Sacred Order

The practices of observing the phases of the moon and the direction of the wind, and orienting the construction in accordance with the cardinal points, all reveal that building was a religious act with consequence. This is a fact that can be confirmed by a number of instructions and taboos. In Russia, the master builder had to purify himself before setting to work. Francis Conte indicates that he fasted, washed, put on a clean shirt, and prayed. The cycle of time: the seasons, feast days, months, and days, also had to be taken into account. “In Siberia, the Russian peasants waited for the new moon and the beginning of spring,” notes Francis Conte. “They strive to have this work coincide with a major religious festival,” in other words, to situate it within what Mircea Eliade calls the Sacred Time, the mythic time. Constructing amounts to sanctifying a space by giving it order, forming a closed and clearly demarcated world, tracing a boundary between the self and the rest of the world.

Eliade, who studied everything that relates to this sphere with great perspicacity, realized that every construction is a creation, a beginning, the reiteration of a mythical act, a cosmogony, and therefore requires precise rites so that it confirms to the archetype. The house is a new center of the world and possesses a religious value. Is it any coincidence that the ancient name for a dwelling in the Germanic languages (hof) can mean “farm,” “house,” and “sanctuary,” and that the keystone is still called “Heaven’s Gate” (Janua Coeli)? […] Russian traditions also tell us that the house is a microcosm: in the izba, the corner where the icons are kept is the dawn, the ceiling represents the celestial vault, and the large center beam represents the Milky Way.

The house is also a center in the sense that it is a principle of unification of men and goods, and simultaneously of building and family, as Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie notes. It is therefore hardly surprising to come across gestures of consecration, namely with the help of a hammer or ax that is thrown over the roof of the house. In Christianized countries, a priest would bless the house. In Namur, Belgium, the first stone was sprinkled with holy water using a bough of boxwood that had been blessed.

Invested with sacredness by rites and by the presence of a spirit, the building should not be destroyed, no matter what, under pain of punishment.

— Claude Lecouteux, The Tradition of Household Spirits (pp. 26–27), on the religious value of construction

The importance of the act of construction in relation to the cycle of time—specifically the use of the new moon to a Russian peasant—is echoed in canon 53 of the Corrector by Burchard of Worms in approximately 1012 (emphasis mine):

Have you observed pagan customs which, as if by hereditary right and with the devil’s aid, fathers pass on to their sons even in these times: for instance, have you worshipped the elements, that is, the moon or sun, or the course of the stars, the new moon, or the waning moon whose light you hope to restore by your noise making or aid? Have you used those elements to try to bring you help or to help others, or have you consulted the new moon before building something or getting married? If you have, you should do penance for two years on the appointed fast days, for it is written: ‘Whatever do you in word or deed, do it all in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.’

Additionally, consider Anders Andrén’s reconstruction of the early Gotlandic solar cycle wherein Týr ensured cosmic order.

Regarding “gestures of consecration” with a hammar or an ax, also consider the association of hallowing with Þórr’s hammer.1Þrymskviða 30 Multiple runestones ask Þórr to hallow them or, more frequently, simply depict a hammer.2Rudolf Simek, Dictionary of Northern Mythology (2007) pg. 219

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Þrymskviða 30
2. Rudolf Simek, Dictionary of Northern Mythology (2007) pg. 219

5 Replies to “Sacred Order”

    1. I look forward to a book!

      I’m the only unpublished member of my family, so there’s been a great deal of pressure on me to write something for Heathendom. I have a chapter outline and basic ideas, but I’ve been unable to get any further yet. I honestly forget about it for months at a time.

  1. Claude’s book is fascinating and very detailed. It covers such a huge range of cultural backgrounds that one has to concentrate quite hard to pick out the relevant sections that may relate the heathen and specifically Anglo-Saxon heathen practices.

      1. My only annoyance with his books would be the use of endnotes instead of footnotes and how many sections feel like transcripts of lectures, especially in regards to tangents that can seemingly last for pages. I had to put down The Tradition of Household Spirits several times and more recently take a break from Phantom Armies of the Night because of the latter issue.

        Those aside, I am otherwise very, very happy with his books. There’s so much content, which is causing me to burn through sticky notes and to risk hurting the binding. It’s to the point that I don’t quite yet know how to integrate the relevant information into my practices due to sheer volume. I am okay with this.

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