The Holy Tides – Haligmonath / Winter Finding / Winterfylleth / Winter Nights / Vetrnætr / Haustblót / Völsi blót, & Autumn Weddings [Expanded]

Autumn is upon us, my favorite time of the year.

Some practitioners of the Northern Tradition are celebrating Winter Nights (Vetrnætr, Haustblót ) around now, the time of the autumnal equinox so it is more in sync with mainstream pagan Mabon celebrations. Yet many more won’t be celebrating it until mid to late October, when it will be more in sync with the pagan celebration of Samhain. There are others who may not even celebrate it until November as that would be the approximate time when the harvest has concluded in their area.

The reason for the discrepancy is that as much as we sometimes treat the pre-Christian ancient German, Scandinavian and Anglo-Saxon cultures as being part of a somewhat synonymous culture, the fact remains that we have regional differences as it applied to both methods of time-keeping, as well as it applied to when agriculturally related festivals were held based on that geo-specific culture’s natural cycle.

This has led today to a number of celebrations and observances including: Haligmonath, Winter Finding, Winterfylleth, Winter Nights, Vetrnætr, Haustblót, Völsi blót, etc.

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Photo of a previous Winter Nights altar.

So then what are all these different observances, and what do they have to do with this time of year?

Continue reading “The Holy Tides – Haligmonath / Winter Finding / Winterfylleth / Winter Nights / Vetrnætr / Haustblót / Völsi blót, & Autumn Weddings [Expanded]”

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Northern Tradition Musings on Memorial Day [Redux]

For those of us who are so lucky, we have a lovely three-day weekend before us. Memorial Day is far more than an occasion to exercise your checkbook (or should I say debit card swipe) in pursuit of retail bargains. Rather it is a holiday rooted in American history that has shifted overtime in the American consciousness, and yet it is also a holiday that many in the Northern Tradition have taken to claim as their own.


Memorial Day is a U.S. national holiday. The official birthplace of Memorial Day is in Waterloo, New York, which since 1866 has annually observed the holiday of decorating the war dead in their nearby cemetery. The original holiday was known as Decoration Day, when local communities would visit their grave yards and decorate the graves of soldiers who had died in battle. It began first to honor Union Soldiers who had died in the course of the American Civil War. After the First World War the holiday was expanded to include the honoring of any military man or woman who died in battle. Today the holiday is also used to not only honor those who died in military combat, but also to pay respect to those who served in the military but either died later from injuries received in combat but were removed from the field of contention, or those who died after leaving the military service.

In the Northern Tradition, respect for the comitatus (war-band) and the warrior cultus is well documented. Even people unfamiliar with the vast histories and stories of our lore are usually familiar with the more popular aspects of this literature like the later occurring story of Beowulf. Let’s face it, this tale has been adapted to cinema numerous times, has become an aspect of popular culture in its modern adaptations. Many of us read it in school as part of our core curriculum as a classic and early example of English literature along the likes of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.

Beyond the reverence of the war band, we also know the importance of the ancestors to the Northern Tradition. We have evidence in surviving lore of religious rituals performed to honor the ancestors: the disir and the alfar*. One of these rituals was known as disablot. In ancient Sweden it was held near the Vernal Equinox, in other areas it was held at Winter Nights. So the timing of the celebration varied.

The respect that those of the Northern Tradition have for the military can be seen in the wide variety of programs out there supporting the military community: including the Open Halls Project (and it’s also on Facebook), free hammers via The Mjolnir Project (currently suspended due to a backlog), for years Heathens fought to have symbols of our faith approved by the Department of Veteran Affairs for use on soldiers tombstones, a journey which took years to come to fruition: this spanned from a rally July 4, 2007 on the national mall in Washington, D.C. to get both the pentacle and the hammer as approved symbols for military tombstones, and in 2013 the Thor’s Hammer symbol finally was finally approved.

Others of us have also personally donated to service men and women. I know of variouspagan and Northern Tradition authors who have donated books to various military circles. I have sent off care-packages of altar items to the Bagram Pagan Open Circle, and sent items off to the Wiccan group Circle Sanctuary’s Operation Circle Care. I always offer Free Sigdrifa’s Prayer Bookmarks to American pagan and polytheist veterans and current active duty soldiers.

If you ask most Americans to explain the difference between Memorial Day and Veterans Day, the sad and simple fact is that most can’t. The two days have slowly morphed over time into a seeming amalgam of sameness. Veterans Day is intended to specifically honor those veterans of military service who are still alive. This confusion can even be seen mirrored in the Asatru community.

The Asatru Alliance, has taken Veteran’s Day and recycled it as the Feast of the Einherjar, which like Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day is a solely modern invention–not that there’s anything necessarily wrong with this. Einherjar is a term used to specifically refer to the battle dead escorted by the Valkyries to Odin’s hall Valhalla. Now since I’m not a member of the AA, I don’t know what their motivation was in the choosing of this date for this invented festivity. Perhaps since May and June already had traditional rituals associated with those months (Walpurgis and Litha respectively), they were looking for something that seemed appropriate to a heathen religious viewpoint to place into the month of November.

Regardless of the AA’s motivations for associating this feast with Veteran’s Day, the simple fact remains that like the larger mainstream American culture, many in the smaller Asatru religion also confuse the true meaning of Memorial and Veteran’s Day.

Of course, just as words can shift meaning over time influenced by the culture that uses them, so to can holidays. Today while Memorial Day still honors the war dead, has slowly shifted in the American consciousness to become this vast amalgam Memorial Day/Veteran’s Day celebration, as well as a day like El dia de los muertos where families may also tend to other graves regardless of military service to the persons resting therein.

Some of the Northern Tradition take this more all-inclusive approach to this holiday. Others opt to honor the war dead at Veteran’s Day instead, and a few of us (like me) make it a point to honor the war dead at Memorial Day. In my case I specifically look to my own line and those who served there. My grandfather who was a chief petty officer in the Navy for the first great war, my Uncles who served in World War II or in Vietnam… to my great-grand father who served in the Confederacy and as my late grandmother told it “even after losing an arm to them, he never asked those ‘damn yankees’ for a thing!”

Regardless of when people opt to honor the war dead, I believe it’s important that sometime during the year you do take the opportunity to honor them. These can be both your ancestors, but also just dead soldiers known and unknown. ‘Texatru’ that rare breed of Asatru who happen to hail from Texas and LOVE being Texans can be just as patriotic about the Lone Star State as they are patriotically American; They have a tendency to give a shout out to Daniel Boone on the anniversary of the fall of the Alamo. Just as some Anglo-Saxon Heathens may honor the late Mercian king Penda.

Of course, it should go without saying that honoring the war dead is something you should do as part of a periodically regular routine of respecting your ancestors. Sure just as we had disablot to honor the mothers in ancient times (and today)… it’s certainly not a foreign concept that we at times of our own determination have ‘themed’ celebrations to pay homage to the different types of dead.

So somewhere between the 50% off sales, the picnics and bar-b-q, I’d suggest taking a page from our Presidents who tend to lay a wreath at the tomb of the unknown solider in Robert E. Lee’s former residence reinvented as Arlington National Cemetery. Take the time out to honor the war dead and those who have served the military in ways that enabled you to the type of life and freedoms we now enjoy. Don’t be shy in just honoring your war dead, but if you’re lucky to live near a veteran’s specific cemetery, or even a normal cemetery with a veteran’s section… why not pick up some flowers, and decorate each grave with a single bloom. And don’t feel that you HAVE to go to a cemetery to honor the war dead.

If you don’t live near the grave of your war dead, you can always put out pictures on your ancestral altar of them, or items that remind you of them. If you don’t have pictures, you can also write out their names and place them into a small basket or trinket box on the altar. You can set out offerings of items they enjoyed in life perhaps tobacco, cornbread, steak, etc. My uncle had proclivities for candy corn, popcorn, peanut butter, Diet Coke, and Mr. Goodbars. He always had a deck of cards lying around too. So when I’m honoring him it’s not uncommon for me to incorporate all or some of those items into the ancestral altar.

But to get your creative juices flowing, here is one of my prayers for Memorial Day:

If not for my ancestors,
if not for those soldiers who fought for my current government,
or those who fought to defend the multitude of cultures of all my ancestors… 
I would not exist.

I would not know the life that I know.

My life has been hallowed in their struggles to survive,
to make the world renewed,
invigorated,
Better than it was before.

To these men and women I owe a debt of gratitude,
and at this time,
and at this hour,
And for all time evermore I hail thee–
those who fought,
who persisted,
who endured,
who took up arms and when none were in grasp fought with bare hands–
your sacrifice is remembered,
your devotion honored.

You did not die in vain,
and the promise of your efforts still bears fruit.

May it follow like sweet reverb to future generations who will hear the call, and add their own harmonies to strengthen it.
So do I hail!

Honoring Our Mothers [Redux]

Sometimes the perception other pagans and polytheists have of the Northern Tradition is that we are focused on a patriarchal system due to the overwhelming popularity of Gods like Odin and Thor, but the truth is simply that all powers, or Regin, were respected and honored, including those mothering and protective spirits or wights known as the Disir.

When looking up the etymology and usage of the word wight, I discovered it was used not just to describe land wights, but also for ancestral spirits, and the Gods and Goddesses, and even the genius loci. So it was an umbrella term used to describe anything that was numinous, or not of this world and therefore not wholy human.

I think in the early foundations of the religious practices, there wasn’t a great deal of distinction made between the types, anything that was supernatural fit as they all held sacred roles we mortals should respect and there were regional variances and regional preferences for each geo-socio-politico community. Therefore it is my belief that overtime more of a tiered, hierarchical structure emerged in human civilization, and thus we begin to see more of a separation of ‘ranks and tiers’ between Gods, the ancestors, the land wights, etc.

In Guðrúnarkviða, the text calls the valkyries “Odin’s Disir”, and we also see in Reginsmal and Krakumal more connections to the valkyries. We see in another text, Atlamál, that they are specifically referred to as being dead women. 

In Hamðismál and Grimnismal the disir appear to be synonymous with the Norns. All throughout the lands of ancient Germania the archaelogical record is full of more than 1000 found votive stones and altars erected to the Matronae (The Mothers), and within that vast number we find groupings of stones in specific regions to specific deities, such as those honoring the Austriahenae. Suggesting, and to my mind proving, that there existed genius loci or a region specific variety too. But as the term Matronae/Mothers alone suggests, they also have associations with fertility as well.

As such, Goddesses, Norns, valkyries, genius loci, as well as female ancestors comprise the Disir, or Idis. While that can seem a bit overwhelming to wrap your mind around, at the end of the day the Disir embody the protective and beneficial female spirits that look after individuals, their families, and the tribe or community.

The Disir or mothers were so revered that they had their own celebrations within the Northern Tradition umbrella, with regional variance. The Anglo-Saxons had Modraniht (Mother’s Night) during December, the Swedes had Disting in February, yet texts like Víga-Glúms and
Hervavar show celebrations in the Autumn instead.

In modern times Northern Tradition polytheists will also use Mother’s Day as another opportunity to honor the Disir.

So on this Mother’s Day…

Let us honor our Mothers, who through joy and suffering endured so that their children, and their children’s children might not just survive, but thrive.

I call to our mothers, the light and the life bringers who have guided us from darkness onto the paths our ancestors have traveled, and now the paths we walk down.

All-mother Frigga I hail thee, and I thank thee. For the immeasurable blessings, your guidance and your wisdom. You see all things, even if I may not know them. May your counsel follow me into the year ahead and be the compass from which I navigate.

May the blessings of the Disir be upon you all.

The Snakes in the Grass – Saint Patrick, the Pagans, & the God Crom Cruach [Second Edition]

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I do not celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day, which is a day of holy obligation for Catholics in Ireland (as well as revered by a few other Christian denominations). Why would I, a heathen, celebrate a 5th Century Saint whose mission in life was to turn pagans from their Gods and ancestral ways? If he lived today he’d be trying to convert me away from the Gods of my life as well.

For those with Irish ancestry who take this day to celebrate their ancestry, that is all to the good. But remember there is a difference between a drunken revelry of green beer, and the celebration of a vast rich culture. There is a difference in remembering your ancestors and laying out offerings, telling their stories, and hailing their names versus urinating on the sidewalk because you’re behaving as a drunken fool.

While there are many stories about Saint Patrick, the tale of him driving out the snakes is the most wide known. Of course it’s also clearly historically impossible as snakes haven’t inhabited Ireland since the last Ice Age. Since the last one concluded more than 10,000 years before Patrick was even born it’s a bit ridiculous to think he drove out animals that weren’t even there. But not only did this story appear very late (centuries after his death), there’s also a belief in some corners that the story was allegorical, and the snakes were symbolical representations for the ancient pagans.

Continue reading “The Snakes in the Grass – Saint Patrick, the Pagans, & the God Crom Cruach [Second Edition]”

Mother’s Night: The Start of Yule

Of these three documented High Holy Tides, it is Yule that far and away seems the most sacred to modern practitioners in the Northern Tradition, if for no other reason than so many of the ‘Christmas’ traditions that have survived into the present day. While the association of Christ with this ancient pagan holiday came about in Roman times as connected to the festival of Saturnalia and the Mithraic cult, the spread of Christianity into Europe brought the pagan customs in the root cultures of the Northern Tradition (Germania, Scandinavia, and Anglo-Saxon England) into direct connection with the newly Christianized holiday export. While some aspects of other pagan solstice practices were common throughout, it is explicitly a number of Northern Tradition practices that we see surviving in our modern Christmas traditions, including: carols, feasting and drinking, gift-giving, Santa Claus (and other variants), evergreen decorations and the Yule log.

Since customs vary between the modern day countries where these ancient cultures once stood, there is some variance in these customs, and in how modern day Heathens choose to celebrate them. Some mirror their practices more precisely after a geo-specific historic culture, whereas others will look at the width and breadth of what we know of Northern Tradition customs.

 

If you’ve ever heard the Christmas Carol “The Twelve Days of Christmas” modern heathens opt to celebrate this as the Twelve Days of Yule, with the last day culminating on 12thNight. Since ancient calendars followed a different method of time, the solstice celebrations as well as later ‘Christmasy’ style observances can vary from place to place as to when they occur. Today, most pagans and heathens celebrate the yuletide as running from approximately December 20 – December 31 (but there are variations).

We do know that the celebration of Yule wasn’t always twelve days long. In the Norse text Heimskringla: The Saga of Hakon the Good talks about it once lasting for three days, or as long as the ale lasted. The night it began was known as the slaughter night, where animals would be ritually slain. Their meat later used to feed the community, as well as the Gods.  It was 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 pagan 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.

Today, the high holy tide is celebrated for twelve days. Whether this was because in some areas it was celebrated for that long originally, or was perhaps some odd creation that came from blending old pagan time-keeping methods and calendars with the modern ones together the end result is the same.

It is customary that NO work is done during the yuletide. From Germanic sources we see stories of the Goddess Berchta punishing those who had left work undone. In the Icelandic Svarfdæla saga, we see a warrior who postpones a fight until after the Yuletide. The  Saga of Hakon the Good also speaks that the Yule was to be kept holy. Some practitioners of the Northern Tradition will even opt to completely withdraw and go incommunicado from online mailing lists, bulletin boards, and social media outlets like facebook so they can stay focused on spending the yuletide with friends and family. While it’s not always an option for everyone, there are those who choose to use vacation time from work so they can have the entire yuletide off as well.

Mother’s Night
The modern yuletide usually begins for most Heathens with Mother’s Night. In Bede’s De Temporum Ratione he describes what he knows about an old Anglo-Saxon celebration that he states was called Módraniht, which marked the beginning of a new year and was celebrated at the time of Christmas. Apparently Mother’s Night was observed the entire evening through.  While little information exists to describe what Mother’s Night was, by looking at the Northern Tradition umbrella we see what appear to be similar rituals. While Yule marks the start of the year for the Anglo-Saxons, we see in Scandinavia that this distinction was at least for some geo-specific locations given to Winter Nights, which had a separate observed ritual to the Disir as part of their celebration. The disir can be understood to be the ancestral mothers, and other female spirits that oversee the family, clan, or tribe. When we reach back to ancient Germania, we also see a thriving cultus dedicated to the “matrons” or the Idis. Female deities are also sometimes included with the disir.

I personally theorize that Saint Lucia’s Day (celebrated primarily in Scandinavian countries) occurs on December 13th and features a female ‘light-bringer’ may be a Christianized remnant of an ancient disir-related ritual. The Christianized Saint Lucia Day, may have pagan origins related to the figure of Lussi. The practice of Lussevaka – to stay awake through Lussinatt to guard oneself and the household against evil, not only fits symbolically well with a solstice celebration of longest night, but also brings to mind the description of Mother’s Night being observed for the entire night as well.

Tonight we honor our Mothers, who through joy and suffering endured so that their children, and their children’s children might not just survive, but thrive.

I call to our mothers, the light and the life bringers who have guided us from darkness onto the paths our ancestors have traveled, and now the paths we walk down.

All-mother Frigga I hail thee, and I thank thee. For the immeasurable blessings, your guidance and your wisdom. You see all things, even if I may not know them. May your counsel follow me into the year ahead and be the compass from which I navigate.

May the blessings of the disir be upon you all.

For those curious about how to potentially have a rite around this night, or how the Yule log connects, keep reading.

Most folks have heard of bonfires as part of solstice celebrations, in the Northern Tradition we also have traditions concerning the yule log, as well as the ashen faggot which was a collection of bundled branches that were burned instead. We see in the Christian practice of Saint Lucy’s Day, what I feel is a pre-Christian practice of bringing light on the darkest and longest of nights.

Among English sources, we know that remnants of the previous years yule log, was used to help light the next year. By doing so we have a tradition that has the light (while now extinguished) ‘kept’ throughout the year. In part this becomes something like a folk amulet of good luck, but also a means to ‘restart the light’ on the coldest, darkest, and longest night of the year when it roles around again.

Based on this, here is how I like to celebrate Módraniht.

Extinguish all light (electrical, fire, candles, etc.). Set the yule log (in a hearth, or firepit, or bonfire) alight.

Have candles nearby, and everyone in attendance gets one. The host or gythia, then will light each candle from the yule log.

Collectively everyone can recite the prayer above, or the host/gythia can lead the prayer but prompt everyone (call and response style) into a ‘Hail the Mothers’. Then one by one each person can add their own words and what they may wish to say.

Some groups let the children decorate the Yule Log before it is set ablaze, using 100% natural fiber ribbons, construction paper cut outs, etc.

Then offerings are set afire on the yule log. I especially like to use fragrances like dried lavendar, clover, etc. Traditionally someone should sit vigil the whole night through, only extinguishing the fire when dawn breaks. Many groups will then cast runes come dawn to see what is in store for them in the next year.

If your rite is attended by others outside of those who live under the same roof with you, ask them to turn off all lights in their homes before they come to the rite you’re hosting.

In olden days, fire would be carried from the yule log to restart the hearth fires throughout the community. That’s not practical today (unless you’re in walking distance), so the candles lit by the yule log are extinguished, and each individual takes the candle home with them. When people return home, they can set the first fire in their home (be it a candle or at the hearth) from the candle lit by the yule log.

If you’re the host, save part of the Yule log to start the fire at next year’s Yule. 

King Radbod and the Importance of the Ancestors

This week on August 9th many Heathens who are members of the Asatru Alliance, or who opt to use their calendar, set aside time to celebrate the life and memory of the Frisian King Radbod (680-719 CE), who is a hero to many living Heathens and Pagans today.

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16th Century Embroidery depicting the story of King Radbod's near-baptism on display at the Museum Catharijneconvent in Utrecht.

Continue reading “King Radbod and the Importance of the Ancestors”

Northern Tradition Musings on Memorial Day

For those of us who are so lucky, we have a lovely three-day weekend before us. Memorial Day is far more than an occasion to exercise your checkbook (or should I say debit card swipe) in pursuit of retail bargains. Rather it is a holiday rooted in American history that has shifted overtime in the American consciousness, and yet it is also a holiday that many in the Northern Tradition have taken to claim as their own.

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Continue reading “Northern Tradition Musings on Memorial Day”

HONORING OUR MOTHERS

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Sometimes the perception other pagans and polytheists have of the Northern Tradition is that we are focused on a patriarchal system due to the overwhelming popularity of Gods like Odin and Thor, but the truth is simply that all powers, or Regin, were respected and honored, including those mothering and protective spirits or wights known as the Disir.

Continue reading “HONORING OUR MOTHERS”

Ostara’s Heathen Martyr – Olvir of Egg

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Trondheim's Countryside Today

One of the religious staples of the Northern Tradition, is the honor and reverence shown for not only our ancestors, but also for our heroes. All too often when reading some of the grand exploits, battles and wars found in the sagas we associate the word hero to that of being a warrior, but while there are indeed many great heroes who are warriors, sometimes heroes are simply those who stay true to their beliefs.

Continue reading “Ostara’s Heathen Martyr – Olvir of Egg”

The Holy Tides – Mother’s Night and the Yule Log

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Happy Modraniht!

Tonight we honor our Mothers, who through joy and suffering endured so that their children, and their children’s children might not just survive, but thrive.

I call to our mothers, the light and the life bringers who have guided us from darkness onto the paths our ancestors have traveled, and now the paths we walk down.

All-mother Frigga I hail thee, and I thank thee. For the immeasurable blessings, your guidance and your wisdom. You see all things, even if I may not know them. May your counsel follow me into the year ahead and be the compass from which I navigate.

May the blessings of the disir be upon you all.

For those curious about how to potentially have a rite around this night, or how the Yule log connects, keep reading.

Continue reading “The Holy Tides – Mother’s Night and the Yule Log”