Establishing ritual hearth praxis is the single most important exercise that we Frīfolc can take religiously.
My house, my home is my sacred enclosure, my entire cosmos and the very centre of my life. To all intents and purposes, I am our household Þingere, or familial priest, charged with the responsibility of directly engaging with divinity and our ancestors alike. As such I am responsible for establishing and maintaining those connections with fervour and respect.
There has been a drive of late amongst fellow members of the Frīfolc to share their ritual hearth practice, something which had previously eluded newcomers when seeking to establish a “how to” guide to forming some kind of standard. My ritual, like that of the Lārhūs Fyrnsida is placed within the context of the tradition of Fyrnsidu and is broadly similar to that format with very minor differences. I recommend their article on the subject if you are interested in the why as well as the how.
The tradition of household practice holds that the domicile is a sacred enclosure, but there are sites which are specifically given over to the proper veneration of household deities and divine ancestors. This place is the “Weōfod” (Pronounced “Way-oh-vod”, meaning altar), and is the personal altar of my family. Some refer to this as a wīgbed, which is a term often used to describe a hearth altar, specifically. Whilst my altar represents my hearth, it is not placed physically at my hearth, therefore I prefer to use the term weōfod, which is perhaps slightly more general in meaning.
My preference would be for this to be set within the home, either near to the hearth itself, or in some quiet and contemplative place within the home that can be satisfactorily used as a sacred space. This can be difficult. In my own home, I am the sole practitioner of Fyrnsidu and my wife is not supportive of my weōfod being kept within the confines of the house proper, therefore mine is maintained in our garage at the bottom of our small garden. It is out of the way, but it is private and thus not liable to being disturbed.
My weōfod is upon a shelf mounted on to the wall. It is small, comprising of a single shelf along the rear wall, near to the corner. Corners are associated with liminality, a meeting of two points suggestive of an area between Middangeard and the divine reality of the Gods. Most importantly, this space has been given over to the gods and is not used to store or maintain other goods or profane objects which are not intended for ritual. I keep it clean and free from extraneous material.
The practice of home worship within the hearth can be as complex, or as simple, as the household wishes it to be. I tend to keep mine simple and heartfelt, rather than overly elaborate. My own praxis has developed and will continue to develop over time. This includes the various tools which are used within the hearth cult on the weōfod.
However, the basic tools of the heathen hearth cult should be considered as follows:
Clǣnsungfȳr (Cleansing Fire): I have no statuary items, no idols upon my altar. I feel very strongly that such would need to be personally crafted in order to be charged with meaning for my own hearth, and at present I have not learnt the required skills to create these in a manner that would do me and the Gods justice. Until then, I use a votive candle to represent the requirement of the sacred flame. It is lit on the weōfod during ritual. Not only does it provide the representation of the traditional sacred flame, but it is also useful in the establishment of sacred space through circumambulation, reenacting the sacred cosmogony to delineate the space of the other for ritual.
Offrungdisc (Offering Bowl): This is a small bowl that I use as the receptacle to store offered food or other offerings. This enables me to share offerings directly from meals to the ancestors and the Gods. I also use a hand-crafted goblet for the offering of drink, which is my usual preferred method as I like to offer mead where possible. Sometimes other offerings are more representative or appropriate, such as seasonal foods, petals during Blōstmfrēols or Ēostre, sprigs of holly at Yule and the like.
Rēcelsfæt (Incense Burner): I have no incense burner as such, but I do select various plants from our garden that give off aromas that I will burn during ritual. I find that incense allows you to engage another of your senses in the ritual, opening all of your senses to what is happening and thus fully committing yourself to the process.
These items are considered to be the bare minimum of materials required for enacting cult ritual in the hearth. I have added to this with a representation of my ancestors in the form of a bronze figurine that belonged to my grandmother, as well as futhorc runes that I associate with the specific Gods that I tend to entreat. I am keen to replace these with my own hand-carved ones as and when I can perfect that process.
My Ritual Format One is encouraged to kneel when addressing the divine, although not if this places the weōfod out of practical reach. For me, this would be the case and so I stand before my weōfod in the position of the Eolh rune: ᛉ
I stand with my palms facing upwards and I feel this shows that I come before the Gods and my ancestors unarmed and open. I do not cover my head, however some choose to do so as it is not uncommon in polytheistic religions to do this.
Clǣnsung (Purification/Cleansing): Prior to communion, I perform a rite of purification on myself in preparation of speaking directly to the divine. For me, this is a simple washing of the hands and face, or perhaps a bath or shower. In Fyrnsidu, water plays a key role in liminality and as such cleansing oneself with water is an ideal way of preparing for petitioning communion. Hālgung (Hallowing): I then begin the ritual hallowing of my weōfod. As previously mentioned, I do this via demarcation with fire in a sunwise direction by using my candle in a circular motion over the weōfod. I do this 3 times as 3 is an important number in Germanic cosmology. I personally choose to invoke Þunor-Hālgunghealdend (Hallowing Protector) at this time as he is associated with hallowing sacred spaces.
Forespræc (Preface): Once ritual purification and demarcation of space has been completed, I then address the deities who are invited to witness the sacrifice. The steps are as follows:
- I petition Nerþuz-Þerscoldweard (Nerþuz Threshold Guardian), to allow divine communion to occur. In order to do this, I take a pinch of earth from the grounds of my home to signal my personal link to the land and thus to Nerþuz
- I offer Rēcels (Incense) to Nerþuz-Þerscoldweard alongside prayers and further supplications.
- I make a petition to Frīg-Heorþmodor (Frīg Hearthmother), to deliver the offerings to the ritual’s intended recipients. She is significant in this regard as she is a deity of the hearth itself, therefore strongly linked to my family.
- I then give prayer and offerings to Frīg-Heorþmodor (further incense, a libation poured, grain burned etc.) as thanks for her role in the rite.
Hālsung (Entreaty): The hālsung constitutes the body of the ritual.
- I recite a prayer directed to the deity who is being honoured. This prayer follows a similar format to that espoused by the Lārhūs Fyrnsida.
- I then state the reason for the offering and what goods will be offered.
- Then, on occasion but not always, I may entreat the deity to return a gift in return for a gift (the offering).
Gifu (The Gift): Once the hālsung is completed, I then give the intended offerings to the deity/deities.
Endespæc (End Speech): After the offering has been given, closing statements can be made, thanking and appreciating the deities invoked, always finishing with the line “And hail to Nerþuz, that gives to all men”. Nerþuz-Þerscoldweard is once again petitioned to close the gates, thereby ending the ritual.