Sunday, 27 September 2015

Ullr The Norse Skate God


Perhaps this blog should be alternatively titled "Skate GOD" instead of "Skate Guard". Go ahead, groan. You have my permission. In Saxo Grammaticus' twelfth century work "Gesta Danorum", the Scandinavian deity Ollerus (Ullr) is described as a wizard with a rather clever way of getting from point A to point B: "The story goes that he was such a cunning wizard that he used a certain bone, which he had marked with awful spells, wherewith to cross the seas, instead of a vessel; and that by this bone he passed over the waters that barred his way as quickly as by rowing." Ullr was often depicted in either skis or skates and he was known as a god of the winter, certainly fitting in the unforgiving Scandinavian climate. His cultural significance and worship in Norse culture predates the Iron Age and Ullr even crossed cultural boundaries when he was included in the children's story "The Ice King And His Wonderful Grandchild" in the 1918 book "Dutch Fairy Tales For Young Folks".

Northern Tradition Paganism offers an article by Geordie Ingerson with a pagan ritual/prayer to Ullr designed to bless your skates. How cool is that? Ingerson explains "to bless skates before taking them onto ice - which is especially important if you are skating on a body of water rather than a skating rink - break a branch of evergreen and tie it with snow-white yarn to the blades of the skates. Touch them with cold water, and Bone say:

'Bone-Skater, bless my blades and bear me
Safe and swift across the glass,
Keep the winter water from me,
Let no crack come looking for me,
Give me grace and forgive my falls.
Hail Ullr, may you hear my call.'

Hang them up outside for a night and a day, then untie the evergreen branch and tie it over your door. Skate in good health, and be safe." That actually really makes me smile!

The website also offers some insight into Ullr's story and background: "Ullr was said to be the son of Sif and the stepson of Thor. Some claim that he was the son of Egill/Aurvandil, the great archer who was Thor's hunting companion and the father of Svipdag as well. Some see him as Aesir because of his mother and stepfather; some as Vanir because of his food-procuring hunter's nature. He lived in Ydalir, the Yew-grove, referring to the fact that yew wood was the favourite for making bows even thousands of years ago. In Saxo Grammaticus's works, where the Gods are recast as human heroes, Odin is temporarily exiled for rape and Ullr is chosen to lead in his place until Odin's return, which is an echo of his former importance to the people of the North. In Lilla Ullevi, Sweden, an actual shrine to Ullr was unearthed. In the earth around it were found 65 rings; old references to swearing on Ullr's ring indicate that he was one of the Gods who watched over a vow. The rings were apparently used for swearing oaths and then buried at his shrine." Celebration of Ullr continues to this day. The site of Ullr's shrine which is north of Stockholm was excavated in 2007 and consistently plays host to worshippers and curious travellers alike.

Lilla Ullevi
Skaters and skating fans often half seriously "pray to the Skate Gods" for a good, clean skate. I always say it's good to put a name with a face so to speak, so the next time you or some skater you love is praying to land that triple toe-loop combination, don't just say a little prayer to Lidwina, The Patron Saint Of Ice Skating but be sure to give a shout out to Ullr as well. As far as 'real life Skate Gods' go, he's the perhaps the closest thing we've really got!

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