Theodish Thoughts

Musings on Theodism, religion, mythology, history, and contemporary Heathenry

Category: Make Yule Great Again Page 1 of 2

St. Germain of Auxerre (part 1)

St. Germain of Auxerre. Doesn’t he just
look like a self-righteous prig?

There are some interesting passages in the Life of St. Germain of Auxerre (c. 378 – c. 448), also known as Germanus. Note that the name denotes someone connected with the Germanic tribes, and he lived in Gaul during a time of great Frankish invasion and influence, and he died just before the creation of the first Merovingian dynasty.

The following passages come from The Golden Legend of Jacobus de Voragine, published in 1275.

The first deals with a custom that we have seen before, in connection with the pre-Christian Yule-season holiday, the Feast of the Parcae, also known as Mothers Night:

On a time he was harboured in a place where every night the table was made ready for to eat after supper, when men had supped, and he was much amarvelled thereof, and demanded of the host of the house wherefore they made ready for to eat after supper. And the host said to him, that it was for his neighbours, which would come and drink one after the other. And that night S. Germain established him to wake for to see what it was. It was not long after that there came thither a great multitude of devils, and came to the table in guise of men and women. And when the holy man saw them, he commanded them that they should not go away, and after he sent for to wake the neighbours on all sides, in such wise that every body was found in his bed, and in their houses, and made the people to come and see if they knew any of them, but they said nay. And then he showed them that they were devils, whereof the people were much abashed because the devils had mocked them so. And then S. Germain conjured that they never after returned thither ne came more there.

Now, nothing in this account from St. Germain mentions Yule or Mother’s Night, but it does map excellently with later accounts that showed up in early witch trials in southwest Germany and eastern Switzerland, described in detail in Carlo Ginzburg’s Night Battles and Ecstasies: Deciphering the Witches’ Sabbath.

Burchard of Worms, writing nearly 600 years after the death of Germain, describes something very similar, if lacking in detail:

Hast thou done as some women are wont to do at certain times of the year? That is, hast thou prepared the table in thy house and set on the table thy food and drink, with three knives, that if those three sisters whom past generations and old-time foolishness called the Fates [“parcae”] should come they may take refreshment there… those whom thou callest “the sisters” can do or avail aught for thee either now or in the future? (Corrector, 153)

Still another 400 years or so later, Ginzburg describes a very similar ritual among the benandanti (who might be considered “good witches”), who fought the evil witches who were inclined to go into the wine cellars and first drink themselves to satiation, and then piss or shat into the casks to foul the wine. The benandanti simply drank the wine.

As such, we see a progression, but always involving the habit of some persons with supernatural connections entering a home after the inhabitants had gone to sleep, and who eat and/or drink the provisions available, and who can do good or ill.

One interesting further connection is in the timing. Although the story of St. Germain doesn’t mention anything about when he saw his supposed “great multitude of devils”, Ginzberg’s sources are very specific, and often name “the ember days” as times when they when they would perform their rites.

The Parcae, or Fates

The ember days are an interesting phenomenon worthy of a digression. First introduced as early as  220 CE by Pope Callixtus I*, it was adopted in fits and starts across the West, first in Britain, then Gaul, then Spain, then Italy. They take place three (four, later on) times a year; Advent (December), Lent (March/April), Pentecost (May/June), and September, thus approximating the solstices and equinoxes.

So it is entirely possible that the ceremony that St. Germain describes happened before Yule. Even though the account is silent on the time of year, it would agree with both the Corrector and the later witch trial evidence from the western Alpine area, which describe a similar phenomenon. .

So I present this as yet another piece in the puzzle, which can go one of two ways. Either we’re seeing a mythology-based celebration of the coming of the Norns/Fates/Parcae that was gradually transformed into a sort of virtual visiting tradition, or we’re seeing an actual visiting tradition that was slowly mythologized and turned into a virtual “astral” gathering once it was outlawed by the coming of Christianity.

The slight shifting of the dates is easily explained, as the Church deliberately attempted to appropriate already-extant Heathen holidays. It’s only natural that the peasantry, who were accustomed to making their celebrations on or near the solstices and equinoxes, would simply shift the date to conform to the new authorities, without making substantive changes to the event itself. Over the course of centuries, these customs became distorted, and became but a pale shadow of their former, robust Heathen origins.


* Why don’t modern popes take cool names like that???

Beyond the Eddas and Sagas

One of the things that I lament most about the state of current Asatru is the seemingly self-imposed limitation to look at written sources such as the Sagas of Icelanders, the Poetic Edda and Prose Edda, and a handful of other sources (Beowulf, usually, and maybe Saxo and a few others), and then stop. This is usually supplemented by a little bit of information from archaeology, inscriptions, and the like.

I think this is an enormous shame and missed opportunity. There’s so much other material out there of interest and relevance to our recreation of the religion of our pre-Christian ancestors*.

First, of course, there’s medieval Saint’s feasts. I’m finding this a very fruitful avenue of exploration, as has been seen with my investigations into Yule and other holidays on the calendar. Sure, most of it was documented way past the conversion period, but when we see Christian saints with uniquely Scandinavian, English, or German attributes mapped onto dates that coincidentally happened to be close to or on holidays celebrating the Aesir, it’s worth looking into.

I mean, Christ on a stick! Can you look at Krampusnacht and think there’s not a pagan undertone there??? And there’s tons more where that came from.

Then there’s post-Conversion folklore. This comes from several different sources; Scandinavia, Germany, Iceland, and England. All of which were centers of Germanic activity, either during the Migration Era or the Viking Age. There are princesses and trolls, and a ton of lore on how to deal with the huldufolk/elves, tomten/nissen, and the like. It’s here that we see a lot of the day-to-day practices captured; how to deal with the landwights of stone, stream, lake, and tree, and the housewights as well.

It’s worth digressing for a moment into a particular avenue of research that I think has incredible potential. That’s the lore of the Pennsylvania Germans and especially the Amish. Two historical events did more than anything else to obliterate traces of paganism in modern culture; the Protestant Reformation and the Industrial Revolution.

With the coming of Protestantism (and its Anglican analogue in England), came a gut-instinctual revolt against anything that was perceived as “Popish” or Catholic. The problem from our point of view is that the Catholic Church, in its zeal to put an “official” church stamp on the whole of Europe, was more than happy to incorporate all sorts of local customs, many (most?) of which were pagan in origin, into their own customs. Thus, we see previously-pagan holidays completely co-opted by Saints’ feasts, but the customs that accompanied them — the songs, the practices, the games, the myths, and the food — endured. With the coming of the so-called reformers, all that was swept away by an austere, even Puritanical in some places, stripped-down Christianity that lost almost all of that pre-Christian practice.

What the Protestant Revolution couldn’t destroy, the social disruptions of the Industrial Revolution did short work of. Primarily by encouraging the old peasant class, in whose quaint customs and celebrations, handed down from time immemorial, a lot of potentially pagan custom survived, to move into the cities and take factory jobs. With the rhythm of the peasant-farming life disrupted, there was no reason to pass down the old customs that went along with it. Indeed, the energetic actions of the Victorian folklorists, both in Britain and on the Continent, were an attempt to at least catalog and capture some of this lore before it was lost forever by this process that was recognized at the time as destructive to these complex memeplexes.

Both of those disruptive forces are why the Pennsylvania Germans, and in particular the Amish and related folk, are so important to the work of reconstructionism. They represent a sort of crystallized “time capsule” into 16th century southwestern Germany. Because the society of the Pennsylvania Germans (especially the Amish) is so conservative**, it is incredibly resistant to change. It is precisely this sort of religiously-inspired agricultural life that has enabled certain pre-Christian beliefs and practices to endure, and that’s what makes them such a treasure-trove of potential lore. If one is interested in continental German lore in relation to Asatru, one cannot ignore the Pennsylvania Germans.

And that includes the practices of Hexerei and Braucherei among them, which has very specific parallels to Scandinavian Trōlldomr magic.

And that brings in a whole other level of source material; the still-living traditions in Scandinavia (which seems to have gone through the Protestant Reformation somewhat less vehemently than their southern neighbors; a number of Saints still endure despite the general aversion of Protestantism to the whole idea). Don’t forget that runes were still used in some of the more remote regions of Scandinavia into the 20th century, and there remains a whole body of lore (not to mention a large number of actual practitioners) who still practice the art.

Plus the whole grimoire tradition in Scandinavia. There are Black Books, Cipriania, and more. Did you know there’s a spell in one of the books that mentions Odin and Satan drinking together in a hall? ‘Struth!

Then there’s nursery rhymes. The vast majority seem to refer to historical events or political happenings from the 16th and 17th centuries, but there are a few bits and pieces that seem to go back way further. It’s a potentially great resource that, as far as I’m aware, hasn’t been systematically studied. And there are a ton more nursery rhymes than I ever knew existed. I’ve been starting to collect some sources…

I could go on, but I think you get the idea. There is of course the field of comparative mythology; the Vedic Hindu Indra has a lot in common with Thor, as of course do gods like the Slavic Perun. And oh my gods is there a lot of Slavic material, the surface of which has barely been scratched in an Asatru context. And of course I’m a huge fan of drawing inspiration and details from the old Christian penetentials, sermons, and Saints’ lives; a lot of it comes from the Conversion era, but they often go into exacting detail as to what good Christians are not supposed to do. Absolute gold.

So for you, my dear readers, I implore you; don’t stop with the Eddas and Egil’s Saga. Never stop seeking out potential avenues for research, but also be wary of being too optimistic. Sometimes there really are coincidences, and sometimes something that looked like a good idea at the time pans out badly. Never be afraid to discard an idea that doesn’t work out, no matter how cool it seemed at first.

* I say “religion” here, but it’s probably more accurate to say religions, as there wasn’t one single unified pan-Germanic pagan faith, but a complex of closely related practices, myths, and beliefs that varied quite consistently from tribe to tribe and geographical region to geographical region. Look, for example, at the use of the name “Holde/Holle”, “Perchta”, and then “Frigga” for what appears to be the same, or at least a closely related, goddess as one moves north from the Alps to Scandinavia.

** To this day there are Groundhog Lodges at whose meetings English is not spoken. And that’s not just the Amish; that’s the “ordinary” Pennsylvania German folk.

Julbord – traditional Yule dishes

Of course Christmas itself has just passed (and I hope that those of you who celebrate it had a wonderful holiday, even if you only do so as a secular holiday of family, plenty, and generosity, with no religious overtones, like my family does), but the traditional date of Yule is still more than two weeks or so away, so we’re continuing to Make Yule Great Again here at the Garden.

This time, I would like to present a few traditional dishes for your Yule feast. Most are more modern Scandinavian dishes from the traditional julbord, or Christmas buffet.
Swedish meatballs. It’s not particularly a Yule dish, but come on. Can you really do a traditional Scandinavian buffet without them? Recipe here.
The Christmas ham. This is the centerpiece of the julbord; the ham, or julskinka, is first boiled, and then served cold, with a crust of mustard and breadcrumbs. Also note the continuing references to boars and pork (associated with the god Freyr) with the holiday. The Local (a Swedish news outlet) mentions that the pigs are killed on Lussinatta, at night. Recipe here.
Pickled herring. Pickled fish is a staple in Scandinavian countries as a rule, but it is especially brought out in the cold winter months, when fresh fish would be something of a rarity. Generally, this is something to be store bought, but the adventurous might try to make their own with the recipe here.
Lutefisk. Errr… yum?
Lutefisk. Take air-dried whitefish, soak it in lye and salt for days, and then rinse it off and cook it once it becomes gelatinous. I’ve never dared try it (and I eat just about anything) but it’s a staple in Norway and Sweden in the traditional Julbord, eaten with boiled potatoes. Want to make it? There’s a recipe here. Good luck Paisan!
Yule bread. A traditional Viking recipe, flavored with cardamom and almonds. Recipe here.
Norwegian Christmas Bread. Another recipe, almost akin to an English pudding rather than a bread, with raisins and walnuts. Recipe here.
Dopp i grytan. Called “dip in the pot” in English, this is a custom of dipping bread into the reduced juices used to cook the ham, like a fondue. I’ve never done it, but it sounds amazingly good. Recipe here.
Janssons Frestelse. If you want to get more adventurous than the boiled potatoes mentioned above (and nothing says you can’t do both!), try this sort of scalloped potato dish, with anchovies (I happen to love anchovies, and the thought of the salty fish mixed in with the creamy potatoes and onions sounds great). Recipe here
Marzipan Pig. Obviously a new addition to the menu, this dessert course made of shaped almond paste seems obviously tied back to the recurring themes of boars and Freyr and Yule. And isn’t the little apple in its mouth adorable? Marzipan recipe here.
Glad Yule to all!

The Big Day: Yule (Part Two)

Now we move on to the second day of Yule.

As we saw last year when I compared the traditions surrounding the feast of St. Stephen as celebrated in the North, there are a number of connections between the figure and the god Freyr, specifically the connection to both boars and horses. In England, St. Stephen is the patron saint of horses, also echoing the association of Freyr with horses, and an English folk-ballad about Stephen reinforces his connection with the boar’s head feast of Yule/Christmas:

“Stephen out of kitchen came,
With boarës head on hand,
He saw a star was fair and bright
Over Bethlehem stand.”

So on the one hand, we have the god Freyr, associated with a great Yuletide sacrifice and feast, associated with boars and horses. On the other hand, we have the “northern version” of St. Stephen, whose feast-day is during the Yuletide, and whose folk-tales are associated with boars and horses, which don’t appear in accounts of the saint elsewhere. So it seems reasonable to bring in those practices associated with St. Stephen’s Day in Scandinavia, on the assumption that the exclusively Northern attributes are, in fact, Heathen survivals of Freyr-cult activities associated with Yule.

Some interesting Swedish pieces of folklore from the 19th century conflate “St. Staffan” with the founder of the Archdiocese of Uppsala of the same name, where he is said to have been the first to preach the gospel there, and denounced its Heathen practices, only to be cast into prison and then escape to finally meet his fate as the Christian ur-martyr. While the echo of the association with Uppsala is interesting, much moreso is this legend that clearly relates St. Stephen to the god Freyr:

A saying is still common amongst the people, that once every week he visited them all, and proclaimed God’s word. In the performance of this duty, he folowed the course of the sun; so that in the morning he rode from Norrala, where he dwelt, passed the night at Arbrä, and from thence continued his journey to Järfsö, and Ljusdal, Sundhede, and Nordanstigen, and returned home within the above-named time*. 

Helsingland was in those days, as at present [1870] celebrated for its good horses, Staffan had a great love of horses, understood their treatment, and had always give with him wherever he went. When one was wearied he mounted another, and in this manner traversed the country. [He was killed by the Heathens and interred at Norrala.] 

For a long time after the martyr’s death, his friends and the Christians in the country were accustomed to meet at this his place of burial, which to them was looked on as holy, when they prayed together, and strengthened each other in faith and love. But when Christianity at a subsequent period began to lose its original simplicity and purity, the monks, profiting by the reverence the people entertained for the spot, seduced them by pretended miracles and prodigies to make offerings, and seek cures for diseased animals, especially horses, and also to worship St. Staffan, who, however, was never canonized, as their patron saint. (Peasant Life in Sweden, p. 204-6).

Here we see not only the association of “Staffan” with horses, but also an echo of the passage from Ynglingatal, which describes Freyr’s establishment of Uppsala as a cult center, and the continued worship he enjoyed at his burial mound after his death:

Frey built a great temple at Upsal, made it his chief seat, and gave it all his taxes, his land, and goods. Then began the Upsal domains, which have remained ever since.  Then began in his days the Frode- peace; and then there were good seasons, in all the land, which the Swedes ascribed to Frey, so that he was more worshiped than the other gods, as the people became much richer in his days by reason of the peace and good seasons. His wife was called Gerd, daughter of Gymis, and their son was called Fjolne.  Frey was called by another name, Yngve; and this name Yngve was considered long after in his race as a name of honor, so that his descendants have since been called Ynglinger.  Frey fell into a sickness; and as his illness took the upper hand, his men took the plan of letting few approach him.  In the meantime they raised a great mound, in which they placed a door with three holes in it.  Now when Frey died they bore him secretly into the mound, but told the Swedes he was alive; and they kept watch over him for three years.  They brought all the taxes into the mound, and through the one hole they put in the gold, through the other the silver, and through the third the copper money that was paid. Peace and good seasons continued. (Ynglingatal chapter 11)

The key elements being the worship of Freyr/Staffan at his grave, specifically connected with the offering of money (the monks’ profit in the Staffan legend, and the taxes in the mound in Ynglingatal).

And there is also the tradition (as written in Ögmundar þáttr dytts) of the god Freyr going about on a peregrination, with a statue of the god being carried about in a wagon throughout the district, drawn by horses. Originally, the god Freyr traveled about in a horse-drawn wagon, and later on Staffan traveled about on horseback.

Suffice to say, I think the identification of the Northern Staffan/Steven with the Heathen Freyr is sound. That said, what does it mean? What sorts of practices do we see on St. Steven’s Day that might be applicable to Heathen worship? It turns out, there are quite a few, mostly involving horses, as one might expect.

One cares for the horses of some stranger in some not-close village, or even another parish; grooming, feeding, watering, rubbing down, etc. The deed is expected to be repaid with a fine breakfast.

Horses are given the leftover ale from the previous night, and bled in order to make them healthy (bleeding was regarded as a healing practice at the time).

A procession, known as Staffanskede, is also undertaken, where mounted youths take off before dawn and go from village to village in a sort of race, singing the Staffansvisa from house to house, in return for which they are to be treated to ale:

The custom recalls other visiting traditions, such as caroling, wassailing and the like. The Swedish lyrics of the carol can be found here. If I find an English translation, I’ll post it as well. But I must say I like the music; it’s quite haunting in this rendition.

On the evening of St. Staffan’s Day, there are games, music, dancing, and of course more feasting.Lloyd also tells us of a custom involving bringing in a Jul Baske; what we now know as a Christmas Tree.

This, then, is the second of the three days of Yule. Horse-racing, visiting and caroling, feasting and dancing and music.

And the third? I think we found the third day of Yule in our exploration of St. Knut’s Day. The last of the food is eaten and drink is guzzled, the decorations are taken down, there is guising in spirit-costume to scare the neighbors, and a ritual drama is enacted to cap the celebration.

When the Yule celebration was merged with the Christmas holiday, it necessarily lost two of its three days (but Christmas itself was extended into twelve, to match their obsession with the number, between Christmas and Epiphany, and since become our Twelve Days of Christmas). What was Knut’s Day, until it was moved yet again to prevent confusion with the “more important” dates of the Christian calendar. The third day of Yule.

And there we have the cycle of holidays leading up to Yule. I may well have a few more posts on specific topics (because even with all this, I’ve only scratched the surface), but I think we have a very solid foundation for a plethora of celebrations designed to discourage disobedient children and reward the good, mark the triumph of the sun over the longest night of the year, the changing of the year itself, and the middle of the winter season as people experienced it.

I personally think that’s a whole lot more worthy of celebration than cramming everything into a single day. Our gods and ancestors deserve a lot more.

* It should be noted that all the places named are in or near Gävleborg County, Sweden, just north of Uppsala, which largely overlaps Halsingland. We’re talking about a very small district within modern Sweden, which just happens to be just north of the highest concentration of Freyr-related place-names in Sweden, around Uppsala.

The Big Day: Yule (Part One)

What a wealth of winter traditions we’ve uncovered so far, leading up to Yule:

  • A week before the longest night of the year, also the start of the old Heathen month of Mörsugur (“marrow-sucking”), we see Krampusnacht, originally connected with the story of the laming of Thor’s goats. Thor and the goats visit homes, punishing naughty children and rewarding good ones. 
  • On the longest night of the year, we have Lussinatta, where the goddess Frigg visits homes to make sure they are prepared for the long cold winter, the Wild Hunt begins its ride, and an all-night vigil is held to welcome the return of the goddess Sunna and celebrate her return to strength as the days begin to grow longer.
  • A week after the solstice, we have a reminder that the Yule Ale had better be brewing, because if it’s not started by now, it’ll be too late for Yule. 
  • On New Year’s Eve, we have Mothers Night, when the Three Mothers (aka the Norns) are invited to our homes with a feast, in return for their favor in the coming year. It’s also a good night for divination, to foresee the coming year’s events.
  • On New Year’s Day, we have a number of customs and traditions around the Calends of January, which sets the tone for the entire year to come. First-stepping, New Year’s wishes and resolutions, marking the weather, setting up effigies of livestock and game animals to ensure prosperity, as well as donning animal guises for the same purpose, and more are all designed to influence the luck of the coming year.

And now we come to the mid-winter sacrifice and celebration itself; Yule. Specifically, sónarblót, or “Son’s sacrifice” (which is interesting to contrast to Mothers’ Night earlier), which takes place on the first night of Yule. The practice is specifically described in Hervarar saga ok Heiðreks (ch. 10):

Ok skyldi þeim gelti blóta at sónarblóti. Jólaaptan skyldi leiða sónargöltinn í höll fyrir konúng; lögðu menn þá hendr yfir burst hans ok strengja heit.

And they would sacrifice a boar in the sonarblót. On Yule Eve (i.e., the first evening of Yule) the sonar-boar was led into the hall before the king; then people laid their hands on its bristles and made vows.

It is also mentioned in one of the poems of the Poetic Edda, Helgakviða Hjörvarðssonar (IV):

Heðinn fór einn saman heim ór skógi jólaaftan ok fann trollkonu. Sú reið vargi ok hafði orma at taumum ok bauð fylgð sína Heðni. “Nei,” sagði hann. Hon sagði: “Þess skaltu gjalda at bragarfulli.” Um kveldit óru heitstrengingar. Var fram leiddr sónargöltr. Lögðu menn þar á hendr sínar ok strengðu menn þá heit at bragarfulli. 

Returning home alone from the forest on a Yule Eve, Hedin met a troll-wife riding on a wolf, with serpents for reins, who offered to attend him, but he declined her offer; whereupon she said: “Thou shalt pay for this at the council.” In the evening solemn vows were made, and the son-hog was led forth, on which the guests laid their hands, and then made solemn vows at the council. 

This recalls very strongly the English tradition (since exported to the United States and elsewhere) of the Boar’s Head Feast, where the cooked and garlanded head of a boar is brought into the hall to inaugurate the celebration, accompanied by specific carols, dating back to at least the 15th century (although the ceremony itself goes back to at least 1340):

The association of the boar with both Freyr and Yule is well-known. Freyr is said to ride a golden-haired boar, named gullinbursti (“golden-bristles”). and feasts of pork around the solstice (originally associated with Yule, and transferred to the new Christmas holiday) were traditional well into the Christian era. In modern Sweden, boar-shaped cakes are a traditional Christmas dish, and Christmas Ham is a staple across Scandinavia. Even as late as the 18th century, December 17th was called Sow Day in the Orkneys, and the best sow of the herd would be slaughtered (add 8 days for the calendar conversion, and Sow Day becomes Christmas Day, upon which Yule traditions were mapped during the conversion process, as we have seen).

The winter solstice sacrifice was associated with the god Freyr. According to Ynglinga Saga (ch. 8), the mid-winter, or Yule, sacrifice was made “for a good crop”:

Þá skyldi blóta í móti vetri til árs, en at miðjum vetri blóta til gróðrar, hit þriðja at sumri, þat var sigrblót.

On winter day there should be blood-sacrifice for a good year, and in the middle of winter for a good crop; and the third sacrifice should be on summer day, for victory in battle.

Remembering that “the middle of winter” here is describing the actual climactic winter, not the astronomical solstice, which in reality happens way before the point where there are as many colder days behind it as ahead of it. So, approximately the middle of what we call January.

While Gylfaginning (ch. 24) makes it plain that it is in fact Freyr to whom such supplications for good harvests were made:

Freyr er inn ágætasti af ásum. Hann ræðr fyrir regni ok skini sólar ok þar með ávexti jarðar, ok á hann er gott at heita til árs ok friðar. Hann ræðr ok fésælu manna. 

Freyr is the most renowned of the Æsir; he rules over the rain and the shining of the sun, and therewithal the fruit of the earth; and it is good to call on him for fruitful seasons and peace. He governs also the prosperity of men. 

And that, I think, is the kick-off of the three-day Yule celebration. We have the “son’s sacrifice” on the first night, of a boar or swine, in honor of Freyr, accompanied by a great feast, and specifically the swearing of oaths on the head or body of the sacrificial animal.

In modern practical terms, when most Asatruar don’t have it within their means to sacrifice an actual boar, it seems clear that at least featuring pork (as the famous Christmas Ham of Scandinavia, or in some other form) would be indicated. A ceremony involving the swearing of oaths would also seem to be a critical piece of the celebration (again, setting the stage for the coming year with events happening near its start); I might go so far as to roast a swine head specifically for the occasion, even if it didn’t necessarily form part of the feast itself. In my own tribe, we use a pig effigy made of straw, and make our promises and state our hopes upon it, before offering it to Freyr.

The only mystery, to my mind, is the significance of the name of the sacrifice. I might have expected something like Jólablót, but it turns out that the word doesn’t exist in Cleasby-Vigfussion’s dictionary of Old Icelandic. So why sónarblót? Why “son’s sacrifice”? I think I might have an idea.

Yngve-Freyr is said to have been the progenitor of the Swedish line. His name appears in the royal lineages, he founded Uppsala, most of the place-names associated with him are found in Sweden (in and around Uppsala, as a matter of fact), and is even referred to as the father of the Swedes:

Shall it be said of Frey’s brave sons,
The kingly race, the noble ones,
That they have fought in deadly battle
With the head-gear of their cattle?
(Ynglingatal 23)

It’s purely speculative, of course, but it seems to fit the available information. I’ll keep digging, and if I unearth additional information, I’ll certainly pass it along. But it seems to point to the Yule sacrifice to Freyr as being particularly ancient, and eventually disseminating across the Norse world, only to be co-opted by the incoming Christian empire.

St. Knut’s Day

Mother’s Night and the New Year behind us, we find ourselves more than two weeks from the solstice, and a week before Yule itself. We now find ourselves at St. Knut’s Day, which is celebrated in Sweden and Finland, but not Denmark or Norway. The timing of this feast day deserves a little attention, as it’s got a somewhat involved history. The day is named for Knut Levard of Denmark, who was killed in a civil war and canonized in 1169. It should be noted that that is a pretty late date, and well into the era of Christianization.

Originally, Knut’s Day was celebrated on January 7, the anniversary of his death. In the 17th century, it was moved to the 13th of January, presumably because it was interfering with the celebration of the Epiphany on the 6th. I’m going to ignore that later date, because it is way outside my era of interest for this analysis, and has little if any significance when it comes to replacing already-established Heathen celebrations. 
Dancing around the soon-to-be-taken-down tree
Traditionally, Knut’s Day represents the end of the Christmas season in Sweden and Finland. There are “plundering parties” as the Christmas tree is taken down and the edible ornaments that traditionally adorn it (candies, cookies, and cakes) are removed and devoured. 
More interesting, perhaps, is a tradition that is akin to our modern Halloween, where children and adults go from house to house in scary costumes of ghosts and scarecrows, attempting to frighten neighbors and friends.
There is dancing, and what has been described by L. Lloyd in his “Peasant Life in Sweden… Illustrated” (written in 1870, pp. 217-218) as:

…”Gästabuds-Krig,” or war of hospitality. The master of the house comes into the apartment where the “Jul” festivities have taken place, and affixes his axe into the middle of the floor; the housemaid follows him with a broom, the kitchen-maid with a knife and a spoon, or rather ladle, the “Källare Drang,” or tapster, he whose duty it is to look after the cellar, with the spigot of the ale barrel, with other like company, and makes pretense to drive away the guests, and should there be any present who can read and sing, they read aloud King Orre’s Legend, and sing his ballad, the words of which I have not at hand, but which in some degree resemble our own doggerel:

“Old King Cole
Was a merry old soul,
And a merry old soul was he;
He called for his pipe,
And he called for his wine,
And he called for his fiddlers three.”

Scary costumes for guising on the day,
with some similarity to the guising
done at the beginning of the season
on Krampusnacht
And presumably the plundering of the pantry of the last edibles that were cooked and baked and brewed for the Yule celebration would be polished off by the guests.
One fascinating tidbit, the “King Orre’s Legend” mentioned above is also mentioned in a tantilizing tidbit from Bertha Fillpott’s most excellent The Elder Edda and Ancient Scandinavian Drama (p. 123):

It has recently been suggested that the dramatic Yule game in Sweden in which “King Orre” figures originated in a representation of the defeat of King Erik of Pomerania.

With a footnote referencing “H Jungner, Om Kung Orre, Maal og Minne, 1914, pp. 123 ff” that I have been unable to follow-up on. Anyone able to help track that reference down is invited to contact me in the comments below. Sounds fascinating.
Terry Gunnell, in his Origins of Drama in Scandinavia (pp. 96-97), adds a little more meat to Knut and Orre’s bones:

The superficial nature of some of the Christian festivals is especially clear in the case of the figure of Knut, since the saint obviously never had anything to do with ‘sweeping’ or ‘knocking out’ Christmas. Magnus Olsen has thus sought to establish an early relationship between the traditional figure of Knut and other figures such as the legendary King Orre, and the spirit of Þorri, a personification of the early Scandinavian fourth winter month beginning c. 13 January. Considering the fact that Knut is often acted in folk tradition, it might be noted that both Knut and Þorri are identified in the rhymes sung about them by the same sole characteristic of a beard. A faint possibility exists that this shared feature has roots in a visual tradition of disguise which originally applied to both figures at this time of year. The vestiges of such a tradition might possibly be found in the unique account given by Jón Árnason of how Icelandic farmers used to ‘welcome Þorri onto the farm’ (‘að bjóða Þorra í garð’) by hopping around their farms half-dressed on the first morning of Þorri, their wives following suit the first morning of Góa, the following month.

I still want to know exactly what goes on with this acted-out Knut folk tradition (other than apparently an elder version of the Polar Bear Challenge). To the BOOKS!
So, to bring this all back to the subject at hand, all we need to do is make our standard 8 day correction for dates, because of the transition from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar, and I think we have the answer to all this mummery. Adjust 8 days from the original date of January 7, and we get January 15. Right around the middle of winter. 
A day or two after Yule.
I think what we see in Knut’s Day are the events of the end of Yule. Exact dates are of course fungible when it comes to the ancient calendars, but I think what we’re seeing here are the equivalent of modern “Boxing Day” traditions. The last of the food prepared for Yule needs to get eaten, the decorations need to be taken out, and, let us not forget, this also marks the end of the “out and about” time for the Wild Hunt, which began waaaay back on Lussinata, on the solstice. That’s combined in a visiting tradition involving scary costumes; made all the more relevant by the fact that there’s still excess treats to be handed out (in the “war of hospitality”), and the gag is all the funnier because everyone knows that the Wild Hunt isn’t out and about after Yule. 
Man, this really works.
We’ve been circling the big one for a while now, but we’re homing in on Yule itself. We’re getting there, dear readers, have just a little more patience!

Mother’s Night

This is a follow-up (and correction) to last year’s post about Mother’s Night. Additionally, it will be something of an addendum to my post on New Year’s Traditions a few days ago, which sort of conflated New Year’s Eve with New Year’s Day. Properly, they should be separate, as we shall see.

Just to lay out the evidence that had been previously presented, we have:

  • The Feast of the Parcae is attested to in the contemporary penitential sources around the time of Yule (I had originally said “beginning of Yule” but that seems to be not the case)
  • The Matronae (“Mothers” – triple goddesses worshiped in the Migration Era) are associated with fate, life, death, and abundance, thus connected with the individual Norns
  • Mothers’ Night is attested to in the works of the Venerable Bede around the beginning of Yule
  • The Feast of the Parcae becomes the Feast of the Mothers
Let’s turn to the sources.
Burchard of Worms tells us what not to do with the Parcae:

Hast thou done as some women are wont to do at certain times of the year? That is, hast thou prepared the table in thy house and set on the table thy food and drink, with three knives, that if those three sisters whom past generations and old-time foolishness called the Fates [“parcae”] should come they may take refreshment there… those whom thou callest “the sisters” can do or avail aught for thee either now or in the future? (Corrector, 153)

Gimme that old-time foolishness!
And what might those “certain times of the year” be? Our old friend St. Eligius comes to the rescue:

 …nothing is ominous or ridiculous about the Calends of January. [Do not] make little women [i.e., corn dollies], little deer or iotticos or set tables at night [for house spirits or the Mothers] or exchange New Years’ gifts or supply superfluous drinks. (Life of Saint Eligius)

Bernadette Filotas puts it:

In another clause [of the Corrector of Burchard] the Parcae seem less ominous: “certain women” at “certain times of the year” (the New Year?) were accustomed to try to bribe “those three sisters whom ancient tradition and ancient stupidity named the Parcae.” They set a table in their house with food, drink, and three “little knives” for the sisters’ refreshment, in the hope that if they came, they would help their hostess either at present or in the future: “thus they attribute to the devil the power that belongs to merciful God.” Here the Parcae appear to be less figures of pitiless destiny than sprites, small ones at that who can handle only “little” implements, and who make their way into the house but seldom (but in medieval Latin, the diminutive was often used to indicate contempt, not necessarily to refer to size). The identification with the classical goddesses is made by Burchard, not the common people. (Pagan Survivals; Superstitions and Popular Cultures, p. 77)

Bede fills in more information with his description:

… began the year on the 8th calends of January, when we celebrate the birth of the Lord. That very night, which we hold so sacred, they used to call by the heathen word Modranecht, that is, “mother’s night”, because (we suspect) of the ceremonies they enacted all that night. (Faith Wallis, tr., 1999)

What the heck is “the 8th calends of January”, you might ask? In the original Latin, one counts from the start of the next month, in the latter half of the month. So the 8th calends of  January is December 24. And in the Germanic mindset, the date starts at dusk. What we would call the evening of December 23.

But… let’s correct for the change in calendars. If we add the 8 days we’ve been using as a corrector between the Julian and Gregorian dates, we get… December 31. New Year’s eve.

So where I had Mother’s Night on the night of the solstice, it seems to be more properly put on December 31. Not related to the calendar date, or the Christian date of the Christmas celebration, but on the very day that we now celebrate New Year’s Eve.

Thus do I think that the Feast of the Mothers, known to Bede as Mōdraniht, is more properly placed on New Year’s Eve, rather than the night of the winter solstice. It has the double-meaning, then, with the night in question being the “mother” of the New Year, as well as being that time when the Three Mothers (aka the Norns) are honored and given a feast in hopes that they will be well-disposed towards we mortals.

I covered the significance of the “little deer” in the New Year’s Customs post, but I think it’s also worth pointing out that the “little women”, or corn dollies, are very possibly images of the Three Mothers themselves, possibly even set at the table to stand in for, or encourage, the participation of the real thing, in much the same way that we use god-posts and statues to represent the real gods.

So there we are; New Year’s Eve is Mother’s Night. Set out a meal for the Three Mothers, with three knives, that they will visit your home and bestow fortune for the coming year. It fits together perfectly.

HELPFUL PLANNING TIP: Get a copy of Chase Hill’s song “Mother, Listen”, off their CD “Sing the Sun’s Return” (accompanying booklet with music and lyrics available here). Also, start planning on a feast for the Mothers on New Year’s Eve. Do it in style!

New Year’s customs

So Thor and his goats (now in the form of the krampus) have come to reward good children and punish the wicked (December 14); Frig/Holde/Perchta has made sure the farmstead is ready for the coming winter season, the Wild Hunt is about in the land (make sure you have saffron buns with you if you need to go about at night between now and Yule, to throw over your shoulder and elude the hunt), we’ve held a vigil to make sure that Sunna comes back on the longest night of the year (December 21); and the Yule ale has been laid down (December 28).

What’s next? The coming of the New Year, of course!

New Year’s Eve (also known as St. Sylvester’s day), and New Year’s Day (also known as the Calends of January), is a time when the pattern for the coming year is laid down. This is a time not only for divination to see what the coming year will bring, but also positive actions to make sure it is prosperous, healthy, and fertile. The early Christian church was well aware of Pagan customs associated with the day:

 …nothing is ominous or ridiculous about the Calends of January. [Do not] make little women [i.e., corn dollies], little deer or iotticos or set tables at night [for house spirits or the Mothers] or exchange New Years’ gifts or supply superfluous drinks. (Life of Saint Eligius, France, c. 650 CE)

Nor celebrate Thursday in honor of Jupiter or the Calends  of January according to pagan tradition. (Penitential of Bede, England, c. 730’s CE)

Hast thou done anything like what the pagans did, and still do, on the first of January in [the guise of] a stag or a calf? (Corrector of Burchard, Germany, 1023 CE)

What a wonderful set of descriptions; omens, idols, offerings, gifts, drinking, celebrations, and animal guising. Thanks for writing all that down, guys!

One Swedish custom holds that one should place one cup of water on the table for each type of grain that is grown on one’s farm. The next day, if air bubbles are on the rim of a particular cup, it indicates that crop will prosper in the coming year. Similarly, all across the Scandinavian and German-speaking world, the custom of molybdomancy, or divination by lead (Bleigießen in German), is common on New Year’s Eve. In Europe, kits are sold, complete with a melting spoon, ingots, and a book to help interpret the shapes.

The process itself is simple, and is often done in groups, at New Year’s Eve parties. Small ingots of tin or lead are melted in a long-handled spoon or small pot and poured into cold water. The shapes formed by the quick-setting metal is interpreted for its significance in the coming year. Bubbles represent money, a broken casting represents misfortune, the shape of a ship indicates travel, etc. Such interpretations are necessarily subjective, of course, and it may be helpful to write them down for later review, and cross-check them with other forms of divination. This is the time for it! (Be careful whenever handling molten metal, of course!)

New Year’s Day sets the pattern for the whole of the coming year. Thus, if one receives money on January 1st, the year will be prosperous and will see one’s wealth increase. If one pays out money on the day, however, the year will be lean and one’s wealth will wane. The same principle applies to annoyances or other troubles; if present, they will persist throughout the year. This is one reason that in many parts of Europe and America it is traditional to wish friends, families, and acquaintances well on New Year’s Day. You’re setting the path for the rest of the year.

The weather of New Year’s Day is also a significant indicator of the coming year. A red sky indicates that evil and war will be present in the coming year. Blustery winds indicate an average harvest, but sunshine will presage a pleasant year overall. In Brittany, they take this even further, saying that the prevailing winds on the first twelve days of the year will reflect the winds for the rest of the year, one day representing each month.

The tradition of “first stepping” is also widespread. Basically, the luck of the house is influenced by the first visitor to cross the threshold in the new year. In some regions, dark hair is considered lucky, in others the first visitor must be male, and so on. It does seem to vary widely by region, so no universal Germanic standard can be applied, but it does seem that an “opposite” type from the norm seems to be considered lucky, so in a place where blondes and redheads prevail, dark hair would be sought out for its lucky properties. Sometimes, cakes, sweets, or drink would be on hand to welcome the lucky visitor.

The other tradition associated with New Year’s Day is animal guising, as mentioned in the Corrector of Burchard of Worms. Animal guising has a long and complex history in Europe, and it’s way beyond the scope of this article to cover it all, but I can heartily recommend Nigel Pennick’s excellent book Crossing the Borderlines. It’s not readily available at Amazon, but that link will take you straight to the publisher, where it appears to be available very reasonably. There’s also E.C. Cawte’s scholarly Ritual Animal Disguise, sadly out of print but available on the after-market or in a good university library,

From Romania, the stag is
resurrected from dancers

Now, the context and purpose of the guising mentioned by Burchard is obviously lost to us, but I think it can be seen in the other connections to Luck that we see across the spectrum when it comes to New Year’s. I think we’re seeing a reference to a sort of sympathetic magic, similar to that seen in some hunting magic practices. Look at the specific animals that are mentioned: stags and calves. In an agricultural culture that relied on husbandry and hunting, those are the things you want to have in abundance. And, in keeping with the theme of, “as goes New Year’s Day, so goes the year,” having stags present in the community on the first of the year will ensure they are plentiful during hunting later in the year, just as having calves on the day will work towards lots of young cows (and, presumably, other baby livestock, by association) throughout the year.

The straw deer mentioned above in the Life of Saint Eligius would serve the same function, I think. If there are deer around the farm on New Year’s Day, they’ll be around during the year. When hunting deer is an important part of survival, that would be significant.

I would imagine there are dances that are associated with the guising, perhaps some sort of stylized hunt, and stylized farm life scene, but that’s just a supposition on my part. More research into that aspect of the tradition is clearly indicated.

HELPFUL PLANNING TIP: Order your lead-casting supplies now! Prince August Toys has a pre-done kit, complete with booklet, but they’re in Ireland, and it might take some time to arrive. Fortunately, bullet-casting is a very popular thing, and you can get a ladle and led pellets easily enough on Amazon.

St. Thomas the Brewer revisited


Last year I took a first stab at going through some of the lore regarding the feast of St. Thomas the Brewer, aka “Doubting Thomas.” This post is going to be something of a repost of that material, but with some added refinements based on my more recent researches. The original can be found here, but this article should be considered to supersede it, as I use it as more of a launching platform here.

In mainstream Christianity, Thomas is known as one of the apostles, famously the one who doubted that Jesus had been resurrected, and who had to put his fingers in the wounds to be convinced (hence “doubting Thomas”). His feast day is December 21st, the day of the Winter Solstice, in the Gregorian calendar. The key here, I think, is that we see a conflation of customs that go with the solstice, and some that belong more properly to the “shifted” Julian date, which would place them around December 29 or thereabouts. That date will be important in a minute.

But in Norway (and in a more limited sense Sweden), he is also known as “Thomas the Brewer”, by whose day all work in preparation for the Christmas season must be completed, lest some accident befall the person who was behind their time, including the baking, butchering, wood chopping, and of course the brewing. This is key to identifying northern traditions that have been superimposed onto Christian saints; when they exhibit behaviors or have associations that are unknown elsewhere.

Besides the northern-only tradition of brewing being associated with this day, on St. Thomas’ day, English tradition includes begging for alms or cakes, sweets, or fruit, whence comes the ditty, “Christmas is coming / the goose is getting fat / go and throw a penny in the old man’s hat / if you haven’t got a penny, a ha’penny will do / if you haven’t got a ha’penny then god bless you.” In Germany, this sort of charity was practiced by employers towards their employees. But the website Catholic Culture gives it thus:

In England, this was a day of charity, when the poor women went a “Thomasing” or begging. Wheat was cooked and distributed for the poor.

That brings to mind what we discussed earlier regarding St. Lucia, whose feast day should fall on the solstice. She was associated with wheat and grain… I daresay that could be a transposition of a bit of St. Lucia onto the “right” day. It’s of course impossible to say for sure, but it would make sense given the shift in dates with the calendar change. Things are going to be messy.

This association of Saint Thomas with brewing (and charity) is not found in other Christian contexts, nor is his feast day near the Winter Solstice in the Eastern Orthodox tradition, and it was moved from December 21 (where it was placed in the 9th century, just as Christianity was coming up into northern Europe, which I think is very significant, and also when the Julian calendar was in use) to July 3 (in 1969, so it wouldn’t “interfere” with the other Advent activities) in the Catholic tradition. It’s still celebrated on the 21st by Anglicans and Episcopalians, and some others.

So what we have at this point:

  • A tradition associated with brewing
  • A tradition that was originally held 8 days after the solstice (using the Julian calendar), or (more significantly, I think) two weeks before the Yule celebration in the middle of January

Why is that last bullet important? Quite simple. It takes two weeks to brew beer.

The brewing of beer for Yule is enormously important. In fact, the Older Gulathing Law made the brewing of beer or ale mandatory for Christmas/Yule:

We have also promised that every husbandman and his wife shall join in an ale feast, all sharing equality, and bless it on Holy Night with thanks to Christ and Saint Mary for peace and a fruitful harvest. And if this is not done, they shall pay a fine of three marks to the bishop. And if a man allows three winters to pass without giving an ale feast, and he is accused and convicted of this, or the penalties that we have added to our church law, he shall have forfeited his goods to the last penny; and the king shall have one-half of it, and the bishop one-half. But he has the choice of going to confession and doing penance; remain in Norway; but if he refuses to do this, he shall depart from the king’s dominion.

The working assumption being that, just as the date of Yule had been moved up three weeks to correspond with the Christian Yule, so too were traditions and requirements similarly moved up. That would mean that the brewing of ale, and the holding of an ale-feast, would have been regarded as mandatory for the Yule season as well.

And when would you start brewing that ale for the feast? A week or so after the solstice. Two weeks before the celebration of Yule. December 21st, O.S. If you didn’t start brewing by then, you wouldn’t have any ale for the expected (and perhaps mandatory) ale feast. It could take longer to make a good brew, but this was the last chance. And that last chance was recognized in the popular imagination, and because of the date, eight days after the solstice, it became superimposed onto St. Thomas, because that was his newly-minted feast day.

I don’t see this as a “major” holiday by any stretch. Merely a marking of the fact that the brewing better be done by now. But it’s something to mark in the calendar, and especially those who do their own brewing should take note of this important deadline!

Since the day is a deadline unto itself, I don’t have a Helpful Planning Tip for this post, but here’s a cool Viking brewing link: Where were the Viking Brew-Houses?

Lussinatta: Celebrating the Light

St. Lucy’s Day, better known in Scandinavian circles as St. Lucia’s Day, is a Christian feast day celebrated today on December 13. Before the conversion from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar, however, it was associated with the winter solstice (as they knew it, the longest night of the year).

St. Lucy was originally Sicilian, and martyred in 304 CE. She quickly became a very popular saint, and her feast day was honored at least by the 6th century in Anglo-Saxon England. In southern Europe, she is associated with grain, and there is a later (16th century) tradition of her eyes being gouged out; neither of these attributes is particularly associated with her northern European incarnation.

It is quite telling that in very Lutheran (Protestant) Sweden, the celebration of St. Lucia’s Day has survived and thrived. The image of young blonde girls with crowns of greenery and candles is iconic, and has been exported to the surrounding nations (Finland, Norway, and Denmark) within the last century or so. Here, the tradition holds that the saint was helping Christians hiding in the catacombs, and put candles on her head to be able to hold more food in her hands. This doesn’t seem to be a tale originally associated with her in southern Europe; it could be a “retro-fit” to explain her explicit connection with light in northern Europe, and in any event the crown of candles isn’t attested until 1820, so it’s likely a modern invention based on an earlier association with light in general (appropriate for the solstice-based celebration).

However, it is important to note that St. Lucy’s story is probably not historical; even the Catholic Encyclopedia agrees that:

This beautiful story cannot unfortunately be accepted without criticism. The details may be only a repetition of similar accounts of a virgin martyr’s life and death. Moreover, the prophecy was not realized, if it required that Maximian should die immediately after the termination of his reign. Paschasius, also, is a strange name for a pagan to bear. … and it is to be hoped that these [miracles she is said to have done] have not been introduced by the pious compiler of the saint’s story or a popular instinct to link together two national saints. The story, such as we have given it, is to be traced back to the Acta, and these probably belong to the fifth century. Though they cannot be regarded as accurate, there can be no doubt of the great veneration that was shown to St. Lucy by the early church. (Emphasis added)

Since they seem to have just imposed a generic female saint “template” on the figure of Lucy, it seems likely that the celebrations around her were already there, and they were simply trying to impose a Christian veneer on these practices.

And the celebration of St. Lucia in Sweden is marked with songs, and a young girl being selected to play the role of Lucy, wearing a crown of lingonberry greens and seven white candles (in modern times, these are usually electric, rather than real flames). She is at the center of a procession of children singing songs and holding food (special cakes) and drink. (Some traditions hold that if you hear the sound of the Wild Hunt behind you, you should toss one of the cakes, called lussekatter, over your shoulder to appease them.)

Native Swedish lyrics with a Neopolitan melody, and still beautiful

So far we have:

  • A feast day on (or as close as they could approximate it) the winter solstice, the longest night of the year
  • Association with light that is largely absent from the southern European version (aside from the name, Lucy, which comes from the Latin lux, “light”)

Still doesn’t seem definitive, although it’s certainly suggestive. And who would be the most logical choice to celebrate on the shortest day of the year? The goddess Sunna, as a way of urging her to elude the wolf (or be reborn after the wolf consumes her) through sympathetic magic.

However, there’s another piece of the puzzle; the witch-like figure Lussi (or, more rarely, the male Lussigubben). Lussi is a Scandinavian figure, closely parallel to the southern German Holle or Perchta, Lussinatta is the traditional start of the Wild Hunt, or as it’s called in context with her, lussiferda (it has different names in different locations, and the details vary; we’ll discuss the Wild Hunt in particular in its own post). All the work of the household to prepare for the coming winter is to be complete by Lussinatta, lest the lazy households who haven’t gotten their chores done be punished (again, parallels with Holle and Perchta).

There is also a tradition known as lussivaka, which is an all-night vigil on the night of the solstice, along with a feast, to keep an eye out for the lussiferda flying by. In modern times, this takes the form of an all-night party, which traditionally breaks up at dawn. There are also reports from the 18th century of offerings of food being left outside on the Lussinatta, probably to appease the troupe of trolls led by Lussi; this is doubtless related to the above-referenced custom of tossing the lussekatter saffron buns over your shoulder to elude the hunt. A recipe for the buns can be found here.

So here, I think, we can really start to fill in some details. We have a confluence of several traditions (or, perhaps like we see with Nicholas/Krampus, a mixed tradition to start with). First, we have a celebration of the sun goddess, Sunna, on the longest night of the year, in order to help her through her weakest time. A vigil is held overnight, in order to make sure she returns through this darkest time.

Second, we have the appearance of Lussi, who exhorts the people to have their chores done in preparation for the long winter, just as we see in southern Germany with Perchta and Holla. In some ways, there are a lot of parallels between such figures and the goddess Frigg, whose domain over the domestic household has long been established.

Third, we have the appearance of the Wild Hunt, in the form of the lussiferda, which sticks around until the celebration of Yule (which would happen in mid-January). During this time, it is hazardous to be out and about at night, lest the hunt seize the unwary traveler, and on its first night of appearance, offerings are left outside (to distract the hunt from finding the sun goddess???).

And of course, in keeping with the methodology of orienting everything around the solar-defined solstice, rather than the calendar-defined Christmas, we would place this observance on or around December 21st, conveniently mapping very well with the conversion from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar.

HELPFUL PLANNING TIP: If you’re planning an all-night lussivaka party, now’s the time to send out the invitations.

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