Updated: Aug 3, 2019
Did Santa come from Odin? Did Norse peoples use symbols of rabbits and eggs near the first full moon after the equinox? Did the Xmas tree descend from Donar's Oak, the Irminsul, or Yggdrasil? (etc etc etc.) There are myths out there that many things in the church today have Germanic Heathen origins. Since it is May, I should state that recent scholarship has found that the custom of the maypole arose in the context of medieval Christian Europe. Maypoles were first seen, at least in the British Isles, between AD 1350 and 1400 within the context of medieval Christian European culture. (Hutton, Ronald (1996). Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain. Oxford University Press. pp. 233–235. ISBN 9780198205708.) Hutton also states clearly in regards to the Maypole: "There is absolutely no evidence that the maypole was regarded as a reflection of the Irminsul or Donar's Oak."
Nonetheless, how "Heathen" are many non-biblical church traditions in all actuality? Did the church allow Historical Germanic Heathenry to continue within the church itself as an aid to "conversion"? I know the history of the Saxons the best, so I will use their history as examples. But the same can be said of forced christianization elsewhere outside of Saxony. Conversion was brutal, harsh, and anything but kind to all the various tribal Germanic Heathenries it encountered.
We have strong evidence that law codes forced on the Saxons proved that the church had ZERO interest in taking Heathen holidays and making them christian to aid conversion. As a matter of fact, the church wanted the opposite, strict law codes enforced with capital punishment to outlaw Heathen holidays and customs, and enforce Christian ones. The Saxons were forced to attend church on christian holidays, not just every Sunday.
There were a total of four Saxon Capitularies, or law codes. In 782 AD, the Lex Saxonum (a law code) was forced on the Saxons. It said the following:
Lex Saxonum #18: On the Lord's Day (Sunday) no meetings and public judicial assemblages shall be held, unless perchance in a case of great necessity or when war compels it, but all shall go to the church to hear the word of God, and shall be free for prayers or good works. Likewise, also, on the christian holidays they shall devote themselves to God and to the services of the church, and shall refrain from secular assemblies.
Lex Saxonum #4: If anyone, out of contempt for Christianity, shall have despised the holy Lenten fast and shall have eaten meat, let him be punished by death.
Lex Saxonum #8: If any one of the race of the Saxons hereafter concealed among them shall have wished to hide himself unbaptized and shall have scorned to come to baptism and shall have wished to remain a Pagan, let him be punished by death.
Lex Saxonum #19: Likewise, it has been pleasing to insert in these decrees that all infants shall be baptized within a year.
Lex Saxonum #21: If anyone shall have made a vow at springs or trees or groves, or shall have made any offerings after the manner of the Heathen and shall have partaken of a repast in honor of the demons, if he shall be a noble 60 solidi, if a freeman 30, if a litus 15. If, indeed they have not the means of paying at once, they shall be given into the service of the church until the solidi are paid.
Lex Saxonum #22: We command that the bodies of Saxon Christians shall be carried to the church cemeteries and not to the mounds of the Pagans.
Lex Saxonum #1: It was pleasing to all that the churches of Christ, which are now being built in Saxony and consecrated to God, should not have less, but greater and more illustrious honor, than the fanes of the idols have had.
In 772 AD/CE, the Saxon Irminsul was destroyed by a Christian Frankish army. After seven years of the site changing hands several times, Charlemagne built a church and put a christian graveyard where the Irminsul once stood, as well as a castle. People often argue that churches were built on destroyed Heathen holy places to get people to go church. I find this ridiculous. The purpose was to send the message that the Heathen Gods were defeated and now Heathens should convert and worship the One True God in a church built of the wood from the Grove dedicated to the Gods. Law codes forced the defeated to go to church, and the Heathens felt deeply insulted and humiliated to walk into a church built from wood of sacred trees to their Ancestors. The message from the church here was not "You would love to come because this is your holy place" no matter how you slice it or dice it.
Below is a sign outside of the church (rebuilt several times) at the site of the historical Irminsul today. The church there today was rebuilt after the Thirty Years' War which ravaged historical Saxon lands. The church was rebuilt several times before the Thirty Years' War as well.
The early Roman church had three struggles: 1. To win the battle for Christian orthodoxy, to become "the only true" Christian Church. (Which the Roman Church did accomplish in the fourth century.) 2. Most importantly, have Roman Catholic Christianity become THE ONLY religion of Rome and its empire, which was not settled until the late 4th century 3. As an anti-semitic "organization" the church wanted nothing to do with a Jewish Jesus and Jewish (Biblical) holidays, the ones Jesus kept (if we are to believe the Bible) because being "Biblical" is the same as being "Jewish." Not to mention, Jewish people were ruled by the Romans, as Judea was a province of the Roman Empire. The Jews came off "weird" as they accepted a seven day period of time called a "week" that no one in Europe yet kept until the introduction of the Judeo-Christian religion. They also seemed "lazy" as they rested one of every seven days by divine command, a concept not exactly common elsewhere. They came off as "atheists" for only believing in one God, which was just weird to polytheistic European peoples. For the Roman Catholic church to become "the" religion of Europe, it needed a harsh divorce from Judaism, and it needed a way to infuse interest of European "pagans." Hence, the church DID allow Saturnalia to define the major christian winter holiday, despite the fact that Jesus kept Hanukkah within the bible itself (see John 10:22-23).
The Roman church did not follow the biblical lunar calendar, nor did it want to as an anti-Semitic religion. Rome's people followed a SOLAR calendar. Germanic Heathens celebrated a lunisolar calendar coincidentally, the biblical calendar was also lunisolar. The Germanic peoples kept a calendar where moons were "months" i.e. a month is a cycle of the moon. This is why in all Germanic languages today, the word "moon" and "month" are very similar, as they are related words. The Church chose December 25th, the Solstice on the Julian calendar (Julius Caesar's Calendar), not because they were concerned with Germanic Heathen tribes in northern Germany and Scandinavia (Germanic tribes were not yet in England at this time). They were concerned about Roman PAGANS, i.e. the cult of Mithras and Saturnalia. That was the religion the church needed to beat most, to be "THE" religion of Rome. Saturnalia and Christmas have nothing to do with Germanic Heathen Yule. Nothing. Yule did not even happen on the Solstice historically. I have a long blog on this subject that you can read here: https://www.aldsidu.com/blog/historical-accuracy-in-heathenry-solstices-equinoxes-were-not-observed-by-germanic-heathens But you can also read the Saga of Hakon the Good, the son of the first Heathen King of all Norway. Hakon converted to Chrsitianity, and decided to start via force to make Norway Christian. In Chapter 15 of the Saga of Hakon the Good, Hakon makes a law to move Heathen Yule to be on the same night as the Solstice, December 25th on the Julian Calendar: "King Hakon was a good Christian when he came to Norway; but as the whole country was heathen, with much heathenish 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. Before him, the beginning of Yule, or the blot night, was the night of mid-winter, and Yule was kept for three days thereafter."
Christmas owes its roots to the ancient Roman holiday of Saturnalia, which was a pagan festival which was celebrated from December 17-25 each year, December 25th being the solstice (most years). By absorbing the festival of Roman Pagan Saturnalia, it could include the largest group of Roman Pagans in its numbers. Please note however, while the church did this practice early on, to absorb a Roman Pagan holiday, to get "pagans" into the Church, the Church did this in the time it was not THE religion. Once the church was "THE" religion, the Church no longer continued this practice of taking Pagan Days to be holy days of the church. In fact, it was the opposite, where now the goal was to get people to keep Christian Holidays and abandon non-Christian ones. Please note however, that accepting Saturnalia, was also a great way to get rid of Hanukkah. The first day of Hanukkah occurs on the 25th day of the 10th lunar month of the year: Kislev on the Hebrew calendar. Deca-member means "10th moon" in Latin, every bit as much as September means "7th moon", October means "8th moon", November means "9th moon" etc. Therefore, chosing the 25th day of the 10th moon gave December 25th a "biblical" backing even though it was a solar based one.
Back to our discussion: Hakon the Good moved Yule to the Solstice/Xmas, because it was part of forced Christianization, and moving Yule to Christmas then moves Heathens into the Church, or so the thought was. Please note, the Church's solar calendar was different from the Heathen lunisolar calendar, without fixed solar dates like "February 1" for example. Therefore, since the church followed a fixed Roman solar calendar, and Germanic Heathens followed a calendar that was lunar based, there were no "exact date correlations" between Germanic Heathen holidays and fixed solar dates. Therefore, to argue that a fixed solar date corresponded to a lunar date, is a stretch to say the least... Saturnalia on the Solstice does correspond to the Solstice (Dec 25th, Xmas). But it doesn't correspond to the Full Moon of Jolmanuthr, the Full Moon of Yule Moon, i.e. the Germanic Heathen Historical Yule.
Nonetheless, now we must discuss if the major Heathen holidays became "saint's days" or various christian holidays that continued until today. First, we must state what the Historical Heathen holidays are. In the Norse calendar we have five confirmed holidays. Winter Nights, Alfablot, Yule, Disting, and Sigurblot.
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 me quote Bede in 725 AD from De Temporum Ratione chapter 15: "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." While the church keeps Easter at almost the same time as Sigurblot, this has more to do with the Biblical (Jewish) calendar, than it does the Old Anglish (English) Heathen calendar. Since Yule and Winter Nights were not on the solstice nor the autumnal equinox, it is quite a stretch to say that Yule is Saturnalia; and that Winter Nights, is from "All-Saints day." Remember "Yule on the Solstice" and "Ostara on the Equinox" are Asatru's two biggest holidays. Winter Nights, is the most mentioned holiday in Heathen lore. To claim that Winter Nights has anything in common with All Saints day, would be "odd" as well. If anything, All Saints Day has far more in common (by a loooooong shot) with the Celtic Samhain than Germanic Lunar Winter Nights. As usual, it seems that modern scholarship, like Ronald Hutton, Andreas Nordberg, Kevin Danaher, and many others, are correct, that most neo-pagans are more interested in solstices, equinoxes, and other practices born in medieval Christianity than they are in sources and facts of Germanic Heathenry. ***Please join us on the Facebook group Saxon Heathenry, and join the Association for Historical Germanic Heathenry.***
The sign from inside the church where the Irminsul once stood.