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5 Great Things to Heathens Can Do to Celebrate Eostre Anytime (and While Under Quarantine)

5 Great Things to Heathens Can Do to Celebrate Eostre Anytime (and While Under Quarantine)

Okay, by now you’re all probably sick and tired of the quarantines and stay-at-home directives. It’s no big thing for me because I’m a writer, and more importantly, an introvert. (Gosh, a writer with a scientific degree? An introvert? Unheard of!) Anyhow, while the Christians are bemoaning they can’t go to mass for Easter, we Heathens can still celebrate the month of Eostre. Even if you’re the sole Heathen among people of other faiths in your household, there’s no reason why you can’t enjoy yourself during this time. Here are five ways you can celebrate the Feast of Eostre (whether or not you believe she is a goddess):

1. Dye Eostre Eggs with Your Own Natural Dyes

This one takes a little bit of work and some ingredients, but the colors are spectacular and there’s no reason why you shouldn’t try it at least once. Most of the ingredients are probably already in your refrigerator or pantry. Here are some links to recipes for dyeing your eggs with natural ingredients that are completely safe (unless you have an allergy to particular food ingredients):

  • Kitchn has some eggcellent recipes for dyeing your eggs colors such as blue, pink, lavender, yellow, and orange. They tell you what your eggs will look like if you use white eggs or brown eggs. (Hint: use both and have a host of cool colors!)
  • Good Housekeeping has similar recipes, but includes a way to make your eggs dark blue. I like their suggestions.

Dyeing eggs with your own colors is more fun than using tablets out of a package. And you’ll probably like the results better.

2. Eostre Egg Hunts for the Kids (and Pets)

This one doesn’t have to be for kids only, but if you’re alone or staying home with your significant other and no one else, this isn’t probably as fun as it could be. Naturally if you have a yard, hiding eggs becomes easier, but you can also hide eggs in a specific room. If you hide eggs inside, be sure to have an egg count, otherwise you may be in for a nasty surprise (and smell) in a couple of weeks. And while you’re at it, if you have a pet, you might want to hide some treats for them and show them the first few treats, so they might get the idea of searching for treats. Dogs can usually figure this out, but I’m not discounting cats.

3. Have a Feast in Honor of the Gods and Goddesses of Spring

Whether or not you believe that Eostre was the Anglo Saxon goddess (or Ostara, a Germanic goddess) of spring and fertility, we can always hold a feast in honor of the gods and goddesses of spring. Roast a pig or ham in honor of Freyr, and dedicate the feast in honor of him, Freyja, Thor, Gerdr, Sif, and Idunn, among any other gods and goddesses you’d like to include. Even if you’re a solitary Heathen, you can make yourself some pork and make an offering or blot to the gods.

4. Get Your Garden Planted

Whether you live on a farm, in the suburbs, or in the city, you can have your own garden, even if it is only a container garden. In most parts of America, it’s warm enough to start seedlings outdoors, and for those of us who live in the colder climates, we can start them indoors. Not sure what to plant? Start with herbs. Most are easy enough to grow, and you can dry them and use them in a number of recipes and in rituals. Container gardens are great for apartment dwellers because they take up very little room and they are portable.

5. Meditate Outdoors

It’s springtime, which means that you should probably enjoy the outdoors. But with the quarantine, you may be pressed to find a spot where you can enjoy yourself. With meditation, you don’t need a big place to get away: your balcony or backyard will do. Or, if you’re not under a strict stay-at-home order, find a quiet place in a park or forest where you can be away from people and simply meditate. Never meditated before? Check out Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics. Meditate on the season and the world around you. It will help ground you as a Heathen plus put you more in touch with the gods and goddesses of Heathenry.

Okay, so now you have some things to do for celebrating the Feast of Eostre. Go, and have fun. And stuff yourself with chocolate bunnies, because I said so. Next post, I’ll give you ideas for keeping yourself and the kids busy while indoors.

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What You Need to Know about Yule

What You Need to Know about Yule

Yule is one of the biggest Heathen celebrations. If you’re new to Heathenism, chances are you know of Yule and maybe got a quick explanation. Or maybe you looked it up on the web. All good. But maybe you want to read about Yule from your Internet curmudgeon and rabble-rouser (That would be me). Seeing as this blog gets the most hits on winter solstice, I’ve finally wizened-up and will post more about Yule.

So, this year, I’m going to give you a nice list of Yule pieces I’ve written in the past and maybe some access to some freebies on December 21st. (Just another reason for you to visit this blog then, eh?)

Yule—What is It?

Yule is a midwinter celebration that occurs on the winter solstice and days following that day. Many pagan religions have some version of Yule to mark the time when the days go from getting shorter to growing longer again. In the northern hemisphere, it is a celebration of the light during the darkest month. It is in anticipation of Sunna taking more away from the dark and cold times and the return of Baldr, the god of the mid-summer sun.

Christmas borrows most of its trappings from pagans, and in particular, the old Heathen customs. Sure, Christmas now celebrates the birth of Christ, whom we have no really good idea when he was born, assuming he even existed. Even the Puritans outlawed Christmas for a time, because they recognized it as a pagan holiday. Man with a beard delivering presents? Yep, Heathen. Singing carols? Heathen. Christmas Ham? Heathen. Feasts? Heathen. Christmas tree? An old Germanic tradition that stems from Heathenry. Mistletoe? Heathen. Yule log? Well, you get the idea…

In fact, if your family is Christian, you can enjoy celebrating Christmas because it’s really Yule with some Christian dress-up. Just don’t be a smart-ass and tell your Christian family that or you’ll be sure to get a lump of coal this year.

A Very Brief History of Yule

We know that the Germanic peoples celebrated Yule at least as early as the 4th Century. Yule was typically held for 12 days, usually starting around the solstice. In the Norse calendar, the month of Yule was known as Ýlir. One of Odin’s many names is Jólnir (Yule-person), which has a the root Jól Yule), thus the association with Yule. During this time, Odin was said to lead the Wild Hunt through Midgard. In some places, children would leave hay in their stockings or shoes for Sleipnir and Odin would return the favor by leaving candy or presents. Yeah, it’s true: Odin is Santa.

In the Saga of Hákon the Good, we know that Yule had diminished to three days, starting at the winter solstice. According to the saga, King Haakon I was instrumental in Christianizing Norway and changing the date of Yule to match Christmas. We can easily see how Yule traditions blended into Christmas traditions as many Heathens became Christianized.

Although Christmas was celebrated in Europe, it really didn’t have the same look as it does now. We can thank Queen Victoria for adopting her husband’s (Prince Albert’s) German customs and making Christmas complete with Christmas trees and feasts. Furthermore, Charles Dickens recreated Christmas in A Christmas Carol.

The Wild Hunt and Yule

Like the Celts, Heathens believed in the Wild Hunt, but the leader of the Wild Hunt was Odin who led his hunters through Midgard. In many stories, he is joined by goddesses, most notably Holda (Frau Holle) and Berchta (Perchta). The Wild Hunt flew in the sky, but occasionally flew down to chase their prey close to the earth. In some places, if you came upon the Wild Hunt and failed to join them, bad things could happen. Or Odin might accidentally run you over on Sleipnir, which is why in some cultures you needed to lie down to avoid being hit by the horses’ hooves if they rode too close to the ground.

What they hunted is up for interpretation. People, souls, or game, the Wild Hunt was something to be feared. The current belief is that the souls of the dead ride with Odin, but I’m fuzzy as to what Odin is hunting. More souls? Possibly. Basically, it’s a time when the veil between the realm of the dead and our world is at its thinnest because of the darkness. This is why we celebrate Mother’s Night (Mōdraniht) on the 20th or 21st of December. Historically, it was celebrated on the 24th. We celebrate Mother’s Night in honor of the disir, our female ancestors.

Modern Yule Celebrations

There are plenty of awesome ways to celebrate Yule. I’ve outlined several in a couple of articles HERE and HERE. I really like Hugin’s Heathen Hof’s 12 Devotional Days of Yule. I think you’ll like them too.  Anyway, have a terrific Yule and be sure to check out my post on December 21st.

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.

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. 

Celebrating Yule with Non-Heathen Family Members

Celebrating Yule with Non-Heathen Family Members

Hunting season has drawn to a close, which means Yule is around the corner.  Suddenly, I’m going from Hunting to Yule once we celebrate Thanksgiving next week.  (Yeah, Thanksgiving gets preempted by hunting season.)  So, we celebrate Thanksgiving the week after.  After that, we’re in the few weeks before Yule, which means a busy time.

This year I told my non-Heathen, agnostic, mostly atheist, husband I wanted to celebrate Yule, too.  We were both raised in Catholic families (yeah, crazy) and we were both raised in the Christian tradition of Christmas. So, Yule will be somewhat new to him, and the prayers and offerings will be private.

Why I’m Keeping the Prayer and Offerings Private

Prayer and offerings are part of our beliefs, and yet, it can look strange to those outside of our religion. It’s not that I’m ashamed of my beliefs, it’s just that my husband doesn’t understand or believe in them.  Looking at it from an atheist perspective, I get it. It looks like a bunch of woo-woo to him and it can look like I’ve lost my marbles.  (Maybe I have?)  But I do get it.   Not everyone is going to look on our religion positively, which is why I’m presenting a more secular Yule to my family and not pushing my religion on those who aren’t interested in it.

Having grown up Catholic, the whole religious thing comes off as a way to either guilt someone or as a way to try to recruit them.  I don’t push my beliefs on someone who does not have them.

How I’m Planning to Celebrate Yule

One book I’ve found helpful in celebrating Yule is A Guide to Celebrating the 12 Days of Yule.  It’s worth the four bucks on Amazon to buy the eBook, if you’re really looking for ideas.  It offered some good ideas for me, so it might come in handy to you too.  I’m also blending other celebrations we’ve had in the past.

December 20th — Mother’s Night

I’ve never really celebrated Mother’s Night, except perhaps by baking stuff.  Yes, I’ll be baking cookies and desserts to prepare for the upcoming Yule. I’ll also be offering my female ancestors gifts on my altar.  When cooking, I often go into meditation and focus on my ancestors.  Sometimes, I’ll hear the ones who were closest to me in my mind.  It is a day to honor them, so I do things that they would appreciate.  Usually involves holiday preparations.

The Christmas/Yule Tree will already be up because I think it’s too much to try to get it put up during this time.  Apparently people who put up their Yule trees during Yule don’t have time issues.

December 21st — Solstice/Yule

This is a big day for me.  I will designate a Yule log to burn in my woodstove.  If I can find good twine, I may make it prettier with pine boughs and pine cones. I will put together a venison roast for dinner and we will crack open a mead to celebrate.  I may try my hand at making a yule log cake.  In the late evening, I will hold a blot outside for the gods.  I will also leave gifts to Sunna, Mani, Baldr, Loki, Tyr, and Skadi on my altar.  I may gather the ashes from the Yule log later to smudge the corners of the house for protection.  I will read the runes for the Solstice to get a feel as to what is to come for the new year.

December 24th — Christmas Eve

My family celebrates Christmas Eve and Christmas as a secular holiday rather than a religious one.  Given that we’ll already have the Christmas Tree up, we have another big meal (usually a venison or antelope roast) and more mead.  We exchange presents and open them up.  Again, another blot for the gods and the wights.

I like the Icelandic tradition of giving books on Christmas Eve for reading.  This is something I’d love to incorporate in my Yule plans.

December 25th — Christmas

We visit relatives in town and deliver presents.  We then come home and have a feast (again).  This time, it will be roast goose.  Usually, I plan on a pork roast in honor of Freyr, but this year, we have a couple of geese in the freezer, so we’ll have a traditional Dickens type of dinner.

December 31st — New Year’s Eve

New Year’s Eve has never been a big thing with me.  Even so, I’ll probably wait for the New Year and offer a blot to the gods as a thank you for the good things that happened this year and a prayer for a better upcoming year.  I will then read the runes for the upcoming year again.  Often the runes’ message coincides with what I learned earlier.

New Year’s Day

New Year’s Day may see me perform a salt ritual to protect the home and farmstead.

My Yule is Low Key (but not Loki)

Yule will be low key, and I prefer it that way.  It’s 12 days of festivities and of those 12 days, I celebrate at least three with special meals. The blots I choose to do in private.  The offerings will go on my altar and will be either left there, if not perishable, or left outside, if perishable, once I am done with them.  Plenty of critters outside will partake of the scraps.

My prayers are more spontaneous, than anything.  They come from the heart, and I do not write them down.  The salt ritual too isn’t written down, but I call upon the wights to protect the dwelling and barn, and to discourage those wights intent on harm.  It does seem to make a difference.

Celebrating with Non-Heathen Family Members

Obviously all my family members are non-Heathen, so I adjust my Yule celebrations toward the secular as well. The offerings and prayers are done when they are asleep (easy for me to do), and with those family members whom I visit at Christmastime, I focus more on seeing them and making them happy, not the religious side.  After all, Yule is a family holiday, whether celebrating the ancestors, like on Mother’s Night, or simply getting together with family and friends on Christmas. I’ve learned to take everything in stride on holidays because getting worked up about them is too much stress for me.

Let me know what you do for Yule in the comments and let me know if there are any traditions you do that are special.

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Four Ways to Make Easter Not Suck

Four Ways to Make Easter Not Suck

Easter has never been my favorite time, largely because it’s a Christian holiday that is pretty much a celebration of their death-cult god. Even when I was growing up, other than getting Easter baskets with lots of yummy chocolate, all I remember is having to get dressed up and go to church and afterwards a brunch that was maybe okay.  (Never mind the fact that ham was the main dish, ahem…in honor of Freyr.)

Sure, we can quibble whether Eostre was really an Anglo-Saxon goddess or not, but it really doesn’t matter much if you’re a solitary Heathen among Christians.  Sure, you can go through the motions and celebrate the season with family, but I’ve come up with some interesting ways to make Easter not suck.

Make Easter a Celebration to Freyr, Freyja, and Eostre


Okay, maybe Eostre existed in Anglo-Saxon lore, and maybe she didn’t.  That’s okay.  We know Freyr and Freyja exist and we can use Easter as a time to celebrate the gods and goddesses of spring.  That means creating yummy meals, doing blots, and celebrating like it’s a time to celebrate — that is, the beginning of new life.

Have a roast pig dish, crack open a bottle of mead, and celebrate the spring.  Got Christians in your family?  Well, how would they know this is for our gods and not theirs?

This past Yule, I didn’t get my Christmas cookies made, so I figure now is as good of time as any to make roll out cookies. Luckily I have more than just Christmas shapes.  In fact, one of my sisters gave me a Star Wars cookie cutter set, because nothing says Christmas like Star Wars.  So, I figure Easter is as good as any for cookies that I can enjoy. (ETA: Munching on them right now.)

Go Have Fun While the Christians are in Church

Look, not everything in the United States shuts down on Easter (I can’t say that with certainty in other countries), so why not catch that movie you’ve wanted to see, go to the attractions that are normally mobbed other times of the year, or plan doing something that is just plain fun while the Christians are getting the megadose of guilt in church?  Look, just because they’re insistent on getting all formal to impress other people in church doesn’t mean we have to sit around and mope.  Celebrate Easter with a favorite movie, meal, or go outdoors and enjoy nature.

Or do what we do, and go rabbit hunting.  “Hey, it’s the Easter bunny!”  Blam!

Sleep In

It’s Sunday, and unless you have to work on Easter, just sleep in and relax.  Nobody is telling you to get up for the crack of dawn sunrise service.  Look, you’ll probably be doing that on Winter Solstice and Summer Solstice, so why bother for a day that has no meaning to you?

Do Some Eostre Egg Dyeing and Hiding

If you feel the need to enjoy the holiday, why not hard boil some eggs and use natural dyes to color them?  Here are recipes which teach you how to make natural colored dyes easily.  If you do put on an Eostre egg hunt, be sure to count the number of eggs you hid. otherwise a few days later you’ll find the egg with your nose.

I am certain there are other things you can do to make Easter more enjoyable.  Let me know what you do.

How Heathens can Celebrate Easter with Christians

How Heathens can Celebrate Easter with Christians

If you’re like me, chances are you have Christian relatives who celebrate some form of the Christian holiday of Easter. If you’re the only Heathen in your family, you may get an earful about what is considered the most holy time that Christians celebrate.  Still, unless you’re looking to cut ties with your family–and I don’t recommend that–you may be looking for ways to enjoy the Easter celebrations.  If you’re a Heathen who loves to get into fights with family members over Christian holidays, or at least not willing to put aside your differences for one or two days, this post isn’t for you.

Let’s take a look at some of the ways you can get involved with minimal headaches.

Put Your Pride on the Back Burner (or Don’t be an Asshole)

Unless you have an extremely open-minded family/extended family, most of them are going to take a dim view of you not being Christian.  I’m sorry, but that’s the truth. They’ve been indoctrinated into the Christian belief system, and it’s unlikely you’re going to change their minds. You’re going to the Christian hell, and that’s all there is to it, (unless they can persuade you into the fold/back into the fold), and they really don’t get why you would worship pagan gods.  At this point, all you can do is grit your teeth and hope to get through the Christian talk without losing your cool.

That being said, understand that this is a Christian holiday, even if they took on the pagan trappings surrounding it.  Easter is considered to be more important to the Christian religions than Christmas, so realize that you are the outside here. It is you who is extended the olive branch, not them.  So, don’t expect for them to understand/accept you being Heathen in their most holy time.

Because this is their most holy time, mentioning the appropriation of Eostre’s holiday at the Easter dinner is probably not going to do you any favors. Yes, they eat ham, which honors Freyr, but let it slide. Yes, they decorate eggs.  Yes, they associate chicks and bunnies with Christ’s death and resurrection, but pointing out the incongruity of it all won’t cut it. If we want to maintain the peace in our celebrations, it is better to sit and listen rather than fight a foolish battle. This is their Easter–not ours, so let’s respect their religion, just like we’d want them to respect ours.

So, What Can You Enjoy?

At this point, you’re wondering what you can enjoy out of Easter.  There are a lot of cool things you can do and still be part of the Easter celebration.  Here are some of the things I recommend.

Egg Coloring

We color eggs for springtime, so there’s no reason why you can’t enjoy coloring eggs with your Christian family. Talking about spring and its renewal, as well as the cycle of life, is fairly safe.

Easter Egg Hunt

Why not hold an Easter egg hunt? Put together some of those plastic eggs and fill them with goodies. Hide them and watch as your family searches for them. You’ll all enjoy it.

Chicks and Bunnies

Whether live, toy, or simply drawings, the images of chicks and bunnies are pretty much safe territory.  You may want to talk about the Oschter Haws which was brought into Pennsylvania by German settlers. Avoiding the Urglaawe references, your Christian family may be delighted to learn that that’s where the Easter bunny who laid colorful eggs came from.

Easter Candy

Easter candy originates from clever marketing by candy makers in the 19th century to capitalize on an untapped market. There’s no reason for you to mention this, nor is there any reason why you can’t have some yummy candy in pagan symbols such as rabbits, chicks, and eggs.

Easter Brunch or Dinner

Never turn down a good feast, even if it’s in honor of a god you don’t follow.  All the trappings are Heathen, or at least, pagan, so enjoy spending time with family and friends. You may want to even bring some mead so your family may enjoy something a little different than the traditional grape wines. Toast to your family and to those family members who are no longer with you. You’ll be honoring the ancestors and still not offend your family.

Talk about Family, both Present and Past

Speaking of family, strike up a conversation about your family and your ancestors. Talk positively about them, or if someone in the family knows a particularly good story about an ancestor or a relative who is alive, encourage them to relay that story.  As the good Doctor says, “We’re all stories in the end. Just make it a good one.”

Listen to Your Family, Even if You Disagree with Them

If your family starts talking about Christianity, listen to them. You don’t have to agree with them, but when they tell you about their faith, they tell you about themselves. Ask questions. Ask why they believe what they believe, and don’t argue with them over their beliefs. You may discover that your mom believes in the Christian god because she finds comfort in a god who promises to care for her. Or your dad might actually not believe in the god but goes to church because the family does it. Or maybe your cousin is an atheist at heart.  You can learn a lot about your family just by listening.

Go to Church with them

This suggestion is somewhat dangerous when it comes to family, not because you’re likely to change your faith, but more likely because you may offend or get into an argument with a family member. Some Christians, most notably Catholics, have rules against participating in sacraments such as the Eucharist (the bread and wine) because they believe you must be of their denomination to participate. (It has to do with transmogrification, but that’s another long post.)

Why go to church with your family?  Well, first it puts you on the same page as your family members so if they discuss the sermon, you know what was said. Secondly, you can see Christianity with all its pagan influences.  Third, churches often have amazing artwork that is worth seeing.

Just sit and watch as they go through sitting, kneeling, and standing routines. Listen.  It may seem worthless, but in a way you are gathering intelligence about this religion. That way, you understand your family’s behavior a bit better.

Take Time Out for Our Gods, Wights, and Ancestors

I’ve given you ideas for keeping the peace with your Christian relatives.  But this isn’t about Heathenry, it’s about keeping the peace in your extended family. Before you join in the Easter festivities, make an offering to the gods, especially Frigga and Frau Holle, the wights, and your ancestors for a peaceful gathering. And thank them after the day for their help, especially if things went successfully.

Hopefully, I’ve given you ideas for staying sane around Christians during their holiday.  If, in the end, you do decide to try out some of these ideas, I’d be interested to learn how they worked out.

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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.

Has Heathenism Beaten Christianity?

Has Heathenism Beaten Christianity?

I got in a conversation with another pagan on Huginn’s Heathen Hof, and he had a different outlook on the whole Christianity versus Paganism argument.  It hit me as having some merit, so I’d thought I’d explore it more in depth.

The Argument

The person who put forth this argument to me was a Heathen and a Gnostic. (Let that sink in a bit before dismissing it outright.)  His basic argument was that Christianity at its beginning had nothing — no holidays, no formal sacraments, etc, — so it took from other religions.  In fact, it took so much from pagan religions that the pagan religions actually triumphed.  I’ve been mulling it over for some days and while I don’t think it’s entirely correct, I think it has some merit to at least think about.

Christianity at its Core

Christianity is, at its core, a death cult. It focuses not on rewards in the here and now, but after one dies. It even focuses on the gruesome torture and death of their god. While I think that knowing where you’re going when you die is important, I think that this life is just as important on how we live.  Yes, Christians do focus on how well behaved they should be because they will receive a reward in “heaven,” but honestly, it takes a fear of eternal punishment to behave correctly?  Think about that for a bit.

The major holiday that Christians have recognized since its inception would be Easter, that is the day when Christ allegedly rose from the dead.  We know that Easter arose from the Passover festival, around which Christ was allegedly crucified.  Easter follows Passover.   But we know that it took the name Eostre, and it may have borrowed the pagan trappings of festivals during that time, presumably to make it more palatable to the audience.

Yule and Christmas

We do know that Christmas was pretty much taken from pagan midwinter festivals, celebrating the celebrating the god of agriculture for a full month starting a week before the solstice.  We know that Christmas wasn’t instituted until the fourth century CE when the Church thought to take those midwinter festivals and sanction them.

return of the sun.  While us Heathens can lay claim to Yule, we aren’t the only ones that had midwinter celebrations.  The Romans had Saturnalia, which was spent

The Puritans actually banned Christmas (and the saints) because they recognized the pagan origins. For about 25 years England under Oliver Cromwell made Christmas illegal.  That joy was brought over with the Puritans who made Christmas illegal.  Such was the control of the Puritans that anyone found in Boston exhibiting the Christmas spirit during the years 1659 to 1681 could be fined. What a great bunch.

Incidentally, the Christmas tree came into vogue with Queen Victoria, taking the customs of her husband’s homeland.  The Christmas tree popped up around the 17th century in Germany have its, …ahem, roots in paganism.

Plenty of pagans have pointed to Odin’s ride, Slepnir’s eight legs changing into eight reindeer, and other similarities, that suggest Odin is Santa Claus, so I don’t need to go through that argument.

Harvest and Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving, itself, is more of an American holiday that was celebrated in New England for some time before Abraham Lincoln made it a national holiday in 1863.  George Washington issued the first national Thanksgiving proclamation in 1789, thus putting it on the table, so to speak, when it came to having a national day of thanks.  A quote from History.com:

Autumn Comments & Graphics
Image by Magickal Graphics

“As an annual celebration of the harvest and its bounty, moreover, Thanksgiving falls under a category of festivals that spans cultures, continents and millennia. In ancient times, the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans feasted and paid tribute to their gods after the fall harvest. Thanksgiving also bears a resemblance to the ancient Jewish harvest festival of Sukkot. Finally, historians have noted that Native Americans had a rich tradition of commemorating the fall harvest with feasting and merrymaking long before Europeans set foot on their shores.”

We have our own celebration of Harvest Home, so saying that Americans “invented” a harvest festival like Thanksgiving isn’t truthful.  Now, we did put our own spin on it, but in the end, it is the celebration of family and home, as well as harvest.

The Days of the Week

The months are named after Roman months (gods, Caesars, and numbers), but the days of the week were Roman names changed to our gods, with the exception of Saturday because people probably thought Ymirday might not catch on.  (Yeah, I know the story is that there’s no German equivalent to Saturn who was an agricultural god slain by Jupiter, but that’s another story for another time.) So, when we say we’re meeting someone on Thursday, we’re meeting them on Thor’s-day.

Saints versus Polytheism

Becoming Polytheistic was easy after being Catholic for me. Any religion that allows veneration of saints actually lost to the polytheism.  Even the Episcopalians have the saints and the time I went to an Episcopalian mass proved to me that they’re Catholics without a pope who allow divorces. We know that some saints were actually gods that got incorporated into the ranks of saints to make the religion more popular (such as Saint Bridget).  So, yeah, in some Christian religions, we got some of the gods and goddesses in.

Catholics will tell you that they do not worship saints. That is true at the highest level, but the line gets mighty blurred with the veneration of Mary and other saints.

So Did Heathenism Win?

That’s the million dollar question, isn’t it? I would argue yes and no.  In the long run, we still have the Christian god, complete with all the stupidity that has subjugated women, condoned slavery, and given us plenty of hangups due to the “do this or you go to hell” mentality.  I’m not saying that heathens were morally superior as we had slavery and human sacrifice, but most of us are willing to make the change in the right direction.

By the same token, we got our holidays and other pieces infiltrated into Christianity. People who celebrate the holidays are often celebrating the secular holidays rather than what their church would like them to celebrate.  Sure, they keep Jesus in Christmas, but seeing as the whole nativity scene is pretty much made up, and seeing we really don’t know much about the historical Jesus, or even if there was one, we can call it a myth and be done with it.

What it does say to me is that Heathens can celebrate those so-called Christian holidays and feel good about putting their own spin on things. At least, that’s how I look at it.

Added for Clarity:

The point the person made was that arguing whether or not to worship Christ was irrelevant because basically Christianity took all the trappings from pagans anyway. We can argue semantics, but that was his point. I was willing to consider his belief and came up with a yes and no observation. I rushed the conclusion, which perhaps I shouldn’t have done, but I wanted to get the piece out, late as it was.

That being said, I think he does have a point. Is it Heathenism under another flavor? No. Our gods are not revered, although one might be able to point out some obscure saints the Church may have created to appease Heathens. Is Christianity the same as it was when it was conceived? No. It is mostly pagan with the foundation of the Abrahamic faith. Depending on your beliefs in Asatru and Heathenism, you can argue that what parts of paganism was added is superficial. Maybe so, maybe not. I just found it an interesting opinion, and one I couldn’t completely dismiss.