Tomorrow is the Fall Equinox. This is the time that marks our transition from the season of harvest, the tail end of summer and into the time of the ancestors, of Odin, of the wild hunt. The autumn also belongs to Idunna, our Goddess of restoration and immortality. I don’t think it insignificant that Her season corresponds to the time given to us to honor our ancestors. It is through them that we are restored and sustained.
Of course, ancestor veneration isn’t restricted solely to the fall, and in addition to regular household offerings, some traditions, like the Roman, set aside other times of year for their ancestral festivals too. For us as Heathens however, that time begins now for us and it is a descent, a slow –and sometimes not so slow–winding down into the sweet, nourishing darkness of winter.
Tomorrow, we will be holding ritual and honoring our Gods and readying ourselves for this new time of year. I would love to know what you, my readers are doing for the equinox (including those of you below the equator for whom this is the SPRING equinox!).
This past weekend (April 30/May 1) saw my Household celebrating a major holy tide (as we call our key holy days), one of the eight major ones that make up our year: Walpurgisnacht and Beltane. It’s the final transition from the dark enclosure of winter into the growth and fecundity of summer. It’s also the same holy day, it’s just that part of the celebration takes place the night before. I had to explain this to one of my students—not an academic student but a woman that I’m training for the clergy. Within my religious tradition, we train our clergy one on one and this year she is focusing on following the cycle of holy days and really learning what they’re about (yes, I have major seminary envy of all my Jesuit friends lol). Little by little, I’ve been giving her a larger role in each liturgy and the Deity to Whom she is dedicated, Freya, has a particular association with this holiday.
Anyway, on Walpurgis, we usually start our religious revels at twilight. First divination is done to make sure we are doing what is desired and correct in the eyes of our Gods. Then, if that looks good, we get to work. I’ll go out before everyone else, make offerings to all the local spirits of land, mountain, tree, and town. I’ll light a fire. We have two ritual spaces in our home, the first our indoor ritual room and the second, a space behind my house with a huge fire pit. All safety precautions, like fire extinguisher and hose are set up earlier in the day and checked before I begin ritual prep. Walpurgisnacht is a day for shamanizing, for meeting the Gods and spirits joyously on Their own ground. In larger groups who are fortunate enough to have a spirit-worker, vitki, or “shaman,” this spiritual technician garbs in sacred garb and takes his or her drum, mask, and staff and begins calling the spirits. We invoke our Gods, we call to the spirits, we make offerings into the fire but most of all, we dance and pray moving into a deep and potent altered state. We dance and pray to shake the threads of our communal wyrd free of stagnation, free of malefica, free of anything out of alignment with the order of the Gods. We restore and realign ourselves and our community so that we may move into the time of growth and planting cleanly. We dance so that nothing may remain embedded in our community’s wyrd (threads of fate) that might twist us out of true, or cause us to grow wrongly with respect to our Gods in the coming season. We dance in praise of our Gods and all the spirits that serve Them. The shaman works that drum while others keep the fire burning until there are no more prayers left to be said, no more praise songs left to be sung, and any spiritual brambles and trash occluding the way forward in the sacred cycle of the year has been burned away.
The next day is a community celebration. The Gods and spirits are honored and there is (in larger communities – we try, but we are a small House) mumming and a maypole. Beltane is about the land coming back to green and bursting life. It’s about fertility and pleasure, joy, and growth and the blessings these things bring to the community. We don’t have enough people in our House to do a proper Maypole but there are other rites we do and there is always a ritual and then a communal feast. In my book “Devotional Polytheism,” when writing about this holy tide, I also note that it “is about sex. Well, ok it’s not just about sex but it is about loosing creativity and readying the land for summer growth, and the explosion of life that comes with the turning of the seasonal year to spring. It’s a seasonal festival all about fertility and fire, abundance, and rampant, unadulterated, unapologetic creativity. It’s about coming and the burning in the loins, and the earth’s seasonal orgasm that brings a flood of life into being as spring turns to summer and the land yields its bounty to the blazing beauty of the sun.”
So go out there and have a frolicking good time. Let us celebrate this holy tide the way our ancestors did: with abandon. Let us bring back our ecstatic rites and let us celebrate our Gods with joy. Here is one of the prayers to Freya that I really like (and Freya is not the only Deity invoked. It varies from House to House, and I tend to emphasize Her when writing about Beltane because my key apprentice at the moment is a Freya’s woman).
To the Boar-Rider
(prayer by H. Jeremiah Lewis*)
Hail victory-bringing Goddess
with braids of electrum, eyes like ice
and a countenance even colder,
clever Freyja of snaring schemes
and snaky stratagems
whose beauty is stern,
and utterly Hyperborean
when you stand firm
in the war-council of the Gods
with your Giant-dispatching ash-spear,
your handsome boar tusk helm,
and your gleaming sun-bedecked linden shield as well.
You speak far-seeing words,
hard words and brutal,
which the Gallow’s God, Borr’s son,
the High One approves of.
Oft have you sparred and oft fought as allies;
of the two, Óðinn much prefers the latter. You won his respect, O Freyja;
he knows your worth,
and will never again underestimate
the one who is mighty with mead.
For once you roared out onto the field
astride your gold-bristled charger
and there appeared nothing cool,
calm or collected about you.
No, your eyes rolled back
and your body seethed and shuddered
as violent cantrips tore themselves
from your lovely throat
like the call of crows or wolf’s howl,
and fearful frenzies lashed your foes,
driving them shrieking
before you and your violent kin.
Glad is Sigþrór and Glapsviðr
to have one so heiðr to fight beside
with the dire day of doom,
darkness, damnation and desolation
drawing ever nearer.
Help me to meet my own
trials, obstacles and antagonists
with will unwavering and mind unfettered as your own, O Mistress of the Battle Din and Delight of Soldiers.
( * Used with permission – he’s my husband. I looked over and asked him if I could share these lol. This isn’t a regular Walpurgis prayer, but comes from our household prayer book. I like it because it focuses on Freya as a protector of soldiers and Goddess of war).
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Today I was asked how long Yule lasts. This is…a tough question. My understanding not only of the nature of this holy tide, but of its length has certainly changed over the last decade and I suspect that there were strong regional differences to how Yule was celebrated across the Heathen world. That’s important to keep in mind.
So, instead, I’ll tell you how we’ve started celebrating, again with the caveat that I didn’t always do these things. My practice and that of my household has evolved as my understanding of yule and its importance has likewise evolved. Sometimes, I’ll sit on something I learn for a year or so, in order to ponder and better understand it, and then incorporate it at a later date. That happened with both Sunwait and Lussanatr. My understanding of this, one of our key holy times, is ever evolving.
Firstly, we’re still technically in Yule. By most reckonings that I’ve seen, at the very least, Yule lasts from Mothernight (Dec. 20th) through to the New Year.
In our house and tradition, we start celebrating six weeks before Yule, in a preparatory period called Sunwait. Every Friday night, we hold a small ritual to Sunna and meditate or galdr a particular rune. The first six runes of the elder futhark are used in order. Some Heathens will celebrate Sunwait on Thursdays instead. Sunday would be the logical day for it, being literally Sunna’s Day, but curiously I’ve not seen any report of Heathens holding their Sunwait rites on that day. I suspect this has to do with wanting to avoid any conflation of Sunwait with Advent.
After that, there is Dec. 6, which some of us have repurposed as Oski’s Day. We exchange gifts and enjoy certain foods and usually give offerings to Odin as Oski. This year, this was our major gift giving day.
Next, there is Lussa’s Day (Lussanatre) on the evening of Dec. 12. This opens the door to the Wild Hunt and really begins Yule proper.
This year we had an initiation on Dec. 19th and then the 20th was Modranacht (Mothernight). We kept Yule itself on Dec. 21. I had cut my hand rather badly so we didn’t do any bonfire – usually we would have one in our firepit out back—but we plan to remedy that before Yule is over as my hand is already almost fully healed. We keep Dec. 22 free for a ritual honoring the House of Mundilfari, but this is optional for us and this year we did not do it, as we’d given copious offerings to Them earlier and two of us were traveling unexpectedly on that day.
On New Year’s Eve, because we are a blended household, we do a Roman rite to Cardea and Her court to bring blessings for the New Year. New Year’s Day is a time for personal offerings for us, visiting friends, and cleaning and renewing the shrines. Finally on Dec. 6 we have our Perchta’s Day – this is the first year I’m formally incorporating this, so I’m excited about it. A colleague inspired me to get off my butt and do something. We might even mask and do a procession for Her.
After that, we get a breather until Charming of the Plough in late February/early March with the exception of a feast day for my adopted mom, who is honored as a saint in our tradition (and several others) on Feb. 3. Right now, as I write this, we’re preparing for our New Year’s Eve rite.
My husband sent me this song by the group Wolcensmen. It makes for a beautiful holiday song. I could totally see incorporating it into Sunwait.
Do any of you have particular songs that you like to play or sing for Yule? (Technically Yule goes through the New Year).
I know this is a little belated, Sunwait having ended last week, but I just realized I’d forgotten to post this. This is the prayer we offered to invoke Sunna in our ritual last Friday.
Prayer to Sunna in Kenaz by G. Krasskova Tonight, on the last night of Sunwait, Mani gleams brightly in the sky, Luminous and bright. The air is chill, portending the coming of winter. The world glistens adorned with lights and greenery, a reminder Of the blessings of yule to come. Tonight we hail Sunna. She comes awash in beauty, powerful, radiant. She comes with open hands showering Her blessings On every heart willing to receive them. She comes, generous and proud, joyous and fiery Filled with the wisdom of a Goddess Who has seen The worlds themselves created. Kenaz crowns Her, weaving itself through Her light, Opening the way to knowledge, wisdom, and well-being, Strengthening our hearts with courage, Our minds and souls with devotion. Sunna is our guide and kenaz the fire She bears. It is illumination, sacral understanding, And the capacity to carry Mystery into the world. It is our light through the darkness, the dark night of the soul, The darkness of our world. May we tend it well and joyously Knowing that no matter how grim the night Sunna and Her retinue will always come And Her presence alone, drives back darkness. Hail to You, Gladness of the Heavens. Hail to You, Oh Sunna, on this, The sixth week of Sunwait.
Tonight was our Modranacht rite and it was beautiful. Every time we step into sacred space, every time we enter ritual we renew our commitment to restore the sacred covenants between us and the Holy Powers. Modranacht honors our Mother Goddesses, like Frigga, Sigyn, Sif, Freya, Hela (Mother of all the dead), Loki (Mother of Sleipnir), and many, many more. We also honor the Matronae, and our female ancestors and Disir. I wish the rite tonight had gone on forever. It was just beautiful.
Here is a picture of our altar to the night (it’s not complete — I took this as we were setting up. Our sacred images of Hela and Sif still need to be added. We did that shortly after I took this shot).
Here is a close up of one of my Frigga statues. It just arrived today (a good omen, I think, that it arrived on Mother-night). It’s not usually how I see Her, but represents Frigga as magician, as a shaman, in the process of shapeshifting.
For those of you who keep this holy night, I would love to hear how your rites and rituals went. Feel free t post in the comments.
I realized today that I had forgotten to post about week five of Sunwait. It’s gone quickly this year — I can hardly believe we’re less than two weeks away from Modranacht. So, before I let this go any longer, here is the prayer we used in Friday night’s ritual. We spent a great deal of time sitting in the ritual space during this rite, sharing a horn, and praising our Gods and ancestors and reaped the fruit of that, I think, in the beautiful Lussanatr rite in which we participated last night. Truly our Gods are so incredibly good to us and never cease bestowing Their blessings.
Prayer to Sunna coming in Raido (By G. Krasskova) Hail to You, Glorious Goddess of the Sun, Coming with fiery momentum, Driving back darkness Driving back entropy Driving back fear. We praise You, And Your shining retinue. Hail to You, Sunna, A mighty force, Against which no malefic power may stand. You are our pace setter, And under Your guidance, we shall not falter. You sustain us, Great One, When all hope seems lost. You open the way for us, When we cannot move forward. In love and praise we bow our heads before You, For You sustained our people age after age. May Your blessings fall upon all right minded people, Blessings of protection, ferocious love, abundance, and health. May we never doubt that we live nestled in Your protection, For Your skills are mighty, and the equal of many a battle god. Hail to Sunna, riding and unstoppable, in raido. Hai Goddess of the Sun.
We celebrated the beginning of Yule tonight as we honored Lussa.
Prayer to Lussa (by G. Krasskova) Hail to Lussa, on this, Your sacred night. Mighty is Sunna’s retinue. Hail to You, oh Goddess, Herald of Jul, Who opens the door so the Wild Hunt may ride. Hail to You, Mighty One, called Lutzelfraa, Who demands the protocols of this holy time are met, Who punishes the slovenly, the lazy, and the evildoer. Hail to You, Divine Shamaness, Who furiously rides with the Hunt, Gambols with ferocious glee, dark and terrifying, taking up omens, Smiting the wicked, driving them back from the people. Hail to You, Huntress of Souls, Who dances through darkness bringing light, revealing knowledge, making the darkest of times rich and fruitful. Hail to You, Oh Lussa, Who grants us light and joy and sweetness, as the most potent days of Jul approach, Who guides us through times of uncertainty and fear, the warmth of Whose light, lifts us up and fills our souls with courage. Hail to Lussa, Who wears a crown of fire, Who protects our home, our land, and all Who dwell within. Hail to Lussa, Who wards our boundaries, marking their perimeter With the purifying power of Her flame, so that all evil spirits who roam the world with intent to do us harm, Might know Her mark, Her protection, and might rightly fear. Hail to you, Lussa, gracious Goddess, tonight on Your night And every night thereafter.
Today is Oski’s Day — the way we Heathens reclaim St. Nicholas Day ;). It is one of the small days of delight and gifting that precede the intensity and sacral power of Yule. It’s not a difficult day to keep: my family exchanges small gifts, pours out libations to Odin as Oski, and indulges in certain foods that are traditional at this time. I’ve written about that latter here and my friend Wyrd Dottir has written in much more detail about Oski’s Day and Krampusnacht here (I snagged this image below from her site too). It’s small days like this that help us rebuild and reclaim our traditions fully…through the medium of hearth cultus, household rites, and attention to the smaller aspects of devotion, the celebrations and practices that fell through the cracks or maybe even were worked into the fabric of the folk Christianity that followed conversion. My research on that latter continues but in the meantime, I wish you all a very happy Oski’s Day! If you too keep this little holy day, feel free to post what you do and how you do it in the comments.
We had a lovely Sunwait rite tonight. I can already feel the momentum building as we move one week closer to Yule and it evokes such anticipation in me to submit myself to the dark and velvety magic of my God, the feel of His presence and those other Holy Powers we will invoke that I can barely hold it in. I want to garb myself in bells and a savage mask and run riot through the all too civilized and calm streets of my town, beating on doors and whirling as I chase the dark fire of my God. Instead, I’m here, writing this, holding these things in my heart, and contemplating the Yule cycle.
This year, we are adding Lussinatt to our Yule celebrations. Christians may hold this night sacred to St. Lucy, and that’s cool, but it’s also an older holiday, honoring a much older Power. Incorporating this into our preparations for Yule is one more way of restoring and reclaiming our ritual cycle. I have promised myself (and my Vanic oriented assistant) that I will spend the winter hunting up hints at smaller holy days between the spring equinox and summer solstice so that we might balance our rites to the Gods of the holy days of winter, with equal attention given to those in summer. Back to tonight’s Sunwait though.
We did a very simple symbel, passing the horn in rounds: the first honoring our Gods, the second, our ancestors, and the third an open round (we mostly honored other spirits, like the house and land vaettir that we regularly include in our venerations). Ansuz was galdred, Sunna was hailed (not in that order!) and it was a quiet and lovely ritual.
Here is a close up of our altar. This Sunna statue was a gift from my husband last year. I absolutely love it.
Here’s along view of the altar – my ancestor room is our ritual room, so that’s a line of ancestors and other ancestral spirits that we honor (the two main ancestor shrines are on other side of the table that you see here with the Sunwait altar). The cloth is one that I made just for this Sunwait (I still have to put edging on one side – the lace I wanted to use was late coming in!).
This is the prayer we offered tonight:
Sunwait Prayer to Sunna in Ansuz Hail to the glorious warrior Who rushes across the sky, magnificent, fierce, unstoppable in Her joy. Hail to She Who restores, Whose very presence Banishes evil and malignancy. Hail to the Goddess Who emblazons the night, Filling the worlds with color and life. Hail to the Felicitous One, Who elevates our souls, freeing us from the fetters of our enemies. Hail to the Companion of Mani, Beloved of Glenr, She Who stands as a shield against turpitude. Hail to the Fiery Grace-Giver, She Who ever upholds the Worlds. Hail to the Laughing Brightness of the Heavens, Who with a gesture frees us from duress. Hail to Sol, Gleaming Splendor, opening the way between the worlds. Hail to Sunna, ever triumphant, Ever generous with Her blessings. Hail to You Sunna as you ride in ansuz, Hail to You, on this fourth week of Sunwait. (by Galina Krasskova)
And finally, here’s another close up.
(Sannion wrote about tonight’s right over at House of Vines).