The Old Norse Yule Celebration – Myth and Ritual

Published at the 21st of December 2012 – The day of Winter Solstice.

What was the Heathen Yule concerned with, as a religious celebration? As a matter of fact, we do not know exactly. Yet as I will show in this little article, Yule includes many mythological features that may throw some light on what our ancestors were up to during Yule, and what they actually may have celebrated; the Rebirth of the Sun Goddess, the liberation from the Rule of Death and the Powers of the Underworld, the celebration of Thor, who is to protect us from these powers, and the celebration of the ancestral Mothers who will guide us through the time of darkness into the new Sun cycle.

Being Norwegian, I will write this from a Norwegian perspective. During the 10th century AD, King Hákon the Good, who was a Christian, demanded that the jólablót should be held on the 25th of December in accordance with the continental Christmas celebrations, a decision which was part of a political process of trying the Christen Norway. Yet this was not the original heathen date for Yule.

Yule, or Jól (pronounciation: “yoh-l”) was the name of the time between the Winter Solstice and the Jólablót – “Yule Sacrifice” – which originally may have happened on the 12th of January. It means that Yule begins today with the Winter Solstice and lasts until the 12th of next year, if you are a heathen!

The Yule celebration as a whole was often referred to as “drinking jól”, as in “to drink” yule. This descriptive term strongly suggests that drink was an important part of the celebration. We also know that apart from drinking a lot, there would also be feasting, banquets, games and song – and sacrifice to the gods and other powers of winter.

But it is uncertain what exactly was celebrated during the Yule drinking. It has been suggested that they sacrificed for a good new year, for the dead, or that it was a sun – or light celebration to counter the darkness of winter. We can but speculate, and speculate I will, taking a mythological approach.

The actual days of the great drinking and eating banquet associated with Jól did not last for more than three days although the time of Jól certainly did, lasting for more than three weeks. It would appear that the actual Yule banquets would last for three days and nights, and probably closer to the day of the Sacrifice on the 12th of January than to the Solstice – as such the sacrifice and the banquet may have been a way of celebrating and giving thanks after three weeks of expectation, beginning with the Solstice and the gradual brightening of days.

WINTER SOLSTICE – THE REBIRTH OF THE SUN GODDESS.

 
Eina dottvr ————–A daughter
berr Alfra/ðvll———–is birthed by Elf-Splendor (the Sun goddess)
aþr hana Fenrir fari; —after she is swallowed by the wolf
sv scal riða, ————–She (the New Sun) shall ride
þa er regin deyia, ——as the gods are dying
modvr bra/tir mer.—–the old paths of her mother.
 
-       Vafthrudnismál st.47, Poetic Edda

Since Yule begins with Solstice, it is natural to assume that the Sun was an important feature of this ancient celebration. But how? Popular modern notions aside, it is a fact that we actually know very little about the Norse Pagan religion. What we “know” is based on how we interpret the few pieces of the puzzle we actually have, mostly through old texts, folklore and archaeological finds, and how well we can imagine what winter must have felt like to people who did not have any of the modern comforts of our day.

The day of the Winter Solstice is the shortest day of the year, and in Norway, as in other countries to the far north, it is particularly short, lasting for a few hours at best. In the Northern parts of Norway, the day of Winter Solstice is hardly a day at all, but rather a short moment of dark bluish light at midday before Night once more settles, and the Sun is not seen. To the ancients, it must have appeared as if the wolf of darkness was catching up on her, or that she had in fact succumbed, shining only a bleak light from the realm of Hel – or from the wolf´s belly.

When the poem quoted above refers to how the new Sun goddess will begin to ride the ancient paths of her mother “when the gods are dying”, it is not just a reference to Ragnarok – it is a reference to a time when the gods are weakened, dying, awaiting the gift of new life that is given by the resurrected Maiden, as described in the skaldic poem Haustlöng, when the gods begin to age and die while their shared, singular lover (“Asa leika”- The (one) Lover of (all) the gods), the Maiden goddess, resides in the Underworld. It may mean several things at once, but on one level this is a reference to winter, and to the “fact” that the gods depend on the fruit of their lover, the goddess of resurrections, in order to revive and retain their immortality, their youth and their strength.

The Solstice may well have represented the return of the life-giving Sun goddess or even the rebirth  of her new self, her “daughter”, so essential for the return of life, light and nourishment. Yule began at Solstice and was a time of darkness when, day by day, the days grew longer, showing that the Sun was being reborn, and victorious. Perhaps Yule was, originally, that time of the year where time stood still, and where the goddess of the new time cycle (the new year) was still in her infancy, a fragile time that had to be supported ritually by all those who were in dire need of her success?

From the Viking Age, we know that the Sun (known in Old Norse as Sól, in Germanic as Sunna (hence “Sun”) was considered a goddess who dwelled among the Aesir and who rode or drove a chariot across the sky on an eternal flight from the devouring “wolf” of darkness. Eventually, she is doomed, doomed to be swallowed by the wolf. In the Völuspa, this would appear to be the time of Ragnarok, but it is also an annual event – because every year, the Sun of the North is in fact swallowed by darkness.

In Norse mythology, the wolf is a creature of Hel and the Underworld, representing death as well as related issues such as desire, life-force, survival instincts, hunger and greed. Not an evil creature but a formidable one and often an opponent, unless you learn to steer it like  the giantesses Hyrokkin (“Fire Spinner”), Hyndla (“She-Wolf”)  and the god Odin (“The Spirit”) appear to do. In the case of the Sun, we may safely assume that the wolf who eats her represents death, and death is in Norse myths not a fixed state but a transition phase associated with dark and coldness – and winter.

There are a few fragmented myths and texts about her which show that she was essential to the order of cosmos, to time and to the creation of life on Earth: She came from the southern realms of heat (same as the norns and the valkyriur) threw her right hand around the “steeds of heaven” (the planets?), claimed ownership to her “halls” (the planets?) and shone her rays upon the rocks of the “hall” called Earth, which then began to sprout forth green growth.

Whereas that myth is a cosmic creation story (a genesis), we may also imagine that it was used as an image of the way the rays of the great goddess of light brings forth new green growth on her “hall”, the Earth goddess, after winter´s darkness. The swallowing of the Sun by a wolf may appear to be a reference to Ragnarok, but could also, or originally, have been an image of how the Sun is swallowed by darkness during winter.

Since Christian Christmas is all about the birth of a divine “son”, a theme known to have been preceded by many older religions and often having to do with winter solstice, we may also recognize that the celebration of the birth of a “daughter” may have been an ancient theme in Scandinavia, where the Sun is a birth-giving mother; birthing her own new self at the beginning of a new cycle.

In fact, as I showed in the Edda stanza above, there is a reference in the Eddas as to how the Sun goddess bears a daughter who will continue riding in the same paths as her mother after she has been swallowed by a wolf. It is a theme of cyclical time, how the end of a time cycle and thus the end of a “sun” gives way to a new cycle and a new “sun”. Thus the theme is not just about Ragnarok but about how the Sun rebirths herself when a new cycle starts. A cycle may just be a year.

May the birth of a new Sun goddess have been a part of the Solstice celebration? I think it certainly could have been, at least at some point in time. We know that the Sun goddess was of central importance to Scandinavian religions during the Bronze Ages, and that a lot of the Sun goddess´ features and symbols survived into later Norse mythology and religious symbolism.

Up to the 7th and 8th centuries, the Sun symbol continued to dominate the iconography of burial monuments for example, possibly an indication that the Sun represented a new cycle after death, a new life of sorts.

It is  often thought that the Sun goddess lost importance in the religious cult of the Vikings compared to earlier times, yet a lot of her essential characteristics survived in many goddesses; such as in Freyia´s golden eyes and her necklace of flames, made by the four directions. We may also see a memory of the Sun goddess in Síf´s main attribute, her hair of gold, and we may see the Sun in Frey´s wife Gerd´s bright arms, arms so bright that they illuminate the lands and the oceans. And not the least in the way the valkyriur are described as bright, shining, southern, golden red, emanating rays, shine, lightening, and the way their heat rays create the honey-dew that falls into the valleys and how they, quite like Gerd, “illuminate the air and the ocean” as they ride.

Like Gerd of the illuminating “arms” is discovered hidden in the Underworld, so we know that other goddesses of solar associations are also threatened – both Síf and Freyia are in danger of becoming the brides of giants from the dark spaces. And the goddess Idunn is in fact abducted by the eagle who represents Death, into the winter realm in Trymheimr, where Skadi, the goddess of skiing, hunts with the wolves of death, shooting her deadly arrows. The eagle who abducts Idunn is frequently also called a “wolf” in the poem Haustlöng, so that the theme of the Sun-eating wolf may be present. The abduction of the bright, southern, light and life-bringing, golden (and thus solar) goddess, and the dire need to restore her to her place among the gods, is a recurring theme in Norse mythology.

In the 10th century skaldic poem Haustlöng, where Idunn´s abduction is described, the goddess is described as “The (singular) Lover of (all) the Gods”, the “Glorious Maiden Who Knows the Age Cure of the Aesir”, and, significantly to our drinking celebrants, the “Ale-Provider”. She is the goddess who brings eternal resurrection and rejuvenation to the gods, which they need in order to stay immortal. In the Edda poem Hrafnagaldr Odins (Odin´s Raven Spell), st. 6, she is also said to be of elf-kind, just like the Sun, and her role as both old and young (the old and the new sun?) is emphasized – and like all the stars of the universe, she is a seed of that universe – the Seed of Yggdrasill:

Dvelr í daulom————There dwells in the valleys
dís forvitin,—————–a knowledge hungry goddess
Yggdrasils frá————–The Seed of Yggdrasill (the Universe)
aski hnigin;—————–sinking down the Ash (the Universe)
álfa ættar——————-of the lineage of Elves
Iþunni héto,—————-her name is Idunn (Stream Returns to Source)
Ívallds ellri—————-(She is) the oldest child of the Inner Ruler´s
ýngsta barna.————(and she is) the youngest child.

 

Apart from being the “seed” of the universe and one that returns (cyclically?) to the point of origin, It is the elfin lineage that gives Idunn´s “secret identity” away – if not as the Sun herself so at least as one of the goddesses who inherited the essential attributes of the older Sun goddess: Further down, we will see that elves representing souls may have been important during the time that counted down to the Winter Solstice as well as during Yule. Then we should bear in mind that the Sun goddess was not only called Sól (Sun) but also Alfrödull –  which translates as “Elf Shine, “Elf Splendor” or “Elf Wheel”. Thus she is the wheel or shine or splendor of the elves, which ultimately represented souls.

An association to the Sami Sun goddess is appropriate here, since the Sami goddess Beaivi Nieida, the “Sun Maiden”, was considered the source of all souls. The souls came to Earth as rays from the Sun Maiden, and were received by the Earth goddess Matahrakka, whose three daughters distributed and protected the souls when entering the wombs of female individuals. What an image it must have been to those who lived in this reality – a Sun whose rays were the vibrant, shining souls on their steady way to inhabit living bodies on Earth. And what a time of no-life it must have been, when the Sun failed to shine during winter, leaving space to the haunting souls of those who had already died. In my upcoming book “The Seed of Yggdrasill” (now due in early 2013), I will further discuss how such Finno-Ugric mythology may have found its way into the Norse.

So the old, central importance of the Sun goddess in Scandinavia may have, if not actually disappeared by the Viking Age, so perhaps have been shattered into many different younger versions of goddesses who have individual names and features yet who also share many solar attributes - yet who are not exactly THE Sun – or perhaps they were, in which case they would have represented aspects of the older Sun goddess, having assumed a separate life of their own. That kind of hypostases is a well-known feature of ancient religions.

One Edda poem that strongly suggests that the Sun goddess may have been far more important during the Viking Age than is commonly assumed is the poem Sólarljód – the Song of the Sun – where it is in fact the Sun who represents paganism as such, in contrast to Christianity. She also represents life and the human heart. The Sun is continuously referred to in the poem: She is the True Star of Day on Earth, the Star of Hope in the human heart, a Glorious Goddess of old, and in death, she is the Sun of the Giantess (i.e. Hel), the Sun of Hel, shining darkly beneath the Earth.

It is to her that the poet takes his leave as he accepts death, as well as the new religion, yet not without longing for the old ways, not without lament for both life and his old faith (Solarljód st. 41):

Sól ek sá, —————————I saw the Sun
svá þótti mér, ———————and it seemed to me
sem ek sæja göfgan guð;——–I was seeing a glorious goddess;
henni ek laut ———————–To Her I bowed
hinzta sinni ———————-for one last time
aldaheimi í.———————–in this world of Time.

Thus I think we should take seriously the fact that the Winter Solstice is about the return of the light of the Sun, and that the Sun was actually a very important and ancient goddess among the pagan Scandinavians, a splendid goddess of elfin shine who rebirths herself from the darkness of the wolf´s belly.

Since the wolf is often a metaphor for death in Norse mythology, we are speaking of the “death” of the Sun, the time she spends as the Sun of the Giantess in Hel – and that death may have happened annually during winter. Yet it is within the darkness of death, while dwelling within the belly of the great wolf who IS death –  that she rebirths her daughter self, and this is metaphorically exactly what happens during the dark of winter – Winter Solstice is the day of her return, of her rebirth. Thus the Yule celebration is the celebration of her rebirth, a fragile time of dreading the possibility that she may not succeed, a time of supporting her growth with every day – for the three weeks or so it takes before her success is a given, proved by the brightness of day.

NIGHT AND ALL HER KIND

Heill Dagr, ————-Hail Day!
heilir Dags synir,——Hail the Sons of Day!
heil Nott oc nipt!—–Hail Night and all her sisters!

                                                         -Sígrdrífumál st. 3, Poetic Edda

Winter was a time of slumbering, death-like stillness, darkness and coldness – all attributes associated with death, Hel and the Underworld. It is also a time of Night. From Norse mythology, we know that the darkness of Night was personified – as a mysterious giantess who mated with Odin at the dawn of time and became the mother of our own ancestral mother, the Earth goddess. She is also the mother of Dagr – “Day “-  who represents the time when the Sun goddess shines, and who himself, his sons, alongside Night, her sisters and all the heavenly bodies, are the counters of Time.

In one Edda poem (Hymiskvida), Earths mother is called Amma – “Grandmother”- and she is a terrifying sight, having nine hundred heads. Yet from her darkness emerged the bright-browed Mother, the Earth, who carried the horn of plenty to her first child Thor, who ultimately represents humankind and all the children of Earth.

Winter was a time when the powers of death and darkness ruled, Night and all her (female) kindred (“nipt” actually means “female kindred” but it sounded better with “sisters”, hence my translation of the poem above). It was Holy Darkness (Nökkvé) that ruled this time of the year, and her “sisters” would include the powers of death, such as Hel.

It is important to note that the powers of Darkness (Night, Hel, Winter) are not “evil”, albeit dangerous, they are in fact the powers that birth the powers of light and life (Day, Earth, Sun), as represented by Grandmother Night. It is likely that powers associated with darkness and death were celebrated in some way or other, if for nothing else so as to placate them in the hope that they will not bring about as much destruction as they could if displeased. The theme of placating the powers of darkness is an important aspect of folklore survivals from heathenry into modern times.

THE YULE RIDERS – WHEN THE INHABITANTS OF HEL RETURN TO EARTH

The dangerous powers that dominated mid-winter must have been fearsome things to people who in so many ways were dependent on their natural environment. There are some elements from later Norwegian folklore which may represent aspects of heathen survivals. One of these is the Oskoreia, or rather the “Ásgardr-riders”, the immortal souls of dead ancestors who ride through the nights of winter. The Oskoreia gathering is also known as the Jólareia, Jólaskreia, and Imberkulludn. I have not been able to translate the latter one yet, but the two before just mean the “Yule Riders”. The Yule Riders, consisting of various creatures of the Underworld and the souls of the dead made a fearsome gathering as they rode the dark lands of winter, and dangerous to those who crossed their paths, especially to those of impure intentions.

Some may recognize this image as somewhat similar to other continental folkloristic themes such as “The Wild Hunt” and similar (please do share info about these in the comment section, here or  on FB if you have some interesting additions! I have not had time to write about these).

Since the “riders from Ásgardr” appear to come from the world of pagan gods, we must assume that the theme has roots in paganism yet may have changed considerably with Christianity.

What we may assume to be the original, heathen essence of this theme is that the dark of winter is an era where the souls of the dead, as well as other creatures of the Underworld, roam freely in the world of people – because the borders between the world of the living and the world of the dead has become blurred, because the world of the living has in fact become like dark, cold, merciless Hel.

Perhaps this era of the freely wandering dead was instigated already at the 1st of November, when the Alfablót (Sacrifice to the Elves) was held in order to honor the souls of the ancestors who now dwelled in mounds and rocks as dark elves. The elves, we know, were offered beer, meat and blood, and rites to placate them, please them and avoid their anger and vengeance were made. The date of the Elf Sacrifice was the count-down to Winter Solstice, with the days growing every shorter and the power of death and darkness grew ever greater.

In folklore and later Yule traditions, the original heathen element of these spirits and souls of the land and of the Underworld, may have been taken over by a large gathering of supernatural species known as “nisser” (gnomes), “småfolk” (little people), fairies and trolls, an element which I know survived up to modern times. In fact, I am only 37 and when I was a young girl, I met adult people who lived on a farm who in all earnest put out porridge as an offering to the little people and the gnomes lest these avenge themselves by wreaking havoc and making the cows lose their milk. If, however, the little people were treated with porridge and even beer during the dark winter nights, they would bring great fortune to the farm, its animals and its people. I am pretty sure that this is a survival from very ancient times, since it actually involves a form of blót (offering, sacrifice).

We are also seeing that rather than dividing the world into “good and evil”, our heathen ancestors saw a world full of powers that may or may not be benevolent according to a given situation, according to a particular perspective, and according to how they are met and treated. Offerings and sacrifice, what we would easily call “worship”, was not always worship but rather a way of placating powers that are potentially malevolent and dangerous. If successful, the dark forces may prove benevolent and helpful.

THOR  AND THE YULE-GOAT

Þá gengu regin öll ————Then all the rulers went
á rökstóla, ———————-to the high chairs of fate
ginnheilug goð, —————the sacrosanct gods
ok um þat gættusk: ———and of this they spoke:
hverr hefði lopt allt ———-who had the air
lævi blandit ——————–all blended with evil?
eða ætt jötuns —————-and who to the line of devourers
Óðs mey gefna.—————-given Poetry´s Maiden?
 
Þórr einn þar vá ————Thor alone was then
þrunginn móði, ————-seized by powerful anger
hann sjaldan sitr ————he seldom sits
er hann slíkt um fregn; —-when he hears about such things…
.
-       From the Völuspá, st. 25,26, Poetic Edda

 

When faced with the unpredictable powers of darkness and the Underworld, people in heathen times would need assistance. No matter how hard they tried to placate the kindred of Night and Death, they could often only hope for divine protection, and in that regard, the god Thor was the great protector, the one god whose main mission was to protect his mother Earth and the Middle World from the powers of darkness and destruction, and the only one who had the strength and the courage to stand up to the wolf-riding lady of Death.

Thor is also the great protector of the “Maiden”, that divine and life-providing damsel, annually in distress, whose light and love belongs to the gods, and to whom they looked for their annual rejuvenation. Perhaps it was to him that gods and people looked for help and protection when the time of the great battle for her resurrection to her place among the gods had arrived.

We know that Thor was important during Yule celebration, and the reason may be the above, his role as protector against exactly the kinds of forces that roamed free on Earth during that fragile time between the rebirth of the Sun and her actual resurrection to former glory at the 12th of January. He may have represented the hero of the day, the one whose protection and direct action not only protected the people against the onslaughts of the destructive powers, but who also saved the solar ”damsel in distress” in some way or other: It is at least very likely that Thor, as a god of Yule, ensured the safe growth, the protection of and, eventually, the glorious return of the new Sun.

We do not know exactly how Thor was worshipped during Yule in pagan times, but it is thought that some of these Thor-rituals may have survived in the Scandinavian tradition called “Julebukk” – the “Yule-Goat”.

The goat, a symbol of Thor, was an established symbol of Yule, and the animal was slaughtered as a sacrifice during Yule, perhaps referring to the myth of how Thor could slaughter his precious goats and revive them the day after with a blow from his hammer; a symbol of resurrection, and particularly the resurrection of that which gives nourishment.

It is possible that myths like these were reenacted ritually by people who dressed with a goat´s head wearing goat´s fur. The later tradition of the Yule-Goat that survived into modern times involves people (today mostly children) wearing masks while visiting their neighbors, singing Christmas carols and receiving food (today mostly sweets). We may well imagine the heathen origins of this tradition, perhaps with goat-head-masked men roaming the neighborhood, singing and dancing and receiving offerings to Thor.

I assume their pagan songs were quite different from (and most probably a lot more naughty than)Christmas carols, but the essence is the same: people embodying the dying and resurrecting goats of Thor, symbols of renewed strength (the pulling power of the goats), rejuvenation, and the restoration of nourishment to the world.

MÓDRANIHT – THE NIGHT OF THE MOTHERS – NEW YEAR AND JÓLABLÓT

As the days of Yule slowly moved towards the day when one could surely celebrate the successful rebirth of the Sun, the great three day banquet of the Yule Sacrifice (Jólablót) were prepared. The 12th of January represented the end of Yule and probably the beginning of the New Year. At least the New Year celebration happened during Yule, and it is likely to have been the 12th of January.

The New Year celebration was also a time when the ancestral mothers and other female powers were celebrated. Why they were so important is not known, but I suggest that the dísir (female powers) were worshipped during Yule for many good reasons:

Firstly, they represented both the life-giving, solar aspect of the goddesses as a collective, and the dark, deadly aspect of the same – two elements of nature and fate that were very much in focus during this time, when Grandmother Night and her dark riders enveloped yet gradually gave way to the Sun maiden and the reawakening of the slumbering Earth goddess.

Secondly, it is also possible that the ladies in question were the guardians of this time. As fates, which they often are, they would be particularly concerned with the spinning of the fate of a new cycle.

Thirdly, the ladies would also be associated with birth and midwifery, which was a very important issue since the birth of a daughter Sun was imminent, as was the survival of the infant. We are also speaking of the birth of a new cycle, and the (re-)birth of new life on Earth.

Finally, the ladies were associated with abundance and provisions, reflected  directly in the human women who provided enormous quantities of food and drink at the Yule celebrations, and more abstractly a way of honoring the powers that would bring more provisions during the coming year.

Many may be surprised at this, but there is evidence for such goddess worship during Yule, particularly attached to the New Year: The actual celebration “Modhraniht” is an Anglo-Saxon heathen celebration which translates as “The Night of the Mothers”. According to Bede (born 673 AD), the still heathen Angles held a sacrifice at New Year in the “night of the Mothers”.

The celebration corresponds with Yule celebrations and is associated with the continental Germanic “Mother Cult” that flourished during the days of heathenism. Thousands of votive altars have been found in Central Europe showing females seated or standing together, Latin inscriptions declaring them to be a particular collective of ancestral mothers (matronae) or goddesses (deae) – the assignation “mother” and “goddess” overlap even when the collective is named, thus you may have an altar dedicated to the “Aufania-Mothers” and an almost identical altar dedicated to the “Aufana-goddesses”.

The importance of the ancestral mothers is balanced by Latin accounts of how German chiefs were accompanied by collectives of women who were called “mothers”, who played a role as priestesses and counselors in both war and peace. Norse and German pagans often copied what they thought of as divine arrangements on earth – if there was a collective of female powers in the heavens who accompanied the gods when they were to discuss important matters (and there was) then there would be a collective of women on earth playing a similar role on Earth, when rulers gathered at parliament.

The Mothers are often depicted with baskets of fruit, primarily apples, in their laps, like later Norse goddess Idunn, who we discussed above as a possible representation or inheritor of the older Sun goddess.

I also find the importance of the fruit-offering Mothers during the Yule celebrations vaguely reminiscent of the Italian celebration called La Befana (The Witch), where Befana is a broom-stick riding (witchy, witchy) Mother who flies around to all children bringing gifts of sweetfoods.

The celebration of this Mother Witch happens on the 6th of January and although there have been later Christian adaptions of her myth it has pre-Christian origins related to the goddess Strenia, a goddess of the new year, purification, and wellbeing. She had a shrine and grove  at the top of the Via Sacra in Rome,  and her shrine was set in the place where all religious processions begun. Her name is also associated with strengthening – being the goddess who made a man strenuus – “vigorous”, “strong”.

The Italian Befana actually has a German counterpart, Mother Bertha! She flies about on her broomstick to all the homes of little boys and girls everywhere, and it is she who loads stockings with presents on Twelfth Night. But she will leave you a lump of coal if you are naughty.

The idea reminds me of how the Disir and the Mothers alike bring nourishment and replenishment. It also reminds me of the way that the Mother of the Hymiskvida brings a horn of ale to Thor which gives him the strength to succeed in his mission to get a cauldron large enough to contain all the mead of Aegir the Ocean Lord. When the Mother Witch is associated with the New Year and with the starting point of all processions, it may have something to do with an ancient tradition of how the Mothers, the goddesses and the Sun herself brought the strenghtening, invigorating, fertilizing power of new, growing light on Earth.

The Night of the Mothers  is also related to the Viking Age celebration called the dísablót – “sacrifice to the goddesses”, although the date of this celebration is disputed. Some sources suggest February, others October. Thus it does not appear as if the Anglo-Saxon Night of the Mothers and the Norse Sacrifice to the Goddesses were exactly the same celebration, yet they are clearly related, and there may certainly have been a similar Night of Mothers in Scandinavia:

That the ladies were in charge of midwinter and of the turn towards lighter days is a natural thing – for theirs were the still lands of death, in which the “Judgment of the Norns” (Norna Domr) took place at the end of a life or a year cycle. Theirs was also the carvings of the fate of a new life or year cycle. Theirs the midwifery – in this case of the new Sun – and theirs was the rebirth of the land itself.

God Jul!

So today is the Winter Solstice, and the world has not even ended! A new cycle has begun, and it appears that this year, it is not only the new year cycle, but a new astronomical cycle of 26000 years or something

If you are a heathen, or you  just like the old traditions, why then today is the night of contemplation, the darkest of all the days of the year. In the northernmost parts, it is a day of utter darkness. It is the day when the Sun is swallowed, hidden, yet deep within the darkness her golden realm shines brightly. She is about to give birth to her new self, to a new cycle.

Celebrate tomorrow the rebirth of the goddess Sol/Sunna as she returns from dark slumber and begins once more to shine her red gold upon us all.

Celebrate the strength of Thor, who with his power and might and loyal dedication will ensure the successful restoration of the Sun to her place in heaven.

And last but not least, celebrate the ancestral mothers, real and divine, for they are the guardians of the fate of the new cycle. Perhaps particularly important this year, as the cycle is a cycle within a greater cosmic cycle.

God Jul! (Happy Yule)!

Til Árs ok Frídr! (To the New Year, and Peace!)

Article by Maria Kvilhaug

 

8 Responses to The Old Norse Yule Celebration – Myth and Ritual

  1. Linda Ursin says:

    I don’t remember where I read it, but I read that the different dates for Dísablot came from the Swedes celebratin in February, and having Alvablot around November 1, while the Norwegians had their Disablot around November 1. If I remembered the source, I’d gladly provide it, but annoyingly enough I don’t. I personally prefer doing a disablot in February and an Alvablot in November :)

  2. Jozef Filip-Ryan says:

    Thank You once again for sharing Your knowledge and speculation!

    Til Árs ok Frídr!

  3. Pingback: Ancient Origins of Yule « Pacific Sámi Searvi

  4. Allison says:

    Hello Maria! I put a link to your Yule article on my Facebook groups: Germanic tribal history group and Germanic tribal association. I also recommended you highly to my members. Love your stuff!

  5. Eric Swanson says:

    I really enjoyed the article. I was wondering if you could comment on the Ing – Yngve – Frey connection. I understand that Ing may have been an older name for Frey or for a god who had a similar role in the Norse lands. I’m asking because there are a lot of Scandinavian names that have their root in Ing: Ingmar, Ingrid, Ingegerd, etc. Was there any significant change in society that happened which we know of that happened when the name Frey came into common use?

  6. Candee Wadsworth says:

    The part where mean went around with a goat’s head and fur on put me in mind of Krampus, a similarly attired person who, in Germanic areas, goes around with Santa punishing bad children. Perhaps this is how the Christianity Germany kept the pagan transition going, only in a negative light

  7. Alex Preußner says:

    Hello Maria,

    some people at our forum liked the article very much, but don’t know enough english to understand it fully. Would you mind if I’d translate it?
    I would either put it up at our facebook site or in the forum, hexenzirkel.org, with full author’s credits and a link here, of course.
    That’s for you to decide. I love your work and would appreciate the opportunity to make it available to more interested readers.

    BB
    Alex

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