The ancient Germanic/Norse year was divided into two seasons: Summer and Winter. Summer began at the festival of Eostre, close to the Spring Equinox, and Winter began at the festival of Winternights, close to the Autumn Equinox.
Between these two festivals was the festival of Midsummer (Lithasblot) at the Summer Solstice, and the festival of Jul (Yule), at the Winter Solstice. There are other minor festivals that are celebrated in between these four major ones, listed below.
This is the most important of all the Norse holidays. On the night of December 20, the god Ingvi Freyr rides over the earth on the back of his shining boar, bringing Light and Love back into the World. In later years, after the influence of Christianity, the god Baldur, then Jesus, was reborn at this festival. Jul signifies the beginning and end of all things; the darkest time (shortest hour of daylight) during the year and the brightest hope re-entering the world.
During this festival, the Wild Hunt is at its greatest fervor, and the dead are said to range the Earth in its retinue. The god Wotan (Odin) is the leader of this Wild Ride; charging across the sky on his eight-legged horse, Sleipnir; a very awe-inspiring vision. In ancient times, Germanic and Norse children would leave their boots out by the hearth on Solstice Eve, filled with hay and sugar, for Sleipnir's journey. In return, Wotan would leave them a gift for their kindness. In modern times, Sleipnir was changed to a reindeer and the grey-bearded Wotan became the kindly Santa Claus (Father Christmas).
Minor feast honoring Thor, the protector of Midgard. During this time, the height of the Storm season, Thor's power is invoked to drive back the frost Jotuns so that Spring may return to Midgard.
Festival of the Idises, when the effects of Winter are beginning to lessen and the world prepares itself for Spring. Corresponds to the pagan holiday of Imbolc. Disting is characterized by preparing the land for planting. In ancient times, Disting was the time when the cattle were counted and one's wealth was tallied; thus making it a festival of finance as well. It was said that new calves born during Disting were a sign of great prosperity for the coming year.
Many modern Asatruar celebrate Valisblot, or Vali's Feast, even though there is no historical precedent for associating Odin's youngest son with this festival; other than the name Vali associated with "Valentine." The hero Svenfjotli, son of Sigimund, was reputed to have been born at this time, and often blots are drunk to him as well.
This is a festival of renewal, rejoicing and fertility, although for most of the Northern People, the forces of Winter are still at full sway.
In ancient times, the gift of colored eggs to one's friends and loved ones was a way of wishing them well for the coming season; a magical ritual of prosperity and fecundity. The rabbit was the symbol of this festival as well because of it's re-emergence during this season, and for its reproductive ability.
These two rituals have survived into the modern holiday of Easter (which derives its name from Eostre) as Easter eggs and the Easter bunny. Like most ancient heathen rituals, they are relegated into the world of children; held for naught among adults; but the race memory lingers on.
The nine nights of April 22 (interestingly enough, the modern festival of Earth Day) to April 30 are venerated as rememberance of the All Father's self-sacrifice upon the World Tree Yggdrasil. It was on the ninth night (April 30, Walpurgisnacht) that he beheld the Runes, grasped them, and ritually died for an instant. At that moment, all the Light in the 9 worlds is extinguished, and utter Chaos reigns. At the final stroke of midnight, the Light returns in dazzling brilliance, and the bale-fires are lit.
On Walpurgisnacht, the dead have full sway upon the earth; it is the ending night of the Wild Hunt. May 1 is the festival of Thrimilci; the beginning of Summer. Thrimilci is a festival of joy and fertility, much like Ostara; however, most of the Northern World is finally escaping from the snow at this time.
Minor modern Asatru festival honoring the warriors who fell during battle and who asceded to Valhalla's halls. Corresponds with the modern American holiday of Memorial Day.
Minor festival honoring Sigurd (Sigifrith or Siegfreid), the great hero who slayed the dragon Fafnir and won back the treasure of the Rhine.
The summer solstice was second only to Yule in importance to the ancient Northmen. Some groups mark this day as sacred to Balder, but we disagree with this. While Balder can be seen as a dying and resurrected Sun God, in the mythology we are most familiar with, he does not return to life until Ragnarok and it seems like "bad karma" to symbolically kill the sun when you know Baldr doesn't come back until the end of the world. Instead, we mark this day as sacred to the Goddess Sunna, who is literally the sun. One idea for midsummer is to remain awake all night and mark the shortest night of the year, then at sunrise to perform a "Greeting of Sunna" and a blot to her.
Another midsummer custom is the rolling of a flaming wagon wheel down a hill to mark the turning of the wheel of the year. If fire would otherwise be a hazard, one could parade a wheel covered with candles for similar effect. It is also a time for general merriment and in the Scandinavian countries many of what we know as the traditional May Day rituals such as May Poles and Morris Dances were celebrated at Midsummer rather than in May. In our area Midsummer occurs during a large local Pagan festival, and we have gone all out in making it a major holiday with blot, sumbel, feasting and drinking. We are currently in the process of constructing a "sun ship" which, with sails of copper reflecting the light from small torches, represents Sunna will be brought forth at dawning and dusk.
The harvest festival; giving thanks to Urda (Ertha) for her bounty. Often alms are given to the unfortunate at this time, or loaves in the shape of the fylfot (the Sun-wheel, which fell into regrettable disrepute during the dark times of the second World War when the symbol was perverted as a symbol of chaos and darkeness). Interestingly, Lithasblot 1941 was allegedly the time when the magical lodges of England performed rituals to keep the Nazi forces from invading their country; which may have worked, since Hitler eventually abandoned plans to invade Great Britain. Lithasblot has long been associated with ceremonial magic and magical workings.
Mabon is a minor blot acknowledging the end of the Harvest Season, also associate with vintage and mead-making. Most people held off the full celebration of this holiday, though, until the main festival of Winternights. Winter Finding I have not come across a great deal of distinctive traditional lore about the Autumn Equinox that would distinguish it from the Harvest festivals found worldwide. It seems to have been overshadowed to some extent by the Winter Nights which we celebrate at the equinox rather than at the more traditional time of mid-November. Winter Finding should be treated as a general harvest festival. Whichever Gods you invoke for fertility of the land would be most appropriate to invoke again at this time. We have honored Frey & Freya and Nerthus & Njord for this purpose. You can take your pick. Even more so than other holidays, a large feast is appropriate at this time, perhaps concentrating on local vegetables and grains more than meat.
The Winter Nights are the traditional festival honoring the Disir or family spirits. It is a time to remember your family, the dead, and your ancestors. (For more information on the Disir see the chapter "Elves and other Spirits.") A Freyablot may be performed at this time as Freya is known as the Vanadis (i.e. the Dis of the Vanir) or the Great Dis, and she seems to be the Goddess of the Disir themselves. This is probably connected to Freya's position as recipient of half the battle-slain or her ability with seidhr. One might also simply want to honor the Disir as a whole, or attempt to summon and pour offering to your own family's Dis. A sumbel which toasts ones ancestors and passed on friends would also be in order. If a feast is held, it should be quiet and respectful of the character of the season. Another idea is a silent "mum feast," a custom which is found the world over.
The various Halloween customs such as dressing in costume or celebrating this time as a time where the worlds of the living and the dead connect are more Celtic in origin than Nordic and probably should not be part of an Asatru celebration. Einherjar The other major holiday celebrated by virtually every Asatru group around the world is Einjerhar, or the feast of the fallen. This is held on November 11, Armistice or Veterans Day, and honors those who have fallen in battle and joined Odin's warriors in Valhalla. We generally hold a quiet ritual and honor our ancestors and relatives who have died in war or served. We also honor those who have given their lives for our country. Our kindred is making a practice of leaving an offering at the Viet Nam Veterans Memorial ("The Wall") of a small decorated drinking horn. The Ring of Troth's Our Troth lists American Memorial Day as Einjerhar, but they are virtually singular in using that date.