Cultivating Sacred Space
Sacred space is a concept that abounds in religious and spiritual practices all over the world. Examples from mainstream religions run the gamut from simple roadside shrines to massive temple complexes and even whole regions and geographic features celebrated with pilgrimages like the Ganges River in many Hindu practices or cities like Jerusalem and Bethlehem for modern Christians. For many Nordic Pagans and Heathens, however, there are far fewer visible examples to turn to and this is especially true for newer practitioners. Thankfully, there is both sufficient historical evidence and modern practice that provide answers for Heathens both new and experienced in their spirituality.
Historically speaking, the Nordic peoples used a wide variety of documented, attested forms of sacred space. The Viking Answer Lady has a solid discussion on the history of Nordic and neighboring continental Germanic holy spaces. What stands out, for the purposes of this discussion, are critical patterns present throughout all the examples discussed. There is evidence of the Nordic peoples utilizing a wide range of sacred spaces ranging from groves and mounds to dedicated temples with the gold-bedecked temple at Gamla Uppsala as the most famous example. These places were reserved solely for spiritual work with some going so far as to use special ropes and chains for marking their boundaries. Violence was prohibited in any such sacred place with any place so designated held as friðgarðr, the Old Norse term for peaceful enclosure or peaceful space.
These fixed sacred spaces were not the only place where spiritual work was conducted. The best evidence for this is the widespread custom of hall feasts hosted by members of the Nordic gentry and aristocracy in their personal homes. Hall feasts were major community events which often included ritual sacrifices, the use of seiðr as described in the Saga of Erik the Red, and many other deeply spiritual practices. It would not be a stretch to imagine humbler versions were also hosted on farmsteads, in harbors, and by many dusty roadsides.
What this all suggests is there likely was some sense that sacred spaces could both be permanent, dedicated locations and otherwise ordinary places that were temporarily used for spiritual purposes. Based on this, sacred space in Fire & Ice practice can be set for temporary, one-time uses such as an on-the-spot ritual and for dedicating a specific space as a long-term, potentially permanent sacred site. Whether permanent or temporary, all sacred spaces should be treated with the same basic dignity and respect and the same general advice applies for both.
Before you dedicate any space as sacred, you must first seek the permission of the local land spirits. This may involve taking divination, reading the omens, and possibly even performing rites of reparation for the local Powers as necessary conditions for receiving the spirit’s blessing. They should also receive their own offerings as part of any current or future rituals taking place in that space. You should also make time for regular maintenance and care of the space, particularly if you are dedicating space for long-term use.
The next step in Fire & Ice practice is invoking the primal forces which give this tradition its name. Bringing forth these cosmic forces of flame and frost re-enacts the moment of creation, clearing the way for new possibilities and potential within this space. In Fire & Ice practice this is usually done by invoking the Elder Futhark runes Isa, for ice, and Kenaz, for fire, but this does not mean you must always invoke these forces through the runes. You can use chanting, dance and movement, song, specific icons, poetry, or whatever other representation of these elemental energies that best speaks for you.
Once you have completed this step, you may then begin building your sacred space. How you do this will vary depending on what you are doing and where you are. In the case of temporary spaces used for specific rituals this can be done by building a temporary shrine to the Powers you wish to honor at that time, making blót offerings to the space, laying down any ritual tools like a rune pouch or a hammer, or even something as simple as drawing runes in the air. Some practitioners have elaborate yet functional portable shrines of all shapes and sizes, ranging from statues that can fit in your pocket to custom-designed sacred suitcases that open up as shrines.
Pictured: author’s personal shrine
There are just as many options available for people seeking to build fixed shrines. Probably the most popular option used by modern practitioners, including by the author which is shown above, is appropriating a shelf or bookcase to use as a shrine space. This method is popular because of its adaptability, simplicity, and the ease of acquiring the necessary furniture to make it possible though this is not the only option available. Cabinets, cupboards, and even whole rooms can be set aside as dedicated shrines. If you have some outdoor space available you can even raise godpoles, build a horgr from a pile of stones, or even just set aside space by a specific tree as sacred. What matters most is that how you do it resonates with you.
In conclusion, there are many ways a new practitioner can cultivate their own sacred spaces of all kinds, both personal and communal. Historical examples provide a solid foundation for inspiring modern practitioners which are bolstered by the developments of present-day practitioners to adapt the past to the present day. Fire & Ice practice particularly emphasizes the importance of right relationship in making sacred space, both in dedicating and sustaining it. Ultimately, what matters most is that your sacred space is a representation of how you understand the Powers and your relationship with them and there is no right or wrong way to do this. This holds true whether your sacred space is a simple as a hammer next to a pouch of runes or as elaborate as a dedicated, free-standing temple complex.