Winter Nights – Vatrnætr

Full October Moon – October 9, 2022
We haven’t always used our current calendar system. This system marks the beginning of the New year right smack dab in the middle of winter. This wasn’t always so. The Gregorian calendar system was used by many cultures throughout history – and because of this, their year was centered upon the seasons, as well as specific days. For example, Halloween, or Samhain, actually marked the end of the year previous because of the shift in the season. The work was done, business was concluded, harvest was wrapping up and cold was setting in. Whatever unfinished business you had, you better hurry it up to avoid taking it into the new year with you.

Much like Samhain, the Nordic cultures observed Vetrnætr, or Winter Nights. It was a 3-day and night celebration, coming together as a community and feasting. It is a time that marked the closeness of death as the crops remaining in the fields died and it reminded folks of the veil between the worlds.

Many cultures saw this as a passive time; a time to put away the year and settle in for winter. Not the Nordic cultures. Oh no, this was not a time to be silent and sleepy – this was the perfect time to begin looking ahead to the future. Things were about to change. Long, hard winters were often on the horizon and this was a way to acknowledge this. As the veil thinned, Odin would begin his Wild Hunt. What better time to show Odin, and the Ancestors, just how much they were appreciated and valued during the year. A way to give thanks and gratitude. Great feasts often take place during this time, as well as sacred rituals, or blóts.

Álfablót was done during this time, with a sacrifice to the elves. This was usually conducted in private ceremonies at a family’s home, so there is quite a bit of mystery surrounding how these actually took place. But it is believed, and still practiced some today, that because of the time of year with all the animals being fat that making a sacrifice, likely cattle, would have been dedicated to the Ancestors. But no matter the meaning behind them, Álfablóts were very private affairs for each family and non-family members were usually excluded.

Because the view of women in Nordic traditions was so progressive, it is widely held that they would be the ones to carry out these rites. Women were held in exceptionally high regard as keepers of the entire household. They were also believed to the be the ones most capable of communing with the world beyond our sight. Valkyrie’s, the embodiment of the forces of life and death, are often honored at this time. This brings us to the second sacred ritual, a Disablót. This time, to honor the female Spirits and to thank the Goddesses for blessing the harvest and helping to ensure that the following year’s harvest would be as good, if not better.

This is also the perfect time to honor those ancestors with food, drink and energetic exchange offerings. The Nordic cultures practiced ‘sitting out’ or Utiseta. This is quite literally sitting out near the graves of your ancestors. Bring offerings and commune with them. What better way to show your gratitude?

Winter Nights is similar to Samhain in that children were encouraged to dress up. Ancestral spirits were often depicted as birds, ravens and owls.  

This also marks the beginning of the Wild Hunt, so what better time to actually go hunting for food.

And one last observance, no shaving until the Winter Solstice! Yes, men and women both!

To recap, Winter Nights is a time of honoring and veneration. We honor and venerate the Ancestors, the land spirits, the Gods/Goddesses, the ending of the harvest and the year. It is also about looking ahead to the brand-new year and all of the possibilities that lie before us.   

To celebrate, look to the God, Freyr. He is the God of Rain, Sunshine and Prosperity. As well as the Goddess, Skadi. She is the Goddess of Winter and the Hunt.


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