Friday, February 3, 2012

Charming the Plow: Disting

Disablot: there is reference in some historical sources that men might be sacrificed to the Gods every 9 years as a part of the Disablot in ancient times

Since many pagans celebrated Imbolc in the past few days, I thought I would write about the heathen holiday that corresponds, which is called Disting within Asatru and other heathen faiths. Disting in modern times is traditionally held in correspondence with Imbolc on Feb. 1st of each year, though in ancient times the date itself was not set in stone so to speak. The old ones followed the cycles of the earth and the signals of the land and skies to determine these holidays, which varied slightly from region to region.

A Disablot blessing

Disting is a blessing day, and marked the time of the year when winter's end was in sight, if not materially finished. This was a time of cleaning and preparing the tools, clearing the land, and sweeping the hearth in preparation for the coming planting season. It was also a time of worship and offering to the Gods and Ancestors, particularly the feminine, in hopes that they might grant a fruitful harvest in the coming year. Disablot focused on the dormant yet growing creative powers of the earth, and because of this fertility focus became associated with the Disir, (female spirits and beings) and some say Freyja specifically.

In Uppsala, Sweden, a city of particular religious importance in heathen times, a festival called Disablot was held each year in February. Shrines were made to the Disir and offerings and sacrifice were given in exchange for a good harvest and victory in battle. People came from across the land to join in the festivities, as well as join the general assembly, or Thing, held there to sort out various political and law related issues among the people. A market was held for those interested in the buying and selling of various goods. I think it is realistic to say that this was a time that many looked forward to throughout the year, as a time of both spiritual and practical significance.

Disarblot by  August Malmstrom

The Charming of the Plow, sometimes used as a title for the day itself in modern times, refers to a centuries old heathen ritual in which both the materials and the tools of one's trade were blessed in the name of the Disir, to lead to a fruitful season. The common heathen occupation was farming of course, hence the charming of the plow. Quite a few medieval examples of various blessings and "plow songs" have survived, albeit with a blending of both heathen and christian deities. The following is an example a verse from one of these songs.  

Erce, Erce, Erce, Earthen Mother! 
May the Allwielder grant thee, the great Drihten, 
acres waxing and covering, 
increasing and strengthening. 
A sheaf betokens the reaper’s produce 
and the broad barley’s produce 
and the white wheat’s produce 
and the produce of all earth. 
Grant to them, great Drihten 
whose hallows that in heaven are, 
that his farm be fortified against all fiends, each one, 
and it be bordered against all baleful things, each one, 
that through the land is seen. 
Now I ask the Wielder, that this world shaped, 
That there be no such cunning woman; no such crafty man, 
That with a word of power changes what is said.

Though most of us are not directly dependent on the work of our own hands to sow and grow our own crops, Disting is still a holiday that modern heathens can find spiritually rewarding. Celebrating these festivals helps us as heathens and pagans regain our connection to both the natural world as well as the divine that many have lost in postmodern society. For heathens both ancient and modern, the earth is a powerful source of energy and power without which we struggle to find our place in the world. 

The wights of the land, the giants and Gods, all have their connections to the earth and nature in some sort or another. In the Romantic era, the tendency was to view pagan religions as a way for "primitive" minds to understand the often hostile natural world. I believe this is quite simplistic. I believe these things were associated with nature symbolically, as a way to guide pagans and heathens back to the ultimate source of life, which is nature. 

There are many simple ways we can celebrate the holiday in modern times. Here are a few ideas.

  • Perform your own plough charming. Consecrate and bless any tools or items that you use to support yourself, or simply bless your own ceremonial and ritual items.
  • Spring Cleaning, not the most fun you could have, but important nonetheless. 
  • Give attention and time to the land. You could rake leads, gather trash from a local park or landscape, engage in any activity which focuses on building a connection of service to the land.
  • Bless your own home and property. This could include a ritual or offering informal or formal, whichever is most meaningful to you spiritually. 
  • Spend time in a natural environment. A local park or lake, even your own neighborhood. See how the energy of the natural uplifts and supports you. 
  • Remember your feminine ancestors, even a short prayer of thanks for enabling your existence is worthwhile. 
  • Leave offerings of seed, bread, or grain outside as an offering to the Disir. Bird seed is particularly relevant, as birds are traditionally seen as messengers between the worlds as well as being associated with Lady Freyja. 

For more information:

General overview of Disting on Wikipedia Disablot at Wikipedia

Extensive collection of Plough Charms and Lore Plow Songs at

Amazing article discussing Uppsala and the hisorical/literary evidence about heathen religion from the best scholar ever! Maria Kvilhaug's website Temple of Uppsala and Disablot

In Frith,