Updated: Jun 18, 2020
Let me begin this article with a simple fact: Modern Asatru ignores the moon, and has a pure solar calendar. It has never taught that historical Heathens had a lunar calendar, with a moon called Jolmanuthr (meaning Yule Moon) for example, nor has it taught the Saga of Hakon the Good. 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. Here is some (and there is a lot more) that proves this: 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, en annat 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…” 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, 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. Jacob Grimm's Deutsche Mythologie, a 19th century work, provides evidence that midsummer fires were only lit in southern Germany during sunnenwende. 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] 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 Pagan dates. In the fourth century when the Roman Church picked these dates (336 AD), it was dealing with Saturnalia and the Roman Mithras Cult after just becoming the state religion. Rome was unconcerned with Germanic Pagans in northern Germany and Scandinavia, it concern was the people in its homefront. Scandinavia would not come into the Roman church for another 600 years. The Roman Church continued ROMAN Pagan dates and ideals within the church, and since Catholicism became the religion of Scandinavia much later, these festivals were adopted and the Heathen festivals ended. Yule was moved to the Solstice (Dec 25th on the Julian Calendar), and Midsummer was never a Scandinavian blot, so those in Northern Germany and Scandinavia adopted these Christian Traditions. It should not surprise anyone that over the centuries, peoples who were formerly Heathen adopted customs born earlier in Rome itself, as these were the customs of the church. The Only Reference to a Midsummer Blot in the entirety of all literature and sources Olaf Tryggvason's Saga ch. 66 "King Olav that summer drew a great army together from the east of the land and sailed north with it to TRONDHEIM (Norway) and first lay in by Nidaros. He sent bidding all round the fjord that he would hold a Thing and called a Thing of eight shires at Frosta; but the bonders turned this bidding to the Thing into an arrow of war meeting/Thing, and all the men from over TRONDHEIM gathered together. And when the king came to the Thing, the body of bonders were come there fully weaponed. When the Thing met, the king spoke to the folk and asked them to take up Christianity. And when he had spoken for a little time the bonders shouted and asked him to be quiet, saying that otherwise they would go against him and drive him away. "Thus we did", they said, "with Hacon the foster-son of Athelstan (this is Hakon the Good, the one who forced Christianity on them and all Norway), when he came to us with such behest and we think no more of thee than of him." And when King Olav saw the heated temper of the bonders and likewise that they had so great an army that he could not withstand them, he changed his speech and turned in assent with, the bonders: he said, "I wish that we shall be friends again, as we have formerly agreed between ourselves. I will go there where you have your largest blot and see your worship. Then shall we all take counsel about what worship we shall have and we shall all be as one about it". And when the king spoke mildly to the bonders, they were softened in their minds and all their talk was reasonable and peaceful, and it was at last agreed that there should be a midsummer blot at Mæren, and there all the chiefs and mighty bonders would come, as was their desire, and to there King Olav would also come."
The context of this passage is forced Christianization. King Olav was continuing what Hakon the Good started, as King Olav too descended from Hakon the Good and the Kings of Norway. King Olav was bent on one religion in Norway, and not two religions in Norway. He wanted to get Heathens and Christians worshipping at the same time (to aid christianization), so the Heathens did a blot at Midsummer so King Olav would not have to wait several full moons to see one at Winter Nights, Of course, this interpretation is contested by those arguing that midsummer was an annual blot, despite the fact a midsummer-blot is not mentioned anywhere else in the entirety of all Scandinavian literature. But remember the quote above about Trondheim? This quote says that Mid-Summer was not a blot in Trondheim, and therefore, this is evidence of this mid-summer blot being "out of the ordinary." To repeat the quote above here: 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). The word "mid-summer blot" is miðsumarsblót in the Icelandic text. Therefore, no one can argue that this word doesn't mean "mid-summer blot." I have done "ctrl + f" in all the sagas as well, looking for a midsummer blot in all the historical sources, and this is CONFIRMED not just by scholars as the only reference to a midsummer blot, but by myself using search functions within word and pdf documents, as well as websites having free versions of sagas. Due to this being the ONLY occurance of a midsummer ritual/blot in the entirety of the literature, and due to the fact that the context is forced Christianization, the conclusion is pretty obvious in my mind. I have seen some argue that Danes and Swedes did not do midsummer, and those in Trondheim were doing their own localized practice. If this conclusion is accurate, then it is one that admits Danes, Swedes, and maybe even most of Norway did not observe mid-summer, and its only evidence is in one locality in Norway. Please join us in the Facebook Group "Saxon Heathenry."