The Vé: A Heathen Holy Place
Austin Lawrence, February 2013
Every religion must have its holy places, affording a means of communication between man, gods, spirits and forces of nature (Ellis-Davidson, 13).
In 2012, at the Hail and Horn Gathering, a sacred place of worship was established at Raven’s Knoll for honouring the gods and goddesses of Heathenry. For the first time in Canada (to our knowledge) there is a public place of worship set aside for the worship of the pre-Christian Scandinavian and Germanic holy powers.
The Vé that was established is a holy place, a home for our gods in Miðgarð. It is a frith-yard; a place set aside, of peace and good thoughts. In the religious custom of the Heathens that visit Raven’s Knoll, the location is holy and must always be respected. When it has been sanctified and made sacred, by the ritual of hanging the vé-bond rope, everything in it and everything that takes place there is considered to be particularly holy.
While unfenced areas and natural features of the landscape might be regarded as holy places, the need to provide an enclosed space, a temenos or sacred precinct, was often felt. 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. Examples of this from the Viking Age … are the ropes enclosing a court of law, the careful marking out of the area in which an official duel was fought, the squares on the floor used by a wizard calling up the dead, and the stone settings placed round graves (Ellis-Davidson, 27).
The enclosure itself is set in a clearing in the forest, surrounded by hawthorn trees, and further by the mixed temperate forest of this part of Canada. Nine posts stand rooted in the ground, one for each of the Nine Worlds, to hold the vé-bond rope. Within the enclosure is a hörg for making offerings and idols that are the images of our gods. Each year members of the Heathen community will add more god-poles to bring their remembrance into our lives and do them honour.
The practise we have established for religious ritual and spiritual engagement at the Raven’s Knoll Vé is grounded in historical research drawn from Viking age Scandinavia, continental Germania, and points east in Rus-land where historical Heathens traveled.
To enter and participate in any ritual taking place in the Raven’s Knoll Vé, three basic rules should be strictly followed as a sign of respect for the holy powers and to ensure one’s own continued good fortune.
Honour only the Æsir
• Honour and speak of only the gods and goddesses of the Æsir and Vanir (e.g., Thor and Frigg, Frey and Freya) or their clear allies (e.g., Aegir and Ran), and those bound in loyalty to them by blood-oath (e.g., Loki) within this vé.
• Wights that stand in opposition to the gods (e.g., Fenrir, Hel) should not be honoured within the enclosure.
• Gods, Goddesses or spirits of other pantheons or monotheistic faiths should not be honoured in the holy enclosure (e.g., Diana, Cernunnos).
• This must be demonstrated in word and action. Thus, do not wear signs or symbols of gods, goddess or spirits not of this Heathen custom. (Tattoos are OK, since they are part of you.)
• Maintain peaceful and socially harmonious relations in your actions and deeds between people and gods and spirits.
• Carry nothing that that might be considered a weapon into the vé. (We plan to eventually build a weapon rack outside of the enclosure.)
• Tools to be used to maintain the sacred enclosure and certain items to be explicitly used as part of a ritual to honour the gods may, in some circumstances, enter the sacred grounds (e.g., hammer, wood carving knife, ritual spear). Check with a goði or gythia who has previously performed public services in the Raven’s Knoll vé before bearing such items before the gods.
• Do not insult people or gods within the vé, even in jest.
Maintain sacral cleanliness
• Let no human bodily excretion touch the ground or any object in the vé.
• Definitely do not allow any spittle, urine, or feces to come in contact with the sacred area.
• Avoid contact with earwax, tears, sweat, pus, and blood, if possible. If emotion or medical necessity or extreme youth do not allow one to follow this taboo, it is understood some contact may occur and is understood as permissible.
• Refrain from personal self-care (e.g., blowing your nose, spitting out a bug, applying bug spray or sunscreen) in the vé. Simply leave the vé completely to do so.
At this place omens are sought in the flight of birds and the movement of animals through the Vé, sometimes people come silently to speak in their mind’s-eye with the gods, sometimes groups of people come together to make offerings as a kindred or tribe in the sight of the gods. To be in the Raven’s Knoll frith-yard is to feel the ancient wisdom, connecting with the gods and the ancestors. All those, no matter your background or belief, who hold a sincere wish to know the Old Gods of the North and are respectful of tradition are invited and welcome to become part of the community that uses this sacred space.
Ellis-Davidson, Hilda R. Myths and Symbols in Pagan Europe: Early Scandinavian and Celtic Religions. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1988.
Gunnel, Terry. “Hof, Halls, Goðar and Dwarves: An Examination of the Ritual Space in the Pagan Icelandic Hall“, Cosmons 17:1 (June 2001), 3-36.
Ravencast Podcast. Episode 46: “Groves and Sacred Spaces.”
Viking Answer Lady. Risala: Ibn Fadlan’s Account of the Rus.
Viking Answer Lady. Sacred Space in Viking Law and Religion.
Wikipedia. Vé (shrine).