Pagan Remnants of North Frisian Holiday Celebrations and Customs (19th – 21st Century)

Nordfriesland
by Týra Sahsnotasvriunt

Folklore is based on man’s relationship to the soil“.

The North Frisians, once part of the Saxon clan, kept many Pagan traditions alive up until the early 20th century, in fact they still  uphold a few of those ancient traditions to this day.
Even the village youth will gladly partake in customs such as setting out the Niehjahrsgaaf (Yule gift) out for the Puken (elf-like house wight).

These are a few of their traditions:


St. Nicholas’ Day (Nikolaustag)

Sönnerklaas is the Frisian version of Bishop Nikolas of Myra/Greece, more commonly known as “St. Nick” in most English-speaking countries.

Although a Christian holiday, the North Frisians have “paganized” Nikolaus and its annual procession in honor of Nikolaus on Dec. 6th as much as possible. Nikolaus himself reminds of Wotan and his carriage is often drawn by white horses (> Tiuz/Saxnot).

The children traditionally dress up as dwarves, black angels (originally: dark elves/svartalfar) and as “Nikoläuse” which has come to mean Kobolde (goblins).

Yule (Hali-Een)

gnom

As already mentioned the Puken is a North Frisian house-wight who keeps the house from harm, protects the family and who even has some influence over the weather, redirecting storms from house or farm and crops to unpopulated areas.

The word is similar to the German word “Puck”. Pucks are the more impish variety of the Puken though.

The Puken used to be honored with a small house altar, but nowadays they are usually only remembered on Yule Eve called Hali-Een, Holy Eve and pronounced similarly to “Halloween”.

They typical Niejahrsgaaf to them is a small bowl of sweetened rice pudding or another sweet treat.

milchreisUntil the 20th century Yule pastries were formed in the shape of horses (Saxon), roosters (Heimdall), boars (Frey) but also unsurprisingly ships, helms (resembling sunwheels) and other objects related to seafaring.

The so-called Isenkuken or Isenkage (iron cakes) were once supposed to ward off the Andersvolk, those of the wee people who showed resentment against humans. After christianization these cakes were still popular in the lower classes and garnished with crosses they were believed to keep the devil out of the house on “Christmas”.

On the day of the Equinox the people of Föhr and Fahrentoft (still!) practice Tamsen. The solstice is the time when the old Germanic people believed that the “wheel of the world” literally stood still. This is why even today it is considered bad luck to leave wheels – or basically anything that can be turned and twisted – outside. This includes hinged gates, bikes, carts with hand levers, handcarts like children often use, etc.

The village youth will scourge the farms and gardens for anything rotatable or hinged on the evening of the equinox and viciously vandalize anything they find. Interestingly, vandalism committed on this day is not persecuted by the law.

New Year’s Eve (Sylvester)

The following is a custom which was practiced on the island of Amrum until the early 20th century.

Children are being dressed up as Hulken, the word being related to Holle, Holde, Holda, Hulda. Hulken are the ghost-like beings following the Wild Hunt once led by Frija (often associated with Frau Holle.)

The disguised children move from house to house in packs and the parents are supposed to “pick their child” out of the crowd.

The original meaning of this tradition was that as ominously disguised and unknown as the children thus arrived the new year. By picking your child out of the crowd you “claimed your own fate” basically.

rummelpottRummelpott used to be a German favorite until it was replaced with Halloween (…) On Sylvester the children would move from house to house in groups, turning a strange-sounding and -looking instrument made of boar or pig bladder, singing songs and asking people for candy or little gifts at their doors.

It was especially important the Rummelpott was made out of a pig’s bladder. The boar and pig are animals holy to Frey (“The Lord”) who is often equated with Balder (“The Lord”).
See also https://paganmeltingpot.wordpress.com/2014/11/09/balder-frija-and-the-relics-of-the-pre-germanic-fertility-cult/

Epiphany (Twasche Ülj en Naj)

ascheTwasche Ülj en Naj (Between Old and New) are the nights between December 25th and January 6th. The Pagan equivalent are the Rauhnächte, twelve days of Yule.

The heeds, warnings and rules surrounding North Frisian Epiphany are laden with superstition, many christian ones but also a few pre-christian ones of which we can at least make some sense: Twasche Ülj en Naj is regarded as the time of standstill in nature.

Hence it was believed to be bad luck to leave the plough out on the field, because Mother Nature might feel put under pressure. (That’s actually a bit of a sweet superstition.)

Housewives weren’t supposed to weave, because Frija (“Frigg”) as well as the rest of the Gods were believed to be resting during this time.

FriggaLater already christianized customs involved pouring ash on the livestock’s heads.

“Ashes on my head” is a contemporary German saying to convey one feels guilty. It has its roots in the medieval custom of rubbing ash into ones’ clothes and onto ones forehead after a loved one died. This kind of public grief was expected during those times.

Later people started believing that this practice might also keep you from death and the ash became a “lucky charm” of sorts.

During winter the North Frisians were cut off from the mainland completely. Their survival relied on their livestock. In the light of all this, the strange superstition at least becomes more understandable.

Shrove Tide (Vahsnächte/”Imbolc”)

Before Christianity stole yet another holiday and named it Fastnacht (night of fasting) this night was known as Faslnacht or as the North Frisians called it, Vahsnächte. Fasln and vahsen literally means “to frolic in boundless joyfulness”. So much for “fasting”… The North Frisians still sometimes refer to what some other Pagans know as “Imbolc” as Vahsnächte und rather than go to church they gather at a pub, singing jolly songs and praising the shy beginnings of spring.

Spring Rituals (Frühlingsbräuche)

biikebrennen

Biikebrennen is one such (pre-)spring ritual. Christians turned the Biikebrennen day into “St. Petri’s Day”, but the ancient customs yet remained until the late 19th century. On this day during spring the village gathered to light up bundles of straw sometimes shaped like a man (wicker man) chanting and singing praise to Wotan, begging him to grant them a good harvest.

The calling upon the former chief God of the North Frisians is remarkable for that time and was probably only possible because they were rather far away from the mainland. Anywhere else such a procession would certainly have caused an outrage and immediate prohibition.

Easter (Oostern)

easter egg

In the 1800s children on the isle of Föhr used to paint eggshells and then catapult the eggs as high and far away as they could with a slingshot. This was meant as a symbolic fertilization of nature. No one remembers where this custom originated but undoubtedly it has quite obvious Pagan connotations rather than Christian ones.

Pötjrin (Föhr) or Njötjrin (Amrum) was another tradition. Children knocked the tip of two eggs together until one of the shells broke. The winner was the one whose shell had stayed intact and he had to consume both broken and intact egg immediately.

Here the fertility ritual is one of competition and the struggle of survival: Whose eggshell (“seed”) is stronger, basically unbreakable?

Harvest Home (Erntefest, “Lughnasad”)

scarecrow

Up until the 1800s the person to last thresh their crops had the Vessegomp (scarecrow, high German: Vogelscheuche). The village youth snuck up to the farmer’s house at night, leaving an actual scarecrow on his threshold as a means of taunting him.

Historians assume that the Vessegomp on the fields wasn’t originally intended to just ward off birds or other animals. From descriptions of the early Vessegomp it appears they were supposed to be modeled after either the Lord Frey or Wotan who was supposed to bless and oversee the growth of crops.

The vilification described above was hence also a means of renouncing the old Gods.

Autumn Rituals and Customs (Herbstfeste)

laterne laufen1Laternelaufen (lantern procession) is a custom still loved all over Germany but especially in the North where it originates. It was a way to greet autumn and that magical yet eerie time between Idisenblót and Mittwinteropferfest, although they were not celebrated anymore during the 1800’s of course.

Catholics claim that the lantern procession at the beginning of autumn has no Germanic or Northern origin at all of course and it is hence also mainly only known as a procession in honor of Martin of Tours, “St. Martin”.

laterne laufen umzug

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Balder, Frija and the Relics of the pre Germanic Fertility Cult

ceres-neuss
written and copyrighted by Týra Alrune Sahsnotasvriunt

The hero was inextricably connected to the matriarchal Goddess. Just as she, the Earthmother, was the embodiment of the cycle of life as maiden, mother and crone, the hero, Sunfather, in his birth/son, sacrifice and rebirth aspects was too.
He was not permitted to age or die of old age; otherwise the cycle would have been broken. Instead, he was sacrificed.
In other words, he was given back to the cycle during the height of his fertility, so he would return renewed, refreshed and the cycle would begin anew.
By returning into the Earth (mother) he fertilized her until she was ready to give birth to him again.
Some people are offended by these apparently “incestuous” ideas, but it is important to understand that they are not to be taken literally.
These were metaphors known in almost every ancient culture. They were merely a way of explaining the circle of life in a non-scientific way with strong images everyone could relate to at that time.

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Frija/Frigga/Frikka the great Weaver, depicted with swans (also the attribute animals of the Valkyries and Idisen).

Traces of the Earthmother/Sunfather idea can be found in the tale of Balder and Frija (Frigg). Balder (Lord) and Frija (Lady, originally “beloved” from Sanskrit priya) belong together as the later siblings Frikka and Frikko or Freija (Lady) and Frey (Lord) do.
Originally these were not divine names but only titles with which they were respectfully addressed.
These titles lived on the Old High German word frouwe and nowadays German Frau for “woman”, “miss/misses”, (“wife”) or Fräulein for “young miss” (literally: “little lady”).

The-Death-of-Baldr-300x243

Balder’s death

Balder is not just gentle and fair, his beauty is so overwhelming that it is described as “gleaming”, he is “like the sun”, loved and appreciated by all.
Frija, his mother, knows the future of all beings. She foresaw Balder’s death.
It is hard to believe she would just “forget” to ask the thistle to swear an oath on not harming her beloved son.
Especially if she foresaw that in order to rule in the New World Balder had to “die”/fare to Hel so he would survive Ragnarök.
She must have acted in accordance with Loki and the “masterplan”.
This was remembered in the annual ritual spearing of a boar, slaughter of a white horse or the stag that was shot with an arrow around the time of harvest. This ritual sacrifice and the following celebration were similar in style to the original Celtic Lughnasad celebrations, although the background stories differ mostly.
By the way, boar, white horse and stag are attributed to the God Frey as well.
(Compare https://paganmeltingpot.wordpress.com/2014/09/22/holy-horse-horses-in-the-germanic-and-other-polytheist-traditions/).
In this charm Balder is first called “Phol” (Foal God) before it is mentioned that the foal he was riding on had twisted its ankle. Most scholars were quick enough to identify Phol as Frey, but for some reason refused to equate him with Balder.

bacchus03In Southern Germany Frija was known as Frikka. At least two local legends in the Schweinfurt (“Pig (boar)’s ford” – !) area near Frikkenklingen are about her and her son Lall (also: Loll, Löll, Lell, Lull), meaning “Little Lord”, to whom a fenced iron statue was dedicated.
It was the statue of a young boy with poppy wreath draped around his neck and shoulders and curly hair as fair as the sun (>sunwheel/cycle of life).
With his right hand he was touching his tongue in lustful jest (>maturation), in his right hand he held a cup of wine filled with ears of corn (>sacrifice).
He was naked save for a loincloth and the effigy of vitality, fertility, youth and beauty, a remnant of the ancient “Sunfather” God, youthful companion of the Mother Goddess.
The German word lallen (to babble) is directly based on the child-God Lall. He marks the transition from babbling infant to child and child to young adulthood. These children are still called “toothers” (Zahner) in German.
This is also where the idea of the “tooth fairy” comes from:
A Swedish legend says that when Frey was little the Gods gave him Albenheim (Alfheim) as a gift for growing his first tooth.
A custom that was adopted by many peoples in the North, giving little gifts to their toothing children in order to soothe their pain and welcome the next stage of their lives.

tooth-fairy-silhouetteAs the patriarchal Wotan cult and the Roman influence altered the originally matriarchal structures of pre and early Germanic society from simple to developed to dependent matriarchy and then – at last – patriarchy, this had to be explained in lore somehow.
This is the origin of the Wanen-Asen war.
The Wanen deities were given male counterparts who dominated them or had distinctly more power.
In some cases they were replaced by superior male Gods; in Saxon Nerthus’ case: Njörd who was made father of Freija and Frey.
Wotan did not replace but marry Frija, but he “stole” her presidency as head of the Wild Hunt, amongst many other things.
In fact Frija, the weaver of fates, the Nornen Queen, was suddenly good for little else than to bless marriages and watch over them.
When her husband had been away on his travels for so long the Asen thought he was not to return anymore, his brothers Vili and Ve decided to divide all his riches but share (!) Frija.
This humiliating practice was common law in the Germanic and Norse societies in the early middle ages.
Furthermore, Freija, both maiden and crone aspect of Frija, the mother, was degraded to being a whorish love deity who slept with four dwarves for a necklace…amongst other things… Welcome to patriarchy.

FriggSpinning

Pagan Virgin Births and the Case of the misunderstood Savior

Written and copyrighted by Týra Alrune Sahsnotasvriunt, 2014.

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It is with astonishment that I continually witness Pagans deeming Mary’s virgin birth of Jesus greatly amusing at best and dangerously discriminating of women at worst. Most Pagan paths view sexuality as healthy and many as sacred. Especially those who grew up in a religion where the reverse was the case, virgin births appear to spark all sorts of enmity or at least skepticism.

In fact, virgin or miraculous births were not only established, but the event itself as much as mother and miracle-child held in high esteem in many pre-monotheistic religions. I shall explain the reasons thereof after delivering a few more examples of Pagan virgin births. These were mostly of religious figures, but also of especially enlightened humans, leaders, thinkers. Like Greek philosopher Plato for example.

cropped-zeus-greek-mythology-687267_1024_768

Numerous Greek Gods and Goddesses are considered “parthenos”, virginal or of “pure conception”. Many will be surprised to hear that Zeus, commonly known as the stereotypical philanderer, also was considered parthenos.

Although the virginity of Isis has been disputed, since one single depiction of Horus’ conception shows Isis impregnating herself with dead Osiris’ severed phallus, in all other accounts and depictions she is shown as a falcon hovering over Osiris’ dead body and miraculously conceiving Horus this way. Isis, like a plethora of virgin goddesses and human mothers, remained virginal her whole life.

bahover

Let us also take a closer look at Osiris himself. He was called “KRST,” the “Anointed One.” Born of the virgin Isis-Meri on December 25th. His earthly or adoptive father’s name was Seb, which translates to Joseph. He taught at the temple at age 12 and was baptized at age 30, inbetween this time he had vanished or at least nothing is known about his life from 13-29. He was baptized in Iarutana river (Jordan) by Anup which translates to John. Anup was later beheaded. His suffering, death, and resurrection are celebrated annually by his disciples on the spring equinox, in other words, Easter.

The nymph Moye bathing in a river in China is touched by a lotus plant, and the divine Fohi is born.

Maya

Siddharte Gautama Buddha was born of the Virgin Queen Maha (=the great) Maya. (Interestingly maya is also the Hindu concept of this plane of existence being an illusion.) Maya dreams of a white elephant with six white tusks entering her right side, shortly after which she notices she is pregnant. In “The life of Buddha” we read that he descended on his mother Maya, “in likeness as the heavenly queen, and entered her womb,” and is “born from her right side, to save the world.” He teaches in temple at age 12, Jesus does at age 13. Other similarities to Christianity: In Tibetan Buddhism, Buddha was tempted by Mara, the “Evil One” while fasting. He healed the sick, fed the hungry and obliged followers to renounce the world.

In Siam (Vietnam), a teenage girl is impregnated by sunbeams while taking a walk in her garden. She later gives birth to Codom, the “great and wonderful deliverer”.

Quetzalcoatl_1

Quetzalcoatl (also: Kukulkan or Kukulan) is a Mesoamerican god-man whose name means snake or also precious feathered serpent. He  – together with his twin Xolotl – was born of the virgin Coatlicue. He was associated with the planet Venus, the morning star, as was Jesus. (And on another note: So was Lucifer, but that is a subject for a whole other article. 😉 ) He renounced Tezcatlipoca, the “Prince of Darkness”. His blood resurrects the dead. He is often depicted as bearing a cross on his shoulders. In addition to that he is also often depicted with a cross on his head and his temples bore a cross on top of their roofs also. The cross here represented the four directions, as fitting for a wind-god, but some sources speak of the cross representing the four elements, also.

Mithras-Born-from-a-rock

Mithraism was a religion followed by Romans just before the forceful conversion to Christianity. It contained the following:  Virgin birth, born in a stable or cave, visited by wise men bringing treasures, twelve disciples, last supper, died on a cross and was resurrected. Mithras Day was celebrated on December 25th. (Even though Jesus was NOT born on that day it is after all the day his birth is celebrated.)

attisjpeg

Attis of Phrygia was born of a virgin around the Winter Solstice. He was nailed to a tree for the salvation of mankind. He was buried around Eostre/Ostara but on the third priests found the tomb empty. His followers were baptized in blood to wash away their sins, after which they called themselves “born again”. Dionysus of Greece strikingly resembles this tale. On top of the above mentioned he was identified with the lamb and called “Only begotten son”, “Sin bearer” and “Redeemer”.

Devaki with Krishna

Indian Krishna’s nativity was heralded by a star and he was born of the virgin Devaki. Krishna traveled widely, performing miracles such raising the dead, healing the sick and feeding the hungry. The crucified Krishna is pictured on the cross with arms extended. Pierced by an arrow while hanging on the cross, Krishna died, but descended into Hell from which He rose again on the third day and ascended into Heaven. Krishna is the second person of the Hindu trinity.

balder

At least one folk tale speaks of Balder having been conceived by Frigga magically/not by physical means.  Balder was the God of Light, Righteousness, bringer of a new era. Whether he was sacrificed or murdered is a matter of interpretation, but he, too, will come back from the Underworld to reign over a new world.

zarathustra2.jpg
(Zoroaster/Zarathustra)

The prophet Zoroaster was claimed to have been born of a virgin, as was Tibetan Indra, Baal of Phoenicia, Tammuz of Syria, Bali of Afghanistan, Esus of the Druids… I could list yet another dozen virginal births, but let’s keep it at these most obvious examples.

So, back to Pagans, often feminists, opposing everything to do with virgin births: The interpretation that no human woman can live up to the expectation of this kind of physical “purity” is mislead. These tales are less about physical purity or “sinful sexuality”. When I attended Christian Science services for a while they raised an interesting point. The Bible speaks of man having been created in the likeness of God. What is God? Spirit. No matter if in monotheism or polytheism Gods are known to be able to take shape or “manifest” but they are, ultimately, spirit/of the spiritual world.

dance3
The impregnation by “spirit” illustrates nicely mankinds spiritual heritage. Even in the case of human mothers the children of these virginal births were godly or (a) God, emphasizing the gnostic principle that if we are made in the  likeness of the divine and ARE like God(dess in essence, we are a part of the divine or basically the divine is in us as much as we are in it – one.
(Even Jesus claimed “I am in the father as the father is in me”, leading people to believe he was the “only begotten son of God” or “God in the flesh” instead of realizing that the same held true for them.)

If mankind lived by this principle, in the awareness that everyone is godly, including themselves, there would be no war, no murder, no fraud nor deception and no feeling of being better than anyone else. What war for monetary gain would be justified to be started if you knew what you are doing to another people will ultimately hurt yourself because you are all connected through the same source? (“Three times three”, “Do unto others…”, “golden rule”.)
While our human traits, talents, backgrounds all make us different individually and we are separated by different traditions and cultures (and hurray to that kind of diversity!), our spiritual traits all make us “the same” or equal. Virgin birth – basically a wonderfully comforting and liberating message of “As above, so below”.

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