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Posts Tagged ‘Vetrnætr’

In a previous post I wrote about the origin, meaning, and development of “god” from it’s Indo-European roots and how our ancestors used the word prior to the coming of the White Christ. The way in which educated Christians of the Medieval period discussed “classical” pagan divinities from Greece and Rome strongly influences the way we talk about our troth today. We often talk about “the gods” but are referring only to the Æsir and Vanir. Those of us who do not live in the ancient homelands of our ancestors have almost no connection what so ever with regional gods of lakes, rivers, forests, and so on that were known to our ancestors. We also seem to have a serious lacking in our understanding of the relationship we should have with the landvættir, the gods of the very land upon which our homes dwell. We seem to have almost no understanding of house gods, those beings that share the very rooms of our homes!

This is something that I am working very hard to correct in my own life. Part of it, frankly, is because I now own my own home instead of living on someone else’s property. I am now responsible for the land, the house, and the relationships with the beings that dwell there in. It is an understanding that I am just beginning to have and one that perplexes me greatly. When I was a child I was told only a few tales of the tomten, spirits of the house and farm, from Swedish folklore. What I was told wasn’t first hand knowledge or experience but Viktor Rydberg’s poem “Tomten” and Astrid Lindgren’s book The Tomten. I got to see pictures of some of Jenny Nyström’s famous paintings. I did get to see little decorations at Christmas of gnome-like beings that sat on the fireplace mantel. This was the extent of what I grew up with and it does inform some of my thoughts today.

What we see with the tomten are elements of the landvættir, as both are beneficial and protective to families and homes that treat them well and trouble-makers when they are spurned. It’s clear that the tomten are lasting memories of a larger belief, the belief of personal gods of home and land. The cultic practices of our ancestors are largely lost to us today but we do have memories passed down to us as folklore. We have the gnomes and brownies, the kobolds and nixies, the hob and the nisse, and goblins and trolls galore. They are so important to Germanic folklore that Jacob Grimm talked about them in his works. Folklorist and historian Thomas Keightley found the subject important enough to explain that the kobold of Germany is the same creature as the nisse and brownie. William Edward Hearn and George Henderson wrote about how these beings are surviving elements of ancestor worship that are derived from early animistic practices. Clearly, the gods of the land and home are not minor elements of our past but major considerations that we all too often neglect.

In modern practice, KveldulfR Gundarsson has written about the nature and relationships our ancestors had with these beings in his book Elves, Wights, and Trolls: Studies Towards the Practice of Germanic Heathenry: Vol. I. This book includes an article he wrote regarding the day to day practices and beliefs and presents the argument that our ancestors engaged in regular and direct worship of these beings. We can see elements of this in much of the practices of our troth in Scandinavia today. It has been remarked on that the Icelanders in particular focus very strongly on the local wights and beings.

Since we now know that these personal and local gods were important enough to our ancestors to warrant the kind of honor and reverence that they received it is up to us to move forward with this knowledge and determine how we are going to reawaken this part of our troth. This is, at least to me, one of the hardest and most difficult things we can look to do for those of us not in our ancestral lands but it is not impossible. In truth, we have an advantage that we often neglect to consider. When settlers came to Iceland, they found it teaming with wild beings and they had to create new bonds of frith and troth with them. While Iceland was largely unsettled and untamed, the New World wasn’t but that should not be an impediment to our goal. It is also reasonable to believe that we have with us family gods and spirits that followed us from the Old Country to the New World. As the Æsir and Vanir went with our explorers and settlers, so too did the family gods. They didn’t abandon us just because we moved. That isn’t how our troth works. Those that remained with us through folklore and considerations after the conversion of the cross are waiting for us to take up our side of the agreement again.

So, how do we do this? How do we forge new bonds and repair old relationships? I am not a person born with sensitivity to the presence of these beings. I don’t see or hear them but I do recognize their aid when I see it. When I moved into my new home I made offerings to the landvættir that dwell here. I can’t say how they reacted, at least not at that time. Since then, I’ve made offerings to all of our gods, great and small, and this past Vetrnætr I know that this was rewarded. I had plan to ask a boon of one of the evergreens in my yard by cutting a small piece from it to use as my blessing tine. I did not have to. A perfect piece was on the hood of my car when I went to pick up the meal for that night. When all was said and done, I thanked them for their gift and returned it to them. I believe that the relationship between us is starting to be forged and that the best thing I can do for them is to recognize their place in my life, their homes on my land, and to treat them and the land with respect. There will be a place set in the house to serve as the home for the house ghosts as well. Following Swedish folklore, I offer oatmeal with butter and some fabric as the annual payment for the tomten. They are the way in which I see the house gods and it is in this fashion that I honor them. If we are to rebuild what was lost then we would do well to look to our folklore to guide us to the proper means of showing our respect and devotion.

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Winter Nights celebrates the coming of winter, when the weather starts to turn cold and  the frost starts to form. The days grow shorter and less friendly to us. The nights grow  longer and more treacherous. The Furious Host, led by Odin himself, begins to ride,  hunting anything it finds out of doors. All manner of ill-willing wights grow more powerful  in the dark and wild places. Vargr come out of the woods in search of food. Trolls,  smelling the blood of the culled herd, howl and terrify children in the dead of night, ready  to snatch one away if given the chance.

All is not dark and grim, however, for now is the time when families gather together to  celebrate the end of their laborings throughout the year and to rejoice in all that they  have accomplished. The soil begins to rest and recover for next year’s crops, tucked  under a blanket of white. There is fresh meat, fresh baked bread, and there is plenty of ale to drink. Now is a time to celebrate with kith and kin.

In ancient times strangers were not welcome at Winter Nights celebrations. It is a time  to spend with those closest to us and those upon whom we know we can rely in the  dead of winter. It is a time to reaffirm our bonds of troth and friendship. It is a time to  feast and make merry. It is a time to make offerings to the gods for a mild winter. It is a  time to honor the álfar and thank them for their aid during the growing months and during the harvest.

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I decided to work up an entire blót for those who would like to do one but aren’t all that familiar with writing their own or simply looking for inspiration. This file is free to use and share. Feel free to take what you need from it or even make changes to the wording as you see fit. This also contains a glossary of terms in case any of them are unfamiliar.

Winter Nights Blót PDF

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Hail Óðinn, Hanged God, Father of Battle, Granter of Victory, Lord of the Gallows!

Hail Þórr, Thunder, Mighty Áss, Great Champion of the Æsir, Warder of Miðgarðr!

Hail Ingvi-FreyR, Giver of Wealth, God of the World, Lord of Alfhaim, Shining One!

Hail the landvættir! Hail the house gods! Hail the álfar! Hail the Ancestors!

We bid you join us and receive our offerings true. We raise this horn of ale in your honor and share it as a token of our gratitude for the gifts you have given us. Accept this sacrifice, a symbol of our labor to provide for our families, and find it worthy. Grant us your blessings as winter draws near and keep us safe through the cold nights. Protect us from all ill-willing wights, trolls, and niðlings. Keep our homes safe from storms and our hearths warm. Let good friends find comfort in our company and may we find food plentiful and drink always full. We offer up this horn of worthy ale to you, may it be well received.

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If you look at the holidays that I have listed on one of the information pages, you will notice that I have Haustblót and Vetrnætr listed as separate holidays. There are some sources in the Icelandic sagas that have celebrations at the end of the harvest season separate from the Winter Night festivities. Others, in a devious plan to make life difficult for us a thousand years on, have them celebrated at the same time. Some groups, like the Troth, have it as a single holiday while others, notably the Ásatrú Alliance, honor them as different holidays. As for the various and sundry European organizations, I can’t say how they do it. If you will, please allow me to explain why I do things the way I do.

First, it should be mentioned that I live in the Metro Atlanta area. I don’t tend to crops. My new home doesn’t even have a small garden, and likely never well, as I am technologically inclined but haven’t been given much skill with tending to green things that grow out of the ground. Trust me, it’s just bad. Even so, I do come from farming families and I am somewhat aware of the needs and demands of a farm and the work that goes in to raising crops and livestock. This is the key reason that the agrarian holidays still mean a lot to me, even though I am a suburbanite who is surrounded by more technology than greenery.

Right about now, the harvest should be finishing up. The warmer weather we enjoy in North America does throw off the older Scandinavian cycle by a bit, but not too much. It’s close enough that we can get a reasonable approximation in our urban world. For those that actually have home gardens, they know the seasonal cycles well enough to know when to adjust things for their lives. For me, I aim for something that fits my lifestyle. I know that in the South East there is still more time to harvest the remaining crops and in some areas where apple orchards are common, they would normally be working to get things in before it gets much cooler. This year has seen a rather mild September after an early warming. This has thrown things off a little, but so goes the world.

Now, you’ll notice I didn’t say it was cold yet, but we have had a few night time Lows under 60°F. This is the key reason that I don’t celebrate Haustblót and Vetrnætr at the same time. I prefer to put Winter Night near the end of October, which is when it looks like it would have been. By then, we will be feeling the coming of winter. Also, in the old days, that would be the time when they would have finished the slaughter, not around this time of year. I know that the culling of the herds is about to get under way where my maternal family is. They don’t do that at the same time they are clearing the fields. Too me, these are separate things and need separate considerations.

Now, after all that justification, lets move on to celebrations of the holiday. The truth is, I’m not planning very much this year. I’m not even planning to do a “formal” blót. I am skipping all of that this year because I’ve been sick and I simply don’t have the energy to do a long blót. Instead, I am planning to make it quick and simple. I am going to make my usual offering of beer, something I think is very appropriate for a harvest festival, and I am going to say a prayer to FreyR, the álfar, and the landvættir. I will also say a prayer to the Æsir and the Vanir but I am mostly focused the Freysblót and álfablót customs in thanks for a good harvest. I am also going to ask that help be given to those who are tending apple orchards this year as they are having a rough go of it. The early warming was followed by a cold snap in April that did a lot of damage to this year’s crop. I heard one farmer talk about how he expects next year to be a boon year because the trees are resting this year. I hope he’s right. This is what I am hoping FreyR will consider lending his might to.

All in all, it will be simple this year and I’m okay with that. No company for the holiday, and I don’t have it in me to entertain company. A simple but sincere offering in thanks for the mostly good year and the way things have improved feels most appropriate. I have a special beer I am planning to give, a sahti from Sam Adams called Norse Legend. The name alone makes it just a bit humorous and it brings a smile to my face just thinking about how appropriate it all is.

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