Keeping the holy feasts and blessings of the year, is one of the greatest duties of those faithful to the Germanic Gods & Goddesses. They embody our deep respect and love for nature, our ancestors and our deities.
Our celebrations hallow us and brings us together with our Gods, Goddesses and our ancestors in a mutual exchange of strengthening energy. And, as our holy days are primarily based on the chief points of the agricultural year we align our very beings with the ever changing seasons and the world around us. Thus every ritual represents a transformation of the Earth which is reflected in our souls.
Asatru has a general calendar of the chief blessings. This is not a re-creation of the feasts held at any given time by any one particular Germanic tribe, but rather a compilation of those which seem to have been most important through most of the Northern world. In the ancient times, some tribes may have keep certain feasts and not others, or hold them at different times or in different ways: what matters is not precise time or ritual, but that our Gods, Goddesses and ancestors are hailed together with the turning of the Earth and the worlds around us.
In Asatru, a religious ceremony is called a Blot (pronounced “bloat”). (It is important to understand that linguistically the Old Norse Germanic word Blot is derived from the ancient Germanic word for “blessing” which literally means “to besprinkle with Blood” as used as a way to consecrate, and is a direct reference to the Germanic concept of the sacredness of blood.) The verb blóta also meant to “strengthen” and the intention was to strengthen the powers of the Gods, Goddesses and Elves.
Eight major Blots are celebrated in the Asatru calendar each year. These are listed below with the modern English name of each given first, followed by its Old Norse name in parenthesis, and the date (although the usual practice is to hold the Blot on the nearest weekend).
YULE / YULETIDE Sunset of the Winter Solstice ( approximatly December 20th )
Yuletide is the pre-Christian Germanic Midwinter celebration. The name Yule is derived from the Old Norse HJOL, meaning ‘wheel,’ to identify the moment when the wheel of the year is at its lowest point, ready to rise again. HJOLhas been inherited by Germanic and Scandinavian languages from a pre-Indo-European language level, and is a direct reference to the return of the Sun represented as a fiery wheel rolling across the heavenly sky. Yule celebrations and traditions at the winter solstice predate Christianity by thousands of years. There are numerous references to Yule in the Icelandic sagas, and in other ancient accounts testifying to how Yule was actually celebrated. It was a time for feasting, giving gifts, feasting and dancing.
The Yule holiday is the holiest and most popular of all the native Germanic spiritual celebrations, as Yule marks the return of the God Baldur from the realm of Hel and the loosening of winters grip on the frozen Earth.
The commencement of the Yuletide celebration has no set date, but is traditionally 12 days long with the start of the festivities beginning at sunset on the winter solstice (In the northern hemisphere, this date usually falls on or around December 20th) This Germanic Heathen holiday was forcibly stolen by early Christian missionaries and became known as the “12 days of Christmas”.
The first night of Yule is called The Mothernight, where Frigga and the Disir (female ancestral spirits) are especially honoured on this night. Mothers Night is appropriately named, as it represents the rebirth of the world from the darkness of winter. This is the date with the shortest day and the longest night of the year.
A traditional vigil from dusk to dawn is held on the Mothers night, to make sure that the sun will rise again and welcome her when it does.
Yule is the season at which the gods and goddesses are closest to Midgard: our deities were called ‘Yule-Beings’ by the Norse, and Odin himself is called Jólnir, the “Yule One” and is where the image of Santa Claus is derived from. Yule is also the season during which the dead return to earth and share the feasts of the living. Elves, trolls, and other magical beings roam freely at this time, and must either be warded off or invited to come in friendship and peace. Yule is the time of the year at which the Wild Hunt – Wodan’s host of the restless dead – rides most fiercely; it is dangerous to meet them, but gifts of food and drink are left out for them, for they can also bring blessing and fruitfulness.
Yule is a time for dancing, feasting and family. Sun wheels are sometimes burnt as part of folk festivities at this time. It was the practice in Germanic Heathen times to swear oaths on a hallowed boar (the totem animal of Freyr and Freya). This survived in Swedish folk-custom; a large boar-shaped bread or block of wood covered with pigskin was brought forth at Yule for this purpose through the beginning of this century, and boar-cakes are used for Yule-oaths by most Heathens today. Especially meaningful oaths were also sworn on the horn or cup while drinking at the Yule-feast. The ‘New Year’s Resolution’ is a diminished form of the holy Yule Oath. The fir or pine-tree which is carried into the house and decorated is an ancient Germanic custom, brought to America by German immigrants. The tree on which holy gifts are hung was Heathen in origin representing Yggdrasil, the mighty cosmic tree of life. In Germany, those who kept the old custom hid it inside lest the church authorities notice, but in England and Scandinavia, the trees and various spirits received their gifts outside. In those latter countries, it was a candlelit and ribbon-bedecked wreath, the ring of which may have reflected the holy oath-ring or the Yule sun-wheel, that was traditionally brought in to decorate the home. The Yule-log is also an old Heathen custom. This log was supposed to burn all night during the longest night of the year to symbolize life lasting even in the time of greatest darkness, its fire rekindling the Sun in the morning. Its ashes or pieces were used as protective amulets during the rest of the year. Those who lack large fireplaces often use 24-hour candles instead.
The 12 days of Yule is largely devoted to baking cakes, cookies, and breads and making the unique decorations which beautify every Heathen home at this holiday season. There are, for example, intricate paper cutouts to make and put on the walls; festoons, stars, wooden toys, and straw animals in the shape of Goats, and Wild Boars to hang on the Yule tree. The straw animals, which are still widely found throughout Sweden, are intimately related to ancient Norse Germanic mythology; originating in legends of the sacred animals of the gods; the Goats of Thor, the thunder God, and the Wild Boar of Freyr, God of Fertility.
The majority of the symbols associated with the modern holiday of Christmas (such as the Yule log, Santa Claus & his Elves, Christmas trees, the Wreath, the eating of ham, holly, mistletoe, the star…) are derived from traditional northern European Heathen Yule celebrations. When the first Christian missionaries began forcibly converting the Germanic peoples to Christianity, they found it easier to simply provide a Christian reinterpretation for popular feasts such as Yule and allow the celebrations themselves to go on largely unchanged, rather than trying to suppress them. Halloween and Easter have been likewise assimilated from northern European Heathen religious festivals.
DISTING / CHARMING of the PLOW First New Moon in February
Also called ‘Charming of the Plough’ after the Anglo-Saxon spell and ceremony. Recorded as a regular feast only in Sweden, this blessing takes place in early or mid-February. The name means ‘Thing (assembly) of the Goddesses’. In Sweden, it was the first public moot/fair of the year; in Denmark, this is the time when the first furrows were ploughed in the field (an activity much hedged about with folk custom). This is a feast of new beginnings, at which the work of the year to come is blessed.
OSTARA / SUMMER FINDING is celebrated on the spring equinox around March 21.
Ostara feast marks the beginning of the summer half of the year. It is named after the goddess Ostara (Anglo-Saxon Eostre), who was such an integral part of heathen Germanic culture that the Christians stole and absorbed it as their own spring feast which was adapted for the Paschal holiday, and was converted to the Christian Easter. Her name is related to the Germanic words for “east” and “glory”; she was the embodiment of the springtime and the renewal of life.
At the equinox, the sun rises directly in the east and sets directly in the west. In the northern hemisphere, before Ostara, the sun rises and sets more and more to the south, and afterwards, it rises and sets more and more to the north.
spring equinox is the beginning of spring in the northern hemisphere. The holiday is a celebration the rejuvenation of the Earth, fertility and growth; traditional decorations include budding boughs, flowers, decorated eggs and the Rabbit motif.
Heathen folk customs associated especially with Ostara’s feast include the painting and hunting of Easter eggs, which, according to German tradition, were brought or laid by the ‘Easter Hare’ (the earliest form of the slightly diminished American ‘Easter Bunny’). The Hare was the holy beast of Ostara, slain and eaten only at her blessing. In Germany, bakeries sell hare-shaped cakes at this time of year. Fires were also kindled on the hilltops at dawn, especially in Germany. Another common folk-custom which still survives in rural areas is the performance of plays at which Summer battles with Winter and drives him out, or at which an effigy embodying Winter is beaten, burned, or drowned.
Today, Ostara is seen as the feast to awakening the Earth, the gods and goddesses, and the human soul. Life becomes brighter and more joyful after the Ostara feast has been rightly held.
MAY EVE / WALUBURGIS NIGHT April 31st – May 1st
Waluburgis Night (Valborgsmassoafton in Swedish, Vappu in Finnish, Walpurgisnachtin German) is a holiday celebrated on April 30, in Finland, Sweden and Germany.
It is named after a woman called “Valborg” (alternative spellings are “Walpurgis”, “Wealdburg”, or “Valderburger”) born in 710 somewhere in Dorset / Wessex as a niece of Saint Boniface. Together with her brothers she later travelled to Württemberg, Germany where she became a nun and lived in the convent of Heidenheim, which was founded by her brother Wunibald. Valborg died on February 25, 779 and that day still carries her name in the Catholic calendar. However she wasn’t made a saint until May 1 in the same year, and that day carries her name in the Swedish calendar.
Viking fertility celebrations took place around April 30 and due to Valborg being declared a saint at that time of year, her name became associated with the celebrations. Valborg was worshipped in the same way that Vikings had celebrated spring and as they spread through out Europe the two dates became mixed together and created the Valborg celebration.
Waluburgis is one of the main holidays during the year in both Sweden and Finland, alongside of Yule and Midsummer. One of the main traditions is to light large bonfires, and for the younger people to collect greens and branches from the woods at twilight, which were used to adorn the houses of the village. The expected reward for this task to be paid in eggs.
The tradition which is most spread throughout the country is probably singing songs of spring. The strongest and most traditional spring festivities take up most of the day from early morning to late night on April 30.
Historically the Walpurgisnacht is derived from heathen spring customs, where the arrival of spring was celebrated with bonfires at night. With the Christianization of Germany these old customs were condemned as heathen.
No true Germanic Heathen name survives for May Eve; the German Walpurgisnacht is derived from the well-documented Christian St. Walpurga. In order to avoid confusion, and because no better name survives, Many Germanic heathens have replaced ‘Walpurga’ with the name of the second-century Germanic seeress ‘Waluburg’. This festival marks the beginning of summer in Scandinavia. In all the Germanic countries, it is seen as a time when witches are particularly active, a belief memorialized in Goethe’s description of the witch-moot on the Brocken (Faust, Act I) and Mussorgsky’s “Night on Bald Mountain”. It is also the Germanic equivalent of Valentine’s Day and a night of love: young men are expected to go out into the woods to gather green branches and wildflowers with which they decorate the windows of their beloveds. For both these reasons, Heathens consider Freya to be the ruler of this festival, as she is mistress of both witchcraft and love. The traditional ‘Maypole’ or ‘May Tree’ is also a part of the celebration of this feast; in Scandinavia, the ‘May Tree’ is carried about in processions, a practice which probably goes back to the Vanic fruitfulness-procession of earliest Heathen times. Fires were kindled on grave mounds or other high places on this night; it is traditional for folk to leap through the flames for luck. A fire kindled by friction (the ‘need-fire’) might also be used to protect cattle against illness or cure them.
MIDSUMMER Summer Solstice near JUNE 21
Midsummeris the religious celebration held at the summer solstice. This feast usually falls around June 20-21. Midsummer-related holidays, traditions and celebrations are found in all the Germanic countries of Northern Europe. Midsummer’s eve is considered the second greatest festival of the Germanic holy year, comparable only to the 12 days of Yule.
The Summer Solstice is an astronomical term regarding the position of the Sun in relation to the celestial equator. The Summer Solstice is the date with the longest day and hence with the shortest night. This date usually falls near June 21. At the time of this solstice, the Earth is in that point of its orbit at which the hemisphere in question is most tilted towards the sun, causing the sun to appear at its farthest above the celestial equator when viewed from earth.
Certain celebrations take place on the evening of the summer solstice. Great roaring Bonfires, speeches, songs and dancing are most traditional. Folk traditions include the making of wreaths, the kindling of fires, the burning of corn dollies (human figure made out of straw), and the adornment of fields, barns, and houses with greenery. Midsummer as particularly a time to make blessings to Baldur. Model Viking ships are also sometimes made out of thin wood, filled with small flammable offerings, and burned at this time. Midsummer is the high point of the year, the time when deeds are brightest and the heart is most daring. This is the time when our Viking forebears, having their crops safely planted, sailed off to do battle in other lands. It is a time for action and risk, for reaching fearlessly outward.
Other traditional events include raising and dancing around a huge phallic maypole. Before the maypole is raised, greens and flowers are collected and used to cover, to “may”, the entire pole. Raising and dancing around a maypole to traditional music is primarily a fertility ritual.
The holiday is considered the time of the death of the Fair God of sunshine, Baldur and thus the turning point at which summer reaches its height and the Sun shines longest, but at the same time it is when the days will soon begin to shorten and the Earth is beginning its slow descent into winter again. It is important to note that midsummer is not the middle of summer. Indeed, summer may be defined to begin with the summer solstice.
FREYFEST / LAMMAS AUGUST 1st
The name Lammas is taken from an Anglo-Saxon heathen festival which was forcibly Christianized. The name (from hlaf-mass, “loaves festival”) implies, it is a feast of thanksgiving for bread, symbolizing the first fruits of the harvest.
heathens mark the holiday by baking a figure of the God Freyr in bread, and then symbolically sacrificing and eating it.
Again, no purely Heathen name has survived for this festival, which takes place at the beginning of August, as this was the time when the first fruits of harvest were brought to the church as gifts; since this was taken over from Heathen custom. In English and German tradition, the First Sheaf was often bound and blessed as an offering to Heathen deities or the spirits of the field at the beginning of harvest, just as the Last Sheaf was at its end. English folk custom also includes the decoration of wells and springs at this time. In Heathenism today, the feast is especially thought of as holy to Freyr as a fertility God, Thor as a harvest God and his wife Sif, whose long golden hair can be seen in the rippling fields of ripe grain. The warriors who had gone off to fight at the end of planting season came back at this time, loaded with a summer’s worth of plunder and ready to reap the crops that had ripened while they were gone. Loaf-Feast is the end of the summer’s vacation, the beginning of a time of hard work which lasts through the next two or three months, while we ready ourselves for the winter.
FALLFEAST Autumn Equinox near September 21st
Fallfest of is another joyous festival in the Asatru holy calendar, and falls on the Autumn Equinox, and is the beginning of autumn in the northern hemisphere: the moment when the sun appears to cross the celestial equator, heading southward; the equinox occurs around September 22 – 24, varying slightly each year according to the 400-year cycle of leap years in the Gregorian Calendar. Fallfest represents the second harvest of the season.
Bonfires, feasting and dancing played a large part in the festivities. Even into Christian times, villagers cast the bones of the slaughtered cattle upon the flames, cattle having a prominent place in the pre-Christian Germanic world. (Though folk etymology derives the English word “bonfire” from these “bone fires,”) With the bonfire ablaze, the villagers extinguished all other fires. Each family then solemnly lit their hearth from the common flame, thus bonding the families of the village together.
Materially speaking it marked the beginning of the gathering of food for the long winter months ahead, bringing people and their livestock in to their winter quarters. To be alone and missing at this dangerous time was to expose yourself and your spirit to the perils of imminent winter. In present times the importance of this part of the festival has diminished for most people. From the point of view of an agricultural people, for whom a bad season meant facing a long winter of famine in which many would not survive to the spring, it was paramount.
At the equinox, the sun rises directly in the east and sets directly in the west. In the northern hemisphere, before the autumnal equinox, the sun rises and sets more and more to the north, and afterwards, it rises and sets more and more to the south.
In ancient times, our European ancestors celebrated their Harvest Feast, where they have found many reasons to be thankful and to celebrate. Our people have done this for as long as we can trace our history. Although what our people have felt thankful for has certainly changed over the many years, remember you sit down this year with your family, you’re participating in an ancient tradition. And it’s a great time to figure out what you’re thankful for.
HARVESTFEST / WINTER NIGHTS October 31st
Winternights is held the 31st of October. Winternights marked the final end of harvest and the time when the animals that were not expected to make it through the winter were butchered and smoked or made into sausage. The festival is also called “Elf-Blessing”, “Dis-Blessing”, or “Frey-Blessing”, which tells us that it was especially a time of honouring the ancestral spirits, the spirits of the land, the Vanir, and the powers of fruitfulness, wisdom, and death. It marks the turning of the year from summer to winter, the turning of our awareness from outside to inside. Among the Norse, the ritual was often led by the woman of a family – the ruler of the house and all within. One of the commonest harvest customs of the Germanic people was the hallowing and leaving of the “Last Sheaf” in the field, often for Odin and/or his host of the dead, though the specifics of the custom vary considerably over its wide range. The Wild Hunt begins to ride after Winternights, and the roads and fields no longer belong to humans, but to ghosts and trolls. The Winternights feast is also especially seen as a time to celebrate our kinship and friendship with both the living and our earlier forebears. It marks the beginning of the long dark wintertime at which memory becomes more important than foresight, at which old tales are told and great deeds are toasted as we ready ourselves for the spring to come. It is a time to think of accomplishments achieved and those which have yet to be made. Winternights also marks the beginning of a time of indoor work, thought and craftsmanship.
These festival and feast celebrated the accessibility, veneration, awe, and respect of the dead. This was also a time for contemplation. To the ancient Germanic peoples death was never very far away, and it viewed as a natural and necessary part of life. To die was not as much of a surprise or tragedy it is in modern times and death as not viewed as something “scary” or “evil”. Of higher importance to the Germanic people was to live & die with honour and thereby live on in the memory of the tribe and be honoured at this great feast.
Starting on this night, the great divisions between the worlds was somewhat diminished which can allow the forces of chaos to invade the realms of order, the material world conjoining with the world of the dead. At this time began the Wild hunt in which the restless spirits of the dead and those yet to be born walked amongst the living. The dead could return to the places where they had lived and food and entertainment were provided in their honour. In this way the tribes were at one with its past, present and future.
Again, the Christians forcefully subverted the sacred Germanic Heathen calendar to honour Christianity, Winter nights on October 31 became “All Hallows Eve” and November 1st was declared “All Saint’s Day”.
LESSER FEASTS: Days of Remembrance
There are a number of lesser feasts or holy days that Heathens of modern time keep, as well as holding the traditional ones. Most of these are “Days of Remembrance” for great heroes and heroines of Germanic Heathenry.
January 9 – Remembrance for Raud the Strong (a Norwegian chieftain whom Olaf Tryggvason killed for refusing to convert. The end of a metal horn was put down Raud’s throat; a poisonous snake was then put into the horn and the other end heated to drive it along…).
February 9 – Remembrance for Eyvind kinnrifi (whom Olaf Tryggvason tortured to death when he refused to convert, by putting a metal brazier filled with burning coals on his belly).
February 14 – Folk etymology has led to this day being called ‘Feast of Vali’ in modern Asatru. Actually, St. Valentine has no demonstrable associations with Vali, nor to the thinly disguised heathen Lupercalia rites which take place on this day. Nevertheless, many Heathens make blessing to this god at this time.
March 28 – Ragnar Lodbrok’s day, when we celebrate this famous Viking’s sack of Paris.
April 9 – Remembrance for Haakon Sigurdsson (Haakon the Great), one of the Jarls of Hladhir, a great defender of Heathenism in Norway during the brutal period of forced conversion to Christianity.
May 9 – Remembrance for Gudrod of Gudbrandsdal, whose tongue was cut out by the Norwegian king ‘St. Olaf’ (not to be confused with Olaf Tryggvason despite the similarity of names and methods. St. Olaf, otherwise known as ‘Olaf the Fat’ or ‘Olaf the Big-Mouthed’, was canonized for his efforts to convert Norway by fear, murder and torture).
This Norwegian martyr spoke out against the tyranny of the Christian fanatic Tryggvason, and urged others to resist him. For this, the king had his tongue cut out.
June 9 – Remembrance for Sigurd the Dragonslayer (known in German versions of the story as Siegfried).
July 9 – Remembrance for Unn the Deep-Minded, a woman who was one of the great chieftains of the Icelandic settlement.
July 29 – death-date of Olaf the Fat.
August 9 – Remembrance for King Radbod of Frisia, who, standing at the baptismal font, changed his mind and refused conversion when told that his place in the Christian Heaven would mean his separation from the souls of his ancestors.
September 9 – Remembrance for Hermann the Cheruscan, embodiment of German freedom, who kept Germany from being over run by the Romans and suffering destruction of their culture and language such as was experienced by occupied Celtic Gaul.
October 9 – Leif Eriksson Day – Remembrance for Leif Eriksson and his sister Freydis Eriksdottir, leaders of the earliest known European settlement in America.
October 28 – Remembrance for Erik the Red.
November 9 – Remembrance for Queen Sigrid of Sweden. Wooed by Olaf Tryggvason, the relationship ended sharply when she told him that she had no intention of leaving the gods of her fathers and he slapped her across the face. She was the chief arranger of the alliance that brought him down.
November 11th – Feast of the Einherjar, in which the fallen heroes in Valhalla, and in the halls of the other Gods and Goddesses are remembered.
November 27 – Feast of Ullr and Skadi, Weyland Smith’s Day celebrating the greatest of Germanic craftsmen.
December 9 – Remembrance for Egill Skallagrimsson, great Viking Age poet, warrior and rune magician.
OTHER BLESSINGS:In addition to the yearly feasts, there are a number of rites of passage which we celebrate as holy. They are generally family and community based rituals. These include; birth, coming of age rites at puberty, marriage, and death. All of these rites are largely based on folk tradition as much Heathenry survived in the customs in the more rural areas of the Northern Germanic world. The central rite of birth is the name-giving, whereby the child is accepted into the family line and given a soul and fate. For marriage, the central rite is the swearing of oaths before the Gods, Goddesses and folk and the hallowing of the bride with the Hammer. The chief rites of death include the wake by the dead and the drinking of the memorial ale after the funeral, as well as the cremation or burial itself. For those not born into the Troth, we also have a ritual slightly adapted from the customary name – and soul-giving of the birth-rites, by which someone wishing to declare him/herself for the Northern way may either be brought into the ring of a group or hallow her/himself alone before the gods and goddesses. Special blessings are sometimes held at need, either to ask the holy folk for help or to thank them for giving help. There are also the small daily blessings of our lives. Of these, the making of the Hammer-sign to hallow food and/or drink is the most common. Some folk bless the Sun at midday or at her four stations (dawn, midday, sunset, and midnight). The welcoming of a guest or friend into one’s house, especially at a holy feast, is marked by the ritual offering of drinks and the blessing of the host by the guest. Milk, beer, and/or porridge are often put out for the land and house spirits who looks after ones home, family and the earth.