A girl changes into a woman on her own, with the bodily developments making the change; old women tell her stories and chants and do celebrations. But with the boys, no old men, no change."
Thus, Mimer represents the "old men" to which Bly refers. Odin gains acceptance into the uncle's social circle with initiation. Mimer offers a draught from his kinswoman, Urdr's well as a gift, the draught which brings inner runic wisdom. Odin also receives a drink from Urdr and a place as judge at the HelÞing near Her well.
We learn in Gylfaginning, chapter 14 and Völuspá 28 that Odin also gives gifts, as is Teutonic custom. He gives to Mimer His right eye, which is dropped into the uncle's fountain and gives him a drinking horn named Fanns Hrosti (Fann's Brewing.) This same horn Allfather uses to restore life to the dead once that they have been granted ords tirr (good judgement) at the HelÞing. Perhaps this latter act commemorates His own rebirth through the initiation. The horn contains liquids of the subterranean mead fountains.
Thus we are being led to the possibility that Odin ritually killed Himself upon the World-Tree, making the sacrifice to Himself, which, as many other forms involves death. I have written the proof elsewhere that all deities, as all living things, according to our Teutonic belief system, are reborn after death, even though the nature of afterlife will vary. Odin is reborn as soon as He drinks of the sacred mead (which may be echoed in a similar Arthurian theme). At this instant, His divine spirit, newly dead, again becomes divine flesh. He proclaims His rebirth in strophe 142, "Then I began to bloom and to be wise, and to grow and thrive…" He is now a man-god, no longer a youth.
The last strophe of our discovery may be the most important, for it allows us to witness the student become the master. I have already stated that Mimer is Odin's "wild man." The two share a close bond, established formally by the exchange of gifts. Odin grows to love His uncle more than His own father, whose name occurs in our sacred lore only in the context of Odin's siring and by being brother to Vili-Lodur and Ve-Hœnir.
When Mimer was slain in the war between the Aesir and the Vanir, his nephew pays him tribute by embalming the severed head and enchanting it with the same málrúnar (speech runes), which the late uncle gave Him as a youth (Hávamál 158, the 12th rune charm.) Though Mimer is the "Wild Man" of the story, it becomes Alfadir, Himself, who is the "Wild Man" figure, and, as such, He leads the Wild Hunt on the last day of the month of Hunting, a holy day later Christianized into All Hallows Eve or Halloween. Odin is the lord of animals, master of the unpredictable winds, seducer of women, a great warrior, and king of the Gods. His name means "the furious one" or "the wild one" and He surrounds Himself with mystery and magic. In all of His aspects He is clearly identical to the wild man or Iron John of Germanic legend.
So, even the great teacher to our race has had a teacher Himself, and remains a student and a teacher for all time. Mimer learns from nature and the power of the fountain he protects, so he is the originator of the divine wisdom in our faith. This is why in Hávamál He is called FimbulÞulr- "The Great Thinker" or 'The Great Teacher." "The oldest powers" are the forces of nature organized by Ginungagap. Mimer drew the runes from the well that is the container of the purest cosmic wisdom and Odin risted these runes. Perhaps this means that Mimer discovered the lessons of runic wisdom, the secrets that they embody; whereas Odin formed these lessons into abstract symbols- the rune staves known today. Thus Odin furthers the teachings of His uncle, then spreads them among the Gods and men.
Now that we have established the connection between these strophes in Hávamál and the rite of passage into manhood we can adapt them to meet our need for such a formalized ceremony. We must keep in mind that Odin is a God by birth and even this does not stop His death on the World-Tree. Because we only want to symbolically kill the boy so that the man can be born, we must perform a modified version of Odin's initiation.
In Œra Linda Bók we find that the traditional time for this rite, in common with other cultures, is when the boy reaches the age of 12. This is because this is generally considered the time of puberty. Also, 12 is a sacred number, representing the twelve highest Gods and twelve highest Goddesses of our pantheon, the twelve months of the year, and the twelve signs of the zodiac.
Rather than the nine nights that Odin went through we should limit the sojourn to three nights- one for every three nights He hung from Yggdrasil. There is much debate surrounding exactly how He hung from the tree; by His neck? By His hands? In a "crucified" manner? For our purposes we should bind the boy to the tree in a manner that is as comfortable and painless as possible. Being bound to the tree gives the child a symbolic connection to the adventure of our highest God and allows him to "die" in the same way that Alfadur did.
Other than these modifications we can enact the story almost exactly in the initiation, which would follow this pattern:
1. Boy is isolated from his mother, possibly remaining with the male mentor, who can be the father. Traditionally, sacred initiation takes place at a high altitude location. The top of a forested mountain is said to be closer to the Gods and Goddesses.
2. For the boy there should be the three-day fast, the symbolic hanging from the tree, and the wound from a spear point.
3. During his time of the tree the mentor teaches Him the runes in any way he feels is appropriate. It is doubtful that the initiate could master all of the runic wisdom in only three days, so perhaps this marks the beginning of his runic training (thus, it is important that any such training should be saved for this time.) The rune chants would be good for this occasion. These may have been the "wails" Odin gave out in the story, which could explain one of His kennings, Omi: "He who makes beautiful sounds."
4. Once the boy has completed the initiation he is asked to join in the circle of men within the kindred to share a drink of the sacred mead. This marks the birth of the man from the death of the boy.
It is important for the mentor of the boy to be there at all times to teach the runic lessons and to make certain that nothing goes wrong. We can leave open, for now, the question of how the mentor might be chosen. Generally it is the boy's choice or it may be someone in an existing relationship from family or kindred. Parents may help make the choice.
Wound from the spear should be self-inflicted, as Odin's was, but it can be inflicted by the mentor. Again, we look to Bly, "… we mustn't leap to the conclusion that the injuries are given sadistically. Initiators of young men in most cultures make sure that the injuries they give do not lead to meaningless pain, but reverberated out from a rich center of meaning." (ibid., p 28)
Wounds should be attended immediately and blood flow stopped. Care would, of course, be taken not to drive the spear far, or to hit any arteries or organs. The traditional spot is in the side below the ribcage. It is the mark of the wound that is important, not the depth of penetration. From this the boy receives his "womb," a second heart, and a symbolic death.
In other cultures, such as those in Australia, Africa, the Near East, and South America, initiates cover the face or even the entire body with ashes to resemble the dead and represent symbolic death. They wander in darkness for hours or even days to speak with dead ancestors, only to emerge through a tunnel, a mock vagina facilitating rebirth.
In our faith it is the drinking of life giving mead that represents this rebirth, an event that will take place again when Odin gives us a drink from His horn and we transcend our first life into the higher second life. I mentioned earlier that it would be through a reconnection to the World-Tree that this rebirth would take place. It is from the saps of this tree, according to the lore, that we get the dew, which falls from the bits of the divine steeds into the dales. Bees collect this dew and make honey from it and we collect this spiritual honey to make our mead. Thus, the mead Odin gives to those with ords tirr after the death-thing comes from the same source as the mead we give to our sons, and is the same as that which All-Father drank after His fall.
The sharing of the mead also represents the acceptance of the newborn man into the tribe, just as the boy was given a ritual of acceptance into the kindred when He was given His name in the Nafnabinda (name-fastening) ceremony. A newborn man should give a gift or two to his mentor. The gifts exchanged by the two men, for the mentor had given wisdom and his drink (which he should brew himself) allows both parties to have a material signification of the bond. It also marks acceptance into the tribe in the status of an adult and of the tribe by the newly elected man.
It is important to remember several things in conducting this rite: firstly, at no time prior to the ceremony should the son be told what the rite involves. Its secret nature is part of its power to the initiate. Secondly, it is not absolutely necessary that the boy pass the trials or fully endure the tests of the initiation. The point is to allow him an event which marks his new life, not to question his ability to do so. No matter what happens the boy should be treated with compassion and love from his mentor and other men of the kindred. When he returns from the sojourn a party, similar to a birthday celebration, should be thrown in his honor, though this should be an especially memorable occasion for him.
Girls will also take part in the rite of passage, with a celebration of women only to either mark the twelfth birthday or the day of her first period. This should be a celebration, invoking the Goddesses (especially Freyja, Frigga, and Urdr,) and a lesson in the tales and songs of her ancestors.
She, too, can begin the runic lessons on this day, or she can begin learning the Seiðr, as Freyja did when she was still young and unwed. Girls / women do not need as much ceremony as boys / men to mark their passage into adulthood, as I've said, because hers is made clear by nature. Because of this, a society without such a rite of passage for boys / men easily can produce effeminate males, as happens so much today.
Once the rite of passage is complete the new man / woman should be given more freedom and privileges by the parents and more status in the kindred. Remind him/her, though, that right after the first birth, it was necessary to crawl before walking. Attitudes and bearing of a mature adult will likewise come through a gradual process. The parents should commemorate this rite by teaching a new skill or assigning a new responsibility. It is a time when the young adult should begin training in the warrior arts. An Œra Linda Bók passage sets the same age for training in the responsibility of defending the tribe, "If a boy is twelve years old, so must he miss the seventh day from his school time, in order to become ready with a weapon" (p 15.) The 45th Seir paradigm shows the good mother, encouraging her daughter to train, "Pleasing to he Goddesses the mother who takes her lass to haft and steel (knives had a haft of wood, bone, or antler), to cooperage and thatch (barrel-making and roofing). For the Wise One says, 'folk are everywhere by halves.' (here the Seir quotes an early version of Hávamál) And the half lost, must the other one soon learn." Of course, the martial arts offer much more by way of character development than just methods of fighting.
After initiation, the new man begins a deeper connection with the men of family and kindred, whereas the youth was closer to the female members. A bonding with the masculine, the true masculine, gives the new man the model by which to live when he becomes fully autonomous and on his way to building his own family. The same is true for the girl. If healthy role models of feminine and masculine are present and sought out after initiation, the new adult is that much more likely to become a functional, contributing, member of society.
In actually doing a rite, the initiators may want to invoke the three most appropriate deities for this work, Oin, Mimer, and Urr. One could honor Them with this declaration, "Before You, O great ones is the youth at the door of transition. Now this child shall die so that the adult may be born. The boy becomes a man, in honor to the true nature of men passed down to us through Your blood and the lessons You gave. We relish the adventure of our evolution in Oin's name. We seek the origin of wisdom by Mimer's blessing. We pass through the stages of life under Urr's watchful eye. Sanctify this initiation with Your love and power, mighty deities from afar. Give the child strength in his endeavor and the man Your protection in his new life. Hail the Goin." (This can be adapted for a girl with the three deities being honored becoming Freyja, Frigga, and Urr.)
Ultimately, Odin's initiation and the initiation of each youth is the initiation of the Folk itself. The Folk are initiated by the coming, once in an era or once in an age, like the Wolf Age or the Axe Age, of a Leader, who creates the conditions for a spiritual restoration or removes a common menace, as did the Sigurd or the sagas and legends. Our last paradigm contains a prophecy. It is that the Druids, "people of oaks," their predecessors, who raised the megaliths throughout Europe, "people of stones," and Odinists, "folk of staves and ravens" will be banished. A germ of each will survive the fire's of Loki's folk, which were set to the library at Alexandria with its millions of Pagan documents by a Christian mob and that these ways shall return. In this banishment and return of an entire culture and people is the drama of initiation played out in macrocosm.
In the 51st paradigm, a vitki sits in the summer, keeping mosquitoes away with herbal extracts, melts the snow around him in the winter with his deliberately accelerated metabolism, and is accosted by an uninitiated youth, who taunts him as crazy. The vitki explains by comparing his sitting in wild, uncomfortable, dangerous places to the High One's initiation. His is the deliberate, holy initiation to worlds beneath and beyond the surfaces of the life we know. To the holy hermit, the gift to the Gods is his attention, which he could give only by stripping away the normal world of work, pleasure, and sensory engagement, in exchange for which They gave him the gift of timeless insight, as follows:
"The youth thought him mad. He gazed into shadows in the noon slumber of high summer. In the snow he sat or stood until it melted about. At the marsh he sat, rubbed the juice of roots about to keep the biters away, yet stayed and sat. Now and then one sees him. A boy asked of him, why gaze or sit? The hermit answered, 'Much do we do between birth and death and most of it no matter. In all that Grimnir does, He becomes aware. When He hung upon the tree, He became aware. When He bade Mimer speak, He was aware. Much passes between birth and death. What means any of it, I am not aware?'
"'But how,' asks the youth, 'is to gaze to be aware?' 'In each place and force a spirit dwells before me, after me, and always. They show me the world before me and after me. They have shown me our world at the time of hidings, when the people of stones and the people of oaks, when the folk of staves and ravens, are banished, and they show me we shall return again, in the night after the next Sigurd.' Now and again, Folk see him at marsh or skerry stone and none think him mad"The Meditative Paradigms of Seiðr. The Meditative Practice passed on through generations of our Folk