Folk-Traditionalist vs. Reconstructionist Approaches to Modern Heathenry

Updated: Aug 2

A comparison of two approaches. While the eddas and sagas are "folklore", these are not sources "folk-traditionalists" pay attention to. The Lore (Eddas, Sagas, historical sources) are more important to reconstructionists.

Definitions: A reconstructionist is someone who looks at the Eddas, Sagas, Poems, Charms, and other historical sources (like Ibn Fadlan, Bede, Thietmar of Merseburg, etc) to reconstruct historical pre-christian Heathenry. Archaeological information, such as runic calendar rods and staffs are given equal standing as the literary sources. Critical analysis of the literary sources is weighed for monotheistic bias. I define a Folk-traditionalist as someone who looks at modern folk customs that have survived (albeit within christianity), and claims these go back to pre-christian Heathen times.

Folk-traditionalist

Often, a Folk-Traditionalist believes in an "ethno-Heathenry" that is about the traditions of the "folk" that have become a part of the "lives of the folk." In other words, while Folk-traditionalists do not look positively at christianity, they claim the traditions of the folk that the church preserved are the "ethno-Heathenry" of the people, a continuum of our people's culture. In their minds, Germanic/Scandianvian peoples still exist, and therefore, their "true" continuum is to re-affirm belief in the Germanic/Scandinavian Gods and to continue the traditions of the people that the church preserved. They argue these are the Heathen traditions that the church "stole." So, Xmas trees, Easter Eggs, Santa Claus, Maypoles, etc should continue, because they are the ethno-Heathenry of the European peoples preserved in Western Christianity. PS- Easter Eggs, Santa, Maypoles, etc were NOT pre-Christian Heathen. These traditions were born in the church long after Heathenry was replaced by Christianity. Folk-Traditionalists look for Heathenry in the church. We have saga passages that make clear that the Christians outlawed Heathen days and ways. We also have law codes forced on Heathens by christian kings outlawing Heathen holidays. Folk-Traditionalists are not teaching blot, sumble, sacred grove veneration, etc, all of which are attested many times in the historical sources. Folk-Traditionalists teach and keep more modern practices like easter eggs, maypoles, xmas trees, wreaths, etc. These are things christians invented, and we have overwhelming evidence that they were born within the church. The traditions Folk-Traditionalists keep are in the church, unlike blot, sacred grove veneration, votive offerings, etc which are not in the church but are in historical Heathen sources. (PS- Not saying any reconstructionist who practices the Old Ways, but also does modern/christian ways in a secular manner with their christian family are wrong. Just saying these "folk" practices are not historically pre-christian Heathen.)

Historians/Reconstructionists

Historians and Reconstructionists look for Heathenry in what stopped, and what is not in the church. (Like Blot, Sumble, Lunisolar calendars, Sacred Grove veneration), etc, the things most often mentioned in the Sagas and sources! What folk traditions Folk-traditionalists say the church kept, is not mentioned in the Sagas nor Eddas nor sources nor are similar traditions mentioned in the many historical sources on Germanic Heathenry. Law codes outlawing specific Heathen practices like the Lex Saxonum and the Indiculus superstitionum et paganiarum, (and many others) are considered extremely important sources and indicators of what pre-christian Heathenry was.

Why hold on to Christian traditions within modern Heathenry? To quote a fellow member of Aldsidu, P.D. states: "There is a massive collective chip on the Heathen shoulder; a sense of grievance at what was actually lost but that they prefer to think of as stolen. St. Nicolas isn't Wodan; Wodan was banned, demonised. Xmas trees are Xmas trees and weren't Heathen. To believe that Xtianity "had nothing new to say" and got its entire liturgical year from pre-Xtian religions is a very gratifying and pleasing fantasy but fails to take into account not only the Xtian traditions of 2,000 years but that folk traditions are just as likely to to have been derived from Xtianity, some demonstrably so."


So often, I get this reply from Folk-traditionalists: "The church christianized many elements and scholars do believe this." But I never get a reply as to what elements the church kept that were Heathen. And when I reply asking "Why did the church not keep blot, sumble, sacred grove veneration, votive offerings in bogs, the practices actually attested in the sources?", I do not get a reply. In a nuthshell, the practices Folk-traditionalists push are ones that were 100% for sure in the church. Another question I have often asked is: "Folk-traditionalists claim the church allowed certain traditions from Heathenry to continue, but they are never the ones in the historical sources about Heathenry. Why is this?" I never get a good answer. I also ask often "Why do you never share or do traditions in the historical sources, like Blot, Sumble, sacred grove veneration, etc that are in the historical sources?" Folk-traditionalists of course argue these traditions were more important and more "heathen" and that is why they survived. This of course begs the question: Why then were these 'more important' traditions not outlawed by the church, and allowed to continue, and why would Blot, Sumble, Sacred Grove veneration, votive offerings be stopped if they were not that important?

Lammas (Loaf Mass)

A great example of "Folk-traditionalists" claiming a Heathen holiday is Loaf Mass. Bede, who wrote down the Old English calendar of the Heathen Angles (Germanic Heathens who came from the continent) wrote about the moon corresponding to the Roman month of August. Bede stated the lunar moon period to the Heathen Angles was called Weodmonath (weed moon) and Bede mentioned zero rituals done in Weodmonath, nor did he mention first crops nor first fruit type feasts/rituals/holidays. The church has taught a solar calendar (a very different calendar than the lunisolar calendar of the pre-christian Germanic Heathens). The church teaches August 1st is half way between the summer solstice and the equinox. This is of course incorrect. If we place the Julian Calendar solstice of June 24th, or the Gregorian Calendar solstice of June 21st, August 1st is at most 40-41 days after the solstice, and 49-50 days before an equinox. Not only is the math bad, but fixed solar dates would never align with a lunar based calendar of pre-christian Germanic Heathens. So if we get over the dating of "Loaf Mass", then we must ask "Did pre-christian Heathens celebrate a "first fruits" harvest? (Please note, for those without a biblical background, there is a Biblical Old Testament Feast of First Fruits described in Leviticus 23:9-14, and many other places in the Bible. We have overwhelming biblical precedent for this even back to Ancient Israel, but we do not see "first crop blots" in any Saga nor historical Heathen source.) Ann Lewin explains Lammas (Loaf Mass Day) and its importance in the Christian Calendar in relation to other feasts of the Church Year in England: "August begins with Lammas Day, Loaf Mass Day, the day in the Book of Common Prayer calendar when a loaf baked with flour from newly harvested corn would be brought into church and blessed. It's one of the oldest points of contact between the agricultural world and the Church. The others were Plough Sunday in early January, the Sunday after Epiphany and the day before work would begin again in the fields after Christmas festivities, when ploughs would be brought to church to be blessed; and Rogation days in May, the days before Ascension Day, when God's blessing would be sought on the growing crops." [Lewin, Ann (2011). Seasons of Grace: Inspirational Resources for the Christian Year. Hymns Ancient and Modern Ltd. p. 222. ISBN 978-1-84825-090-1.]


Please note: To the members of the Asatru faith, Lammas is known as Freyfaxi. Asatruar often claim this was a pre-christian Heathen blot where a horse was sacrificed as an offering to Freyr. The name comes from the Old Norse words for "Freyr's horse mane", per Blóðughófi. Asatru of course gives no saga passages, archaeological evidence, or any historical literary evidence to back up this claim of a pre-christian Heathen blot called "Freyfaxi" a term completely absent as a holiday from the historical sources on pre-Christian Heathenry. However, it is clear that in the 8-spoked Wiccan Wheel of the year, Lammas is one of the eight Wiccan Sabbaths. (Though Wiccans use a related but different name for loaf mass: Lughnassadh. The also use hlaf-maesse.) It is also clear this holiday is in the church with biblical precendents going back to Ancient Israel.




Yule moved to Xmas

The Saga of Hakon the Good shows that Yule was moved from the full moon of Yule moon (Hokunott) to be on the Julian Calendar Solstice (December 25th.) The Saga of Hakon the Good, chapter 15, records the christianization of Yule moving Yule from the full moon of Jolmanuthr, called Hokunott, to be on Dec 25th, the solstice of the Julian calendar. This is why Xmas is called "Jul" in Scandinavia today: "King Hakon was a good Christian when he came to Norway; but as the whole country was heathen, with much heathen blot, and as many great people, as well as the favor of the common people, were to be conciliated, he resolved to practice his Christianity in private. But he kept Sundays, and the Friday fasts, and some token of the greatest holy-days. He made a law that the festival of Yule should begin at the same time as Christian people held it, and that every man, under penalty, should brew a meal of malt into ale, and therewith keep the Yule holy as long as it lasted. Before him, the first night of Yule was on hǫkunótt, that is midwinter night, and Yule was held for three nights" Please note, Yule was on hokunott *(a night, showing a night as the beginning of Yule/Day aspect). Sine Yule was originally on hokunott, and it was moved to be at the same time as xmas, it is clear Yule was not historically on the solstice. Thietmar of Merseburg, who celebrated the birth of Jesus on the Greek orthodox Xmas of January sixth, says Yule was even after January 6th. According to Thietmar, Yule was celebrated in January, after Epiphany, the Greek orthodox Christmas, and that every 8 years, Yule was accompanied with the 8-year sacrifice. The Chronicon of Thietmar of Merseburg Chapter 17 (circa 925 AD): "As I have heard odd stories concerning their ancient mid-winter blots, I will not allow this custom to be ignored. The middle of that kingdom is called Lederun (Lejre), in the region of Sjælland, all the people gathered every nine years in January, that is after we have celebrated the birth of the Lord, and there they offered to their gods blots…”


St. John's Day established While Yule has over 1,000 mentions in the Eddas and Sagas (Winter Nights does as well), Mid-summer is only mentioned once, and it is in connection with converting to Christianity. Dr. Andreas Zautner and Dr. Andreas Nordberg have concluded (correctly) that Mid-summer was not a pre-christian Heathen holiday. However, with the adoption of Christianity, the term "mid-summer" was applied to St. John's Mass, or his birthday, just like Yule was a name applied to the "Christ Mass" or Christmas. “Midsummer festivities had no connection with the Odin Cult." [Dr. Andreas E Zautner, “The Lunisolar Calendar of the Germanic Peoples”, P.90] “Odin established the same law in his land that had been in force in Asaland… On winter day (first day of winter) there should be blot for a good year, and in the middle of winter for a good crop; and the third blot should be on summer day, a Victory-blot.” [Ynglinga Saga, ch 8] "In the interior of Trondheim, all the people are of pure Heathen belief, though a small number have been baptised. Now it is their Old Ways to hold a blot in haust (haustmanuthr, a moon) to welcome in the winter, a second in the middle of winter, and a third to welcome the summer." [Heimskringla Olaf's Saga Helga, The Slaying of Olvir of Egge]


"As long as heathendom lasted he was wont to hold three blood offerings: one on Winter Nights, a second at mid-Winter, and the third at the start of summer. But when he became a Christian he kept up in the same way with the feasts: In the autumn he had a great feast of friends, then in winter a Yule Feast, when he bade many men come to him again, and the third he had at Paska, when he had also a great crowd of guests." [Saga of St. Olav, ch 117]. Heimskringla Olaf's Saga Trygvassonar, ch 72: "In summer, king Olaf gathered a great host from the east of the country and went northwards with them to Trondheim. First he landed at the mouth of the Nid. Then he proclaimed a Thing for all the Trondheim Fjord and called the assembly of the eight districts in Frosta. However the farmers took the invitation of the king as a call to war. They called free and unfree men from all over Trondheim. The farmers came fully armed when the king arrived at the Thing. After opening the Thing, the king spoke to the people and ordered them to adopt Christianity. After he had spoken for only a short while, the farmers interrupted him with shouts and ordered the king to be silent. They threatened to attack him and drive him out of the country. 'This we also did to Hakon Ethelstan's foster son when he had the same idea of us following the christ, and we do not value you higher than him' they shouted. King Olaf saw the wrath of the farmers and that they had a great army. He found he could not fight them so he calmed his words and behaved as if he was to yield to the farmer's will. He said: 'I would like us to retain the good understanding we always had. I will go to your biggest blot place and look at your heathen customs (forn sithr). Then we will decide what custom/religion that we will keep and we can speak about this further." When the king spoke mildly to the farmers, they became more placid and the debate was peaceful thereafter. Finally, it was decided that a midsummer blot should be done a Maere. All leaders and farmers should come as the tradition wanted, and king Olaf was to go there as well." I side with Dr. Zautner, that the farmers converted to doing St. John's day. Dr. Zautner on page 126 of his book "The Lunisolar Calendar of the Germanic Peoples" argues that this was one of the important milestones for making St. John's Day important and holy in Scandinavia. Combined with the fact that king Hakon the Good of Norway, and other Christian Kings of Norway replaced Yule with Xmas, by moving Yule to be at the same time as Xmas, calling a "new mass" (to Heathens) at the summer solstice (as Xmas was on the winter solstice on the Julian Calendar), it is quite clear this was the pattern of Christianization in Scandinavia.

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