Seasonal Holidays and Blóts

Yule altarSeasonal holidays differ from sect to sect among those who follow any form of Northern religion. In Scandinavia and Iceland, holidays tend to focus on Yule, Winternights, Thor’s day in the spring – the few remaining traditional holidays of the Nordic peoples that we still know about. In ancient Scandinavia, farmers were busy with crops during the warm months and stuck inside during the colder weather, which is why there are fewer warm-weather holidays during that time.

In England, where Anglo-Saxon Heathenry is more popular (for obvious reasons), holidays might follow the traditional Saxon calendar, with one particular holiday for each month. Sometimes the eightfold wheel of the year – the solstices, equinoxes, and four cross-quarter days in between – loved by the Celts is integrated into it, because the two traditions did mix in England, and also because the Norse were not unaware of the solar points of the year, and so some holidays were celebrated in both traditions. For every Celtic name of a holiday, there is usually an Anglo-Saxon equivalent – for example, the Irish Lughnasadh (Lugh’s Holiday) is the same as the Saxon Lammas (Hlaf-mas or Loaf Celebration), as both peoples were celebrating something at that time.

In America, Canada, and Australia, different Nordic-inspired groups can choose a variety of holidays. For this book, we tried to put in as many different seasonal holidays as possible. You can also do a blót (a simple ritual dedicated to a single God or Goddess, or more than one) for any time of the year. Some deities have times of the year that are special to them; others, like Loki for example, prefer to jump around at random rather than being tied to any one holiday – or, like Tyr or Vidar or Vali, prefer to be associated with something non-seasonal like Veteran’s Day.

If you want to do your seasonal holiday as a blót or series of blóts, and you’d like to know which deities have ties to certain times of year, we’ll talk about that now. Yule, the Winter Solstice on December 21, is first and foremost dedicated to Odin; it is said that he rides with the Wild Hunt on that day – the souls of lost warriors riding through the sky for one last hunt before going to their rest. Frigga the All-Mother is toasted on that day (or the night before, which is Mother Night) as Lady of the Hall, as is her sister Fulla the Goddess of Abundance, and Bestla the white-haired mother of Odin. It is also associated with Kari the North Wind; white-coated St. Nicholas figurines are often used as Kari statues. The witchy Germanic winter goddess Holda is strongly associated with Yule, and is the one who brought gifts to children in many parts of Germany until recently. Other frosty winter deities such as Ullr or Skadi or Rind, may be celebrated here, although they really come more into their own for Oimelc. Var is sometimes celebrated as a goddess of oathing (which sometimes happens formally on Yule as well as Beltane), and Sunna is celebrated on this Sol-stice in honor of seeing the days begin to lengthen once again.

Oimelc – the deep-winter holiday around February 1 – has been associated not only with snow and cold, but with healing (communicable diseases are at their worst at this time), with hearthfire, and the singing around it. Here also is where Ullr, Skadi, and Rind – all deep-winter figures – come into their own and are often honored. Some people have honored Logi, and also Loki’s first wife Glut and their daughters Einmyria and Eisa, because of the hearthfires. Bragi is sometimes honored here for the inside entertainment that the ancestors created to pass the long winters. Eir, Mengloth, and Mengloth’s maidens can be honored at this time for healing. Oimelc means “ewe’s milk” in Anglo-Saxon, as this was the time when the first lambs were being born, and Frigga is sometimes hailed at this time for her spinning of wool. Another possibility is honoring Surt and the primal giant Ymir as part of the fire-and-ice Norse creation myth. If you want to do something completely different, another name for Oimelc is Disting – the time for the Thing, or main law-gathering. For a Disting you might honor Forseti, Tyr, Ullr, Syn, or Var, all associated with oaths and lawgiving.

Ostara, the Spring Equinox around March 22, is named after an obscure Germanic goddess of spring about whom almost nothing is known. Freya is often hailed at this time as the Spring Maiden, the greenery springing up in her footsteps. Iduna is also hailed now as the Apple Blossom Goddess, but it is also very popular to hail Thor at this time. Thor’s traditional holiday is January 17, which ironically gets more blizzards than thunderstorms, but at Ostara he comes into his own with the spring rains that bring life to the fields. Gefjon may be hailed as a plowing goddess, Gna as the rider on the wild spring winds, and Njord for the fishermen that are now taking their boats from winter docking and sailing out on the sea. Traditionally, eggs are painted on this day, so it may have an aspect of celebrating Craft – one reason why the Duergar, or crafting Dwarves, are celebrated now as coming out of their deep caves for the first time since autumn.

Maypole6The Celts called May Day – May 1 – Beltane, but in Germany it was Walpurgis, again named after an obscure goddess, this time Walburga.  Walpurgisnacht – April 30, the night before – is celebrated as the time Odin had hung on the World Tree for nine days and gained the wisdom of the Runes. May Day itself is associated with Frey – the great Maypole his phallus – and Freya as Goddess of Love. This is a day of merrymaking and the celebration of love, and Lofn and Sjofn, both minor love goddesses, may be honored. Var may be honored if people intend to take oaths on the Maypole. The Alfar, or Elves, are associated with this day, as is Mani the Moon God who sees what people do in the bushes after dark, and Jormundgand the great serpent of the ocean.

Midsummer – June 21, the Summer Sol-stice, is of course a time to celebrate Sunna, and often her brother Mani as well. It is also the time of the union of Frey and Freya who combine their energies to make the flowers turn to fruit. Heimdall and his rainbow bridge can be honored at high summer, as can Aegir, Ran, and the Nine Sisters – all ocean deities. Logi may be honored as patron of the Midsummer bonfires as well. Baldur is sometimes honored on Midsummer as a sacrificed god of Light, and sometimes in November when things are withering and dying.

Lammas is the holiday of the first cutting of the grain, when John Barleycorn dies to feed us all. Every culture has a version of John Barleycorn, and in our cosmology it is Frey, who is mourned on this day for his sacrifice that we might live. Nerthus, his mother who cuts him down, is also honored; so is Gerda his garden-goddess bride whose tears guide him back from Death. Another Lammas-associated goddess is Sif, whose golden hair is associated with the grain that Thor’s rains grew. Aegir may be celebrated as a brewer – as Frey is a beer god – and Njord may be hailed for the fish harvest that comes in. This is also an excellent time to honor Jord, the Earth Mother.

The autumn equinox – September 21 – may or may not have been celebrated; the Saxons referred to September as Halegmonath or Holy Month, so obviously something was going on, and there are references in Scandinavia to Haustblót, or the autumn sacrifice. However, historically, everyone may have been too busy getting the harvest in to do more than have a ritual feast. Still, ritual feasts are sacred as well, and we just refer to this holiday as Harvest. Here we honor the Gods of food harvest – Frey, Nerthus, Iduna, Njord, and of course Jord. We honor Snotra as goddess of hard work and hospitality, and Huldra as keeper of flocks. Bragi is honored again at this time for his storytelling, as is Saga the keeper of histories.

The Celts called October 30 Samhain; some Nordic-inspired groups call it Winternights, as winter is coming on. Hela, Goddess of the Dead, is honored on this day, as is Mordgud the guardian of the Underworld, Nidhogg the corpse-eating dragon, Hlin the Goddess of Grief, and Hermod who walked the road to Hel. The Norns (Fates) can be honored here (or sometimes on December 30, modern New Year’s Eve, to foretell the year’s future). Because the veils between the worlds are thin at this time, Vor the goddess of divination may be honored. Baldur, Nanna, and Hoder may be honored in their after-death form as deities of light in darkness. The ancestors and beloved Dead are, of course, hailed at this time, but they may also be hailed rightly at any other holiday, as there is a strong streak of ancestor worship in the Northern Tradition.