Would ye know more?
Here’s an article I put together on it from last year:
Would ye know more?
Here’s an article I put together on it from last year:
The ancient followers and believers of the old Gods of Germany, Scandinavia and Anglo-Saxon England did not have a name that they called their religion because their religious identity was simply part of their cultural identity. It wasn’t until Christianity encroached on these ancient polytheistic cultures that the term Heathen (used by the 4th Century Christian Goth Ulfilas in his translation of the Bible) was first employed to distinguish between Christians and the ‘other’ in these areas. It is believed that Ulfilas was inspired to follow the example the Romans had created when they termed the word pagan. Ulfilas’ use of the term heathen in his translation of the Bible would trickle down the centuries until the word was used in various Viking Age sagas later. In the modern day the term has been picked up and claimed by tens of thousands (if not hundreds of thousands) across the globe today as a religious identifier.
You can’t and shouldn’t be able to trademark a religious term or identifying phrase. That belongs to those who use it. This trademark protection essentially throttles religious freedom, and threatens our Heathen artisans and small businesses, as they face legal and financial threats for using the word Heathen on goods, or in product descriptions.
Heathen is a religious term recognized by the United States Department of Defense in their “Faith and Belief Codes for Reporting Personnel Data of Service Members”. We have religious books under this identifier, such as: A Modern Guide to Heathenry, Hearth and Field: A Heathen Prayer Book, or Gods’ Own Country: A Heathen Prayer Book. Go to Goodreads and you can find a vast listing of religious books under the heading of Heathen. You can find a number of religious music with titles in it featuring the word Heathen, or find a large amount of religious music online under the heading of being a Heathen Songbook (like at the Odin’s Gift website, http://www.odins-gift.com/wichtig/heathensongbook.htm ). Go to Etsy and type the search term Heathen in and look at all the religious items that show up for our religious community: statues, devotional jewelry, ritual and altar goods. This is our religious expression, and the trademark infringes upon our religious freedoms.
I’ve signed the petition, and I encourage every Heathen, polytheist, and our allies to take a moment to sign it too, and when doing so remind and reinforce in your comments this is a religious term.
I recently signed a petition, and urge you to do the same. The issue: trademark protection of the word “Heathen”. I’ve seen how luxury brand Hermès has used their trademark to go after religious items for Hellenics and their God Hermes. We have a chance to try to save the Heathen term.
“Dave Lancaster owns a company called Heathen Productions which produces a t-shirt line known as Heathen Nation, who holds a Trademark on the word Heathen. His company has been serving vendors, crafters and merchants who even so much as use the word Heathen in their description box for their product with take down orders and threatening legal action if they do not comply. He is not a Heathen himself but he is affecting the livelihood of many Heathens just trying to support their families and or kindreds.”
You can sign the petition here: https://www.ipetitions.com/petition/heathens-vs-heathen-nation
This. 👇 So fucking much this.
Bring up prayer and inevitably someone is going to say, “our ancestors didn’t pray.” Well, first of all bullshit…
…People in our communities who refuse prayer, devotion, veneration, sacrifice, and basic piety are parasites. They want the blessings and good things the Gods and a religious community can give without the potential inconvenience of having to show basic respect.
It boggles my mind how many gatherings I’ve attended where more importance was placed on the mead, than the rite for the Gods. Or gatherings where the focus was given to “stuff” or “loot” than it was to the numinous regin.
It’s a huge problem when you have a group that’s been meeting and supposedly worshipping together for years and all they can say individually is “Hail <Deity>”, even the Godhi/Gythia could barely say more.
But religion shouldn’t be mere entertainment, social hour, or a commercial act. Just this week I learned that there’s a Viking Festival here in Texas, and they’ve decided that with purchased admission for their December 21 event you can also attend a blot. Blot is not for commercial entertainment. That is one of our most sacred rituals. Think about it, we don’t sell tickets to Weddings, or Funerals. Those we understand to be sacred occasions, and yet here we are with what should be the most sacred of events, being treated as some cheap carnival act and money making scheme to tack onto the concert that’s part of the offered event.
If you want to pretend to be a Viking, there’s the SCA. If you want to enjoy Viking Metal, there’s tons of concerts and festivals for you. But if you’re going to say you are a member of the religion, then there is PRAYER, there is VENERATION, there is SACRIFICE, there are OFFERINGS, and yes Virginia, there are GODS, many of them in fact. Let us not forget that the Gods exist beyond the confines of the “lore” too. They’re not powers confined to the pages of a text.
I’m thankful we’ve got devotional books out there (thanks to Galina Krasskova leading the way with her seminal work: Whisperings of Woden) that help people with examples they can use directly, or be inspired to create their own prayers. On my facebook feed earlier today, there was a post about a new book of Heathen prayer “The Gods’ Own Country” (published May 2019), and as a bonus it comes with new illustrations. I hadn’t heard of the book before, but I think I’ll be ordering it here after Yule. It makes me happy to know it even exists.
I’ve used my own prayers, and invocations to create (and hoard other creations) shareable images for social media to show as an example that yes, Heathens do pray. We do venerate. And more importantly we should be. I understand not everyone is comfortable being public with their devotions, and that is fine so long as my co-religionists are actually engaging with THEM.
Today when we hear people talk about the so-called war on Christmas, it is a battlecry of Christians who feel they have a monopoly on the winter holidays. A common refrain being Christ is the reason for the season. But in Early America, Christmas was outlawed as a criminal act, or was viewed as having no consequence at all by some of our founding forefathers–especially those of Puritan background.
To understand why this notice even existed, first a bit of a history lesson is necessary.
In colonial America, the Puritanical leaders (for this article I am including the Pilgrims in this group) felt that Christmas was indeed a ‘Pagan’ celebration (as explained by Puritan leadership including the minister Increase Mather of the Massachusetts Colony, such festivities were rooted in the practices of Saturnalia) and the observance of the holiday was heretical and had no part of building the Godly society they had fled Europe to create. In addition to the umbrage they took to those “Satanical” practices, the Puritans were also anti-Christmas because the Bible did not talk about celebrating the nativity, nor being clear on when it was, therefore the Puritans viewed it as not being a part of their religious observation. Their attitude created the original American ‘War on Christmas’, of course they preferred to call Christmas ‘Foolstide’, in part because only the ungodly fools would celebrate such ‘Satanical Practices’, and no doubt as a further scathing reference to the ‘Lord of Misrule’ seen in some Christmas traditions found in parts of Europe, including England.
The very first Christmas in Colonial America at the Plymouth Colony in 1620 went unobserved. In fact there’s an account from 1621 in the colony, that governor William Bradford yelled and chastised people he caught at merriment on Christmas Day. The Puritans in the Massachusetts Bay Colony went one step further and actually outlawed the celebration of Christmas beginning in 1659 and anyone caught celebrating it was monetarily penalized. Christmas Day was so insignificant to our founding forefathers that Congress was in session during Christmas, and on occasion they did actually meet for business: the earliest occurrences being first in 1797 when the House of Representatives met, and 1802 when the Senate also met on Christmas Day. It wasn’t until the 1850s that Congress began to have formal recesses for Christmas.
In Early America it was common to find in parts of the country that people were expected to work or attend school on Christmas Day, many churches didn’t hold any observance on the day at all. In some areas, particularly in parts of New England, Christmas celebrations continued to be criminalized until it became a National holiday in 1870.
I for one, am glad we’ve got our festivities now, and I like today’s growing climate of greater inclusiveness, there are dozens of special religious observances and festivities in this time frame. Tis the season to be merry and bright!
To understand the ‘pagan connections’ (or rather we should say origins) that the Puritans had such criticism about, only takes an exploration of human history and world religions.
In the earliest days of the Christian Church, Pagan Romans were the elite powerhouses of that ancient world, and most Christians numbered among the lowest of the social classes in the empire. So when the Roman Empire celebrated their festivals, the Christians in the Empire got a bit of a break as well.
Many Pagan cultures have had various forms of celebrations around this time of year. In Ancient Rome, the celebration of Saturnalia spread in popularity. Saturnalia was a time to eat, drink, and be merry while honoring the Roman God Saturn. Just as Christians might use Merry Christmas as the seasonal greeting, for those ancient Romans the common greeting during the festival was, io Saturnalia. The festival was characterized with a modest type of role reversal where slaves could get a little taste of what it might be like to be at the other end of the social ladder. The one-day festival spread into a multi-day affair lasting for about a week, roughly correlating to our December 17-23. While work was still being carried out, this was a festival that the slaves and servants really loved as they were able to have a break, and their masters got a bit of a glancing lesson about the work the servants did for them. In the revelry gambling occurred, and gifts were given. Most gives were specially made for the day and were called sigillaria, these were inexpensive gifts, or what we might think of as gag-gifts. We have records that children were given toys during such observances too. We see from Roman poet Marcus Valerius Martialis vast writings into Saturnalia and gift-giving, he even has some verses that appear to be meant to go with gifts, as like a modern precursor to the greeting card tradition we have today.
Overtime the celebration of Saturnalia appears to have expanded from one day to many, and we see develop a tradition of the Ruler of Saturnalia (Saturnalicius princeps), which is somewhat analogous to the Lords of Misrule we see develop in other areas around Europe. Tacitus records some details about the practice. We know he was chosen by lottery, those present had to obey, and their might be commands like “sing naked”.
In addition to Saturnalia there were other festivities as well in polytheistic Rome. Roman Emperor Aurelian declared the 25th of December as the birthdate (or nativity) of Sol Invictus, a sun deity very popular with soldiers. So popular that Christians like Augustine were still preaching against the cultic practices against Sol in the 6th Century. It should be noted that known records point this as a rather late development compared to the much older practice of Saturnalia. Sol seemingly appears at a banquet in shrines connected with the Mithraic Mysteries, and so some will also connect the date of December 25th to Mithras and his cultic practices as well. What I find fascinating about Mithraism is that it began in Persia, was transported by Alexander the Great’s Greek soldiers, and then was spread even wider by the Roman Empire itself. But how much changed between Persian practices and the cultic practices we see within Rome may be very different adding to the confusion. While we have a lot of records to Mithraism in the archaeological record, no known writings really describe with clarity the practices, so theories about Mithras related to any celebrations around the winter solstice is much debated in academia.
Favored by Roman Emperor Commodus (161-192 C.E.), Mithraism certainly had widespread influence. Of course, everything changed when Emperor Constantine converted in 313 C.E. and Christianity suddenly went from a marginalized religion of the minority to a mainstream religion. While the tide of destruction that Christianity brought to Pagan practices and temples was briefly halted during the reign of Emperor Julian (who tried to restore polytheistic practices and issued an edict for religious freedom), after his death the machine of destruction continued.
Yet despite early Christianity’s attempts to wipe out the Pagan celebration, the people enjoyed it too much and kept practicing it. While some early Christian leaders (such as Gregory of Nazainzus) fought against the combining of the Pagan practice with Christianity, eventually the church decided that instead of fighting it, it would be smarter to assume power over the festival and slowly Christianize it, leading to the Papal Decree by Pope Julius I in 350 AD formalizing December 25th as the date for Christ’s birth. It should be noted that the various Christian denominations do not have a consensus about the time of Christ’s birth. While some do believe it was at least in the Winter, other groups do not. For instance, the American Presbyterian Church puts Christ’s birthday sometime in the autumn.
An unnamed 5th century Syrian writer had this to say about the change:
It was the custom of the heathen to celebrate on the same 25th of December the birthday of the Sun, at which [time] they kindled lights in token of festivity. In these solemnities and festivities the Christians also took part. Accordingly when the doctors of the Church perceived that the Christians had a leaning to this festival, they took counsel and resolved that the true nativity [of Christ] should be solemnized on that day.
Emperor Justinian in 529 AD made it a civic holiday, and then in 567 AD the Council of Tours officially proclaimed Advent a period of fasting for the 12 days from Christmas to the Epiphany, (thus why it’s 12 Days of Christmas, of course many Pagan observances were multi day too). Through the years various Popes instructed various Church leaders to further the rebranding of Paganism into Christian significance, such as when Pope Gregory I sent instructions for Augustine, the First Archbishop of Canterbury (England). While the original letter is lost, the letter was preserved in quotation by Bede:
To his most beloved son, the Abbot Mellitus; Gregory, the servant of the servants of God. We have been much concerned, since the departure of our congregation that is with you, because we have received no account of the success of your journey. When, therefore, Almighty God shall bring you to the most reverend Bishop Augustine, our brother, tell him what I have, upon mature deliberation on the affair of the English, determined upon, viz., that the temples of the idols in that nation ought not to be destroyed; but let the idols that are in them be destroyed; let holy water be made and sprinkled in the said temples, let altars be erected, and relics placed.
For if those temples are well built, it is requisite that they be converted from the worship of devils to the service of the true God; that the nation, seeing that their temples are not destroyed, may remove error from their hearts, and knowing and adoring the true God, may the more familiarly resort to the places to which they have been accustomed. And because they have been used to slaughter many oxen in the sacrifices to devils, some solemnity must be exchanged for them on this account, as that on the day of the dedication, or the nativities of the holy martyrs, whose relics are there deposited, they may build themselves huts of the boughs of trees, about those churches which have been turned to that use from temples, and celebrate the solemnity with religious feasting, and no more offer beasts to the Devil, but kill cattle to the praise of God in their eating, and return thanks to the Giver of all things for their sustenance; to the end that, whilst some gratifications are outwardly permitted them, they may the more easily consent to the inward consolations of the grace of God.
For there is no doubt that it is impossible to efface everything at once from their obdurate minds; because he who endeavours to ascend to the highest place, rises by degrees or steps, and not by leaps. Thus the Lord made Himself known to the people of Israel in Egypt; and yet He allowed them the use of the sacrifices which they were wont to offer to the Devil, in his own worship; so as to command them in his sacrifice to kill beasts, to the end that, changing their hearts, they might lay aside one part of the sacrifice, whilst they retained another; that whilst they offered the same beasts which they were wont to offer, they should offer them to God, and not to idols; and thus they would no longer be the same sacrifices. This it behooves your affection to communicate to our aforesaid brother, that he, being there present, may consider how he is to order all things. God preserve you in safety, most beloved son.
There is ample evidence through the centuries of this institutionalized conspiracy to slowly Christianize the old Pagan ways. With Christianity coming into existence within the confines of the Roman Empire, it’s been only natural that we’ve looked at the interaction between Christianity and Roman polytheism. But as Christianity spread, that also meant it spread into other areas of Europe, such as Northern Europe where entirely different Gods held sway with the populace. We see again that as Christianity comes into contact with those new polytheistic religions it begins to start to force a merging of traditions. King Hakon of Norway, who as a Christian passed a law that the Christian Christmas Day (which was already a weird bastardization of the Christian story of the Nativity and Saturnalia/Mithraic customs) AND the Northern Tradition polytheistic yuletide celebrations were to henceforth be celebrated at the same time. While this only specifically impacted Norway (and its territories), it illustrates an intentional combining of the holy-days into one celebration.
In this case the above church edict from Pope Gregory I is ironically against the dictates found in Biblical passages. Christians should be familiar with prohibitions against Pagan practices. The Bible states:
Hear what the LORD says to you, people of Israel. This is what the LORD says: Do not learn the ways of the nations or be terrified by signs in the heavens, though the nations are terrified by them. For the practices of the peoples are worthless; they cut a tree out of the forest, and a craftsman shapes it with his chisel. They adorn it with silver and gold; they fasten it with hammer and nails so it will not totter. Like a scarecrow in a cucumber field, their idols cannot speak; they must be carried because they cannot walk. Do not fear them; they can do no harm nor can they do any good” (Jer 10:1-5).
One of the biggest hallmarks of Christmas celebrations today is that of Santa Claus, caroling (or wassailing), and the decoration of homes and businesses with evergreens and trees, which specifically come to us from polytheistic cultures found throughout Northern Europe. And I expand upon that in this other article: Yuletide Origins and Traditions – The Santa Claus Mythos.
Eventually, the church did try to crack down on these Christianized Pagan elements. During medieval times they banned gift-giving because of its Pagan origins. But Pope Paul II revived some of the most depraved customs of the ancient Pagan festival and spun them with a Christian anti-semitic tradition. Those traditions were now used to target the Jews who were forced to run naked for Christian entertainment, and to the laughter of the pope. By the time we reach the 18th and 19th centuries, the Roman Catholic Church forced rabbis to wear clownish outfits while they were force-marched as the Catholic crowd pelted them. In 1881, Polish church authorities riled up the masses to anti-semitic riots across the country leading to the racist murders of Jews, as well as other physical and sexual assaults against others. The riots were so severe that property losses in the millions were suffered, but worst of all lives were lost too.
Puritans in particular took great umbrage with the pagan origins of Christmas, and actively begin to revolt against it. Both in England and later in the American colonies they continued to fight against it.
So Puritan Christians for nearly the first hundred years of “American” history combated Christmas. So here’s some food for thought: To those early Puritan leaders, the sheer fact offended Christians are wasting time on rhetoric on the ‘War on Christmas’ today would mean that those modern practitioners are to their way of thinking, ungodly.
Most of the Christmas traditions that exist — gift-giving, the hanging of the evergreens, “Christmas” trees, gift-giving, feasting, Santa, caroling/wassailing — all originated from a variety of polytheistic practices. While I can understand that to some Christians this is a holy time of reflection as they celebrate their Christ, let us remember we were here first. And Christ is not the reason for the season. He’s just a latecomer to the party.
There are numerous religious observances during the ‘holiday’ season: Channukah, Mawlid el-Nabi, Rohatsu, Zarathosht Diso, Kwanzaa, Pancha Ganapati, Solstice, etc. In fact stating ‘Solstice’ is really misleading as it is one umbrella term encompassing dozens upon dozens if not hundreds of unique celebrations worldwide such as the celebrations from various Native American tribes, Aboriginal peoples, as well as Pagan and Polytheistic observances (both the unbroken traditions and the modern reconstructed ones).
So to the Christians, who do claim that Christ is the reason for the season, I’m not saying you can’t enjoy this time of year for your own religious reasons. Please enjoy your holiday season. But would you do the rest of us the courtesy and please consider the history and context before you get upset the next time when someone doesn’t wish you a Merry Christmas. If you as a Christian want to wish Merry Christmas, that’s fine, but don’t be surprised when I wish you a Joyful Yule back, or someone else wishes you a Merry Solstice, Happy Chanukah, the politically correct Season’s Greetings, its alternative Happy Holidays, or some other cheery salutation for some other happy festival. But to expect by default you will always be greeted at retail with a Merry Christmas is hubris.
Galina Krasskova’s original introductory foray, Exploring the Northern Tradition became a seminal work of its kind. This new tome, A Modern Guide to Heathenry takes what was in Exploring and robustly adds to it by more than 70,000 words. Instead of just tacking on new chapters, the author has gone through and added nearly double the content weaving it into the existing framework and more fully fleshing out things not tackled the first time around. The book benefits from 15 years of personal devotion, study and growth by the author who is not just a practitioner, but also an ordained theologian, and an academic. We the readers reap the benefit of expanded nuance and deepening insights. The end result is not only accessible, but will continue to provide food for thought through re-readings for years to come. Highly recommended.
At long last A Modern Guide to Heathenry: Lore, Celebrations & Mysteries of the Northern Tradition officially releases today from my publisher Red Wheel / Weiser Books in the US & Canada (sorry UK readers, you’ll have to wait until January). The book takes what I created in Exploring the Northern Tradition: A Guide to […]
I know I got my copy!
Sigdrifa’s Prayer is a rare remnant in our lore, as it’s the only non-Christianized, complete prayer that we have from the historical sources. In it’s short simplicity, the prayer found in the Sigdrifumal is a microcosm of the vast macrocosm of Northern Tradition cosmology. It holds a very special place in my heart.
HAIL TO THE DAY
HAIL HIS SONS
HAIL NIGHT AND HER DAUGHTER!
GAZE ON US
WITH LOVING EYES
AND BRING US VICTORY.
HAIL TO THE GODS
AND THE GODDESSES
HAIL, THE GENEROUS EARTH!
GRANT US WISDOM
AND ELOQUENT SPEECH
AND HEALING ALL OUR LIVES.
What many do not realize is that Day (or rather in the Old Norse Dagr) is a personification of the Day, and is the son of Nott, i.e. Night. And that they are separate and distinct from Sunna and Mani (the Goddess of the Sun, and the God of the Moon).
These few lines… is enough fodder for a short book – Sigdrifa’s Prayer: An Explanation & Exegesis, by fellow blogger Galina Krasskova. Whether you are of the Northern Tradition, or just practice some other form of paganism the book is definitely recommended.
I have created bookmarks featuring this prayer, and would now like to make them available for free (yes, I’ll cover shipping costs as well) to any veteran or currently serving pagan or polytheist in the U.S. military, while supplies last. I’m deeply honored to have been able to offer this for 9 years now, having sent bookmarks to our active duty and veteran pagan and polytheistic US military community, both for individuals and groups. This is my way of giving a token of my appreciation in honor of the service by these men and women.
The bookmarks themselves are 2 x 6 inches, with a UV glossy coat, featuring a double-sided full color design printed on nice cardstock. One side has the prayer in the original Old Norse, the other side has a modern translation of it.
Contact me via email (wyrddesigns at gmail dot com) or through private message on facebook (Wyrd Dottir). For privacy concerns, please do NOT make your requests (featuring your name and address) in the comments of this post. When you do contact me please be sure to:
I’m going to assume that I just need to send 1 of the bookmarks along. If you are requesting on behalf of a group, please indicate that clearly in your message to me and the number you’d like to request.
Bookmarks are also available for purchase.
After years of receiving requests to do so, I’ve decided to let these bookmarks be available for purchase by those who otherwise would not be eligible to receive it. WyrdCuriosities will be selling these on my behalf. Proceeds will help me continue to offer these for free to pagan and polytheistic veterans or active duty members of the U.S. military.
CLICK HERE TO BUY NOW: http://etsy.me/2E74TU3
If you’d like to sponsor a large print run for special gatherings or events, please reach out to me directly.
When it comes to religious, pagan celebrations most people are familiar with the eight holy days or sabbats that comprise the Wheel of the Year, such as Lugnasadh. In the Northern Tradition, we do not call these celebrations sabbats. Instead, based on words (like the Old Norse hátíðir) used to describe the most holy of these celebrations (like Yule) as high tides, we tend to call the various religious celebrations we recognize today as holy tides (since not all of the holy tides are considered high tides).
Since we practitioners of the Northern Tradition are dealing with a general umbrella culture that existed in vast plurality we look to ancient Germanic, Scandinavian (Norse, Icelandic, Swedish, Danish, etc.) and Anglo-Saxon sources. It is important to understand that these ancient cultures reckoned time in different ways in comparison to one another or to the modern world. They existed in different latitudes, lived amongst different types of geography with unique climate conditions that affected the local agricultural cycle. This means that sometimes the timing between when one group would celebrate and another would celebrate a similar type of holy tide could be several weeks apart.
Sometimes we can see an obvious and clear link between these cousin cultures to a specific holy tide like Yule, in other cases things are a bit less clear, or the celebrations of the different groups can sometimes seem vastly different even when they have a similar root. Case in point: the Northern Tradition holy tides in August known as Hlæfmæsse, or Freyfaxi.
Hlæfmæsse translates in our modern English tongue to Loaf-Mass, and is sometimes also called Lammas. Since mass denotes a Christian ritual, some have theorized that the pre-Christian name for this holy tide may have been Hlæfmæst (feast of loaves), and for this reason some Heathens will use this name instead.
We have numerous instances in Anglo-Saxon literature (like the poem Mologium) that talk about this particular Christianized celebration and some of the traditions attached to it. There’s some folk traditions in areas under the Northern Tradition umbrella that point to the cakes being split into various parts, to be spread across the fields/gardens/land, or a barn as a blessing instead. One of the hallmark traditions of this celebration was that after the reaping of the first grain crop of the year, the grain was taken and baked into loaves or cakes which were given to the Church in offering. In the Anglo Saxon Chronicle, the Christianized version of this observance was described as being the Feast of First Fruits, where locals brought their harvested food to their local church to be blessed, and it later evolved in some Christian traditions into the feasts of the: Transfiguration of Christ, Saint Peter in Chains, etc.
It’s quite easy to see that this sort of practice speaks strongly to a Heathen past where at major points in the agricultural cycle, such as the reaping of a harvest, offerings were made to the Gods and Goddesses.
In terms of the agricultural cycle, because this was the time when the grain was cropped many modern day Heathens see connections symbolically with Sif and the cutting of Her hair. While this may be the first grain harvest of the year, there are more harvests to come. As such Thor is honored as well that He continues to bring rain, but not too much because either drought or flood is bad for the crop. Although while Thor appears in Anglo-Saxon sources (as Thunor) we have no definitive proof of Sif in those sources (though there is a theory she may be represented in Beowulf); of course Thor and Sif do appear among the Norse sources.
Unlike Hlaefmasse, Freyfaxi is a holy tide that is a bit trickier to pin down. Mainly because the name Freyfaxi appears to be a modern attachment to an ancient holy tide whose name has not survived into the present. So then where did the name come from, why was it probably attached to this festival? And what exactly is the holy tide of Freyfaxi?
An examination of the lore (Hrafnkel’s Saga and Vatnsdæla Saga) reveals that Freyfaxi was a name used to describe two different horses, both owned by people strongly dedicated to Freyr. The name of the horse reveals much, first the inclusion of the name Frey references that horse’s special connection to the God, and faxi meaning eye-catching mane was a common name used for horses. We also know that in Norway, Freyr’s holy sanctuary Thrandheim held sacred horses dedicated to the God. But if we look back to even older sources, we’ll see not only similarities but we’ll begin to unravel what horses may have to do with this festival.
In the Germanic tradition, and seen also among the Scandinavian sources horses were incredibly sacred. Tacitus’ Germania describes them as being milk-white–and similar to the sanctuary we see centuries later at Thrandheim–the equines were housed in sacred groves where they were never used for the purposes of riding or working the land. Horses in Germania were described as being more sacredly close to the Gods then even their priests; somehow these horses were in the Gods’ confidence. For this reason horses were used to divine the will of the Gods. They were yoked to a special sort of chariot and their behavior observed. In the neighboring Slav culture we also see horses used in divination as well (but via a different method). We have even older evidence of an active cultic presence connected with horses in even the Bronze Age.
Near Gallehus, Denmark there was an archaeological discovery of ornately decorated drinking horns. These drinking horns depicted all manner of activities: riding, dancing, shooting, acrobatics, ball-playing, warriors and the like. Of particular interest to us, two horses are depicted on the decorated drinking horns: one horse slain next to a woman bearing a horn. While it’s difficult to precisely interpret the story being told in these depictions it is entirely possible that it was describing the type of activities that occurred in conjunction to an ancient holy tide, and that the slain horse was part of a religious ritual and sacrifice. We certainly know from a number of sources that horses were sacrificed.
The Haggeby Stone from Uppland, Sweden depicts two horses fighting. References to horse fights can be found in other historical sources, and these horse duels, which appear to have been connected with a holy tide celebration. Horse fights were in antiquity quite common around this time of year held at various local festivals held in Iceland. These duels may have had a religious meaning, in a way potentially similar to pitz – the ancient mayan soccer-like ball game where the loser became the sacrifice. The battle could also represent mythological, religiously significant stories and forces, or perhaps could be used in divination determining how the harvest would fair or how harsh or long the coming winter would be. When we examine the evidence from other stones of this period that show dueling horses in the context of a wheel like symbol with arms… while it is hardly conclusive it is suggestive of religious-significance in terms of a holy-tide celebration and how that in turns connects with the agricultural cycle. For these reasons, modern believers have decided to connect the name of the sacred horses Freyfaxi, to the ritual duels and festivals we see in Iceland at this time.
If we skip back to the Anglo-Saxon side of the pond, Adam of Bremen tells us the month of August was known as Weodmonað, or month of weeds. Weeds in this case are not simply the unwanted items in one’s garden, but appear to encompass other types of plants as well: such as tares and vetches. Vetches were a crop definitely used in Roman-Britain, and harvested throughout the island nation. While most vetches aren’t particularly helpful directly to humans, some can be processed as a grain humans can eat, others can manifest as an edible legume. But most would have provided great fodder to feed the livestock called on especially to work at this time of year, including horses. Since this is only the beginning of the harvest season, and there are many more crops not yet mature that will be reaped later, keeping your livestock in good fodder was also important for the harvesting to come.
Adam of Bremen talks of the temple of Uppsala and Freyr in his role, describing him as the god of plenty and peace who was invoked at marriages. His idol was depicted with a rather large phallus as is to be expected for a fertility deity. I find it interesting to note that in the Völsa þáttr we have a mention in the lore to the use of a horse phallus as a symbol of worship to a God. While Freyr is not mentioned in the saga, it does provide yet more evidence of cultic horse worship, but could potentially also be a symbolic representation of fertility and therefore Freyr as well. The scale of his phallus as depicted in archaeological sources could easily be used to describe the God as being ‘hung like a horse’.
As a fertility deity Freyr would be intimately tied to the land and the food grown upon it. It is for this reason why Freyr is also a very popular God to hail at this time of year for modern practitioners. Many will also reach out to include other Deities connected with the earth like Nerthus or Eorde (Gerd). Some may choose to include the blacksmith God Wayland (or Volundr) in their observance of the holy-tide.
Blacksmiths represented the luck, fortune, and self-reliance of a people. The weapons the blacksmith made defended the home, allowed for cooking or use in domestic chores, and created the tools used to work the land. Having a blacksmith in your community meant not only wealth, but that your community was not vulnerable to being easy prey for others to either literally come in to steal your fortune, or who figuratively would steal your fortune in charging outrageous sums/barters for what you needed.
Both Hlaefmasse and Freyfaxi therefore are indeed (to my mind) holy tides connected to the start of the harvest. I would probably describe them as spiritual cousins, essentially they both represent the same basic holy tide but with very specific regional variations. Since we’ve got a little variety here, you will see that also reflected in the actual practices and observances of this holy tide among modern-day Heathens. Some will strictly observe Hlaefmasse, others Freyfaxi, and others will merge the two into one massive celebration though they’ll still use one of the names to describe it. Some will celebrate this holy tide at the beginning of August, others will be celebrating it at a different time. As I mentioned previously, because of calendar and regional differences in the agricultural cycle the timing of things isn’t 100% in sync across the board. Try not to let that confuse you.
Regardless of which approach an individual or group might take, in the end this holy tide is all about giving thanks for the first of the harvest, and the asking for continued blessings for the crops yet harvested. As such it is appropriate to share seasonally appropriate food in offering to the Gods, ancestors and land vaettir. Many will opt to bake homemade breads, or beverages infused or flavored with seasonal fruit in offering. Thor, Sif, Freyr, and Freya are popularly honored at this time.
Our only surviving reference to the Goddess Sinthgunt comes from the Old High German Merseburg Incantation (also known as the “Horse Cure Charm”), which dates to around the 9th or 10th Century.
In the source, She is described as being a sister to the Goddess Sunna, who is the personification of the Sun. Within the context of the story, Baldr’s horse has been injured, and so the Gods and Goddesses present (Odin, Frig, Fulla, Sunna, & Sinthgunt) render healing aid to the horse. Literally the story tells us only 2 things about her:
The only other thing we know about Her, is Her name. And so explorations into the etymology of Her name have been explored by scholars. Using the spelling of Sinthgunt, one scholar finds the etymology renders as “the night-walking one” and thus She may be meant to be the Moon. However, we know that elsewhere in Northern Tradition cosmology, the Moon is a masculine force embodied by the God Mani. However, by switching two letters in the spelling of Her name, so that it now reads as Sinhtgunt, the proposed etymology renders now as “heavenly body, star”. Interestingly enough in the original source manuscript for this charm, Her name is spelled in this later way. However, when it comes to the spellings of names, I always recommend caution. Spelling conventions at the time when this text was penned, was not yet formalized. In texts throughout Europe, spelling could vary widely for the same word within even the same body of text.
In the Poetic Edda, specifically within the Volupsa it states:
Sól það né vissi
hvar hún sali átti,
stjörnur það né vissu
hvar þær staði áttu,
máni það né vissi
hvað hann megins átti.
[The sun knew not
where she had her hall,
the stars knew not where they had a stead,
the moon knew not
what power he possessed.
Here we see Sol/Sunna, Mani, and the “Stars” being written about by means of personification, and therefore most likely deification as well. This to me, strengthens the concept of this being a trio of siblings. Cosmologically, Sunna and Mani’s father, and most likely Sinthgunt’s as well, is Mundilfari, the time turner. His name, literally is how we count time, and it makes sense that his children would be the references we use to count time. Today we still mark time by the progress of the sun, the moon, and the stars. Although due to light pollution, most of us don’t notice the stars as much as we once did.
Personally, I believe Her to be sister to both Sunna and Mani, and that She is personified by the Stars, perhaps specifically Polaris, as that star is always visible in the Northern Hemisphere. However, very little information has survived about the pre-Christian beliefs and names tied to the Stars from Northern Tradition cultures. Most of what has survived, is unclear as to what specific star or stars it may reference.
Still, while we have but a mere reference to Her, that doesn’t prevent us from trying to learn more. She is a Goddess whom I worship, I venerate Her, and I give offerings to Her.