Santa Klaus is a mystical figure in every way, shape, and form. Like the Grim Reaper, he’s an amalgamation of various spirits and Gods. While the reaper represents death, Santa Klaus represents unbound life even in darkness. But who or what is Santa Klaus? This is a subject that will take many blog posts across many years. But I can start that process now.
Today we are going to explore at least three major influences of Christmas. Namely Odin in his two incarnations as Oski the giver of gifts and leader of the Wild Hunt. The Spirits, and Yule.
Yule is Nordic, not Celtic
Now I am going to say something that has confused a lot of people. Yule is not and I repeat, not a Celtic holiday. It is purely Norse. The Druids observed four Sabbats. And Yule wasn’t one of them.
Yule is a completely Norse holiday. So why do so many people think it has to do with Celtic culture? Well there’s three reasons for that. One is that there is a celebration of Winter Solstice done by the Druids every year at Stonehenge. And many conflate winter solstice with Yule. Then we have Wicca which is a very new tradition.
Created by Gerald Gardener, Wicca was originally a mix of Brythonic traditions. Then other European traditions were added including those of the Norse. So the four festivals of the Druids, plus Yule was used to create the wheel of the year. That’s where the confusion comes in. I have zero problems with Wicca.
So don’t get it twisted.
The last reason, is that the Norse migrated to other parts of Europe. Many of their mixed descendants practice a hybrid version of their culture. One with the original cultures their indigenous ancestors had, and the Nordic culture of their Nordic ancestors. So there’s a sub group of Nordic Celts. Even in America, a man in a Wiccan coven I was once in, spoke to me of this.
He said that Nords and Celts are like family.
The meaning of Yule
Now the word Yule has different definitions according to different sources. What keeps getting repeated is that it means “wheel”. And it’s related to the wheel of the year. Others claim that Yule is based on one of Odin’s names. Jólnir, meaning “the Yule one” or “Yuler”.
But that’s a title for him that seems to come from the word Yule. It doesn’t explain what the word actually means. I had to consult a few language dictionaries before I could answer that. The best source I found says it’s a proto Germanic word meaning “joke” or “play”. And that the word jolly comes from this.
So Yule is a time for merriment and play. Which explains why the word Jolly is used so much in Christmas. So if this is true that would more or less mean that his name Jólnir more or less means “the merry one” or “the playful one”. This is just me theorizing. I don’t speak the old Norse language.
So I have no idea if what I believe is true. It just seems like logic to me. If you believe that his name comes from wheel, then it would mean the wheeled one. Which doesn’t make much sense. Of course it’s also a strange name for the leader of the Wild Hunt but oh well.
He’s a warrior God. Maybe hunting evil spirits is fun for him.
For people in Norway and Sweden, Yule is a time of the Faeries. Mischievous Faeries like the Yule Lads who go around stealing things. Destroying property. And in some cases eating the flesh of humans. The Yule Lads are said to be the children of the Demon Witch, Gryla.
They go around eating your food. Or stealing your money. And generally causing discord because they have nothing better to do. However, it also had more familial connections. Yule was the time when Norse worshippers believed their dead returned to Earth.
Which is why many people believe winter is the time when the dead return. In fact there is a fascinating tradition in England since the Victorian era where people tell Ghost Stories in Christmas time. A tradition I continue because I love a little Halloween in my Christmas. I believe the dead return in Winter time also. Here’s a great article by Cryptoville on that called The Ghosts of Christmas Past.
What’s interesting here, is that in modern times the Celtic Samhain is seen as a feast of the dead. And many people who practice Brythonic traditions have incorporated that belief into theirs. Maybe that’s also from Nordic influence. Among the most famous Yule spirits are…….
The most well known of the Yule Spirits are the Swedish Tomte or “homestead man”. Also called the Nisse in Norway. These are Elves associated with the winter time. Nisse is believed to come from the name of St. Nicholas. But others say it comes from the word niðsi (“dear little relative”).
And these creatures are the reason Santa Klaus looks the way he does. The way he is portrayed in blue, red, or green clothing as well as the cap he wears, is due to Oski’s appearance as an Elf. The Homestead Man or Dear Little Relative is akin to a house elf. Only these faeries only live on farms. Like all household fae, they protect and bless the home owners.
They range from half the size of a man to the size of a child. They have super strength surpassed only by other supernatural creatures. If a farmer treated the Tomte living in their home well, they would be blessed for life. And anyone fool enough to harass or injure a farmer who had a guardian Tomte or Nisse, was in for a surprise. The homestead fae would stop a thief with their superior strength.
Or perhaps hex a nasty neighbor. Or go over to that neigboor’s house and start a haunting.
The Tomte could become a powerful spirit guide. Even talisman to the person who knew how to work with them. You had to give them proper offerings of porridge with butter, milk, cream, or honey. Or any sweet and sugary substance you could find. And then make your request of them.
They would often sleep with the farm animals to protect them.
But also out of love for them. They would assist the farmer in the chores. And make the crops abundant. Some of the Tomte may be the dead reincarnated as nature entities. This seems to be a trend in a lot of cultures.
Eventually, the Tomte were paired with the Yule Goat. This may even have been an animal that was sacrificed in ancient times. But eventually, the Yule Goat was a goat made of straw that was ritually burned at Yule. The origin is that Thor had a chariot pulled by Goats. And Thor is also one of the origins of Santa Klaus.
But we’re focusing on just one origin at a time every year. Later the Tomte became Santa’s helpers. In fact, some traditions have them going from house to house with the Yule Goat. Giving gifts to children instead of Santa himself.
There are also stories of Odin riding his eight legged horse Sleipnir to watch over his people.
So I’m going to say something that will throw people into confusion. But it’s the truth. The month for Yule is actually two months long give or take. It starts in mid November. But doesn’t end until the first weeks of January.
If you notice, this is why the Orthodox and a few other people celebrate Christmas in January. That’s why I have “Christmas in January” as the tags in some New Years articles. Some people have a mini Christmas. My own people, Cubans, have the Three Kings Parade in January. It’s a mini Christmas or after Christmas that takes place in the new year.
And children believe the Three Pagan Kings will come to their houses baring them gifts.
Later it was changed to December and early January. But if you want to be traditional, the mid week of November is the first week of Yule. At least according to the ancient Germans. And then more or less a week or two weeks into January is Yule Month’s end. That’s what the Venerable Bede, a Saint, English Monk, and Historian said.
He witnessed the rituals himself allegedly. And he wrote about the Matronae on Modrenecht as well. Which lends credence to him being a good source.
This is a Midwinter festival. Which means people are starving. And they need to keep warm. Many animals including boars and livestock were killed. Their blood was poured into vessels called Hlautbolli or Blótbolli.
With twigs, they would sprinkle the blood all over the temple. On the idols of the Gods. And on the pedestals. Even themselves. This is a form of purification known as aspersion.
Then a fire was started in the middle of the temple. And the flames would be used to cook the sacrificed animals and begin the feast. But there were also sacred kettles with the ale being placed over the fires. Then came the toasting. This blót was performed by offering up drinks in the honor of spirits or Gods.
Or even living people. The first toast is for the God Odin so that the King would have victory and great power. The second toast is to the Sea God Njörðr and his son Freyr the God of the weather, fertility, peace, kingship, and pleasure. This is for good harvests and for peace. The next toast is for the King himself, and finally the minni or memorial toast for departed family and friends.
The minimum that Yule lasted was for three nights. However, the holiday would not end until all the food and drink was finished. Which means it could span several nights.
Other rituals were followed on Yule. Such as Heitstrenging (oath swearing). This was a social-political and religious practice. Basically, you take a sacrificed animal, or a drink. And you swear on that drink or animal that you will do something.
And it becomes a binding social contract on your honor. If you don’t fulfill it then you had no honor.
Good luck trying to form any alliances in the future. On Yule it was usually done on a Sonargöltr, or “holy pig”. Freyr is known to have had a divine animal known as the sun boar.
So this was done in his honor. Later the animal was sacrificed and eaten.
Up Hella Aa or Up Helly Aa : The end of Yule in the Scottish Shetlands
As mentioned before, the Shetlands in Scotland have a Nordic-Celtic heritage. They don’t end Yule until the Up Helly Aa festival. It means “Up Holy Day All”. There’s actually many of these festivals happening in different parts of the Shetland’s. But they mostly follow this formula.
Many people carry lit torches. The people known as Guizers are dressed as Vikings. There’s an honorary “Jarl” or Earl who is leader of the event. The group sings the Up Hella Aa song till they get to the place where the replica Norse longship is.
This ends with the ceremonial burning of the Viking Galley. Thus marking the end of Yule for the Shetlands in Scotland. This new year it’s Tuesday, the 31st of January. The lyrics to the Up Hella Aa song are as follows.
Words by J. J. Haldane Burgess,
M.A. Music by Thomas Manson
“From grand old Viking centuries Up-Helly-A’ has come,
Then light the torch and form the march, and sound the rolling drum:
And wake the mighty memories of heroes that are dumb;
The waves are rolling on.
Grand old Vikings ruled upon the ocean vast,
Their brave battle-songs still thunder on the blast;
Their wild war-cry comes a-ringing from the past;
We answer it “A-oi”!
Roll their glory down the ages,
Sons of warriors and sages,
When the fight for Freedom rages,
Be bold and strong as they!
Of yore, our firey fathers sped upon the Viking Path;
Of yore, their dreaded dragons braved the ocean in its wrath;
And we, their sons, are reaping now their glory’s aftermath;
The waves are rolling on.
In distant lands, their raven-flag flew like a blazing star;
And foreign foemen, trembling, heard their battle-cry afar;
And they thundered o’er the quaking earth, those mighty men of war;
The waves are rolling on.
On distant seas, their dragon-prows went gleaming outward bound,
The storm-clouds were their banners, and their music ocean’s sound;
And we, their sons, go sailing still the wide earth round and round;
The waves are rolliing on.
No more Thor’s lurid Hammer flames against the northern sky;
No more from Odin’s shining halls the dark valkyrior fly;
Before the Light the heathen Night went slowly rolling by;
The waves are rolling on.
We are the sons of mightly sires, whose souls were staunch and strong;
We sweep upon our serried foes, the hosts of Hate and Wrong;
The glory of a grander Age has fired our battle-song;
The waves are rolling on.
Our galley is the People’s Right, the dragon of the free;
The Right that rising in its might, brings tyrants to their knee;
The flag that flies above us is the Love of Liberty;
The waves are rolling on,”
I personally celebrate Up Hella Aa as the end of Yule. So by now you must be wondering : How the hell am I supposed to incorporate all of this into my practice? I know what you mean. Seriously, should I sacrifice the animals myself or go to the butcher? Can I swear oaths over a holy vegan hamburger instead of a holy pig? And can I burn my ex’s car as a bonfire instead of going to a holy temple?
Well! These questions and more are about to be answered!
How I celebrate Yule
What I do is come as close to the original rituals as possible. But simplified. And in a way that is adapted to urban life. As well as not making a hole in your pocket. Part of magic is symbolism.
Symbols hold great power. We begin with the temple. That’s any sacred space you have. It can be your home. A sacred place in nature.
Or any place you can use. The most important thing here is to have idols of the Gods. If you can’t afford them, then print a massive picture out with the Gods in it. Seriously, you don’t need a wooden or stone idol. All you need is a representation.
Before I could afford actual idols, I used pebbles and other stones that I blessed for the Gods or spirits I worked with. They were easy to carry around. And unless someone knew what they were looking at, no one would have any idea that these were idols. So no insane anti Pagan relatives. No nosy neighbors.
And no enemy practitioners who would curse them or stain them with bad energy against you. That’s why I am against taking pictures of my real idols and places of magic I go to. Instead of a sacrificed animal, I offer up food as a sacrifice. Meat is what the Norse Gods typically like. And they do like blood.
So that I leave to you. You can ask for meat from a butcher and ask for the blood as well. Kept in a bottle which will act as your Hlautbolli or Blótbolli. Then pour libations of blood all over the idols. Or if you are outside, everywhere with a stick and the idols.
I wouldn’t recommend it on yourself though. Blood borne diseases and all. Or, you can do what I do. Use holy water. They drink too, not just eat.
So bless water in their name and asperse with that instead. The type of food you eat is optional. You can try to eat a Norse diet of meat. But if you’re vegan I think it’s more important to dedicate the feast to the Gods. The point here is faith and intention.
The Gods will see if you have good intentions or not. Don’t just offer to them like it’s nothing. Sometimes a simple tea light burned with faith, is more important to the Gods than a thousand fancy Viking feasts done by a wealthy person.
And if you are some asshole trying to gain their favor for money and power and not their love, good luck achieving anything. They will find you unworthy.
And the only things attracted to those feasts will be negative spirits. False beings pretending to be the Gods. Just like when Christian extremists do worship to their Deity. But end up attracting the same demonic entities that they seek to drive away. You can do bonfires, hearth fires, or chimneys, or light many candles.
Beeswax candles. As pure as possible. You can even order special candles dedicated to Norse Gods. You can buy more than one or just light a really big candle. Even a plain candle will do.
It doesn’t have to be a fancy one like I mentioned. You can also burn incense to them. Now you can drink Ale or really any kind of alcohol. They love alcoholic drinks in general. But if you don’t like alcohol then use a drink you do like.
I use water and sometimes mead if I can find it.
The important thing here is to dedicate it to them. And to do the special toastings. Now as a left leaning person, I am against the idea of human monarchies. So I don’t toast asking for “victory and power” to any King. Unless it’s one of the divine or semi divine kings of old.
Like Arthur, Solomon, etc..I do toast instead to political leaders I support. I toast to leaders of Black Lives Matter chapters. I toast to Antifa as a whole. I also toast to activists. I do on occasion toast to the power and victory of certain heads of state in countries I support.
Right now I toasted to Odin to give “power and victory” to the President of Peru against the coup regime. I do the second toast exactly as described. Asking for peace and good harvests. When I mention harvests, what I’m really saying is prosperity as a whole. For all.
Well, except my enemies.
The next toast goes to the political leaders I like and support. And the final toasts are the minni or memorial toasts to loved ones lost. Then I also make nightly offerings in the evening to the Nisse or Tomte. I call for their help in daily matters. I use Yule as my “wishing season”.
In which I conjure the Tomte in the name of Oski to appear to grant my wishes. I have a whole ritual personal to me. Which I can’t disclose for the same reason I don’t disclose images of my idols or magic places. Then I continue until Up Hella Aa where I burn an effigy of some sort. If you can you can order an effigy to burn online, do it.
Even something made to look like a Viking ship. Or even a regular boat to burn. Be creative. You can adapt these to be either solitary, or to add friends to come over and have feasts with you. And to work the rituals with you as well.
After all, these were originally celebrations with many people. And of course burning protective candles to keep yourself safe during the Wild Hunt. Which for me in my personal opinion, lasts longer than just the Winter Solstice. I personally believe that in November, Odin and the other Yule Beings are doing the job of keeping us all safe. In fact, keep burning the candles until Up Hella Aa at least.
And use the protective candles to ask Jólnir for his protection. On Up Hella Aa I do one more fire night with candles and a final feast for the Tomte in Odin’s name. And ask Odin as Oski for a great New Year. I try to go all out and give the Norse Gods the largest meaty dinner I can give. I have a stone shrine outside that no one knows is a Pagan shrine.
And I leave all their food there. When people see me they think I am feeding the cats. Which I am doing that also but that’s besides the point. Again, you can make this into a friend or family gathering. You don’t have to do it alone.
But you can if you want to.
Worship of Oski, Oski’s Day
Before Yule, is Oski’s Day. Most people celebrate December 6th as St. Nicholas Day. But worshippers of the Norse Gods have begun to reclaim it for Odin. In this form, Oski listens to the petitions of people. And grants their wishes either directly or indirectly.
As part of the celebration, people exchange gifts. They also light candles and bake traditional baked goods associated with Yule. In fact there’s a whole array of foods just for Yule called the Julbord. Which is a bunch of Christmas foods and sweets for this time of year. Ale poured in libations to Oski.
And of course prayers, and songs.
The Dark Side of Yule
But not everything during Yule is merry. As mentioned before, winter is a time of the dead and of the Fae. According to A Dictionary of Northern Mythology by Rudolf Simek, this was the time when all manner of spirits were said to be loosed upon the world. This unfortunately also means evil spirits are out and about. Jólnir and his forces would hunt them down in what is popularly known as the Wild Hunt.
And drive them back into the other world. But at least these were just spirits being driven away. The worst supernatural creatures, were the ones who had physical bodies. It was said that during this time, several physical revenants returned as well. And the worst of them was the Draugr.
Meaning “again walker.” These entities are members of the dark dead. They can be aggressive if they aren’t resting well. It was said if a person died on certain days like Yule, they would not rest well in the grave. But other reasons a person became a Draugr was if they were murdered or committed suicide.
Or were not given a proper burial. Such as not being buried on holy ground. The worst of them were evil witches and wizards in life. Evil magic users normally come back as something worse in death. And they would arise as these corporeal revenants.
Basically, these are Norse zombies. That’s an over simplification but it’s the easiest way to explain it. They are one of the most powerful revenants though. They are all said to be sorcerers who can control the weather. These are just some of their powers.
They can do a great many things. And they have the power to curse. But despite this, not all Draugr are the same. Not all Draugr are the people who died. Sometimes they’re evil spirits possessing the corpses of the dead.
Other times they really are the person who passed away. But are angry for some reason, leading to their aggression.
Now, the first legends I heard claimed that the Draugr could not be killed by weapons formed by men. That only a hero who was strong enough could wrestle them to the ground and kill them. However, the video above mentions plenty of times when weapons did kill them. When heroes killed them by decapitating them with swords. Then burned the body to ashes.
And separated the ashes into different bodies of water. So either they can be killed by weapons. Or the hero’s can make weapons kill the Draugr. These were the creatures said to be out tonight. And Jólnir was hunting them.
So tonight while you’re out feasting, raise a toast to the All Father and the Norse Gods. And remember to leave offerings for Oski and his Tomte. And ask for many blessings in this new year.
5 thoughts on “Yule & How to Celebrate it: A Pagan History of Christmas”
Thank you for highlighting these differences! A lot of my Pagan friends really don’t know that Yule is a Germanic high holy day.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thank you for helping me with my research. I wanted to make sure that my findings were correct. Even then, there’s still a lot of work to be done.
LikeLiked by 1 person
I actually celebrated with an Asatru group for two years a few years ago as one of my friends was in it and I used to attend with her.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Amazing isn’t it?
Reblogged this on GrannyMoon's Morning Feast.
LikeLiked by 1 person