Heathen holidays

A crowd of people walking along an outdoor path. They are led by individuals in robes, and a number carry flag banners.
Members of the Ásatrúarfélagið preparing for a Þingblót at Þingvellir, Iceland

In the modern Pagan movement of Heathenry there are a number of holidays celebrated by different groups and individuals. The most widely observed are based on ancient Germanic practices described in historical accounts or folk practices; however, some adherents also incorporate innovations from the 20th and 21st centuries.

Pre-Christian Germanic holidays and their modern observance

Prior to Christianisation and the introduction of the Julian calendar, the Germanic peoples used a lunisolar calendar, that was used to coordinate heathen seasonal festivals and holy periods. These included the Álfablót, Dísablót, Veturnáttablót and Blōtmōnaþ at the beginning of winter, Yule and Mōdraniht around Midwinter, and Hrēþmōnaþ and Sigrblót in the summer half of the year.

Beyond these, Adam of Bremen's account of the Temple at Uppsala describes a great festival that was held every nine years, however it has been argued that this would have been using inclusive counting and would thus have occurred every eight years by modern counting conventions.

Modern Heathens can celebrate a number of these festivals, with Winter Nights, Yule and Sigrblót being among the most widely observed, however the date is typically adjusted so that it falls on a weekend.

Modern development

The modern Icelandic festival of Þorrablót is sometimes considered a "pagan holiday" due to folk etymology with the name of the god Thor. The name, while historically attested, is derived from Þorri which is not explicitly linked to Thor, instead being the name of a month in the historic Icelandic calendar and a legendary Finnish king. Despite this, toasts to Thor are commonly included in the modern celebration.

Beyond the information about historical practice given in Early Medieval sources, some Heathens use modern festival calendars that incorporate material from other new religious movements such as the "Wheel of the Year" popular in Wicca. This practice is criticised by other Heathens, however, due to its origin in the 20th century and its lack of connection to historical celebrations.

In addition to this, several groups in the USA have designated holidays through ad hoc innovation, such as the various "Days of Remembrance" introduced by The Troth or "Vali's Day", derived from Valentine's Day by a folk etymology connection with the deity Váli.

Suggestions for rituals suited for these various holidays were published by Edred Thorsson, A Book of Troth (1989) and by Kveldulf Gundarsson, Teutonic Religion (1993). James Chisholm (1989) published a suggestion for Ostara. Chisholm argued for the reconstruction of the "sacred dramas" which he saw reflected in some Eddaic poems, although shorn of their sexual content by the Christian redactors. The revived ritual was again to be modified to suit "contemporary American sensibilities".

Specific modern calendars

Samfundet Forn Sed Sverige (Sweden)

Samfundet Forn Sed Sverige (Swedish: Samfundet Forn Sed Sverige), has a list of annual holidays held during specific periods of the year.

Date Holiday Notes
Late December (winter solstice) Julblot Yule blót Devoted to Odin and Freyr.
February Disablot (Dísablót) Devoted to the dísir.
Spring equinox Vårblot (Spring blót) Devoted principally to beings such as Freyja, Freyr, Sól and light elves, but also to Gerðr.
Late April - early May Majblot (May blót) Devoted principally to Freyr but also to beings such as Gerðr, Thor, Sif and Jörð.
Summer solstice (Midsommarblot) (Midsummer) Devoted principally to Freyr, Freyja but also to Sól and light elves.
Early August Sensommarblot (Late-Summer blót) Devoted principally to Thor and Sif.
Autumn equinox Höstblot (Autumn blót) Devoted to a range of beings including Skadi, Ullr, Freyr and Frigg.
October - November Alvablot (Álfablót) Devoted to ancestors and beings such as Freyr, Odin and the elves.

The Troth (USA)

The handbook Our Troth: Heathen Life published by American-based inclusive Heathen organization The Troth in 2020, lists three holidays that most Heathens agree on, Yule, Winter Nights/Alfarblot/Disablot and Summer Nights/Sigrblot.

Then there are the holidays that Heathens don't agree on but many celebrate: Disting (Second Full Moon of the New year), Lenzen (Full Moon Cycle around Vernal Equinox), Ostara (First Full Moon After Vernal Equinox), May Day (May 1), Midsummer/Litha (Summer Solstice), Lammas (Full moon after autumnal equinox) and Sunwait (starts 6 weeks before Winter Solstice).

Holy "day" is a misnomer, as many of these observances are celebrated over several days, such as the 12 days of Yule or the six weeks of Sunwait.

Date Holiday Significance Notes
Winter Solstice or the first full moon after Winter Solstice Yule The Heathen holy season of light In modern times, Yule was thought to be celebrated near the Winter Solstice (December 21) for both symbolic and practical reasons. The first full moon after Winter Solstice is likely the more accurate date for Yule given the information present in literature of the early conversion period.
Begins second full moon after Autumnal Equinox and ends at new moon Winter Nights/Alfarblot/Disablot The Heathen holy season of love, loss and memory Winter Nights is mentioned by the medieval Icelandic historian Snorri Sturlusson as one of the three major holidays on the Pre-Christian calendar in his chronicle Heimskringla.
Begins first full moon after Spring Equinox and ends at new moon Summer Nights/Sigrblot The Heathen holy season of celebration of the gods, their gifts and the victory of light over darkness at the beginning of summer Consistent with this connection between spring and victory are the ritual combats that were celebrated in southern and western Germany on the day of “Summer Finding”—the day when the first spring violet was found or the first swallow was seen.

Obviously, the calendar date for this festivity could not be fixed in advance. This event was marked by dancing and cheering, and it sometimes featured ritual combats or debates between costumed figures dressed as Summer and Winter, or ritual mocking and beating of effigies dressed as Winter or as Death.

Ingwine Heathenship (USA/UK)

The movement Ingwina Hæðenscipe, which seeks to reconstruct West Germanic Heathen beliefs, also has a list of annual holidays held during specific periods of the year. The group provides both reconstructed, and entirely modern dates for these festivals for the benefit of modern practitioners.

Date Holiday Notes
Late December (winter solstice) Geóhol-blót Yule blót Devoted to Woden, Ingui (with whom they identify Freyr), Wulð (with whom they identify Ullr), and other "Yule Beings".
Late December Mōdraniht Mother's Night Devoted to the Mother goddesses, or Idese.
Early January Twelftadæg (Twelfth Day) Devoted to Frig, and to nature spirits, see wassailing.
February Sige-tiber (Victory blót) Devoted to Woden, for victory in the forthcoming "Summer" months.
March Lencten-tid (Spring Feast) Devoted to the goddesses Hréðe, and Hludana.
April Eáster-freólsdæg (Eostre's Feast) Devoted to Eostre.
Summer solstice Midsumordæg (Midsummer) Devoted principally to Thunor, but also to Helith, with whom they associate good luck and healing.
Early August Bendfeorm (Corn Reaping Feast) Devoted principally to Beowa. This is a celebration of the corn harvest and subsequent "tying". The group eschews the term "Lammas" as it is entirely Christian in origin.
Late September Hærfestlíc Freólsung (Harvest Festival) Devoted to a range of beings including Ing, Thunor, Frig, and Woden. This is a celebration of the late harvest, and symbolic offering of the Last Sheaf.
October Winter-fylleþ (Winter Full-Moon) Devoted to ancestors and beings such as Ingui, Woden and the Elves. This is considered the beginning of Winter.
Mid November Andetnes-blót (Thanksgiving blót) Devoted to many beings. This is when historically, livestock that could not survive the winter would be slaughtered.

See also

This page was last updated at 2023-11-22 04:45 UTC. Update now. View original page.

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