By Jack Wolf
The creation and ritual use of sacred implements is a deep tradition within the Thornwood. It has been thus since the time of our founders back in the mid twentieth century and these ways continue in the present day.
There are several types of implements considered especially sacred in Thornish tradition and among these is the sacred Hammer. The Hammer is symbolic to us because, in addition to its obvious connection to various Elder Kin including red Thor, the Hammer is the accoutrement of the smith and as well is a tool of building – or of war.
In Thornish tradition, oaths are not sworn upon rings or swords; they are sworn upon ancient stones or sacred Hammers.
To the Thornish person the Hammer is symbolic also of the connection between sky and Earth: The lightning-forge of the Elder Kin coming together with the ore-flesh of the sacred ground. Hammers are forged in fire, quenched in water and in the case of a Hammer considered especially sacred, invocations of air and spirit come into play.
In the Thornwood many of the sacred implements in use have a creation tale. Here is one such.
My father had just passed the night before. It had been a long battle with a cancer and the end had been expected. Still, it was a time for sorrow. I was a thousand miles north of my father’s house and it had not been an easy thing, not being able to be with him when his physical end came.
Plans had been made; I would fly south in two days to attend the wake.
I had time to reflect, and in the tradition of my tradition, to honor the fallen.
I gathered wood and built a large pile in a ring of old stones in the middle of a bare, 40 acre field. As twilight breathed shadow across the land I threw a brand into the pile and waited till the fire-folk engulfed the wood in a twisting pillar of yellow-red.
I bared steel and roared my cry into the night. Those on the Other side would hear of my father’s passing.
Out came the bottle of scotch. I drank to lost friends and to my father.
When the toasting was done and the hazy kiss of peat lulling me on my way to restful oblivion, I made tracks back to the house. My wife and daughter were already deeply in slumber; I lay down and dreamed my own dreams.
Suddenly there was a knock at the door: A hard, rough knock. I bolted upright and fought the haze of sleep. Who could this be at one in the morning? A neighbor? A friend?
I opened the back door to see the back of a man retreating down the road. He was dressed…strangely, as if out of place in this time. A long coat ; heavy boots and a long walking staff were his accoutrements. He left no footprints that I could see in the bright yard light. I felt a …presence, and the hairs on the back of my neck and on my arms stood on end. There was a ‘tear’ in reality at that moment and I felt it viscerally. Across that tear a man had walked through and a millennial host of cold steel winds had followed him.
I moved to exit the doorway when my foot caught upon something. I nearly fell but recovered. I looked again down the road and the stranger was gone. I looked to my feet and then I looked again.
A large hammer lay at my feet, already glistening in the evening chill. It was massive; heavy. The head black and grim, mounted on a shaft of red wood. Runes were carved into the haft.
As I looked further, the hammer faded into the night air, leaving nothing.
A voice from the night air spoke: “There are nine.”
Suddenly I awoke – again. I realized that I had been asleep; that I had dreamed.
Morning came early, or so it seemed, and I rolled from my bed to see the field outside my window scintillant with autumn frost. The wheel of the year had turned and so too, had the early autumn arrived in a gust of dead leaves and rime.
A shadow crossed my view and I looked to see my horse, Odin, looking in through the window at me. As was his custom he had walked to the house. He wanted a walk.
Clad in a green mackinaw, old jeans hastily pulled on, and my worn boots, I braved the crystalline dawn. I set off down the trail to the back pasture with a thousand pounds of horse clopping along happily behind me. He thought he was a dog, of that I was sure.
Suddenly, only a short distance from the pasture gate, Odin did something he had never before done in my sight: He slipped. Something turned under his hoof and he nearly went over.
I dodged to one side as the big gelding thrashed out, trying to regain his balance. In a second, footing and composure restored, Odin trotted forward as though nothing had happened.
Curious, I looked over to see what had nearly toppled the big Morgan. Something shiny pushed slightly from the ground as though pushed from the Earth by the frost. I reached down and pried it free of the clinging, chill soil.
It was a heavy hammer head; a mallet.
I took the thing back with me to the house after my time outside and examined it on the kitchen table. It was old; very old, and bore no maker’s markings. It was deep chill and bore no comfortable touch for long hours that it sat in the warmth of my home.
Still I lay my bare hand upon it as if showing my presence and my respect. It reeked of something…other.
Suddenly a word snapped into my head as if put there by another; another voice; an accent I could not place; words not my own.
The hammer head began to warm, as though the word in my mind had given it leave, finally after who knows how long a subterranean rest, to bathe in the warmth of my home.
I spent a long time pondering this hammer. Even when the time came for me to depart south to honor my father, thoughts of the artifact were there. I wondered about its origin and what the connection was to the dream I had had; the word I had heard.
Upon my return a week later, I found the hammer head just as I had left it; sitting on a shelf in my home. I showed it to a neighbor of mine; a farmer who knew much about farming and the local lore. He told me that hammer head was very old; more than a hundred years old by his estimation. He told me it was a Smith’s mallet; a well worn tool that had probably been dropped one summer and had been absorbed into the earth by its own weight.
And it had returned, pushed forth by the heaving frost, into the world I inhabited, cast on a different temporal shore from the one where it had last been kissed by day.
So I pondered the hammer head. I wondered what I would do with it. It seemed to want more than just a role as a paperweight, yet I thought that putting it to use as a simple farm tool would be disrespectful.
One day I saw a beautiful piece of red oak in a lumber yard and immediately knew that it should serve as a new haft for my find. I shaped and sanded it and when the time was right, fitted it to the head. Brass rings from one of Odin’s old harnesses adorned the shaft – for was it not Odin, my horse who had discovered the hammer in the first place? The shaft was further adorned: I cut what I thought to be appropriate runes into the wood. The shaft was finished and sealed with a generous coat of varnish.
I beheld my work; the hammer seemed somehow…pleased.
A few times more, in my dreams, I heard the voice; the words saying. ‘There are nine’ and I came to speculate that Svartaufr had kin; perhaps Hammer-Kin out there in the world.
Not long after that I spoke to a friend of mine; a holy man in the Old Ways. I told him the tale of the hammer and he listened when I told him the word that I had heard; the word I had used to name the hammer.
“It already had a name and it told you what that was.” He said. “Svartaufr translates very roughly to ‘Black Talisman’ It is not the most perfect grammar but that is close. “
Svartaufr has been an instrument of power in my home ever since that day. It is the weapon of a Warrior but also a tool for building and forging, brought forth from the fires and held, sleeping in the ice for many a year. Finally, from the hoof of a steed, it came, bidden by fate to my wondering hands.
Since the time of its discovery, the hammer has been a focus of honor in my home. It rules the mantelpiece in my home, ever ready for the fray, should foes ever assail my door.
At other times it dominates my Harrow; the indoor altar-space of the Thornsman.
So too, per tradition, it has it been the receptacle of oaths, not only from myself, but also from my friends and brothers.
The blood of oath and ordeal has now many times adorned Svartaufr’s cold, black steel.
Of its exact origin I am unsure and probably always will be. That it is old and that it possesses power, I know. It is steeped in time and in lore that I can only marginally see, yet it is here; waiting for me to glean more…