[The following article is an except from Spellstów (Volume 4 Number 3, Wéodmónaþ MMXXII). Copies of the full 72 page, color issue can be purchased from Háliggyld Books. Readers can also subscribe to Spellstów’s free email list.]
by Friðoric Þegn
This article is dedicated to my wife, for supporting me in my Théodish journey.
The Journey Begins: Newlyn, Central Victoria, Midsummer 2004
Speech is how we Taste our ancestors. The generous dead are speaking Enter the green chapel of language — Dr Martin Shaw, Scatterlings (2016)
My mother and father inoculated me against Modernity in early childhood, albeit unwittingly. In the first instance through exposure to German fairy tale, which my mother read me night after enchanting night. And by day, my Yorkshire-born father would tell me the tales of Old England, and I, a boy of eight, would dive all-dizzy into Lincoln green, hour upon hour, conversing with moss-men and bestriding the beck, battle-ready, looking for Little Johns and Friar Tucks to dunk into the depths. Later, I would feed my adolescent soul on a heady mixture of Kipling, Tennyson and John Boorman’s cinematic masterpiece, Excalibur. Entering my early twenties, all real religion, all real culture, were inconceivable to me without some kind of spiritual kingship at their core. And the haunting voice of Loreena McKennitt formed a soundtrack to it all, a leitmotif orienting the unformed core of my being toward something higher, something purer.
How many times over the years would I betray that vision? How many times would I turn from my quest for the Grail? The hour was growing late, or so it seemed to me at the time (the foolishness of youth!), when, at the tender age of twenty-four, and having recently become a father, I sat at my kitchen table sometime in the pre-dawn blue of a Midsummer morning. The year was 2004. Before me lay a brown paper package containing a book, retrieved from the post office some days before, still awaiting this moment of quiet reverence to be opened. If I thought I had some intimation, some small foreknowledge, of what this book would come to mean to me, then I was wrong. And yet……
Lighting a candle, this being the first “Heathen” book I’d ever sent away for – and seeking on that long-ago morning to create something of an atmosphere of the holy – I gingerly undid the bindings and let the small tome slide out of its package. Before me on the cover lay an attractive and very mysterious woodcut on off-white paper, with bold red writing that said The Way of the Heathen: A Handbook of Greater Théodism. Written by someone called Gárman Lord, I turned the little book over and with a growing sense of excitement read the very first words of the blurb: “Truly, A Book Like No Other…”
Well. It turns out the Ærest Cyning was telling the truth, it really was a book like no other. And thus began my Théodish wending, a wending that would one day take me to the distant shores of Wínland itself.
I first wrote to Þórbeorht Hláford in 2012, having read and enjoyed his piece in Hex Magazine, then edited by an Australian friend, and as a result I stumbled upon the original website of the Ealdríce. Musing on the picture of the man that I found there I realized I was looking at the self-same chap who had founded Sahsam Thiod, under the name Êrmund. Primed by Gárman’s book, Sahsam Thiod had been such a profound inspiration for me and I had often wondered what had become of it. A great day it was, when our cyning, Þórbeorht, came out of the woods, having won the wisdom that would heal the wounds that had afflicted Théodish Belief! And so I, daring to hope that Gárman Lord’s great experiment had not been in vain, threw caution to the wind and wrote to the man who would one day hear my hold-oath:
To Þórbeorht Ealdorman of the Ealdríce Hǽðengyld, Far-Hail!
I would like to begin by introducing myself. My name is Frederick and I hail from the southernmost tip of Australia, on the island of Tasmania. Here, at the very bottom of the world, I dream of a tribal future for our people, along with my wife, three children (with one bairn on the way) and a few friends. We have just moved onto 15 acres with an old apple shed, having spent a year in a Mongolian yurt looking for land, a very rich and challenging ordeal! I must tell you how thoroughly delighted I am to have discovered the exceptional website of the Ealdríce Hǽðengyld. This is a truly inspirational site for folk like me; articulate, succinct, informative and suffused with that same passion I feel for my English identity and our Eald Ȝeléafa …
And so I bared my heart to this man, then a stranger:
And what then am I left with, mute before the mystery of my wyrd? As a Heathen, what have I? Life and red blood! As a Man, in Middle-Earth; with all the joys and sorrows, and deep responsibilities, to both gods and family, of that life. I am not particularly Otherworldly; but I perceive in my very existence and in the sovereignty of my mind the chance to stave off Ragnarök, in my own life and soul, and in the world(s) at large. To come down on the side of life, of regeneration. I don’t know how the world will fare in these difficult times, but I do have “Hope Without Guarantees,” to borrow a phrase from Tolkien. I am a man, and I have my part to play, and the chance for honour and troth. Perhaps that is all anyone can ask for.
Þórbeorht heard my words, though I was but a lordless wretch and in the woods. He answered. Ever wealthdealful, he led me into the power of real thew. And so a silver thread of language, spun out from Gárman’s first works, twined two men together, lord and þeȝn, bridging the worlds of thought and action.
Fast forward to 2022, and again I sat at my kitchen table in the pre-dawn stillness. The Géoltíd was nearly over and the fellowship at Æppeldor had bid me a hearty farewell. If the gods and ghosts had swept low over trees and rooftops on their Winter fairing, as they had some nights since, they would have spied a small glow through the greening mists, far below. The light of my hearth fire, yes. But also, the light of troth in my heart, preparing itself for the ordeal ahead. Would I be found worthy? Twelfth Night was surely a most auspicious time to travel, a time for new undertakings? I sure hoped so. My flight was due to leave in 3 hours.
Taking the Swans’ Road
Robin Goodfellow: How far have you travelled?
Good Leech: Oh, around the world and back again.
Robin Goodfellow: And what did you see there?
There is something peculiarly disorienting about international travel, especially if you’re not used to it. Airport lounges, clothed in the architecture of Nowhere, lull you into a kind of dreamscape; a heady mixture of fatigue, coffee, excitement, gin and tonic and the intermittent stress of boarding passes and security checks, all set against the background hum of teeming humanity. As a matter of fact, I have never minded being in transit and I often dream that I am on planes, trains and automobiles. Travel temporarily suspends the possibility of both failure or success and sitting there in the Hobart Airport with a discount bacon and egg roll (compensation for a late flight), I found myself idly wondering whether this is what the Afterlife is like for unremarkable souls; a kind of transit lounge, a place of arrested possibility where you subsist in a sort-of-pleasant fugue state. Terrifying, when you think about it. The seductions of forgetfulness, an anesthetized underworld. And yet so much of my life has been like that. A promise began to live within me when I first read The Way of the Heathen. But sometimes, in my isolation, I would think: why did the Ring have to come to me, anyway? How can I be equal to this task? Sometimes we just want to forget what we have learned. We want to return to the anemic mediocrity of modern life. I have often skipped across the surface of my life like a stone skimming along the water, avoiding the call of the depths. And that is what Théodish Belief has always been to me: a call to greater depth. About to board my flight, the question was: would I sink in those depths and drown, or would I swim? The one thing I knew for certain was that I was headed for deeper water.
Having made my connecting flight in Sydney, Dallas bound, I chased the rosy-fingered dawn (or was I chased by it?) all the way across the Atlantic, some fifteen hours. Luckily, I found myself sitting next to a young Anthropology student from Croatia. Expressing a fascination for the small wéoh of Thunor that I carried with me – we Théodsfolk are superstitious Heathens, after all, and I wasn’t chancing the Swan Road without bidding to the Welkin Drighten – she and I must have talked for hours. Of home, identity, history, landscape. I seemed to have a feathered jaw, and my stories grew in the telling until, happily, she asked whether her and her beau could come and stay on my little farm at the bottom of the world. Parting in Dallas, nothing quite prepared me for the wall of heat that greeted me. Just like an Australian summer! And so on to Richmond, well into my second, maybe even my third, wind. Buoyed up by nervous expectation, I barreled out of security at Richmond Airport, making for the exit, wondering all the while: what would this man be like in person? You can talk to someone on video all you like – Þórbeorht and I had done it for a nearly a decade after all – but until you shake someone’s hand and look them squarely in the eye, you never really know. Occupied with such thoughts, and not looking in the least where I was going, I very nearly crashed headlong into the man himself, he being there to pick me up, and right on time!
“Wassail good sir!” Somewhat flustered, I found myself looking into a pair of friendly, glacier-blue eyes. There are moments in your life that are a turning, and there it was: click! In a blink I was at my ease and I, a happy recipient of the much-vaunted Southern courtesy, found my bag carried for me to the waiting car. Forty-two years of brain training had not prepared me for the fact that, in America, everyone drives on the wrong side of the road, so naturally I walked around to the driver’s side of the car, assuming it was the passenger’s side. I would do this reliably often over the next week or so, much to the amusement of my hosts.
Driving back to Whitthenge through the Virginian night, peering out into the forested darkness, I began to feel for the first time that I really was in a foreign country, a long way from home. The heat was incredible having just come from snow. There to greet us at the door, horn of mead in hand, was the Lady Eþelwynn, incomparable host! Taking the horn, having heard words of welcome, I raised it in turn. “I thank you for your grith and frith, Apple of the Ríce.” So saying, I raised the mead to my lips and immediately felt all the weariness of travel drain from me. So revived, I stepped over the threshold, there to talk over good whiskey until 2 AM.
The next day dawned, and I found myself peering out onto a scene that I had only ever seen before in photographs. The frithyard at Whitthenge, high with summer foliage. I realized that despite being densely settled, we were situated in a kind of forest. All the denizens of the woodland were here, right outside my window: the deer, the hawk, the many, many squirrels. These last were an endless source of fascination for me, being so novel. I remarked upon them with astonished amazement, time and time again, which amused my hosts greatly. Naturally I wanted to eat one, but they were too fast and too clever by half. Growing up my brother had always been a huge Elvis fan and had even acquired an Elvis cookbook. He’d treated us to polk-salad and other southern fixings, but in Australia we never could find any squirrel.
That morning Þórbeorht gifted me with a set of staves, risted with ochre, taken from a fruit-bearing tree growing in Gárman Lord’s backyard. “Here” he said. “Carve yourself some runes and we will bless them at tomorrow’s Ærest Gemetung blót.” Sitting under a stately old oak I set to it, occasionally sipping at some very fine home brew. When I was about done, Æðelwulf arrived and then it was time to set up for the blót. A tall, strapping lad with an open face, I knew straight away that Æðelwulf and I would be firm friends and it felt good to be doing something physical after the enforced inertia of the flight. Digging holes, pounding in posts, and setting up tents in the heat of a Virginian summer certainly got the blood pumping and I found pretty quickly that here, water is essential.
Deeper Water: Ærest Gemetung Blót. July 4th.
Having retired early the night before, 3 AM found me wakeful and alert, meditating on the day to come. I had travelled halfway around the world for a specific set of reasons. To make my hold oath in person, if Þórbeorht Cyning would hear it, was foremost in my mind, as was meeting the Ærest Cyning, Gárman himself. Furthermore, to fain the gods and begin my journey as a wéofodþeȝn was, I hoped, the next step in my Théodish wending, and I knew this would be an ordeal for me. But above all else, I was mindful of the first duty of all Théodsman: to help to cyning to blót. So high and holy a day, then, lay before us. At the behest of the folk, Þórbeorht Cyning – so hight, but not yet raised on shield – was to offer a white he-goat to Wóden. If the god brooked our yield and Þórbeorht were adjudged worthy, then there would be a cynehelmung a few days hence in upstate New York. If not, well…
Amidst an atmosphere of nervous anticipation, balanced by the abiding trust and love that this fellowship so clearly bore their hláford, Þórbeorht and I set out early to pick up the beast. Taking delivery from a stout farmers daughter, our luck-lord looked over the godling beast, leaving a little extra coin in the good lass’s pocket as is right and thewful. A small but sturdy buck he was, all snow white with deep clear amber-green eyes, quite vocal, surely a worthy beast!
Upon our return, Whitthenge Heall was all abustle. In short order I was introduced to the fine folk of the Ealdríce. There was Ælfgár, fierce and friendly all at once. ‘This is a man to mark’, I thought, a man among men, and I would lean heavily on his council in the days ahead. After enfolding me in a warm embrace he turned and introduced me to a young woman whose eyes carried a quiet gravitas and sparkling cheerfulness, by turns and in equal measure. From sundry photos and the odd videochat meeting I knew this to be Sǽfriþ Ides. In short order I was then introduced to Sigebrand, leader of Brádléahweald Léode, a blithe man with a booming voice and a ready smile. Very soon our glasses were charged with chilled mead and a kind of energy began to take hold; the kind of energy in fact that builds when people come together for a shared, holy purpose. Having taken a few photos to mark the occasion, it was time to see to the business at hand and before I knew it, slightly giddy with the heat and the mead, I found myself singing a yeartidely song in the frithyard of the Ealdríce itself, something I had scarcely imagined was possible, a million miles away, in Australia. It was a small wonder to me, on a day that would furnish several, and much greater, wonders.
Þórbeorht stepped forward, all clad in white, a man transformed. Gone was the convivial and slightly puckish Southern gentleman of the previous few hours. In his place stood an eldritch luck-lord, eyes all ablaze with an uncanny intensity. Those eyes held each of us in turn, as he unlocked his wordhoard and held us, each and everyone, to our holy purpose, speaking thus:
It was forty-six years ago that the gods once more made themselves known to the men of Middangeard for it was then that, in Watertown, New York, Wóden and Fríȝe were beheld by Gárman Lord. Thus it was that the manygodded belief of our Anglo-Saxon fore elders was rekindled and that our Théodish Belief was begun anew.
And then, in the next fifteen minutes or so, it happened. The thing that Gárman Lord had tried to warn me about in his writing. The thing that no amount of reading, however attentive, or imagining, however vivid, can really prepare you for. The thing that makes Théodish Belief what it is – a radical, mouth-to-ear retro-Heathen wisdom tradition, that leads you into the power of real thew. Before the blót, I thought I was halfway Théodish. I was wrong. All I’d ever done was the equivalent of reading a manual on how to ride a bike. Until that day, I’d never really got on the bike myself. And when I finally got on that bike, you bet I learnt a thing or two! Like Gárman has said, the trouble with Théodish Belief is that it is, well, real. And because it is real, it is also serious. There are many ideas in Théodish Belief that are very serious indeed, more serious than most modern people are used to dealing with. Finally, I was beginning to understand the meaning of that old Théodish adage “Everything that we are taught is false, everything that we learn is true.” And, seeing what I saw, I didn’t have much time at all to think my personal conventional reality over before it was reconfigured, in the forge of lived experience, into a tellingly different Théodish worldview.
As to what I saw and heard, well, that is best left to a more eloquent tongue than mine. Maybe, to be a really speedsome tale, it should be locked inside a poem or a riddle. As it stands, you’ll just have to take my word for it, dear reader.
At the end of the blót, Þórbeorht Cyning spoke with some of us under the trees of Whitthenge. As the cicadas sang and the heat climbed, he said to us “If it be your whim, abide with us for the long days to come, that we may be worthy of our gods and our elder kin. We do this for the younglings, for those that come after.” So saying, he named all our bairns in turn. Along with his gift of holy rede, as a token of his words the cyning gifted me a stone from the hearg at Whitthenge. It sits on my own hearg at Æppeldor, a reminder, and a challenge, to strive always to be worthy.
Later that evening as we sat out on the front steps watching Þórbeorht and Eþelwynn’s daughters play with sparklers in the fading light, I could hear the distant sound of fireworks. Out of the corner of my eye I spied a bright flash. And then another and another. Initially I assumed it was the beginning of migraine and then my addled brain wondered whether it might be some kind of gunpowder residue. Pretty soon, I realized it was some kind of insect with a magical abdomen. Fireflies! No one had ever told me. Forty-two years old and no one had ever told me. Here was something even more novel than a squirrel!
Interlude: Jamestown, Yorktown, Maymont, Agecroft & Henricus. July 5th – 7th
We fired our guns and the British kept a-comin’
There wasn’t quite as many as there was a while ago
We fired once more and they began to runnin’
On down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico
— Johnny Horton
The thing to grasp about an Australian in America is that, since 1945, much of the world and especially the Anglosphere, has been marinated in American popular culture. From the Saturday Matinee that my father watched as a child in Yorkshire featuring Cowboys and Indians, all the way to Dolly Parton and Ferris Bueller, the average denizen of the Western world ends up being a kind of knock-off American. This accounts for the bizarre déjà vu that people from the rest of the world tend to experience when we are in the United States. Everything from the sight of an archetypal American Roadhouse to a glimpse of a State Trooper on highway patrol, wearing their wide hat and signature sunglasses, can evoke this strange sense of somehow having been here before. What makes it slightly surreal is when this sensation of déjà vu is juxtaposed with just how different America turns out to be from one’s home country. The ubiquity of flags, for example, some incomprehensibly large, or even the shape of the electrical sockets, or quiet suburban normality existing right beside random acts of gun violence; also the very many churches and the American devotion to their other national religion, the Constitution. To which we might add the culture of tipping and the sheer size of portions at restaurants – the waitress will bring you coffee and keep filling your cup, even after you’ve drunk the first serve! It is all totally new and strange for the international visitor.
I was ready for a deep-dive into the American experience and for the next three days I was treated to a whirlwind tour of the most historic sites in and around the city of Richmond. With Greta van Fleet and Offa Rex as our soundtrack, the Lady Eþelwynn, Sǽfriþ and I drove to Jamestown, site of the first successful English settlement in North America (1607), the Revolutionary battlefield at Yorktown, which had a second blooding in the American Civil War, the grand old estate Maymont, the recreated fort at Henricus, and a Tudor transplant from England called Agecroft Hall. At this last – the Great Hall of which would make a fine setting for gebéorscipe or symbel – I had the honour to meet Ósláfa Gegilda, Æðelwulf’s wife, and their beautiful baby daughter Edith.
What struck me in all my ramblings was the deep strain of Anglophilia that seems to run through the American temperament. I don’t know whether this is a peculiarly Southern thing. Certainly, everything from the street signs and placenames around Richmond to the characteristic English faces that I saw everywhere I went, speak to the primal Anglo-Saxon bedrock of the American character. One gets the sense that this ethnic reality has been largely effaced by the historical amnesia of the American people. And here we meet a kind of contradiction, because on the face of it the average American seems far from historically illiterate, steeped as they are in their own founding story. It seems that in pursuing the most characteristic of English virtues – a love of freedom – the Anglo-Saxon yeomanry of the American colonies threw out not only British tyranny, but also the very Englishness that had itself been the guarantor of the instinct toward rebellion. And so, as I stood on the site of the first permanent English settlement in America I was struck by the profound recognition, written in stone, of the English origins of American liberty. A plaque told the story: in session at Jamestown from July 30 to August 4, 1619, the General Assembly was the first representative governing body to meet in North America, or anywhere in the Americas, and has continued to meet to the present day. Here, then, was the birthplace of American democracy. Reflecting on my own national story, I began to see that our two countries, America and Australia, had been forged by the quest for freedom, each in their own way, and that both countries were an on-going experiment in what happens when the Anglo-Saxon seed stock is sown on different ground, worlds apart. Surely it can be no coincidence that, outside of England, the only extant copies of the Magna Carta reside in two other capital cities, Washington and Canberra? Indeed, the seeds of democracy can be divined in the Anglo-Saxon moots and witenagemots of long ago. It is the peculiar genius of the English people that their constitution is not rooted in design but has arisen instead by virtue of the invisible hand of tradition and compromise, in conformity with the law of the land. Something, in short, that a Théodsman might recognize as thew. This had struck me powerfully while researching the second of my horns for the forthcoming High Symbel. At the cynehelmung, having chosen to raise a toast to Hereward the Wake, I had come across this in Charles Kingsley’s 19th Century novel.
When the men of Wessex fell at Hastings once and for all and struck no second blow, then the men of the Danelaugh disdained to yield to the Norman invader. For seven long years they held their own, not knowing, like true Englishmen, when they were beaten…….They never bent their necks to the Norman yoke: they kept in their hearts that proud spirit of personal independence which they brought with them from the moors of Denmark and the dales of Norway; and they kept alive, too, those free institutions which were without a doubt the germs of our British liberty.
And so there it was, the instinct for freedom that unites free Anglo-Saxon men wherever they are found. And I was about to play my own part in the restoration of our ancient English freedom. I was about to see a field full of folk, gathered round the green moot hill, there to raise a luck-lord on the shield as cyning of a free people. The ealdriht – the old right, the good old ways – would be renewed and once again the King’s Truth would uphold the year in its turning.
Cynehelmung: Copenhagen, New York State. July 8th – 10th
Poetically and spiritually kings are real whereas presidents are merely human conventions……In fairy stories there has never been a Chairman of Elfland.
— John Michel “Confessions of a Radical Traditionalist”
As Théodsmen, we are given to the mystery of sacral kingship and in 1995, Gárman Lord, founder of the first Théodish fellowship, the Witan Théod, was crowned with the boar-helm, set upon the shield, and raised as the cyning (sacral king) of the Wínland Ríce. At Ærest Gemetung MMXXI Gárman set his healdend (Þórbeorht) and his witigan (wise ones) to seek a worthy æðeling (noble heir) to succeed him as cyning. After vetting several qualified candidates, the Witan found Þórbeorht of the Ealdríce Théod to be the worthiest in name and deeds to succeed the Ærest (First) Cyning, Gárman Lord. One year later, at Ærest Gemetung MMXXII, Þórbeorht Cyning was crowned with the boar-helm by Gárman, set upon his shield by his men, and raised as the Cyning of the Wínland Ríce. This wending, as betold by Ælfgár Þeȝn, speaks of the great and worthy deed achieved by the folk of a renewed Ríce. What may not be immediately obvious to every reader of this august publication, however, is the sheer amount of hard work and dedication in bringing this happy occasion about. The long months of planning and the phenomenal amount of organizational skill required, as well as the attention to due process that characterized the highting (naming) of our new cyning, all deserve mention.
The god-descended line of Cerdic and Ælfred was not exhausted after all. We knew it. The gods themselves knew it. But would the cyning’s folk be equal to the task? Would it all come together on the day?
By mid-morning on the 8th of July, the cars were packed – no mean feat when you’re catering for sixteen or more people over three days – and by the time we set off we all felt that we’d mastered some form of three-dimensional Tetris. The cars packed tight, we set of in convoy for Copenhagen, Upstate New York. Lying hard-by Watertown, the original home of Théodish Belief, Copenhagen is situated within northeast Tug Hill. Gárman himself had some hand in mapping this region, for after his storied meeting with the Gifting God, the happy man was given a career as a cartographer.
Along the way we joined up with the good folk of Brádléahweald Léode and Sigebrand introduced me to the other members of his fellowship. There was Eoric, big-hearted and broad-shouldered, and soft-spoken Cynemund, an older man with the kind of bearing that speaks of service in the military. And then there was raven-haired Hræfnflæd, Sigebrand’s wife. Altogether, a fine folk! Over the next nine hours I had occasion to get to know Brádléahweald better and to share the first of very many moments of hilarity. Likewise, I got to spend time with Æðelwulf, who I rode with for half the trip, and as it turned out we shared a great many common interests.
Along the way I also met Pati, Ælfgár’s betrothed, and it was my very great honour to be seated next to her at High Symbel, where we steadied each other’s nerves, a few days later.
Beaver Creek Lodge proved to be very well apportioned indeed and the first order of business upon arrival, after unpacking, was to witch out the site of the Cynehelmung. And what should greet us but an old hoar-apple, right there next to the lodge, with green fields stretching away toward the deep shade of the summer forest in the distance? There could be no finer place.
That evening it was my great pleasure to meet a shoulder-companion of Gárman Lord, Æþelwine Þeȝn, of Géring Théod. After we all settled in for night, I surprised myself by sleeping like a log, a head full of dreams about the morrow.
By midmorning, fortified by a hearty breakfast, it was clear to me that the high quality of Théodsmen who had gathered would see the business done rightly. After a walkthrough and the arrival of all the attendees, including early Théodish pioneer Wordsmið Þeȝn, we were ready to commence the formal part of the gathering with a Wóden Faining to mark the Ærest Gemetung. And then I saw him. The Eald Cyning himself, Gárman Hláford. The man who had set all this in motion, forty-six summers before. Right then I was a tad shy, and, having stepped forward to shake his hand, I returned to my place in the throng.
Soon it was time for lunch and then onto the cynehelmung itself. It is and shall remain the principal honour of my life that I attended the Witenaʒemót convened to confirm its election of Þórbeorht Hláford Ealdríces, Ealdorblótere and Healdend, to be the new Cyning of the Wínland Ríce, and, later, was one of the six worthy men to raise the cyning on the shield. Ælfgár Þeȝn had witched out the Moot Hill some hours before and as long as I live, I will never forget walking that field with Ælfgár and Sǽfriþ Ides, good companions they! The sun was shining on us all that day, as if to signal the blessing of the gods. And the wind, held in abeyance it seems until ever there was a holy turning, announced itself in an unmistakable and deeply uncanny sign of the gods’ favour.
When all were silent, Gárman’s voice rose into the clear blue sky, “We are come together to choose a new cyning. Who is hight worthy in name and deed to be cyning?” Æðelwulf, Þórbeorht’s spokesman, answered in reply, “Þórbeorht Hláford Ealdríces, Ealdorblótere Wéofodþeȝn Gildes, and Healdend Wínland Ríces is so hight, who the folk love and whose name is renowned.”
Who the folk love and whose name is renowned. That about says it all, really.
And then, amongst all the deeming’s and dooms of that day, the renewal of the Théodish Ríce was truly complete when Gárman placed upon Þórbeorht’s head the boar-helm, great token of the hálig cynescipe of the Wínland Ríce.
I myself had the great honour of bearing the words of Ælfric Hláford Hræfnscír, whose presence at the gathering, even in his physical absence, was felt by all. His gift of harpsway to the whole Ríce, shared via video link, was frankly astonishing and the strong mains of Hræfnscír were thus woven throughout the whole of far-flung fellowship, a boon in the years ahead.
Raising horns to the two cyningas at the giddy-mouthing, gazing out beyond the old apple tree toward the moot hill, it came to me that such a storied place should have its own Théodish hata, alongside the good old name it had been given by the early settlers. Not just Beaver Creek Lodge anymore, or Copenhagen. Raising the mead horn to my giddy lips, I so benamed it Cyningesfeld, King’s Field.
Overseeing all was the peerless Eþelwynn Hlǽfdiʒe, every inch a Wealhþéow to Þórbeorht’s Hróðgár, as she would show a few short hours later, at High Symbel. The Lady Eþelwynn bears her womanly mains with a grace and dignity unmatched. Gentle of spirit and loyal to her lord, she bore the horn to a folk united, weaving a web of frith and wisdom.
Who can rightly tell of the hall-dream that was woven that night? We can recall the words, yes, and moreover lay before you the order in which things happened. The gift-giving, the giddy fellowship, the béots and the gielps and the horns that drew the gods and ghosts of our fore-elders near. It would take a better poet than I to tell it aright. But I choose my words very carefully, right now, and make them true and from the heart, just as I did on the night of symbel. And to you, the reader, whoever you are and wherever you are, I say this: the speed-webs of our whole folk were woven that night, even, or especially, for youths yet unborn. A white tent, pitched out in a field in the middle of nowhere, was, for a time, the Well of Wyrd. And the horn of mead over which we swore was the water in the well. The holy, terrifying awe that one feels as they cast their words into the well – for great and grim is the doom on a man who breaks his plighted troth! – would be enough to unman many a would-be þeȝn, if they could but grasp the enormity of it. Truly, Théodish Belief is not for the foolish or the faint of heart. But what could ever compare to the chance to live a life of real worth and significance, in Heathen terms, where a man’s word actually counts for something, and that in the keeping of it the gods might actually see him, and his folk be sped, even into the far future?
And so, as I prepared to raise my head from the knee of the man who had agreed to hear my hold oath, his words echoed in more worlds than just this one:
Knowing as we do that cattle die and kin die, and you yourself shall one day die, and mightiest halls shall one day fall to greedy flame, and noblest earls fall to edge hate, and folk to battle pain, the harvest of spears; yet one thing there is that never dies, is the doom of a man when dead and the honour of an oath that was truly sworn to and truly born to, between men while they lived.
On Meeting Gárman Lord
After symbel, when the mains were mellowing, I got a chance to sit down and talk with the Ærest Cyning himself. He fixed me with a deep, heavy-lidded gaze and began to speak. Who was this man, I wondered? Holy yet disarmingly irreverent, royal yet crass, all at once? Somehow spooky, but at the same time accessible and friendly? I’m not sure I’ve met too many uncanny geniuses, but Gárman is undoubtedly one such. We talked of the thing he has always called “the Théodish experiment.” Why, he wondered, was real religion so hard to find? He told me it hurt him to see religion done badly, because, so far as he could tell, the gods were made from something like “significance”, such as we might find in the best poetry – “After all, Friðoric, poetry is the language of the gods”, he said – “and Hel be damned sure a man better not break his word, because that destroys significance and pisses the gods off, such that they turn their backs in disgust and men lose peace and good seasons.” Talking to the man was like panning for gold. It kind of made me wish I had a Dictaphone on me.
In my reading, Gárman revived the greatest blessings of sacral kingship – by planting a new oath tree, we, his people, could expect to receive the council of the gods and be connected to the gods through our oaths. Gárman, the Ærest Cyning, completed the primordial deed from which our folkdom derives its identity, thus renewing the old line of folk-kings. In his wisdom the Wizard King has now handed the boar helm on to the Priest King, following the ancient Indo-European pattern.
Ing-Fréa & Þunor Faining. Sunday, July 10th:
Sǽfriþ Ides is a woman deep and otherworldly. As befits her office, at times she has one foot in the Otherworld. Like some Éowyn come to a latter-day Middle Earth, she walked the fields of morning with me, a vision of white on green. When I might have faltered, she bore me up, speeding my own troth as if it were her own. It is no small thing to fain before two cyningas, with someone you have only just met. My fear of failure on that day could have been my undoing. Before dawn I had taken myself into the deep shadow of the woods that lay hard by Cyningesfeld, there to watch the sunrise and to make my morning bidding to the gods. I felt their might whelm within my breast then and cried for the joy of it. But it is hard for a man to know whether he is truly worthy, especially in these strange days when all the barrow mounds are ploughed under and no one knows what to believe anymore. Would I stumble? Would Thunor brook my godyield?
I, the aspirant, looked to Sǽfriþ Ides for guidance and as she set up the wéofod her every action was a study in perfection. Something about her measured intensity calmed me, and in a moment of honest vulnerability I told her of my fear of failure. She said something to me then that I will never forget. “Friðoric” she said. “A man may never account himself worthy, but he must always strive to be so. And therein lies the path of worth for a true Théodsman.”
Beneath the old apple tree, I took a deep breath and stepped into that timeless moment that is here and nowhere, never and always. And in that moment of stillness, as I lifted my voice to the Welkin-Drighten, a wind blew from another world, and I knew then that I had taken another step on the path straight and true. And I learnt a little something, too. I realized that all this striving, all this trying to be worthy, wasn’t about me at all, not really. I had been looking too much through the wrong lens. The trick seems to lie in appreciating that you must be in service to something much bigger than yourself. Everything became easier after I grasped that. And so it was that with Sǽfriþ I offered gifts on behalf of the folk, to the gods. Such is the work of a þeȝn, one who serves.
After the cyning witnessed our faining, on the eleventh day of Æftera Líða, I was highted as a wéofodþeȝn. And you know what? I never could have done that alone.
Later I had a chance to learn some moot-craft firsthand with the cyning, where he set the Witan, seated his Steward – worthy man! – and signed charters. May Wyrd go ever as She shall.
This being the last heavy order of the day the folk now looked forward eagerly to a chance to relax and celebrate a job well done. It was time for merriment and lác, that peculiar kind of English silliness that pleases peculiarly English gods. An hysterical performance of Gárman’s Jagged Rhymes by Brádléahweald was followed by a performance of the Ealdríce’s Mummer’s Play, interspersed with a Morris Jig or two. Borrowing Þórbeorht Cyning’s bell pads (one each) Sǽfriþ and I danced South Australia, an Adderbury Morris jig, in honour of my homeland.
The thing that I will always remember about that last evening of the cynehelmung, and this seems to hold true for all the folk there assembled, is the sheer giddy joy that kept us laughing literally for hours on end. Sat around the firepit, with ale, mead and the odd cigar in hand, our merriment lifted into the starlit sky. As I looked across the fire toward the two cyningas, the old and the new, I saw that our joy was a gift to them too. The gods look kindly on such things.
Back to Whitthenge, Richmond. July 11th-13th
The hardest thing is saying goodbye. As we made our way back to the orderly and respectable environs of Whitthenge, there was a slow and steady parting with folk that I had come to think of as friends. As we left them at the various waystations on the journey from New York to Richmond, I was comforted by the thought that, one day, I would see these people again.
The next few days leading up to my departure were very formative for me as a Théodsman, because, at last, I had a chance to sit with milord Þórbeorht at length and hear some mouth-to-ear Théodish wisdom. It is almost impossible to teach and test for maincraft at a distance, so this was a great opportunity to learn a yeoman’s measure of the art, an essential part of my training for wéofodþeȝnscipe. Taking out a bob, I learnt a little about how to witch out the mains of a blade. I learnt something else, too, during these days. I learnt that Þórbeorht Cyning and Eþelwynn Hlǽfdiʒe are not just Lord and Lady of the Ríce. They are also my friends.
When they waved me off at the airport, I knew that I wasn’t just going home with my cup full. I was going home with a bigger cup. And from that cup I would have the wherewithal to speed my own fellowship of Æppeldor. The first fruits of the oath tree, planted now in a Southern land – a gift from the gods, to the cyning, and so to me and mine. And a gift always looks for a gift.
[This article was an except from Spellstów (Volume 4 Number 3, Wéodmónaþ MMXXII). Copies of the full 72 page, color issue can be purchased from Háliggyld Books. Readers can also subscribe to Spellstów’s free email list.]