Rite of Passage for an Ergi Child

(Excerpted from Horn and Banner: Northern Tradition Rituals)

Some children are neither wholly male or female, either in body or in mind or both. Usually if someone is going to end up being argr, and they live in a family where there are not great penalties for being honest about difficult subjects, the parents will probably be aware well before puberty of their child’s nature. Almost no other religious traditions have a place for an ergi adolescent when it comes to acknowledging them with rites of passage. In today’s modern times, such adolescents are at high risk for suicide, so it is worth it in the great scheme of things to acknowledge their nature and their value to the family and community. If the adolescent is willing and the family and community are open-minded enough to honor them for who they are, this ritual can be performed for them when they come of age physically, regardless of whether their body is maturing in a male, female, or mixed way.

Five deities have been chosen to bless this rite. Two of them – Frey and Freya – are a male-female brother-sister pair. Frey was known to have ergi priests; and Freya was, among other things, a warrior maiden. Two others – Loki and Angrboda – are a married couple, but Angrboda is also a warrior woman while Loki is a shapeshifter who has taken male and female forms, and borne a child as well as sired them. The fifth stands in for Jormundgand, who is both male and female – and neither as well.

Five people are chosen to perform the ritual. They should have either a relationship with or some kind of affinity of lifestyle or character with these five deities. The staff roles are:

™ Freya’s Speaker: Dressed in the green of spring and bedecked with flowers (real or artificial depending on season), she bears a cup of honey.

™ Frey’s Speaker: Dressed in the gold of the harvest and wearing a crown of leaves and nuts, he bears a small loaf of bread.

™ Loki’s Speaker: Dressed in red, and in whatever unusual clothing seems right for the Trickster, he bears a flaming torch.

™ Angrboda’s Speaker: Dressed in leather and fur in the colors of the earth – brown, green, russet – she bears a sword.

™ Jormundgand’s Speaker: Dressed in greenish-blue and wearing serpent jewelry, s/he bears a staff tied with many colored ribbons.

A wreath woven of ivy and other twining vines is crafted for the adolescent, and special charms can be hung from it. The Futhorc rune Ior is a good one as it is associated with the hermaphroditic Midgard Serpent. Another possibility is a bind rune of Berkana and Inguz (the male and female runes), Mannaz (which can be seen as the man and woman holding hands for a wedding, thus also representing the individual as a living sacred marriage), and general good-fortune runes such as Gyfu, Fehu, Wunjo, etc. An archway of some kind is set up, also twined with vines and dangling with charms. A light cloth of blue-green is hung from the top of the arch, blocking the opening.

Everyone comes to a circle on one side of the archway – the girl, her family and friends, and any members of the community who are welcome. There is no traditional color for the ergi youth to wear; anything will do.

™  ™  ˜  ˜

Jormundgand’s Speaker comes forth first.

Jormundgand’s Speaker: We welcome you here, young one, to the place of Changing. Life goes through many transitions, and this is the first great natural change that you will face. Your body is already changing, and your life will change as well. We are gathered here to acknowledge that change among your people, but first we must determine your readiness to cross this threshold. Do you believe that you are ready?

Youth: I do.

Freya’s Speaker: Then I will ask you for three answers. First, tell us your good qualities. What makes you worthy?

The youth speaks after each question, so I will leave their responses out for now. The Speaker who asks the questions is who will judge them as adequate. If they are not adequate, they will ask the youth for clarification until they get an adequate answer or determine that the youth does not have one.

Freya’s Speaker: Second, what do you love in life – what is your passion? And, thirdly, no matter where your path leads, will you always honor the female within you?

If the questions are answered adequately, Freya’s Speaker goes to them with the cup of honey and places some on their tongue.

Freya’s Speaker: I bless you with the honey of love! May you have much of it in your life. May the sweetness of Freya’s blessing follow you through every spring.

Loki’s Speaker: Now I will ask you my questions. First, what gifts and talents will you bring to this community, including the ones that come from being argr? Second, how will you use your gifts and talents to make the world a better place? Third, what is the one thing that you would pursue above all other things, even if all the world threw obstacles at you, and everyone told you to turn aside?

If the questions are answered adequately, Loki’s Speaker approaches them with the torch and waves the flames about their body.

Loki’s Speaker: I bless you with the ability to slip past the destructive powers of fire! May Loki send you laughter even in the midst of darkness and turmoil.

Frey’s Speaker: Now it is my turn. First, will you swear to take care of your body, the vessel for your soul, even if it is not what you might have wanted it to be? Second, will you swear to hold out for the ones who will love you as you are, and never compromise yourself for another out of loneliness and desperation? Third, no matter where your path leads, will you always honor the male within you?

 If the questions are answered adequately, Frey’s Speaker goes to them with the bread and gives them a piece to eat.

Frey’s Speaker: I bless you with the nourishment of family and community, no matter where your path takes you. May you come into the fullness of your identity and reap a harvest as joyful as the perfect autumn.

Angrboda’s Speaker: Now it is my turn to ask three questions. First, what skills do you have to support yourself, should that suddenly become necessary? Second, what skills do you intend to learn to better yourself, and where will you go to learn them? Third, how will you defend yourself physically if you are attacked?

If the questions are answered adequately, Angrboda’s Speaker touches them with the tip of the sword, pressing it into their chest at the heart center.

Angrboda’s Speaker: I bless you with the strength to be able to withstand anything that comes. May Angrboda help you to feel solid as the winter earth, and proud of your own differences.

Jormundgand’s Speaker: And now you come to me. As the Speaker for the Guardian of Midgard itself, the living liminal space, I am the one who can see you through this gate now … but first, the questions. First: What do you fear most in life? What will you do to defeat this fear? And lastly, when you are dead, what do you hope that the folk will say of you at your funeral?

If the youth answers adequately, Jormundgand’s Speaker salutes them with the staff and then touches them with it, gently but firmly.

Jormundgand’s Speaker: Then you may pass, and I bless you with guidance as you walk your road and pass many more gates. May Mordgud watch your footsteps and keep you far from the final gate, until it is truly your time.

The Speaker signals the people to walk to the other side of the archway and form their circle there, and then uses the spear to hold the curtain aside.

Jormundgand’s Speaker: Pass from the joining of boy and girl to the joining of man and woman.

The youth passes through the archway and everyone on the other side cheers, and hails their name. The wreath is placed on their head by the last youth of any gender to come of age. They are embraced, and given gifts, and the leaders of the group bless them as well. Then, if it is appropriate, they should give away some of their own belongings to those present – especially younger children who will still have use for them. After this, everyone goes to the feast-hall and celebrates. If there is to be a private time with ergi adults, perhaps ones who have been brought here for this occasion, to tell them stories of how to survive and answer their questions out of the public eye, it should happen that evening after the feast.