Waldgang : A Pagan Project
Creator statement by Jack Donovan
Waldgang is located on a rural, five-acre plot of scrub oaks and Ponderosa pines in southwestern Washington. I purchased it in 2017, originally intending to create a sacred ritual space for my small Pacific Northwest chapter of a Germanic pagan organization that I belonged to at the time.
The word Waldgang was borrowed from Ernst Jünger’s book and concept of the same, meaning “the forest passage.” In Jünger’s work, Waldgang was a sort of inner redoubt for a man’s vital spirit in times of tyranny or oppression. It represented a way to be, as some Christians might say, “in the world, but not of it.”
“Let us call this turn the Forest Passage, and the person who accomplishes it the Forest Rebel. Like Worker, this word also encompasses a spectrum of meaning, since it can designate not only very divergent forms and fields but also different levels of a single deportment. Although we will further refine the expression here, it is helpful that it already has a history in old Icelandic vocabulary. A forest passage followed a banishment; through this action a man declared his will to self-affirmation from his own resources. This was considered honorable, and it still is today, despite all the platitudes.”
Ernst Jünger. The Forest Passage.
My Waldgang was, of course, a physical space — but also a liminal space. No one ever lived there, except the chickens we kept there for a summer. It was a place that men traveled to that was set aside for a particular set of experiences.
Breaking away from the “viking” nostalgia aesthetic typically associated with that heathenry and Ásatrú, my aim with Waldgang was to create a space unlike anything else. In the early days of its construction, I played the Seven Samurai soundtrack more often than anything like Wardruna, and we jokingly referred to the style of the structures as “Germanic-Shinto fusion.”
I was also inspired by Catholic iconography and the wayside shrines I observed during a trip to the alpine resort towns of Garmisch-Partenkirchen in Germany. I loved how the symbols and the images of saints were inescapable there. It was almost impossible to avoid seeing religious images that kept you immersed in a particular narrative and worldview at any point on the main streets and looking in practically any direction. I imagined that, for the faithful, this “total environment” was highly inspirational, and I wanted to attempt to replicate that at Waldgang with Germanic pagan mythology and symbols.
As I carefully selected ritual items and accessories for the space, I intended to collect objects and implements with a “timeless” feel. Classic, almost Platonic forms of objects without an overwhelming style. A mortar and pestle that could have been from 1940 or 1840.
Simple or primitive copper bowls. My goal with Waldgang was to create a space that was aesthetically and conceptually “out of time.”
“The forest is heimlich, secret. This is one of those words in the German language that simultaneously contains its opposite. The secret is the intimate, the well-protected home, the place of safety. But it is no less the clandestine, and in this sense it approaches the unheimlich, that which is uncanny or eerie. Whenever we stumble across roots like this, we may be sure that the great contradictions sound in them—and the even greater equivalences—of life and death, whose solution was the concern of the mysteries.”
Ernst Jünger, The Forest Passage.
The work of Mircea Eliade has long influenced me, specifically his book The Sacred and the Profane, and I knew it was essential to begin by constructing the central, sacred axis that would eventually become the altar. While this entire process took some time, it began by building a fire where the altar and central ritual space would be built. At some later point, we buried objects sacred to the group, including rocks and a wooden pole from our previous ritual space, underneath the altar to form its foundation — which is why, when I eventually left that group, we were later forced to destroy the altar, dig them out, and purify them with fire.
The first structure constructed was a rudimentary bunkhouse for members of the group.
The first true altar or temple was the original þunrastallaz — a “stallaz” or “stall” dedicated to Thor, or, in an earlier form of the name, þunraz (thun-rashz).
A word here about language. The vikings, so often associated with heathenry or Germanic paganism, were predominately Scandinavians who spoke Old Norse and used the Younger Futhark set of runes. So many heathens and Germanic pagans use the Elder Futhark, an older set of runes, which were actually used to express words and concepts in what were no doubt many tribal dialects of Proto-Germanic, a language that we only know from the laws of linguistic progression and a relative handful of objects that employ the Elder Futhark runes. A large percentage of the Americans drawn to Germanic paganism often have a very low percentage of Scandinavian blood. Like me, many are predominantly German and English, so it always seemed somewhat foolish to me to be “communing with the spirits of their ancestors” in a language that their ancestors never actually spoke.
It was for this reason that we started using Proto-Germanic at Waldgang. Proto-Germanic (*PG) is a common root language that preceded and substantially influenced German and Old English and the Nordic languages.
An early collaborator in the Waldgang project, Clinton McMillan — who now owns Waldgang — is something of a linguistic savant. Over time, he assisted me in developing proto-Germanic names and chants. There are elements of Proto-Germanic that feel familiar, even today. For instance, the Proto-Germanic word for “Thank” is *þankaz. (*þankaz, and technically *þankōs would be “thanks”). You can say *þankaz to someone, and most of the time, they won’t notice the difference because it sounds like you mumbled “thank you” or the German “danke” and it’s basically what their brain expects to hear.
In honor of Thor (or þunraz), we constructed a wooden squat rack and a dip station, and men often worked out in that area.
In my study of religious spaces, I noted numerous examples of shrines and temples where people could leave personalized prayers or offerings. With this in mind, we moved dried out piece of a dead oak tree in front of the þunrastallaz, installed it firmly in the ground, and named it “Donar’s Oak.” Some kind of Thor’s Hammer (Mjolnir) necklace is often the first item that many heathens or pagans purchase when they begin to identify themselves with the Germanic gods. Over the years, practitioners frequently upgrade or accumulate more such necklaces. I suggested that if anyone wanted to leave or send an offering to Waldgang, they could send a Mjolnir, and I promised to hang it on Donar’s Oak and leave it there to eventually become part of the land.
We received hammer offerings from many guests, and men sent them to us from across the United States, Canada, and around the world. While I’ve forgotten all of the countries we received Mjolnir’s from, I know that there are hammers from South Africa, Sweden, Germany, France, and even Andorra. To my knowledge, all of these Mjolnirs remain on Donar’s Oak as tokens of reverence for the Thunderer. Many have rusted and almost become part of the Oak itself. Donar’s Oak was one of the most successful and accessible programs we created at Waldgang and did a great deal to give it a sense of being a sacred space.
Near the main altar, we built a hargu (*PG for horgr, a stone altar in Old Norse) or altar to Freyr, the Germanic fertility god. It became something of a tradition for men to bring their girlfriends to that altar to make appropriate offerings.
For a Tyr-themed ritual, we replicated the design of the þunrastallaz to create an altar dedicated to the god Tyr, who sacrificed his hand to Fenrir the wolf to maintain the honor of the gods and protect the world from the destruction that the wolf threatened.
East of the central altar, we buried a wooden box and constructed a burial mound or kurgan and locked items inside that represented our ancestors. We performed rituals invoking the dead in this area.
On the far east side of the property, I constructed my own cabin, which was the most elaborate structure at Waldgang until the construction of the Wodanastallaz.
In keeping with the “out of place and time” theme of Waldgang, we attempted to construct a yurt that was about 22 feet wide, but it was never entirely stable or symmetrical. The structure was intended to be a fighting yurt for wrestling and boxing matches, but it was dark and the footing was unstable, so it eventually became “the party yurt” for a year until it collapsed under two to three feet of snow in the winter of 2019.
I left the group for which I’d initially purchased Waldgang at the end of 2018. Clinton and several others stayed on and continued to travel out to the land to help with building projects and participate in rituals. The rituals necessarily evolved and took on a less Germanic and more loosely Proto-Indo-European theme — though there is something about Waldgang that will always have Germanic roots. Perhaps it is the spirit of the Pacific Northwest itself, which exudes particularly Germanic feeling with its mist and forests and snow and rain.
The following season, I built the Wodanastallaz, our temple to Odin or *Wodaz (*PG), which I had been developing in my mind since I purchased the land. It is the tallest and most elaborate structure. People often see runes, especially *algiz, in old German timber frame architecture. It occurred to me to mimic that in a way inspired by German Expressionist set designs like the ones found in films like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. I would have made the building asymmetrical if I’d trusted my somewhat more advanced but still very basic construction skills. Using trim on top of Hardie boards, we worked Younger and Elder Futhark runes into the facade of the building itself in abstract patterns. By this point, I was already incorporating the solar symbol I use now to represent The Father into designs. There is a rusted steel version of that Solar Vision symbol above the altar in that building. I tend to associate Odin, especially in the context of Waldgang and the rituals we’ve performed there, as “The Father in Darkness,” and I elaborated on that in my recent book, Fire in the Dark.
We used the Wodanastallaz to ash up participants before sending them into the central ritual circle, placing them into a liminal state.
Before what I remember as the most powerful and well-attended ritual at Waldgang, we encouraged the men to dig up rocks from the West end of the property and build a stone ship, similar to the ones found all over northern Europe.
In 2020, Waldgang became a welcome respite from state tyranny and oppression. For much of the summer, many state and local parks were closed. We were grateful for the opportunity to “take the forest passage” away from the virus hysteria, the dystopian theater of masks and “social distancing,” and the lawless mob violence that raged on all summer and turned the once beautiful nearby city of Portland into an urban wasteland.
During my final summer at Waldgang, while I was hard at work writing Fire in the Dark, we built a temple to The Striker — the name I have given to the cross-cultural warrior archetype. It was constructed on the spot where the yurt had once been, and its direction and orientation were determined by a tree blown over by the wind, which we took as an omen from the god associated with wild winds and the storm.
The structure maintains the color theme of all of the structures at Waldgang, but we used the new Striker symbol, and I painted snakes around the door to give it a more Mediterranean look. The serpents around the door and the hydra design on the rear face of the building were meant to indicate the importance of serpents and monsters in creating heroes — who are always in some sense defined by the monsters they battle. The interior is blood red, like the inside of a body. In front of the Striker Temple, there is a large stone meant for sacrifices, and a mud and stone fire altar. Oak is readily available at Waldgang, and it was decided that only oak would be burned at that altar because oak has always been sacred to Thor and many other heroes. The Baltic and Slavic Perun, both versions of the Striker, have names linguistically linked to words for oak.
In response to the systemic corruption of state governments in Oregon, Washington, and California as well as reactions from the majority of locals that were either obediently passive or politically inept, I decided to move to the state of Utah at the end of 2020 in search of freedom and opportunity. I placed Waldgang in the care of Clinton McMillan. After returning a few times for rituals, I made the decision to sell the land to Clinton — who continues to develop the space and perform rituals for men there by invitation only.
This transfer of ownership initially allowed the land to remain sacred and alive. Eventually, as he developed his own practices and concepts, Clinton razed all of the ritual structures to make room for new ritual structures.
So, the Waldgang pictured here exists only in photographs and memories.
This is, poetically, more in line with the Waldgang that Jünger imagined.
An internal space, an idea, a seed that you carry with you.
Altar to Freyr, the Germanic fertility god.
Altar to Tyr or Tiwaz, the Germanic god of self-sacrifice, duty, and bonds.
The Central Fire
The fire ring that replaced the original altar.