This week we interviewed Andreas Kornevall, a swedish author, ecologist and an independent scholar of mythology. Andreas talked in detail about his charity work, the northern euro-descendent spirituality and the impressive and rich scandinavian mythology. Check out the interview for the MysticMag below.
Scandinavian mythology is incredibly rich, with centuries of history and famous gods like Thor and Odin. When did you discover your interest in the topic?
Mythical images and stories have always been present in my mind and heart, even as a young child. These stories were awakened within me whenever I would visit wild places, places that have the old breath in them; the breath of the Gods, where the bear still hibernates and the wolves still roam.
I was very lucky to have had this access to the wilderness growing up in Sweden. In the wilderness life becomes larger than the periphery of human consciousness. It’s from the wild that I discovered the old Gods and the mythical stories. I loved the Gods because they are always making trouble, they fall in love with wrong partners, get angry with Trolls and Giants, defend what they love and look for knowledge and much more. They are more kin to us in that way, like being one of our friends, brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts.
The wilderness was the kindling for my own mythical imagination. All the real debt that I carry in this work belongs to the trees, mountains, valleys, rivers and lakes and the spirits and old Gods that live there.
In your website you mention the Northern Euro-Descendent spirituality. Can you present more to us?
This is an appropriate term for the Northern European (as a geographical location) animist religion before the coming of Christianity. Evidence of this animist spirituality arrives from many different historical records such as literature, folklore, languages, place-names, rune-stones, sacred sites, archaeology and iconography.
The term encapsulates a cultural heritage of Northern Europe and a way of life and seeing the world. For example the fertility of the land and of achieving good harvests was very important (as it is today), and both are linked to regular ceremonies and offerings to the Gods and Goddesses at certain calendar times of the year – to make the salmon return, or for the barley to grow in the fields. Today, we see little shoots of a Euro-Descendent spirituality, and it is a spark that is starting to catch fire.
But I have to be clear, and it’s very important to point out, under no circumstances should this knowledge and re-enactment be used as a “racial” identity obsession. The more I study the Northern tradition the more I have learnt how much we share with other cultures world-wide and neighbours south of the Rhone river. I am strongly in favour of diverse expressions including subjective and personal approaches to reviving this old wisdom tradition.
What deities and stories can inspire people nowadays, in our day-to-day life?
Perhaps one of the best definitions of mythology comes from the fourth century writer Sallustius:
“Myths are things which never happened, but always are.”
This phrase teaches us a great deal about the mythical stories: they do not not merely reflect the travails of our human life, but guides us through the longings, yearnings and the existential search for our hidden human soul. When reading these stories, even today, we create worlds of meaning.
One of the central Northern myths concerns “spiritual reconciliation.” That story tells us that wisdom can only be revealed when two opposing forces learn to live together in peace. The Sky Gods and the Nature spirits in the stories created a ceremony of reconciliation with one another; a ceremony which gives – birth – to wisdom, this ceremony I am constantly working with and trying to find the proper choreography and ritual tools.
You also organize and lead ceremonies. How does your ceremony work?
A blot (blessing) is a religious and spiritual ceremony and celebration that is pre-Christian in form and shape, we read about blots in many of the sagas. A place where blots happen are usually in “sacred places” named, Hörgr, Vé, Lund and Haug – all of them similar to the “Sacred Groves” of Ancient Greece.
The ceremony works as an attempt to create a relational thread to the Gods, Goddesses, spirits, ancestors, elves, land wights and other local powers in the area. It can be an act to re-balance some of the debt we owe to the larger world around us: the soils, lakes, seas, rivers and mountain streams – basically all that which works for us in the background, but we often take for granted. Today, what would be a suitable ceremonial debt repayment to the motherly cow? The very wet-nurse of humanity? How can we even begin to feel the magnitude and weight of such a thing? How would we even approach such a re-balance ceremonially? These are central questions with nature-based thinking, ceremonies have a real purpose of making visible environmental boundaries and work as a function of remembrance of our greed and how we have to live within the carrying capacity of the earth herself.
In short, what you received from the land you also had to pay back: blot is a ritual currency that aims to repay back to the land, local spirits and the Gods and Goddesses, and the ancestors. The three major steps to a blot ceremony usually are: the hallowing of gifts and offerings, then sharing them together, and then offering part of them as a libations.
The modern expression of a blot is created within the reality of today – animal blood sacrifices are not used as they were in the past. When our ancestors lived as farmers, giving some part of the slaughtered animal to the Gods/Goddesses and land would have been second nature, it would be an act of thanks and a gesture of appreciation and respect for the gifts of the meat received. A horn containing mead (or non-alcoholic when appropriate) is the traditional and common libation. Here, the mead is blessed by the God/Goddesses, or the local spirit and ancestors, then it’s drunk amongst the participants and finally poured out – given as a gift.
I will say this: to stand with a horn in hand, tear in your eye, and to praise your loved ones and the world around you, is something holy and that is something to gather together for, it brings reconciliation. Speaking through tears means speaking the truth. To feel joy and grief for this world in a ritual is an indication that the ritual is alive and has a beating heart and that it has a sacred purpose where change and transformation has the potential to happen. Transformation for the greater good.
How does mythology and your work with ecology combine?
In the Eddas (Northern Myths) we hear how humanity’s first ancestors were trees; the Ash tree for men, and the Elm tree for women. This mythic idea brings us closer to the biological reality that trees give us the oxygen to breathe, they are paternal and maternal and form an invisible umbilical.
My charity that I run, the Earth Restoration Service, plants small tree nurseries in schools all across the UK and world-wide. When I do visit schools, I often tell myths and stories linked to trees as a storyteller with a lyre at hand! I teach through the mythic imagination, alongside the biological ideas of photosynthesis and how trees live and why they matter.
You work or worked with several charities. Can you share with us that part of your story and explain the importance of charity work in your life?
Charity and volunteer work has enabled me to fill my energy into working with the things that I love. I would recommend to anyone to examine seriously and without fear what it is that they love and see if that cannot become a genuine service to the community where you live?
I have worked with programmes for years now relating to the regeneration of the landscape. With my partner I started as a volunteer around the world doing this work, it was few years ago now, we helped out in many different ways, not as some holier-than-thou expression but as a genuine pleasure in being engaged with a work that had joy and purpose in protecting and defending something that mattered to us.
This volunteering work ended up being the catalyst for setting up an NGO and a charity later on. Practical work gives me the necessary grounding to work with the material world and hopefully benefit, in some small way, the-other-than-human world, which is looking to us today for a renewed relationship. Looking to the old Gods, ways, ceremonies and mythic wisdom is part of this unfolding flowering.