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What Autumn Meant to Our Ancestors

What Autumn Meant to Our Ancestors

Now that Haustblot (or Harvest or Winter Finding) has come and gone, you’re probably saying, “Okay, autumn is here, so what?” After all, with the exception of pumpkin spice-flavored everything or school starting, fall is pretty much a non-issue in our lives today. Sure, we see cooler weather and the leaves turn, but really, other than that, we really don’t see anything particularly special about autumn.

And that’s a shame. Why? Because autumn was an important part of our ancestors’ lives, even if they considered it as part of summer or winter.

Why Autumn Was Important to Our Ancestors

First, our ancestors lived on an Earth with a warmer climate. (Yeah, I don’t want to go into the climate change politics, so we’re so not going there.) Earth was about 1 degrees Celsius warmer than it is today during the Medieval warming period. (That’s about 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit for us Americans.) The Medieval warming period happened between 900 to 1300 CE, which doesn’t cover the time before that, but it was certainly warmer than when the Little Ice Age took hold. Before the Little Ice Age, our ancestors dealt with better conditions for farming, but it was often dicey. Bad harvests meant everyone would starve during the winter, including the animals. Good harvests meant that you had a fighting chance for seeing the next winter. Winter was still cold and difficult, so our ancestors used fall to prepare for the upcoming cold and dark months.

Storing for Winter

Harvest wasn’t the only thing that happened in the fall. As the temperatures plummeted, people would slaughter and preserve most of their meat for the upcoming winter. Having storehouses where you kept your smoked and salted meats for winter naturally kept the meat cold. The fall temperatures often dipped below freezing, but on days when the temperatures were above freezing, the air still acted like a refrigerator. Smoking and salting were ways of stabilizing the meat so it didn’t turn rancid during the occasional temperatures fluctuations. Hence, hunting for big game often happened in the fall and winter months. Unless you were planning on eating the whole critter in a few days, you really had no way to preserve the meat during the summer months, unless you were drying it. Hence eating small game and young animals were more fitting for the spring and summer months.

During this time, people were busy drying fruits and vegetables. Canning hadn’t been invented until the Napoleonic Wars, so that didn’t happen. People did store in what food they preserved for the upcoming winter months, presumably in precursors to root cellars. They ground grain into flour. It could be stored as flour or baked into bread, which usually stored okay, at least if it was too cold for mold to grow. Grain was also made into ale, which our Northern ancestors drank quite a bit.  Milk was processed into cheese. Cheese stores better than milk, so they could have fresh dairy once the cows or goats stopped producing. Often, they slaughtered their milking cows to reduce the herd so they didn’t have to feed so many animals. (The cow’ heifer it calved the previous spring usually replaced the cow.)

What Northern Peoples Did in Autumn

Beyond hunting and foraging for food as well as harvesting and preserving food, the Northern peoples spent time enjoying themselves too. Those who lived in the Viking era enjoyed playing board games, drinking games, and other indoor games when the weather got too cold or in the evenings when they had a little time to relax. When they had free time outside and the weather wasn’t too cold or snowy, they’d practice fighting and even hold mock battles to improve their skills. Some of these “games” ended up pretty bloody.

Our Northern ancestors were into telling stories and creating poetry during these times. The sagas and poetry we have show how our ancestors loved a good story.

When the ponds and lakes froze over, they’d strap bones or short pieces of metal to their feet and ice skate. Of course, there were contests to see how fast one could skate across the ice. Northern peoples often used skis or snowshoes to travel and get around. So our ancestors could still hunt and do other activities outdoors.

How You Can Enjoy the Autumn…Like a Viking!*

If you live in urban or suburban areas, chances are you don’t have to prepare much for winter besides dusting off your fall wardrobe. The local coffee shop now has pumpkin-spiced lattes and Hel, even Siggi’s Skyr Yogurt has Pumpkin & Spice skyr. (Now, isn’t that oxymoronic?) But if you have a farmer’s market near you or a particularly good sale at the local supermarket on fall produce, now is the time to stock up and make some jams, dry some foods, or stick some foods in the freezer. Get that honey and start your mead for Yule.

If you’re a writer—or even if you’re not—spend some time writing or making up stories that you can tell to entertain your family and friends. Hel, you might even have something that’s worth putting online and sharing. You never know.

If you hunt, now is the time to prepare for hunting season. If your season is in full swing, it’s time to get out there and get some food for the table. This year, pick up a book on how to butcher your deer, if you’ve never done it before. I like Making the Most of Your Deer. There are other books which work too. Butcher and wrap your deer. I guarantee there will be a lot less waste.

As the nights get longer, consider dusting off those board games or picking up some new ones, and having a gamer’s Friday or Saturday night. Invite over your friends or play board games with your family. Have a one night of being unplugged and force them to have to deal with you. (Hide the weapons!)

My point is that autumn was an important time to our ancestors and by doing some simple things, you can be more of a Heathen and offer respect to our ancestors, even though in our modern society we don’t necessarily have to do these things.  By incorporating these little things in our lives, we can get in touch with what our ancestors did to survive.

*The game is to add “like a Viking” to the last thing you did.

 

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase something from these links, I get a small stipend which helps support The Rational Heathen. I would encourage you to support my site.  Thanks.

 

The Month of Haustmánuður

The Month of Haustmánuður

I was checking out a site on the Viking Age and ran across an old Norse calendar. For all intents and purposes, the month we’re in is Haustmánuður, and it was considered the last month of summer. Apparently our Nordic ancestors divided the year into summer and winter, rather than the four seasons like we do now. They also followed the lunar calendar, going either from new moon to new moon or full moon to full moon. This month, Haustmánuður, is the Harvest Month. It is considered the last month of the Nordic calendar.

When Did the Harvest Month Haustmánuður Occur?

According to the Icelandic Wikipedia, Haustmánuður comes on the 23rd week of summer on a Thursday, which puts it roughly between the 21st and the 27th of September.  In 2019, that puts Haustmánuður on September 26th. If we go with the full moon lunar cycle, that would put the full moon in September at September 14th.  The new moon lunar cycle starts Haustmánuður on September 28th, which would make Yule that much closer to the Winter Solstice.

Why the Harvest Month?

You may have noticed that the Viking Age Norse tended to put a lot of stock in harvests and planting. Despite the Vikings’ fearsome reputation, most Nordic peoples were farmers, looking to eek out a living in a very harsh  climate. Since the weather was either warm or cold, they needed to grow all their crops during the “summer” months to prepare for the brutally hard winter. Harvest was important to the Northern peoples because if you didn’t get enough put up for the winter, chances are you would starve. So, harvest became an important time, and our harvest gods were just as important. A good harvest meant everyone could eat and hopefully survive the winter. A bad harvest meant that you’d be lucky enough to see the spring. So, harvest festivals were important because they celebrated a good harvest and gave thanks to the deities who blessed the farmer with the harvest’s bounty.

Making Harvest Relevant Today

At this point, you’re probably thinking that harvest isn’t as applicable as it was even 100 years ago. And to a certain extent, you’d be right. Most people can go to their local supermarket and buy whatever it is they need, regardless of whether or not it’s in season where they live. The economy has become global, with being able to buy just about anything from anywhere. It might be fall in the Northern Hemisphere, but in the Summer Hemisphere, it’s Spring. Hothouses allow growing plants throughout the year. You no longer have to wait for slaughter time to get meat to put up. Hel, you don’t even have to store food for the upcoming winter months. So, how can we make Haustmánuður and Winter Finding relevant?

If you grow even some of your own food, you may have a sense as to when it’s time to harvest your garden before the upcoming frost. Don’t let that food go to waste; can, freeze, or dehydrate it so that you can use it in the upcoming winter months. If you don’t have a garden, you can still buy local foods from your farmer’s market and celebrate their harvest with your own feast. Be glad that there are farmers who provide food for you, because without them, you would starve. Even if you can’t have a feast that is made up of local foods, just having some in your meal will put you in touch with both the seasons and your ancestors.

Don’t Forget to Thank the Harvest Gods and Goddesses in Haustmánuður

During Haustmánuður, hold a blot for those gods and goddesses who blessed the harvest. Freyr, Freyja, Sif, Thor, and Gerðr are all deities of the harvest and we should thank them for the bounty. We should also thank the wights and the farmers; without them, there would be no harvest. We should also thank our ancestors for their knowledge and their perseverance in growing crops, because without their skills, they would not have survived and we would not be here.

Enjoy Haustmánuður  and Winter Finding, my friends!

 

When the Muse is a Bitch, or Equinox, Chickens, and Flipping the Switch

When the Muse is a Bitch, or Equinox, Chickens, and Flipping the Switch

It had been miserably hot and smoky here in the Rational Heathen’s neck of the woods.  With all the fires, no rain, and hot temperatures, the whole area could go up in flames with a spark.  That’s how tinder dry the Northern Rockies have been.  So, when the weather shamans at the National Weather Service said we were in for a change, it was none too soon…

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Celebrating the Autumnal Equinox, Mabon, or Winter Finding

Celebrating the Autumnal Equinox, Mabon, or Winter Finding

Our next big seasonal date to look forward to is the Autumnal or Autumn Equinox in the northern

hemisphere.  Often called Mabon or Winter Finding by pagans, there are a lot of good reasons to celebrate the season.

Mabon or Autumn(al) Equinox takes its name from a Welsh god, rather than a Norse one, but seeing as many of the Northern gods are interconnected, I’m hesitant to dismiss the name or the celebration outright. A later name for Mabon is Winter Finding to make it more Asatru-like. That being said, our celebration may have “Wiccatru” roots, which if you’re a recon, you may simply disdain the idea of celebrating it and move onto something more “authentic.”  That’s cool, but holidays do shift around, and I suspect late harvest was also celebrated by our ancestors.

Plus, it’s as good of time as any to celebrate the end of the growing season and the arrival of fall.

What the Autumnal Equinox is

The autumn equinox marks the official beginning of autumn.  Never mind that you’ve felt a shift in weather patterns sometime in August or early September, we generally consider the equinox to be the beginning of fall. The equinox, for those curious, isn’t when the day is equally night and day, although it’s damn close and I’d say for all intents and purposes, we can call it that.  What the equinox actually marks is when the sun crosses the celestial equator for the first time since spring equinox.  The celestial equator is an imaginary line above the planet above the actual equator.  The sun doesn’t really move relative to the solar system–our planet moves.  Our planet is tilted so that when it reaches a certain point in its revolution around the sun, the sun dips to the south on the autumn equinox and moves to the north on the vernal or spring equinox. It’s at this point we start really racing toward less light, although the summer solstice marks the high point of the daylight hours and we begin decreasing light after that.

The earth is actually spinning like a top, only relatively slower because of the magnitude.  The pole actually wobbles and will be in a different place about 10000 years from now. 

So, Did Our Ancestors Celebrate Winter Finding?

If you want to be really picky, chances are Winter Finding wasn’t celebrated.  Instead, our ancestors may have celebrated Alfarblót which occurred around October 22nd.  Alfarblót was a more private affair for families, even though it was a harvest festival that honored Freyr and Freyja. Sort of a Thanksgiving for Heathens.

So, if they didn’t celebrate Winter Finding, should we ignore it?  Probably not.  It is, after all, the equinox, which means it’s a good of time as any to have a celebration.  It’s a goodbye to summer and hello to the autumn.  It’s also a good time to bid farewell to the harvest.  I read that it’s a good time to get mead started (yeah, I can see that) in time for Yule.  So, maybe the equinox is a time for a community harvest celebration and Alfarblót for a more private celebration?

Then, What Should We Do with Thanksgiving? 

Thanks to Magickal Graphics

The November Thanksgiving is an American holiday that has its roots in harvest festivals but has been co-opted by Christians to give thanks to their god. I suppose as a Heathen one could get stubborn and decide to not celebrate it since the fields are most likely fallow and the foods have been already put up. But at the same time, hunting season is mostly over, which gives us another bounty–game meat.  I actually delay having Thanksgiving because hunting ends that Sunday after.  Who says we can’t use it to thank Skadi and Ullr for a successful hunt?

It even makes a lot of sense, given that fall turkey puts some birds in the freezer.  So, maybe celebrate it as the end of hunting season and the start of preparing for Yule might be appropriate.

I hope I’ve given some good reasons to celebrate the autumn equinox.  Do you celebrate Mabon, Winter Finding, or the autumnal equinox as a Heathen?  I’d love to hear what you do.