The Gjallgard Kindred

Asatru/Northern Tradition Paganism


Winternights - Vetrnætr

In ancient times, Winternights was a festival marking the end of summer and the beginning of winter. The farming season was at an end and the hunting season beginning. The last of the crops were brought in, and animals which were unlikely to make it through the winter were slaughtered. The Northern Lights brightened in the night sky and the veil between the worlds grew thin. It was a time to honour the ancestors and to welcome the “Wild Hunt”. The length of the festival varied in different locations and from clan to clan, the norm being two or three days.

Followers of modern Asatru still vary in their observance of Winternights from group to group. For our Kindred, Winternights is a week of remembrance and thanksgiving leading up to the Cross-Quarter Day of Autumn. It is a time of celebrating and giving thanks to our ancestors and departed loved ones, those who have gone before and laid the foundations of our lives. It is a time set aside for solemn contemplation of the mysteries of life and death as taught by the Ancient Ways. It is primarily a household celebration, but includes the group celebrations of “The Night of Spectres” (Halloween) and “The Feast of Odin” (Remembrance Day)

Some Asatru groups observe Halloween and Remembrance Day by the Gregorian Calendar, however we celebrate them, respectively, on the Eve and the day of the 2nd New Moon of Autumn.

Winternights is family time, with outside socializing muted, with light and simple meals (excluding feasts), with an overtone of solemn contemplation. Still, it is joyful time of celebration and gratitude.

As a prelude the house is decorated, usually by the children of the household. A family ancestor shrine is set up, usually by the parents.

For each evening meal the whole family sets the table, often with seasonal plates, cups and napkins. A bell is placed on the table to be rung by one of the children. Each family member places a candle on the table and lights it. All artificial lights are turned off. A member of the family gives the prayer for that night. If there is a fireplace in the house, it may be lit as the meal is served. The bell is rung, to banish all unwelcome spirits and to welcome the good. Mealtime conversation is instructive, discussing lore and beliefs on death, afterlife, and reincarnation. Following the meal the entire family participates in clearing the table and cleaning up.

The household then gathers around the Ancestor Shrine. A different family member may, in turn, replace and re-light the candle(s) on the shrine. Each evening a different group of ancestors is honoured. Except for the seventh evening the order in which these groups are honoured may vary. For example:

1st evening – The Night of Nurturers. Remembering Ancestors who have given much to the well-being of the family, the keepers of family lore, those who have worked to keep the family strong through good times and bad.

2nd evening – The Night of Martyrs. Remembering those who have given their lives in war and in peace for the well being of the family and the continuance of the Ancient Ways.

3rd evening – The Night of Seers. Remembering those who have dealt with the supernatural, those who have seen the future, and telling their stories.

4th evening – The Night of Bards. Remembering the artists, musicians, storytellers and others of the family whose work evoked the magic of the Ancient Ways.

5th evening – The Night of the Recent Dead. Remembering the relatives and friends that we knew in life and telling their stories.

6th evening – The Night of Family Pets. Pets are family members and they must be recalled and their memories cherished. Their spirits remain with us and are always welcome.

7th evening – The Night of Heroes. The seventh night is always dedicated to those of our ancestors that we regard as heroes. This is the prelude to the Night of Spectres and the midnight Feast of the Dead.

The Night of Spectres is a group ritual led by the Gothar (priest - Goði and priestess - Gyðja), during which Odin, Freya and the goddess Hel are honoured as the keepers of the dead, as well as Baldur and Hodur who remind us that whatever destiny befalls us, we live forever beyond death. Portals are opened to the spirit world to invite and welcome Hel to lead the procession of spirits and shades again through Midgard.

The ritual is held late in the evening and is followed by a family midnight “Feast of the Dead”, welcoming and honouring the spirits of our ancestors.

The following afternoon (our Remembrance Day) the group observes “Hero’s Day”, honouring those who gave their lives for family, folk and the Ancient Ways, and the “Feast of Odin” which is a pot-luck thanksgiving for the gifts of our ancestors and honours Odin as the Lord of those who have gone before us.

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