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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!