Celebration of Life and Death
Sounds gnarly and sadistic right? Not so much for the Germanic peoples..
Since its the passing of the celebration of Winter Nights I decided to go ahead and write about it to better ground myself and hopefully others with information and guidance in appreciating what exactly this festival is.
Vetrnætr or Winter Nights was usually a 2-3 day celebration of sorts to welcome in the start of Winter. During this celebration, usually around the end of October/Beginning of November or end of fall in that part or Europe, The kindred drank mead, beer, offered a blot, ate, danced and held a large fire. Everyone was invited to the hall to partake of this celebration, to eat, drink, and be merry. There was several under tones to this celebration and also to the blot in Odins name…
Family is something we will talk an awful lot about, cause the Germanic peoples or “Vikings” we are talking about held that very near and dear to themselves. But yes, Family is a big deal for this particular celebration held right around Harvest time and possibly leaning more towards the end of it. Each township was usually overseen by the head of a family and all peoples living within the area of the township were normally related by marriage or birth and only during small visits to and from other kindred townships did any intermingling occur. For multiple reason was this important, but we will get to that later.. Anywayz, within these townships there would be several houses, somewhere between 5-10 with a large Hall in the center for the group meetings, special gatherings, Rites, festivals, etc etc. During this time of the year it was very important to prepare for the harsh winter that lay ahead and preparation was key, with that preparation came the harvesting of corn and crops to feed the livestock, the family, and also brew the mead over winter. Contrary to popular belief, people in a whole havent changed much in the last several thousand years.. Shocker I know.. and with that, people had, and still have a tendency to get into arguments with one another. In a time like Winter in the area of Europe where these Germanic Tribes lived having an argument go though a harvest and into a winter could be potentially life threatening.
Celebration and Festivals
A festival to welcome in the shortening of days and long cold Winter nights to gather around the hearth or in the great Hall to stay warm and tell stories of old. What a celebration indeed! During this celebration there was a sacrifice to Blot and a Rite or dedication to a God or Gods, normally Odin the All Father, Holle or Perchta and any other God or Goddess needing to be called upon. A sacrifice given during the blot was then cooked and eaten by those participating, but of course a fire was needed to cook the sacrifice. During this time a large fire was started either in the hall or center of the township of kindred, this was done with great care in order to also represent something much more than just a fire to cook something over and dance around. Each home of the township would have it leader (male OR female) bring a branch of fire from the hearth in the home and in unison ignite the larger fire to symbolize all the families coming together as one. Regardless of strife, or arguments held throughout the year, they had to come together as one for the harvest and to weather through the harsh winter. If not, harvest could potentially be smaller or non-existent and those shunned could die alone not being cared for by their kindred to stay warm during the long Winter Nights.
A Dancey Dance
Dancing, story telling, poetry, food, and beer were of course all the focal points of this celebration of making it through to harvest and the beginning of winter. Something that the Christians could not change as they pushed for total conversion of the Germanic peoples… So this celebration was blended with a version of Alfablot and had its name changed with its new skin, less the sacrifice, to Halloween and All Saints Day, respectfully October 31st and November 1st.
The Beginning is the End
Just a little different…
The Germanic people were, and still are in some distant farm lands VERY cautious of the spirits of the wood, elves, ghosts, and the like. During the Christianization of Europe and these peoples the stories of the blots, the Gods and Goddesses were converted to be kept safe, to be retold, and passed along. The Christians of that time ruled at the tip f a sword and had no issue slaughtering an entire village of the like refused to convert. So stories were told to keep the Christians happy, but to keep the old ways preserved.. One of these stories was Frau Holle or Hulda as having originally been an ancient Germanic supreme goddess who predates most of the Germanic pantheon, including deities such as Odin, Thor, Freya, and Loki, continuing traditions of pre-European Europe. As Christianity slowly replaced Scandinavian paganism during the Early Middle Ages, many of the old customs were gradually lost or assimilated into Christian tradition. By the end of the High Middle Ages, Scandinavian paganism was almost completely marginalized and blended into rural folklore, in which the character of Frau Hulda eventually survived. In Germanic Pre-Christian folklore, Hulda, Holda, Holle and Holla were all names to denote a single being. Perchta emerged from Germanic and pre-Germanic traditions. Hulda is also related to the Germanic figure of Perchta. She dwells at the bottom of a well, rides a wagon, and first taught the craft of making linen from flax. Holle is the goddess to whom children who died as infants go, and alternatively known as both the Dunkle Großmutter (Dark Grandmother) and the Weisse Frau (White Lady), those which are more typically associated with the Grimm’s fairy tale. Her connection to the spirit world through the magic of spinning and weaving has associated her with witchcraft in Catholic German folklore. Frau Holle is one of Germany’s most durable female legendary figures and represents a pre-Christian deity who survived in popular belief and in the memory of common people well into the nineteenth century.
So, now the silly Christians have taken yet another Pagan holiday as their own in order to help with conversion but also look EXTREMELY stupid along the way… OR severely smart as it has appeared to have worked out for them!