A Very Viking Halloween

A Very Viking Halloween

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

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To The Coach Who Took Away My Confidence

You had me playing in fear.
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"The road to athletic greatness is not marked by perfection, but the ability to constantly overcome adversity and failure."

As a coach, you have a wide variety of players. You have your slow players, your fast players. You have the ones that are good at defense. You have the ones that are good at offense. You have the ones who would choose to drive and dish and you have the ones that would rather shoot the three. You have the people who set up the plays and you have the people who finish them. You are in charge of getting these types of players to work together and get the job done.

Sure, a coach can put together a pretty set of plays. A coach can scream their head off in a game and try and get their players motivated. A coach can make you run for punishment, or they can make you run to get more in shape. The most important role of a coach, however, is to make the players on their team better. To hopefully help them to reach their fullest potential. Players do make mistakes, but it is from those mistakes that you learn and grow.

To the coach the destroyed my confidence,

You wanted to win, and there was nothing wrong with that. I saw it in your eyes if I made a mistake, you were not too happy, which is normal for a coach. Turnovers happen. Players miss shots. Sometimes the girl you are defending gets past you. Sometimes your serve is not in bounds. Sometimes someone beats you in a race. Sometimes things happen. Players make mistakes. It is when you have players scared to move that more mistakes happen.

I came on to your team very confident in the way that I played the game. Confident, but not cocky. I knew my role on the team and I knew that there were things that I could improve on, but overall, I was an asset that could've been made into an extremely great player.

You paid attention to the weaknesses that I had as a player, and you let me know about them every time I stepped onto the court. You wanted to turn me into a player I was not. I am fast, so let me fly. You didn't want that. You wanted me to be slow. I knew my role wasn't to drain threes. My role on the team was to get steals. My role was to draw the defense and pass. You got mad when I drove instead of shot. You wanted me to walk instead of run. You wanted me to become a player that I simply wasn't. You took away my strengths and got mad at me when I wasn't always successful with my weaknesses.

You did a lot more than just take away my strengths and force me to focus on my weaknesses. You took away my love for the game. You took away the freedom of just playing and being confident. I went from being a player that would take risks. I went from being a player that was not afraid to fail. Suddenly, I turned into a player that questioned every single move that I made. I questioned everything that I did. Every practice and game was a battle between my heart and my head. My heart would tell me to go to for it. My heart before every game would tell me to just not listen and be the player that I used to be. Something in my head stopped me every time. I started wondering, "What if I mess up?" and that's when my confidence completely disappeared.

Because of you, I was afraid to fail.

You took away my freedom of playing a game that I once loved. You took away the relaxation of going out and playing hard. Instead, I played in fear. You took away me looking forward to go to my games. I was now scared of messing up. I was sad because I knew that I was not playing to my fullest potential. I felt as if I was going backward and instead of trying to help me, you seemed to just drag me down. I'd walk up to shoot, thinking in my head, "What happens if I miss?" I would have an open lane and know that you'd yell at me if I took it, so I just wouldn't do it.

SEE ALSO: The Coach That Killed My Passion

The fight to get my confidence back was a tough one. It was something I wish I never would've had to do. Instead of becoming the best player that I could've been, I now had to fight to become the player that I used to be. You took away my freedom of playing a game that I loved. You took away my good memories in a basketball uniform, which is something I can never get back. You can be the greatest athlete in the world, but without confidence, you won't go very far.

Cover Image Credit: Christina Silies

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Love, A True Fan

Yes I love this team, yes they are good, no I do not love them because they are good.

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I love my hometown. It is cute, we have good schools, and the people are generally nice.

What I do not love about my hometown is how close it is to Cleveland.

Don't get me wrong, I love the CLE, I just don't love the Browns.

I can remember being a passionate Steelers fan as far back as the third grade, which means I can also remember people arguing with me about football as far back as the third grade. Growing up being rivals with the home team, especially as a girl, was never easy because everyone just assumed I liked Pittsburgh because they were a good team. They quickly learned that I knew exactly what I was talking about and would quickly put anyone who questioned my knowledge on the sport or the team in their place.

All things considered, I've had a good sports fan life.

Just in my lifetime, I've seen my Steelers play in three Super Bowls, and win two. I've seen the Pittsburgh Penguins play in four Stanley Cup Finals, and win three, and I was at the 2017 Victory Parade. I shared in the happy shock when the Cavaliers came back from being down 3-1 in the NBA Finals and beat the Warriors for the first championship in Cleveland in over 50 years. I watched the Cleveland Indians play in the World Series, and last year I watched one of my favorite college football teams win the SEC, the Rose Bowl, and play in the National Championship.

So yeah, I can see how you'd accuse me of being a bandwagon fan, and why when the Steelers and Penguins both won championships in 2009 the other fifth graders in my class thought I just picked two teams who were good, but that does not mean it is true.

I know my teams, and my sports, well, and honestly, I've grown to love people challenging me on sports. No one expected an elementary school girl to be able to back herself up so well with football knowledge that the boys who actually played football knew they could not win that argument.

Yes, my teams have done well, but I have some connection to all of my teams, whether it be family or where I grew up, and I don't only care that they've won big games (although I'm not complaining).

Everyone tells me that I haven't really experienced what it is like to watch one of my teams struggle, but I have every intention on being just as devoted to my teams through those times as I was when they were winning. I was devoted to the Penguins in December of 2015 when they were thought to not be capable of making the playoffs that year so they fired their coach. I'll still wear my Cavaliers gear, despite the fact that they are struggling without LeBron. I'll be there when the Ben Roethlisberger retires and the Steelers' offense stinks because we never drafted a good back-up quarterback. And I'm already mentally preparing myself for the disaster that could come during this year's SEC Championship between Georgia and Alabama.

So don't take it out on me that your team is having a losing season, because I would love to have an in depth conversation with you about how the Cleveland Browns will never truly be good until they restructure their entire management and stop firing coaches every two years, despite how many Heisman winners they draft. And I'd love to tell you all about how the Penguins will never truly be down and out because Sidney Crosby really is the best player in the world, and I'll tell you why it's not Connor McDavid or Alex Ovechkin.

Here's to Super Bowls, Stanley Cups, and championships of all kinds. Everyone should experience what it's like to see your team win one, but be ready when they do because suddenly everyone wants to question how deep your loyalty runs when they do. But don't worry, I can back up why I love my teams, can you?

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