Thinking about colonisation

I am a member of a group called Heathen Women United and this year we have begun a year long project that links with the Year of Aun. Each month we are presenting a theme connected to a figure from history or the sagas and linked in some way to a being. We began this project in February with the figure of Uun the Deep Minded , Unnr one of the nine daughters of the oean deities Rán and Aegir and the themes of community and frith-weaving. In March we focussed on Þorbjörg lítilvölva (“Thorbjörg little-völva“), the deity Jörð (whose name literally means earth or land) and connections to the land.

This month our figure is Gudrid Thorbjarnardóttir, sometimes referred to as Gudrid the Far Traveller with themes of migration, colonisation and the Goddess Freya who according to the myths was part of a hostage exchange to end the Vanir-Aesir war and also travelled the world seeking her husband. While each of these figures are interesting in their own rights for various reasons, the theme of colonisation is what has triggered this post.

Colonisation is a complex subject and an often emotive one. It’s also something that very few, if any, countries in this world have not been touched by in some way or another through history. There have been many occasions in history when a nation first became powerful and then sought to expand into other countries, sometimes neighbouring ones, sometimes more distant ones. Frequently that expansion became hostile at some point with indigenous communities pushed out of their homes and abused. Native languages and cultural practices were often forbidden, sometimes for many generations leading to long term losses and sometimes the extinction of a culture and language. The traumas of these events often result in unseen and sometimes unrecognised multi generational wounds.

I live in Scotland. A nation that has had people forcibly removed from the land in some areas during the highland clearances. A land where the native languages of Gaelic and Scots were forbidden in schools and the numbers of native speakers of both has suffered immensely because of this. Similar events have taken place in other part of the United Kingdom. And yet Scotland is also still part of the United Kingdom, once known as the centre of the British Empire. Sons and daughters of Scotland, and the rest of the United Kingdom, were part of colonisation efforts in many other countries doing to others what had also been done to them and worse. Trauma begetting trauma and for many that trauma is still ongoing. A cycle that is known of in other areas of human interactions. I may not have been personally involved in the wounds of colonisation but there is a strong likelihood that at least some of my ancestors were.

As an individual where does my responsibility lie within these tangled threads? What lessons can I learn from history? Are there generational traumas connected to colonisation in my ancestry that could do with healing and if so how do I heal them? Or are have they already healed to some extent leaving old scars that should be acknowledged but not broken open again? I don’t think there are any easy answers.

And what of those whose colonisation traumas are still very much ongoing? At the very least I can to listen to their experiences so I can help my children learn. Maybe together all our children will learn the way to heal each other of these painful wounds.

Fourth post on HWU conference

This is the fourth (and last) in a series of posts with my notes from the Heathen Women United conference on 6-8 July in Preston.

The first post is Experiences and notes from Heathen Women United 2nd Annual conference which includes my notes on the first panel of speakers and the second post is Notes from HWU conference cont. which includes my notes on the keynote and guest speaker talks on Saturday 7th July. The third post More notes from HWU conference cont. includes my notes from the second panel and a small amount about the evening performance on Saturday.

This post will cover my notes from Sunday 8 July.

The first session of the day was a combination of talk and workshop presented by Alison Williams-Bailey on Galdr (a form of sung magical incantation). Alison spoke about some of her experiences learning about joik with the Sami people. She said that joik is a language for feelings and that it comes from nature.  A joik can be used as an anchor for journeying.  The most common form of joik is the personal joik and that a joik is “owned” by the being the joik is for or about.  There are a number of famous joiks such as the Bear joik and the Wolf joik, there is even a mosquito joik. Alison quoted a friend of hers that had spent time with some Aboriginal tribes saying “Indigenous means your heart is in the land”. Alison demonstrated a joik. The second part of the session was a practical workshop singing various Anglo-Saxon verses and in some cases doing simple dances with the songs.  This was my first experience of attempting to say or sing anything in Anglo-Saxon and I will admit I struggled with the pronunciation on a few things but it was great fun.

This session was followed by the third panel and last of the conference – Skuld. This panel included four speakers.

First to speak was Tom Berendt currently studying in the United States. His talk was titled “Ostara’s American Awakening: Invoking the Heathen Goddess of Fertility”. Tom spoke about the increasing popularity in America of Ostara as a Goddess linked to the Spring Equinox with the festival itself being increasingly referred to as Ostara.  The connection of Ostara to the Spring Equinox was first introduced by Aiden Kelly in 1968.  The origins of this are thought to be with Bede and his mention of Eosturmonath and a goddess named Eostre. Tom mentioned that Bede may overstated the popularity and importancce of Eostre, she may have been a local goddess for the areas now known as Kent in England rather than a much more widely known goddess.  Ostara has become much more popular though and her popularity has been increased by her inclusion in shte cast of characters in Neil Gaiman’s book and TV series “American Gods”. Ostara has become strongly associated with the spring and fertility particularly in neo-paganism.

Next to speak was Dr Edward Davies with the title of “The ‘Silent Voice’ of Heilræði: Surfacing from the Lake of Masculinist Infantilisation.” Edward first gave examples of women in sagas that had played roles of negotiation and diplomacy, roles where they were engaging in social mediation and justice. My understanding from this talk is that “heilræði” approximately means sound or wise counsel.  Edward mentioned that women in the sagas often seemed to prefer discussing situations before acting. He went on to talk about definitions of masculinist and feminist giving a definition of masculinist as having an emphasis on domination, the importance of power and tendency to belittle others. He went on to talk about different waves of feminism and how these were not necessarily tied to linear timing but more styles of feminist thought (if I have noted this correctly).

The third speaker in this panel was Ceallaigh Mac-Cath-Moran from Canada. Her talk was titled “Unverified Personal Gnosis: Mediating the Supernatural Among Heathen Women.” Ceallaigh started her talk by mentioning the recent #HavamalWitches reaction to some of the masculine domination within Heathenry which is a response to stanza 154 of the Hávamál and the statement “We are the witches the Hávamál warns you about”.

Stanza 154 for those not familiar with the Hávamál can be translated as:”A tenth I know: when at night the witches
ride and sport in the air,
such spells I weave that they wander home
out of skins and wits bewildered.”  from

Ceallaigh went on to point out that this is not a new reaction as Seidr is described in source materials as women’s magic. One aspect of Heathen practice is that of Unverified Personal Gnosis (UPG) and Ceallaigh gave a composite definition for this which I didn’t note down ad she said that there isn’t a dictionary definition of this term. From her research Ceallaigh said that many treat UPG as not as important as information from the lore or archeology. UPG can become verified by a link to an event in the material world and that often this happens retroactively.

The last speaker in this panel was Dara Grey from the United States of America.  Her presentation was titled “Wiccatru, Folk Magic and Neo-Shamanism”. Dara began by talking about the various definitions of what makes something a religion and usually definitions include elements of belief, practice, experience, knowledge and consequences.  There is lots of debate about what aspects of Heathenry fit into these elements. Magic is often defined as separate from religion but lots of ritual practices include elements of magic. The phrase “Wiccatru” comes up in debates over disputed practices. Wiccatru can mean Norse elements within Wicca or Wiccan elements within Norse practices. More often it is used as a pejorative to dismiss something for example within arguments about doing something the right way.  Dara pointed out that we can not reconstruct the wider cultural context of ancient practices and this is a factor is the wider reconstruction of a religion.  There are many gaps in the lore leading to dilemmas over what “doing it right” looks like and for some this leads to anxiety about practices.

The panel question and answer session was lively and I did make a few notes.  One person asked if it mattered if belief in a particular deity was modern or historical. The responses agreed that it didn’t really matter and that it was important to remember that authentic perceptions were often more about consensus than historical facts.  It was pointed out that it is important to be careful when using the internet as a sole source for research.  Another person asked why authenticity was considered masculine. Dara responded that creativity was often seen as in opposition to authenticity and that women were often seen as being more creative and men more about being authentic.  It was noted that this attitude was cultural to some extent as it is stronger in the U.S. than in Iceland and Norway.

Following a lunch break with wonderful food we had talks from two guest speakers and another keynote speaker. The food on Saturday lunchtime was good but the food at Sunday lunchtime was better. It was a lovely soup and a range of artisan breads and some cake too. Very tasty!

The first guest speaker on Sunday was Suzanne Martin from the UK with a talk titled “Queer Heathenry: Heirs of the Bifrost – a queer heathen’s perspective”. Suzanne began with an overview of queer history and the main categories of “queer” people. From there Suzanne spoke about the growth of queer Heathenry over recent decades.  In recent years many groups have made explicit their stances on inclusivity. The Sagas include a range of elements that can be viewed with a queer interpretation such as Thor wearing a wedding dress or Skadi taking up weapons and seeking vengeance.  We have Odin performing seidr which was considered to be women’s magic and Loki not only changing into other species but changing gender too.  There are plenty of other examples in the lore. In modern culture Marvel films have added characters that are queer or have changed the gender of figures such as a recent film with Thor as a woman. Moving forward queer heathens are becoming more willing to come out and are being more accepted within their communities.

At the end it was mentioned that Suzanne is co-host of Frithcast, a podcast focusing on modern heathenry.

The final keynote speaker of the conference was Dr Deborah Moretti with a talk titles “The Witch and the Shaman: Perceptions of the Witch- Figure in Early Modern Italy”. This talk is based on work Deborah has undertaken doing a second PhD and working with Prof. Ron Hutton on a wider project about the witch figure in history. Her research looks at witch trial evidence in two areas of Italy one in the north and one in the south. In the north elements witch elements included flying to sabbats, demonic aspects and sabbats taking place on mountains. In the south ideas were different, more folkloric with the possibility of elements being from older traditions.  Deborah found no evidence within the witch trial documentation for shamanic style practices.  Some of the folkloric aspects do indicate possible older shamanic practices but no evidence was found.

The last guest speaker was Lorna Smithers with a talk on “Belisama and her Daughters”.  In this talk Lorna introduced us to the Belisama, goddess of the river Ribble which flows through Preston and the wells, springs and streams that were part of the local water table although mostly now built over.  She also shared some of her devotional poetry. Much of what Lorna spoke of you can read on her blog at Signposts in the Mist.

The conference ended with a closing blót. This was a simple sumble rite with mead and apple juice being circulated twice and some runic chanting included.

The whole experience of this conference was intense for me but really good. I learnt a lot and by the end of it I felt an unanticipated connection to the Heathen community.  I am so glad I made the effort to attend this conference and I look forward to seeing more from the Heathen Women United community.

More notes from HWU conference cont.

Third of a series of posts with my notes from the Heathen Women United conference on 6-8 July in Preston.

The first post is Experiences and notes from Heathen Women United 2nd Annual conference which includes my notes on the first panel of speakers and the second post is Notes from HWU conference cont. which includes my notes on the keynote and guest speaker talks on Saturday 7th July.  This post will cover the second panel of talks and a little about the evening entertainment.

The first panel was called Urd and this second panel was called Verdandi.  It included three speakers presenting information about aspects of contemporary Heathen practices.

The first to speak was Annie Humphrey currently studying for a PhD in medieval history in Ireland and originally from the North Eastern United States and her talk was titled “Heathen Motherhood in Theory and Practice”.  Annie spoke eloquently from personal experiences as well as from her observations and much of what she spoke of resonated with me.  She began by talking of how the role of mother could perhaps be better described as that of the nurturing parent and how even in the Heathen and pagan communities there tended to be a lot of stereotyping around parental roles. There can be assumptions that being a mother is the peak of what it is to be a woman which are often painful to those who do not have children either by choice or circumstances. Annie also spoke of how you loose your individual identity in many ways in becoming a mother, you are seen more as “mum” than whatever else you may be.

The second to speak in this panel was Barbara Davy from Canada speaking on “Women, Heathenry, Paganism and Ritual in Contempory Canada”. Her slides had the subtitle “to become Ancestors of a Living Future”. Barbara first spoke about her experiences as a guest at a Dísablót (rite honouring the female ancestors for those not familiar with this term) where a human skeleton was seated at the table fro a community meal along with the living guests.  Dísablót is usually held in the winter months around Yule although timings can vary. She went on to talk about her research on research and environmental values.  Pagans and Heathens feel a stronger connection to the land and wider world to a statistically significant level compared to those who do not follow a Pagan or Heathen path. Ritual is also more important and Barbara suggest that it is ritual that leads to many of the differences she has noted in her research. Barbara suggested that re-emphasizing Ancestor Veneration could lead to a better sense of wider connections with wights and the wider environment as well as our ancestors.

The third speaker was Raoul Zimmerman from France. His talk was titled “Men and Women in Contemporary Asatru in France.” Raoul spoke of his fieldwork in both Iceland and areas of France with different Heathen communities and comparisons between the areas.  He reported that the Asatru community in France was much smaller than in Iceland and the groups he had come into contact with in France were heavily male dominated. He also noted that there was more racism in the French groups than in Iceland.  In his experience the women in France connected with Heathenry in some way also tend to be much more open to ideas from wider Paganism.

There were questions at the end of the panel but I didn’t take any notes on the questions or responses.

The second panel took place after the second and before the third keynote speakers and I have written about all the keynote and guest speakers on Saturday in my previous post about the conference.

The final part of the day was a performance by Alison Williams-Bailey.  This was a solo song and storytelling performance called “Creation Song: A Norse Mythology Storytelling Show”. Alison’s performance lasted about 45 minutes and was a powerful demonstration of memorisation of both song and story.  I was happily enthralled as she moved, spoke and sang stories from Norse mythology. It was a wonderfully immersive experience.



Notes from HWU conference cont.

Saturday’s Keynote and Guest Speakers

Keynote speaker 1: Rich Blackett, “Women Werewolves and She-wolves”

The first keynote speaker of the HWU conference was Rich Blackett, Chair of Asatru UK and his talk was titled “Women, Werewolves and She-wolves”. I really enjoyed this talk and took quite a few notes.

Rich started by talking about the amount of history there is linking humans to dogs and wolves across the world.  He gave an example of some very early ritual activity in what is now the Ukraine involving dogs or wolves and that people from that area migrated across Europe, Asia and into Africa.  He mentioned that there are some theories linking the female menstrual cycle to both lunar cycles and organising hunts, there are others that disagree with such theories too. Rich went on to give examples of deities linked to wolves and dogs mentioning Leto, mother of Apollo and Artemis who sought out wolf country to give birth to the twins according to some versions of her mythology.  In some versions the twins were suckled by wolves. Apollo is dipicted on coins with wolves or dogs and has many other connections to them with one of his sons also being suckled by wolves. Artemis as Lady of the hunt is often depicted with dogs and wolves. Hekate is another goddess depicted with wolves and dogs were sacrificed to her. Circe is another figure linked to many animals including wolves.

Rome’s founders Romulus and Remus were said to be suckled by a she wolf.  Rich said that there are some theories that Romulus and Remus were cast out of one tribe and raised by a matriarchal tribe of “she-wolves”. Within Roman culture there is the Lupercalia festival and she wolves was also a name for prostitutes in Roman culture.  There were other mentions of deities linked to wolves from other cultures including a Baltic goddess, I think Medeina, who is often shown riding a bear or with a pack of wolves and whose name apparently means she-wolf.

One story I found particularly fascinating was a something recorded by Gerald of Wales or Giraldus Cambrensis, who tells of a priest travelling in Ireland approached by an elderly “were-wolf” asking for aid for his dying wife.  From the story it is clear that the man and woman are human but tell the priest they are cursed to wear wolf skins. The priest gives last rites to the woman.  It’s possible that werewolves in Ireland link to the ancient Fianna bands but to date Rich has not found any clear sources on this.

As Rich moved forward through history he mentioned a number of medieval tales and from these tales it is apparent that a cultural change was taking place where werewolves were being seen as much more dangerous and violent than in earlier times and also being seen as something evil.  Some were documented in witch trials.  Later still in 1692 there is a record of a man on trial as part of a group of werewolves and he says they are not evil.  He is asked if there are females werewolves and says yes.  Female werewolves then fade from literature and story for a while (not that there were many mentions before) until the nineteenth century and then werewolves are seen differently and female werewolves in particular used to describe sexually active women.

I didn’t note any of the questions and responses after the talk and can’t remember them clearly enough to mention them here.

Keynote speaker 2: Dr Jenny Blain, “Saga Women in Our Imaginings Today”

The second keynote speaker at the conference was Dr Jenny Blain talking on “Saga women in our imaginings today”. Jenny is an anthropologist and writer.  Two of her books that I have read, enjoyed and can definitely recommend are “Nine Words of Seidr Magic: Ecstasy and Neo-Shamanism on Northern European Pagnism” and “Wights and Ancestors: Heathenry in a Living Landscape“.  I’ve heard Jenny speak a few times over the years and I always enjoy her talks both in style and content.

The books that first introduced Jenny to Sagas was called “The Land the Ravens Found” and she read it as a child, to quote a review on Amazon “on one level it tells the coming-of-age stories of three boys living in northern Scotland in the ninth century: Anlaf, the son of a viking chief, Yrp, his Irish foster brother, and Vivill, a Scottish slave. On another level it’s the story of a powerful woman, the real heroine of the story, Aud the Deep Minded, Anlaf’s grandmother.”  And these characters and their stories are based on real life accounts of early Icelandic settlers, and their stories are among the Icelandic Sagas.

Jenny explained that there are debates about whether the Icelandic Sagas were written down versions of oral tales or crafted as literature with influences from what was going on in the world at the time they were written.  From the way the sagas are written it’s unlikely they were direct recordings or oral tales but they may include oral tales known at the time of writing and later copyists may have added information they knew from other versions of tales.

The four types of female roles in sagas mentioned in a talk by Shani Oates earlier in the day are considered to be embodiments of masculine perceptions of feminine roles by the person who came up with the theory.

Another sees a masculine/feminine binary between hvatr (strong) and blaud (weaker) but both these are aspects of personality that people can move in and out of over time and in differing circumstances such as age, actions and inactions.  Jenny gave an example of a man who in his prime was considered very strong and powerful in his actions but in his old age was much weaker, he was physically unable to do what he had done earlier in his life.

Most Sagas are written about the strong and powerful with day to day details of life rarely being included.  Where ordinary tasks are detailed it is usually when they are linked to extraordinary events in some way. Jenny gave examples of this in her talk but I didn’t take notes on the specific examples.

“Placeness” is very important within the sagas and is often a key aspect of the tales.  Often when you get versions of the sagas with maps included you can see that the people involved in the tales lived pretty closely to each other and often the places have several generations of the same family tied to that place.

Jenny spoke of seeress type figures in the Sagas and how many tales have them doing negative or malicious acts but that this was not only the case by any means.  Many tales include aspects were wandering volvas were sought out by a community for aid and advice.

Again I didn’t take any notes on questions.

Keynote speaker 3: Dr Melissa Harrington, “Pagan Britain Heathenry in the context of the UK census 2001 and 2011.”

Dr Melissa Harrington was the third keynote speaker on Saturday speaking after the second panel. Melissa is a senior visiting lecturer in cognitive behavioral psychotherapy at the University of Cumbria.

Most of what Melissa spoke about was familiar to me from other places and I didn’t take any notes.

Guest speaker: Suzanne Rance, “The English Runes”

Suzanne has recently had published a book: The English Runes: Secrets of Magic, Spells and Divination and her talk related to her work in this book. She was originally scheduled to be speaking on Sunday morning at the same time as a session on Galdr and if that had been the case I would have missed this talk in favour of the one on Galdr.  As things worked out one of the Saturday speakers was ill so talks were re-arranged as so often happens at conferences.  This turned out really well as far as I am concerned because I would have missed a fascinating talk that resulted in me buying her book. Like many my limited experience of runes has been of the Elder Futhark, the English runes were completely new to me.

Suzanne began her talk by mentioning that Tacitus had written of a divination method using pieces of wood marked with signs and that this is thought to be the earliest mention of using runes for divination.  Runes began developing in approximately 250 BC and their are examples of inscriptions using them for magical purposes from a very early stage.

There’s a story recorded by Bede which mentions “loosening runes” which indicated that using runes for magic was well known.

The Ruthwell Cross includes English runes with a well known poem called the “Dream of the Rood” which gives and animistic view of the crucifixion from the perception of the cross. The Thames Scramasax, also known as the Seax of Beagnoth, is a tenth century seax found in the River Thames in 1857 and is now in the British Museum.  It includes on one side all twenty eight runes of the Anglo-saxon (or English) runic alphabet.

As far as Suzanne knows there are no inscriptions on mainland UK in the Elder Futhark version of the runes.  All are the Younger Futhark or the English runes. Tolkien mentioned and made us of the English runes in his works.

The Old English Rune Poem was recorded in the 8th Century and is the oldest surviving recorded rune poem, other runes poems and fragments that have been found are all recorded later.  The runes poem includes descriptions that were almost certainly riddles and Suzanne gave some examples.

Towards the end of the talk Suzanne gave examples of ways that runes could be chanted  and imagery that can go with chants for some of the runes and led a short practical session on chanting three examples.

This was a fascinating talk towards the end of a long day but I learnt a lot from it.

20/7/18 Edit: It was gently pointed out to me that I had referred to keynote speakers as guest speakers.  Hopefully I have now corrected my notes for all those affected by my error.



Experiences and notes from Heathen Women United 2nd Annual conference

This conference took place at the University of Central Lancashire in Preston on 6-8 July 2018.

When I first heard about the conference I thought it sounded interesting but I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to attend.  Fortunately things worked out and I was able to attend the Saturday and Sunday aspects of the conference just missing the Friday aspects.  What I missed on the Friday was some meet and greet time and the opening blot for the conference but no talks, the talks began on Saturday.

I did have some anxiety about attending the conference mainly due to worries about being in a new place, including the fears of finding the place and being on time, and meeting new people.  I had no idea what size of conference this would be although I did already know a small number of people that were going to be there so that helped.

Finding the place and getting there went very smoothly helped by the excellent information provided by the conference organiser, Linda Server. I was still a bit anxious on arrival and for a little while afterwards but that faded as the first day continued. I was feeling much more relaxed by the morning of the second day.  The first day continued for about 11 hours of talks, discussion and entertainment, the second day was a bit shorter but still a full day. Lunch was provided for the conference delegates on both days as well as a continual supply of tea, coffee, water and biscuits.  There were also a few stalls at the conference although I didn’t buy anything myself.

I took notes on nearly all the talks, sometimes very brief notes, sometimes longer notes.  My notes will not reflect the level of scholarship and research that the presenters demonstrated but will hopefully give a taste of what took place. Oh, and just to be clear, while this was organised by Heathen Women United attendance was not restricted to just women, there were a number of men there too.

Saturday began with a short welcome and opening statement from Linda Server with some announcements about last minute changes to the conference schedule.  Following that was the first panel of speakers. Panel one had the title “Urd” and included three presenters. Each spoke for about twenty minutes followed by a question and answer section directed at all three panelists.

The first speaker was Solveig Wang from Scotland speaking on “Women and Ritual in Old Norse Society”. Solveig spoke about the role of women as instigators of ritual in old Norse society as evidenced by both historical and archeological records.  Women of the house commonly officiated at rites with senior women in a community officiating at larger community rites. She mentioned a number of words and phrases such as “blótgyðya” which means a sacrificial priestess ( I hope I’ve written that correctly!).  She spoke of the importance of the women who carried and distributed the mead cup at feasts, the women carrying the mead cup had considerable influence and while in that role were sacred.  There are a number of figurines depicting cup bearing women from the archeological record and a couple of slides were shown with examples.  While most of the women in these roles were part of the the home and community there were exceptions, most notably those of the wandering Volva practicing the arts of Seiðr.

The second speaker was Shani Oates from the USA.  Shani’s talk was titled “The Silent Scream: Slaves, Concubines and Polygamy in Pre-Christian Norse and Icelandic Culture”.  Shani spoke about the way some scholars split women appearing in the Norse and Icelandic literature into four categories.  These are the warrior, the prophetess or spae-wife, the revenger and the inciter.  These four types can be further simplified into the sacred (incorporating the first two) and the mundane (the latter two).  She did mention the scholars behind these theories but I didn’t note the names.  Women in pre-Christian  Germanic and Icelandic society had the power ti raise matters for the “Thing” via their husbands.  If the matters they had raised were not dealt with to their satisfaction they could use a range of shaming tactics on their husbands including divorce.  Women would often be the instigator for blood feuds frequently pushing the men into action.  Much of the evidence for this and other examples are evidenced in various laws. There is a composite codex of the laws from these times in Iceland known as the “Grágás”. Abuse and violence towards women was considered shameful and as a result was minimal. In instances where abuse towards women did take place no shame was held against the women involved, instead their male protectors (husbands, fathers or owners in the case of slaves) were shamed.  For the pre-Christian wife loyalty was not expected to shift to her husband’s family but remained with her birth family.  That was something that changed with the spread of Christianity.  Married women had the right to inherit land and property in these pre-Christian societies.  In these earlier societies a Skald or a Gossip was someone who shared information and gave advice in their communities, it was an important role and it was only later that the term came to imply someone that simply talked to much or was malicious.  The mead cup ritual was mentioned during this presentation as well noting that the women carrying out this role could choose to give advice or ask for quests to be carried out, again this emphasized the importance of this role.  Shani also spoke of how it was qualities of personality that allowed people to rise in the pre-Christian Germanic and Icelandic societies.  Men and women with strength of will and intelligence could rise through their efforts.

The third talk in the first panel was from Embla Aae from Iceland and her talk was titled “A Comparative Look at Scandinavian Women’s Literacy in runes from Heathen to Christian Times”.  Embla provided some background to the development of runes through history starting with the Elder Futhark  which were used from late BC times to around 200 AD (if I’ve noted this down correctly).  By 400 AD the Younger Futhark was in use and that remained in sole use to around 600 AD. Dotted runes were fully developed and in use by arround 800AD, new graphemes came in after that between 1000 – 1200 AD with runes use dying out after that time. Before Christianity runes stones are usually memorial and neutral in terms of faith contexts.  Later a wider range of runes stones can be found but most are still memorial.  Women’s names do appear in rune stones as either the carver or someone that employed the carver but not very often.

I didn’t take any notes on the questions to and responses from the panel.  My next notes are from the first guest speaker but as this entry is already over a thousand words I am going to leave this here.