While other inmates are fighting over the right to have small nativity scenes in their cells, Michael Polk in Utah is demanding more Nordic religious items: a hammer and sword. Prison officers are a bit reluctant since Polk is serving time for aggravated assault and robbery. He is also a practicing member of the Asatru religion, which worships the Nordic gods, such as Odin, Thor, Tyr, and Heimdal. It turns out that he may have a limited case.
Polk insists that to practice in good Nordic fashion he needs a Thor’s hammer, a prayer cloth, a horn used for drinking Wassail, a drum made of wood and boar skin, a rune staff and a sword.
After some research, it appears that Polk may have a case — at least for a cardboard sword and mead of water and honey. It turns out the the Federal Bureau of Prisons has a whole regulation on the practice and, in true government fashion, a codified description of the allowable practice:
A. PERSONAL RELIGIOUS ITEMS
1. Thor’s Hammer medallion and chain;
2. Rune cards with instruction book;
3. Hlath, a solid colored headband containing one or more runes;
4. Poetic Edda;
5. Prose Edda.
Runes and Personal Mead Horns:
Rune stones and small personal mead horns are not authorized personal property.
The hlath may be worn during services in the Chapel area only.
B. CONGREGATE RELIGIOUS ITEMS
1. Stalli (altar): Usually constructed of wood or stone. A properly adorned table will suffice.
2. Altar Cloth: Used to drape the Stalli, can also be used as a kindred banner.
3. Bowli: Sacrificial bowl used to contain mead for the offering and blessing. It should be made of a natural material such as wood or ceramic.
4. Oath Ring: An oath ring, up to 6 inches in diameter is brought to all kindred functions and placed on the altar. The ring is used for those who wish to make a sacred oath during the ceremonies.
5. Rune cards: Used in identifying powers available for growth, protection and healing, to name a few.
6. Ritual Mead Horn: Used to accept the sacrificial mead by worshipers. The mead may be poured into paper cups from the ritual horn if the participants do not wish to drink from the communal horn.
7. Mead: A mixture of water, honey and fruit juice used as a sacrificial offering.
8. Altar Candles: Various colors are used to honor the Gods and Goddesses, signifying the eternal light of Asgard (realm of the Gods and Goddesses).
9. Gandr: A wooden staff with the runic alphabet written
or carved upon it. It represents the spear of Odin. Since it is a symbolic representation, it does not need to be very large, or shaped like a spear. A stick one half inch thick and two feet long is sufficient.
10. Thor’s Hammer: The hammer may be about 12 inches by 10 inches and can be constructed out of wood or strong cardboard.
11. Statues of the Gods and Goddesses: The statues are placed on the altar.
12. Evergreen Twig: A fresh twig will be needed for each blot, to disperse the blessings of the blot on the participants.
13. Sun Wheel: The sun wheel is placed on the altar. This is the same shape as a Native American Medicine wheel. The Sun wheel is inscribed with two intersecting lines emphasizing the four compass directions of the circle. A sun wheel inscribed with swastikas (a combination of several runes) is not part of Ásatrú practice.
An oath ring is not to be confused with jewelry, such as a personal ring or steel wrist bracelet. It is a congregate religious item, approximately six inches in diameter, used only during worship services and religious programs and stored in the Chapel.
In the community, a Sax (sword) is used for the swearing of holy oaths and is used during the Tyr blot. In a correctional setting, however, the use or display of swords is not authorized. The gandr and oath ring may be substituted in its place.
For those on the cell block planning to hammer out a Nordic festival, you have find the allowable hammers, swords, and mead