Quick Notes: Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson, Don Frew, and Sascha Meinrath

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  May 12, 2011 — 28 Comments

A few quick news notes for you on this Thursday Thor’s Day.

The Chief Godi in Translation: A couple days ago I featured a link to a story concerning the thoughts of Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson, Chief Godi of Ásatrúarfélagið in Iceland, on the new “Thor” movie. I could only get a rough gist of the piece since it was in Icelandic, and asked for a translation. Now, thanks to the Old Norse Network (ONN), Dr. Jane Sibley, Ravynne, and Merrill Kaplan, I’ve received a couple of accurate (and understandable) translations of Hilmarsson’s comments.

“I‘d see it mostly as a fan of bad movies,” says Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson, Allsherjargoði and leader of Iceland’s Ásatrúarfélag, when asked whether he had already or intended to see the newest Hollywood movie about the thunder god Thor. The movie is based on the Marvel comic book series and was premiered here in Iceland this week. He says that the Ásatrúarfélagið hadn’t taken any particular stance on literary and artistic works surrounding Ásatrú. “Then you’d have to begin in the eighteenth century. People have been drawing on this heritage for two, three hundred years. Sometimes it’s been successful and sometimes not. We can certainly be grateful that Edward Elgar composed beautiful music with these “motifs,” and Wagner did too. And naturally some heavy metal bands have appropriated it in much worse ways than will be the case in this film by Kenneth Branagh,” says Hilmar Örn. He said he didn’t regard the movie itself as any kind of misrepresentation of the faith. “If you take some kind of fundamentalist stance towards it, then some people are going to be offended. People have been drawing on this heritage for many hundreds of years, and we haven’t opted to organize any kind of protest about it the way it might happen in other religions. We’re a little more relaxed about it, I think,” says Hilmar Örn.

So there you are! Thanks to everyone who helped get me a translation. In addition, Kjell from the ONN list also points out reactions to Thor from Norway and Denmark (no translations, though). You might also be interested in this column from Religious New Service writer Cathleen Falsani.

COG and the Prayer Breakfast: The Covenant of the Goddess Interfaith Reports blog features a report from Don Frew on the Marin Interfaith Council Prayer Breakfast, at which Frew was a featured presenter. Here’s an excerpt from the talk Frew gave to an audience of over 180 local representatives of different faith communities.

“The easiest way to understand modern Neopaganism is to think of something like Nataive American spirituality or Japanese Shinto, but coming out of pre-Christian European and Mediterranean cultural settings.  There are Druids, reviving the religion of the ancient Celts.  There are Heathens, taking their inspiration from the religions of the Norse and Germanic peoples.  But by far the largest branch of Neopaganism is the Witches, coming out of the fusion of Celtic, Anglo-Saxon, and Graeco-Roman spiritualities that occurred in the British Isles.  This led many modern Witches to use Anglo-Saxon word – “Wicca” – instead “Witchcraft”.  Some found it easier to avoid one “w-word” by replacing it with another, especially when explaining things to their parents.  [chuckles]”

Apparently feedback for the presentation was very good, and most likely helped change some misconceptions that are held about our family of faiths. Congratulations to Don Frew on the successful interfaith experience. I encourage my readers to head over and give your feedback on the talk.

The Digital Divide on Native Reservations: MediaShift at PBS looks at the digital divide in Indian Country, and interviews Sascha Meinrath, director of New America Foundation’s Open Technology Initiative, about the struggle to bridge that divide and bring new media opportunities to tribal communities.

“You have a community that perhaps treasures media and cultural production more than almost any other constituency in the country, and you have an entire dearth of access to new media production and dissemination technology,” Meinrath said. Since 2009, New America Foundation has worked with Native Public Media, which supports and advocates for Native American media outlets, to help tribal communities take advantage of new media platforms. In January, the organizations formalized their partnership, and this fall, they plan to launch a media literacy pilot project that will train Native radio broadcasters in at least four communities to tell stories using digital tools.

This is a hugely important issue, and a chance to break “a pattern of historical exclusion from media and communication services” according to Loris Ann Taylor, president of Native Public Media. Amplifying and enriching indigenous voices is something that all of us should support and welcome, a road towards increasing self-determination and changing a dominant media narrative that often ignores the voices of Native Americans.

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

Jason Pitzl-Waters


  • More Jane Sibley! And cowbells….

  • Dana Corby

    Don has come up with the single most important and accurate definition ever: "With such variety in beliefs and practice, what holds us together as a faith tradition? If you’ll allow me a neologism, I believe that modern Witches are “orthognostic”, in that we share a common gnosis: the direct experience of the Divine manifesting as and through the Natural World. " Simply awesome — and scribbled while eating breakfast!"

    Bravo, Don!

  • Dana Corby

    Don has come up with the single most important and accurate definition ever: "With such variety in beliefs and practice, what holds us together as a faith tradition? If youll allow me a neologism, I believe that modern Witches are orthognostic, in that we share a common gnosis: the direct experience of the Divine manifesting as and through the Natural World. " Simply awesome — and scribbled while eating breakfast!"

  • I wonder why Frew claims that "prayer does not figure largely in the spiritual lives of most Witches"? That must be a California Pagan thing. ("Too cool to pray"?)

    I think Don Frew is great, and I mostly liked what he had to say. Considering how much he covered I doubt you could find any Pagan who agreed with all of it! But seriously, he was talking at a "Prayer Breakfast" and he was specifically asked to address the issue of prayer, and this is what he comes up with? It's especially crazy considering the fact that he uses "Native American spirituality or Japanese Shinto" as his two primary examples of other religions that are like modern Paganism. Oh, except we don't pray?

    • Don Frew

      Dear Apuleius,

      What I said about prayer is "Prayer does not figure largely in the spiritual lives of most Witches. To the extent that prayer is present, it is in the form of communion with the deities (much like prayer in late Classical paganism*), rather than of submission or supplication as is often found in the prayers of many other faiths. In contrast, most Witches make use of meditation – especially in the form of guided meditation or visualization – on a regular basis. It is through a guided meditation that I might be able to share some of the Wiccan gnosis with you here today."

      I still think this is true of the majority of Witches I have met over the past 39 years. It is possible that the movement is changing and prayer of the more submissive / supplicative type is becoming more common, but I doubt it.

      As to << But seriously, he was talking at a "Prayer Breakfast" and he was specifically asked to address the issue of prayer, and this is what he comes up with? >> … The specific directions from the Director of the Marin Interfaith Council were: "About the program itself: We ask each of you guest speakers, to share about prayer/meditation in your religious tradition, and then lead us in an experience of that meditation or prayer. So you could speak for 10-12 minutes and then lead us in an experience for 6-8 minutes."

      The topic WAS "prayer/meditation" and I addressed prayer and meditation. Really, Apuleius, you usually have interesting and insightful things to say once you get to your second or third round of comments, but you have a tendency to fire off your first comments before you really know the facts of a situation. Please… Ask for clarification first, THEN respond if you still object.

      Thanks for the complimentary parts of your post.

      Blessed Be,
      Don Frew

      • Hi Don, I saw Cat C-B's comment and responded to it (below) before I saw yours. I'll try not to be repetitive….

        I think that if you were more explicit about what you mean by "submission" and "supplication", that your argument would break down pretty quickly. As it is all we have is your assertion that the word "prayer" (as it is commonly used and understood) involves "submission" and "supplication" in a way that "most Witches" would reject.

        The fact is that the Christian understanding and practice of prayer is quite subtle and multifaceted. There is certainly much more to it than groveling and wheedling. Christian prayer, as it is understood by Christians, is just as much about communion with their deity as it is about asking for stuff and/or self-abnegation.

        Also, supplication and submission are far from alien to Pagan religiosity (including that of modern Pagans). Its just that we supplicate and submit to our Goddesses and Gods in the manner of a passionate lover, rather than that of a servile subject.

        And do the Pagans you hang out with really not pray for their sick friends and loved ones? Really? Hell, I pray for my friends when they go to the dentist (if they ask for it, and sometimes they do).

        • Baruch Dreamstalker

          Apuleius, I have to back Don on this, by a hair, for two closely related reasons.

          One is that he was in front of a somewhat conservative crowd. His formulation would be more acceptable than yours. While it is true that some Christian mystics pursue their God with the passion of a lover, they are not likely to be among an assembly of local pastors. Give them a chaste smooch the first time around and slip in a little tongue in a later encounter.

          Secondly, he was the one dealing with the totality of the immediate situation, and I'd go with his judgment until it was proved wrong.

        • Don Frew

          No, I don't "pray" for my sick friends. Nor do most of the Witches of my acquaintance. What we do is work magick for them to get better. The difference MAY be a semantic one, but I think it is a deep one.

          Prayer "for something" or "operative prayer" in the context of most faiths involves petitioning a deity to do something desired by the person doing the praying. Personally, I've always had trouble with this concept of prayer. Does the deity not care about the matter unless someone brings the matter to its attention? Does it then count the prayers for and against and the higher number wins? If it is making up its own mind about whether to intervene, then what does the prayer matter?

          In contrast, when we work magic "for something", we shape the forces of Nature toward a desired end, very often including the phrase "By my will, so mote it be!" — NOT "If it by THY will, may it be so." We may invite the Gods to assist in the magic and earnestly hope they will do so, but WE are doing the magic. The results — and the responsibility for them — are ours.

          Also, in response to both Apuelis and Cat, I was careful in my talk to say: "So what defines modern Witchcraft or Wicca? This can get complicated sometimes; and you’ll notice that I almost always say that “most Witches” or “many Witches” believe such-and-such a thing or that something is a “common belief” precisely because of this ambiguity."

          I ALWAYS preface remarks by explaining that my way of looking at Craft is not the ONLY way of looking at Craft, so please take that into consideration when analyzing my statements. I also invite you and everyone else to engage in the very educational exercise of trying to figure out how you would explain the history of and represent the incredible diversity of the modern Craft movement, let alone all of Neopaganism, in 10 minutes. It's a challenge.

          Thanks and Blessed Be,
          Don Frew

  • Henry Buchy

    cog link-page not found

    • Baruch Dreamstalker

      Nor could I find Frew's talk on the Marin IFC site.

      • Don Frew

        The original post somehow disappeared from the CoG Interfaith Blog. I have reposted the report, but I don't know if the Wild Hunt links will still work. You can go directly to http://www.covenantinterfaith.blogspot.com and find it. Sorry for the confusion,
        Don Frew

  • Helen/Hawk

    I was there, at the breakfast. I guess we’re running into the problem of “speaking for the entire group” when there’s no official body of practices.

    So, all one can do is speak from one’s experience (re: the do Pagans pray).

    what didn’t happen at this breakfast was “let us each one of us define prayer” in that academic manner.

    Don lead everyone in Grounding (a nice one, too), after asking everyone to hold hands. People were really moved by this as an example of prayer.

    So, the point was made that we Pagans pray…..but not in the talking to paternal sky-father kinda way…..by Doing.

    • If the quote I'm seeing is correct, he was attempting to speak in that response only for Witches. And in terms of what most of our culture understands as prayers–verbal supplication of a divinity for assistance–I'd have to say that he is generally, though not universally, correct. There are very few examples of verbal prayer per se in Wiccan Books of Shadows.

      Of course, I've also heard magic termed "prayer with props," and, though I have some issues with that, I understand where it comes from. And if prayer is understood to be communicating with the gods, well, then, yes, of course Wiccans pray.

      • The standard model for prayer in Christianity is The Lord's Prayer, which Christians take very seriously and use frequently.

        But what does the Lord's Prayer say? Does it say, "Oh Lord, won't you buy me a color tv?" No. It says: "Thy Will Be Done." In other words, it is a model for aligning the personal Will with the Divine Will. It also says "On earth as it is in heaven." In other words "As above, so below." It also includes the widely used Qabalistic/Hermetic formula "Thine is the Kingdom, and the Power, and the Glory forever."

        And lets not forget the words: "Whenever you have need of anything ….."

        • Don Frew

          I think that, in the context of this discussion, this misrepresents the Lord's Prayer. While there may be an aspect of aligning the personal Will with the Divine Will, there is also a very definitely operative aspect:
          * "Give us this day our daily bread." — A petition to not go hungry.
          * "Forgive us our debts" — A petition for consideration here and in the afterlife.

          Thanks and Blessed Be,
          Don Frew

          • Don Frew: * "Give us this day our daily bread." — A petition to not go hungry.

            From the Charge of the Goddess (reclaiming version):
            "Whenever you have need of anything …."

            Don Frew: * "Forgive us our debts" — A petition for consideration here and in the afterlife.

            Charge of the Goddess:
            "Mine is the secret that opens the door of youth, and Mine is the cup of wine of life that is the cauldron of Cerridwen, that is the holy grail of immortality.

            "I give the knowledge of the spirit eternal, and beyond death I give peace and freedom and reunion with those that have gone before."

            Obviously Christians and Pagans do not pray in exactly the same way (just as all Christians do not pray in the same way, nor do all Pagans — far from it! — pray in the same way). And of course Pagans are not into the whole "forgive us our sins" routine, since we tend to view things more in terms of our personal responsibility to work with the consequences of our actions, rather than seeking to escape from those consequences.

            But I'm sure that we can both agree that "And lead us not into temptation" is in very stark contrast to "Let My worship be in the heart that rejoices, for behold, all acts of love and pleasure are My rituals."!

          • Don Frew

            I think that the important distinction I would make here is that the Charge of the Goddess is not a prayer. It is a statement from the Goddess to her followers about what she does for them, not a prayer from the followers to the Deity. In this, it is more in the form of a "revelation" or a "gospel" (in its original meaning), which should not be much of a surprise since the passages we're discussing come from "Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches" by Leland.

            Blessed Be,
            Don Frew

          • It's an interesting point. Yes it's true that the "speaker" in the Charge is the Goddess Herself. But of course it is actually spoken by us humans down here as part of our worship of Her.

            In practice, the Charge is used to invoke the Goddess, and invocation is one of the primary forms of prayer. So whether the Charge is used or not, any time Witches do an invocation (and the standard boilerplate Wiccan ritual includes two invocations), we are praying.

          • Don Frew

            Actually, the use of the Charge for the first 30+ years of its existence was NOT "to invoke the Goddess". The Charge was written some time between 1919 and 1939 in the coven that Gardner joined. In that coven and in the covens descending from it (including Gardner's) the Charge was not used for invocation, rather certain specific written invocations were used for invocation. When the Goddess manifested through the Priestess, She might speak through the Priestess or, if the Goddess had nothing specific to say, the Priestess might recite the Charge. So, the Charge was a message from Her to us, not a prayer from us to Her — a response TO invocation, rather than invocation itself. Once the Charge made its way into print in the 60s it may well have been put to other uses, but, as I said in the talk to the Marin Interfaith Council, I was speaking as a Gardnerian, and that's what I've been doing here.
            Blessed be,

          • I apologize if it seems like I am beating a dead horse, but I am very interested in this topic, and I am finding the discussion very helpful for my own process of thinking through the very non-trivial issue of prayer.

            While the Charge might not always be used as a prayer, nevertheless if we look at the earliest written source for it, Leland's Aradia, it is clear that in the relevant section of "The Gospel of the Witches" Aradia is instructing her followers to worship and pray to the Goddess Diana (Aradia's mother). In return for this, Diana will grant her devotees many things, especially knowledge of "sorcery". (This is in the first chapter, and the second chapter is also very relevant to this topic.)

            In Witchcraft Today, it is true that Gardner describes the Charge not as a prayer, but as part of the initiation ceremony of a new Witch. However in the same book Gardner also tells us that (1) he is "not permitted to detail the rites and prayers" of the Witches (second chapter); (2) that by the time of the book's writing Witches had unfortunately "forgotten practically all about their God; all I can get is from the rites and prayers addressed to him" (third chapter); and (3) that "in the summer the main prayers are to the Goddess, while in winter it is chiefly the God who is prayed to" (twelfth chapter).

            Margaret Murray, for her part, left no doubt that her Witches also prayed (to the Horned God in particular): "they adored him on their knees, they addressed their prayers to him, they offered thanks to him as the giver of food and the necessities of life, they dedicated their children to him." (See the second chapter of Murray's The Witch Cult.)

            And in Doreen Valiente's The Horned God, we find

            "By moonlit meadow on dusky hill,
            When the haunted wood is hushed and still,
            Come to the charm of the chanted prayer,
            As the moon bewitches the midnight air."

            while in her The Witches Chant there is this:

            "In the earth and air and sea,
            By the light of moon or sun,
            As I pray, so mote it be.
            Chant the spell, and be it done!"

            So at least according to Leland, Murray, Gardner, and Valiente, Witches, as a general rule, do pray. And not only that, but we pray in pretty much the same sense as anyone else, including Christians. We do not grovel and wheedle, but we are worshipful, reverential, and supplicatory. (That is, we ask for stuff, and we ask for it very nicely. And, very importantly, we ask with every expectation that our prayers are heard.)

        • Aline O'Brien

          Allow me to say that I have been active in MIC for about 10 years. I've gone to every interfaith prayer breakfast since I joined. I serve on behalf of CoG, Cherry Hill Seminary, and sometimes Reclaiming. I have presented a Pagan perspective in a ritual context in smaller events that are not as prominent as our annual prayer breakfast. Just so you know, this invitation for Don to speak did not come out of the blue. One reason he was invited was that, as the director told me, people need to know that there's more than one Pagan out there. I am thrilled that this happened, and I was proud and happy. My report appears at http://www.besom.blogspot.com as well as on the CoG interfaith blog.

          Don gave a thoughtful, informed, polished presentation, and a very effective meditation that left everyone wanting more. One woman came up afterwards asking where she could find it, she wanted to record it. We referred her to Starhawk's _The Spiral Dance_ for a basic tree of life grounding meditation.

          In times of mistrust and discord, much of which happens in the name of religion, participating in activities such as this breakfast gives me a sense of progress and hope. I encourage others to learn how to join in mutually supportive work with other religious leaders in their locales. People are far less likely to fear those they know than they are to fear strangers. I am convinced that interfaith relations promote peaceful solutions to conflict on all levels.

          Yours in changing culture,
          Macha NightMare

  • piperut

    I went to see the Thor movie on Thursday (Thor's Day). It does make for good entertainment, but it takes an awful lot of poetic license with the lore. I would have like to see the real story of the creation of Mj?lnir instead of the story of it being forged in a dying star. In the plot of the movie, they also more or less have made Loki the blood brother of Thor, instead of the blood brother of Odin. Also, killing off Odin…well, Odin can't lead the forces of Valhalla against the hosts of hell at Ragnarok. Overall, for staying true to the lore, it would be considered a B movie. The people I went to see it with, one had read some of the Thor Comics. For staying true to the Thor comics, it seems to make good entertainment. I can see perhaps some good coming out of this block buster movie … it might encourage people to study the lore, some of the written source … like Children of Odin, the Eddas, and such. They also did a wonderful portrayal of Freyja, only they called her Sif. Even the guy who was up on the Thor comic books thought the brunette goddess was Freyja. I had to point out they called her Sif in the movie.

    • piperut, you do know that the movie is based on a comic book that took liberties with the Eddas in the first place right? It was never intended to "stay true to the lore", so quibbling about that really doesn't mean much.

      • Glad to hear the Godi's words. He has the right attitude towards this movie. In other news, I hear the Asatruar in Iceland are getting their first temple soon. Let's hope it goes well.

        I'm all for the Native American's getting more electronic media stuff. However, what most people don't know about those areas is that the Tribal Councils rule everything, and they decide who gets what funding and what land. People don't even own their houses on the reservation, it's all done by the TCs, and they can take land or money away at will. Somehow I don't see this new media thing working out as well as intended.

    • Well, in the comics Sif is Sif (she just doesn't have blonde hair). If you're looking for Freyja in the Marvel comics, I believe she's also known as the Enchantress.

  • I saw the Thor movie, expecting it to be total drek, but maybe a romp. I was surprised in places. First of all, the Odin-Thor interaction is very well done. Odin has some amazing lines defending the need for peace, talking about a king never seeking out war, but being ready for it if it comes, and so forth, which I was really impressed with. It is a spot-on take on Odin's character in this regard, and quite contrary to some warrior-mongers. The depiction of Jotunheim (oddly as a planet, but whatever) was excellent : icy, rocky, and extraordinarily barren. The Bifrost bridge as an interdimensional kind of warp drive that opens a rainbow wormhole that swirls through the galaxy is clever, I think, and not a bad modern interpretation. Some of the graphics, depicting the cosmic nature of Asgard, its centrality in the galaxy, and its immensity, are very well done. Some of the architecture is a little brassy and wouldn't be my depiction (as are many aspects of this film which tries to find some synthesis between Old Norse, Marvel Comics, and Shakespeare), yet the larger, cosmic impression is very important, and inasmuch as this affects the minds of viewers, is significant. Some of the giants are a little too gaunt and thin, but some of them are spot-on. Thor's bravado and gusto are well-played. Frigg gets too little time for someone so important. Heimdall was given owl-eyes, which although technically not lore-derived, is a fascinating UPG to signify his ability to see long distances, even in the dark. While his costume was comic-book ridiculous, the actor performed a decent depiction. Not my depiction, mind you, but an interesting one, and moreover, making Heimdall black was just the most awesome thing in the universe, given that he becomes the father of the Teutonic peoples, and the way that must rub the racists and racialists wrong gives me unending delight. Loki was played as per Marvel guidelines : sly, yet with a sincerity of his own (indeed, at least in this first phase, somewhat of a sympathetic character), and yet a treacherousness. These are definitely Loki traits, but the actor ought have brought some of his more mischevious, playful sides in. This Loki was all too serious, not taking enough delight in his trouble-brewing. His confrontation with Odin, in this version his foster-father (an interpretation that could be grounded in Lokasenna 16, where Idunn refers to him as an "óskmaga", a "wished-for son", which can refer to a foster-son), is really beautifully done, on both sides. Odin's tenderness, when he tells Loki that he was just a baby and innocent of all jotnar evil, is beautiful. (Oddly, they change the gender of Laufey, who is Loki's mother, and make him Loki's father : but it is a comic book, after all!) The "Odin-sleep", a purely comic-book invention, is an interesting idea, even theologically : that a God may go into a swoon and be unconscious for great periods of time (which may seem like small time to the God sleeping). (I suppose if one stretched it, this could be lorified under Ynglingasaga's statement that Odin used to lie down and seem unconscious while becoming fish, beasts, and other shapes, but there doesn't seem to be any indication in the comic-book that he is engaged in such shape-shifting. It would have been interesting if they had added that bit.) Thor has three companions that come from the comic book and have no relation to mythology (unless the Errol Flynnish Fandral is supposed to be a takeoff of Frey), but aren't too terribly distracting. For an action film, it's a pretty fun romp, if you don't go in with high theological (or artistic) expectations, and along for the ride, you'll get some pretty amazing glimpses of particular aspects of the mythology that update or enhance the traditional visions.

    • I like your review, but I can't say I was thrilled about the whole Black Heimdall. Idris is a great actor and he did an amazing job and I'm glad to have him in the movie. I'm just don't think it's a good idea to change the sacred stories of anyone ethnic group simply for racially charged reasons, even if it is to smack the "racial superiority" of that ethnicity. Sure, you get to flip off a small number, but in the end, it seems too large a deed for something so small.

  • Dennis Nock

    i have a comment one 2 of the posts .the one about the lack of media expression for indian tribal groups , was a long time coming. the way our government treats native americans is absurd. as pagans we need to make noise about this one ourselves due the simularities in our beliefs . i for one hope this all works out . as far as frew goes , from what i've read , we did a quite good job explaining pagan beliefs to outsiders. his examples were pretty much spot on , in a way someone not firmiliar with our varied paths could understand . Kilm