Note* Some people celebrate this night on December 24th. But others do it since the 21st of December (Winter Solstice). I actually celebrate it three times : The 21st, 24, and 25th (midnight) of December. Since it’s still dark even though technically it becomes the 25th at midnight, I continue the celebration. So technically it’s only twice.
Tonight we await Winter Solstice. The time of darkness. The time of silence. Of the cold wind blowing against the windows at night. Or in Florida’s case, the cold waters that fall from the sky.
Tonight we settle into the darkness. And allow ourselves to truly be consumed by it. To travel beneath the trees. And to hide in their shade. To see our breath as we exhale it.
And prepare for our rites.
I’m sure a lot of people think this is pretentious. No one is actually going around doing this stuff right? Yeah tell that to my neighbors. They all see me do it and then freak out and run away. It used to bother me.
And I used to go out of my way to hide what I was doing. Finally I said, if someone were dumb enough to watch a magical rite let them. And let them pick up something they weren’t meant to pick up. So as tired as I already am this morning from all the work and preparations, I have to stay up at midnight to perform my sacred rituals. Specifically Spirit communication since tonight is Mother’s Night.
That also means a night of divination and preparation. A night of feasting and drinking. A night of being with your family. Huddled up towards a Hearthe fire. While the Yule Log is burning.
There are so many traditions here that it’s hard to name them all. So I think every year I will write about a different one. That way I don’t drive myself crazy trying to write an Encyclopedia Britannica everytime. Also I apologize ahead of time for typos.
I am working hard to sift between clients. Plus all the rituals I do and follow. But for now let’s talk about a tradition I love very much. And it’s weird because so far I am not a Nordic practitioner. At least not officially.
Yet this became a cornerstone of my practices in Yule.
Modranicht/Mōdraniht/Modranect (Night of the Mothers)
Essentially, this feast is the beginning of Yule for many Nordic practitioners. It’s dedicated to the Dísir. It’s basically a word for all female spirits. Female faeries and ghosts. But also your female ancestors and Goddesses.
They’re honored on this night.
Much even today remains unknown about the Dísir. And points of view of them vary by regions. German scholars think they are linked to a West German Cult dedicated to female spirits. While others think they are older. At mother’s night several sacrifices in the feast dedicated to them were performed, called dísablót.
An important thing to note here is that Blót or “sacrifice” does not always mean blood sacrifices. A blot could be pouring a libation of mead to a spirit or God. Or giving cooked food to a spirit or God. There are many types of Blót out there. Although it is believed animal sacrifices were offered during this time.
But there is no right or wrong way to do this.
“The Gods and Goddesses, landwights, and honored dead have always received physical offerings of various sorts. These ranged from simple pots of food left in bogs or graves, to golden vessels and great hoards of amber, to the spectacular sacrifices of an entire defeated army along with all its animals and gear, a practice confirmed by archeological discoveries at sites such as Hjortspring, Nydam, and Illerup (see Our Troth vol. 1, chapter 4). In the sagas, a devout worshipper of the gods is called blótmaðr mikill, ‘a great sacrifice-person.‘
Even after the coming of Christianity, people continued to leave offerings at holy springs and trees and fields, and in some areas continued to do so into the modern age. People also continued leaving out offerings to the spirits who guarded their homes and farms,” – Offerings for Norse Paganism | The Troth
In this respect, I see a lot in common with Norse and Celtic views on offerings. My Druid Master even told me that you could offer up swords in ponds or lakes to the Gods. Some were offerings and others were for magic. How badass would it be to offer an entire defeated army to your Gods and spirits? That’s some powerful magic right there. But back to the Dísir,
“Generally, a Dís (singular of Disir) was seen as a powerful supernatural being that took a keen interest in families and estates. Their strength could vary greatly. Sometimes, they were described as mere guardian ancestor spirits, but their power could also inflate to that of minor local gods. The Disir would usually use their power for good—they acted as guardians to families and family farms, and sometimes even lent their protection to individual people. Yet, they did not love unconditionally and were known to take revenge against families or people who had not given proper sacrifice, or had otherwise angered their respective Dís,” – The Mysterious Disir Of Norse Religion
In many ways this sounds a lot like the Agathos Daimon and the cult of the heroes in Greece. Note I am not saying that any of this is the same thing. I’m just pointing out interesting similarities. It seems at least some of the Dísir were probably Demi Goddesses, local spirits, or ancient heroines who offered protection and blessings. The national encyclopedia from Sweden makes that even more obvious.
“In Norse mythology, a dís (Old Norse: [ˈdiːs], ‘lady’, plural dísir [ˈdiːsez̠]) is a female Deity, ghost, or spirit associated with Fate who can be either benevolent or antagonistic toward mortals. Dísir may act as protective spirits of Norse clans. It is possible that their original function was that of fertility Goddesses who were the object of both private and official worship called dísablót,”
– Nationalencyklopedin (National Encyclopedia from Sweden)
But they all agree on the same thing. They were a collective of Goddesses, heroines, and regular female entities. And they were so powerful that apparently like the Nourns, they could manipulate fate. Which makes sense if you realize that this is a massive faction of spirits including Goddesses. Just with the Goddesses alone there is more than enough power to manipulate fate itself.
Now imagine every woman who has ever existed in every race. Both human and non human alike. No wonder even the male Gods and spirits feared them. There is no defending against such power. So Modranicht is a very special night.
And Modranicht especially holds a special place in my heart. I have always felt a pull towards it though I don’t know why. It feels like home to me. Later I will explain how this holiday is special to me in other ways. But now I have more or less defined who the Dísir are.
Now it’s time to define the other Mothers.
What’s interesting here is that they are found not just in Nordic religion but all over Celtic religion as well. Their images and motifs seem to surround shrines of various countries. Going back to even before the Roman Empire. So who are they? The truth is we don’t know. We think they might be Triads of Goddesses who are aligned to each other.
But they could also be the same Goddess in Trinitarian form.
Whoever they are, they seem to be the main, all powerful spirit beings amongst the Dísir. Who they were and why they were so revered remains a mystery. What we do know from all the offerings granted to them, is that they granted a lot of prayers. The only thing we do seem to know about them is their origin is Germanic. This is based on their clothing in all of their depictions.
They’re appearance shows that they come from the Ubii tribe from east of the Rhine River. We know that their power is great. And this is shown by how they take leadership over the assembly of the Dísir. Even amongst Goddesses, they are the highest of the high. Could they somehow be the living embodiment of the primordial feminine?
Dísablót for the Dísir
In the case of the Matronae, we know what kinds of offerings they had because of the inscriptions on their votive stones. We know they received incense, pigs, bowls of fruit, and also decorations of fruits, trees, and plants. We also know that their worshippers would leave idols of them at holy temples or other buildings. So any of those things are good offerings to leave them. Well except for the poor piggies.
Sorry but I am of the opinion that sweet innocent creatures need to be left out of sacrifice. I have no problem sacrificing a wife beater or a child molester. Or someone who abuses the elderly. Just so long as I don’t get caught and arrested. Just kidding (or I am?).
But there’s something I learned in my temple when doing certain sacrifices. You can make an effigy of an animal or person to sacrifice. And you can bring it to life via rituals. Heck you can even just write what you want to sacrifice : a bad habit, an obstacle, or even a problem in your life and light the paper on fire. Simple.
This was a huge building dedicated to the Dísir. And the altar where their sacrifices were given was the hörgr. From what little I have been able to gather (I am sure there are more learned sources than myself) there was a high priest and priestess. The priestess sacrificed an animal and “reddened” the altar with blood (Hervarar Saga). Now it doesn’t actually say it was a priest or priestess.
The one who reddened the altar was Alfhildr, the daughter of King Alfr. But she was performing this ritual herself. In many occasions, Royals assumed a priestly role in ancient religions. But later we see the Kings of Sweden perform the ritual themselves as high priests of the temple at Uppsala (Ynglinga Saga).
We know this because a King named Adils died while doing the ritual at the altar site. The ritual had something to do with him riding around the stone altar with his horse. Which is another magical tradition you can find in different cultures. Thus we know that men could and were also involved in a priestly capacity. So we know that the rituals could be gender neutral and done by anyone.
In the eyes of the Dísir, we’re all just mortals. And therefore not one of us is better than the other. Though I think it’s obvious women have a higher status. Given the fact that this celebration is focused on the sacred feminine.
My personal practice
This is my own version of the Modranicht feast. Part of it is eclectic and part of it is a reconstruction. I mostly follow my reconstruction based on personal research. Which I hope to find more answers and evolve this a little more. So I start with a family feast.
I have been blessed with a good mother and sister. They’re both pains in the ass but I love them. I buy a large dinner for the three of us and eat on the eve of the solstice. I give an offering to Goddess of the Home and Hearthe. All of them, before and after the food is eaten.
I do a special prayer to them. And I also honor all of my spirit guides in the name of my female spirit guides. I also honor both of my dead grandmothers and my dead cousin. I told you earlier I was going to tell you why this tradition is special for me. Ever since my grandmothers and my cousin died, it’s given me a way to touch base with them.
To honor them. To communicate and know the ways of the wise spirits. I honor my female Fae, and other spirits including heroines of the past. I give an offering of incense and flame, as well as fruits or vegetables to the Matronae. I also sacrifice something to them.
Usually bread. They seem to like the Cuban cheese bread that I offer to Hekate. So I give them that. Or Cuban bread. If you live near Cubans, you know you could live off that stuff.
Sometimes when I really have money I try to find German markets to get them food. But they also exist in Ireland and other places in Europe so sometimes I alternate. To the other Dísir, I give them a rare or medium rare steak. And I leave it on my chothonic altars outside. Let them eat through the animals.
If not that, then I give them whatever I could find that they would like. These offerings I give before midnight. As preparation. Then I take a cleansing bath to be pure. And I await till midnight.
I give my final offering at the stroke of midnight. A candle I burn for them. My personal Dísir. Those Goddesses and spirits to whom I give offerings. And many more whom I don’t know.
The Dísir who visit me aren’t just European. All the female Orishas join in. Female indigenous spirits like the Hopi Spiderwoman and the Hawk Maidan. I also converse with Sunna and Amaterasu. And I await the arrival of my grandmothers and cousin.
Who signal the arrival of my foremothers. I see them all coming down from on high.
Like they are descending from a beam of golden light, itself encompassed by a white light. And we begin to talk for about an hour or so. Because I have to get up early I can’t really talk the whole night like I used to. So I make arrangements for them to speak to me in my dreams.
And with that, here ends my writings.
🌚🎄🎅Some other links on Yule and Winter Solstice and the coming New 🌒🌑🌘
Celebrate the Winter Solstice with Sacred Foods and Feasting
Winter Solstice: 5 Rituals and Customs for an Auspicious Year
The Holly King and the Oak King
Contemplating Darkness on the Winter Solstice
WINTER SOLSTICE DECEMBER 21, 2022
Yule/Winter Solstice : The True New Year
The Story of Yule – How Vikings Did Christmas
Witch of the Week : Rhiannon and the Winter Solstice
“Tales and Wassails” episode for the midwinter nights
Where did the idea of Santa Claus come from?