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How much Saxon Heathenry was "claimed" by the Church?

Did Santa come from Odin? Did pre-Christian Germanic 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 and misinformation out there that many things in the church today have Germanic Heathen origins. Scholar Ronald Hutton states the following 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."  (Hutton, Ronald (1996). Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain. Oxford University Press. pp. 233–235. ISBN 9780198205708.)

Nonetheless, how "Heathen" are many modern 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"? Did the church "preserve" Heathenry? In this blog, we will focus on the Saxons. Conversion was brutal, harsh, and anything but kind for the Saxons.

We have strong evidence that law codes forced on the Saxons proved that the church had ZERO interest in adopting 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 holidays. 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. In his mind, this would put an end to Heathen veneration there. 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 Old 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 holy to their Ancestors. This is why the Stellinga Rebellion happened in Saxony 50 years after the Saxon Wars, because these things were an insult to the Saxons. The church was a constant reminder of defeat and foreign domination, and worshipping in churches built with holy trees to their Ancestors with a Frankish Graveyard out front, particularly insulting. The forced church tithe (I could quote the same law codes forcing Saxons to tithe not just money, but one male and one female out of every sixty people, were to be handed over to the church as a tithe of slaves to the church.)

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 orthodox" Christian Church in Europe. 2. To have Roman Catholic Christianity become THE ONLY religion of Rome and its empire, which was not settled until the late 4th century 3. The Roman Church realized that the Jewish holidays would not go over well in Rome. All four Gospels were clear that Jesus was a Jew who went to synagogue, and celebrated Passover (renamed by the Church as "the Last Supper" not "Jesus's Last Passover.") Jesus is even seen in the Gospels celebrating Hanukkah in the Temple. (see John 10:22-23). Therefore, the Church did not want "Biblical Holidays", as it knew this would be unpopular. Roman Pagan Days like Saturnalia and tides from the Mithras cult were chosen as "christain" holidays in the 3rd and 4th centuries, when the Church was still not the only Church, nor was the Church established as the religion in Europe. The Julian Calendar's Solstices were chosen for both Christ's birth (the Christ Mass, December 25th) and Saint John's Mass, June 24th. Christmas owes its roots to the ancient Roman holiday of Saturnalia, which was a Roman 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, Roman Christianity could have a chance for popularity. (And I should note here, that there were more Greek Christians at this time than Roman ones. The Greek Orthodox believers were against Roman Pagan days, and instead chose January 6th and July 5th for their Masses to Christ and John the Baptist respectively. Therefore, to argue that Germanic Paganism is the reason for the choice of December 25th to Christians, forgets that the larger Greek Church, in the 4th century, did not agree with the Roman Church. Not to mention, Germanic Peoples were not even in the church when these dates were established.) Please note however, while the church did this practice early on, to absorb a Roman Pagan holiday, to get to gain Roman popularity, 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 Roman 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. It was also impossible for the church to change dates. Once December 25th was the chosen date of the Christ Mass, when Germanic Pagans were forced into the church 400 years later, no Roman Catholic living in Italy or anywhere else in Europe, would tolerate their Xmas being moved to a different date to appease Pagans they defeated and forced into the church. Once the Christ Mass was established, and the Church was THE dominant religion, it was not changing its firmly established holy days. And as the victors in a battle of forced conversion, they dictated the terms of defeat, just as brutally as the Treaty of Versailles was enforced on losers later, as all armistices are forced upon the defeated.

The Roman church did not follow the biblical lunar calendar. Rome's people followed a solar calendar. Germanic Heathens celebrated a lunisolar calendar, and 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's holy days have always been specific dates on the Roman solar calendar. Again, Germanic Heathens used a luni-solar calendar, having days of the moon. Yule did not even occur on the Solstice historically, as Yule was a three night long blot starting on the full moon of Jolmanuthr, or Yule Moon. I have a long blog on this subject that you can read here:  

You can also read the Saga of Hakon the Good, the son of the first Heathen King of all Norway. Hakon converted to Christianity and decided 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 heathen blot/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."  By the mere fact that the Sagas show that Yule had to be moved to Christmas, proves that the church saw Yule as un-Christian, and that Yule would eventually be replaced by Christmas by simply moving the date.  And this clearly happened historically, even though the name "Yule" survives, Heathen Yule has been defeated by Christmas.  What is interesting, is those who argue against this, state that Xmas is a Christianized Yule, ignoring the fact that the Germanic Peoples came to Christ long after December 25th was chosen.  When I post about historical pre-Christian Heathen Winter Nights and Sigrblot, no one bats an eye.  These two holidays were not in the church, so my articles on these two holy days typically offend no one.  But if you state a Christian Holiday is Roman Pagan in roots, then non-Germanic, people get offended because they want to say it is their national day.  It is amazing to me that literally someone from every country in Europe states the Christians stole Xmas from their culture or country.  Everyone loves Xmas so much, it has to be theirs.  An academic look at the Christian Christmas shows a different reality. Hakon the Good moved Yule to the Solstice/Xmas, because it was part of forced Christianization. Christmas is not Germanic in origin, but it is either Christian or "Christo-Roman-Pagan." **The Church's solar calendar was different from the Heathen lunisolar calendar, which did not have 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 Roman and Christian fixed solar dates.  Therefore, to argue that a fixed Christian solar date corresponded to a Heathen lunisolar date, is a stretch to say the least. The Solstice never landed on the full moon of Jolmanuthr, the first night of the three nights of pre-Christian Heathen Yule.**

Also, please keep in mind, the mindset of Christians was different in the 8th century than when Christianity was being established five hundred years earlier. I hear modern Heathens argue all the time that people in Rome and other countries, long Christian, would happily change their established holidays to Germanic Heathen holidays, to please Germanic Heathens living weeks away by horse back, people with a foreign and different culture. This is a ridiculous claim. Why would the average Roman Catholic accept Heathenry into their church, to appease Heathens, unbelievers living so far away? This is a completely implausible claim, that all of Christianity would adopt FOREIGN Pagan ones, that their own Pagan Ancestors never kept, to keep some group forced into the Church happy. It is even implausible to claim Roman Catholics in Italy or Spain for example, would allow Paganism into the Church under the guise of appeasing foreign Pagans into the church. This would have been apostacy to any Roman Catholic. The Church had no reason nor wish to compromise with Northern Europe's Heathens. It was baptism or death dictated by the victors. It seems to escape many people that extra-biblical practices in the Church were invented by Christians, and Christianity is the reason all Europe has certain practices. It is the Church that was the dominant religion and culture in Europe for well over a millennia now.

Saints Days verses the actual Heathen Holidays

Literally every single day is a saint's day. One can easily go to and see today's "saint of the day" and which saint mass is being done for, every single day. Often, people claim Saint's Days appeased Heathens, to bring them into the Church. However, those making this claim do not realize how many saints there are, that every single day is not just one Saint's Day, but several. In the end, one can go to the sources, like the Eddas, Sagas, and even Christian testimony of what Heathens did, to understand what the pre-Christian Heathen holidays were. The sources mention new and full moons, as well as three major Blots a year. There are other localized customs such as Disting and Alfablot you can read my blogs on. The three major blots were for three nights, and began on full moons. “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]

"Now it is their old ways (forn sed) 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 (blots): 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].

These are the three major blots a year, which lasted for three days each. Here is some evidence showing these were three day feasts: Heimskringla Saga, Magnus the Blind, Chapter 6: “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. Hakon the Good Saga (quoted above) states: "Before him, the beginning of Yule, or the blot night, was the night of mid-winter, and Yule was kept for three days thereafter."

Also, the Germanic Holidays began on Full Moons: 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."

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) 

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…” This quote proves that Yule was after Christ Mass in pre-Christian Times.

The Roman historian Tacitus writes in his Germania (Chapter 11) 98CE/AD that the Germanic peoples observed the lunar months. “The community gathers, if nothing unusual or sudden happens, at certain times when the moon is new or full, because they consider this the luckiest beginning to discuss matters. Also, they do not calculate the number of days, but the number of nights. In this way they state purpose and commitment. Night does precede the day.” [Translation by Dr. Andreas E. Zautner] Dr. Andreas E. Zautner: “If we browse the internet for holidays of the Germanic people, we mainly find pages presenting an octopartite year circle, the so-called ‘eight-spoked wheel of the year’ based on the solstices, the equinoxes, and four moon feasts in between. This year circle has absolutely no historical basis. Although it is very popular in neopagan circles, especially within Wicca and eclectic Asatru, there is no verified evidence for such a year circle as basis for the seasonal festivities. The same is true for the Celtic feasts within the year circle, because the Gauls too, used a lunisolar calendar as we know for the examples of Coligny and Villards d’Heria (Olmstedt, 1992). If one has internalized such ideas, one should get rid of them immediately!” [Dr. Andreas E Zautner, “The Lunisolar Calendar of the Germanic Peoples”, P.83] There is a lot more documentation in our sources than these, but to keep this article short and readable, I list these. Please visit my other blogs to get far more historical source quotes on when the pre-Christian Germanic Heathens celebrated their holy days.

***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.

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