Oath-Taking and Whole-Making

By Freya Swan / December 31, 2014

haeluGrowing up in a culture saturated with Judeo-Christian values, we inherit that worldview. It doesn’t matter if your family were of a minority religion or not, you still are influenced by its unrelenting presence. Whether promoting it or rebelling against it, Judeo-Christian culture can be found influencing our literature, art, music, etc.

Reconctruction might then be described as an on-going peeling back of layers of this worldview. While this post contains some personal details, what this post is really about is attitudes toward the body, health, and holiness, and the differences of such in world-accepting vs. world rejecting cultures. The personal details are merely a way to demonstrate how this may be applied. Your mileage may vary.

It is just past the midway point of the Yuletide season in our household. We have celebrated Modranecht, and on subsequent nights feasted in honor of Woden, Thunor, Ingui Frea, Helith, with more to come.  This year, perhaps more than most, the break from the daily routine has been most appreciated.

During symble, I made a number of oaths. For example, I oathed to learn Old English this year and to create a Anglo-Saxon herbal/healing course. I also oathed a number of things to bring more whole-ness, health, and balance to my life. I spent most of 2014 working. Granted, I love my work. I work with and write about herbs and plants. I felt driven to write an herbal book this year, and dedicated it, in part, to Woden. But the entire year was too unbalanced. It has left me unbalanced.

This was complicated by a knee injury which made walking, getting up from a chair, negotiating stairs, etc, difficult and painful. Between the knee injury and the near non-stop writing, I was sedentary. I gained weight and lost strength. It wasn’t that long ago that I was running, kickboxing, and belly dancing on a regular basis. I felt better. I was able to do more. And to be honest, my seidr felt more intense. Not only do I want to get back to that point, I want to surpass it.

This goes beyond any resolution to just get fit. That could be done at any time, and doesn’t require an oath during symble. It’s not about becoming a hard body or professional athlete either, though there’s nothing wrong with either of those if that’s what you’re into. So, beyond talking about oaths taken during symble, how does this all related to Heathenry?

This is about recognizing what is in alignment with a Heathen worldview, and peeling away the layers which are not. It is all about hælu and the holiness to be found in this world, as well as in our own bodies. Heathenry is a world-accepting. We do not look for salvation in an afterlife. Salvation is right here. There is no reward for punishing the body, which by ignoring my knee and putting every other project and task ahead of healing it, is exactly what I did. The holy is in the here and now, right here in Midgard. Our bodies are not some dirty or unholy mantle we are burdened with until freed upon our deaths.

Two wonderful articles Health and Holiness, and Hælu… Revisited, do a wonderful job of explaining what hælu is.  In a nutshell, Hælu means health, or full of health. If one were to fall victim to elfshot, that person would lose some of their hælu. This would leave them vulnerable to illness and It is related to other Old English words for whole, holy, hero, safety, and salvation. Consider especially that last one, that salvation is found in this life, in the very acts of taking care of our health.

What would it mean to fully accept that your body is holy? That keeping it healthy is a holy activity, and not just because it houses a spirit which will one day depart this world, but because this life, right here, is where holiness and wholeness is found? Would this make you rethink your food choices or habits like drinking, smoking, and not getting enough rest? Of course, this line of thinking could be stretched out to sourcing one’s food, not wearing clothing with artificial dyes, and who knows to what end.

Speculation time: do I think Anglo-Saxons or other elder Heathens spent much time contemplating these matters? No, not typically.  I suspect that there were some who did, those that were healers, those that worked with herbs and charms, those that might have presided over rituals, and so on.

This morning, I started fulfilling my oath to increase my hælu. Instead of making excuses about how my knee hurts, I started a seated workout that runs for six weeks. It has lots of abdominal and upperbody work, while slowly building up the strength in the legs to move to a standing workout. It’s slow and steady enough to build strength in my knee without injury. Once I’ve completed it, I will move on to something more intense and interesting. But this is a good place to start as it leaves zero room for excuses.

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About the author

Freya Swan

Freya Swan is a member of the ADF Druids with a hybrid Heathen and Celtic hearth. Freya's practice has an emphasis on herbal lore, healing customs, spinning and fiber arts, seidr, as well as martial arts as a devotional practice to the Morrigan.

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