Origin of Stav

The Stav | What is Stav | Origin of Stav | Stav Philosophies | Weapon or Unarmed Training | Stav Stances | Stav and Asatru | Laug In Action or the Water of Life | Stav Haiku | Horse in Iron Age Society | The Stav Runes

A recent discussion on the origins of the term Stav has been interesting and no doubt for some people confusing, so here goes with an attempt to explain things – I trust Ivar will correct any errors I may make here. Ivar’s family, the Hafskjolds / Hosling, have practiced a martial art for as long as anyone can remember. This martial art centers around the use of the staff – in Norwegian, the “Stáv”. The weapon is used to teach combat principals in general (thus methods for both the use of all / any weapons and for unarmed combat are drawn from staff-work).

This martial art has, for want of a better term, always been referred to as simply “Stáv” within the family. However, as most of you will be aware, there is rather more to the Hafskjold’s martial art than just weapons play.

The basis of the martial art is the use of five principals which are related to the five “classes” (Trel, Karl, Herse, Jarl and Könge) and five elements (Earth, Water, Fire, Ice and Wind) but in addition to this the use of sixteen postures and associated breathing techniques and “incantations” (called “galdor”).

The sixteen postures are used to make the body form the shape of the 16 runes of the futhark (in the variation used by the Hosling). When a rune is formed, be it carved in wood, written on paper, or formed with the body, it is both the rune itself (the “mystery”) and a symbolic depiction of the rune – a rune-stáve.

Simply, a “Stav” is thus another way of saying “rune” and to practice Stáv is also to use the runes.

This is at once a simple pun allowing one for example to infer the practice of either staff-fighting (which was publicly acceptable in Christian Norway) but also the use of runes (which was not). To those unfamiliar with the Stáv martial art it may seem like suggesting that staff-fighting and the use of runes is an awkward combination, however, the martial aspect of Stáv and the runic philosophy which informs the art are inseparable – no doubt having influenced each other to a great extent within the Hafskjold family.

“However, the Hafskjold tradition is somewhat wider than just a martial art, or for that matter the use of runes. The Hafskjolds also engaged in other activities such as herbalism and the practice of seid – it is my understanding that while these are traditional within the family such arts were not originally referred to as “Stáv” (for example, in the Hafskjold tradition seid has just about nothing to do with the runes and is a very different phenomenon).

“When Ivar first began to teach outside his family he referred to the tradition he was teaching as “Stáv”. Initially he basically taught weapons work, concentrating at first on the staff, as well as the use of the runic postures. To those of us that expressed our interests in such things he also passed on his knowledge of seid and various other activities.

Lacking any specific traditional name for the practices in general employed by his family, it became standard for us to refer to everything in the Hafskjold tradition generically as “Stáv”. In this sense Ivar (and his students) are indeed responsible for coining the term “Stáv” as a way of describing the WHOLE of the tradition, but we in no way invented the term itself, which is indeed traditional (albeit a bit more specific).

“Things have become even more complicated in that having used the term Stáv to refer to diverse practices within the Hafskjold tradition, the term Stáv has also been used (and here I am as guilty as anyone) as a generic term to refer to what others might choose to call “Northern Tradition” or “Asatru” or “Nordic Pagan Philosophy” etc. I’m quite happy for anyone to state that this is a misnomer, and at one level it is (if we define Stáv as either a staff-fighting system based on the runes or as the Hafskjold tradition as a whole then anything beyond that is not Stáv) however, it is as valid a term as describing Native American traditions as “Shamanism” or all Chinese martial arts as “Kung Fu” – a definition that is at a precise level inaccurate but describes things in a way so that people generally get the gist.

“Of course this has in turn meant that in order to describe specifically the Stav martial art some of us tend to now call it “The Stav Martial Art” rather than just Stav so as to avoid confusing a feature of the martial art with Stav (the whole tradition) as a whole. And in turn, if one uses the term Stav generically to mean something like “Norse Pagan Culture” one then finds oneself almost obliged to refer to the Hafskjold tradition as “Hafskjold Stáv” to distinguish it from, say, Icelandic runic traditions. I hope this goes some way to clearing things up a little but please post any queries.

In a sense, it is accurate to say that Stav is both the term always used by the Hafskjold family and also that it is a modern invention – the point being that what has altered is the meaning behind the term not the term itself. Certainly the term Stáv was in use by the Hafskjold family before Ivar started to teach outside the family and it is referred to in the Hafskjold family’s traditional poem which describes the activities that should be undertaken by. “Heimdall’s Sons” (for which you can read either the Hosling, who via the Möre line, claim descent from Heimdallr; or the whole of mankind as Heimdallr / Rígr is said to have fathered all the classes of humans). ~ By Shaun Brassfield