The ancient Norse knew four major holidays the Spring and Autumn Equinoxes which we call Summer and Winter Finding, and the two solstices which we call Midsummer and Yule. However, there were many other minor festivals and modern Asatru have added even more. A calendar of Raven Kindred rituals is provided in an appendix and I also encourage anyone to find as many as one is willing to meet for. We meet monthly, but some groups meet 8 times a year and also celebrate the cross-quarter days of May Day/Walpurgis, Halloween/Samhain, February eve or The Charming of the Plow, and Lammastide or Freyfaxi,
Most of our rituals also honor only one or a few Gods or Goddesses at any one time. However, there is no reason why the entire pantheon should not be offered prayers and thanks at any occasion. This would be particularly appropriate at the major holidays. Unlike most other groups in the Neo-Pagan movement, we do not necessarily honor Gods in male/female pairs. The boy/girl notion is one taken from the Pagan fertility religion of Wicca and isn't necessarily appropriate to our Gods, who often represent things other than fertility. So while a Spring ritual held in honor of Freya and Frey as fertility deities might wish to honor them together, there is no reason to include Frigg in a ritual dedicated to Odin as the God of War.
Yule is the most important holiday of the year. Everyone is familiar with the shortness of the deep winter days, but in the Scandinavian countries this is of even greater importance. At the Yuletide there is almost no sunlight at all, and the climate would have people bound in their homes waiting for the return of Spring.
Yule is a long festival, traditionally held to be 12 days or more. After Yule the days began to get longer and the festival represented the breaking of the heart of winter and the beginning of the new year. Yule was the holiday of either Thor or Frey, although there is no reason not to honor both Gods in modern practice.
Frey is the God of fertility and farming and was honored at Yule in the hopes that his time would soon return. Frey is also an important God at this time as shown in the myth "The Wooing of Gerd." Gerd is Frey's wife, and she was once a frost giant. Frey had seen her while he was seated on Odin's High Seat, and was utterly taken by her, but she would not yield until Skirnir, Frey's messenger or perhaps Frey in disguise, threatened her with an eternity of cold. In this way, Frey brings back the summer times by wooing a daughter of cold and frost. His love for her brings warmth to her heart and to the land.
Thor's position at Yule is a bit more savage. He is the sworn enemy of the Frost Giants and Jotnar who rule the winter months, and as such is honored as the God who's actions fight off these creatures and bring back the spring.
Our kindred also honors Sunna, the Sun Goddess, at Yule. However, we feel she is more important at Midsummer, when she is at her height.
The most important symbols of Yule are still with us today. Most of the supposedly secular customs of Christmas are actually Pagan in origin. Evergreen trees and holly which remained green throughout the long nights and cold were a promise that spring would once again return to the land. These symbols may also have been a connection to the nature spirits who have sway over the return of the warm days. The modern conception of Santa Claus as an elf, for whom offerings of milk and cookies are left, is possibly a modern continuation of leaving offerings for the Alvar and other nature spirits. The idea of children staying up all night in the hopes of catching a glimpse of Santa Claus may be a remnant of people staying awake to mark the long night and remind the sun to return. (In the latter case it's considered an adequate substitution to leave a candle going all night to light the way for the returning sun.)
Yule is a weeks long festival, not just a single holiday. The Yule season begins on the solstice, which is the Mother Night of Yule, and ends with Twelfth Night/New Years. As a point of interest, January seventh is St. Distaff's day, which Nigel Pennic has suggested may have been a day sacred to Frigg, whose symbol is the distaff.
While one might expect a rather dour theme to a holiday held in the darkness and cold, Yule is a time of feasting and gladness.
The most important custom at Yule for modern Pagans is the swearing of Yule oaths. Our kindred does this at Twelfth Night (aka New Years Eve). We hold a sumbel and we keep the Yule wreath handy for anyone who wishes to swear an oath for the coming year.
There are simply so many different Yule customs, both ancient and modern, that one has almost limitless possibilities even when staying within Scandanavian and Germanic customs. In modern practice one might honor Sunna on the Mother Night, then hold a blot a few days later to Thor, a feast for New Years day which is shared with the house and land spirits, and then finish on Twelfth Night with a ritual to Frey, whose time is then officially beginning.
Summer Finding is also known to many groups as Ostara, the holiday sacred to the Goddess for whom the modern Easter is named. She is a fertility Goddess and her symbols are the hare and the egg. She was an important Goddess of spring to the ancient Saxons, but we know little else of her other than this. Some have suggested that Ostara is merely an alternate name for Frigg or Freya, but neither of these Goddesses seem to have quite the same fertility function as Ostara does. Frigg seems too "high class" to be associated with such an earthy festival and Freya's form of fertility is more based on eroticism than reproduction.
The obvious folk tradition at this time of year involves eggs. These were colored as they are today, but then they were buried, or more appropriately, planted in the earth. Some have suggested that the act was purely magical, the fertility of the eggs would then be transferred from the animal realm to the plant realm and would increase the prosperity of the harvest. It's also possible that they were left as an offering to the alvar and the spirits of the plants.
In any case a blot should be prepared to the Goddess of Spring, however one wishes to honor her, and also to the spirits of the land.
The summer solstice was second only to Yule in importance to the ancient Northmen. Some groups mark this day as sacred to Balder, but we disagree with this. While Balder can be seen as a dying and resurrected Sun God, in the mythology we are most familiar with, he does not return to life until Ragnarok and it seems like "bad karma" to symbolically kill the sun when you know Baldr doesn't come back until the end of the world. Instead, we mark this day as sacred to the Goddess Sunna, who is literally the sun.
One idea for midsummer is to remain awake all night and mark the shortest night of the year, then at sunrise to perform a "Greeting of Sunna" and a blot to her.
Another midsummer custom is the rolling of a flaming wagon wheel down a hill to mark the turning of the wheel of the year. If fire would otherwise be a hazard, one could parade a wheel covered with candles for similar effect. It is also a time for general merriment and in the Scandinavian countries many of what we know as the traditional May Day rituals such as May Poles and Morris Dances were celebrated at Midsummer rather than in May.
In our area Midsummer occurs during a large local Pagan festival, and we have gone all out in making it a major holiday with blot, sumbel, feasting and drinking. We are currently in the process of constructing a "sun ship" which, with sails of copper reflecting the light from small torches, represents Sunna will be brought forth at dawning and dusk.
I have not come across a great deal of distinctive traditional lore about the Autumn Equinox that would distinguish it from the Harvest festivals found worldwide. It seems to have been overshadowed to some extent by the Winter Nights which we celebrate at the equinox rather than at the more traditional time of mid-November.
Winter Finding should be treated as a general harvest festival. Whichever Gods you invoke for fertility of the land would be most appropriate to invoke again at this time. We have honored Frey & Freya and Nerthus & Njord for this purpose. You can take your pick. Even more so than other holidays, a large feast is appropriate at this time, perhaps concentrating on local vegetables and grains more than meat.
The Winter Nights are the traditional festival honoring the Disir or family spirits. It is a time to remember your family, the dead, and your ancestors. (For more information on the Disir see the chapter "Elves and other Spirits.")
A Freyablot may be performed at this time as Freya is known as the Vanadis (i.e. the Dis of the Vanir) or the Great Dis, and she seems to be the Goddess of the Disir themselves. This is probably connected to Freya's position as recipient of half the battle-slain or her ability with seidhr. One might also simply want to honor the Disir as a whole, or attempt to summon and pour offering to your own family's Dis. A sumbel which toasts ones ancestors and passed on friends would also be in order. If a feast is held, it should be quiet and respectful of the character of the season. Another idea is a silent "mum feast," a custom which is found the world over.
The various Halloween customs such as dressing in costume or celebrating this time as a time where the worlds of the living and the dead connect are more Celtic in origin than Nordic and probably should not be part of an Asatru celebration.
The other major holiday celebrated by virtually every Asatru group around the world is Einjerhar, or the feast of the fallen. This is held on November 11, Armistice or Veterans Day, and honors those who have fallen in battle and joined Odin's warriors in Valhalla. We generally hold a quiet ritual and honor our ancestors and relatives who have died in war or served. We also honor those who have given their lives for our country. Our kindred is making a practice of leaving an offering at the Viet Nam Veterans Memorial ("The Wall") of a small decorated drinking horn. The Ring of Troth's Our Troth lists American Memorial Day as Einjerhar, but they are virtually singular in using that date.
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