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  • Writer's picturebelardinelli

Ritual of Resonance and Flesh at Midgarsdblot

The Beginning

In 2022, Smertekirken was privileged to facilitate Tim Nancarrow’s Rites of Ash and Oak: A Ritual Suspension Sacrifice to Odin at Midgardsblot. Our brief experience on that opening day of the festival made a huge impression on us. Everyone who we met: participants, volunteers, organizers, technicians, and everyone else was happy and nice. Even the people working their butts off were super nice!

Tim’s ritual was intense and the energy in Gildehallen—a replica of a viking longhouse—was massive! We were there, primarily, to ensure that Tim's 2-point chest suspension was done right, but the experience opened our eyes. Over beers and mead later that evening, Tim said that he thought he would not be able to return to Midgardsblot the next year. On our drive back to the farm afterward, We started talking about the kind of ritual that Smertekirken might perform at Midgardsblot and we immediately thought of our dear friends Vanessa and Morten; we just knew that, if we had them onboard, we could do something massive!

Composing A Ritual for Midgardsblot

When we were asked to come back to Midgardsblot and perform a ritual on all four days, we were awestruck! We were also certain that we could not do it without The Maniac and Visobel Black. When we asked, they immediately said yes to doing this project together.

We had been thinking and talking about making a musical instrument that incorporates a body suspended from hooks since 2013 but, amazingly, the first idea that Morten and Vanessa approached us with, was using a string suspended from a body as a functional part of a musical instrument. We immediately started working on the idea with no doubt that this was what we wanted to do.

After that, things developed in the most amazingly collaborative way. Each one of us contributed to the development of the ritual in a way that was so thoughtful and positive that it was an absolute pleasure. Our ideas resonated at a level that made creating the ritual a very organic process. We explored the question of what we wanted our intention for a ritual for Midgardsblot to be and, quickly, we landed on Resonance.

Photos by Morten, Alan, and June

Making A New Instrument and Refining the Ritual

We assembled the instrument and developed the meaning and progression of the ritual contemporaneously; Morten and Vanessa in Lier and us at the farm. We also had a few work weekends at the farm, which allowed us to firm up concepts, work on the instrument, and hone our intent.

While on the farm, Vanessa was capturing sounds and feelings around the property to inform aural aspects of her composition. In the end, the instrument comprised Vanessa’s waterfone, a locomotive bell that belonged to Alan’s grandfather, a rock from our farm, and a stirrup from a saddle that Alan was given when he was a boy—said to have belonged to a gun fighter in Oklahoma during the 1860s. We worked through many different options before landing on the exact cable that would connect the instrument to the suspended body. Once assembled, every disparate object comprising the finished instrument blended perfectly into the whole. It truly became an object that was more than the sum of its parts. Each added piece and each small improvement made the instrument more resonant.

Photos from Friday—backstage and ritual—taken by Helene Fjell

We wanted to find a way to bring the people who would come to the ritual into closer contact with what was happening on stage, and Vanessa suggested that we gather stones from the property and mark them somehow. These stones would be given to members of the audience at the beginning of the ritual, placed at the front of the stage while we performed the ritual, and given back to the audience members who held them at the end for them to keep. The stones were gathered at our farm, and we held and considered each of them before picking the stones that we would use—from them, we each chose a stone to have with us while we continued our work. We dared to hope that everyone who came to see us, whether they received a stone or not, would allow themselves to connect with, and add their own energy to, the ritual.

As we delved into the work, we incorporated our feelings, challenges, and emotions—forming them into an intention that we could all embrace, explore, and enact. Wonder, joy, grief, sadness, doubt, certainty, anger, fear, and a host of other feelings mixed and coalesced as in a crucible. These feelings placed together in the context of our ritual, again, formed a resonance.

Five days before we left for Borre, Morten and Vanessa came back out to the farm for a final technical check, and to get our heads further into the ritual that we would soon perform. Vanessa’s composition sounded fantastic and fit exactly. The stones had been carved with the Algiz and Eihwaz runes, and the symbol for the Earth element, and had soaked up the energy from the previous full moon. All of us had an aura of joy, excitement, and that special feeling of anticipation mixed with nerves that can come before a big event. Late on Sunday night, after a rehearsal with everything but hooks, it felt like we were ready.

Photos from Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday rituals, taken by Violet Raven Photography

Midgardsblot 2023

On Tuesday morning, we rolled out in the rain and, after an easy drive, finally arrived at Midgardsblot. We had only been there once, but it felt incredibly familiar. The sound and light crew and stage managers are all so amazingly competent and friendly, it felt like coming home to good friends. We loaded in and got our rigging gear installed and then went back to Dal Gjestegaard, where we would stay for the week. Dal Gjestegaard is lovely and, for us and the work that we would be doing, the perfect place to stay—in a natural setting, without the noise and chaos of a hotel in town.

That night, we set the rigging on the birch trunk that we would use for the ritual. The last thing we did before Morten and Vanessa left the farm on Sunday night was to choose a birch tree to sacrifice, and when we were finished rigging it, it hung perfectly level. So level, in fact that we left the stones that we had chosen earlier balanced on top of it overnight and gathered them again in the morning.

Wednesday morning, we headed to site early for the opening of Midgardsblot. Because of the small mountain of medical supplies and sterilized equipment that we had with us, the festival management realized that it would be best for us to have our backstage in Gildehallen itself rather than a tent outside. The crew gave up what was going to be their breakroom for us and it meant so much to have a backstage where we could stage and leave equipment rather than having to move in and out of a tent every day.

When the time came to perform Ritual of Resonance and Flesh for the first time, we were running a bit behind. Alan spent the last five minutes before we were supposed to go on stage feverishly tying knots for the pre-rigging and rushed down to the stage but, once we began, the energy of the audience and the feeling inside of Gildehallen gave us a sense of calm and grounding. As the ritual progressed, we could feel our focus and energy growing. We could feel that many of the people who joined us in Gildehallen were not spectators but, rather, joining us in the ritual! Intense would be an understatement of the feeling of space with a few hundred people who had just come from the blot ritual outside, many of them with sheep’s blood from that ritual on their faces, lending their focus. There was a palpable sense of resonance! The experience was simultaneously exhilarating and humbling.

We tried to get out and talk to participants when we could, but the next days were just as busy as the first. Our practical preparation (setting up the rigging, inserting hooks, putting on make-up, and shoving sharp things through our foreheads) began about four hours before the ritual and cleaning up took an hour of work after, so we did not have as much time as we would have liked to meet and talk with people. Still, when we did manage to get outside, the response we received was deeply touching. Some people who attended the ritual, many of whom had not ever seen a flesh-hook suspension performed live, told us how meaningful the ritual was for them. It filled us with joy that so many people organically understood our intent. We gave no introduction that touched on the intent or meaning of the ritual, after all, we just performed it—and people got it.