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Did Our Ancestors Celebrate the Autumnal Equinox?

Did Our Ancestors Celebrate the Autumnal Equinox?

Yes, it’s that time of year: approaching the Autumnal Equinox. The world has gone into pumpkin spice everything, the weather has been shifting towards colder, and darkness is creeping up on us. Living in the Northern Rockies, I started noticing the shift in weather in August, and darkness has crept up on us. When we had light at almost 11 pm, we now have total darkness before 9 pm.

Even at less extreme latitudes, people probably notice the march toward the darker days. So one has to wonder if our northern ancestors celebrated the equinox.

The Equinox was a Time of Harvest

The Norse split the seasons into two: winter and summer. It makes sense, really, because there was just growing seasons and snow. As much as I’d like to think our ancestors marked the equinox, chances are they were too busy getting the harvest put up.

Right now, my own experience as a landholder tells me that people probably were concerned about getting prepared for winter. For my family, it is getting enough hay and firewood for the winter. The upcoming winter requires me to dry fruits and vegetables for use during the winter months and get them stored properly, because there are times I won’t be able to get to the grocery store.

For our ancestors, their experience was much more dire. They were their own store, meaning that if they didn’t have it, or if their family didn’t have it, they went without. Sure, they could (and did) hunt, fish, and slaughter their own animals, but if they didn’t have enough of a certain food, they went without.

In this day of local grocery markets, it kind of blows one’s mind to think if you didn’t have enough of something, that was too bad. That meant that harvest was exceedingly important because if it didn’t produce enough, you were screwed.

This is why our ancestors put so much emphasis into the seasons. The seasons governed their lives and dictated when they had to do certain things to survive.

Community was Important

Back then, community wasn’t just for socialization. It was the only means you could survive in that harsh climate. You did a lot of things, but there were other people whose expertise you relied on. Not everyone was a blacksmith, carpenter, hunter, cloth maker, or field worker. While there were many farmers, the farmers also needed their tools repaired, sick animals cared for, and furniture made. Sure, some people did it all, but many people traded things they made or grew for services.

People understood that in order to survive the harsh winters, one had to depend on the community. Without the kindred, there was a reasonable chance you wouldn’t make it to the spring.

Celebrating the Autumnal Equinox

As I said, I don’t think that people had a particular observance for the equinoxes during the Viking era. However given that our northern ancestors spread throughout Europe, Russia, the Middle East, and Africa, different customs arose. Since the autumnal equinox came around harvest times, it could’ve easily been incorporated in harvest celebrations. So, there is no reason why you can’t celebrate it as a Heathen.

Things to Do to Celebrate the Autumnal Equinox

There are plenty of things you can do to celebrate the autumnal equinox. Here are some ideas:

  • Plan a feast of locally harvested and in-season foods.
  • Decorate your home with pumpkins, autumn leaves, and other reminders of the season.
  • Make an offering to the gods — mead, harvested nuts, apples, and other in-season foods.
  • Can, dehydrate, and freeze foods for winter.
  • Go to a farm that allows you to pick your own apples or vegetables and do so.

Gods of the Autumnal Equinox

You should honor the gods of Autumn. You may wish to honor the following gods and goddesses:

  • Thor and Sif — for rains and the grain harvest.
  • Skadi and Ullr — for the fall and winter hunt, as well as snow sports.
  • Freyr and Freyja — for the harvest bounty.
  • Baldr and Hodr — for the balance of light and dark.

Let me know what you’re doing this equinox, if anything.

5 Ways Heathens Can Celebrate the Summer Solstice

5 Ways Heathens Can Celebrate the Summer Solstice

Ah, it’s already June again, which means we’re almost at Summer Solstice.  Saturday, June 20th is the solstice, which marks the longest day of the year. This is the time when we celebrate the spring and summer gods and goddesses such as Freyr, Freyja, Baldr, Thor, and Sif, as well as Sunna. Here are five ways you can enjoy the solstice, even though you may still have to be careful with COVID-19.

Get Up and Greet the Sunrise

Okay, this is for those early birds who can get up and greet the new day. Or, for those of us who are night owls, who stay up long enough to see dawn break.  The rest of you mere mortals will probably be a bit bleary-eyed for this. Even so, prepare a blot and offer it to Sunna, the wights, the ancestors, and to the gods and goddesses of summer.

Leave Summer Solstice Offerings to the Gods and Wights at Your Outdoor Altar

Thank the gods and goddesses for another year, and leave them offerings for good harvests and health. Don’t forget the wights and the ancestors either, especially when it comes to good harvests on the summer solstice. The local wights are said to make the difference between a good harvest and a bad one. So, even if you’re agnostic about wights, like I am, err on the part of superstition and offer them something. Don’t have an outdoor altar? Use this day to make one now! Follow this link for how to create an easy-to-make outdoor altar.

Do Something Outdoorsy

The best way to celebrate the summer solstice is to get outdoors and do something that helps you enjoy the long daylight. This includes simple things like taking a walk, going hiking, going fishing, or doing some type of activity that involves getting outdoors. With COVID-19, remember to keep your distance from people who are not in your household, and to wear masks if you’re heading somewhere people are present.

Sorry to be a killjoy about it, but we’re still in the midst of a pandemic. So, go outside, but do so responsibly.

Hold a Pork Feast for Your Family

Plan on preparing pork for your dinner on the summer solstice, whether it is pork chops, a pork roast, or even a ham. Pigs are special to Freyr, so having pork is a good way to celebrate the god.  So, crack open that bottle of mead and offer a toast to the gods, along with those who live with you to Sunna, Baldr, Freyja, and Freyr.

Tend to Your Garden

You do have a garden, don’t you? Even if it’s only a few herb pots or flowers, give them extra care today. Summer solstice is the longest day of the year when photosynthesis is at its peak due to all that sun. Even if it’s cloudy, the daylight provides extra time for growth.

I hope I’ve given you some cool ideas for this solstice. Let me know what you’re planning on doing for the summer solstice in the comments.

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How a God Inspired My Post

How a God Inspired My Post

Sometimes I’m at a total lost when it comes to what I should write for the Rational Heathen. I look over my past writings, peruse the pagan blogs, then the Christian and atheist blogs, and then end up playing Age of Empires. See? I really do work on this.

The past several days I was beating my head against the proverbial writing wall, so I just gave up and worked on some other things. Then, in the morning when I was waking up, I heard a god…

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The Meaning Behind the Death of Baldr and the Summer Solstice

The Meaning Behind the Death of Baldr and the Summer Solstice

One of the most iconic stories in Norse mythology is the death of Baldr.  It is probably the best known among Heathens and often recited by the anti-Lokeans as a way to justify why the Rokkatru are wrong to even consider venerating Loki and his ilk.  While I’m not Rokkatru (although I suppose someone can point to me being a follower of Skadi as being a Rokkatru), I do have a deeper analysis of why the story of Baldr’s death is more than face value.

The Story of Baldr

If you know the story of Baldr’s death, you can safely skip this section. Or, you can read it and pick my version of it apart. The story goes that Baldr, the son of Odin and Frigga, was the most fair of all the gods. So much so that he was beloved by everyone.  Everyone, of course, except Loki, who was mighty annoyed at so much love and reverence being passed out to Baldr.

Baldr had nightmares of his death.  Odin therefore went to Niflheim to consult a dead seeress to find out what was the cause of Baldr’s nightmares.  The seeress told Odin that that Baldr would die by Hodr’s hand (Hodr is the brother of Baldr).

Terrified of the prophecy, Frigga made it a mission to get every rock, stone, weapon, plant, and creature in the Nine Worlds to promise to never hurt Baldr.  Everything agreed to her satisfaction, so when it proved that nothing could harm him, the gods decided to make a game out of it.  They threw things at Baldr and the stones and spears would turn aside and not harm him.  Weapons would not cut him.  So they all gathered around and laughed while throwing things at him.

The Death of Baldr

Loki despised this, and so he went to Frigga disguised as an old woman.  He struck up a conversation with Frigga and asked about Baldr’s invincibility.  In the course of their conversation, Frigga admitted that she hadn’t asked the lowly mistletoe to swear an oath to not harm Baldr because it was weak and too young.  Loki then knew he had his weapon.  He left and fashioned a dart out of the mistletoe.

When he came back to the game the gods were still playing, he noticed that Hodr, Baldr’s blind brother, was not throwing things.  Loki offered to guide Hodr’s hand so he could throw something.  He put the mistletoe into Hodr’s hand. Hodr threw and the dart pierced Baldr’s heart.  Baldr fell dead.

Baldr went to Hel’s domain.  Odin sent his son, Hermod, to rescue Baldr from the dead.  Hel told Hermod that if everything truly wept for Baldr, she would release him.  Everything did, except the giantess Tokk, who was Loki is disguise.  Tokk told the messengers that Hel should keep what she has.  So, Baldr stays in Hel and it is the beginning of Ragnarok.  Baldr survives Ragnarok and is once more alive.

What Does the Death of Baldr Mean?

We can look at the story of the death of Baldr at face value, or we can look at it as a metaphor.  I prefer to look at it as a metaphor since our gods are clearly aligned with nature.  Even though they have distinct personalities, they are still gods of natural phenomenon.

The story of Baldr is the story of the seasons and the natural cycle of life.  Our northern ancestors revered the sun and its life-giving heat and warmth.  We know the summer solstice was a holy time for northern pagans — especially those who built monuments to the sun during the neolithic age. Baldr is clearly associated with the midsummer sun — the sun at solstice.  It is no surprise that his blind brother, Hodr (winter) slays him with the help of Loki (who is a chaos god) which brings about renewal (Ragnarok).  Baldr is the renewal of life and all the beauty associated with it.  Hodr is the old age and the impending death.  Loki (chaos and entropy) brings these changes about.

So, What Does this Have to do with the Upcoming Solstice?

You may be wondering why I bring this up with the summer solstice just around the corner.  Baldr is at his greatest power at that time, since we have the most daylight on that day.  While it is officially summer by meteorological terms, it is also the beginning of the end of increasing light.  Once the summer solstice has passed, the amount of daylight begins to dwindle until we reach the winter solstice, when the sunlight starts increasing again.

But the high point of the sun is the beginning of the end of the growing season, just like Baldr’s death is the beginning of Ragnarok.  Sure, we have plenty of growing and maturation of plants to come, but the waning light signals the end of spring and the beginning of maturation.  Maturation will culminate in the end of the growing season and the beginning of harvest.  The Northern Hemisphere marches toward darkness once more.

Sunshine and Mistletoe

It’s little wonder why the mistletoe is a symbol of the winter solstice, since it is the symbol of Baldr’s death.  But the winter solstice is also the symbol of the return of life.  We know that the days will grow longer again after December 21st, just as we know the days will start to grow shorter after June 21st.  So, this summer solstice, raise a horn or glass of mead to the god of rebirth and renewal.  Because we know that Baldr may “die” with the oncoming winter, but he will be reborn once again. (And the Christians thought that they were the only ones with a god who dies and is reborn?)

Let me know about your own insights into the death of Baldr and how you plan to celebrate the summer solstice.