Author Archives: fornkunskap

Nauðr

nauthiz

Här ligger jag i smärta.
Här ligger jag i sorg.
Nöd håller mig ner i mörker.
Här står jag upp från marken.
Här står jag upp from mörkret.
Nöd uppväcker nattens eld.
Nöd upprätthåller nattens eld.

Need is found in the roughest of spots. Where luxury has died and gone away, there is only cold and hunger. This is where true fear lives, in the fear for one’s life. Cold and dark, the elements close in like wolves upon the prey.

“Need is bondmaid’s grief,
rough conditions,
a toilsome state.”
-Icelandic rune poem

It is in this dire state where one finds what it is that they truly need. Comfort and fancy, pleasure and excess; these can wait. The starving and the cold have other goals to achieve. The dead cannot enjoy the comforts of luxury, and without the needs in place, the wants are worthless.

“Need gives scant choice;
the naked freeze in frost.”
-Danish rune poem

Here the fire is ignited: the fire of the will. This is the need-fire, which guides the soul to persevere. From the brink of death a gasp ruptures the silence of winter’s frost, and the broken self rises in defiant struggle for life. Need is what brings one’s true will to live, to succeed. It is when we have nothing, that we can achieve anything.

“Need is hurtful to hearts of children,
but often serves as help and healing,
if attended to in time.”
-Anglo-Saxon rune poem

Här ligger jag i smärta.
Här ligger jag i sorg.
Nöd håller mig ner i mörker.
Här står jag upp från marken.
Här står jag upp from mörkret.
Nöd uppväcker nattens eld.
Nöd upprätthåller nattens eld.

—————

Number: 8

Phonetic Value: N

Literal Meaning: Need

Associations: Rough conditions, necessity, inspiration

Årsväntan

väntljusstaken

What is Årsväntan?
Årsväntan translates from Swedish as “The Year’s Wait”, and is a six-week long countdown between Alvablot (often observed at the end of October or beginning of November in Sweden) and Julblot, which is often held to be the Heathen New Year. It is essentially a Heathen alternative to the Christian Advent, functioning as sort of a borrow-back between Christian and Pagan Yule traditions. It is not a tradition based in pre-Christian tradition, but is still based in traditional Scandinavian customs. This time is also sometimes called Solväntan (The Sun Wait), as the primary purpose (alongside the Christian’s wait for the arrival of the birth of Christ) is awaiting the arrival of Sol’s rebirth, when the days begin to grow longer again.

When is it celebrated?
Most people observing this will do so on the eve between Thursday and Friday of each consecutive week up until Yule. The first week is in mid-November (November 13th for 2014) and it goes until right before the winter solstice.

Who celebrates it?
This is primarily a Swedish Heathen custom, and is thus mainly a feature in Swedish Forn Sed, though that does not necessarily mean that there aren’t others who observe it as well.

How is it celebrated?
Årsväntan is a relatively simple affair, and is observed in similar fashion to Advent, minus of course the overtly Christian elements. For most, they will have six candles set up on a candle holder (called a väntljusstaken) and each week they will light the candle(s) corresponding to the number of weeks that have gone by (first candle on the first week, first and second candles on the second week, etc.). Some will also have a seventh candle that is lit along with the other six at the end of the seventh week, though this is in many cases done for the fact that a lot of candle holders will have seven spots instead of six. A lot of people will make their own holders which can be as simple or complex as they desire, and often they will carve the first six runes into the candles (F,U,Þ,A/Ą,R,K) and meditate on them as they are lit. The rest is basically up to the individual.

Why celebrate Årsväntan?
Though this is essentially a borrowing from Christian Yuletide traditions, the Year Wait functions as a time of anticipation for the return of the sun and the lengthening of days. It is also a way to sort of enjoy and appreciate this time of the year more thoroughly, and to keep a custom in our own way. Many older traditions were borrowed when the new religion was brought to the Nordic lands and Christmas was put in place of Yule, so this is a way of returning the favor as well.

Vetrnætr

campfire in snow

What is Vetrnætr?

Vetrnætr (Winter Nights) is one of the primary holidays found in the Norse branch of Heathenism, and observes the end of the summer half of the year and the beginning of the winter half. This festival is attested in several of the sagas, and is one of the three seasonal festivals listed in Ynglingasaga, along with a midwinter festival (likely Jólablót/Yule) and a victory sacrifice at the onset of summer (Sigrblót).[i] It has been carried forward into modern Heathenism from the older sources by many different groups and organizations including Ásatrúarfélagið[ii] and Forn Sed Norway, while Forn Sed Sweden observes Alvablot (Elven Sacrifice), which may be a connected tradition dating from pre-Christian Sweden.[iii]

One aspect that is not very clear about historical Winter Nights observations is exactly how they were carried out. Rather, there appears to have a fair degree of variation from region to region, and perhaps even more individually. The sources that we have, while not giving a complete picture, do at least give us some things upon which we can base our reconstructions, so that the modern forms share a similar spirit with their older inspirations.

When is it celebrated?

Since the Old Icelandic/Old Norse calendar was kept on a lunar basis rather than solar, the dates of things such as seasonal changes had more variation than they do by our modern reckoning. As Winter Nights was held at the onset of winter, we can use this information to better pinpoint the timing. The beginning of winter on the Old Icelandic calendar was said to occur in the month of Gor (Innards), which began on the Saturday after the 26th week of summer. Since summer ends on a Wednesday, this leaves a gap of two days in-between, and this gap would most likely be the time of Winter Nights, making it a three-night long festival. On modern calendars, this lands between the 19th and the 26th of October.

Andreas Nordberg claims as well that all major sacrifice days were observed 28 days after a solstice or equinox event, which would place Winter Nights 28 days after the Autumnal Equinox in modern reckoning.[iv] This lines up as well with the timing based off of the old calendar. Most modern Winter Nights celebrations, though, will usually be held on a Saturday during that time frame, due to work schedules and other factors.

Who celebrates it?

Winter Nights is attested in Norse sagas, and therefore is primarily a celebration within the Norse branch of Heathenism. As stated above, pretty much all Scandinavian organizations celebrate it or a connected festival. In North American Heathenism it is also often observed, although there has been some confusion with the development of the Winter Finding holiday, which occurs on the Autumnal Equinox. This is the same as Haustblót (Autumn Sacrifice), but the name has caused a somewhat common tendency to mistake Winter Finding and Winter Nights as being the same holiday.

How is it celebrated?

This is the point at which the most variation in Winter Nights celebrations occurs. There is no one way in which historical Winter Nights traditions were observed and this goes all the way to even which deities were honored. Four beings or groups of beings who are named in different sagas as having been honored at this time are Freyr, Óðinn, the álfar and the dísir. The honoring of the dísir appears to be the most common based on textual evidence, and is present in at least Víga-Glúms saga and Egils saga Skallagrímssonar. The reference in Egil’s saga also gives a hint into one of the offerings used, as he and Ölvir are first denied ale when they travel to the home of Barð because it is being used for the Dísablót.[v]

The reference to the honoring of Freyr comes from Gísla saga Súrssonar when Þorgrímr says that they will be performing a sacrifice to Freyr during the autumnal blót. Since Freyr is also known as the lord of the álfar this could lend support to the connection between them and Winter Nights, but that is in no way certain from this reference, and would be purely conjecture. However, there is a clear reference in support of their being honored at this time, and that comes from Sweden. In the skaldic poem Austrfararvísur, Sigvatr Þórðarson journeys to Sweden in the service of King Olaf II in Norway at the onset of winter. When he comes to a place known as Hof he seeks a place to stay. However, he is turned away at several different houses, each time by a man named Ölvir. He is told that the people there are heathen and are performing a sacrifice to the álfar, and that they also fear Óðinn’s wrath should they allow the ceremony to be interrupted by outsiders. This also gives a possible reference to ale being used as an offering; because the man who turns away Sigvatr at every house is called Ölvir, it has been interpreted as possibly being a title rather than an actual name, meaning “Ale Being.”[vi]

The account given in Austrfararvísur does not explicitly state that Óðinn was honored at that time, but it certainly carries a heavy implication of it. It is also not specifically presented as a Winter Nights observation, but because it happened at the onset of winter in line with other celebrations, and because Ynglingasaga presents the Winter Nights feast as having been a widespread practice, it can be fairly well interpreted that the Álfablót was a Winter Nights observation in at least that part of Sweden.

Regarding actual practices, as stated above it appears that ale was at least a somewhat common offering during Winter Nights observations. Additionally, we know that this time of the year was prevalent for slaughtering livestock before the weather turned. Because in that time meat would generally not be preserved as long as it can now, it would have to be eaten much more quickly. Because of this, it is also very likely that meat from livestock was a common offering. Overall, a portion of the fruits of one’s harvest were likely to be the primary choice for offerings. In modern times this is often a similar case; and for those who farm, brew or raise livestock a sacrifice of that kind may well still be their choice. For those who do not, these types of offerings are still good even if purchased elsewhere.

Why celebrate Vetrnætr?

For modern Heathens, specifically those who follow the Norse branch, this is one of the primary festivals present in the lore, and therefore is an important one. Though our calendar now is different from the old one, this still marks a turning point at which the sunlight and warmth of summer is gone and we head into winter. It is also a time to give a portion of what we have gained over the summer as both thanks and as a petition for a favorable winter. As can be seen from the source literature, traditions and customs for this festival had a great degree of variation by region and community, and likewise in modern times different individuals and groups observe it in modern times, but the spirit of a feast heading into winter is still the same. As for the dísir and the álfar, though it appears that they were historically worshiped as anonymous spirits connected to the family rather than specific ancestors, they are still very much a part of one’s environment and deserve respect. Indeed, these spirits could greatly aid people if kept happy, and to welcome them as a member of the family is certainly a positive action. Take this time to stave off the cold of the oncoming winter with some warmth and feasting.

—————

[i] Snorri Sturlusson. Heimskringla. (New York: Dover Publications, 1990).

[ii] Blót. Ásatrúarfélagið. http://asatru.is/blot.

[iii] Årets Högtider. Samfundet Forn Sed Sverige. http://www.samfundetfornsed.se/om-forn-sed/%C3%A5rets-h%C3%B6gtider-1283052.

[iv] Nordberg, Andreas. Jul, disting och förkyrklig tideräkning: Kalendrar och kalendariska riter i det förkristna Norden. (Uppsala, 2006). Available from: http://www.kgaa.nu/upload/books/103.pdf

[v] Thorsson, Örnólfur et al. The Sagas of Icelanders. (New York: Viking Penguin, 2000).

[vi] Snorri Sturlusson.

Nisse


Artwork by Johan Egerkrans, from Nordiska Väsen (book)

The Nisse in Scandinavian folk belief is a guardian spirit of the farm and household, and is known by several other names throughout different areas including Tusse, Tomte, Haugbo and Tunkall. This spirit is most often described to appear as a very short (gnome-sized) elderly man wearing traditional farmer’s clothing. He is said to be the first inhabitant of a farm who spent his lived and died there, and would after death become this spirit.

Nisse are said to be incredibly strong, and are often said to provide help around the farm if treated with respect. One such tale describes a Nisse who drove the mill and did all the grinding at a farm so that the farmer only had to load the wagon and hitch up the horses. However, if the Nisse is not treated with respect his revenge can be a serious matter; one other tale describes a girl tricking a Nisse by putting the butter for his Christmas porridge on the bottom of the bowl before setting it out for him so that he will think they have neglected him. When he sees this, he goes into such a rage that he kills the family’s best cow. After eating the porridge and realizing that the butter was there all along, he feels incredibly remorseful and steals a fine cow from another farm to replace the one he killed.

Some Nisse are more mischievous than others. Stories tell of Nisse stealing fodder from other farms to help out the cows on their own farms, or even taking the cows themselves from the other farms. There is another story about a certain Tunkall who would throw guests onto the floor of the bunkhouse as soon as they would climb into bed. Of course, as clever as they are Nisse are not described as being incredibly smart. In turn they are not too difficult to trick, and they often work so consistently that they do not know to take breaks.


In later folklore, the Nisse has come to be strongly associated with Christmas, and is said to be the deliverer of gifts on Christmas Eve. His image has been somewhat changed over time in popular culture, as he has been merged in some ways with the figure of Santa Claus. However, he still retains his traditional Scandinavian style clothing as well as his short stature. One Christmas tradition in Sweden is to bake Nisse cookies, which are essentially gingerbread cookies in the shape of gnome-like figures.

References

Kvideland, R., & Sehmsdorf, H. K. (Eds.). (1988). Scandinavian folk belief and legend. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

Rossel, S. H., & Elbrönd-Bek, B. (1996). Christmas in Scandinavia.
Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press.

*Oþala

Rötterna är stora,
rötterna är starka.
Av blod är bindningar gjort.
Det är framgång min,
det är familj min.
Mitt hemland håller mitt hjärta.
Mitt hemland håller min heder.

*OÞala is the homeland; the root of the tree. Though the journey is long, and the trail winds far, the spirit within our roots brings us home. It is where we have been, and where we have yet to go. *OÞala is ancestry, the family line. It is the inheritance that helps to make us who we are. By blood we are connected, and by blood we may be brought together. But blood’s prosperity is only found in right action. It is not found through hate, nor is it found through bigotry and malice. Blood’s prosperity is found through honor; the honor which ignites the ancestral fire within. “Lo there do I see my father, lo there do I see my mother, my sisters and my brothers , lo there do I see the line of my people, back to the beginning. Lo, they do call me, they bid me take my place among them…”

“Homeland is precious to everyone; 
if he can enjoy whatever is right and proper,
by blood’s everlasting prosperity.”
-Anglo-Saxon rune poem

The home is the most basic and sacred element of survival. Whether it be with family and community, or wherever the head may lie, a life without home is lived with hollow roots; a weakened experience, ending in regret. Though one’s home may not be lavish or gilt with gold, they are indeed better off than the one who is lacking. Home is family; home is community. Home is the roots which allow the tree to grow tall and strong. Without them; it will be crippled, and it will fade with time.

“One’s home is best, though a hut it be;
there a man is master and lord.
Though two goats, thine, and a thatched roof,
that is better than begging.”
-Hávamál: 36

Rötterna är stora,
rötterna är starka.
Av blod är bindningar gjort.
Det är framgång min,
det är familj min.
Mitt hemland håller mitt hjärta.
Mitt hemland håller min heder.

———————-

Number: 23/24

Phonetic Value: O

Literal Meaning: Homeland

Associations: Blood, rightfulness, ancestry, prosperity.

*DagaR

Solen stiger upp,
och spricker nattens djup.
Solen medför liv till landet.
Solen medför ljus till landet.
Dagen har stor makt;
över mörker skiner den.
Dagning medför hopp till hjärtat.

Mighty is the dawn, which drives away the cold and dark. Mighty is the sun, which sheds light upon shadows. Daybreak brings hope to men across the land, for the darkness of night is past. Beyond all ordeals and struggles, beyond all trials fought and foes defeated, dawn brings a new beginning. Dawn is the breakthrough of thought, when the hero rises to gain honor. Come all men and wights, to witness the shining light of a new day!

I hail to Sunna, the sun. Rise up from the darkness. Rise up in daylight; rise up this day!

“Day is sent by the Lord;
dear to humans, a splendid light,
hope and happiness to fortunate and miserable,
useful to all.”
-Anglo-Saxon rune poem

Solen stiger upp,
och spricker nattens djup.
Solen medför liv till landet.
Solen medför ljus till landet.
Dagen har stor makt;
över mörker skiner den.
Dagning medför hopp till hjärtat.

———————-

Number: 23/24

Phonetic Value: D

Literal Meaning: Day

Associations: Breakthrough, usefulness, equality, hope.

*Berkano

Ungdom och skönhet har du
när växer du till skyn.
Biarkan har grönaste bladen.
Biarkan hjälper att hela.

Berkana, Biarkan, is the rune of the birch tree. The youthful tree grows and flourishes with great beauty and green leaves. It does not bear fruit, but grows from seed, and will grow again when cut. This rune symbolizes birth and natural growth; neglected it is not, and it is given what it needs. Smothered, it is not, and it is allowed its space and time to grow as it may.

“Birch is leafy branch,
and little tree,
and youthful wood.”
-Icelandic rune poem

“Birch is the greenest-leaved of branches.
Loki was lucky in deceit.”
-Danish rune poem

As the birch grows well in the northern climates, it is a symbol of the growth and prosperity that can come about, even when the environment around it is rough and unforgiving. Several different parts of the birch tree have long been used in medicine as well, and because of this Berkana can be seen as a rune of healing. Its leaves, roots, bark and other pieces all help to keep the beauty of life growing and flourishing, even when the conditions are unfavorable. This rune is the force which keeps the green leaves alive and vibrant, and the wood youthful and growing.

“Branch-runes you must learn, if you want to heal,
and know how to treat wounds.
Cut them on the bark, of forest trees
whose branches bend eastward.”
-Sigdrifumal: 11

Ungdom och skönhet har du
när växer du till skyn.
Biarkan har grönaste bladen.
Biarkan hjälper att hela.

—————

Number: 18

Phonetic Value: B

Literal Meaning: Birch

Associations: Beauty, growth, flourishing, healing