Norse and Viking Festivals
Yggdrasil Day is celebrated either on April 22 or on the last Friday in April. It is not an old Northern tradition nor an ancient pagan celebration, it is a fairly new holiday in the Neopagan tradition and an alternative to Arbor Day.
This day is a time to contemplate the place of humankind within the nine worlds, and to celebrate the blessings of nature, often shown by planting a tree. This is also a time to celebrate one’s culture, heritage, and spirituality.
Regardless of faith, Yggdrasil Day is a great opportunity for anyone to give back to nature and recognize our inter-dependency on both one another and the natural world.
Arbor Day is all about trees, and their importance here on our tiny blue world. I am not sure how many trees are planted on this day worldwide, maybe millions, but none can compare to the greatest tree that was ever planted, Yggdrasil. Arbor Day is another one of those secular celebration days that I have borrowed, and use to honor something, or someone, in our great pantheon of Gods and Goddesses.
Today for me is Yggdrasil Day. A day to honor our Great World Ash for all that it does and means to us Midgardians. If you consider it to be an actual tree, or just some cosmic force that holds the nine worlds together is a matter for a later discussion. Either way it is to us, who follow the Old Ways, the great tree of life that binds our nine world cosmology together as one cohesive structure.
Let us not forget also that we here on Midgard have another very strong connection to trees in our lore. I quote from Voluspa,
“Until three of the Aesir assembled there, strong and benevolent, came to the sea. They found on the shore two feeble trees, Ask and Embla, with no fixed fate.”
Gylfaginning finishes the story:
“And they picked these up and created men from them. The first gave them spirit and life, the second understanding and power of movement, the third, form, speech, hearing and sight. They gave them clothes and names.”
The Gods gave life to the trees, and mankind was therefore born. Voluspa gives us a wonderful description of the Great Ash Tree:
“There is an ash tree, its name is Yggdrasil. A tall tree watered from a cloudy well. Dew falls from its boughs down into the valleys. Ever green it stands beside the Norn’ s spring.”
The importance and sacredness to the Gods is shown in Gylfaginning when Gangleri asks : ” Where is the chief place, or sanctuary of the Gods? ” High One replies: ” It is by the ash tree Yggdrasil. There every day the Gods hold court. ”
The High One then goes on to give the best description of Yggdrasil.
“The Ash is the best and greatest of all trees, its branches spread out over the whole world and reach up over heaven. The tree is held in place by three mighty roots that spread far out. One is among the Aesir; the second among the Frost Ogres, where once was Ginnungagap; the third extends over Niflheim, and under that root is the well Hvergelmir. But Nidhogg gnaws at the root from below. Under the root that turns in the direction of the Frost Ogres lies the Spring of Mimir, in which is hidden wisdom and understanding. The third root of the ash tree is in the sky, and under that root is the very sacred spring called Urd. There the Gods hold their court of justice.”
The High One adds later on:
“There is a great deal to tell about it . In its branches sits an eagle, and it is very knowledgeable. Between its eyes sits a hawk called Vedrfolnir. A squirrel named Ratatosk springs up and down the Ash and conveys words of abuse between the great eagle and Nidhogg. Four harts leap about the branches of the Ash and eat the shoots. And along with Nidhogg there are so many serpents that no tongue can count them.”
Yggdrasil is the cosmic World tree, and Ash tree, that binds this world to the others, to the world of the gods, of the spirits and ancestors, it is the symbol of our union with nature. In Nordic mythology, it was an ash tree known as Yggdrasil, the cosmic tree that symbolizes the center of the world, that Odin hung for nine days and nine nights in trance, received the sacred knowledge of runes, the Elder Futhark.
Yggdrasil has always played an important role in the lives of the Northern people of Europe. We have all came from nature and we will all return to it one day, so at this day we honor the forces of nature and we will always remember how important is to protect the world we live in.
Trees are the lungs of our world just has it is Yggdrasil in the Nordic cosmology, it is the shelter that gives us peace and protection, it is the spiritual path of the Gods and of our ancestors, the way which leads to the other worlds. And so as nature gives us these gifts, in turn we must honor it, and because a gift calls for a gift, in turn we must give to nature our protection, our care and our respect. In this day you should plant a tree, you should become the protector of those who have given you shelter, fight against the evils that are corrupting our natural world.
Celebrating Yggdrasil Day:
I honor the Great World Ash Yggdrasil every year on Arbor Day, the last Friday in April, with a full ritual, and by placing a new Valknut, Thor’s Hammer, or rune stone necklace on the branches of my artificial 6 ft. white ash tree that I have sitting next to Odin’s altar in my living room. I think it is very appropriate that the Great Ash sits next to the All – Father’s altar because of his many connections to Yggdrasil. I do not celebrate Christmas so to me this wonderful 6 ft. ash tree, with all its shining jewelry hanging in the branches, evokes the same emotions of joy and wonder that I used to experience as a child on Christmas morning.
The best thing is I get to experience it 365 days a year because I never take down the tree. It honors me with its presence, and I honor it with my presents, day after day, year after year. I found the 6 ft. ash at Amazon. com for about $ 300.00. It was definitely worth the money !
This year I am going to present the Great Ash with a very special gift that I found at the Scandinavian Festival last year. It is a beautifully carved Thor’s hammer. This white Thor’s hammer is hand carved out of bone, and has beads on either side of the Hammer. It looks kind of tribal ! It will make a beautiful addition to the dozen or so necklaces already hanging in its holy branches.
Coming just a week after Jord’s Day, ( Earth Day ), it is fitting to have a day to honor Yggdrasil, and to re- seed the earth with seedling trees. Planting trees is not only a great way to honor Mother Jord, and Yggdrasil, but it is also a wonderful gift for future generations of mankind. I cannot imagine a world without trees, and there would be no nine world universe without Yggdrasil the Great Nine World Ash!
More about the Ash Tree
The Ash tree – Fraxinus Excelsior is also known as guardian tree in all of Europe. With the exception of the Mediterranean region, this tree can live till three hundred years. Its leaves appear after its flowers and this strange detail led this tree to be know as the “Venus of the woods”. Its roots penetrate deeply into the ground causing difficulty to other kinds of vegetation to grow in there. Due to the hardness of its wood, it has been widely used for the manufacture of lances and tool handles. Thus it is possible that the name of this tree in English, derives from the Anglo-Saxon word Asec, which means “Ritual Spear.”
Celtic Druids once used the wood of these trees, to make their rods and staffs.
Traditionally the yule log (At the winter solstice) is of ash tree, this is because it is one of the few woods that can burn immediately, even though it is still green, and offers an excellent and long-lasting illumination.
The Icelandic word Aske, which has similarities with Ash, means “fire with large flame.” This tree is also sacred to the gods Thor and Odin.
Thorrablot (Þorrablót) was a sacrificial midwinter festival offered to the gods in pagan Iceland of the past. It was abolished during the Christianization of Iceland, but resurrected in the 19th century as a midwinter celebration that continues to be celebrated to this day. The timing for the festival coincides with the month of Thorri, according to the old Icelandic calendar, which begins on the first Friday after January 19th (the 13th week of winter). Or, on the 19th when it falls on a Friday.
Origins of the name “Thorri” are unclear but it is most likely derived from Norwegian king Thorri Snærsson, or Thor the God of Thunder in the old Nordic religion.
Today Thorrablot are common events among Icelanders everywhere and can be anything from an informal dinner with friends and family to large organised events with stage performances and an after-dinner dance. These large Thorrablot celebrations are usually arranged by membership associations, associations of Icelanders living abroad, and as regional festivals in the countryside.
On this occasion, locals come together to eat, drink and be merry. Customary, the menu consists of unusual culinary delicacies, known as traditional Icelandic food, which consist of different versions of animal parts, either fermented in lactic acid, rotten, salted or soured. These include rotten shark’s meat (hákarl), boiled sheep’s head, (svið) and congealed sheep’s blood wrapped in a ram’s stomach (blóðmör)! This is traditionally washed down with some Brennivin – also known as Black Death – a potent schnapps made from potato and caraway.
Even though most Icelanders do indulge in the traditional foods at least once a year, not many foreigners, nor the younger generation of Icelanders like the food.
After the Thorrablot dinner traditional songs, games and story telling are accompanied by dancing and in true Icelandic style continue until the early hours of the morning! If you fail to receive a personal invitation to a family feast, local restaurants will often add Thorrablot color and taste to their menus.
Today is the Feast of the Einherjar: The chosen heroes who sit in Odin’s Hall are the Einherjar. Today we honor those dead kin who gave their lives for Family and Folk. If you have friends or family who died in battle, visit their graves today, if that is not possible, drink a libation in their memory.
- See also: Honoring the Einherjar
Note: Also called Fogmoon, this feast day is held on the nearest weekend to November 1st. A celebration of the war-dead and of Ragnarok, it is dedicated to Odin and Freya.
Memorial Day is the day meant to be set aside to specifically honor the war dead. As such, it is an appropriate day to observe rituals to honor the Einherjar: the battle-slain warriors who are taken to Valhalla.
Who are the Einherjar? They are an army of all men who fall in battle, they are adopted as Odin’s sons. He allots to them the halls Valhalla and Vingólf. There they await Ragnarok, when they will join the Gods in fighting the Giants. They spend most of their time fighting, eating, and drinking.
Of course, not all of the battle-slain go to Valhalla some also go to Freya’s Hall, but many modern pagans will honor the war-dead, especially their ancestors who served at this time.
Others will honor the Einherjar on Veteran’s Day instead, even though, technically Veteran’s Day is intended to first and foremost honor those living Veterans from past military service, it is also used to honor those currently serving, and to a lesser degree those soldiers now dead.
For more about the Einherjar – read on…
In Norse mythology, the Einherjar (Old Norse “lone fighters”) are those that have died in battle and are brought to Valhalla by Valkyries. In Valhalla, the Einherjar eat their fill of the nightly-resurrecting beast Sæhrímnir, and are brought their fill of mead (from the udder of the goat Heiðrún) by Valkyries. The Einherjar prepare daily for the events of Ragnarök, when they will advance for an immense battle at the field of Vígríðr.
“Valholl is widely spread out;
here Odin chooses every day
In Norse cosmology, those that die in battle hold a special role within Asatru. They are the Einherjar, those that are chosen by Odin to fight on the side of the Gods at Ragnorak. (see explanation below)
Accounts of Valhalla describe it as a large hall, decked with the implements of battle. The Einherjar are described as being well-hosted, they are fed on pork and mead, and each day, the Einherjar practice at the art of battle. They engage one another in terrible, bloody conflicts, and at the end of the day, come back to life, and walk off the field, the best of friends.
All the Einheriar fight in Odin’s courts every day;
they choose the slain and ride from battle;
then they sit more at peace together.
It seems probable that historically, the Einherjar could be best described as some sort of “elite” troops, and that going to Valhalla was not necessarily the fate of the common soldier. Odin was traditionally followed by members of the ruling classes, not by ordinary folk. Adding to this the idea of the Einherjar fighting day after day, and enjoying it immensely does seem more in line with an elite unit, it seems likely that an ordinary draftee might get a little tired of day after day of fighting.
In actual modern-day practice, Einherjar blot has tended to become a day to honor all of those who die in wars, and to a lesser extent, veterans in general. How exactly does one reconcile these two different images of the Einherjar? One thing is clear, it was never a part of old Norse thought to hold to one view of the afterlife. Where you ended up after your death seemed reliant on which Gods you followed in life, and what sort of person you were.
Hail those that serve!
Hail the fallen!
Hail the Einherjar!
In Norse mythology, Ragnarök (Old Norse “final destiny of the gods”) is a series of future events, including a great battle foretold to ultimately result in the death of a number of major figures (including the gods Odin, Thor, Týr, Freyr, Heimdall, and Loki), the occurrence of various natural disasters, and the subsequent submersion of the world in water.
Afterward, the world will resurface anew and fertile, the surviving and reborn gods will meet, and the world will be repopulated by two human survivors.
The Feast of Ullr was traditionally a hunting festival. Ullr, god of hunting, and the bow was honoured and a feast was shared by the tribe of the spoils of the hunt. I remember hearing somewhere about Skathi also being honoured on this day but I can’t recall where… Anyway, in addition to being the goddess of skiing, she also governs hunting and bows.
The tribe (or family) on this day would take a portion of the meat from the hunt and have a large and joyous feast before the winter sets in hard. Today, most of us do not hunt, we get our meals from the super market, and if we are lucky, we grow a small amount of herbs and vegetables for eating. But we always get our meat from the grocery store. So celebrating a feast of the hunt is not as powerful a gesture in out modern times.
Many Asatruar in the USA use the national Thanksgiving holiday to honor our Gods and Goddesses of the hunt (it is deer hunting season in many parts of the country). We thank them for a successful hunting season with a blot and also bless/honor those who hunt to support the family. Weapons are dedicated on this day to Ullr. Some also take advantage of the family-oriented secular holiday to honor their personal ancestors.
One way to do this is to set an extra place at the table and leave it empty so that any ancestor who wishes may join us for the feast. This is a great time for telling tales handed down through the family. Still other Asatruar refer to this holiday as “Weyland Smith’s Day” and use it to honor that great Germanic craftsman as well as those artists and artisans around us.
On this day also, you may want to take time out with family and friends to shoot bows, throw some axes, play some Kubb and always playing a little Glima (Scandinavian Folk Wrestling of which Ullr is still remembered as the god of).
This ritual is held on or about the day of St. Martin, a Catholic saint who was given many of Odin’s original attributes. There is strong evidence that this day (Nov 12) was originally a festival time devoted to Odin and to Cernunnos, who has many similarities to the Wanderer.
This is a time of festival for several families gathered together, each bringing food and drink for the potluck feast. Prior to the time of the rites, have a day of games and feasting. The ritual should be held out of doors if possible, with the area appropriately decorated for the season with grain, fruits, maize, vegetables, nuts, leaves and flowers. Some of the last remaining Halloween decorations may be used for a final time on this day. place banners of Odin and Freya at the northern edge of the ritual area, or some appropriate other symbols of the female and male in the Divine. Whatever symbols are used, light a candle or torch before each of them.
At the beginning of the rites, the Master of the House summons the celebrants by the blowing of a horn. When all are gathered, he and the Lady of the House light candles and give them to all of the children present; then they lead the children in procession about the perimeter of the ritual area. Upon the return of the slow procession to the starting point, they instruct the small ones to place their lamps at the edge of the ceremonial area, saying:
Place this light
At the edge of our festival
So that the Great Ones
May be with us.
When all are in readiness, the Master of the House raises his hand and says:
Friends, I now bid thee
To join in a celebration
To our patron, the wise Odin,
Known also by his other names
Of Cernunnos and St Martin
The Lady of the House then says:
We call too upon Our Blessed Lady,
The good Freya
Queen of the Harvests, giver of life
And of plenty
Since before time began.
The Master of the House calls to the assembled family members:
Let us all give thanks
For the foods of the harvest, and
For the Challenge of the hunt.
May the wise Allfather bless our homes
And bless our animals, one and all.
So mote it be.
So mote it be.
The Lady of the House then calls:
Let us all give thanks
For the fullness of this time,
For the rich promise of the harvest time,
And for the love which binds our families
And our people.
May the Holy Lady bless our homes,
Our families, and all we own.
So mote it be.
So mote it be.
Both then link hands and call to the assembled family members:
May our Lord and Blessed Lady
Give blessings upon us.
Let us give joy and reveling
Before the Great Ones,
And in so doing, honor them.
This rite is ended.
The Gods be with thee.
The Gods be with thee.
The children are then asked to blow out the candles that they have set about the area of the ceremony.
From The Rites of Odin
July 29, is the festival of the Anglo-Saxon god Thunor and the Norse god Thor, a time of ascendant power and order. The great thunder-God Thor was honored on this date with prayers for protection of the crops against destructive storms in the older times in Europe.
Thunder rolls, lightning strikes,
And the hammer flies across the sky.
God of the weather, chariot of the storm,
Master of rain and torrents,
Son of the strength of Mother Earth,
I ask you to grant me that strength for myself.
You who are so great that you cannot walk
Across the Rainbow Bridge without breaking it,
You whose tree is the mighty oak,
O Thunor, grant me that unending sturdiness.
Let me not break beneath the blows of misfortune.
Keep me from being crushed when the powerful
Stomp their large feet on the smaller ones below.
You who are the guardian of the common man,
You who care for the farmers and workers,
Look upon me here in this place where I am
Only one of many, and protect my steps.
Make me resilient and mighty as your own arm,
Make me unbreakable, you who are Friend of Man.
I ask for one small percentage of the vigor
Of the right arm of the Thunderer,
That I might brave the tempest
And stand firm in the gales.
Thunder rolls, lightning strikes,
And the hammer flies across the sky.
Found at Thor’s Shrine
The Anglo-Saxon and Norse Goddess of the Underworld is honored annually on the Day of Hel (July 10th) with prayers, the lighting of black candles, and offerings of rose petals.
Also known as Hella, Hela, this deity is simultaneously half-dead and half-alive. Half of her body (cut vertically) is that of a fair, beautiful woman; the other half is necrotized flesh. She is half living woman, half corpse.
Once upon a time, being sent to Hel may have been inevitable, but it wasn’t perceived as punishment: Hel, daughter of Angerboda and Loki, rules the Norse realm of the dead. She is the keeper of the souls of the departed. Those who die at sea or in battle have other destinations; everyone else goes to Hel, who welcomes them into her home, Helhaim, regardless of whether they were good, bad, sinful, or saintly while alive.
Here’s a ritual for Hela’s Day:
- Colors: Black and White
- Elements: Earth and Air
- Altar: Upon black cloth to the right place four black candles, a skull, bones, a pot of earth, a pile of withered leaves, and a gravestone. Upon white cloth to the left place four white candles, incense, an ivory chalice of mead, a crystal sphere, and a bunch of dried roses. Veil the windows.
- Offerings: Blood. Pain. Difficulty. Toil. An arduous task that will take all you have to give, and will benefit the generations yet to come.
- Daily Meal: Meat stew and bread.
Invocation to Hela
Hail to Hel
Queen of Helheim
Wisest of Wights
Keeper of Secrets
Keeper of the hopes for tomorrow
Guardian of Souls
Implacable one of the frozen realm
Half the face of beauty
Half the face of Death.
You who feed the dead
At your meager table
Where everyone gets their fair share,
You who care not
About wealth or status,
About fame or fortune,
Who cares for the peasant
Equally with the ruler,
Teach us that Death is the great leveller
And that we need have no pride
When we reach your halls.
Lady who takes away
Yet holds always promise,
Teach us to praise loss and death
And the passing of all things,
For from this flux
We know your blessings flow.
(Blow out the candles, bow to the altar, and pour out the libation of mead. The roses should be placed outside to rot in the garden.)
Found in: Pagan Book of Hours
Example to follow:
Make our own families grow strong, maintain the memory and traditions of our alive ancestors. Remember the great women of your own clan on this Day of Remembrance for Unn the Deep Minded.
Unn was a powerful figure from the Laxdaela Saga who emigrated to Scotland to avoid the hostility of King Harald Finehair. She was the second daughter of Ketill Flatnose, a Norwegian hersir, and Yngvid Ketilsdóttir, daughter of Ketill Wether, a hersir from Ringarike. Unn married Olaf the White (Oleif), son of King Ingjald, who had named himself King of Dublin after going on voyages to Britain and then conquering the shire of Dublin. They had a son named Thorstein the Red
She established dynasties in the Orkney and Faroe Islands by carefully marrying off her grand daughters. Unn then set off for Iceland.
On her ship were twenty men, all of whom were free, but she was still the leader of them, proving that she was respected, but also that she was strong-willed enough to command a ship alone without the help of a man. In addition to the crew, there many other men on her ship, prisoners from Viking raids near and around Britain. They all came from good families, and were called bondsmen. Unn gave these men their freedom once they were in Iceland, making them freed-men, a class between slave and free, where they were not owned, but did not have all the rights of a free man. She also gave them all a great deal of land to farm on and make a living.
As a settler in Iceland she continued to exhibit all those traits which were her hallmark-strong will, a determination to control, dignity, and a noble character. In the last days of her life, she established a mighty line choosing one of her grandsons as her heir. She died during his wedding celebration, presumably accomplishing her goals and working out her destiny in this life. She received a typical Nordic ship burial, surrounded by her treasure and her reputation for great deeds.
In some pagan calendars this is shown of “Day of Un the Wise Person” which is a misprint.
June 14 is sacred to the Viking god Vidar. He is one of the sons of Odin and destined to survive Ragnarok and rule over the earth afterwards. He is the personification of the vital energy of nature which returns greening the land even after major disasters.
He is the patron of leather workers. According to Viking tradition, leather workers would put aside all of their off-cuts. These scraps of leather would be buried as offerings to Vidar, and to remove bad luck and evil vibes from the giver.
Vidar gathers these leather scraps to make his enormous, tough leather boot, and at the end of time he will stop Ragnarok when he kills the Fenris wolf by booting it in the mouth.
Later, Christianity changed Vidar to St. Vitus.
Source: Raven Corbis