Updated: Dec 20, 2019
The Wiccan Wheel of the Year, based on the solar calendar of Celtic and Gaelic Paganism has reigned as the “orthodox” view in Asatru since 1974, despite the fact that Celtic and Gaelic peoples did not know or venerate the Aesir. The modern “accepted” Asatru view is there are four Heathen holy days, the Solstices and the Equinoxes. Asatru organizations have given ZERO historical evidence to back up their claims that these are the historical Heathen holy days. (PS- many claim there are 8 holidays, the four middle-points between the Solstices and Equinoxes are included.) This blog will quote the sources, many saga references, three historical Heathen calendars to survive from the 8th, 9th, and 10th centuries, several rune calendar staffs, and the surviving evidence. To paraphrase the Swedish archaeologist Dr. Andreas Nordberg, those who insist on referring to Yule (or Jol) as the solstice, must be more interested in the solstice itself, than they are in sources for Norse religion. (Nordberg, Andreas. 2006. Jul, disting och förkyrklig tideräkning: Kalendrar och kalendariska riter i det förkristna Norden. Kungl. Gustav Adolfs Akademien för svensk folkkultur: Uppsal). This remains the most comprehensive, and academically sound exploration of the Nordic pre-Christian calendars and holy days. I will also discuss the Anglish, Frankish, and Icelandic Heathen calendars that survived, Bede’s De Temporum Ratione, ch 15 (725 AD), Einhard’s Vita Karolini Magni ch 29 (circa 830 AD), and the Iceland Althing’s calendar circa 930 AD.
Three historical Heathen calendars from the 8th, 9th, and 10th centuries show that Full Moons after solstices and equinoxes marked Norse Winter Nights (or Anglish Winter Full Moon), Norse Yule, Sigurblot (or Anglish Eostre), and Mid-Summer. Mid-Summer was not celebrated by Germanic Heathens with a blot or holiday. Please note, Ostara is a Wiccan Sabbath, and therefore, while Heimskringla makes clear that Sigurblot is the most important Norse holy day, due to the Wiccanization of Asatru; most modern Norse Heathens (Asatruar) have never heard of Sigurblot, and erroneously believe that Ostara is a Norse Goddess, despite the fact she clearly is not mentioned in the Sagas, the Eddas, or the calendar recorded by the Iceland Althing circa 930 AD. The Norse Calendar was recorded by the Iceland Althing circa 930 AD. However, this calendar only lists twelve Norse moons (called “months” today, but one must understand, the Germanic word “manoth” (Old Saxon) or “manod” (Old Franconian) or “manuthr” (Old Norse) meant “cycle of the moon.”) The word “moon” is related to the word “month.” Therefore, the idea of fixed solar months having nothing to do with the moon was not a concept known to Heathens before Christianization and was radically different from their Heathen worldview. Since the Norse holy days were not recorded by the Iceland Althing, we must look to the Sagas, calendar staffs, and Eddaic references to glean the Norse holy days.
The Ynglinga Saga (chapter 8), from the year 1225, lists the three great blots of the year: “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.” In Old Norse, “Sigurblot” means “Victory-Blot.” Therefore, we have three major Norse blots a year, that appear in the context of Ynglinga Saga (and other references) that were done publicly at Uppsala. Let’s examine the three: 1. Disablot or “Winter Nights” In the Víga-Glúms saga, a Blot called Winter Nights (Old Norse: vetrnætr) at the onset of winter. Winter Nights or Vetrnætr was a specific time of year in medieval Scandinavia that referred to “the three days which begin the winter season.” Please note that the Sagas also call Winter Nights "Haustblot" and "Disablot." Winter Nights, or Haustblot, is on the full moon of Haustmanuthr, meaning "harvest moon."
2. Yule: (Or Mid-Winter). In Heimskringla, the saga of Hakon the Good, section 15 (circa 1230 AD) it says the following: “The first night of Yule was hǫkunótt, that is midwinter night, and Yule was held for three nights.” The context of Hakon the Good section 15 is that Hakon is trying to force the Heathens into Christianity, so he moved Yule to the same date as Christmas, which was then held on the Solstice on the Julian Calendar, December 25th. Pre-christian Heathen Yule was a three-day holiday that started on a full moon, not on a fixed solar date. “Mid-winter” means three full moons after the full moon that began Winter and three full moons before the full moon that begins summer. Mid-winter was not half way between the equinoxes on a day called the solstice. I will discuss this more below. While the Heathen Germanic Calendars all had two seasons of the year, the Heathen Year was divided into quarters by four specific full moons, all three full moons apart (accept on lunar leap years). These full moons started Winter and Summer and measured the ‘middle’ of the seasons.
3. Sigurblot. (the start of summer). See Ynglinga Saga 8 quote above, and this important passage, as Sigurblot is a Victory Blot, sacrifices for victory due to the coming raiding and war season of summer: Heimskringla Olaf’s Saga Helga 77 “In Sweden there was an age-old custom whilst they were still heathen that there should be a blot in Upsala during Goa moon. Then they would blot for peace and victory for their king. People from all over Sweden were to resort there.” Please note, all Germanic Heathens venerated the same full moon as the start of Summer. The Scandinavians called this “Sigurblot” but the Anglish, Frisians, and Franks called this Eostre. The Church doesn’t date “Easter” (Eostre) to the Equinox, but to “the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal Equinox.” (Bede De Temporum Ratione, ch 62) The church still dates Easter this way today, not by the Equinox alone but by the full moon. Just as Christian Easter can be in a five-week window after the Equinox, the same is true with Heathen Sigurblot. This also applies to Winter Nights and Yule, they can be close to or farther away from the Equinox or Solstice, pending the lunar cycle of each year. Now, lets move on to the dating of these holy days.
Bede states in De Temporum Ratione, Ch 15 (725 AD): "Thus, the moon by which they began their winter season was called “Winterfylleth”, a name compounded of the terms for winter and full moon, because from the full moon of that moon winter was thought to begin." It is very clear that the Anglish Winter Full Moon (corresponding to Norse Winter Nights) began on a full moon. This was the method of dating for all Germanic tribes.
Let me quote Bede again from De Temporum Ratione: "The peoples who welcomed the year in this method also assigned three moons to each season of the year. When however, an embolism occurred, that is, a year of thirteen lunar moons, they added the intercalated moon to the summer, so that in the case three moons in succession were called “Litha.” Such a year was known as “Thrilitha”, having four moons of summer and three of each of the other seasons. The division of the year though was into two seasons: Winter and Summer. Summer comprising six (or seven) moons when the days were longer than the nights, and winters six moons when the nights were longer than the days. Thus, the moon by which they began their winter season was called “Winterfylleth”, a name compounded of the terms for winter and full moon, because from the full moon of that moon winter was thought to begin." Bede makes it very clear here, the Germanic year had two seasons, comprising six moons, but the year was divided into four quarters, three (full) moons each. If Winter Full Moon begins Winter, then Yule would be three full moons after Winter Full Moon, and Summer Full Moon (Sigurblot) would be three full moons after Yule Full Moon, and Midsummer (in which Bede mentions zero rituals, like Ynglinga Saga mentions no Mid-Summer Norse ritual) was just a quarter year marker, three full moons after Summer Full Moon when Sigurblot was. The word "mid-winter" in a Heathen context therefore would mean "the full moon half way between the full moon starting winter, and the full moon starting summer."
We have more evidence of this Full Moon holy day concept, from Norse sources. The oldest evidence we have for a possible Scandinavian yuletide feast, was described by the 6th century Byzantine chronicler Procopius, who mentioned that the inhabitants of Scandinavia (Thule) celebrated Mid-Winter, after the winter solstice (Andreas Nordberg Jul, disting och förkyrklig tideräkning 2006: 156). We also have Theitmar of Merseberg’s testimony. The Chronicon of Thietmar of Merseburg Chapter 17 (circa 1000 AD): "As I have heard odd stories concerning their ancient mid-winter sacrifices, 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 [Christmas], and there they offered to their gods sacrifices…”
Yule was originally after the solstice, but due to Christian persecution was moved to the solstice. Hakon the Good Saga, chapter 15, is about Hakon the Good being the Christian King of all Norway, and eventually turning on Heathenry to make Norway Christian. The first recorded date of Christmas being celebrated on December 25th was in 336 AD, during the time of the Roman Emperor Constantine. A few years later, Pope Julius I officially declared that the birth of Jesus would be celebrated on the 25th of December annually. December 25th was declared Christmas because on the Julian Calendar (whom Pope Julian was responsible for codifying) it was the solstice.
Christian doctrine was clear in this matter. Jesus chose to be born on the shortest day of the year for symbolic reasons, according to the Church Fathers. An early Christmas sermon by Augustine (who died August 28, 430 AD): "Hence it is that He was born on the day which is the shortest in our earthly reckoning and from which subsequent days begin to increase in length. He, therefore, who bent low and lifted us up chose the shortest day, yet the one whence light begins to increase." Hakon the Good's Saga proves that Christmas was at a different time than Yule, despite the fact Christmas was on the solstice. Hakon the Good (died 961 AD) moved Heathen Yule to be at the same time as Christmas, then understood to be the solstice. (Please note, Christmas was on the solstice until the Julian Calendar was rectified by the Gregorian Calendar six centuries after Hakon the Good’s time, specifically in the year 1582, when December 21 would in most years be the solstice. Therefore, when Hakon the Good moved Yule to the same date as Christmas, he was moving it to the solstice, the same date Christians celebrated Christmas.)
Chapter 15 of the saga "Hakon the Good": "King Hakon was a good Christian when he came to Norway; but as the whole country was heathen, with much heathen sacrifice, and as many great people, as well as the favour 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. Formerly the first night of Yule was hǫkunótt, that is midwinter night, and Yule was held for three nights. It was his intent, as soon as he had set himself fast in the land, and had subjected the whole to his power, to introduce Christianity. He went to work first by enticing to Christianity the men who were dearest to him; and many, out of friendship to him, allowed themselves to be baptized, and some laid aside performing blot. He dwelt long in the Throndhjem district, for the strength of the country lay there; and when he thought that, by the support of some powerful people there, he could set up Christianity he sent a message to England for a bishop and other teachers; and when they arrived in Norway, Hakon made it known that he would proclaim Christianity over all the land. The people of More and Raumsdal referred the matter to the people of Throndhjem. King Hakon then had several churches consecrated and put priests into them; and when he came to Throndhjem he summoned the bondes to a Thing and invited them to accept Christianity. They gave an answer to the effect that they would defer the matter until the Frosta-thing, at which there would be men from every district of the Throndhjem country, and then they would give their determination upon this difficult matter."
Andreas Nordberg, the world’s foremost scholar on Norse Holidays, makes clear in his book on the dating of Yule that “The pre-Christian Yule feast occurs at the first full moon after the first new moon following the winter solstice, while the disting took place at the third full moon according to the same method of calculation.” (Jul, disting och förkyrklig tideräkning Kalendrar och kalendariska riter i det förkristna Norden Uppsala 2006, P.4) At Yule it was determined if a thirteenth moon would be added to the year. To keep the following year’s Yule as the first full moon after the first new moon after the solstice, it would be determined if a 13th moon would be needed or not. You can see Nordberg's book, in PDF form, with a one page English Abstract (Introduction) and twenty page summary in English (the rest is in Swedish) here: https://www.academia.edu/1366945/Jul_disting_och_f%C3%B6rkyrklig_tider%C3%A4kning Nordberg also states, “Icelandic sources from the 13th century mention two months called Ylir or Jólmánur.” (p.147). This matches Bede in De Temporum Ratione, who mentions two moons of Giuli (Yule) in the Anglish Calendar. Nordberg also states that the Norse (like the Anglish) divided the year into quarters. “This division into quarters is not recorded in Nordic ecclesiastical calendars, but is evident in folktales, sagas, provincial laws, on rune-staffs and calendar rods and in other everyday contexts. The sources also hint at a process, during which this older system of dividing up the year was gradually replaced by a division based on important dates in the Church’s liturgical year. The exact dates (in the Julian calendar) for the older division into quarters vary somewhat in the sources. This is probably in part due to the fact that the start of each quarter was initially calculated as a three-day period; eventually this was normalized to one single day. However, the original three-day periods, expressed with West-Nordic names in the Julian calendar in the mid 12th century, appear to have been vinternätterna “the Winter Nights” of 13–15 October, midvinter “Midwinter” or midvinternatten “the Midwinter Night” 12–14 January, sommarmål “the first day(s) of summer” 13-15 April, and midsommar “Midsummer” 13–15 July.” (p.150) Please note that the later fixed solar dates were Christian dates. Pre-christian dates were entirely lunar based.
Modern Heathenry has followed the Wiccan train of thought for so long. Sumble, a Heathen ritual, is not done by modern Asatruar (most of the time) like it was done in Heimskringla 35, or Beowulf verses 489-675. The modern Sumble of one horn going around in a circle one person at a time, channeling energy, is a very obvious borrowing from Wicca. (Wicca is a fine path, but it is not a Germanic or a historical Heathen path.) Therefore, it is time to re-think holy days in Asatru. This is one of many reasons why it is time to talk divorce, between neo-pagan Asatru and historically based Heathen reconstructionists trying to bring the Old Ways back into Heathenry.
Here is the historical Frankish Heathen Calendar, recorded by Einhard in Vita Karolini Magni, chapter 29, translation mine: "He (Charlemagne) began a grammar of his native language. He gave the moons (months) names in his own tongue, in place of the Latin and barbarous names by which they were formerly known among the Franks. He likewise designated the winds by twelve appropriate names; there were hardly more than four distinctive ones in use before. He called January, Wintarmanoth; February, Hornung; March, Lentzinmanoth; April, Ostarmanoth; May, Winnemanoth; June, Brachmanoth; July, Heuvimanoth; August, Aranmanoth; September, Witumanoth; October, Windumemanoth; November, Herbistmanoth; December, Heilagmanoth."
Here is the Norse Heathen calendar which the Iceland Christian Althing recorded in the 10th century AD. I restored it to its pre-christian Heathen Calendar prior christianization due to the work of Andreas Nordberg (Nordberg, Andreas. 2006. Jul, disting och förkyrklig tideräkning: Kalendrar och kalendariska riter i det förkristna Norden. Kungl. Gustav Adolfs Akademien för svensk folkkultur: Uppsal). Please note the Iceland Althing followed Hakon the Good’s contemporary example of moving Yule to the same time as Christmas. Also, the calendar shows that the Heathens had two seasons: Winter and Summer.
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