by Sheila McNallen
from The Runestone Winter 1997 #20
As one who attended the past three Althings, I’ve been impressed by the traditions which go back to those long-ago Althings of the first AFA. But each event is also a unique package of sights, smells, tastes, and sounds – encompassing wonderful meals, conversations, rituals, and evenings by firelight.
For Steve and I, this particular Althing had even greater significance, as we would pledge our troth in marriage before our Gods and the assembled Folk…
The small caravan of Calasa kindred made it’s way across the Great Salt Lake Desert in the wee hours of the morning. One more obstacle lay between us and Althing 17 – a ruddy-colored mountain range jutting up from the Utah floor. A few miles east of Ogden our vehicles climbed through a fissure bordered by sheer walls and waterfalls, to emerge on the other side in a Nordic-looking valley. It was green and gold with alfalfa and autumn flowering sunflowers, with rural farms spaced neatly as far as we could see. The road led us to a country park at the eastern end, where we dropped down to a rushing stream thickly bordered with willows and cottonwoods.
The first landmark was a rustic meeting lodge which would be the site for the mead tasting Saturday and Valgard’s famous spam breakfast on Sunday.
We were greeted by Eagle Kindred’s Hraesvelg who showed us to the camping areas hidden along the stream next to the road. At the opposite end of the park, the road merged with a large playing field which was ideally suited to Viking games and the “market place.” And hidden in the trees was a grove, a fairy glen of sorts, which would be the sumble and wedding site in the hours to come. Old friends arrived throughout the day – names from “Asatru-past,” from places far-away; all were greeted with handshakes or hugs.
Kindred banners were flying high when the procession, led by Valgard Murray and Hraelsvelg, reached the Thing meeting place Friday afternoon. Hraelsveg conducted the Tyr blot, honoring the God who rules the Thing and brings justice and order to the work at hand. This was followed by the Blessing of Weapon Steel by Valgard Murray, Secretary of the Asatru Alliance. Steve McNallen then did the Tyr invocation, officially opening the Thing. Esteemed guest from England, Heimgest of the Odinic Rite, assisted the other gothar during the ceremonies.
Thing business focused in two areas. One was the introduction and formal application to the Asatru Alliance by new kindreds. Their representatives were well-received by the Althing delegates and several new kindreds are now aligned with the AA.
There was also a message of greeting by Osferth of the Odinic Rite Vinland. These stirring words were read to all assembled by AOR(V) kinsman, Hnikar,”…As the fully functioning Vinland branch of the Odinic Rite, we would like to let members of all the Asatru Alliance Kindreds as well as the members of the Asatru Folk Assembly know that we stand by their sides as comrades and friends and will work together toward the furtherance of Odinism in Vinland now and in the future…”
Perhaps the most significant event at the Althing was the official formation of the International Asatru Odinic Alliance (IAOA). Three international organizations, the Asatru Alliance, the Asatru Folk Assembly, and the Odinic Rite have agreed to support one another and honor our ancestral religion through a formal association. The document signed by a representative of each group includes a Preamble and Bylaw. As a tribute to Valgard’s dedication to making this a reality, he was chosen as the first leader. or Allsher-jargodhi. serving a term of three years. This was indeed a history-making event!
Hnikar’s description of the formal sumble conveys the power which manifests as the Folk come together in praise and ritual. “The highlights of the holy Sumble were many, too many to mention. Kevin’s dedication to the Kennewick Man, a union across nine thousand years, Annabel’s lyrical voice speaking of her loved one, something as ancient as our kind and as new as the newest love… but above all, one moment shines most… Michael Moynihan stepped toward the fire beneath the starry sky, when his horn was filled with the sacred mead by Valkyrie Karen Taylor, and sang. Drawn into the spirit of the ancient rite, all were filled with the fire of the faith. When we finished, the assembled roared their approval.”
Saturday afternoon while many were competing in the Viking games, several vendors, including Calasa Kindred, had tables and booths displaying wares. There was a fine array of edged weapons, jewelry, books, quilts, and hanmade clothing. Our kindred had a product line of carved stones with Celtic and Norse motifs which we made in the weeks preceding the Althing. To assist with the fine work of the Worldtree Outreach Program, we proudly donated a stone to the auction held that evening.
One one remarkable feature of this Althing was the great number of school age children. They seemed completely in their own element – little Tom Sawyers, Huck Finns, and Becky Thatchers, always running here or there, oblivious to the adults much of the time. The emphasis on “traditional family” was certainly conveyed by Eagle Kindred of Utah.
For the use of us in Calasa Kindred, the other special event was the Saturday evening wedding of Steve and myself. Although this was wedding number two as we had proceeded it with a civil ceremony, it was particularly important to say our vows in the company of our kin and the Mighty Powers. We had made tentative wedding plans before leaving California, but unforeseen circumstances kept some of the main participants from making the trip to Utah. Saturday afternoon was one of sunlight and shadow as thunder clouds made frequent sweeps across the sky. Should we-could we, go ahead with the ceremony? With Valgard’s counsel, we decided that this was indeed the right time and place.
The pattern which emerged was one which echoed from ancient times. We no longer measured time by clocks but by waning sunlight. With a small procession, I would walk to the grove in darkness where Steve would be waiting. Would there be a few friends? a few dozen? I became very self-conscious as I dressed in my bridal gown, but suddenly at my side, like women of old – were three who took charge, who allayed my fears and doubts. And outside my tent was a retinue of honor guards in full Viking costume, who pledged their honor for my safety and well-being – should anyone attempt to kidnap “the faire bryde”.
In darkness we assembled. Michael Moynihan took first steps and began a rhythm on his bodhran. I couldn’t see Valgard, who was next, but could sense his calm presence; then came the first two guards with spears pointed skyward. I recall the excitement of taking my first tentative steps towards the grove. Julie Tobin and her children were behind me, the odd sound of a stroller in this surreal setting. And bringing up the rear were two more Viking guards. All light disappeared as we walked beneath the canopy of trees – but new sounds emerged. Annabel’s fiddle came to us in the darkness and spires of fire sparkled through the trees.
We entered the clearing to a huge circle of wellwishers. It was like a scene from BRAVEHEART with firelight glinting off of helms and spears. Steve and I were duly blessed by Valgard in true Asatru fashion, using a ceremony written years ago for the Arizona Kindred. We made vows and exchanged gifts. The group roared it’s approval of our union as flashes of lightning lit up the grove. Several of us joined hands and danced to Annabel’s gift of more Celtic music. Then Annabel and Michael honored us with an Irish step-dance which brought back ancestral memories to many of us.
Hugs, kisses, champagne, and cake had been lavished on everyone when Mighty Thor told us it was time to end the show. With a swipe of his hammer, the shy let loose a downpour of rain. After parting wishes, people ran off to campfires or tents, or to the mead tasting … each carrying a memory of a wedding that transcended time.
With the golden gift of morning we packed our gear, then we feasted one last time with new and old friends. After a breakfast, Valgard, Steve, and Heimgest prepared for one more Asatru “first” by doing a radio interview with a station from Portland, Oregon. The Parker home in Ogden was made available for this outstanding piece of Asatru promotion.
Three special days which changed every one of us. New friends, closer alliances, connection with the Gods. That is the way with Asatru gatherings – for all times.