The Old Norse Calendar

The week days of the Heathens were adopted from the Roman seven-day-week that was decreed in 321 AD and soon spread into the Germanic areas, only the names of the Roman deities were replaced with the corresponding or identical Saxon/Norse deities: Luna, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, Saturn, Sol where translated into: Moon, Týr, Ódinn/Wodan, Thor, Freyia, Saturn and Sun.

By the time of the Viking Age, both Anglo-Saxons and Norse people knew of a Moon-Day, a Týr´s Day, a Óðin´s/Wodan´s Day, a Thor´s Day, a Freyia´s Day, a Satyr-Day (In Scandinavia, they skipped Saturn and opted for the more mundane and practical Laugardágr – “Washing Day”) and a Sun´s Day: Lunedi -Monday-Mándagr, Martedi – Tuesday – Tirsdagr/Tysdagr, Mercoledi -Wednesday – Onsdágr, Jovedi -Thursday – Torsdágr, Venerdi- Friday – Freyiudágr/Fredag, Saturday-Laugardágr/Laurdag, Sunday – Sunnasdagr/Sonntagr/Søndag

The YEAR was divided into mánaður – “moon phases”, hence “months” and into two main seasons:

Skammdegi – “The dark days” = Winter

 

1. Gormánuður: “Butchering Month (October 14th-November 13th)

The 14th of October meant the first blót (sacrifice) of winter, dedicated to the main god of fertility; Freyr. The harvest was brought indoors. One welcomed winter and sacrificed for a good year.

According to one saga (Víga-Glúms saga), the Dísablót (sacrifice to the goddesses) was held during the Vetrnætr (Winter Nights) which may also have been during this time. Other sources claim that the Dísablót happened at Spring Equinox on March 20th

(See information on the Dísablót here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/D%C3%ADsabl%C3%B3t

2. Ýlir: “Yule-month?” (November 14th – December 13th ).

The name of the month is cognate with one of Óðin´s names; “Jólnir”, which has also been connected to Yule. There are many Old Norse legends of how Óðinn was traveling the world of men during Yule time, accompanied by other beings of the unknown and the darkness (such as the Ásgarðsreia – “The Riders from Ásgarðr” – often depicted as a following of vættir (feminine plural: “spirits”) led by the gods that would ride across the land and skies during this area of increasing darkness and cold, a dangerous following, to be avoided and placated. We do not know exactly when the Yule celebration time started; but that it began some time during this month is almost certain.

This was the darkest month of the year, when the Sun goddess almost or completely vanished depending on how far to the north people lived. It was the time of the dark forces and a lot of indoor activity, such as feasting on the produce of the year. Yule was primarily a time of drinking the beer that had been brewed before November 1st in celebration with your neighbors. The last day of that month, December 13th , was celebrated as the “long night of Lussi” (Lussi löngnöttr). Lussi, who could go by many other names, was the mother of the beings that dwell beneath the Earth. She would punish those who had not finished their work in time before the darkest winter nights, so the celebration had to do with placating the dark mother by showing that one had done well.

 

3. Mörsugur: «Intestinal Fat Sucking Month» (December 14th- January 12th).

“Intestinal Fat Sucking Month” – not kidding!!!! J After a few months of meat-eating, people would be fatter than ordinary and ready for the long hard spring. In this month, Yule celebrations probably continued or culminated in the celebrations of the Winter Solstice (December 21st) and the weeks after, when the Sun goddess gradually was reborn from the darkness. According to Procopius, who wrote during the 6th century, Scandinavians were terrified that the Sun might not return on this night, and would send a priest up to the highest mountain to observe the sky. When he returned with the happy news that the Sun maiden was returning there would be a great celebration. Interestingly, even to this day, people in the north of Norway celebrate the Sun Day (Soldagen), the first day when the Sun may be seen in the sky again after winter. Furthest to the north of Norway, this happens between the 16th – 21st of January depending on the location. In Old Norse times, we would have to consider that many Scandinavians lived further south than that, and that the end of this month, January 12th, may have been the common day of celebrating the return of the Southern Golden Lady. This was the day of the Mid-Winter Sacrifice during the Mid-Winter Night (Hoggunótt).

According to Anglo-Saxon sources, there was also a celebration in honor of the ancestral mothers, Modraniht – “The Night of the Mothers”, which happened on December 25th and was considered a new year celebration. We do not know if this pertained to the Scandinavians as well – it is not unlikely since ancestral mother worship was an integral part of Old Norse Scandinavian cultures as well. As I see it, if the celebration happened three days after the Winter Solstice it could have been a way of appealing to the norns and the ancestral mothers that worked like norns – the Fylgjur – who ruled the life, death and destinies of gods and men and may have been crucial to the resurrection and continued life of the Sun goddess. It is also possible that these were the actual Winter Nights referred to as the time of the Dísablót (sacrifice to the goddesses) which would be the Norse equivalent of Modraniht.

4. Þorri: “Bare Frost” (January 13th-February 11th)

During this month was held a sacrifice called the Þorrablot, where one drank to the gods. The Húsfreyia – Lady of the Household – was leading this ritual, and would go outdoors to greet “Bare Frost” to invite him indoors. When the power of frost had been invited indoors, the Húsbondr – the Lord of the Household, should engage him in a happy dance J ! This was the men´s month. Every man could choose a day for himself during this month, and if the weather was good on the day he had chosen, he would be fortunate the next year, while bad weather meant bad fortune. Women  were expected to take extra good care of their husbands during this time, since it was a month for men. In this month, the giant known as Frost takes control over all nature with the help of his son Sné (Snow) and his grandchildren, Þorri (Bare Frost), Fonn (Thick Snow), Drífa (Snowing) and Mjoll (Dry New Snow).

5. Góa: “Sowing” (February 12th-March 13th)

This was the month of sowing the first seeds. In Old Norse sources, Gói (Sowing) is the daughter of Þorri, allegorically this means that after Bare Frost comes the result (the daughter), namely the time of sowing seeds. This was the women´s month, and now it was the men´s turn to take special care of their wives, and the sacrifice and celebration of Gói (Góablót) began with the Lord of the Household going outdoors to invite the maiden Gói into the household.

6. Einmánuður : “One Month” (March 14th-April 13th)

On March 21st was the Spring Equinox and a good time to hold sacrifice and celebrate fertility. This month also had celebration in honor of small boys.

Whereas the Norse Scandinavian sources fail to inform us much more than this, Anglo-Saxon and German sources tell us that this time began the celebration of Ostara/Eastre, the goddess of spring, associated with eggs and sweets and hares. According to several sources, the Spring Equinox was the time of the Dísablót (Sacrifice to the Goddesses), although the sources differ as to the date of this important celebration.

Dísablót: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/D%C3%ADsabl%C3%B3t

Nóttleysa – “Nightless” = Summer

 

1.    Harpa (April 14th-May 13th)

Harpa is the name of a vette (female spirit) who introduces the Summer time (possibly related to the concept of Ostara, a goddess of spring? We know precious little about all the details behind this but we do know that different names for similar concepts and deities abounded and varied with time and place). On the first day of summer (April 14th) was the third great sacrifice, this time to Óðinn, a prayer for victory in battle and fortune on voyages in the coming year. Apart from that it was a time of celebrating little girls and the female spirits of spring.

2. Skerpla (May 14th-June12th)

Skerpla is another female name just like Harpa and difficult to explain as anything but one of the countless female spirits and goddesses who have been forgotten in the surviving lore but who were once important enough to patronize their own month.

3. Sólmánaður: “Sun Month”(June 13th-July12th)

This was the brightest month of the year, when the Sun Goddess hardly even set at nights, if at all (depending on how far north one lived), and there were celebrations in honor of the Sun. In Sweden, Summer Solstice has been associated with the raising of a large, flower-decorated Mid-Summer Pole and dancing maidens with flowers in their hair and a lot of hoolabalooba in the bushes ever since. In Norway, people still make large fires at midnight and sometimes burn a wicker-witch. In Iceland, this night is one of magical powers when the elves and the vættir (female spirits) come out to party. Young women would roll naked in the morning dew grass in order to become more fertile. It was always a popular time for wedding celebrations, and prophecies were made. It was also a night very potent for the collection of medicinal herbs and power-stones. Lyfjagras (Medicine Grass – Pinguicula vulgaris) had to be collected on this night only. Cows could speak the language of men and seals could take the shapes of humans.

This was also a time of the great Allþing – the All-Parliament, when the heads of households met up to discuss and vote about politics.

4. Heyannir: “Hay-Collection” (July 13th-August 14th)

This was the month where the hay was harvested and laid out to dry. Some places it was also called the Ormamánaður – the Serpent Month.

5.Tvímánaður: “Two Month” (August 15th- September 14th)

The month where the grain was harvested. Nobody knows why it was called “Two-Month” but it was also known as Kornskurðarmánuður – “Cutting Corn Month”.

6.Haustmánaður: “Autumn Month” (September 14th-October 13th)

This was a time when all the last preparations for winter had to be done, and also when the beer was brewed (had to be ready by November 1st or some power below would be pissed off!!!)

September 21st was the Autumn Equinox. This was possibly the time when the important Alfablót (Elfin Sacrifice) was celebrated (See Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%81lfabl%C3%B3t)

 

3 Responses to The Old Norse Calendar

  1. Martin Schneekloth says:

    Hej
    Tak for en god artikel. Det er virkelig en fornøjelse at læse dine ting. Det er ikke så meget du nævner Danmark i dine tekster, men jeg kan da nævne at vi også her laver midsommerbål for at holder de mørke magter væk. Et sted oversætter du korn med corn, men corn betyder vist majs så vidt jeg ved. Hvilke kilder bruger du til datosætningen af månederne i øvrigt?
    Mange hilsener
    Martin Schneekloth

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