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Urglaawe: One of History’s Best-Kept Secrets

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Imagine a Pennsylvania Dutch farmer working the land in 18th century America. Maybe you’re picturing someone from one of the Plain sects, such as the Amish, behind a plow, building a barn, or planting seeds by hand. Maybe you’re picturing someone by an old stone hearth, kneading bread made with wheat grown right outside that very house. Perhaps you are imagining this family going faithfully to church, and avoiding work on the Sabbath.

But maybe you’re not imagining one of the Fancy Dutch–that is, the Pennsylvania Dutch settlers who were not part of the Plain communities that believed in simple dress and minimal home decor. The Fancy Dutch brought from their homeland traditions such as bright and colorful clothing, vividly painted Fraktur and hex signs, folk medicine, a system of magic, and the names and stories of the Germanic Gods and Goddesses. It is within this community that even the Norse runes were brought over and passed down into modern times.

It’s hard to believe, right? After all, if you went and asked any Pennsylvania Dutch settler, Plain or Fancy, what their religion was, they would proudly tell you that they were Christian. In fact, they’d be outright insulted if you implied otherwise. Nevertheless, they brought over and continued distinctly pagan practices within and alongside their Christian faith. The most prominent of these practices is the system of magic known as Braucherei, sometimes called Pow-Wow. In Braucherei, the roots of Germanic paganism, medieval grimoires, Pennsylvania Dutch folk medicine, and Lenape herbalism blend into a unique magical and healing practice that has continued via both formal guilds and personal mentor-apprentice relationships into the present day.

Ok, so, cool story, but what does any of this have to do with Urglaawe? And what’s an Urglaawe anyway?

Glad you asked! (Or allowed me to ask for you.) Urglaawe is a denomination of Heathenry that is inspired by the Pennsylvania Dutch culture–called Deitsch in that language. There are many other culturally inspired denominations of Heathenry that you might be familiar with, such as the Icelandic, Anglo-Saxon, Swedish, Norwegian, and others.

Urglaawe incorporates both the survivals and reconstruction of religious practices originating from what is now Germany, especially the Southwestern region, as these practices appeared in the United States during the Detisch migration (the late 1600s to mid-1800s). Some practices survived in the Braucherei guilds, folklore, art, music, holidays, and other traditions of the Deitsch people. Others are reconstructed based on research, much as you would approach reconstruction in any other Heathen denomination.

As a denomination of Heathenry, Urglaawe has many elements that you will recognize–holy days such as Midsummer and Yuul (Yule), Gods like Dunner (Thor), Wudan (Odin), and Ziu (Tyr), rituals like the Sege (blot) and Sammel (sumbel)–held with a Seidel (drinking stein) rather than a horn. The Seidel might be holding familiar offerings from other branches of Heathenry like mead and ale, but it could also hold apple cider, apple juice, herbal tea, or other non-alcoholic libations.

Some elements of Urglaawe theology and cosmology are different too. The most prominent deity in Urglaawe is Frau Holle, a Goddess Who comes to us from Germany and is credited in our tradition with guiding the Deitsch migration to America. She orders the cycles of the universe, keeping the seasons of both nature and our lives moving at their proper pace and in accordance with Wurt (Wyrd). Other deities in Urglaawe that may not be well-known outside of Deitsch traditions include Zisa, the wife of Ziu (Tyr), known for undoing the knots and tangles of trouble in our lives, Weisskepicch Fraa, the White Haired Lady, known for Her blessings of healing, and Ewicher Yeeger, the Eternal Hunter, Who saved an early Deitsch village from starvation during a harsh winter. The deities we know from other Germanic traditions continued to evolve, grow, and interact with Their people after the migration from Germany, and new Gods and Spirits came to be known in the new land, bringing about new stories and traditions that are now part of Urglaawe.

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Image from (http://www.urglaawe.net/)

The altar for a ceremony in Urglaawe might look a little different from what you’re used to, as Urglaawe altars are colorful and well-decorated. Icons–in figurine or painted form, colorful vintage printed tablecloths, painted hex signs, vivid redware pottery for offering bowls or plates, and glazed ceramic steins might all be found on an Urglaawe altar. In addition to the Deitsch inspiration, there’s a lot of influence from agriculture and working with the land, so elements such as the sickle, fresh flowers, homemade bread, eggs, fruits, and vegetables, might also be present as tools or offerings. Check out this video tour of an Urglaawe Yuul altar to see some of these elements and this more detailed video altar tour for more about some of the deities in Urglaawe.

As you can gather from this high-level overview, there’s far more to learn about Urglaawe than I could ever cover in one post. Luckily for me, I don’t have to! I’ll be blogging regularly here at Huginn’s Heathen Hoff about all things Urglaawe, and I really look forward to sharing more about this rich tradition with you. If you’re curious or just can’t wait for more, I invite you to join the Facebook Urglaawe group and take a look at A Brief Introduction to Urglaawe, or some of the many excellent resources on the Distlefink site. As we like to say in Urglaawe, Macht’s immer besser! (Make it always better!)

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