Pagan Holidays: Celebrating the Heathen Spirit
Other names: Winter Solstice, Midwinter, Yuletide
A Germanic pagan holiday that has linguistic roots only among the Germanic-speaking people. Historically, Yule was celebrated for 3 days starting on December 21st. This pagan holiday occurs on the darkest day of the year and is proceeded by an increasing level of supernatural phenomenon. It has been cited by the ancestors that during this time the undead draugar walk in Midgard in increasing numbers. Medieval historians such as Bede have alluded to Yule as being a fertility holiday as well among the Anglo-Saxon peoples. Sacrifices were initiated during the stone and bronze ages as well as an increased concentration on ancestral worship.
This celebration is in reverence of Odin. Historically it also has a relationship with the Wild Hunt. Today, Yule is celebrated by large gatherings including feasting and gift exchange… oh, and lots of mead drinking from horns.
Quote from Bede:
“…began the year on the 8th kalends of January [25 December], when we celebrate the birth of the Lord. That very night, which we hold so sacred, they used to call by the heathen word Modranecht, that is, “mother’s night”, because (we suspect) of the ceremonies they enacted all that night”
Other names: Charming of the Plow
The first pagan holiday to appear of the 4 Celtic ‘fire’ festivals. It is a pagan festival of light and celebrates fertility. Once upon a time in Europe the landscape would be scattered with huge blazes. The scenery included torches and fires in every form imaginable. Imbolc is thought to linguistically mean ‘in the belly’, proving its relationship to fertility and the miraculous rebirth of the land after the chill and darkness of the winter months. Grey skies and still cold temperatures may not look like the seeds of summer, but behind the scenes of what is visible to the human eye is the manifesting of the spring bud of a snowdrop or daffodil, or fresh shoots sprouting underneath the frosty ground. In a modern context, Imbolc is seen to represent the beginning of the agricultural year. Another possible linguistic origin of Imbolc is from the Gaelic word “oimelc” which translates directly into “ewes milk”. Cattle born around this date are thought to bring people good luck and a prosperous year to come.
This festival is also sacred to the Celtic goddess Brigid, Goddess of Poetry, Healing, Smithcraft, and Midwifery.
“All the land is wrapped in winter. The air is chilled and Frost envelopes the Earth. But Lord of the Sun, Horned One of animals and wild places, Unseen you have been reborn Of the gracious Mother Goddess, Lady of all fertility. Hail Great God! Hail and welcome!”
21st – 25th March
Also known as the Vernal Equinox or Summer Finding
The spring equinox is at the time when the sun crosses the celestial equator. This day marks the time when day and night are of equal length. This date is celebrated in the Christian faith as the date of the conception of Jesus. Before this, the equinox was celebrated by pagans to honor female deities known as disir. As well as being celebrated by Germanic pagan priestesses, The Ynglinga saga notes that rituals were also performed at this time by the King of Sweden:
King Adils was at a Disa sacrifice; and as he rode around the Disa hall his horse’ Raven stumbled and fell, and the king was thrown forward upon his head, and his skull was split, and his brains dashed out against a stone. Adils died at Upsal, and was buried there in a mound. The Swedes called him a great king.
It is also celebrated by Wiccans who believe that this is when the Mother Goddess is impregnated by the Sun God. A time that indicates the rebirthing of the landscape.
Also known as May Day or Walpurgisnacht
Beltane, or Lá Bealtaine in Gaelic marks the beginning of the summer, and a celebration of the light and warmth to come. Literally meaning ‘bright fire’, pagans would light bonfires, or ‘bel-fires’, to cleanse and regenerate the community after the oppressive dark months, and symbolize the growing power of the Sun God. At this time cattle would be turned out to the fields, and led past the bel-fires to protect them from illness. The Germanic pagan name of Walpurgisnacht, is also known as Hexennacht, is a night both of revelry and darkness. It marks the end of Odin, the All-father’s 9-day sacrifice hung in the branches of Yggdrasil. Supposedly on the ninth day he saw the runes, grasped them, and died, and extinguished all the lights in the 9 worlds for an instant. Lighting fires at midnight was said to symbolize the returning of the light and the coming of summer.
Also known as Summer Solstice
The Summer Solstice is when the sun reaches its highest position in the sky, and we enjoy the longest day and shortest night of the year. The Celts would celebrate this with bonfires to add to the sun’s power. People would also make wishes at this time by whispering it to a pebbles and then tossing the pebble into the fire. Germanic pagans honor Sol or Sunna on this date, the Norse goddess of the sun, who appears in the poetic eddas as the sister of the moon god, Mani. It is believed that Druids in England raised the stones of Stonehenge as a kind of calendar, as on the day of the solstice, the Heel Stone and Slaughter Stone in the outer circle align with the rising sun. Midsummer is one of the most widely celebrated pagan festival today, with thousands of pagans visiting Stonehenge on this date to watch the sun rise.
Also known as Lughnasadh or Freyfaxi
The festival of Lammas marks the end of summer and the beginning of autumn, and was celebrated by Gaelic pagans as Lughnasadh, and a feast was held to commemorate the funeral of the Irish Sun God Lugh. Germanic pagans celebrated at this time the festival Lithasblot, to honor the goddess Erda for a bountiful harvest. (Note: it would appear that while pagans across the world celebrate the same festivals, some were at different times in accordance with the different climates – as such, more Northern countries had their harvest earlier than the more southern areas.) Freyfaxi is another name for this festival, which some pagans use to honor the Norse god Freyr, the god of agriculture, gifts and fertility. Freyfaxi was a name used to describe two different horses, both owned by people strongly dedicated to Freyr. According to Hrafnkels saga, Hrafnkel, the son of one of the original settlers of Iceland, dedicated a large temple to Freyr, and named his horse Freyfaxi. This horse myth is also present in other sources – the Haggeby Stone from Uppland, Sweden depicts two horses fighting.
September 21st – 29th
Also known as Winter Finding or the Autumnal Equinox
This is a Pagan festival of thanksgiving for the fruits of the earth, for the reaping of what has been sown, and is still celebrated as the secular Harvest festival. This is also the date of the Autumnal equinox, where the day and night are of equal length. For Wiccans, this is the time when the Sun god grows old and returns to the embrace of the mother. From this point, the sun begins the wane and darkness takes hold. Pagans would celebrate this festival by feasting and drinking, as grain had been made into bread, mead and wine had been made, and the cattle were brought down from the summer pastures for the coming winter.
Also known as All Hallow’s Eve or Winternights
One of the last of the pagan holidays. This celebration marks the beginning of the winter season, and is a time to remember ones ancestors and loved ones who have passed. Widely celebrated today as Halloween, Samhain is also a major pagan and Wiccan festival where the barrier between the worlds of the natural and the supernatural, or the living and the dead, are at their thinnest. Many pagans would have candles burning and plates of food laid out to welcome any roaming spirits. For the Celts, the year begins at Samhain, this is the most powerful night of the year to perform divination. Much divination was done during this time by the Northern folk to foretell the fates of those entering the coming year.
“The Eve and day of Samhain were characterized as a time when the barriers between the human and supernatural worlds were broken… Not a festival honoring any particular Celtic deity, Samhain acknowledged the entire spectrum of nonhuman forces that roamed the earth during that period.” – Eliade’s Encyclopedia of Religion
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