Heathen holidays

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

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

Pre-Christian Germanic holidays and their modern observance

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

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

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

Modern development

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

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

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

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

Specific modern calendars

Samfundet Forn Sed Sverige (Sweden)

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

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

The Troth (USA)

The handbook Our Troth in its second edition, published by American-based inclusionary heathen organization The Troth in 2006, lists eight festivals: Yule, Þorrablót, Idis-Þing, Ostara (Sigrblót), Waluburg's Night, Midsummer, Loaf-Fest (Freyfaxi) and Winter-Nights (Alf-Blessing, Idis-Blessing, Frey-Blessing). These eight festivals are not, however, evenly distributed throughout the year as the Wiccan "Wheel of the Year". The handbook takes as its starting-point the statement in the Heimskringla on the three major holidays, Winter Nights, Yule, and Sigrblót (identified with Ostara), set in October, December and April, respectively. Midsummer is added as a fourth festival in the absence of Eddaic evidence because its popularity in modern Scandinavian folklore. The remaining four holidays are listed as the "lesser blessings". In addition, Our Troth cites a number of "Days of Remembrance" dedicated to various historical and legendary figures such as Unnr the Deep-Minded, Radbod, King of the Frisians and Egill Skallagrímsson.

Date Holiday Significance
Late December (winter solstice) Yule (Midwinter) One of the "three greatest blessings of the year" mentioned in the Ynglinga saga
Late January / early February Þorrablót One of the "lesser blessings"; mentioned in Hversu Noregr byggðist, in modern Icelandic folklore associated with Thor
Late February / early March Disting One of the "lesser blessings"; the Heimskringla mentions this as a Swedish tradition originally lasting for a week during the month of Góa, but later moved to Candlemas and reduced to three days' duration.
April Ostara (Sigrblót) Sigrblót is one of the "three greatest blessings of the year" mentioned in the Ynglinga saga, celebrated "for victory". Ostara in Wiccan tradition is set at vernal equinox; the historical Sigrblót marks the beginning of summer and the campaign season. The historical lunar month of Eostre may coincide with the Paschal Full Moon.
Late June (summer solstice) Midsummer Included as part of Scandinavian folklore
1 August Lammas (Freyfaxi) One of the "lesser blessings"; The name Lammas or "Loaf-fest" refers to an Anglo-Saxon festival of the wheat harvest; the name "Freyfaxi" refers to the horse dedicated to Freyr in Hrafnkels saga and means "Mane of Freyr".
Mid October Winter Nights (Vetrnætr) One of the "three greatest blessings of the year" mentioned in the Ynglinga saga. The historical festival marked the beginning of winter, and involved sacrifices to the elves and the dísir. In Neopaganism also observed as a Festival of the Dead and as such associated with Wiccan Samhain on 31 October.

Ingwine Heathenship (USA/UK)

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

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

See also

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