Historical Heathen Yule
Updated: Feb 3, 2022
Restoring the original pre-christian understanding of Yule will allow us to have a truly Heathen understanding of mid-winter, or Yule. Please note, Mid-Winter on the Solstice halfway between two equinoxes is a modern solar understanding, not a historical Heathen one. Mid-winter or Yule was halfway between Winter Nights (the start of winter), and Sigurblot (the start of summer.) Winter Nights is on the Full Moon of Haustmanuthr, three full moons later is Yule or Mid-winter, on the Full Moon of Yule Moon (or Yulir-Manuthr, or Jol-Manurthr), and three full Moons later is “Sigurblot”, on the full moon that starts summer, the moon called Göje or Göja. (I am using Swedish moon names here, spellings of these moons will vary from Norse/Germanic tribe to tribe, and these moons are the moons before the Christian Iceland Althing made a fixed solar calendar of the former Heathen calendar in the 10th century.) Please note that all Germanic tribes venerated Odin and the Aesir.
I will post my six Yule conclusions upfront, and then give my evidence for each conclusion. In other words, you will see six conclusions below, and six titles with the evidence supporting them below my initial list of six. Despite around 100 saga and edda references to Yule, we do not know everything about historical Yule today. Here are my six conclusions: 1. There was gift giving at the Yule Sumble. 2. Yule was held on the full moon of Yule Moon for all the Germanic tribes. (All Germanic Tribes is accurate).
3. Historical Heathen (pre-christian) Yule was three days and nights. 4. To the Norse peoples, especially the Swedes, Yule was a blot for the crop planting season. 5. Blot (first) followed by Sumble was typically done on the first night of Yule (first of three nights). The Yule Feast (Icelandic: jólaveizlu) was the highlight of Yule, and it was held on the first night of Yule, often called “Yule Eve” (Icelandic jólaaftan or jólnott). Much drinking was done, and drinking much was encouraged. Yule is the celebration of making it half way through the harshest cold of the year, and to drink, be merry, and gift the Gods for a good crop in the upcoming summer. 6. Yule Ham (or Boar) appears to come from the Hervarar Saga.
*** A note: For the Germanic tribes, Yule was three nights/days. The first night was a blot night, with Sumble afterwards. (One exception: The Old English, who were a mixture of Romano-Britons, Celtic peoples, and Anglish people who had Germanic migration. The Anglish celebrated both Yule and a Mothers Night, which like Eostre is from the Matronae cult of the Roman Rhineland, per the great works of Dr. Philip A Shaw and others. Yule and Mothers' Night are most likely two different things, which is why no other Germanic Heathenry has any mention of a Mothers' Night. Germanic Disablot was on Winter Nights, i.e. the start of winter, not on mid-winter.)
1. There was gift giving at the Yule Sumble.
Please note, it is possible most sumbles (even sumbles not done on Yule) had gift giving. The Sumble in Beowulf verses 489-675 for example has gift giving, and that was not a Yule sumble.
The Saga of Saint Olav, Chapter 62: “In the winter Eyvind was at the Yule feast with King Olav and there he got gifts from him. Brynjulv Ulvaldi was also there with him, and he got as a Yule gift from the king a gold-dight sword and thereto the garth called Vettaland, which is a great manor farm.” (Icelandic: Eyvindr var um vetrinn í jólaboði með Óláfi konungi ok þá þar góðar gjafar at honum. Þar var ok þá með honum Brynjólfr úlbaldi ok þá at jólagjǫf gullbúit sverð af konungi ok með bœ þann, er Vettaland heitir, ok er þat inn mesti hǫfuðbœr.) Egils saga Skallagrímssonar chapter 70: "Arinbjorn held a great Yule-feast, to which he bade his friends and the neighbouring landowners. There was there much company and good cheer. Arinbjorn gave Egil as a Yule-gift a trailing robe made of silk, and richly broidered with gold, studded with gold buttons in front all down to the hem. Arinbjorn had had the robe made to fit Egil's stature. Arinbjorn gave also to Egil at Yule a complete suit newly made; it was cut of English cloth of many colours. Friendly gifts of many kinds gave Arinbjorn at Yule to those who were his guests, for Arinbjorn was beyond all men open-handed and noble."
2. Yule was held on the full moon of Yule Moon for all the Germanic tribes.
See the work of Dr. Andreas Nordberg of Stockholm, the world's foremost scholar, who proves that Yule was on the "first full moon after the first new moon after the winter solstice." https://www.academia.edu/1366945/Jul_disting_och_f%C3%B6rkyrklig_tider%C3%A4kning
Dr. Andreas E Zautner in his book: "The Lunisolar Calendar of the Germanic People's: reconstruction of a bound moon calendar from ancient medieval and early modern sources" Chapter 10.2.2: "It is a common misinterpretation to think it happened (midwinter) on the winter solstice. According to the primstaff, the midwinter feast was celebrated in the so-called 'hökunótt' on January 12, this it has been a calendar fixed date in the middle of the Julian month. Applying a lunar calendar, this is the full moon date, also in accord with the Jól moon and Disting rules, this time in the first lunar moon (of the year, begining after the solstice)." See my blog article on this subject, as here I will keep it shorter than my blog article, but I will quote sources in this blog as well... https://robert7sass.wixsite.com/germanicheathenry/blog/historical-accuracy-in-heathenry-solstices-equinoxes-were-not-observed-by-germanic-heathens?fbclid=IwAR07nWaDc_rjoh3-H_MttGZ7J_UixGt1pQiLPFTNuz-PV3yNMePYFyqkXsY
The Chronicon of Thietmar of Merseburg Chapter 17 (circa 925 AD): "As I have heard odd stories concerning their ancient mid-winter sacrifices (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 sacrifices…” PS- Whether Mid-winter is after the Roman (12/25) or Greek Xmas (1/6) is irrelevant, as BOTH are after the solstice. Therefore, Thietmar of Merseburg makes clear, the Danes in Lejre did their mid-winter in Janaury. Most believe Thietmar of Merseburg was Greek orthodox, and he was referring to Yule being after January 6th, the Greek Orthodox celebration of Christ's Birth, or the Greek Orthodox Xmas.
Yule is really more like christian Easter in the dating. The church dates Easter to the first Sunday after the first Full Moon after the vernal equinox. Therefore, Easter can occur anytime between March 22 and April 25th every year. Yule is similar, as Yule always occurs on the first Full Moon after the first new moon after the solstice in pre-Christian times, in Heathen times. Theitmar of Merseburg wrote in a year where Yule was late, in January.
3. Yule was three nights/days.
Hakon the Good was a Norwegian king, who tried to force Christianity on Norway (hence he is called “the Good.”) In the Saga of Hakon the Good, Hakon moved Yule from its traditional time on the Heathen Lunar calendar, to be at the same time as Xmas. 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 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. 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.” PS- Hakon the Good is the reason why Xmas is called "Yule" (various spellings) in Scandinavia today. Thus, forced christianization brought about naming Xmas "Yule". Xmas and Yule are two different things.
There are more passages in the sagas that imply Yule was three nights and days: Heimskringla Saga, Magnus the Blind, Chapter 6: “On the eve of Yule (jólaaftan) King Harald came to Björgyn and brought his ships into Floruvagar. He would not fight during Yule because of its holiness. But King Magnus got ready for him in the town. He had a sling raised out on Holm and he had chains made of iron and partly of tree stocks; he had these laid across the Vag from the king’s residence. He had foot-traps forged and cast over Jonsvolds, and Yule was kept holy for only three days, when no work was done.”
The Poettic Edda states Yule was three nights. HELGAKVITHA HJORVARTHSSONAR The Lay of Helgi the Son of Hjorvarth, Chapter 4. This passage is too long for this blog, but I encourage you all to look it up. Hethin came home alone on the evening of Yule, and after a stay of three days, a battle commenced. Like the Heimskringla Saga above written by Snorri, the Poettic Edda agrees that battles were not fought during the three days of Yule. Therefore, Yule was too holy to desecrate with bloodshed.
4. Yule was a blot for the crop planting season.
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.”
5. References to Yule Blots, Feasts, and Drinking A LOT...
Please note, Hakon the Good 15, quoted above, is about Hakon the Good moving Heathen Yule to the same time as the Christian Christ Mass (Christmas). Hakon the Good 16, describes a Yule blot and Sumble. Please see this link to read Hakon the Good: http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/heim/05hakon.htm
The Ynglinga Saga (chapter 34), from the year 1225: “There a great blot was held and many kings came as it was midwinter. And one winter when many folks were gathered in Upsala, King Yngvar was there with his sons, who were six winters old.”
The Saga of Halvdan the Black (chapter 8): “King Halvdan kept Yule (Icelandic: jólaveizlu) in Hadeland. There on the evening of Yule (Icelandic jólaaptan), a strange thing happened; when the men were gone to the table, and a great gathering was present, all the food and ale vanished from the table.”
The Saga of Harald Hairfair (chapter 25): King Harald went one winter a-feasting in the Uplands and had a Yule feast made ready for himself in Toftar. On the eve of Yule, Svasi came without the door whilst the king was at the table and he sent a messenger to the king to go out to him.
Chapter 13 of the saga "Hakon the Good": “King Hacon'had a Yule feast (Icelandic: jólaveislu) in Trondheim, which Sigurd the Jarl had made ready for him at Lade. The first night of Yule (Icelandic: jólanótt), the jarl's wife Bergliot gave birth to a boy. The day after, King Hacon sprinkled water on the boy and gave him his name.”
33 mentions of Yule in the Saga of Saint Olav, however, sometimes this word is used to describe Xmas and not Heathen Yule. Therefore, you have to read the context of the sections of this saga, as the word "jol" is also the word for Christmas in Scandinavian countries. If they are going to Mass on Yule, it is Christmas (obviously, as the word "Christmas" means "Christ Mass.")
Saga of Saint Olav chapter 41: “Swein the Jarl was then in Trondheim at Steinker and had a Yule feast (Icelandic: jólaveizlu) made ready there. It was a market town.” Chapter 61: “He held a great Yule feast (Icelandic: jólaboð), and bade to it many great bonders from the lordships.” Chapter 108: “The king brought this charge against the bonders that they had held a midwinter blot. Ölvir answered and said that the bonders were blameless in that; "we had”, he said, “a Yule feast and drinkings together far about in the lordships; the bonders do not prepare themselves so scantily for the Yule feast that there is not much left over; what was left they drank up a long time after, my lord.” Chapter 141: “There was a great Yule feast and great ale drinkings. In the village there were many bonders and they all drank together during Yule.”
Chapter 98 of Saga Harald Hardrade “I will take”, he said, “certain possessions which lie near the market towns where you, my lord, are wont to sit and hold Yule feasts (Jólaveizlr)”.
6. The Yule Boar
Hervarar Saga: On Yule eve a boar would be led into the palace, and oaths would be sworn upon his bristles. See the Hervarar saga, chapter 10, which lists the sonargǫltr or sónargǫltr , i.e. the Yule boar:
Hervarar saga, chapter 10: "In the King's retinue there were seven men whose duty it was to decide all the disputes that arose in that country. King Heithrek worshipped Frey, and he used to give Frey the biggest boar he could find. They regarded it as so sacred that in all important cases they used to take the oath on its bristles. It was the custom to sacrifice this boar at the 'sacrifice of the herd.' On Yule Eve the 'boar of the herd' was led into the hall before the King. Then men laid their hands on his bristles and made solemn vows. King Heithrek himself made a vow that however deeply a man should have wronged him, if he came into his power he should not be deprived of the chance of receiving a trial by the King's judges; but he should get off scot free if he could propound riddles which the King could not answer. But when people tried to ask the King riddles, not one was put to him which he could not solve."
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