Artist Kari Tauring, who has been exploring these concepts for some time, created a show called Winter Solstice in the Northlands, which she had been staging annually from 1999 to 2006. This December, after an eight year hiatus, she brought the show back to life.
We were able to catch up with Tauring in between her performances to ask her about the production and her background.
For the past twenty years I have worked as a musician and ritual artist, helping others create ceremony around transitional times. I don’t work with any one specific group. I was ordained through the Church of Spiritual Humanism in order to complete ceremonial paperwork [for weddings and other rites of passage]. Most people know me as a Nordic roots musician, story teller, and staff carrier or völva.
Since I grew up in an ethnic enclave of Norwegian Americans, it was natural to begin digging down the root of my folk tradition to find the sources in the very ancient material. I began studying the runes in 1989. Beginning in 2003, I began working with staff and stick (stav and tein) for rhythm, breath, alignment with the world tree, journey and rune song, a spiritual method called ‘volva stav.’ I served Heathenry in the Midwest formally as völva from 2010 until 2014, elected by the council at Midwest Thing held in Kansas. I also serve the Lutheran community as educator and spiritual facilitator. Everyone wants to know what their roots are and see how they connect.”
In December, Tauring told the MinnPost that unlike many solstice and holiday performances, this is not a “family-friendly” show. It is instead designed to be an intense exploration of the darkness. “We’re just told, ‘Everything’s going to be fine, and if you feel empty, just buy more stuff and if you don’t feel good after the holidays it’s because you have to shop better next year,’ ” said Tauring. “But this time of year is an opportunity to, from an ancient Nordic mindset, explore the origins of your own darkness.”
For this production, that means, “It’s not going to be all doom and gloom, but it also helps people to say, ‘It’s okay if you’re not happy at this time of year because this is the height of seasonal effective [sic] disorder; this is the height of not being in a happy place, and it’s okay and here are some tools.'”
Why resurrect the show now, after all this time? For years Tauring also produced family-friendly solstice shows with singing and puppets. She told the MinnPost that her kids are now grown and that she “wanted to shift … from the community-building to something more intense, because it’s been a really intense year with a lot of darkness in it.”
Not surprisingly, some of the tools Tauring uses in the show are runes. She explained a bit about how the tool is incorporated. “Ice and Fire are the first elements of creation in Norse mythology. One of the pieces in this production dealt primarily with the elements of creation and the process of creation and destruction. The runes for ice and fire play an obvious role here. One piece, Avalanche Runedance, was based on a rune stone from Hogganvik, Norway. The alphabet magic/prayers on this stone are really beautiful. I have been working at performing this stone for a few years and in this production I use my musical performance as a sound track for an interpretive dance.”In contrast to surrounding oneself with as much light as possible, as is typical in the United States for many cultural and religious paths, Tauring explained:
The Northern way of dealing with cold and dark is not to fight it. We embrace the sadness. We leave room to feel it. The juletide is a season, not a singular event. It lasted for twenty days in the not so olden times. In modern Scandinavia they still take at least two weeks off to ‘deal’ with the darkness. Another important thing is the lack of future tense . . . Old Norse and Finnish . . . don’t have a future tense, so the way the mind works is different. The names for the ‘fates’ are Is, Becoming, and Should. I am offering an ancient way of ‘embracing the void’ and being present in the ‘becoming’ and creating of the past. And a way to be in relationship with the darkness.
Central to the performance, as Taurig presents, is the Norse concept of öorlog, which she defines on her own website as, “the summation of an individual human inheritance (physical, spiritual, ancestral, environmental and cultural).” It carries the experiences, behaviors, traumas, and traditions of our ancestors, and is the basis for the importance of ancestor work in these northern traditions.
She is fond of using a spindle to explain öorlog, writing, “Each of us is born with a spindle of thread spun by parents, grandparents, great-grandparents ad infinitum. This thread is our öorlog. We can not un-spin it, but we can look into it, review it, learn about it, and have memories that surface to help explain why some of the spin is strong and some is thin, lumpy, or even broken and tied back in. We can also choose to spin our strand differently.”
As this year’s production of Winter Solstice in the Northlands has a more intense focus than in the past, Tauring was able to use it to premiere some of her newest work. For those unable to see the show live, she promised that portions will be available for viewing online in the coming weeks. In addition, her next project, a fourth Nordic roots recording, will include the soundtrack for “Avalanche Runedance.” A Kickstarter campaign to fund that album will be launched in March.