Calculation of time in Norse culture


Norsemen usually subdivided, as we do nowadays, the year in 12 months; anyway they had not 4 seasons, but only 2 instead, called “skammdegi” (short-days, the winter time) and “nóttleysi” (nightless, the summer time). Furthermore, the start and end of every month is different with ours.

The year endend on 14 October and started the day after with the Vetrablót in the night between the two days, a blót (sacrifice) to celebrate the new year (a festivity similar to our New Year’s Day). Age was not counted in “years” but in “winters” instead; but only since circa 900 B.C. (for humans: for horses, age is counted in winters still today in Iceland). The days of the week was 7 as ours.

Please note: name of the month, in Old Norse, are written with the lowercase, differently by English; even when they derive from a name of a deity (sólmánuðr, for example, is derived from the goddess Sól). The same is true for the name of the seasons and the name of the days of the week, which 6 out of 7 are derived from name of deities.

List of months

Start and end of the months, as yet said before, don’t match with ours; and the order of the months is different, because the Norse years starts in our middle October. Anyway, for this list I used the order of the Gregorian calendar, so it starts with the 3rd month in Norse calendar.

Mǫrsugr from 15 December to 13 January
3rd month of the skammdegi, its name means “mǫrr-sucker”. The mǫrr is a kind of food reserve of animal fat and pork, veal and fish meat, all mixed together. It was the typical Norse meat reserve. At the end of the mǫrsugr, between it and the þorri, there is one of the most important Norse heathenism festivities: the Jólablót (Yule), the midwinter sacrifice (the mǫrsugr is the 3rd month of the winter time, so, as Norse seasons last 6 months, the end of mǫrsugr is exactly the midwinter).

Þorri from 14 January to 14 February
4th month of the skammdegi, its name means “cold” (not to be confused with “þórr”, which means “thunder”). With passing of time, as January and February are very cold months in the North, the word þorri started to mean also the frozen woods and forests, suchs as the word “hjarn”, which means “frozen soil”, or “nífl”, which means “frozen mist”. At the end of þorri there is a blót for Þórr, and, traditionally, during the þorri the Þorramátr was eaten, a selection of traditional food (included the yet said mǫrr) appropriate for winter.

Gói from 15 February to 14 March
5th month of the skammdegi, its name derives from Gói Þórsdóttir, daughter of Þórr. At the end of gói there is a blót, which originally was held to find the lost Gói, called Góablót.

Einmánuðr from 15 March to 14 April
6th and last month of the skammdegi, its name means “single month”, to indicate that there’s nothing of particular in this month. It sets the end of skammdegi and the start of nóttleysi, and there is the Hǫkunótt between the last day of einmánuðr and the first of harpa, which is a festivity that sets the start of summer time (nóttleysi).

Harpafrom 15 April to 14 May
1st month of the nóttleysi, its name derives from Harpis, an ancient Germanic goddess of flowers and fauna whose worship was not widespread among Norsemen. The first day of harpa (15 April), just after the Hǫkunótt, there is a feast – a pursuance of the Hǫkunótt – to celebrate the Summardagrinn Fyrsti, the First Day of Summer.

Skerpla from 15 May to 14 June
2nd month of the nóttleysi, its name derives from Skerplis, another ancient Germanic goddess of the soil and earth whose worship was not widespread among Norsemen.

Sólmánuðrfrom 15 June to 14 July
3rd month of the nóttleysi, its name means “month of the Sun”. At the end of the sólmánuðr there is the Sigrblót, a very important blót for Óðinn and for the victory.

Heyannir from 15 July to 14 August
4th month of the nóttleysi, it name means “month of the hay” (English word “hay” derives from Old Norse “hey”). This month sets the beginning of the “trilogy of the food-reserve months”, and was originally called Fyrstmánuðr, “first month”, because this. The name was probably changed to avoid the confusion between “first month of the food-reserve months” and “first month of the year”, because heyannir is not the 1st month of the year, it is the 10th instead; with the 1st one being gormánuðr. At the end of heyannir there is the Várblót, a sacrifice for the goddess Vár and Freyr and Freyja, and hold mostly by farmers and countrymen.

Tvímánuðr from 15 August to 14 September
5th month of the nóttleysi, its name means “second month”. For unknown reasons, the name wasn’t changed and it remained so even in Middle Icelandic, meaning “second month of the food-reserve months”, as said yet before.

Haustmánuðr from 15 September to 14 October
6th and last month of the nóttleysi, its name means “autumn month”. Name of the heyannir and haustmánuðr are belated, as far as Norsemen didn’t used the concept of “autumn”; but they took the word “hausti” from the Old English “heoste”, which is in turn taken from the Latin “auptum”. At the end of the haustmánuðr, and so at the end of the year, there is the Vetrablót, on of the most important Norse festivities: the Norse New Year’s Day.

Gormánuðr from 15 October to 14 November
1st month of the skammdegi and of the Norse year, its name means “frozen month”. At the end of the gormánuðr, exept in Iceland, there was the Álfablót, a sacrifice to the Elves for have protection on their deceased ones, held in familiar sphere.

Frermánuðrfrom 15 November to 14 December
2nd month of the skammdegi, its name means “Freyr’s month”. Deep-winter month, it hasn’t any particular festivity, nor hallmarks.

List of months according to Norse calendar

For a more pratical reference, here I enlist the month according to the Norse calendar order.

1st - Gormánuðr – 1st of winter (skammdegi).
2nd - Frermánuðr - 2nd of winter (skammdegi).
3rd - Mǫrsugr - 3rd of winter (skammdegi).
4th - Þorri - 4th of winter (skammdegi).
5th - Gói - 5th of winter (skammdegi).
6th - Einmánuðr - 6th of winter (skammdegi).
7th - Harpa - 1st of summer (nóttleysi).
8th - Skerpla - 2nd of summer (nóttleysi).
9th - Sólmánuðr - 3rd of summer (nóttleysi).
10th - Heyannir - 4th of summer (nóttleysi).
11th - Tvímánuðr - 5th of summer (nóttleysi).
12th - Haustmánuðr - 6th of summer (nóttleysi).

Days of the week

Last but not least, there are the days of the week. They are much important because they influenced the name of the Old English days of the week during the Viking Age of Great Britain. The week started on Sunday (or rather on sunnudagr). The order of the list I write here is ours, with the Monday being the first day of the week.

Mánadagr Moonday, Day of the Moon (of Máni). Mmánadagr was the day dedicated to those who preferred the night at the day, the so-called “mahenðr” or “nóttlífir”.
Originally Máni was a female deity, anyway for unknown reasons she become a male in Viking Age. From mánadagr derived Mōnedæg in Old English and Moonday in Modern English.

TýsdagrTuesday, Day of Týr. Týsdagr was the the day of smiths and jewelers.
From týsdagr derived Tīwesdæg in Old English and Tuesday in Modern English.

Óðinsdagr Wednesday, Day of Óðinn. Óðinsdagr was the day of wiseman.
From óðinsdagr derived Wōdnesdæg in Old English and Wednesday in Modern English.

Þórsdagr Thursday, Day of Þórr. Þórsdagr was the day of warriors.
From þórsdagr derived Þunresdæg in Old English and Thursday in Modern English.

Frjádagr Friday, Day of Freyja or of Frigg.
Frjádagr is still today a dilemma: in facts, Frjá is both the Proto-Norse genitive form of Freyja (Old Norse is “Freyju”) both of Freig, Proto-Norse name of Frigg. Anyway, since Latin name of the days are derived from the same deities as the Old Norse ones, we can assume that Frjádagr was the Day of Freyja, as Venus (from who comes Veneris dies, Venus’ day) is the Roman counterpart of Freyja and not of Frigg. From Frjádagr derived Frigedæg in Old English and Friday in Modern english.

Laugardagr Saturday, Day of the Bath.
It is not dedicated to any deities: “laugi” (genitive: laugar) means “bath”. Bathing only on Saturday is one of the most conserved traditions by the Scandinavian traditionalists. Laugardagr was also the last day of the week and so when one could take relax, drinking beer and having sex, and so on.
This is also the only day of the Norse week from which not derive the English counterpart: the Old English name for Saturday is Sæternesdæg, which derives from Saturnis dies, “Day of Saturn”. Anyway from Old Norse laugardagr came the Swedish lördag, Danish lørdag, Norwegian laurdag, Faroese leygardagur and the obvious Icelandic laugardagur.

Sunnudagr Sunday, Day of the Sun.
Sunnudagr was dedicated to those who preferred the day at the night, the so-called “degalífir”. From sunnudagr derived Sunnandæg in Old English and Sunday in Modern English.

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