Mid-summer: As It Was, Or Was Not, Observed in Heathen Germany, Scandinavia & England
Updated: Jun 22, 2022
Modern neo-pagan movements ignore the moon, and use a pure solar calendar. Most have never taught that historical Heathens kept lunar moons (months), and had a moon called Jolmanuthr (meaning Yule Moon) for example. The Saga of Hakon the Good is often unknown. Hakon the Good was the son of the first king of all Norway, Harold Fairhair. Hakon the Good forced Chrsitiantiy on all Norway, and chapter 15 of the Saga of Hakon the Good records the story of how Yule was moved to December 25th, which was both Christmas AND the Solstice on the Julian Calendar. Prior to Hakon the Good, Yule was in January and on the Full Moon of Jolmanuthr, a night called "Hokunott." This is the historical Heathen Yule. To celebrate Yule on the Solstice or on December 25th, is actually Christian. Yule, according to the Sagas, was not about the rebirth of the son/sun, but a blot in January for good crops. 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 Nights, (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.” Here is the text in the Icelandic: "iii blot hvern vetr, eitt at vetrnottum, enannat at midjum vetri, iii.at sumri" The Chronicon of Thietmar of Merseburg Chapter 17 (circa 1000 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 sacrifices…” "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).
“Midsummer festivities had no connection with the Odin Cult." [Dr. Andreas E Zautner, “The Lunisolar Calendar of the Germanic Peoples”, P.90] But What About Mid-summer? Notice the quote from Ynglinga Saga chapter 8 above, that Odin established the same law in his land that had been in force in Asaland… On Winter Nights, (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(the first day of summer) , a Victory-blot.” Notice, Mid-summer is not mentioned, at all... Does this mean that there was no holiday called "mid-summer?"
Bede wrote down the Old English calendar in 725 AD in his work called "De Temporum Ratione." Bede mentions that the Anglish tribes in Angle-land (England) observed a lunar calendar, having a moon called "Giuli" (Pronounced "Yul-ee") which was clearly Yule, (as a matter of fact, Bede mentions two Yule Moons). Bede also mentions rituals that the Anglish Heathens did corresponding to the Roman months of December, January, March, April, September, October, and November, but Bede mentioned zero rituals during "Litha" which would have been the moon of "mid-summer" Most people know I am a little on the over-kill side when it comes to research (which I think is a great thing). I once counted the number of Yule rituals in Snorri's Heimskringla. Yule is mentioned 103 times alone in Heimskringla. Winter Nights is the most mentioned holiday in the sagas and historical sources, if I am to believe scholars, but in fairness I never counted to verify. But Winter Nights and Yule are mentioned far more more than Sigrblot (Norse and North Germany) and Eostre (Anglo-Frisian and Franks only.) Midsummer as a blot has a whopping one reference, and the context of that reference, is forced christianization, and Heathens deciding to blot in reaction to this. (More on that below...). Nonetheless, in over 700 Sagas, Poems, and two Eddas, to have a whopping one reference to a Midsummer blot is pretty shocking, compared to 103 mentions of Yule in Heimskringla alone. And, as I will prove below, the one Mid-Summer reference is in regards to Christianity and conversion, as the summer solstice was not a heathen holiday, but was the Roman church's celebration of John the Baptist's birthday. (Please note, the early church was divided, east and west, the Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox. The Orthodox church was bigger than the Catholic church until later in the middle ages. The majority of Christians actually did not chose the solstices for Jesus' and John the Baptist birthdays, but January 6th and July 5th). The catholic church in the west, the church that converted Germany and Scandinavia, did chose the solstices however. Jacob Grimm's Deutsche Mythologie, a 19th century work, provides evidence that midsummer fires were only lit in southern Germany during sunnenwende (the summer solstice). Grimm stated that the north Germans did fires around Easter and not on "sunnenwende." (Stallybrass 1883, vol2, 615). Easter is the first sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox. Grimm stated that the northern fires were more ancient, that the fires to welcome the beginning of summer came "stright from fires of our native heathenism." Grimm stated "Midsummer fires came from the church and she had picked it up in Italy." (Stallybrass 1883, vol2, 626) [Author: Sandra Billington Source: Folklore, Vol. 119, No. 1 (Apr., 2008), pp. 41-57] To put this bluntly, summer started in April, in Heathen times, and the April fires around christian Easter were the first that went back to Heathen times. The fact of the matter is, Heathenry had a triad of holidays. Not only does Ynglinga Saga prove this, but according to an apology given to Norway's second Christian king: "In inner Trondheim almost all the folk are Heathen... And it is their custom to hold a blood offering in the autumn to welcome winter, and another at mid-winter, and the third on Summer's day when they welcome summer." (Monsen and Smith 1932, 326).
Most people who moved to Iceland came from Norway. Hakon the Good's forced Christianization in 10th century Norway, had an impact on the largely Christian Icelandic Althing, influencing it to "destroy" the Heathen calendar in the 10th century. The first step in the Althing destroying the Heathen calendar was to remove "moons" from the calendar. The Icelandic Althing made their calendar twelve thirty day fixed "months" (not moons), that ignore the moon completely. They then added a "leap week" having four to seven days which would shift in number each year to keep this calendar in line with the sun as the Roman Church did. Sandra Billington, in her research paper proving Mid-summer was not the solstice and also not a day of blot/sacrifice, stated the following:
Sandra in her great work continues:
PS-While Old Saxon, and not Old English is my strength, I would say "litha" without doubt means "traveling." Words in Old Saxon like "seolithandean" meaning "sea-travelors" and "lagulithandean" meaning "lake-travelers" are not at all uncommon. The Roman Midsummer (Solstice) and the Germanic Midsummer (Full Moon after the Solstice) are at different times. What is the origin of the "Church" celebrations on June 24th? Most people argue that this comes from Heathen solstice veneration. However, December 24th (into the 25th) and June 24th are comingled in Christianity. December 25th is the birthday of Christ. June 24th, is the birthday of John the Baptist. The church wanted Christ and John to be born on solstices on the Julian calendar, not because these were GERMANIC Heathen dates, but because these were Roman Catholic dates. The Roman Catholic Church was smaller in the 4th through 6th centuries than the Eastern Orthodox Church. Christianity was divided. Paganism was not the reason for chosing the solstices. As more than half of christianity, the eastern Orthodox church, chose January 6th and July 5th as the birthdays of Christ and John the Baptist. The Only Reference to a Midsummer Blot in the entirety of all literature and sources: 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, the this one and ONLY reference ever to Mid-summer is of the farmers converting to doing St. John's day. Dr. Zautner argues that this was one of the important milestones for making St. John's Day important and holy in Scandinavia. [Dr. Andreas E Zautner, “The Lunisolar Calendar of the Germanic Peoples”, P.126] 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" blot 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. “Midsummer festivities had no connection with the Odin Cult." [Dr. Andreas E Zautner, “The Lunisolar Calendar of the Germanic Peoples”, P.90] Please join us in the Facebook Group "Aldsidu: Saxon Heathenry."