A Very Viking Halloween

A Very Viking Halloween

What harvest and "Day of the Dead" celebrations did the Vikings have?
2261
views

As October begins and leaves start to fall, the anticipation for Halloween becomes crisp in the air. As a holiday, many are aware of the Celtic origin of Halloween and the Christian influences that have caused it to evolve over the ages into what it is now. So I'm not going to talk about that, since it's been talked about in great length so much already. What I wanted to know is did the Vikings have a Halloween equivalent? The answer lies in how we define Halloween. If we define it as the modern holiday that we celebrate today then no, they did not. But, if we look back at the Pre-Christian basis for Halloween and especially the Mexican Day of the Dead the answer is certainly a yes. The Nordic peoples had ritual celebrations called blóts which occurred throughout the year, including just before the harvest season, and were sacrificial towards a specific goal. The two blót s that I will be looking at are the Álfablót and the Dísablót.


The Álfablót

In preparation for this article, this blót was the first to come up in my searching for a Nordic equivalent of Halloween. The Álfablót is a sacrifice to the elves at the end of the autumnal season and harvest. How this relates to a "Day of the Dead" is through the mythological understanding of elves in Nordic culture. Alfs (Elves) were associated with burial mounds (pictured below) as they would live in and around them. The reasoning behind this is many texts suggest that elves were merely another incarnation of a human soul or that the dead were merely referred to as elves. An excellent example is of King Olaf of Geirstad, or later known as Olaf Geirstad-Alf. King Olaf, after he died and was buried in a mound, was venerated as an elf, giving him his new name of Olaf Geirstad-Alf (the elf of Geirstad). With this connection between elves and the dead, the Álfablót was possibly concerned with ancestor worship. Since this sacrifice is towards elves, it stands to reason that Freyr, one of the most important gods in Norse mythology, is involved as well.

Freyr was given Álfheimr, the realm of the elves, as a teething gift. This insinuates that Freyr is the ruler of the elves (which many texts claim, as well). Other than his patronage through fertility and prosperity, it is possible that Freyr can be associated with the souls of the dead, since many texts suggest elves and those souls are one in the same. So the Álfablót is just as much a sacrifice to him as it is to the elves. The trouble with the Álfablót is that it was an extremely private event, even going as far as disregarding hospitality and turning travelers away, and so there aren't many details out there about it. All we are left with is putting the puzzle pieces together, as you can see.


The Dísablót

In contrast to the Álfablót, the Dísablót was a public event that was widely celebrated. In fact, it is still celebrated today at Uppsala, Sweden. Carried out by the head woman or mother, the Dísablót was a blót held during the vetrnætr or Winter Nights which were a span of days which marked the transition between the harvest season and the winter season. This blót was a celebration in honor of the Dísir, the goddesses and female entities of the Nordic world. These spirits tended to influence fertility, fate, and well being in general, just as the classical Halloween celebrations are concerned with warding off harmful spirits. There is drinking, feasting, celebration, and glory honoring of spirits through sacrifice and such. The goddesses and beings that would have been most likely sacrificed to during this celebration are Freyja, Hel, the Valkyries, the Norns, the Fylgjur, and female ancestors in general. Most, if not all, of those beings were associated with death or spirits.


Freyja

The twin sister of Freyr, Freyja, in short, is the goddess of love, beauty, fertility, war, and death. Half of the dead who fall in battle go to her realm, Fólkvangr, which is much like the Greek Elysium. The connections between sacrificing to Freyja and honoring one's deceased ancestors are not hard to make here. The links to harvest and fertility, much like her brother, further strengthen the notions of a classic Halloween-like celebration.


Hel

As a being and a place, Hel receives the dead that don't die in battle, but rather die in old age or from disease. Hel controls vast legions of souls and can even control who comes and goes through her realm. It is possible that a sacrifice to Hel would be an attempt to curry favor with this being so that they or an ancestor may be treated well in her halls, or perhaps as a way of sending a message to the dead.


Valkyries, Norns, and Fylgjur

I lump these three together because they all have a similar function having to do with fate or the dead.

Valkyries (pictured below), literally "the choosers of the slain," decide who will die in battle for them to take to Valhalla. To sacrifice to them would be a plea to be honored with the glory of being taken to Valhalla by these beings, as well as a way to honor those who are in Valhalla.

The Norns are beings who control the fates of men and gods alike. It would, obviously, be favorable to sacrifice and honor these beings.

The Fylgjur are a tricky bunch. They are similar to guardian spirits that follow a person around and have an influence on their fortune and certain outcomes of fate. It is noted that if a Fylgjur appears in the form of a women good fortune for the self or the family is in the waiting. An attempt to bring about such fortune at the Dísablót would be beneficial to a community as a whole and would ward off evil beings or events.

From what I have listed here, and read otherwise, both instances of celebration are as close to a Halloween as the Vikings got. The theme of honoring or sacrificing to the dead or beings that have some charge of the dead stays consistent with the origins of Halloween. I as well see the differences between the Dísablót and the Álfablót as a more strict version of what we do today. Our modern Dísablót is the eating, drinking, and fun in close regard to the dead. We dress up as and mimic the dead as a way of bringing us closer to our ancestors. Our Álfablót is the familial remembrances of loved ones as well as the observance of superstitions towards the dead. We have a period of thought and veneration for our own elves.

Happy Halloween, my friends.

Cover Image Credit: http://odroerirjournal.com/season-of-the-disir-winternights-and-the-disablot-in-early-medieval-scandinavian-belief/

Popular Right Now

The Coach That Killed My Passion

An open letter to the coach that made me hate a sport I once loved.
324789
views

I fell in love with the game in second grade. I lived for every practice and every game. I lived for the countless hours in the gym or my driveway perfecting every shot, every pass and every move I could think of. Every night after dinner, I would go shoot and would not allow myself to go inside until I hit a hundred shots. I had a desire to play, to get better and to be the best basketball player I could possibly be.

I had many coaches between church leagues, rec leagues, personal coaches, basketball camps, middle school and high school. Most of the coaches I had the opportunity to play for had a passion for the game like I did. They inspired me to never stop working. They would tell me I had a natural ability. I took pride in knowing that I worked hard and I took pride in the compliments that I got from my coaches and other parents. I always looked forward to the drills and, believe it or not, I even looked forward to the running. These coaches had a desire to teach, and I had a desire to learn through every good and bad thing that happened during many seasons. Thank you to the coaches that coached and supported me through the years.

SEE ALSO: My Regrets From My Time As A College Softball Player

Along with the good coaches, are a few bad coaches. These are the coaches that focused on favorites instead of the good of the entire team. I had coaches that no matter how hard I worked, it would never be good enough for them. I had coaches that would take insults too far on the court and in the classroom.

I had coaches that killed my passion and love for the game of basketball.

When a passion dies, it is quite possibly the most heartbreaking thing ever. A desire you once had to play every second of the day is gone; it turns into dreading every practice and game. It turns into leaving every game with earphones in so other parents don't talk to you about it. It meant dreading school the next day due to everyone talking about the previous game. My passion was destroyed when a coach looked at me in the eyes and said, "You could go to any other school and start varsity, but you just can't play for me."

SEE ALSO: Should College Athletes Be Limited To One Sport?

Looking back now at the amount of tears shed after practices and games, I just want to say to this coach: Making me feel bad about myself doesn't make me want to play and work hard for you, whether in the classroom or on the court. Telling me that, "Hard work always pays off" and not keeping that word doesn't make me want to work hard either. I spent every minute of the day focusing on making sure you didn't see the pain that I felt, and all of my energy was put towards that fake smile when I said I was OK with how you treated me. There are not words for the feeling I got when parents of teammates asked why I didn't play more or why I got pulled after one mistake; I simply didn't have an answer. The way you made me feel about myself and my ability to play ball made me hate myself; not only did you make me doubt my ability to play, you turned my teammates against me to where they didn't trust my abilities. I would not wish the pain you caused me on my greatest enemy. I pray that one day, eventually, when all of your players quit coming back that you realize that it isn't all about winning records. It’s about the players. You can have winning records without a good coach if you have a good team, but you won’t have a team if you can't treat players with the respect they deserve.

SEE ALSO: To The Little Girl Picking Up A Basketball For The First Time


Cover Image Credit: Equality Charter School

Related Content

Connect with a generation
of new voices.

We are students, thinkers, influencers, and communities sharing our ideas with the world. Join our platform to create and discover content that actually matters to you.

Learn more Start Creating

Taking A Step Back From My Sport Allowed Me To Be Able To Work On These 3 Things

Sometimes you need time away to appreciate the things you love.

416
views

Since the age of nine, horses have been my whole life. Before college, I never had your typical teenage experience. My weekends were spent driving two hours one way to train with a top show barn. My mom and I lived out of our suitcases during the summers, traveling from one show to the next.

The only glimpse of the senior prom I got was through Snapchat's my friends sent of them having the time of their life, while I was going to bed at nine to make sure I had plenty of sleep to compete the next day. I even graduated early to go work for a show barn in Florida for five months. I missed out on a lot, but it never felt that way because of how passionate I was about the sport. I was all in, I loved the thrill of competing, the early mornings, the long days, and most of all: the horses. If you would have told me that I would be here writing about feeling burned out a year ago, I would have laughed.

Going away to college and having to put a bit of pause on my athletic career allowed me to take a step back, breathe, and realize there is so much more than horse shows and blue ribbons to this world. If I could instill a piece of wisdom to my younger self it would be that taking a step back at times is the best thing you can do for yourself. Here is what I learned:

1. Mental health

As many of you know, the pressure of succeeding can put a toll on anyone. I have always been extremely hard on myself, but when I was showing almost every weekend I really started to notice that I would feel upset more than I felt happy. I could win the class but still, come out of the ring criticizing myself over every little thing that went wrong. Because of this, I went into the ring nervous and doubtful. It wasn't fun anymore.

After taking a step back, I have realized that there will always be ups and downs in any sport. I now go into the ring much more confident and I come out smiling- even when it didn't go as planned. There will always be another chance.

2. Physical health

Like any sport, riding takes a toll on your body. After working in Florida for five months, riding up to 12 horses a day, I really felt like something was wrong with my back. However, I pushed through the pain, convincing myself of the quote "no pain no gain". I continued to ignore it, until one day it was unbearable.

I went to the doctor and sure enough, I had herniated my L5 disc. He told us this was completely preventable if I would have rested or taken an hour out of my day to ice and stretch when the pain started. After months of healing and being on a first name basis with my chiropractor, I have realized just how important it is to put my wellness first.

3. Relationships

Taking a step back has also allowed me to develop better relationships with myself, family, and friends. Before, I had such a narrow mind frame and would allow my performance to dictate how I treated people that day. Now after a rough day, I am much better at putting it behind me and not dwelling on it.

I have also realized that I need time to just be "still". Practicing yoga, or meditating for five minutes has made a world of a difference in my relationship with myself (yes, that is a thing).

While packing up to go to school this past August, knowing I would be taking a step back from the sport I love, I felt as though I would never ride as well as I did when it consumed my whole life. But I couldn't have been more wrong. I am now going into the show ring with a clear mind and leaving with a smile on my face.

To my surprise, it has been more than me starting to have fun again- I am riding better, and getting more consistent results than I had before. So, to all those athletes out there that fear to take a step back from their own sport, I am here to tell you that it may just be the best thing you can do for your performance and yourself...

Related Content

Facebook Comments