Category Archives: Hedniska Högtider



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.



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.

[iii] Årets Högtider. Samfundet Forn Sed Sverige.

[iv] Nordberg, Andreas. Jul, disting och förkyrklig tideräkning: Kalendrar och kalendariska riter i det förkristna Norden. (Uppsala, 2006). Available from:

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

[vi] Snorri Sturlusson.



What is Höstblot?

As September begins, the Summer half of the year nears its end. Höstblot a modern Heathen festival which is celebrated near the end of this month (modern Autumnal equinox), and is a celebration to bid farewell to the long days and warmth of the Summer half of the year, and to bid welcome to the long nights of the Winter half. The name translates to “Autumn sacrifice”, as this is the beginning of Autumn in modern times.  At this time of the year, the daylight and the darkness are at their most equal before the dark takes over, so this is the transition point in which we give honor to what has been accomplished and what is yet to come.

The historical Winter half of the year began around mid-October and was celebrated with the festival of Winternights, which has also been revived in modern Heathen traditions. Many will choose to observe one or the other for this purpose, and some will also combine the two as one celebration serving the overall purpose, especially with Autumn now appearing on the calendars.

Who celebrates it?

Höstblot is fairly ubiquitous within the modern Scandinavian Heathen traditions, though the spelling will vary by region (eg: while Höstblot is modern Swedish, the name is spelled as Haust Blót in Icelandic). Since the southern regions such as Continental Germany do not experience such a contrast in temperatures and daylight as do the northern areas, the transition from the light half to the dark half of the year was not as quick or extreme, and this holiday is not really documented from there.

How is it celebrated?

At this time, it is good to honor Sunna as both thanks for the sunlight which has warmed the lands, and for her eventual return to us in full glory. Odin is also honored at this time, as we seek inspiration for the long, cold nights ahead. As the Winter half of the year begins, Skadi and Ullr are honored as well. Both deities are associated with Winter and the hunt, so their influence is ever greater during this time.

For the blot as I have lead it, a fire is lit and the landvaettir are hailed with the rattling of keys or drumming and a song of companionship and sharing of the wealth of the year’s harvest. As the leaves begin to fall from the trees, the land spirits will soon be leaving or going into dormancy, and this is the time when we commune with them before they are gone until Summer comes again.

After the invitation to the landvaettir, the gods are hailed and petitioned for their blessings in the coming dark of Winter. Sunna is thanked for her warmth and light; Odin, Skadi and Ullr are asked for their blessings of success and inspiration for the hunt and the long nights.

The blot continues as normal past these particular hails and petitions, and the guests usually feast around the last of summer’s fires.

Why celebrate Höstblot?

This holiday is sort of a last hurrah before the weather turns and the days are short, so it is a time to be outside and to gather with friends. Maybe take a day around this and go for a hike or just hang out outside and enjoy the weather while it’s there to be enjoyed. Either way, it is both a time for celebration and preparation.



What is Alvablot?

Alvablot, or Álfablót in Old Norse, is literally translated to “elf sacrifice”. The primary source documenting the observance of this holiday in Old Norse culture is the skaldic poem, Austrfararvísur. In the poem, Olaf the Fat, then King of Norway, sends a man by the name of Sigvatr Þórðarson to Västergötaland (Modern Swedish West Gotland) on a diplomatic mission. While trying to find a place to spend the night, he is turned away as a wolf from multiple houses; each time the people say that they are heathen and that they fear the wrath of Óðinn should they allow him in and interrupt their elf sacrifice. Even when he goes to visit the man in the area best known for his hospitality, he is turned away.

The alver, or álfar, in Old Norse culture were seen as being ancestral spirits, and because of this it is to be expected that a sacrifice being given to one’s ancestors would be a very personal occasion, at most including the immediate family. The fact that hospitality was of great importance in the culture contributes to this assumption as well, as Sigvatr was not allowed to enter any one house at which he asked to come in.

When is it celebrated?

According to Austrfararvísur, Sigvatr was journeying through Sweden around the onset of winter, making his ordeal all the more difficult when he could not find a place to stay. Alvablot is commonly celebrated at the end of October to beginning of November, about six weeks after Höstblot, at the beginning of Autumn. It is one of the holidays on Samfundet Forn Sed Sverige’s calendar, with the dates being Oct. 31st-Nov. 1st. However, many groups will also work this holiday into their Winter Nights celebrations, usually taking place in late October.

Who celebrates it?

Alvablot is primarily celebrated by Norse polytheists, especially of the Swedish variety considering that the events in the poem take place in Sweden. As stated above, Samfundet Forn Sed Sverige observes the holiday on their official calendar­[1], and there are groups beyond there who observe it, though many times it is up to the individual or possibly a kindred.

How is Alvablot celebrated?

Because of the apparent nature of this holiday, it is very different from most in that rather than welcoming a larger community in, the observers limit participants to just themselves and possibly close relatives. Regarding the actual customs of the holiday, there is not much described in the poem about it, though Óðinn seems to have been a prominent figure for it, as the residents of the houses were fearful of him should they interrupt the ceremony by allowing insiders into their homes. Obviously, as the name implies there is a focus on honoring one’s ancestors during this holiday, and it would appear that, though it is private in nature, it is also a positive celebration and a time to commune with those who have passed on.

How one chooses to celebrate Alvablot is up to their own preferences, but giving offerings to one’s ancestors is a good basic start. It would appear, though, that ale is a traditional offering for this one, so it is good to include that if possible.[2] It is also an option to hold a portion of the celebration as public, or open to other kindred or community members, and have the other portion as private for individuals or families. In this way there can be a community participation in the observance, but still allow for private honoring of one’s ancestors.

Why celebrate Alvablot?

Within the Germanic cultures, even today, there tends to be a large focus on the importance of family and community. In Old Norse culture, the spirits of deceased ancestors were to some degree thought to watch over and protect the family, and the two primary groups were called the álfar and the dísir. The dísir, however, were female ancestral spirits, implying that the álfar were male. Dísablot, which occurred at different times during the year based on the region, honored them.[3] The honoring of one’s ancestors also helps their memory to live on, and the fame of one’s deeds was seen as the key to immortality. Therefore, celebrations such as Alvablot help not only to commune with one’s ancestors who watch over them, but it also helps to allow their memories to continue on living.


[1] Årets Högtider. Samfundet Forn Sed Sverige.

[2] The man who turns Sigvatr away at every house is named Ölvir. The first part of the name, Öl, means “beer” or “ale” in Swedish, suggesting that the name may have been in reference to a role that the person played in the sacrifice involving ale given as an offering.

[3] While many traditions hold dísablot, or dísting, as being in late October, the Swedes observed it in conjuction with the weeklong allra Svía þing, or Thing of all Swedes, which was held in late february. (From the article Dísablot in the encyclopedia Nordisk familjebok)

Image source:

Yule: A Midwinter Celebration


Image obtained from

What is Yule?

Yule, or Jól as it was spelled in Old Norse, was the Midwinter celebration of the Germanic peoples before Christianity had spread far into those regions. The Norse year was divided up into two season: Summer and Winter. Both of these seasons had half-way celebrations which were considered to be the most important festivals of the year, those being Midsummer and Midwinter, though Midsummer appears to have come about post-conversion rather than having been a pre-Christian festival. Between the two, Midwinter (Yule) has been the most important, so much so that even beyond Scandinavia and the other Germanic regions it persists to this day. Though through conversion Yule was gradually replaced by Christmas, many of its traditions remained as the people who were converted kept them alive in their new religion. Traditions such as the Yule log, Christmas tree and others have remained, and the name Yule even persists in Scandinavian countries; for instance, the Swedish, Norwegian, and Danish words for Christmas are “Jul”, pronounced exactly the same as Yule. If you want to wish someone a merry Christmas in Swedish, just say “God Jul!” (Go Yool).  In addition to the Scandinavian languages, the term Yule is represented in works describing the ancient Continental Germanic months. The festival of Yule is believed to have lasted three or so nights.  During those nights the return of Sol, the sun goddess, was celebrated as the darkest days of the year were over.

In addition to celebrating the return of the sun, this time of the year was seen as sacred to the gods Thor and Freyr. Freyr being a god of fertility and Thor a god of the weather, these two had a lot of influence over the birth and growth of new life in the coming year. Odin was also celebrated during this time of year as the leader of the Furious Host (often misinterpreted as the Wild Hunt), which in Anglo-Saxon areas was thought to occur on Modranicht (Mother Night); one of his many names was also Jólnir, which can be translated as “Yule figure”. He is also commonly thought to have been a large influence on the legend and original appearance of Santa Claus. While leading the Furious Host, he rode upon his eight-legged horse by the name of Sleipnir, which has been theorized by some scholars as possibly giving rise to Santa’s eight reindeer. When carrots or other food were placed out for Sleipnir to eat, Odin would record the names of the generous people and replace the food with gifts. It’s thought that when the Vikings conquered Britain in the 8th and 9th centuries CE, their depiction of Odin in this time of year became the Father Christmas of the English.

Of course, while merriment was widespread at this time of year, there was also danger lurking in the cold dark of night. This time of the year was seen to give rise to an increase in spiritual activity. Trolls, draugr and other ill-spirits were seen to wander free more often during Yule, so it was not a good idea to be far out at night. While people would venture outdoors during the day and a little bit at night, they primarily stayed inside with company where it was considered to be safer.

The nisse, also known as tomten in Sweden, is recognized at this time of the year as well. Described as a very short, elderly looking, bearded man, much like the popular depiction of a gnome, the nisse were originally known to be the spirits of the first inhabitants of the land, and protected later families who inhabited the land from misfortune. Later on, in the 1800’s, the nisse came to be known as the bearers of gifts to families at yuletide. He has been commercialized to be more like the American version of Santa Claus, but even then his appearance has retained elements of its Scandinavian roots.

When is it celebrated?

The timeline of Yule has some variation depending on the tradition, but in modern times it often lasts for about twelve nights. Anglo-Saxon traditions begin the Yule celebration on Modranicht (Mother Night), which is usually the night of December 20th. As the Germanic peoples began their days at the setting of the sun rather than the rising, this would essentially be to them like celebrating at the beginning of December 21st. Because of that factor, it seems appropriate for the celebration to begin at that time, but Norse-focusing traditions will usually not address the night as Modranicht, since there is no record of it being called as such, and in that case it is sometimes just called Yule Night. The celebration then carries on through the next eleven nights until New Year’s Eve, after which it is finished.

According to Heimskringla, the original Yule observations actually occurred in mid-January before being moved into December to be closer to Christmas, and because of this there are many groups who will choose to time their Yule observances in-line with this fact. Those who do this usually are going consistently off of the Icelandic calendar for their celebrations, which hold Summer and Winter starting several weeks after they do by modern reckoning (by this I mean comparatively considering the timing of the Spring and Autumnal equinoxes, where many modern Heathens choose to observe the Summer/Winter halves beginning). The primary celebration may have only lasted for three days, but the Yule season appears to have lasted for at least two months, based on the Old Norse month names of Ýlir (Nov-Dec) and Jólmánuðr (Dec-Jan). While Jólmánuðr has an obvious connection to Jól, it should be noted that Ýlir comes from the same root linguistically.

How is it celebrated?

Modern reconstructionist religions such as ­Ásatrú, Forn Sed, Theodism, etc. have sought to produce a Yule festival as close as possible to the originals in their cultures of focus, with the limited amount of source material available. Common traditions include those which are present in Christmas such as decorating a tree, giving gifts, hanging mistletoe and wreaths, and many others as well as older traditions which we know of, such as wassailing the apple trees to ensure a good crop in the next year. Many kindreds who celebrate in December will skip the 24th and 25th of December because a lot of members celebrate Christmas with their families on those days, but the primary days that are observed are Mother Night (AS), High Feast of Yule and Twelfth Night. For these and other nights in-between, festivities are usually held at the home of a volunteer. One traditions which seems to be present in just about every record of Yule throughout the sagas is drinking, and lots of it. In Heimskringla it is also mentioned that when King Hákon the Good moved Yule to be closer to Christmas, he also required by law that all people brew a measure of ale and not cease celebrations until it was gone.

The celebration of Yule has also been adopted into the calendars of other contemporary pagan religions such as Wicca, but the changes made to it are often substantial enough that they can be considered to have their own distinct versions of it. While they often still celebrate the return of the sun, differences such as cosmology and individual practices as well as the length of the celebration make them very distinct from what is thought to be the original form. For the most part, the versions seen in religions such as Wicca will only last for a day or so, and they also factor in the birth of the God as well as the victory of the Oak King over the Holly King; neither of these events are observed in the traditional Yule celebrations.

Other traditional Yule and Scandinavian Christmas practices include:

The Julbok (Yule Goat), which can either be a large display or a small toy which is left in someone’s house as a prank and must be passed on to another. The figures are also commonly set at the base of the Christmas (or Yule) tree to await the arrival of Santa. This figure is reminiscent of pre-Christian customs, due to the goat being a sacred animal of Thor. Goats were often sacrificed at this time, and when the practice was outlawed after the conversion, the people kept the idea alive by fashioning representative figures out of straw and ribbon.

The Yule Log, which is decorated with holly, fir, and occasionally yew as well and then burned. Runes are often carved into it as well, and the burning of the log is seen as a petition to the gods for protection from misfortune. It is greatly advised that, rather than cutting down a living tree just to burn a section of it, one looks for an already fallen tree to cut the log from.

In Norway, children will sometimes go from house to house asking for treats.

In Sweden, one person in a house may dress as Tomten and hand out presents.

Norway and Denmark see the nisse as a mischievous elf who plays pranks on people, but will be friendly if rice pudding is left out for him.

Scandinavian Winter Food/Drink:

Glögg (Mulled wine): This is one of my favorites; a traditional Scandinavian holiday drink made with wine and spices such as cinnamon, cloves, ginger, cardamom. It also has a citrus flavor to it, and can be found in both alcoholic and non-alcoholic, though there are many non-alcoholic mixes that can be mixed with liquor to be quite tasty (I prefer mixing with vodka).

Julmust: Another holiday drink, mostly consumed in Sweden. It was originally developed as an alternative to beer and contains water, sugar, hop extract, malt extract, spices, and a few other ingredients. It has a taste somewhat similar to root beer, but sweeter, and similar drinks are sold throughout the year, such as påskmust around Easter.

Gingerbread (Pepparkaka): Pretty self-explanatory for this one. It is common to make a gingerbread house (pepparkakshus) as well.

Rice Pudding: This is common between all three of the main Scandinavian countries, and is made in a somewhat different style in each of them.

Main course of duck, cod, pork or similar dish: Cod is most notable in Norway, duck or goose in Denmark, and Sweden usually has any of ham, fish, poultry, etc.

Ableskiver: A traditional Christmastime breakfast item in Denmark, essentially a Danish cupcake.

Lefse: A traditional Norwegian soft flatbread, often made with potato in addition to other usual ingredients. It is commonly eaten with butter and sugar, and possibly cinnamon.

Nisse Cookies: Much like gingerbread cookies, these traditional Swedish treats are shaped and decorated to look like the nisse.

Why celebrate Yule?

Why not? It’s the darkest time of the year, the days are getting colder and there is already a winter holiday which contains many of the same base elements anyway (at least in North America and Europe)! This is a great time to get together with friends and family and celebrate in warmth and merriment. Feasting with the gods and other powers also helps to build a relationship, and this festival was seen as the most important of them all, so if one is going to choose only one holiday to celebrate from the calendar, they would do well to make it this one!


Mapes, Terri. Christmas in Scandinavia. Web. 2012.

Rossel, Sven H.; Elbrönd-Bek, Bo (1996). Christmas in Scandinavia.
Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

Wikipedia: YuleOdinThorFreyrSanta Claus.

How We Inherited Christmas from The Viking Yule. Skandland. Web.

Hintz, Martin and Kate (1996). Christmas: Why We Celebrate It the Way We Do. Capstone.

Simek, Rudolf (2007) translated by Angela Hall. Dictionary of Northern Mythology. D.S. Brewer.

Snorri Sturluson (1990) translated by A.H. Smith. Heimskringla or The Lives of the Norse Kings. Mineola, NY: Dover.