The main Norse festivities

Foreword

As I wrote in the post concerning the rituals, the “festal” rituals of Norsemen was the blótar (sacrifices) followed by a veizla (feast), which can enlast even days, as for the Jólablót (Yule). Norsemen, if compared to Celts and Romans, were relatively poor of festivities, as they were all similar (sacrifices) and only three were important and widespread celebrated: Jólablót, Sigrblót and Vetrablót. However, there are others festivities, that I will list here, besides, it must be remembered that a singular festivity could be more or less important zone by zone, and so not all the Norsemen did follow the same festivities with the same importance. A very important issue is the date: in modern Neopaganism, festivities are celebrated in different days of the ancient ones. Norsemen did have festivities only among the end and the start of a month (with a special exeption for Dísablótar), and so all the festivities were between the night of the 14th and the 15th days of a modern Gregorian calendar, with the exeption of the Jólablót, which is on the 13th and 14th days of January, because the mǫrsugr (which starts on 14th January) was the only month to have 31 days instead of 30. Custom to celebrate the blótar among equinoxes and solstices is completely wrong: it is confirmed by written sources that Norsemen didn’t have idea of what equinoxes and solstices are as they were introduced by the late 1200 with the Christianisation and Europisation of Scandinavia; and by the late 1200 we are yet talking about Norwegians, Swedes and Danes, no more of Norsemen, as it was the Middle Age and not the Viking Age anymore. I start, therefore, to list the date and the descriptions of the main festivities. At the bottom you will find the sources, as always.

Festivities

Jólablót: between mǫrsugr and þorri, or rather between 13 and 14 January.
It is the feast/sacrifice of midwinter, also called “Miðsvetrablót”, which means literally “sacrifce of midwinter”. Absolutely one of the main festivities for Norsemen, the following veizla last by 3 to 5 days, but there are cases – quoted by Snorri – which talk of even 15 days of veizla after the Jólablót. The peculiar sacrifice was a pig or a boar for Freyr. Nowadawys in Scandinavian countries, even if the Christianity predominance, the Christmas is called “Jul” (derived from “Jól”), and at the Jul, traditionally, it is eaten only pig meat. In Neopaganism the Jólablót, often called Yule, is celebrated on 21 December, during the Winter Solstice and near the Christian Christmas.

Þorrablót: between þorri and glói, or rather between 14 an 15 February.
It is the sacrifice for Þórr (Thor), protector of mankind, during the coldest month of the year (“þorri” doesn’t derives from Þórr, it means “cold” itself, and the name of the blót is derived from the month þorri). Anyway the month þorri is dedicated to Þórr and the next month, the Glói, to his daughter Glóa, so among the two months it was held a blót for Þórr.

Hǫkunótt: between einmánuðr and harpa, or rather between 14 and 15 April.
One of the few festivities
which don’t includes a sacrifice, it sets the beginning of summer, or rather of the summer time, called nóttleysi in Old Norse, which was one of the two seasons of the year (the other one being the skammdegi, the winter time). Traditionally a bonfire is heated all the night-long.


Sigrblót: between sólmánuðr and heyannir, or rather between 14 and 15 July.
It is the sacrifice for the victory and for Óðinn (Odin). It is second for importance only to the Jólablót, it was actually more important for the Vikings than the Norsemen, because it sets the beginning of the raids and to enter in the favour of Óðinn was fundamental. More, it is known to be one of the few blót in which vegetables were sacrificed instead of animals, tipically apples and leaves of the first spring trees. The names means “sacrifice to the victory”, with Sigrfǫðr (father of the victory) being also one of the epithets of Óðinn. In Neopaganism it is hold on 21 June, during the Summer Soltice.

Várblót: between heyannir and þvímánuðr, or rather between 14 and 15 August.
It is a blót typical of farmers, dedicated to Vár, goddess of ties and oaths, for the farmer’s connection with the earth during the farming season. Even so, there are sources of kings and landowners who hel the Várblót. Aside Vár, there were invoked also Freyr and Freyja, god and goddess of the fertility. The typical sacrifice was a ear of corn and a pig or a boar.

Vetrablót: between haustmánuðr and gormánuðr, or rather between 14 and 15 October
It is the blót of the end of the year, corresponding to our New Year’s Day, but also sets the beginning of the winter. The name means, indeed, “winter’s sacrifice”. However, the haustmánuðr is the last month in the Norse calendar with the next one, the gormánuðr, being the first, so the Vetrablót, which is between the end of haustmánuðr and the start of gormánuðr, sets also the beginning of the new year. It was a very important sacrifice, and much were sacrificed: pigs, boars, horses, even men, every 9 years (at Uppsala). Vetrablót had many Celtic influences, especially from the Samhain, but the winter come first in Scandinavia, so the festivity who sets the beginning of winter was slightly antecedent in the Norse calendar than the one in the Celtic calendar (if compared with our modern Gregorian calendar, of course!). Even the Vetrablót’s custom to drink much mead is typical of Samhain. Traditionally is pronounced the istance “til árs of friðar”, which means “for the year and the peace”, or rather “for peace and prosperity”. Vetrablót coincides with another festivity: the vetranótt, or vætrnætr, “winter night(s)”, who set the beginning of winter time, the skammdegi, which was one of the two seasons of the year (the other one being the nóttleysi, the summer time, as yet said before.)

Álfablót: between gormánuðr and frermánuðr, or rather between 14 and 15 November
It is a sacrifice of familiar nature, so, private, and not public; similar to Roman Feralia. In facts, with the Álfablót, “sacrifice for the elves”, it was request protection from the elves on its own dead, in order to have care of them in the gods’ world. Native to Sweden, it spread then in all the Norse world, but it always remained private, as Snorri wrote, and never public. Families used to sacrifice an entire apple tree, the favorite by the elves; but animal sacrifices were also held. Even if of “lugubrious” matter, it was still a festivity, and a veizla followed, always of familiar nature.

Dísablót: the first is at the half of gormánuðr, or rather the 31 October, the other is at the half of einmánuðr, or rather on the 31 March.
They are sacrifices for the dísir (dises), the norns, the valkyries, the volves and the vattes. The date of a singular Dísablót is variable: many Norsemen did celebrate them with Vetrablót and Sigrblót, or in the days near them, but the foremost tradition is to celebrate them at the half the first month of the year, the gormánuðr, and the sixth month of the year, the einmánuðr, or rather, one Dísablót every 6 months, so one at every half of the year. Among this sacrifices, which generally was of poultry – but also of horses and humans , protection for own soul is asked to the dises, a good fate to the norns, existential questions are asked to the volves and to the vattes is asked a favorable Nature.


Sources

Heimskringla, Hervarar Saga, Saga of Olaf the Saint, Ynglinga Saga, Egils Saga, Helgakviða Hunðingsbana, Fornmanna Sǫgur, Fornáldar Sǫgur, Kørmanks Saga.

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