Note that majority of Old Norse letters and words have been changed to fit modern English phonetics and language._______________________________________________________________________ Introduction The Old Norse Vkingr (Vikings) based their year off their seafaring and agricultural customs along with influence from the two most prominent seasons of the year Vetur (winter) and Sumar (summer) solstices. The Viking calendar thus reflected the seasons: How high the sun was in the sky, access to food, fertility or often destinations. The year equally long periods vetur and sumar. The Vkingr did not use exact years to date events, as their actual almanac was divided into manathur (moon phases) or months, so their system relied heavily on kinship and even more so on relative chronology. An example of this being that a person's age was counted by the number of winters they have survived [since the 'New Year' ideology to the Norsemen was during the winter months] rather than their actual date of birth. Very much like the Gregorian system that many countries/systems have adopted today, the Scandinavian, Teutonic and later Icelandic peoples developed a yearly calendar based off of the twelve moon phases. This resulting in twelve months, thirty days within each month- however 364 days and as a result instead of a leap year every four years there was an entire four day "leap week" known as Sumarauki. The winter months are Gormanuthur, Ylir, Morsugur, Thorri, Goa and Einmanuthur. The summer months are Harpa, Skerpla, Solmanuthur, Heyannir, Tvimanuthur and Haustmanuthur. The ancient Norse and many Heathen reconstructionalists today do not base their year solely on the solstices and equinoxes. The Wheel of the Year that is adopted by many Traditional Gallo-Romans, Celtic Polytheists, Druids, Neo-Pagans and many other Pagan faiths/paths does not equally represent the Northern traditions or how the six major blots and additional various lesser blots/feasts or sumbels are represented. Steven McNallen's rendition to the Wheel of the Year in the later mid 1900s specifically for Germanic Pagans, added blots to fit the solstice/equinox framework , however- a number of these holidays he added are actually Christian celebrations with a blatant Heathen veneer. I.e Walpurgisnacht, which celebrates a later Saint within the Church after the conversion era in most of Northern Europe.
What many Heathens find as a struggle today is what are blots and sumbels and what is the difference between the two? What exactly are the holy days and when are they today? How would they be celebrated and how could I celebrate them currently? And probably the most FAQ- Do I have to partake in blots, sumbels, etc to be considered a good Heathen?Blots vs Sumbels Blot: In Havamal there are three lines that ask if one knows how to bid and sacrifice to the Gods.
"Better not to pray | than to sacrifice too much
one gift always calls for another
better not dispatched | than to slaughter too much" - ( Havamal 145-147 ).
In its simplest form- a blot is making a sacrifice to the Gods. The Norse conception of our relationship to the Gods is important in understanding the nature of what a sacrifice really is [this also being what it meant to the Norsk peoples] . In Heathenry, it is believed that we are not only worshipers of the Gods, but that we are spiritually and even physically related to them through our daily actions, thoughts and sometimes emotion. Symbolically, we see ourselves as kin to the Gods. On a more esoteric level, humankind is gifted with immediacy from the Gods, wights, etc. and we are sacrificing not in what we are to give up but what we are to share. Thus, we are not simply appeasing the Gods by offering them something that they want, but we are sharing with the Gods something that we all- or would take enjoyment in.
The Norsemen typically did a blot by feasting on an animal consecrated to the Gods through slaughtering from their farms/best harvest. The blood of the animal would then be placed into a ceramic bowl- blotbloi and habitually blessed by a gothi or gythya (priest or priestess) where it would then be used to bless the members of the rite and the altar. As many of us are no longer agriculturalists, the most common form of a contemporary blot is an offering of mead or other alcoholic beverage and often a prepared feast to deities and different vaettir. Blots today can be done either solitary or in larger groups. Each blot consists of typically three main parts:The Hallowing - setting a consecrated area for the rite, blessing the area with mead, non-sacrificial blood or honey, set up your sacred space and/or altar. The Offering or Sharing - invocation of the gods, ancestors, and/or wights, songs, hymns, prayers- readings from Edda, the offering or sacrifice is done and then given to them. The Libation - folks/you are blessed by a priest/ess or by yourself, with hlaut (beer offering), feast, dance, bless the local land or home, close the ritual. Sumbel:
One of the most noted forms of celebration was called a sumbel or Anglo-Saxon symbel, a festival of drinking. At the sumbel toasts are drunk to the Gods, as well as to a person(s) ancestors or personal heroes. Other than a toast, one might also offer a brag or some story, song, etc that has individual significance. There are varied forms of sumbels, each which have been adapted from famed troths, authors and historians.One type of sumbel is to drink in rounds of three. The first is dedicated to the Gods, the second to notable heroes of the mythos/lore such as historical figures or heroes from the sagas and specific eddas, and the third to personal ancestors (disir, einherjar, Ask og Embla, etc) heroes, or friends which have passed from this world. Another theme for a sumbel is past, present, and future. This type of sumbel is more of a magical ritual than one of celebration. The idea is to make toasts which bring up some aspect of your past and present situation, and a third toast which embodies your desires and/or goals for the immediate or distant future. The purpose would be for ultimately the Gods and others to hear your goals and for you to aim towards achieving them- either for that year or for the imminent. Another more popular type of sumbel is a free-for-all where stories are exchanged, toasts are made, and bragging is done until all gathered are under the table. Perhaps this is not quite so esoteric or purposeful compared to the other too mentioned, however it's certainly in keeping with the examples of the Gods and ancestors depicted in much of primary literature. Sumbels are very often intense experiences where altered states such as gangr and northern tradition 'totemism' could be achieved. Overall, the sumbel is quite free-form and can easily be adapted. Major Heathen Blots The six major Heathen holy days or blots are celebrated by the various sects and types of Heathens internationally. These blots represent sacrifice and a sort of foremost homage to the Gods, wights and various other aspects within the lives of the practitioner(s). Largely, besides the blot itself- other ritual acts and even Nordic magical rites would be carried out to follow the celebration. Today, they can be done- as mentioned either in groups, within immediate kins, with select friends or even solitary. Blots are to be observed as distant, however similar to that of other sabbat frameworks.
Jol- "Yule" (Traditionally in Ylir, Now December 20 January 1) The beginning of Jol is actually the end of the Heathen year and is precisely twelve days long. The end of Jol marks the new year and is the third and final major annual sacrifice mentioned in Ynglinga Saga . Jolblot itself could be an entire blog of its own with how rich and diverse it is within the Nordic culture traditionally and even today. It is one of the more celebrated holy days out of all the major blots - as it is associated with nearly all of the Gods, Odinn and his various names/aspects, The Wild Hunt and even more notably Modraniht "Mothers Night". The Hof and homestead would be adorned with holly to ward off evil entities and a village would usually have a Yew tree placed in the mead hall or central gather to signify Yggdrasil, Nornir, wyrd and good fortune. Over the twelve days of Jol there were different festivities to coincide with the different facets, today one can closely follow these or can just do different offerings to their closely followed deities each day, enhance their craft, decorate their home with holly and a tree, have a fire pit or yule log, hymn/sing to the wights and ancestral spirits.
Thorrablot - (Traditionally in Thorr, Now the first week of January) Contrary to popular belief, this holiday is not to celebrate the God Thor (Thor). It actually is inspired from Orkneyinga Saga , where a Norwegian king named Thorri was said to have a blot held in his honor at mid-winter after his passing. The name Thorri has long been identified with that of Thor, or thunder personified when really he is the legendary descendant from Snaer (Snow). The modern holiday is often celebrated by an evening of feasting on traditional Icelandic or Scandinavian meals and reciting poetry amongst relatives, friends or yourself during the first week of January.
Goublot - (Traditionally in Goa, Now in Mid-February [21-24] ) This holiday is synonymous to something loosely translated to Wives Blot documented in a few of the sagas. As husbands, sons and kinsmen were expected to be extra appreciative and attentive to their wives and the other important women in their lives. This is not necessarily an excuse to wade on women or in a sense the belittlement of women- nor was it really the same as the contemporary affections of Mothers Day in the States, UK, Canada, etc. Lots of very consecrated sacrifices were made by both men, women and children during this time in honor of the many Giantesses, Goddesses, landvttir, and disir. Today one could bless their home, surround themselves with female family and friends, do an offering to female Jotunfolk, Vanafolk, or Asafolk, etc.
Disablot- "Disting" (Traditionally in Goa & Einmanuthr, Now overlaps Goublot & again in Mid-March) Disablot is interesting in the fact that many primary sources have evidence of it being celebrated throughout many points in the year, dependent on where in Scandinavia. Some sources suggest it was once a year overlapping Goublot while others say it was that with an additional celebration in the middle of what would now be the March month. Disablot is most commonly known as "Charming of the Plough"- honoring of the disir, respectfully. Disir are female ancestral spirits specifically to the Northern tradition. During this blot we make sacrifice of our labor to make the ground fertile to the Vanir so we may be able to produce plentiful harvest for the upcoming rest of the year. The Goddess known as Gefjon "Giver" was send by Odinn to plow all of the lands even Jotunheimr where she bore children and was given a giant oxen in turn for her work. Today one would raise their drinking horns to Gefjon and the Vanir, garden or give offerings of meat and effigy to the disir on an altar.
Sigrblot - (Traditionally in Harpa, Now April 21) Sigrblot is a blot/feast of remembrance for not a hero of particular victory but the symbolism of victory. In the Ynglinga saga , it was "one of three greatest blessings of the year considerably the first annual sacrifice. Victory mentioned was not only in battle but in life- happiness, success, prosperity, wealth, etc. As Harpa traditionally marked Sumar, many would give feasts and offerings to Freyja and Freyr from victory in harvest.
Midsummer - (Traditionally in Solmanuthr, Now June 20-21) Midsummer unlike most other Pagan and Polytheistic constructs was not very largely celebrated to the Vikings. Overtime Scandinavian countries such as Sweden has adopted a more folk-theme to honor St. John the Baptist as St. John's Eve or St. Han's Eve. In the Viking era, Vanafolk deities such as Nerthus, Kvasir, Freyja and Freyr were called on for worshiping heightened fertility of the land by dancing, feasting and the midsommarstang (midsummer's stang/pole).
Alfablot- "Vetrnaetr" (Traditionally in Gormanuthr, Now October 21-31) This blot marks the very first day of Vetur. Alfablot means "offering to the elves". The alfar are the elvish race in Northern tradition and the Norse Cosmology. This was yet another one of the three great sacrifices mentioned in the Ynglinga Saga and is thought to be one of the more unique holy days. It is to typically be associated with the God Freyr, who is seen as the barrier of souls and King of the alfar, the alfar and even the disir. Alfablot was essentially a harvest festival that tends to be a more private, familial rite described by Skalds who witnessed this particular blot- recorded in Austrfararvisur . Today one would recall stories of their ancestors, make an altar of their deceased relatives, drink mead, carry out mound-sitting, or perhaps preform valgaldr since the veil is thin between the spirits, the Gods and those of Midguard.
Lesser Heathen feasts are more associated with the Heathen sect of Asatru and were placed by their "Troth" associations. These are typically carried out as large gatherings in kinships and likewise troths of Asatruars however can be done by lone practitioners. Other Heathens who follow a different sect are very welcomed to celebrate them as well, many though feel that these days do not fit their over dogma/path as well to find them considerable enough to worship as equally as the main blots. Lesser feasts or "Days of Remembrance" typically were held as sumbels, professions and brags for fallen heroes of the Sagas.
- Remembrance for Eyvindr kinnrifi (February 9)
- Ragnar Lodbrok's Day (March 28)
- Remembrance for Haakon Sigurdsson (April 9)
- Remembrance for Guthrothr of Guthbrandsdal (May 9)
- Remembrance for Sigurd (June 9)
- Remembrance for Unnr the Deep-Minded (July 9)
- Remembrance for Radbod (August 9)
- Remembrance for Herman the Cheruscan (September 9)
- Remembrance for Erik the Red (October 28)
- Remembrance for Sigrid the Haughty (November 9)
- Remembrance for Egill Skallagrimsson (December 9)
What one partakes in is ultimatelytheirdecision. Those individuals who are in an organized or regular gatherings of practitioners of either various types of Heathens; or all of a specific sect typically have their celebrations planned out according to what the gothi/gythya (priest/ess) decides is necessary or as a unanimous decision of the group. Often what one chooses to incorporate in their practice is likewise very dependent on where they fall within their principles of Heathenry; either Universalists, Folkish, Tribalists, Traditionalists, Eclectic and so on.What also is very dependent is the sect themselves. The Germanic model of the Wheel of the Year, outlined by Asatruar Steven McNallen in the 1970s, is still commonly used by many Asatru troths/Asatruars. There are also blots which are even more conceptual to contemporary paths such as Lokean and Rokkatru, for example April Fools [April 1] being now a celebration of Lokisday. There are even additions to the Days of Remembrance by Our Troth published in 2006 which align with American-English Folk holidays such as the Feast of Vali on Valentine's Day or Einherjar Day on Veteran's Day to remember those soldiers of battle either fallen or who have served time in armed services. For perspective, a Forn Sidr is very much going to practice their blot or sumbel differently than perhaps a Odisnist, or a Thursatruar or even just a general Heathen. Not always, however it is open that- we are different but equal in our practices. So does celebrating them all make you a good heathen, sure. Does not celebrating them make you a good heathen- that's equally just as fine. You cultivate your own path, the Gods cannot do that for you nor can anyone else.
Sources & Additional Readings:
The Poetic Edda by Snorri Sturulson
The Prose Edda by Snorri Sturulson
Essential Asatru by Diana L Paxson
Elves, Wights, and Trolls: Studies Towards the Practice of Germanic Heathenry by Kveldulf Hagan Gundarsson