Gnosis Diary: Life as a Heathen

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Asatru FAQ: How Do I Celebrate Yule?

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Frequently Asked Question: How do I celebrate Yule?

My answer: 

If you're celebrating by yourself or just with your family, start simple, with a sumbel (toast) with wassail (hot spiced cider), mead, or another beverage. Encourage Sunna to outrun the wolf trying to eat her and return to the sky for another year. While she's out of the sky, hold her fire for her in a Yule Log through the solstice night. If you're celebrating with family, the presents-under-the-tree custom is perfectly heathen, you can use it.

You can add more things to your holiday celebrations as you go along. You may eventually add a sacrifice (blot) or an elaborate ritual drama. You can add a new ornament to your tree each year, and just like adding a new ornament each year, you can also add new ritual elements. You might want to do both Yule and Mother Night, or even do an entire Twelve Days of Yule with a different small ritual each day, even if it's only decorating, giving toys to the kids, baking, or singing a song together as a family.

The custom of leaving cookies and milk out for Santa Claus as "the Jolly Old Elf" is pretty heathen without any modifications, although some heathens view Santa Claus as being the same as Odin. Those who consider Santa to be Odin also consider the eight reindeer to be Odin's eight legged horse, Sleipnir. Some heathens hang stockings full of straw on the mantel for Sleipnir. 

Your Yule sumbel or blot can be the same as any other sumbel or blot you might perform, or you can tailor it to the season and its festivities. There is no one right way to do Yule.

You can read a basic outline of a sumbel and of a blot ritual in my book Asatru For Beginners. If you'll be celebrating with friends and family of different faiths and want to combine Asatru and secular customs, I have a guide for doing that with Yule and with other major holidays in my book American Celebration. 

If you attend a Yule ritual held by a group, it will help you learn about how to celebrate and also might help you and that group decide if you fit in with them. The main things to know in advance are whether everyone will be bringing gifts for each other, what else you might need to bring, and whether the group celebrates in modern dress or in religious garb. 

Some Asatruars want to participate in a winter solstice ritual that honors a sun god who is reborn on the solstice, like the Christians and many Wiccans do. Those who want that ritual framework honor Baldr instead of the sun goddess Sunna. The Lore says that Baldr died and will return only after Ragnarok, which is the end of the universe, and the beginning of a new universe. There are several different stories about how he died. In one story, Hodr is his brother and slew him by accident in a mock sacrifice that turned into a real one, which is a common story motif. In that version, Hodr is blind and Loki guided him. In another version of the story, Hodr is his rival for the hand of Nanna, and slew him in a fight over a woman. Symbolically, Baldr would stand for the sun, Nanna the moon, and Hodr the night. All three of them die in the Lore, and they reside in Hel, realm of the goddess of the same name. The living sun and moon in heathen Lore are Sunna and Mani, and the living night is Nott. Asatruars who choose to view Baldr as a Dying God like Christ interpret the story of Ragnarok as describing the annual death and rebirth of the world in the turning of the seasons, although the story of Ragnarok says that it is about the end of the world. 

Besides Yule itself, which is the Winter Solstice, the most important of the 12 Days of Yule is Mother Night. Mother Night is the night before Yule. Mother Night is when Frigga rides the Wild Hunt. On other winter nights, Odin leads the Wild Hunt. There are various Wild Hunt customs and stories among different heathen cultures, and different gods and goddesses said to lead it. Contemporary folklore has the King and Queen of the Elves as the leaders of the Hunt. Living human beings stay inside when the Hunt is in the sky. On any night but Mother Night, the Wild Hunt drives everyone it meets before it. On Mother Night, Frigga collects the souls of children who died during the year. On this night, heathens honor Frigga, sometimes by another name such as Berchta depending on the culture the individual heathen is closest to. Some heathens honor their own mothers on Mother Night. 

If your heathen path looks toward the area of Germany and Austria, you might add a celebration of Krampus Night. Here's an example of a Krampus parade: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pmfQqyXHAeI  

Image: The Trundholm Sun Chariot, public domain

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Erin Lale is the author of Asatru For Beginners and other books. She was sworn to Freya as Priestess in 1989, given to Sigyn, and is a Bride of Odin and his brothers (Honir, Lodhur, Loki.). She has been a freelance writer for about 30 years, was the editor and publisher of Berserkrgangr Magazine, and is gythia of American Celebration Kindred. In 2010 and 2013, she ran for public office.

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