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

Solar Cycle

The sun […] was helped at sunrise and sunset by divine twins in the shape of warriors, riders, horses, or horned animals. […] At its zenith, the sun passed through the sky, where the sky god Týr ensured cosmic order. He did this by sacrificing his hand in the mouth of a chained wolf, which would otherwise devour the sun. The cosmic order was also secured by the thunder god [Þórr], who fought the powers of chaos in the sky and the world serpent in the sea around the world. During the night, the sun travelled in a night-ship in the underworld.

— Anders Andrén, Tracing Old Norse Cosmology (pg 157), on the reconstruction of the early Gotlandic solar cycle