CELEBRATING PERSONAL EVENTS
Naming-day: This is a ceremony to welcome the newborn baby into the family and announce its name. On this occasion, the father of the baby takes the child onto his lap (In Norway this ceremony was known as Knesetting, meaning "to sit on the lap") and gives his blessings to the child, speaking of all the good qualities he wishes for the child to have. He passes the child to the mother who voices her own wishes. The parents then pass the child to the guests, who stand in a circle or sit around the table in the family's home, each one holding the child and welcoming it, wishing it luck. After the ceremony there should be a feast, with song and dance and many toasts and blessings to the little infant. Gifts are given, and in Norway it is still a tradition to present the child with a spoon or cup of silver. The Norns and Disir should be invited to give the child their blessing and protection and ensure it a good fortune.
The name of your child should be selected carefully. Of course it is important that the name sounds nice, however, the meaning of the name is just as crucial. In old times a child would always be given a name with a meaning. The name was usually not given immediately after birth. The parents took their time observing the child choosing a name that describes the child's nature and also a virtue its parents wished for the child to have. Often, the child would also receive the name of its grandmother or grandfather, so that their spirit would be passed on to the new generation.
Here are some examples of proper Nordic names for boys: Alv – meaning elf, Arnar – eagle, Asgeir – divine spear, Askur – the Ash tree (also the name of the first man), Bert – light (or shining), Bjørn – bear, Brage – the highest, Dag – day, Einar – the lone warrior, Eirik – the almighty ruler, Eldar – the fire warrior, Frode – clever, Gard – defender, Grim – man with helm or mask (a by-name of Odin), Hauk – hawk, Håkon – warrior and son, Jarl – earl, Leiv – the heir, Norbert – Northern light, Ragnar – adviser and warrior, Ravn – raven, Rolv – honour and wolf, Rune – rune (also meaning "the secret"), Sigurd – conqueror and defender, Sigve – victory and tree, Stig – wanderer, Tor – thunder, Torgrim – the helm of Tor, Trygve – the trustworthy, Ulv – wolf, Unnvald – the beloved ruler, Vetle – born in winter.
And a list of names for girls: Aila – from Helga meaning the holy, Alva – the she-elf, Disa – the Dise, Edda – the ancient one, Eira – the healer or the healing Goddess, Eldfrid – beautiful fire, Embla – the elm tree (also the name of the first woman, Askur's partner), Erla – the noble, Freya – the lady (and, of course, the Goddess Freya), Frigga – the loved one (or the Goddess of the same name), Gunilla – the battle-maiden, Gyrid – Godly and beautiful, Helvig – healthy and headstrong, Hilda – the fighter or the warrior, Hulda – devotion, Irmelin – the strong and mild, Isrid – beautiful ice, Liv – protection, Magna – strength, Norunn – the one that has the North in her heart, Ragna – advice, Runa – the rune (like with the boy's version of the name, this also means "the secret"), Sigrunn – victory and secret, Sol – sun (or the sun-Goddess), Tora – thunder, Ulva – the she-wolf, Unndis – grace and Dise, Urda – fate, Valdis – the chosen Dise, Vilrunn – will and secret.
I decided to name my own daughter Alva, and the name suits her perfectly. She is a special, enchanting little girl, who always manages to fascinate the people around her.
It was customary amongst the Northern peoples to celebrate the child having cut its first tooth. On this occasion a tooth-gift was given to the child. The Æsir gave the God Frey Alfheim, the fairyland, as his tooth-gift. A child can also make a wish every time it looses one of its baby teeth. The tooth fairy will then come during the night to exchange the tooth with a little present for the child. It is a nice tradition to keep these teeth and a lock of the child's hair in a neat little container.
Reaching adulthood: This celebration marks the passage from child to adult, the youth's initiation into manhood or womanhood. The rite, which was celebrated by all Pagan societies, was obviously a very significant and exciting event for the youth. This new stage in his or her life brought more freedom, but also more responsibility. Part of the celebration was the recognition of the youth's sexual maturity. He or she was first separated from members of the opposite sex. The soon-to-be man or woman was then taken on a trip into nature, to a cabin or on a fishing-trip, for example. The mother and other women join the girl; and the father and other men join the boy. A ceremony would then be performed to initiate the young girl or boy into the circle of women or men. Stories of wisdom suitable for the occasion would be told and good advice given. A valuable, meaningful gift would be given to the youth, for example a dagger or a piece of jewellery.
This rite of reaching adulthood was often celebrated for a young girl to coincide with her first menstruation. She was becoming a woman now, and was therefore introduced to the mysteries of womanhood. In ancient societies a girl's first period was often celebrated by the entire community.
The menstrual cycle corresponds with the cycle of the moon, and this led to the belief that a menstruating woman held special magical powers. The patriarchal religions, on the other hand look upon menstruation as something unclean. Women are still embarrassed about their menstruation.
To a girl who has recently experienced her first menstruation, I think it would be ideal to give a silver ring with a red stone or arm-ring to symbolise her menstrual cycle and thus the cycle of the moon. Should the girl still be very young and it does not seem right for the parents to officially celebrate the rite of reaching adulthood, it can be celebrated later. There should, however, still be a little private celebration of the girl's first period and the ring given to her because this event is very special. She may be very embarrassed, but it should be made into a joyous and a positive experience.
The rite of reaching adulthood might be suitable to celebrate for a boy when his voice starts to break. If the boy is too young to have his maturity celebrated, you can always have a big celebration later. However, as with the young girl, the occasion should be privately acknowledged as a positive thing. And, like the girl, the boy may be embarrassed by what has happened to him.
The most suitable time to include relatives and friends in the celebration of reaching adulthood might be around the age of fourteen or fifteen. This might also be appropriate since many of their peers have their Christian confirmation around this age.
In Pagan times, when the youth returned home on the day after the initiation into manhood or womanhood, he or she was welcomed by the rest of the clan or family. A party would be held for the youth with plenty of guests and presents. Having celebrated the rite of reaching adulthood, it is important to remember to treat the youth like a growing adult and give him or her more freedom.
Engagement: On this occasion, a man and a woman made a commitment to each other and pledged to be wed to each other within a year and a day. This occasion was also called hand-fasting and, as the name suggests, the man and the woman each had a hand tied to another with a rope to symbolise their bond. If you are celebrating this custom, it would be appropriate to honour Vår, the Goddess who is present when oaths are sworn.
Wedding: The most popular time for weddings was around Midsummer. The bride would wear a gown in red, the colour of passion, love and the favourite colour of the God Thor. I consider it to be inappropriate for the bride to wear white, as a white wedding dress was introduced by the Church to symbolise her innocence (i.e. her virginity) and the veil over her face symbolises her submission.
The Pagan bride also wore a circlet of corn on her head and red ribbons in her hair. She held a bouquet of flowers in her hands. The groom could also wear some clothing in red. As it is today, the young couple were generally accompanied by a best woman and a best man, with the best man wearing the groom's sword.
Detailed descriptions of ancient wedding ceremonies are, as far as I know, not in existence. Still, we have some clues as to what was going on. The Goddess Vår was invited to witness the vows taken by the man and the woman. Some sources speak of an iron ring that the couple held on to. This ring was then heated over a fire and burnt into a piece of wood to symbolise the union in marriage. After the couple was wed, they were showered with wheat or corn for a fertile future. This tradition has survived, as we still shower newly married couples with rice or confetti. After the ceremony, the couple would jump side by side over a branch or a stretch of rope to signify that they were entering a new phase in their lives, and that they were facing the future together. Traditionally, the bride would be given a dagger at her wedding and the keys to all the doors of the household. She was now the mistress of the house.
The marriage was intended to last for a lifetime, with love, honesty and respect for each other. However, if these expectations were not met it was possible to demand a divorce. Such an option is essential in a society where a person's dignity is respected and quality of life matters.
Funeral: In ancient times, the dead were buried within a grave-hill or burnt on a funeral pyre. Personal belongings, gifts, food, mead and sometimes even whole ships were buried or burnt with the deceased. Anything that they might need on their way to the next world was placed with them in the grave.
With the coming of Christianity, our dead get buried according to Christian tradition in cemeteries. In many European countries, this is the only option that is open. Check out the law in your own country. If a Pagan funeral ceremony is not possible, it can be an alternative to hire a speaker from the local humane-ethic or atheist organisation instead of the vicar for a more neutral, non-religious funeral. And nobody can stop you from wishing the dead farewell in a Pagan manner afterwards. If your departed family member has to be buried in grounds consecrated by the Church, try to ask for a natural grey gravestone without any Christian symbols. Request to have a Pagan symbol or runes engraved on the stone, alternatively a poem with a Pagan theme. It might be an idea for the heartfelt Heathen to request a Pagan funeral in his or her will.
I once saw a documentary on Norwegian television about a group of people in England who had bought some land in the woods to use as a burial ground. The idea was that people could bury their dead there the way they wish to and to return them to nature. I think that this would be ideal, and we definitely must try to make such an option available in other countries. I also think it would be in keeping with the Pagan virtues to carry the ashes of the dead far into a forest or to the top of a hill – and then scatter the ashes out in all four directions.
In order to be able to celebrate the above occasions with a proper ceremony led by a Godi or a Gydja, I recommend you to get in touch with your nearest Asatru community. Keep in mind, however, that our ancestors did not write down any detailed rituals. Therefore, I think it is appropriate to give each ceremony your own personal touch.
Sadly, Church ceremonies are the only ones available when the present public are to celebrate the highlights of their lives. This is the reason why so many people choose to have their children baptised, have confirmation, get married in the Church and have a vicar lead their funerals. These people are not necessarily very Christian, they just like the spiritual celebration. We all need ceremonies, and I think it is important to spread the word that Pagan celebrations can be a good alternative to the ceremonies of the Church. I am sure that spiritual ceremonies that are full of both meaning and beauty would in time attract many people. What can beat a wedding in the woods, on top of a hill or by the sea?
You might, of course, prefer to celebrate the high points of your life in private, only with your closest family or perhaps just with your beloved or your child. This may to you even be more true and meaningful.