“What is this?” asked my wife, gesturing at a cardboard box on our table. I had ushered her into the dining room to watch me open it, as though it were Christmas Day and I were an excitable four-year-old. I cut through the tape with the dull edge of my house keys but came to a point where the tape was too thick and I had to rend the box apart with my berserkr strength. Beneath the cardboard was a layer of thick packing foam, then another layer of bubble wrap (and yet more tape). My frenzy continued as I ripped and tore through these obstacles; if I had a shield at hand I would surely have bitten it.
Soon enough, though, I managed to free my prizes. There were two of them in the box, one small and shaped in a classic point that tapered away and then narrowed toward the base; the other was much larger, long enough to resemble the blade of a sword. Spearheads, hand-forged by a blacksmith I met through a friend from my days in Society for Creative Anachronism. Though at first the spearheads appeared to be made of the same stuff, a slow movement through the afternoon light revealed their composition differed. The small one kept a smooth and undifferentiated texture, while the larger one’s surface glimmered with a pattern in the metal: iron and steel.
“Are they sharp?” my wife asked.
I ran my finger along the long one’s edge and did not slice myself open. “They’re pointy enough,” I said, “but no, they aren’t that sharp.” Not that they needed to be – I had no intentions of using them in that way – but with a little work and a whetstone, I knew they could be genuinely dangerous. And perhaps would be yet, if not in that way.
Props, costumes, and all the paraphernalia that goes into Paganism: there is an argument to be made that these are unnecessary and that a true Pagan practice requires nothing more than one’s own body and breath. I agree with that, to a point; nobody needs a fancy athame to practice Wicca, and while historical garb can make one’s experience of Heathenry more immersive, one can have just as profound an encounter with the gods in blue jeans. But in my own practice, having the right tool to hand can make a ritual more potent; the tool represents a certain focus of intention, and its presence can open one’s spirit up to greater revelation.
My first encounter with Heathenry involved a man with a spear, who acted as the warder in a seething ritual. (His practice used Old English terminology and its modern English reflexes; Heathens using Norse-Icelandic terms would refer to the ritual as seiðr.)
All of which is to say that he acted as a guardian and caretaker for those of us participating in the oracular trance of the ceremony. We were outdoors, sitting near a fire, and cold; I remember being frightened of his silhouette, the shadow of a man in a cloak with the spear pointing up into the night sky. I was only twenty, and it was the first time I had ventured out of the peculiar form of Wicca I was raised in. Looking back, I think I recognized the inherent power in the spear and what it symbolized – I was frightened, perhaps, because I felt an attraction to it, and to the Heathen god who wielded such a weapon.
That was fifteen years ago – a long time, one in which I had grown more and more into Heathen practice, and, in particular, into a relationship with Odin, whose spear Gungnir is the original from which the image in my head was derived. I made or acquired many tools during those years, ritual hammers and rune-sets and mead-horns, but I never found a spear I liked. Although the presence of one left a lasting impression on me at that first ritual, spears are not nearly so common in Heathen or Pagan circles as similar items like knives or swords; a quick look at Alaric Albertsson‘s Wyrdworking (republished as A Handbook of Saxon Sorcery by Llewellyn a few years ago) shows a mention of wands, staves, and knives as tools, but not a spear.
I ended up contacting a smith, Ray Luebke of Badger Edge LLC, to construct mine. Although I wish I had the skills to create them myself, working with an artisan felt like the next best thing. Into the faces of both spears, Luebke etched a rune for me: ansuz, the a-rune, which, depending on the language or the rune-row, can mean “god,” “mouth,” or “ash tree.” The a-rune, which is usually connected to Odin, is the rune I have the most connection to, and one I have often used as a personal marking. I can trace my fingers along the cool metal now and be reminded of the power of that symbol: “the origin of all tongues,” as the Old English rune poem calls it, “wisdom’s support and wise men’s solace.”
These are the reasons why I use these tools: they are material reminders of the powers, ethics, and histories of the path I follow. To have one of them in my hands is to be connected in a physical way to my spirituality, which can sometimes become confused or obscure when it is entirely contained within my head. The tool makes all the things that comprise my Paganism – all those myths and ceremonies and pilgrimages and memories – into a thing I can touch and direct. They make my practice clear, as clear as my own reflection in this spearhead’s polished metal.