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

Advertisements

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.

3438152372_b2f6075bc2

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

Yggdrasil – Yew, not Ash Tree

world_tree

written by Týra Alrune Sahsnotasvriunt

In my specific belief system it is uncontested that Yggdrasil is a yew tree and not the ash tree that is only once mentioned in the Völuspa of the Edda, although the descriptions of Yggdrasil clearly are not those of the ash tree.

In the light of the persisting Wotan cult we mostly read that Ygg, “the terrible”, is another name for Wotan and drasil is the Old Norse word for horse.
This has been linked to the Wild Hunt, led by Wotan. Alas, originally it was Frau Holle (Hulda, Frigg) who led the nightly Wild Hunt before Wotan replaced her.

Another attempt at a translation is “terrible tree” (Gallowtree), also linking this to Wotan hanging himself from the world tree for nine days and nights in order to receive the runes.
The hanged Wotan is also known as Hangatyr. Why would Wotan’s name be “Hanging Tyr”? Here we have more proof for Wotan replacing all the old (high) Gods and his cult establishing him as some sort of almighty Allfather figure.

On top of this, Wotan’s tree is the ash, his spear Gungnir made of this wood as well. Since Wotan had replaced our old chief God(s) it is not surprising that certain elements were modified.

Sahsnotas Irminsul

Hangatyr, Týr-Irmin who hung himself from the world tree

The term Gallowtree is not so far-fetched, considering that the yew tree is linked to death (and rebirth), basically the circle of life. The Elder Futhark rune Eiwaz/Eo and the Anglo-Saxon rune Yr symbolize this tree. There is no rune symbolizing the ash tree.

A more reliable translation for “Yggdrasil” would hence either be Yewhorse or Yewpillar. The Old Norse yggja and Germanic igwja are words for the yew.
Drasill could as well be a form of the indo-Germanic syllable –dher, meaning pillar, support.

Another name for Yggdrasil is Irminsul, Irmin’s pillar. Irmin is another name of our original chief God Sahsnotas (Saxnot-Týr).

Irminsul my old poster

From “Drasill’s” Mouth – Accounts of the Nature of Yggdrasil in the Eddas and other Lore

In modern translations of Gylfaginning 17 (Edda) the word barr has been mistranslated as leaves. Barr means conifer.

Throughout the Edda it is emphasized that the world tree is an evergreen tree. The ash is not evergreen but the coniferous yew is. Even in the Norwegian Rune Song it is said of the Eiwaz/Eo rune: “Yr is the most evergreen tree”.

In Gylfaginning 16 it is mentioned that intoxicating honeydew (mead) is dripping from the world tree. The ash tree has many wonderful healing properties, it does not have one single component that is intoxicating though.
The yew tree on the other hand does. Its poison Taxin has an equally intoxicating and hallucinatory effect similar to LSD.

Valknut-I-Wotans-Knoten-I-Walknut-T-Shirts

The Walknut, originally not a symbol of Wotan, (just as the line of Wal and the Wal-küren were once not of this God either) is representative of the world tree (nine worlds). What tree does this remind you of, a yew perhaps?

In Fjölswid 13 we are asked, “Tell me the conifer’s name whose branches are encompassing all lands?”

The rune Eiwaz is also known as Iwaz and the Old High German word iwa means everlasting, eternal. As eternal as the “evergreen” leaves of the yew tree and as everlasting as the circle of life.

eihwaz-yew

The God Ull lives in Ydal (Yew Valley) and his bow and arrow are made of yew, just like Skadi’s are. Even in Iceland Yggdrasil was associated with bow and arrow. Bows and arrows were traditionally made out of yew due to its near indestructible, robust quality. Europe and especially Germany was “the land of yew”.

The Yule tree has traditionally been a conifer tree and where I live it was traditionally a yew tree up until the 19th century. The Yule tree is symbolic of the world tree Yggdrasil. I am not sure about you, but I have never heard of anyone having put up an ash tree for Yule…

Now, this might be coincidence or over-interpretation, but it always struck me as funny that when you turn around Thunar’s hammer Mjölnir, it resembles a tree, or yew tree more accurately. Mjölnir is the sustainer of the world tree and ultimately the multiverse. Since most of our ancestors were not Viking raiders but farmers it is obvious why they depended on the hammer which brought on rain and hence growth of crops. Thus hammer and tree are connected.

Irminsul yule

Here you have it from the horses – or “drasill’s” – mouth, it is made very clear in lore what kind of tree Yggdrasil really is and always will be.

Things that go Bump in the Night – “Nightmares”: Germanic Elves

Kansi-net
by Týra Alrune Sahsnotasvriunt

The original German word for “nightmare” is Nachtmahr, a Mahr, Mare or Mara being a kind of nightly Alb (Elf) believed to ride people, trees or horses while they are sleeping and bringing on dreams or visions.

Even today we still know the English word “mare” for horse and several Germanic tribes, especially the Saxons, regarded horses as sacred walkers between worlds, animals with Shamanic qualities.
Loki’s equestrian offspring, eight-legged Sleipnir was given to Wotan and in later mythology it is Wotan instead of Frau Holle who is leading the “Wild Hunt” at night; a nightly spectacle in the sky in which spirit-beings and Alben are wildly dancing and celebrating.

buchcover_wildejagd

The word mare is also related to the German word “Mär”. It has been mistranslated as “story” or “fairy tale”, but it really means “message from the spirit realm”.
We can see this from one of the traditional Christmas Carols where it says, “From Heaven above is from whence I come, I bring you many good messages” (Vom Himmel hoch da komm ich her, ich bring Euch manche gute Mär).

Nowadays nightmare is called “Albtraum” – Elf Dream, formerly “Albdruck” – Elf Pressure, since the Alben were believed to sit on people’s chests when riding them.
Of course what we associate with the word nightmare nowadays is a bad dream, something that stems from Christian influence unsurprisingly.
The Alben were demonized, the messages from the other realm considered satanic. When the belief in these messages persisted, the Christians did what they do best, they made up a distinction between “good” messages coming from heaven and “bad” messages coming from demons.
The Christians went as far as turning the Shamanic riding into something sexual. Female Alben, the Succubi and their male counterparts, Incubi, were believed to either rape or seduce men and women in their sleep, stealing semen and children and causing barrenness.
The Germanic people did not make a distinction in quality between the dreams that dark elves and light elves brought them, all messages were equally important.

Johann_Heinrich_Füssli_053

Johann Heinrich Füssli’s painting already shows the Christian misconception of the “night-rider”/nightly Elf being demonic and “evil”

If you are unsure whether you were visited by an Alb the previous night, check your hair. Legend is that if your hair is extremely ruffled in the morning or you inexplicably have a few braided strands of hair that an Alb or Frau Holle herself brought you a message.
In Ireland it is not Frau Holle but the Mórrigan (her name obviously related to OE “maere”), the “phantom queen” who brings such Shamanic dreams.

morrigan3

Other German night-beings are the Frankish Nachtgiger, possibly related to the Butzemann (bogeyman, boggart) which kidnaps children that keep playing outside after duskfall. It carries them so far away from home that they never find their way back.
In Swabia this being was called Nachtkrabb, which has nothing to do with the word “Krabbe” meaning crab, it comes from OHG hraban, raven. Ravens were mystical birds of the dead and the other realm. (Wotan, the later “god of the dead” is often accompanied by his two ravens Hugin and Munin and so is the Irish Mórrigan.)

Winselmutter-01

Winselmutter

The Winselmutter, Whining Mother (White Lady) is a Thuringian night-spirit who haunts the houses of severely ill and dying people, crying for their pain and calling them to the other side. She is described as either an elderly lady, a white light or even as an anthropomorphic cow, a fact that reminds of the relation between Holle (Frigg) as described above and Audumla, the cosmic cow, Mother of all.

Everyday Aspie

Relationships through the eyes of an autistic

Ask my Cards

How to read divination systems by Madame 'Jozefa' Seaqueen

I Still Find It So Hard...

A WordPress.com journal about the life and times of a Powell Aspie

Meanderings of a Tellurian Metaphorist

a poet, a bear, a wife, a moon-child-wiccan, a moon lesbian, a history geek, a writer and a woman of a certain age

Eric Edwards Collected Works

Miscellaneous Writings & Articles

Hedniska Tankar

En Hedning Ser På Världen

Process Church Of The Final Judgment

Resource site for The Process Church and the works of Robert De Grimston

Celto-Germanic Culture, Myth and History

A Germanic Pagan's Musings, Religious and Magical Studies, Green Pharmacy, Recipes, Rituals and more

Aleph's Heretical Domain

"I must create a system or be enslaved by another man's; I will not reason and compare, my business is to create" - William Blake

Regarding Myatt

About David Myatt, A Modern Mage

Old European culture

A Germanic Pagan's Musings, Religious and Magical Studies, Green Pharmacy, Recipes, Rituals and more

Naturally Ariana

Eat better - not less

Rapunzelturm

A Germanic Pagan's Musings, Religious and Magical Studies, Green Pharmacy, Recipes, Rituals and more

Spiritual Satanist Blog

A Germanic Pagan's Musings, Religious and Magical Studies, Green Pharmacy, Recipes, Rituals and more

satanicviews

Left Hand Path; religion; philosophy; mind; technology; current affairs.

Nordic Wiccan

A Germanic Pagan's Musings, Religious and Magical Studies, Green Pharmacy, Recipes, Rituals and more

Choose Life.

Just another WordPress.com site

SjpielseWolf

Shared thought and interest of an indiginous germanic heathen

The Magickal Cottage

As you wind your way up the path to the Magickal Cottage, knock on the door, for you are most welcome! The kettle is about to boil and I’ll brew us some tea so we can sit and discuss how to create a magickal life. Merry Meet!

%d bloggers like this: