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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.

 

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8 Ways to Celebrate Yule for the Solitary Heathen

8 Ways to Celebrate Yule for the Solitary Heathen

Yule is one of our biggest celebrations as Heathens, but if you’re a solitary Heathen, like I am, you may be wondering how in the Hel you can celebrate it.  So, I’m offering ways you can enjoy Yule, even if you’re a solitary Heathen.

Greet the Sun on the Solstice

If you’re a morning person, you might want to get up before the dawn and greet the sun.  Or, if you’re a crazy bastard, you can stay up and greet the dawn from the other side.  Either way, you get to greet the sun on the solstice.  Write a prayer or poem to the sun and read it out loud, or just maybe say a few heartfelt words to the sun.  Maybe you’re not one for words, but maybe you can read the story how Sunna was put to drive the sun’s chariot each day.  Do what feels right to you.

Honor the Ancestors

Mother’s Night is December 20th — a day when we honor all female ancestors who came before us.  Even if you do not have recent ancestors you wish to venerate, you can offer food, mead, and other gifts to distant ancestors, both known and unknown, thanking them because without them, you would not be here.  You can also offer gifts to the gods, whom many of us look on as our ancestors as well.

Bake Yule Cookies

Nowadays with so many types of cookie cutouts, you’re sure to find cookie cutouts that have no Christian significance.  Snowmen, reindeer, Yule trees, stars, are all pretty common.  Hel, I bet you could make an angel into a Valkyrie easily. Your non-Heathen friends and family members won’t care about the shapes either.

Make Some Mead

If you have any time off this holiday season, it’s time to get some decent local honey and make some mead.  Never made mead before?  What is wrong with you?  Making basic mead is relatively easy, and once you get the hang of it, you’ll be wondering what kept you from making it for so long.  And while it won’t be ready for this holiday, it’ll be ready for spring.  Even a gallon of must makes 5 to 6 bottles of mead, so what are you waiting for?  Here’s a mead making kit for you. 

You also might find this book useful too.

Drink Some Mead

Okay, so what do you do in the meantime while you’re waiting for your mead to ferment?  Why not enjoy some mead?  Don’t have any?  That’s okay.  You should be able to find someplace that carries esoteric wines like mead in your city or town.  Have it ordered, if you really can’t find a place that carries it.  Or order online.  One meadery who will ship is Hidden Legend.

Make a Yule Feast

Just because you’re the only Heathen around doesn’t mean you can’t share a Yule feast with your family and friends.  Invite your friends over on the solstice for a Yule feast, complete with mead.  Bake a ham or pork roast and enjoy the holiday with good friends and family.  Most people have obligations starting Christmas Eve, so having a celebration for the holidays ahead of the total Christmas thing may be welcomed.

Offer a Blot to the Gods

Offer a blot to the gods this solstice.  Write out your prayers or let them come from the heart.  Either way, make it personal and heartfelt.  Remember each god you honor and those who have helped you in the past year.

Remember the Wights

Whether or not you believe in the wights, now is the time to offer the Tomte and the Nisse as well as any house elves porridge (with a pat of butter).  These critters also like milk, cookies, chocolate (keep out of reach of pets), and other gifts. 

Gods or Ancestors?

Gods or Ancestors?

Occasionally I get a comment from someone who’s convinced that the gods don’t talk to us mere mortals that often.  That most people who deal with the gods are actually dealing with the ancestors.  It’s an interesting part of Heathenry I think is worth addressing. Are Heathens receiving messages from gods or ancestors?

Actually, I think it’s both.

The Unknown Gods

Before I get into the supposition that the gods are with us, let me address the personal nature of the gods, themselves.  There are Heathens who believe that our gods really aren’t personal deities.  That the concept of a personal deity comes from Christianity and those concepts taint our modern day beliefs.  There is some truth to that.  The gods aren’t just the gods of humanity, but the gods of all things.  In fact, I suspect that there are gods we humans do not know.  We don’t know them not because our knowledge of them disappeared, but because we never knew them to begin with.  I suspect there are gods who do not deal with humans at all, who instead govern other things and animals other than ourselves.  They are never in contact with us, except maybe if we touch their realms.

Not the Gods I’m Talking About

These aforementioned gods that have very little to do with humanity are not the gods I am talking about. The gods I am talking about are the gods who have made themselves known to humans.  Who still make themselves known to humans. Odin, Thor, Freyja, Freyr, Tyr, Loki, Baldr, Skadi, Ullr, Heimdallr,…the list goes on.  We would not know them if we did not have contact with them. Sure, you could say that hearing thunder and calling it a god is the basis for Thor, but then, why bother to have positive connotations with a thunder god if he didn’t somehow look benevolently on humans?

So, we can assume that the gods we know have had interactions with humans.  Who still do have interactions with humans. When someone tells me that they’ve interacted with certain deities, I generally accept their word.  Not because I’m gullible, but because unless they give me a real reason to disbelieve them, who am I to say otherwise?  I’ve talked with gods and goddesses and I already knew some things that the people who had a UPG told me, so if something doesn’t sound right, I might have to ask further questions.

Is it a God?

I know that gods have taken other forms to get their message through to their recipients, so it would not surprise me if ancestors do the same thing.  Could an ancestor mimic a god?  Yes, I know of one case where it has happened, and not for the better. There are plenty of not so benevolent spirits out there looking to cause harm, but it’s pretty obvious when they do show up.

One way to tell if it is really a god is to consider the following:

  • Do they act like the gods/goddesses of our stories and of other people’s credible UPGs?  Yes, there have been interactions with gods/goddesses that all seem to have the same feeling.  Or are they different, and in what ways?
  • Does the deity ask you to do something harmful to yourself or others?  If they do, you may not be dealing with the entity you think you’re dealing with.  Chances are its malevolent and you need to get away from it.
  • Does the entity inform you who they are?  Some spirits do lie, but you have a better chance in deciding if you’re really dealing with the god just by research and talking to knowledgeable folks.
  • Does a Gothi/Gythia confirm your experience?
  • How does the god treat you?  Is it in line with what you know of the god?

My Own Experience with the Gods

The gods are an interesting bunch.  Some will just pop in to say hello or see what is going on, but most are reserved and only show up at times they deem is suitable. They seldom come when you call –remember, they’re not your bitches.  Even if you ask nicely, you can get complete crickets.  They may have more important things to pay attention to.  Like the entire universe.

Some landvaettir may also come into contact with you.  While you might not consider them gods, per se, they are tutelary spirits who have powers.  You may not find them as powerful as someone like Thor or Odin, but in many cases they may be able to help or harm you, depending on your relationship with them.  That being said, I am firmly agnostic when it comes to landvaettir.  I haven’t seen one, but I have had odd situations that maybe could suggest them.

The gods do occasionally mimic other gods in other pantheons.  Odin and Loki, in particular, will shape change to whatever god you believe in to give you information, if you believe in another deity and not them.  (Yes, I’ve had that happen.)  Tyr will do that too for those who he wants to be his followers.  (Again, that’s my experience and your mileage may vary.)  Depending on the person, they may do this in order to give you information you need and if you’re only open to Jesus or Yahweh, then that’s where they go.

 

Is it an Ancestor?

You could be contacted through an ancestor.  It’s not all that unusual.  If it is an ancestor who has benevolent intentions, you should definitely get a name or an understanding of who or what they are.  They shouldn’t be passing themselves off as a god. If they are, I wouldn’t want to deal with them simply because of the dishonesty.

Ancestors are pretty much what they were when they were alive.  If they were a son-of-a-bitch when they were alive, they’re still a son-of-a-bitch–maybe more so, because they’re cranky they’re dead.  Some ancestors you don’t want to deal with; others are just fine. Regardless, it should be pretty damn obvious if Uncle Milton makes a call.  He shouldn’t be saying he’s Loki or Odin or whomever–if he is, tell him to go the Hel away.

My Own Experience with Ancestors

I’ve spoken to my closest ancestors and have had feelings and intentions from them.  I’ve also had dreams with an ancestor in them, usually in the form of talking with them about certain things.  Not all dealings with those ancestors have been pleasant; I’ve annoyed them the same way I did back when they were alive. They were in shock when they went to Helheim instead of the Christian heaven or hell.  (Despite them being devout Catholics and not pagans.)  This along with other bits of knowledge has led me to conclude that the Christian beliefs aren’t real and our beliefs are more in line with reality.  Call it UPG or whatever, but I’m convinced that if there was a Jesus and if there is a Yahweh, it is a deceptive god.

Are ancestors more receptive than gods?  In most cases, yes, but you should be careful with them until you get to know who exactly is knocking on the door. Some ancestors you definitely don’t want.

So, the gods do talk to humans.  The landvaettir talk to humans.  The ancestors talk to humans.  They’re a rather chatty bunch — the lot of them.   It’s just up to you to listen.

 

Modern Medicine or Why You Really Don’t Want to Go Back to Our Ancestors’ Time

Modern Medicine or Why You Really Don’t Want to Go Back to Our Ancestors’ Time

This spring I had a lesson on why the good old days weren’t that great. Having dealt with the realities of raising livestock, I’ve become far more appreciative of modern medicine, and science, in general.  Not that I wasn’t appreciative of science to begin with, but when you see it in action, it changes your worldview.  And you start to realize just how tough our ancestors had it then. You also realize how unlikely it was to see 50 years old back then.

You see, I raise goats.  This, in and of itself shouldn’t necessarily bring up modern medicine, but if you want to see how science can improve your life, try animal husbandry. And sadly, for the past several years I’ve had a 50 percent attrition rate (or worse) on the kids.  This year ended up being different.

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