Rituals for Lost Jötnar: Hræsvelgr
Hræsvelgr is attested in Vafþrúðnismál (The Lay of Vafþrúðnir) 37 as: “Corpse-Swallower, he is called, who sits at the end of the world / a giant in eagle’s shape / from his wings, they say, the wind blows over all men.” Hræsvelgr is sometimes also translated as “shipwreck current.”1 In his article “Hræsvelgr, the Wind-Giant, Reinterpreted,” Terry Gunnel suggests that the Old Norse hræ here should be interpreted as shipwreck, with svelgr being literally interpreted as “sea swirl, maelstrom, water stream.” A connection to Thiazi, who also famously shapeshifts into an eagle, has been proposed. Evidence cited for this is a kenning for Thiazi from the poem Haustlöng, “vind-rögnir,” that roughly translates to “wind-divinity.” Because Hræsvelgr is explicitly described as originating wind in the form of an eagle, the proposal suggests that Hræsvelgr may be a heiti for Thiazi, or that otherwise these two have a lost mythological connection.2 He is additionally attested by Snorri in Gylfaginning, where is associated with the north and originates the wind from beneath his wings when he readies himself for flight.
In this ritual I am going to assume that Hræsvelgr is, at the least, a distinct aspect of Thiazi that can be called on it is own right, though generally I err towards the assumption that these are individual entities. I do this because many modern scholars writing on polytheism of the past may be implicitly tempted to simplify pantheons by rolling similar spirits and deities together into one—just one of many possible side effects of the implicit bias that growing up in cultures of predominantly Abrahamic religious socialization.
That said, I find the suggestion that Hræsvelgr and Thiazi may the same being or otherwise connected quite interesting, and I find the evidence of the kenning when compared and contrasted with what is known of these entities to be compelling. Because I think there might be something to this connection, I’ve included a kenning to acknowledge this. Otherwise, for the purposes of this ritual I will assume they are distinct, but if you feel inclined to treat them as the same I say more power to you. There’s a lot more nuance and intricacy in the history of the faith we’re reviving, both remembered and lost, and it’s good to honor that in whatever ways we can.
Hræsvelgr has clear ties to wind and therefore air, but could also potentially have ties to the sea or other forms of water. Offerings associated with air in many modern forms of paganism includes incense, so you could consider offering Hræsvelgr a stick of incense (though if you’re doing this ritual outdoors, please plan to stay with the offering until it has fully burned away, which can sometimes take up to 45 minutes). Other offerings of smoke, such as burning something dedicated to Hræsvelgr so that the smoke make carry it into the sky, are also worth considering. Otherwise, good ol’ mead, beer, or wine are always trustworthy offerings to the Norse gods.
Of note for those unfamiliar with the different Nordic letters, æ sounds like “eh.” For this reason Hræsvelgr may be anglicized as Hresvelgr—just so you don’t trip over pronunciation during ritual!
Once you’ve selected the location for your ritual, you have a specific intent for the ritual in mind (this can be as simple as paying reverence, or it can be to make a petition to Hræsvelgr, or any other intent), and you have your offering selected, it’s time to begin. Prepare your ritual space in whatever manner best suits your needs and practices. Set out your offering and kneel before it, bowing your head and placing your arms/hands into a position of reverence. Say:
“Hail Hræsvelgr, Corpse-Swallower
Hail Hræsvelgr, of the North Wind
Hail Hræsvelgr, Shipwreck Maelstrom
Hail Hræsvelgr, Whose Current Ushers the Dead
Hail Hræsvelgr, Whose Stream Carries Crushed Ships
Hail Hræsvelgr, Wind-Divinity
Hail Hræsvelgr, Thiazi’s Mirror and Form
Hail Hræsvelgr, Progenitor of Winds that Blow Over All Men
Hail Hræsvelgr, Who Sits at the End of the World…
“I call on you Hræsvelgr to receive my reverence and this offering of _______. I pray that is pleases you well.”
If you have a specific intention in this ritual, you may state it now. Mine was approximately: “I call on you Hræsvelgr in gratitude for the strength of eagles and power of winds you’ve lent to me in workings past. I call on you Hræsvelgr to acknowledge how you’ve been with me before, and to ask that you continue to be with me in future workings. In gratitude and with due reverence/respect, I bring you this ________ in return for your assistance.”
If you’re a curious little being like I am, you may want to also ask Hræsvelgr for some gnosis on the potential connection to Thiazi: “I seek also knowledge from you, Hræsvelgr. I seek knowledge of your deep history, Hræsvelgr, that lost to the erasure of history and the erosion of time. Some speculate your connection to Thiazi, Hræsvelgr—and I seek to know from your own memory, words, and spirit, what this connection is, if there is any connection at all.” If you do this, plan to meditate for at least five minutes after asking. Keep a state of quiet mindfulness and listen to and feel your surroundings—including any thoughts or feelings that seem to impress themselves upon you rather than necessarily originating from within. Be sure you have a journal easy at hand to journal about whatever impressions you may have received.*
I am of the belief that sharing knowledge you glean about entities that have been mostly lost to time, especially if it is knowledge they themselves share with you, is a way of making offerings to them. Attention, be it in the form of just learning or thinking about an entity, or passive belief, or active worship and ritual, is something that I believe is important to the gods. Remaining within conscious memory feels vital to carrying forth and empowering the spirits of such entities, like food and drink is important for sustaining animal life such ours. For this reason, I feel it can be a powerful offering to share gnosis about Hræsvelgr you’ve received, if it feels right to do so. I’ve had my fair share of instances where it didn’t feel right to share a piece of gnosis, so if anything feels like a for-you-only thing, listen to your gut and do what you feel is right. If it feels right to share, you may promise to share that knowledge with others as an additional offering.
Depending on your offering and the location you’re doing your ritual, you may need to wait for a burning offering to be done burning. If you’re offering drink (and you’re doing this ritual in America) I strongly discourage pouring alcoholic libations directly onto the earth, for reasons I’ve outlined before. Offerings of drink may be left out in a safe, undisturbed place for a full day and night cycle before being disposed of however you best see fit.
Once you’re done and wrapping up the ritual, say:
“Hail Hræsvelgr, Corpse Swallower!
Hail Hræsvelgr, Whose Wings Stir the Wind!
Hail Hræsvelgr, Who Sits at the End of the World!”
Thank Hræsvelgr for hearing you and receiving your reverence and offerings. Bow to the earth, forehead to the ground and palms this time lifted toward the sky. This time let any energy you raised during this ritual lift from your palms and fingertips and drift away on the air.
Close the ritual space in whatever way best suits you and your practice. Once you’ve wrapped it up, this is the part where I recommend you have some snacks, hydration, and take some time to journal about the experience!
1Lindow, John (2002). Norse Mythology: A Guide to Gods, Heroes, Rituals, and Beliefs. Oxford University Press. p. 182
2Kodratoff, Yves. “Iðunn’s abduction: kenningar and heiti in Haustlöng stanzas 2-13.” https://www.academia.edu/36245394/I%C3%B0unns_abduction_kenningar_and_heiti_in_Haustl%C3%B6ng_stanzas_2_13
*I wanted to share what I received, in case you might be curious. Please note that the following is Unverified Personal Gnosis that came from the above ritual, and it should not be treated as gospel or hard fact:
Through the vaguest of impressions and some very crisp, clear images flooding my mind, I believe I received the following from Hræsvelgr: that he and Thiazi were indeed connected, but that now they are both entirely separate from one another and still through the faintest threads sharing some connection. “As the vulture and the eagle diverged,” he said, and though in most of the images that flooded my mind I saw a massive, powerful golden eagle perched atop a sharp stone in a gray expanse of rock and ice in the furthest northern reaches, I got the distinct impression that vulture was likely a more accurate word for the form he takes.
He also gave me the impression that he is very, very old. The story of Thiazi’s father divvying up his wealth among his sons was something I got the impression didn’t belong to Hræsvelgr’s memory, as it happened long after they diverged from one another. I got the distinct impression that Hræsvelgr was from a much earlier, much more deeply animistic stage of spiritual development in Scandinavia, prior to a conception of gods as we know them. Wealth wouldn’t have been much of a concept yet, outside of wealth in the sense of a group’s ability to feed and shelter themselves.
In trying to understand what exactly their connection was or what was meant by “as the vulture and the eagle diverged,” I was first given the impression of cells dividing, and then again the impression of speciation; a sense of what was once one now being two. I’m still not sure that that feels quite accurate to the impressions I was receiving, but I feel that it’s the best I can put into words.