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loki

Winter Nights

The time for Winter Nights is upon us. Some groups have already celebrated, and others will be celebrating in the next 3-4 weeks. This ancient festival was known in Old Norse as Veturnætur, or in Anglo-Saxon as Winterfylleth.



If you know your lore, Snorri calls Winter Nights one of the three most important feasts of the year. It marks the official end of Summer, and the start of Winter (keep in mind in ancient calendars for the Norse and related cultures there were only 2 seasons, not the 4 we know of today), and as such Winter's Night acted in a way like a new year’s type of celebration, which is said to have lasted for 3 days.

Prayers were made in thanks for the harvest, and for the winter to be good (i.e. kind and not overly harsh). We know in some places the wights (alfablot) were honored, as were the disir (disablot). In terms of an agricultural cycle, this time of year is when the last of the harvest has been brought in, and that alone is a good reason to celebrate and give thanksgiving for the bounty that has been planted, grown, and harvested. The animals were brought in from their grazing fields, and the first of the animals are butchered for the early winter larder.

Honoring deities that come to mind along these lines make sense: Eir for health for the winter months, Sif for a good harvest, Skadi and Ullr for good hunting during the winter, and a winter that is not too harsh. I also personally hail Idunna, since her apples give vitality to the Gods, and apples are an autumnal fruit. So there's a subtle implication there that she gives sustenance through the winter. In some places it's a time associated with Frau Holle, Perchta, or Odin. The period from Winter's Night through Yule was usually known for the "Wild Hunt.” Due to regional variances of the tradition, the period of time the hunt was said to occur can differ. In some areas the story connects with Odin as a God of Death, in other places (mainly ancient Germania) this would connect instead to either the Goddess Holle or Perchta.

If we look at what’s happening during this time period, the nights grow longer and longer, till the point where in some of the more extreme northern altitudes by the time of the Winter Solstice marked by the festival of Yule the period of ‘sunlight’ was quite scant daily. It’s at yule, where the long nights, begin to shorten again in promise of the warmer months to come. Since the winters were indeed very harsh, this is no doubt the time of year where death and sickness prevailed with people spending so much time indoors and with food (depending on that’s year’s harvest, pests that could have gotten into stored foods and ruined them, and the severity of the winter) could be in short supply, or lacking in the type of nutrients that would help bolster immune systems.

So as you celebrate this holiday, not only does it make sense to honor those deities that seem to coincide with this time of year, but it also makes sense to incorporate seasonal foods in your celebrations. Adding items like apples, squashes, grains like wheat, corn and corn husks, etc. are great for the altar. As well as other seasonal fruit or veggies: blackberries, blueberries, grapes, pears, plums, pomegranate, raspberries, eggplant, brocolli, carrots, squash (and pumpkins), cranberries, etc.

I think since so many of us are 1) not farmers and 2) spoiled by being able to get fruit out of season out our local grocery stores because we import from other parts of the world... we forget what is seasonal. (Of course some plants do "bridge" seasons, or one variety may be available at one part of the year, and another variety appears in a different part of the year.) But incorporating seasonal foods into offerings for any of our holy-days always makes sense. We are afterall first and foremost an agriculturally-derived, earth-centered religion.

In addition to these things one of the kindreds I usually worship with honors our ancestors at this time. All the members are encouraged to bring photos or items from our ancestors, we make a communal altar, bring along favorite foods of the deceased (like my uncle was a sucker for candy corn, popcorn, and hershey's chocolate), or we might bring a family recipe (grandma's apple pie, or what not) to help honor them.

Since the group holds disablot later in the year at Mother's Night (the first night of Yule), they opt to honor all our ancestors instead during Winter Nights. We recognize it's more in keeping with other traditions honoring the dead at this time of year like Samhain, El Dia de los Muertos, etc. and isn't necessarily 100% authentic to what we know from antiquity. But we decided we wanted a set time of year to make the ancestors a bit of a star. And with the kids in the group, it's nice that their celebrations can sync up a bit with 'Halloween' festivities. And since it was (in some tales) the start of the hunt, it associates then to both Odin and Frau Holle in their roles and functions with the dead, so it's not too inappropriate either.


Comments

I tend toward a Celtic fusion form as well for the Ancestors. What can I say, my family is Dublin Irish;>!
Between Autumn Equinox and Winternights does actual Fall happen here on the Gulf Coast. Usually the week before or after the Equinox the Sunflowers and Goldenrods start, turning hedgerows into clouds of Gold. There are only a few Native trees here that have Fall Colours, a large-leafed Oak that comes in brilliant Scarlet and a Plum that turns Yellow. The prettiest show unfortunately is an evil Invasive Import from China that's crowding out the native woods who's leaves come in all colours of a sunset, on the same tree....
Cheers,
Pat
Thank you for posting this. I was wondering about the upcoming festivals. This helps.

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