Category: Autumn Equinox

Autumnal Rites

In some parts of northern Europe the month of September was once called ‘Halegmonath’ which means Holy Month in Anglo-Saxon and ‘Haustmandur’ which means Autumn month in old Norse. Bede who was a Christian scholar wrote in his manuscript entitled  ‘The Reckoning of Time’ that “in the ninth month in the year there are thirty days. The month is called in Latin September and in our language Holy Month, because our ancestors, when they were heathen, sacrificed to their idols in the month”. Sadly, he doesn’t say why September was a holy month, nor what kind of ritual sacrifices took place. However, we can presume that these sacred rites were sacrifices to the gods and that they were a private affair taking place in the home, rather than part of a wider community.

The months of Halegmonath and Winterfylleth (October) were a time of winter preparation for our northern ancestors. The growing season was short and by the end of August, the crops would have been harvested and stored safely away; including winter feed for their animals. Apples were harvested as well as other fruit and berries were preserved in skyr so that people did not succumb to what they called the winter sickness.

Bede refered to the following month of November as Blodmonath (blood month) and explained that the Angles (from modern day Denmark and Germany) ritually sacrificed their cattle and made offerings to their gods. It is most probable that the animals that were slaughtered were those that were unlikely to survive the Winter, allowing families to have enough fodder to feed their remaining animals.

The ancient Heathens only recognised two seasons; Winter and Summer. They did not celebrate the Autumn Equinox nor Samhain, so it was their location and climate that dictated when they celebrated harvest festivals, which for them could take place at any time during September and October.

Today’s Heathens, however, who follow Asatru do celebrate an Autumn Equinox festival called ‘Winter Finding’ and in the Urglaawe tradition (Deitch Pennsylvania German Heathenry) their festival is called ‘Erntfescht’. There are other modern Heathens that celebrate’ Haustablot’, which means ‘Autumn Sacrifice’ or ‘Fallfest’. These festivals are all in sync with mainstream pagan celebrations of Mabon.

Winter Nights (Vetrnaetr), not to be confused with ‘Winter Finding’, was a three day festival that is mentioned in several of the Sagas (the Icelandic Sagas are a collection of Medieval stories about Iceland and the families that lived there). Vetrnaetr marked the end of the Summer and the beginning of the Winter in the old Norse calendar. Because this calendar was a lunar one it has been calculated that Winter Nights would have taken place around the middle of October. Yule is also mentioned as lasting three nights and Nils Lithberg from the Northern Museum of Stockholm believed that these transitional periods took place during the time when the moon was full and at its brightest. This is a very interesting theory, especially for those of us who work with lunar energy.

Winter Nights would have consisted of a ritual sacrifice (blot) of an animal along with other offerings such as mead, ale, food and personal belongings. These ritual gifts were offered up to the gods, ancestors and spirits in gratitude for the harvest and for protection throughout the coming Winter months. Snorrri Sturluson, the Icelandic poet, historian and politician, describes a blot in his Saga of Hakon the Good. In it he explains that livestock were killed in a ritual manner and their blood sprinkled over idols of the gods as well as the people who were present. The meat was first cooked over a fire that ran along the centre of the feasting hall before being blessed by the chieftain hosting the feast. The meat was then shared among the guests who toasted to the ancestors and to the Gods Odin, Njordur and Freyr with ale that was in a horn and had also been blessed. Blood was then sprinkled over the walls to infuse power into the building as well as avert bad luck. It is possible that the blood stains were used for divination and prophesy telling.

Farmers in the Trondheim district in Norway were known to hold great feasts at the beginning of Winter. Toasts were made to both tribes of the Norse Gods; the Aesir for victory and the Vanir for fertility, prosperity and peace. Cattle and horses were slaughtered and their blood was used to redden idols of the gods. More horses were sacrificed than any other animal, as they were seen as representing great power and virility.

Recent archaeological evidence found in Iceland suggests that cattle were slaughtered by simultaneously striking the animal between the eyes while beheading it with a two handed axe (this would have created a fountain of blood). The animal heads were then displayed outside. It was believed that performing such sacrifices would appease the gods who would then look upon the people more favourably.

Like many old Norse festivals , there was not only one way to celebrate. Each household would have celebrated their own way, including what gods and beings were honoured. The sagas do, however, mention that the disir, the elves, Odinn and Freyr were honoured in the Autumn; perhaps singularly or all together.

In Egil’s Saga, Egil and Ovir are refused ale when they visit a man named Bard because it was being saved for the Disablot. A Disablot was a ritual sacrifice and feast that was enjoyed at this time of year to honour and thank the female spirits of the disir for the harvest. Some of the disir were female ancestors that protected their family lines and others were guardian spirits of the land. The guardian spirits of the land (land wights or landvaettir) were believed to bring good fortune and protect children and animals. Snorri Sturlusson, interestingly enough, calls the Goddesses Freya ‘Vanadis’ (Dis of the Vanir) and Skadi as ‘Ondurdis’ (Snowshoe Dis). In old Norse literature ‘dis’ is the general term for ‘goddess’ or could even simply mean ‘woman’, especially in old Norse poetry. Disablot, which was held in a disarsair (hall of the dis), is mentioned in several sagas. In ‘Flateyjarbok’, guests at a Disablot are told not to go outside, ‘because great harm will come about’. Here the disir are portrayed as being dangerous. Also included within the disir are the norns who were the goddesses of fate.

Offerings that were left on hills, at waterfalls, woods, groves and standing stones would have been made to the landvaettir for protection and fertility as well as good harvests. These spirits were peaceful and extremely offended by violence on their land . Confusingly, there isn’t a distinct difference between the disir and other spirits such as the fylgjur, the hamingjur and the land wights. Even the valkyries are referred to as ‘Odin’s disir’.

There are many stories within the sagas that tell of volvas communicating with spirits such as the fylgur and the disir. Volr in old Norse means staff or wand, so a volva was a staff or wand carrying woman. These seeresses would travel throughout the Winter to different feasts foretelling people’s fates over the coming months. Nothing is known of the magic that was practiced by these women, but in the saga of Erik the Red, there is a very detailed description of the clothes worn by the volva in the story. It is also said that she sat on a raised seat; perhaps so she could see more clearly into the other realms while communicating with the spirits.

In the ‘Book of Settlements’, an Icelandic manuscript from the early Middle Ages, it is said, ‘that Winter Ingolfr held a great sacrifice to discover what the future had in store for him.’ So it seems that it was a time not only for honouring and sacrificing, but for asking for spiritual guidance in return. A gift for a gift.

Before continuing, I just wanted to explain what fylgyur are. A fylgja is a spirit that accompanies a person from their birth to their death. The name can also mean afterbirth. Fylgjur normally appear as animals and reflect the personality of the person. For instance, a strong leader may have a boar as a fylgjur and a cunning man a fox. These guardian spirits are mostly seen at the moment of a person’s death, by someone else who is there at the time. Sometimes they can appear as an omen of impending death. The hamingjur were a similar type of guardian spirit.

In pre-Christian Sweden there was once a harvest rite called Alfablot; which was a sacrificial rite for the elves. Elves were seen as more powerful during the dark half of the year and offerings of ale and meat were made to them to keep the peace. Offerings were believed to make them stronger and more able to help with life the fertility of the earth as well as with healing. In Kormaks saga a volva helps the loser of a dual to spill the blood of a bull on a hill where elves lived, so that they could feast upon the meat and encourage the man’s healing. The ancestral fathers were thought to live among the Elves in mounds or within mountains and the elves were possibly perceived as male ancestors. Pagans would sit on these burial mounds or on the sacred hills and mountains where the dead were thought to live, meditating until a message was received.

In 1018, Sigvatr Pordarson, a Christian poet of king Olaf of Norway was sent on a diplomatic mission to Sweden. Most of Sweden at this time was still pagan. It was Autumn time and Sigvatr and his companions were searching for a place to rest, but at each farmstead they arrived at they were all sharply turned away. At one of the farms, they came across a woman who told them to go away and said to Sigvatr, “Don’t go further inside unlucky man! We are afraid of Odin´s wrath; we are pagans!” Then, she chased them away. This refusal to be hospitable to travellers was unthinkable in Norse culture , so this behaviour underlines the great importance of Alfablot. This was a sacred time with only family members attending who were really only wanting to honour their dead in private. This holy rite took place between the end of October and the beginning of November.

The elves connection to the harvest naturally links them to the God Freyr who is the ruler of Alfheim, the land of the elves. Snorri describes Freyr as the most glorious among the Aesir. ‘He rules rain and sunshine and by this he rules the harvests of the Earth. He is good to invoke for the purpose of a good harvest and peace. He also rules the welfare among people.

Freyr was the God most associated with fertility and sexuality and  represents the essence of masculine power. Horse races and fighting took place during harvest celebrations and the horse was a sacred animal to Freyr. In the Volsa Pattr from the Flateybok, a medieval Icelandic manuscript consisting of mainly sagas about the old Norse kings, an Autumn ritual is described. At a Norwegian farm the phallus of a horse was preserved in onions and herbs and every evening the mother of the household would unwrap it from its cloth and prayed to it, before handing the phallus over to the other family members who did the same. This took place throughout the Autumn. On hearing of this worship, king Olaf II of Norway, wanted to convert them to Christianity. The king went to the farm and sat with them watching  as the woman came out with the phallus and placed it on her husband’s lap saying, “May the giantess Mornir accept this holy object”. Everyone in the room repeated this apart from the king who began preaching about Christianity. After this they all became Christian.

This post has been the most difficult for me to research so far and has been such a real labour of love. There was a mountain worth of information to go through, but I am ever so grateful to have spent all this time on the subject, because it has really opened my eyes to what it means to call oneself a Heathen.

I would like to apologise for the Anglicisation of some of the old Norse names; I unfortunately type with a British keyboard. I will follow this extremely educational article with one of my more personal ones, inspired by my research on Autumnal rites. I have already began writing so it shouldn’t be too long before it is up on the blog.

If you know of any folklore or traditions linked to Autumn from Denmark, Germany, Sweden or Norway then please let me know on the Wytch Hazel Cottage Facebook or Instagram page.

Many blessings,

Hazel

xxx

 

 

Celebrating The Autumn Equinox

Even though I absolutely adore Summer, I am secretly pleased that Autumn is well and truly here. The misty mornings, the glistening spider webs and the cooler days are just a few things that add a sprinkling of magic to this time of year. I can also hear Mother Nature whispering to me as she begins to prepare for her Winter slumber. The following are just a few ideas I hope will inspire you to get in the mood for Autumn.

  • Visit loved ones’ graves and decorate them. While this activity is more commonly seen at Samhain, this time of year is undoubtedly a celebration of endings as we watch birds migrate, flora die and fauna preparing for the long Winter months ahead.  Autumn time allows us to reflect on the meaning of death and its importance within the natural cycle.
  • It was traditional at this time of year to offer up the last harvest grains in thanks for the year’s abundance. This gesture reminds us that we cannot receive these gifts of food without Gaia’s intervention. Leave offerings of fruits, grains or berries in a field or under a tree, giving thanks for all the little things that we can so often take for granted.
  • Celebrate your own personal harvest. What have you sown and reaped this year? Celebrate your successes, your accomplishments and reflect on what you have done to enhance your life.
  • Connect to an ancient custom by making a rattle with natural materials like seeds, nuts and gourds. Rattles are traditionally used to ward off negativity, purify space and raise energy.
  • Autumn is a time when homes and gardens are cleaned and tidied. Give away what you no longer need so that you can begin this new phase with a clear mind.
  • Create your own hearth and home ritual. Perhaps a small ritual of thanks and gratitude in honour of the Mother and Crone Goddesses.
  • Think about planting bulbs for next Spring and offer libations to the trees.
  • Decorate your altar with spirals, pine cones, acorns, nuts, berries, corn dolls and Autumn wreaths.
  • Take a quiet moment to rest, reflect and rebalance. This is the time we re-enter the dark womb of the Goddess and begin to explore our inner selves. Plant the seeds of your dreams ready to spring forth next year.
  • Go for a walk in the woods and marvel at the smells and colours of this time of transition.
  • Make your own bird feeders.
  • Visit a farmer’s market, local farm or orchard.
  • Donate to your local food bank or homeless shelter.
  • Fill small baskets with fruit or nuts and pine cones to decorate your home with.
  • Make a charm from some hazelnuts and beads thread them onto a red thread and hang up for protection.
  • Create mobiles out of nuts, acorns, conkers, dried citrus slices, twigs and twine.
  • Wrap up warm and go for a walk along the beach.
  • Make some acorn bells. (Tutorial on Pinterest)
  • Make some walnut shell wishing candles. (Tutorial on Pinterest)
  • Create an Autumn leaf mandala.
  • Have or attend a bonfire. Dance, drum and sing.
  • Have a go at making your own apple cider or bake an apple pie or a loaf of bread.

Brightest Blessings

Hazel

xxx

 

 

 

The Autumn Equinox

The Autumn Equinox also known as Harvest Home, Alban Elfed and Mabon is the second harvest celebration of the year and typically falls between 21st and 23rd September.

At this time of year night and day are briefly of equal length before we begin our descent into cooler temperatures and longer nights.  This was a very important time for our ancestors as it marked the end of the growing season when they would find themselves gathering the last of the wild berries and preparing their stores for the long Winter ahead.

There are many ancient sites in Britain that were built to mark the equinoxes, one being Hag’s Cairn at Loughcrew not far from Newgrange in Ireland. Filled with ancient carvings the passage tomb is filled with light, if the weather conditions are right, illuminating its beauty within.

Mabon was originally the name of an ancient Welsh sun God or hero whose story begins with him being stolen from his mother Modron at only 3 nights old. During his absence Modron’s sadness transforms the world into Winter, just as Demeter’s did when Persephone was taken to the underworld in Greek mythology (almost every ancient culture has their own version of this story). Modron is rescued years later during the Spring by King Arthur’s knights and the character Culhwch.

So what does Mabon have to do with the Autumn Equinox? Well, absolutely nothing. There is no evidence that our ancestors used this God’s name in any way, shape or form during this time of year. The term Mabon was originally used by the American Wiccan author Aiden Kelly who in his book called ‘Crafting the Art of Magic’ (revised title,’Inventing Witchcraft’) decided to rename some of the Sabbats. And since the 1970s the name has become popular throughout the Pagan community. Because I want my practice to be as authentically rooted as possible, I just simply use ‘Autumn Equinox’. Mabon when translated literally means, ‘son of the mother’.

Although the name ‘Mabon’ is quite modern, Autumn celebrations are genuinely ancient, as some of the ancient sites of Britian prove. The Venerable Bede, who was an Anglo Saxon monk , mentions in his writings in the early 700’s that September was a holy month in the Anglo Saxon Calendar when harvest time was celebrated and by the late 1500’s country folk were still celebrating Harvest Home. There was feasting, celebrations and games. This was a  well deserved rest from everyday life.

Some Pagan traditions remember the death of the sun God at this time and his journey into the Otherworld. Others confusingly recognize his death at Lughnasadh instead. However, everyone’s path is different, so don’t worry if your beliefs are not the same as other Pagans.

While the Goddess mourns the loss of her consort she grows tired as she prepares her transformation from mother to crone. She offers us her last fruits of the season so that we may be nourished throughout the dark months of inner reflection.

The Autumn Equinox is a time of great joy and great sorrow. After every death comes new life and we are all a part of this ever changing cycle. As the trees lose the weight of their dead leaves before their Winter slumber, so too can we lose our burdens, allowing us the freedom to go within and begin the inner work that permits us to plant the seeds of new growth.

Brightest Blessings

Hazel

xxx

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