Monday, July 1, 2024

Crafting Your Own Heathen Wheel of the Year: A Guide to Nordic Celebrations

Crafting Your Own Heathen Wheel of the Year: A Guide to Nordic Celebrations

Earlier this year I mentioned that the modern Wheel of the Year no longer resonated with me. As the years drew on, I felt less and less connection with the sabbats and the celebrations tied to them. I continued to set up altars that felt forced and struggled to connect to the magic I once loved so dearly. After much contemplation, meditation, and conversations with my ancestors, I realized that this feeling arose from a lack of familial connection to these holidays. They weren't mine or my ancestors, at least most of them weren't anyway. 

The modern Wheel of the Year is an amalgamation of holidays from multiple cultures thrown together and presented as a cohesive truth. This is the unfortunate reality of modern paganism and witchcraft, despite what others may lead you to believe, simply because much of our history has been lost with time. I too once believed the Wheel of the Year was ancient and followed by pagans across Europe, but this simply isn't the truth. The Wheel of the Year was created by several Wiccan leaders in an attempt to legitimize their tradition. There is absolutely nothing wrong with celebrating the Wheel of the Year as many, many witches, pagans, and occult practitioners do. It's important, however, to recognize the Wheel of the Year is a modern invention, and while many of the holidays did exist in the past, they were not necessarily celebrated together, inherently religious (but certainly cultural), given the exact dates we use today, or celebrated the way we celebrate today. This realization explained the disconnect I was feeling. I'm not Wiccan, and while many of my ancestors hail from Scotland, those Scottish ancestors were descendants of Scandinavian (think Viking) ancestry. I wasn't connecting with most of these holidays because they weren't mine to connect with. As such, I set out to find what I did feel connected to. Enter the Nordic or Heathen calendar.

What is the Nordic or Heathen Calendar?

Historical Evidence

Archaeological finds from the Viking Age have produced a number of runic calendars carved onto wood, bone, horns, and rocks known as a primstav in Norway and Denmark and a runstav in Sweden. Primstav is derived from prim meaning "new moon" in Old Norse while runstav means "rune staff." Both of these derivations hint at how the calendars were constructed. 

Photo: Ingvar Bohm / Nordic Museum, Stockholm Primstav from Setesdal, Norway, 1781.
Photo: Ingvar Bohm / Nordic Museum, Stockholm
Primstav from Setesdal, Norway, 1781.

Lines or notches were used to represent the days of the year while characters such as runes were used to denote the solstices, equinoxes, festivals, and holidays. Unlike our modern calendar, each month began on the new moon thus dividing the year into 12 months of 30 days. Four extra days were added to the third summer month and every seven years a week was added to the end of summer called Sumarauki ("summer addition") to account for leap years. Furthermore, the year was divided into two seasons: winter and summer. Each stav was two-sided with a season being represented on each side. The summer started on the full moon around April 14th while the winter side began around October 15th. As mentioned before, these dates shifted as the moons shifted from year to year. (Dr. Andreas Nordberg, the foremost expert on Nordic holidays and calendars, presents some evidence that the year may have been divided into quarters, but most scholars currently disagree.)

Currently, there are about 650 known Norweigan primstaves dating from the late 15th century to the early 19th century. The oldest documented stav was recorded in 876 in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, but this stav has never been recovered making a 13th-century stav found in Nyköping, Sweden the oldest recovered stav on record. The most famous stav and most used among Norse pagans, however, is Worm's Norwegian stav from 1643 which was carved into a large fish bone, possibly whale. Worm described the winter months in great detail in his book Fasti Danici, which included a drawing, but he neglected to document the summer side, making our record incomplete. Like the documented 876 stav, Worm's stav has never been recovered.

Worm’s Norwegian Viking Calendar
Worm’s Norwegian Runic Calendar, 1643 Fasti Danici


Each month was believed to have begun on the new moon, creating 12 months similar to our modern calendar. The exact dates of each month shifted each year as the moon phases shifted and therefore do not easily align with our modern-day calendar. Ample archeological and historical evidence has allowed modern Norse pagans and heathens to reconstruct the Nordic calendar, which would have varied greatly between cultures. The calendar below is based on the work of Dr. Andreas Nordberg's 2006 work titled Jul, disting och förkyrklig tideräkning.

Summer Months
The Summer months were also known as Náttleysi or nightless days and consisted of
  • Góa (April-ish)- Góa Moon
  • Einmánuður (May-ish)- One Moon
  • Harpa (June-ish)- Harpa's Moon.
  • Skerpla (July-ish)- Skarpla's Moon
  • Heyannir (August-ish)- Hay Moon, referring to the cutting and drying of hay.
  • Tvímánuður (September-ish)- Second Moon. Also known as Kornskurðarmánuðr meaning "time to reap grain."
Winter Months
The Winter months were also known as Skammdegi or the short days and consisted of
  • Haustmánuður (October-ish)- Harvest Moon, a time to celebrate the final harvest of the season, the mending of fences, and the repair of walls for the winter to come.
  • Gormánuður (November-ish)- Slaughter Moon, known for the annual slaughter that occurred here before winter completely set in.
  • Jolmánuður (December-ish)- First Yule Moon. Also known as Frermánuðr or Frost Moon.
  • Jolmánuður (January-ish)- Second Yule Moon
  • Sunmánuður (February-ish)- Sun Moon
  • Mörsugur (March-ish)- Fat Sucking Moon
This is just one interpretation of the Nordic calendar. Other practitioners start the Summer months with Harpa (April-ish) and end with Haustmánuður (September-ish), pushing the Winter months to be Gormánuður (October-ish) through Einmánuður (March-ish). This version shifts all the months to different dates, and while it's not necessarily incorrect, it's not the version I have chosen to use for my path. As I mentioned earlier, there are significant differences in calendar structure based on the culture from which the stav originated. Sometimes these calendars varied widely within the same territory depending on the town or village you were in. There was no uniform system used until Christianization began and even then it was hard to get people to agree.

Holidays and Celebrations

Knowing that the runic symbols represented solstices, equinoxes, festivals, and holidays and that these calendars were updated well into the 19th century, we can reconstruct when sumbels, ritualistic drinking and feasting, would have occurred. Sumbels sometimes occurred during a blót or ceremonial sacrifice. Based on this evidence important celebrations included:
  • Sigurblót- Also known as Somarmál or Victory-blót which occurred during the full moon of Goa Moon (mid-April-ish) or the fourth full moon after the Winter Solstice.
  • Midsommar (Midsummer)- Midsommer is a newer holiday that was not given a name or date until the 1700s, although variations of the holiday have been celebrated for longer. Midsommar is celebrated around the Summer Solstice.
  • Vetrnætr- Also known as Winter Nights, this 3-day celebration begins on the first full moon of Haustmánuður, marking the first day of winter. 
  • Alfablót- There is no known archeological evidence that supports the celebration of this holiday, but Alfablót is mentioned in verses 1-6 of the Austrfararvísur and in the Kormáks Saga which both suggested it was a celebration and sacrifice in honor of one's ancestors and Elves.
  • Jol/Yule/Hökunótt- While most celebrate Yule on the Winter Solstice, it was historically celebrated on the first full moon after the new moon of the Winter Solstice, making it most often celebrated in January.

Creating My Heathen "Wheel of the Year"

Using historical documents, modern resources, and communication with my ancestors, I developed a Nordic calendar or Heathen "Wheel of the Year" that works for me. I like the wheel metaphor and therefore appropriate to design my calendar around.

This calendar or wheel includes all the modern months of the year as well as the approximate placement of the Nordic months. Four major holidays are also listed where I will celebrate them:
  • Sigurblót during the Goa Moon (mid-April)- celebrated on the fourth full moon after the Winter Solstice.
  • Midsommar (Midsummer) during Harpa (mid-June)- celebrated on the Summer Solstice.
  • Vetrnætr or Winter Nights beginning on the Harvest Moon (mid to late October). This celebration includes 3 days, each day with its own celebration. I will discuss this in more detail below.
  • Yule during Jolmánuður (mid-December)- celebrated on the Winter Solstice.

You may notice that Alfablót is not listed among the holidays. This is because there is some debate on when exactly Alfablót was celebrated. Some sources state it was celebrated as part of Vetrnætr while others suggest it was celebrated on the Slaughter Moon in Gormánuður (mid-November). I have decided to celebrate it as part of Vetrnætr, along with two other popular Nordic holidays commonly celebrated during Winter Nights, Disablót and Haustblót. The first night of Vetrnætr is Alfablót in which I will honor my masculine ancestors, spirits, and deities, followed by Disablót in which I will honor my feminine ancestors, spirits, and dísir (both similar to Samhain). The final night is Haustblót in which I will celebrate the harvest with a feast and make a sacrifice to ensure a good year to come, similar to Mabon or the American Thanksgiving.

The dates I have chosen correspond with historical documents and modern celebrations and will allow me to have some 'fixed' holidays as well as some moveable ones. Sigurblót and Vetrnætr will follow the moon cycle, while Midsommar and Yule will be celebrated on the solstices. I am currently toying with the idea of moving Vetrnætr to correspond with Samhain/Halloween/Day of the Dead but would like to see how this year goes first before I decide if I want to move things around. I think celebrating October 30th and 31st and November 1st would work very well and correspond with other holidays nicely. I already celebrate Halloween (it's a big deal in my house) so Winter Nights falling during this time would be perfect. Unfortunately, October's full moon doesn't always align with Halloween. This year the full moon falls on October 17th, two full weeks before the 31st. I plan to celebrate starting on the 17th this year and if I feel I need to modify my calendar, I will!

There are a variety of other holidays many modern Norse pagans and heathens celebrate, some of which are Wiccan or Celtic-inspired. None of those holidays resonated with me, and while I toyed with the idea of adding Walpurgisnacht or Walpurgis Night to my calendar, I ultimately didn't because of the deep Christian roots of the holiday. I may add it in the future, but for now, I am content with the calendar I have created. Four holidays, one of which lasts three nights, is more than enough for me, especially once you add other familial and cultural holidays, traditions, and celebrations. 

Again, this is my personal calendar, which I created with the help of my ancestors. I recognize not everyone will agree with it, and that's fine because it isn't yours. I encourage you to develop a calendar and system that works for you, despite what others may tell you. Personalized spirituality is always more fulfilling and powerful compared to a packaged version.

In the coming months, I will dive deeper into these holidays, explaining their historical significance, offering ways to celebrate, and sharing spells, rituals, and altars inspired by these celebrations. I am excited to begin this new journey with all of you and if you have any tips, suggestions, or topics you would like me to cover along the way, please drop them in the comments below.

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  1. Oooh! I am so excited about this! I have dutifully celebrated the Wheel of the Year, but celebrating Hanal Pixán (Mayan Day of the Dead in the Yucatan) instead of Samhain, because I was living there. But it mostly felt like a chore and something I was "supposed" to do. I have recently started delving into my ancestry (via DNA, not ancestor work ) on my mother's side. Turns out that her ancestors are Viking as well - with Norway, Sweden and Denmark both making an appearance. Your journey to find a calendar that resonates with you via your ancestors intrigues me. I am eager to follow you down this rabbit hole.

    1. That's so awesome! Both of my grandmothers were genealogy hobbyist, so we have a pretty complete record of our ancestors since their arrival in the United States. There isn't very much information prior to our families immigrating here, unfortunately, and that is where DNA comes in. My mom and dad both did 23 and Me a couple of years ago and it gave us a really great picture and a better idea of where to start looking for more information. Both my mom and dad hail from the same clan in Scotland that was in pretty constant contact with the Norse. My great-great grandparents on my mother's side also immigrated here from Sweden. DNA evidence also showed a little bit of French, German, African, and Native American, but all of these encompass less than 10% of our DNA. I know a lot of family records have been lost for so many people, if there were any at all, so I always suggest DNA testing along with talking to your relative and hearing your family story. My family took our history and traditions seriously, and I am so thankful that they did not completely assimilate.

      If you do any ancestor work, I encourage you to speak with them too. I have learned so much through honoring them over the years. I don't do a ton of spell work or rituals any more, but my ancestors are constantly whispering to me. I feel very blessed to have them with me. Lately my fiancé's family has started whispering, particularly his mother who passed when he was 18. He doesn't like to talk about, so I keep it to myself, but I feel honored she speaks to me as often as she does.

      I hope you keep digging into your past and that you are able to develop your own calendar that works for you as well. This has been a long time coming for me and I am so happy I get to share my experiences with all of you. Thank you so much for your love and support. <3

  2. What a great post — thank you for sharing your research and process! The standard wheel has never resonated with me either, in large part because I live where the local phenology Durant doesn’t line up at all with what’s being celebrated in the standard holidays. The challenge now is to marry my ancestry with my current locality in a way that makes sense! 😁

    1. Of course! Thank you for reading and commenting!

      I feel this in my bones! The seasons here in Georgia are anything but normal, and with climate change shifting things even more, its hard to predict when the seasons will actually change. Fall used to start in September, but now its the end of October/beginning of November. People talk about the strawberry moon in June and I am like...strawberry season ended in April!

      Creating a system that works for me here and now has been on my mind for sooooo long. The disconnect between my local environment, ancestry, and the 'traditional' wheel of the year made it very difficult to feel a true connection. I wish you the best of luck on your journey to find a system that works for you. Being open to change and new opportunities is so important to our growth.

      Thank you again for reading and commenting and if there is anything I can do to help, please let me know. <3


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