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Happy Thanksgiving!!

Happy Thanksgiving!!

As a Thanksgiving treat, I’m providing a list of articles I’ve written which covers Thanksgiving in some way. Check them out and have a Happy Thanksgiving!

 

 


 

Thanksgiving or Harvest?

Is it a Christian or Pagan celebration?

Is Thanksgiving Dying?

One pagan writer is concerned if Thanksgiving is being preempted by all the other distractions. My thoughts on this.

How to Celebrate Thanksgiving with Christian Relatives

Most of us Heathens have Christian relatives and friends. Here’s how to have a peaceful Thanksgiving.

The Month of Gormánuður or the Slaughter Month

The Month of Gormánuður or the Slaughter Month

By now, we’re in the midst of Gormánuður according to the old Norse calendar. It is the first month of winter according to the ancient calendar, and it is the month of slaughter or butchering. I figured that since I’ve talked about Haustmánuður, the Harvest Month, I should continue with the months…well,…monthly, so you can get a feeling of the ancient Norse year.

A Bit of History About Refrigeration (Stick with me on this)

Nowadays we have refrigeration, which is possibly why Gormánuður may be puzzling to some of you. After all, we can get meat year round and keep it in the freezer or refrigerator. And you’re probably quite aware that our ancestors didn’t have refrigeration until 1913–not that long ago–available for home use. Even then, owning a home refrigerator was expensive and it didn’t become popular until the 1930s. So, your recent ancestors probably had iceboxes–that is actual boxes that held ice to keep their food fresh. The icebox was invented and patented by a farmer in 1802. The original icebox was made from wood, rabbit skins, and lots of ice (duh!).  The icebox took off, and there even was a market for harvested lake ice up until the 1930s. These required ice houses that kept the ice together even during the summer months until the lakes started freezing over again.

As an aside, as a child I did hear adults use the term “icebox” for refrigerator, even though the days of the icebox were long since gone. I assumed that they meant “freezer” because that’s where you kept the ice. Yeah, that makes me older than dirt. Deal with it.

How Did Gormánuður Get Its Name?

So, how did Gormánuður get its name? Well, if you didn’t have refrigeration or even an icebox, slaughtering an animal was a bit problematic. You had to either slaughter and prepare the

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

animal right there or risk spoilage, or you had to wait until the weather was cool enough to keep the meat fresh. Since it was very expensive to feed animals during the winter months (using up valuable resources of hay and grain), most farmers slaughtered all but their breeding stock for the next year. That required a way to preserve the meat so it would last during the winter and into the early part of the summer.

In many climes, Gormánuður was cold, but not brutally cold yet. Although the days were significantly shorter, there was still daylight left. And you could pretty much count on the weather keeping your food cold before you could salt it and preserve it further.

Common Practice Even into the 20th Century

Image by JamesDeMers from Pixabay

Surprisingly, the idea of butchering meat in the fall was common practice until fairly recently. It wasn’t that uncommon for farms to slaughter pigs in the fall and store to have “pork sales” in the months leading up to Christmas and Yule. If you ever wondered why it’s still popular for people to have a Christmas ham, there you go. That, and our ancestors had a ham to celebrate Freyr during Yule and the increasing daylight. In fact, after hunting season, I’m going to be slaughtering goats and geese to reduce the herd. I suspect other farmers and ranchers out here do that out of necessity, too.

Nowadays, we see some of the remnants of this, but in the age of factory farming and a global economy, we can get foods we like anytime and don’t have to wait to get our favorite foods. All we have to do is shell out a bit more money to get what we want. When I buy foods, I tend to choose local, so the seasons are more apparent to me.

Ways to Celebrate Gormánuður

With Thanksgiving or Harvest coming up, celebrating Gormánuður is easy. Farmers and ranchers have raised turkeys to be slaughtered during the fall just in time for Thanksgiving and Christmas. While they’re not pigs, goats, or cattle, you can certainly go with the intent of the season. Here are some other ways to celebrate Gormánuður:

  • Look for deep deals on local pork.
  • Choose foods which would have been harvested in October and November as part of your Harvest meal.
  • Choose local foods over those imported from the gods know where.
  • Learn all you can about local farming and slaughter practices. Find those farmers who use sustainable methods and patronize them.
  • Hunt for your meat. You’ll have a learning curve if you don’t hunt, so if you can find a knowledgeable and ethical hunter who will let you tag along this year just to help them (and maybe get some yummy venison), do that.
  • Get your pantry stocked up for Yule.

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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!

 

How to Celebrate Thanksgiving with Christian Relatives

How to Celebrate Thanksgiving with Christian Relatives

It’s that time of year again.  It’s the time when we have to see our families, many of whom are of a Christian faith, and celebrate the holidays together.  If your family get togethers are something you dread, I have some recommendations for keeping true to being a Heathen while celebrating Thanksgiving.

Consider Your Support System

Oddly enough, how you handle Thanksgiving depends a lot on your family’s religious views.  If you’re the only Heathen and 20 relatives are Christian, you’re going to have a harder time than someone whose family is mostly Heathen, or their family is a mix of Christians, agnostics, Jews, Wiccans, and atheists.  You’re more likely to have more acceptance and more support with the latter two, since your family is at least used to the concepts of having relatives of different faiths.  This of course doesn’t account for those warring families who do not get along.  If you have one of those, I’d sincerely suggest you skip the holidays and celebrate it with like-minded friends or go out to eat.  Honestly, you don’t need that kind of stress in your life.

If You’re Having Thanksgiving at Your House

Having Thanksgiving at your house can be simple enough when it comes to celebrating it.  Consider it a harvest festival and look on it as a way to celebrate the end of hunting season, the end of harvest, and the beginning of the Yule month. Look at the images we use for Thanksgiving: turkey, cornucopia, pumpkins, gourds, fall leaves, and colorful Indian corn. Yes, we also use pilgrims and Native Americans as images as well, but if you want to avoid the Christian connotations, you can emphasize the friendship aspect.  If it hadn’t been for the Native Americans, it’s unlikely the pilgrims would have survived.

Because you’re inviting your relatives to your home, you have quite a bit of power when it comes to ground rules and behaviors.  Which means if they want to enjoy Thanksgiving with you, you can insist that there is no talk about religion and no arguments.  (And stick to this rule.  Yes, you may have to tell them to leave if they misbehave).

Here are some ideas for compromise:

  • Decorate your home with harvest images and nonreligious Thanksgiving images.
  • Make traditional recipes, plus recipes from Viking era feasts.
  • Serve mead.
  • When it comes time to say a prayer, ask that each of your guests silently pray.
  • End the prayer session by saying, “We give thanks for this food and for each other. Let us remember those who are no longer with us, and let us be thankful for the time we had with them.  I propose a toast to <name deceased family members and friends>”  (Yes, I know that many of us still consider our ancestors with us, but for the sake of euphemism, let’s leave it at “no longer with us.”
  • Focus on the positives with your Christian relatives.  Compliment new clothes, a tasty dish they brought, or a new style.  It’s hard to be negative toward someone who is complimenting you.
  • If someone brings us your Heathenry in a negative way, tell them gently that this is not the time to discuss it, and that you’ll be happy to talk to them about it later. If they insist, then remind them of the ground rules.  If they persist, you may have to tell them to leave if they are rude.

If You’re Having Thanksgiving at a Relative’s House


Unless you have some open-minded Christian relatives, or relatives that are basically agnostic but identify as Christian, you could be walking into some pretty dangerous territory if you’re the only Heathen in a majority of Christians — and they know it.  They also have a lot of power because you’ve come into their home.  It’s different than them coming to your home, because you are being hospitable to them and they are there by your graces.  As above,

  • Focus on the positives with your Christian relatives.  Compliment new clothes, a tasty dish they brought, or a new style.  It’s hard to be negative toward someone who is complimenting you.
  • If someone brings us your Heathenry in a negative way, tell them gently that this is not the time to discuss it, and that you’ll be happy to talk to them about it later.

If they don’t know you’re Heathen, keep a low profile and just go with the flow. You don’t have to say their prayers or talk religion, just keep the conversation at Thanksgiving and get profoundly interested on what is going on in their lives.  You’ll find that people — even your relatives — like to talk about themselves, so ask some questions, sit back, and listen.

If your relatives know you’re Heathen and are open minded — awesome.   You might even have an interesting discussion about faiths.  But again, you’re there for each other company and not a debating match.  Often if some other relatives who follow other faiths are there, it can be a very positive experience.

Observe Your Own Heathen Rituals

Before the guests arrive, or before you leave to attend a Thanksgiving dinner, take time to thank the gods, ancestors, and wights for their aid and support.  Offer them a prayer you wrote and meditate on how fortunate you’ve been over the year.  Even if you’ve had a difficult year, the fact that you’re alive and breathing may be enough to say thanks.  Let the gods help clear your thoughts and help you do what is right.  When the dinner has ended and you’re home and the guests (if any) are gone, offer a blot to the gods as a thanks.  Mead or wine works well.

A Few Words About Dogmatic or Fundamentalist Families

If you have staunchly Christian family, or a family that is dogmatic when it comes to their faith, and you don’t have something more important to do (like make ice), you can go to Thanksgiving dinner with them, but I don’t recommend it.  You can expect some sort of abuse if they’re the types who have taken exception to your choice in religion. No matter how hard you try to explain your side, they will not be enlightened enough to believe anything other than you are going to the Christian hell (or insert your relative’s religion’s version of fire and brimstone here). Unless there are ground rules in place, i.e., no talk of religion and no attempts at “intervention” or conversion, you will have a miserable time and feel like a prisoner trapped with a bunch of raving manics.

Okay, maybe that’s a little strong.  But you get my point.  I grew up in such a family where if you didn’t tow the line (whatever line that was), they used holidays to gang up on you and hammer away.  I wasn’t the only one brow beaten, either.  Oddly enough, it was not over religion, although my family has since been worried for “my eternal soul.”  Hels bells, kids, you can have a peaceful dinner at a restaurant for a lot less than the psychiatric counseling you’ll probably need after undergoing one of those holidays.  To this day, the memory of Easter where my family was mad at me for something (fuck if I can remember) and took it out on me and my husband, and then after we beat feet, took it out on my mother-in-law.  I stopped going to Easter dinners because of that (sorry, mom, I’ve got to wash my hair).

I know I’ve probably given you no hope when it comes to families, religion, and being a Heathen. But I want to point out that having really negative experiences over holidays make the holidays even more stressful than they should be. Maybe you’ve had better luck with your family than I have, but if you do have a family that is insistent on you converting to their religion, it’s an uphill battle to get them to accept you.

My Thanksgiving will be mostly not stressful because other than my husband, my relatives think I’m agnostic or atheist.  Which is fine by me. The gods know where I stand, and that’s fine by me.

You can have a fairly stress-free holiday, and I hope you have a great Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving or Harvest?

Thanksgiving or Harvest?

Thanks to Magickal Graphics.

Thanksgiving is often touted as a truly traditional American holiday. As Heathens, we should be quick to note the overall similarities between Thanksgiving and harvest celebrations, but is Thanksgiving truly a harvest celebration, or is it mired in Christian beliefs to the point where we should just ignore it for something else like Freyfaxi?  Here are some of my thoughts.

A Brief History of Thanksgiving

Unless you’re from a country outside of the United States, you’ve heard the story of the Mayflower and the Pilgrims, so I won’t bother repeating what is common knowledge. For those who either live under a rock, or in another country, (or maybe both) here is a nice piece by The History Channel.

Thanks to Magickal Graphics.

But thanksgiving celebrations were common in the New World even before the Mayflower showed up at Plymouth Rock in 1620. Jamestown had thanksgiving celebrations as early as 1607.  Before that, the French and the Spaniards had thanksgiving celebrations in the 1500s.  So, the Pilgrims were not exclusive when it came to thanking the Christian god for harvest, victory over enemies, or any time someone wanted a party. The pilgrims had a thanksgiving celebration in 1621 and again in 1623. The second thanksgiving probably  sparked the observances.

Okay, Maybe Not So Brief…

People in different states, particularly in New England, had thanksgiving celebrations after that time. George Washington requested a thanksgiving celebration in 1777 in December after the colonial army’s victory against the British at Saratoga. There were national proclamations for thanksgiving in 1782, but it was more a day of prayer.  In 1789, Washington declared November 26th to be a day of thanksgiving. But this was a one-time shot which he declared again in 1795. Later presidents also declared days of thanksgiving.

It wasn’t until 1863 when Abraham Lincoln fixed the national holiday of Thanksgiving as the last Thursday of the November. Franklin D. Roosevelt tinkered with the holiday date as making it the fourth Thursday of the month because November occasionally had five Thursdays.

So Where Does Harvest Fit In?

Thanks to Magickal Graphics.

Originally, the pilgrims probably held thanksgiving in September or October to coincide with harvest and to give thanks to the Christian god for their food. The British harvest festival, celebrated around the equinox since pagan times, no doubt inspired the pilgrims’ day of thanks. So, is our celebration Harvest or Thanksgiving?

Well, the answer depends. If you take it purely from the American historical perspective, then yeah, we can say that the holiday is Christian. All the Christian trappings pretty much tie into Thanksgiving nicely. But if we look at the original harvest traditions that inspired Thanksgiving, we can accept it as a pagan holiday, even if the celebration is during a month when the fields are already fallow for the winter. There are certainly great harvest traditions that we can add to Thanksgiving to give it more meaning besides eating turkey and pumpkin pie. Giving thanks to our gods and goddesses for making the food possible is never a bad thing.