Customs and Traditions

You probably know more than you think

Customs and Traditions

You probably know more than you think

The North is heathen

That our ancestors were stubborn is far more than just a hollow claim, it’s a fact, and it actually shows pretty well in many of the traditions that we still have to this very day.

However, this is an area of some uncertainty, since, as you know, we don’t have lot of source material to refer to. So it’s hard for us to say with concrete certainty what our pre-christian ancestors celebrated, and what they didn’t. There are quite a few different bids, and some vary quite a lot. Some heathens swear to the Celtic holidays, others to the Wiccan, some keep AFA’s calendar and still others stick to “The Troth”.

It’s a highly debated topic where we in no way want to act an an authority, therefore we will list some of the festivities that are held throughout the entire heathen community, and it must then be up to you, dear reader, to decide what you feel is right for you and your group.

Yule, Jól

The year starts and ends with Yule, therefore it is fitting to start here. There is some debate whether historically follows the Sun or the Moon, ie. whether you should celebrate it in December, or in January at mid-winter.

However, ultil some more concrete facts emerge, Guðavík will continue to celebrate it in December, in conncetion with the winter solstice.

Santa Claus

In modern times we know that Santa, with his red and white clothes, was inventet by CocaCola in the 1930s, or at least that’s what they say on Facebook.

But in reality, he has always been dressed in red here in Scandinavia; Santa Claus is Jólnir, the Lord of Yule, a nickname of Odin. The red robes is ancient symbolism of the warrior, Odin of course being a god of war, and the red color is symbolically the blood from the battlefield.

Yule stocking

Odin’s wild hunt is upon us during these times, and historically he took a lot of people with him in this cold and dark time, so to be on good terms with him, a mule bag was hung with yule sheaf for Sleipnir.

Over time this has evolved into the classic Yule stocking, where the Elfs will put gifts during December, most often to the children in the family.

Santa’s reindeer

If you remove Rudolph from the equation, which is a late invention, then Santa’s reindeer counts 8 in total. And then you don’t have to think long, to notice the symbolism that is associates, because as we know, Santa is Odin, and he rides an eight-legged horse named Sleipnir.

Yule balls on the tree

A sacrifice has to hurt a little bit, and in ancient times, one sacrifice that would hurt was meat. It was therefore customary to hang meat as a sacrifice, of this flesh the blood dripped and from here we have some of the traditions of the red Yule balls that we decorate our tree with each year.

The mistletoe

There is a lot of symbolism associated with the mistletoe, partly it’s Baldur’s murder weapon, but it’s also one of the evergreens that we find in nature here in the north, and since fertility is an extremely important element in Ásatrú, there is also symbolism associated with its small white berries, which if you crush them contain a semen-like liquid in them – is there then a link as to why we kiss eachother underneath them?

Midwinter

As just described, some heathens celebrate Jól in connection with being halfway through winter, but others hold a separate blót for mark this, without calling it Jól. Whatever one finds right, it is held in conjunction with the full moon in January.

Imbolc

Historically this is not a native Nordic tradition, since it originates from Celtic traditions. Nevertheless, it is a tradition that some modern heathens celebrate, primarily where the Wiccan customs are important elements of the faith.

Here, the coming of spring is celebrated, and is traditionally held around the beginning of February, halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox.

If you don’t want to celebrate Imbolc, you can celebrate Thorrablót instead; where Thor is abviously an important element.

Dísablót

Yet another of the much debated holidays, where the date for celebration often is in play. Many people celebrate it in the beginning of February, at the halfway spot between winter solstice and spring equinox, but in Guðavík we celebrate ours in connection with the new moon at the end of February.

At this blót, only the feminine powers are celebrated and honored, ie. the Dísir, the Ásynjur, the Norns, the Fylgjur, the Valkyries and so on, hence the name. It is a very deep and personal sacrifice where you won’t invite oursiders, since you wouldn’t want to rock the boat too much in the presence of these mighty women.

Symbolically, it is said that in the feminine lies the uncertain, that which moves behind the scene, and that which sets the firm and masculine into motion – therefore it is also at the new moon, in the dark hours, that we in Guðavík choose to place this blót, when Máni isn’t “watching”.

Spring equinox

This is to be hold around the 21st of March, however, the date may wander slightly back and forth from year to year. Here we celebrate that Sól is halfway on her journey back north, that night and day are equally long and that spring is upon us.

This is often where you would want to make sacrifices for a good year of growth, which is why the fertility gods and goddesses are often invoked during these blóts in modern times.

We also know from history that there was a Victory Blót (Sigrblót) around this time (however, the Troth calendar places this at Ostara).

Ostara

Another one of the traditions that Christianity tried to take over, among other things by changing its name to Easter (in Scandinavia ‘Påske’), the english name is far closer to its original name. In pagan times, they celebrated that spring had now come in earnest, that the goddess Ostara had accounced her coming, and a rebirth of life in nature started – the traditions with the hare and the eggs originate here.

However, this is another of the original Celtic holidays, which in modern times are primarily celebrated in Wicca circles. It is to be held in conjunction with the full moon in April.

May day

Traditionally celebrated on the 1st of May, but not the same as the International Workers’ Day (IWD). In Denmark, this celebration is unfortunately one of the ones we have somewhat lost, and in recent times it has been taken over by the aforementioned IWD. Luckily, we don’t have to look far to see it celebrated well, in Sweden – though after the IWD conquest, it has been moved to the night before (Walpurgis Night).

However, this celebration can tie its threads all the way back to the Roman Empire, where Floralia was celebrated by paying tribute to Dionysis and Aphrodite in the period from around the 27th of April to around the 3rd of May – please note, that this period covers both Walpurgis Night and May Day.

Lindisfarne day

In modern times, some groups have made the 8th of June a special anniversary, as it marks the raid of the Lindisfarne Monestary in England, in the year 793, which is seen as the starting point of what we know as the Viking age.

Here in Guðavík, for a number of years, we have been fortunate enough to be able to celebrate this with a hike in historically rich areas, as well as with a horn of mead or three along the route.

Midsummer

This is another one of the annual traditions celebrated by non-pagans, and even in the best of pagan ways. At the summer solstice we build a bonfire and set it ablaze with songs and joy, and a little good for the palate (alcohol).

We celebrate that Sól has now reached the very top of her journey, and marks that from now on, the days will become shorter, as she starts her return journey back home to the south.

Baldur’s bonfire

Baldur’s funeral is celebrated with a huge bonfire, in which we in modern times have a habit of placing a witch. I have a “pocket philosophy” about this; could it possibly be some sort of forgotten symbolism for Nanna, who was placed besides Baldur during this funeral?

In shamanism, things can get a bit messy if you want to interpret it in a literal way, so it won’t make a lot of sence to draw a lone between the sun goddess and Baldur, nevertheless he can symbolically be seen as a sun god in this regard, as the blight times in his presence are now over.

That is why in Guðavík, we always have both Baldur and Nanna present at our Summer Solstice Blót, in a very special way.

Freyfaxi

In some circles celebrated in the beginning of August as a sort of harvest blót in honor of Freyr. Other groups celebrate this at the end of August, paying tribute to Thor as an important element of this early harvest blót, marking that the first harvest has been completed now.

At the time of writing this, it is not something the writer has a lot of knowledge about, so further text has to be added at a later point.

However, we can point out that historically we know that Thor was more important in Denmark, whereas Freyr was more important in Sweden.

Autumn equinox

This is held around the 21st of September, however, the date may wander slightlyt back and forth from year to year. Here we celebrate that Sól is halfway on her journey home in the south, that day and night are equal in length amd that from now on, it will only become darker.

This is often where you would pay tribute and give thanks to the harvest that you have gotten during the summer.

Winter night, Samhain

Usually held at the transition from autumn to winter around October 31st and November 1st. This celebration also marks that you’re now halfway between the autumn equinox and winter solstice, and that winter is not at your doorstep.

Again, the celebration of Samhain is usually associated with Ásatrú groups what see Wicca as an important element of their faith. This is an old Celtic festival that marks the end of the fall season, and the beginning of winter.

Alfblót, Remembrance blót

Some celebrate this instead of Winter Night, others celebrate it later in November.

In shamanism, the elves are the spirits of the deceased, and therefore, here you would pay tribute to the fallen, those who have passed away, whether it be one’s family, one’s kin or friends. Here you pay tribute to them and reminisce about who they were and what they did.

Naturally, since we are dealing with something very personal and close to heart, like the Dísablót, these blóts are often held in closed circles, with not outside guests.

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