Thursday, October 29, 2015

Winter Nights

In the Old Norse calendar, mid-October marks the beginning of winter, and that period was known as the Winter Nights (Vetrnætr). This time is associated with the álfablót and the dísablót. Both of these were more private, household-oriented festivals honoring local and family deities and spirits.

The dísablót was a ritual or sacrifice held in honor of the female spirits or deities, and its purpose was to enhance the harvest and ensure continuing fertility. It was presided over by the woman of the household. The dísablót was also celebrated in spring, and the sacrifice at Gamla Uppsala in Sweden, where it became a great public ritual.

The álfablót was a ritual held in late autumn, when the crops were in and the herds were fat and ready to be culled for winter. It was a local, private celebration held in individual homesteads and as such, little is known about it. It was probably in honor of the ancestors and the local spirits and land wights and strengthened the life force or luck of the family. The poem Austrfararvísur tells the story of a Norwegian skald sent on a diplomatic mission to Sweden who was rebuffed at numerous homesteads when he tried to claim guest-right along his journey. The people refused to let him in and told him they were making the álfablót there and strangers weren't allowed. It is possible that the fact that the skald was Christian may have been part of the reason the people didn't want him at their holy rites.

It's a little early down on the Gulf Coast to be ready for winter, but the idea of ancestor worship certainly blends well with all the Halloween celebrations going on. And historically it does manage to get a little cooler around the end of October, which is something to be thankful for in a hot climate.

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