Second Day of Summer

Today is World Book Day (almost) everywhere except in Britain, which feels it must go its own way and celebrate books on March 4th. Ironic, considering that the day was chosen since it was the day that Shakespeare died, as well as the Spanish Miguel Cervantes.

More interesting for Norse scholars is the fact that yesterday marked the first day of summer in Iceland, this then being the second. The first day of summer is the first Thursday after April 18th, this year landing on the 22nd. True, it does not always feel very summery on this day, and has been known to snow. In fact, if there was frost the night before as did sometimes happen, it was said that summer and winter froze together, and this would auger a good summer for farming.

Choosing this day as the official start of summer (and it is in fact a public holiday in Iceland since 1971) makes sense if one keeps in mind that the year was divided in two equal halves. At this time, Harpa would begin, the first of the summer months. The tradition of the first day of summer has been documented as early as the 12th Century in Iceland. In Norway and Sweden, summer was said to begin on April 14th and lasting until October 14th.

We do not know if the old Rus celebrated the first day of summer or when. Present day Russians, like many nations, divide the year into four seasons. This then puts the beginning of spring on March 1st, a day when it is distinctly un-summery in most of Russia. And yet people congratulate each other on the onset of a new spring and, perhaps, on having survived another winter.

Vísindavefurinn: Hvenær er sumardagurinn fyrsti og er hann vel valinn sem upphaf sumarsins? (

Why the first day of Russian spring doesn’t feel like spring at all – Russia Beyond (

The Old Germanic Easter

Easter is, of course, a Christian holiday celebrating the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The timing was borrowed from Judaism, as Jesus was said to be crucified during Passover, originally meant to celebrate the first lambs of spring and later the first crops. The Christians borrowed much of the spring motif for their own celebration, which was transported to the north with the advent of Christianity after the year 1000.

But some scholars maintain that Germanic tribes previously had their own Easter traditions. Eostre was the goddess of spring, of morning, of rebirth and of children. This spring goddess once changed her pet bird into a rabbit who would then give children multi-coloured eggs as a symbol of life. Both Easter in English and Ostern in German take their name from Eostre. Both are related to east or ost, which is where the sun rises, symbolising the dawn and a new beginning. Spring is also connected to other goddesses, such as the Slavic Lada and the Nordic Freyja.

The rabbit symbolises fertility but otherwise seems unconnected to the Judeo-Christian tradition. Eostre was first mentioned by the English monk Bede around the year 700 and some scholars claim her to be his invention. However, Germanic-Romano inscriptions were discovered in 1958 near Morken-Harff, Germany which seem to substantiate the venerable Bede.

In Nordic languages, the festival derives from the Romano-Greek Pascha and it is now known as påske or páskar. Eggs were not supposed to be eaten during Lent, and in Eastern Europe pancake week is celebrated at the end of February when the last eggs before Easter are consumed.

Easter happily coincides with the laying of eggs and taxes were even collected in eggs at this time of year. This led to a surplus of eggs which were sometimes redistributed to the poor. In Norway, girls of marriage age would put an egg next to their breast and hand it to their chosen suitor. In some cases, the suitor would even be allowed to retrieve it himself.

Chocolate eggs first became known in Iceland in the early 20th Century, a custom imported from Denmark. The custom is still upheld, the eggs being filled with sweets as well as a proverb, the latter a custom going back to the 17th Century.

The Icelandic Asatru association does not commemorate Easter but will be celebrating the beginning of summer on April 22nd, which is a school holiday. This is the first day of Harpa, the first month of summer, harking back to the time when there were six summer months and six winter months. Neither is very descriptive of Icelandic seasons.

Sources: Vísindavefurinn: Hvaðan koma páskasiðirnir um kanínur, hænur, egg og annað slíkt? (

Ēostre – Wikipedia


Heathens Against Trump

As the Trump presidency reaches its final minutes, it’s time to remember the storming of the Capitol that took place a mere two weeks ago. One of the most notable figures in that event was Jake Angeli, also known as the QAnon shaman. It’s hard enough for anyone to make sense of the QAnon world view, but as well as Christian and Wild West imagery, Angeli was seen sporting symbols supposedly representing a valknut, Thor’s hammer and even the world tree Yggdrasil.

Pagan associations in the US were at pains to disassociate themselves from Angeli or anything to do with the attack on the Capitol the very next day, who does not seem to have ties to any of them. The Icelandic Asatru society has not seen any reason to comment.

Heathens respond to “Q-Shaman” and Norse Imagery in Capitol Riot | News, Paganism, Politics, U.S. (

Happy New Year (again)

It’s the third day of the New Year, at least for those who follow the Julian calendar like the orthodox church does. The Julian calendar, named for Julius Caesar, was used throughout Europe until 1582 when it was found to be two weeks out of step with the lunar calendar and the changing seasons. Western Christianity went with the new calendar, but the old one was retained in orthodox lands until the 1917 revolution.

In the Soviet Union, Christmas was found to be too Christian for an atheistic country and probably Santa Claus became too capitalist. The new New Year which began at midnight on January 1st was free of religious connotations and hence became one of the main events of the year, Father Frost and the Snow Girl arriving and bearing gifts.

However, for the orthodox church, Christmas Day remains on the 6th of January and hence New Year’s Day is on the 14th. The orthodox New Year’s is not so much a time for celebration as for reflection. All of this should be good news for those who feel that the beginning of 2021 has been…well, weird. The first two weeks don’t really count. And if the second half of January gets even weirder, we can look forward to another reset on February 12th when the Year of the Ox begins according to the Chinese calendar.

Hey Pandas, What's Your Favorite Meme So Far In 2021? (Closed) | Bored Panda

A Very Varangian Christmas

A very happy Christmas from the Eastern Vikings. Enjoy the holidays and don’t forget to clash your weapons loudly in honour of your Emperor-King, for it is written:

“In describing the imperial banquet at Christmas and its attendant ceremonies, the author tells us that before the actual dinner the officials in their several sorts and ranks came to the dining hall to chant their polychronion to the emperor,
that is, they prayed in ceremonial forni that the emperor might live many years.

To each party the appropriate official replied : ‘ Our Lord the Emperor bids you many
years.’ First came the officials of the palace, each class distinguished by special robes
then in order, the Genoese of Galata, more functionaries, the Pisan colony, then the
Venetians, and after these distinguished foreigners came the Varangians. They gave
their greeting in their own language, and this was English-clashing their weapons with a loud noise.

But whether the language was really English, or whether it was Norse, and Codinus says English because there were so many English Varangians, must be left uncertain. To the Greeks all barbarous languages were much the same; and Freeman judiciously says: ‘We must remember that any distinction between English and Danish would disappear in the latitude of Constantinople.’  An acclamation was made by another set of men in the Persian language, a choir sang the Christmas canticle of Romanos, and then the banquet was served.

(from Dawkins, The Later History of the Varangian Guard.)

The Later History of the Varangian Guard: Some Notes on JSTOR

Burning the Goat: A Nordic Tradition

In Finland, they traditionally use the Christmas goat to scare children but in Iceland we take the fight to the goat. Ever since 2009, it was been a tradition for vandals (the modern kind) to burn down the Gävle goat in front of the IKEA store in greater Reykjavik. Sometimes the culprits have been apprehended, but occasionally the weather gods have got the goat before the vandals did. Twice it has blown down by the wind, whereas once it spontaneously combusted due to the electric lights.

In fact, the tradition goes back to the town of Gävle, Sweden, where a Christmas goat made of straw has been erected ever since 1966 and been burnt down most years. 37 arson attacks have taken place in the years since. In 2001, a man from Cleveland did the damage, assuming he was taking part in an old and legal tradition. By now, there is a three month prison sentence for goat burning in Gävle.

But this is a year without many traditions, and due to Covid IKEA Iceland only reopened last Thursday. And speaking of Thor, torturing goats seems to be something of a Norse tradition. The God of Thunder, whose carriage was pulled by rams, would kill and eat them, only for them to come back the next day to be eaten again at the earliest convenience.

The goat is actually an old fertility symbol, and the Hall of the Gods has its own goat, called Heiðrún. This one conveniently milks mead rather than the more traditional goatmilk and there is always enough for everyone. Appropriately, there is a liquor store named Heiðrún in Reykjavík.

So if we see goats as giving, we have other ways to terrify children. One of these is the Christmas Cat, who is said to eat children who do not wear new clothes for Christmas. Who says it’s a consumerist holiday?

The Christmas Goat is Coming to Town

It’s probably not escaped anyone’s attention that Christmas is coming and probably everyone who reads this page knows that the tradition is based on an older pagan holiday. In Iceland today, there is a still functioning Ásatrú society which usually celebrates the winter solstice on December 21st, but probably not now in these Covid filled times. As with other moments when the seasons meet, such as the 1st of May, midsummer and Halloween, this is a time when the spirits run free. Remnants of this can still be seen in Iceland where New Year’s Eve is considered a time for elves and bonfires are still lit around the coast, but again, not this year.

In the old Slavic world, people would celebrate Kolyada, which either refers to the infant sun god or the sky-goddess responsible for sunrise. After all, a new year is being born. Today it is still sometimes celebrated, often coinciding with Orthodox Christmas which starts on January 6th.

In Ukraine, bonfires are lit, fireworks set off and Kolyada songs sung, which are supposed to bring in a happy new year where wishes come true. Symbolic for this is the goat, which is seen as a fertility symbol. Probably in previous times, a goat was offered up as a sacrifice, but these day it is play-acted, with someone dressing up as a goat and being mock sacrificed before coming back to life, symbolizing the regeneration of nature.

The Finns also have a Christmas goat, Joulupukki, sometimes conflated with Santa Claus himself or more sensibly his lead reindeer. But the tradition is much older and also involves a man getting dressed up as a goat. There is even a horror film, Rare Exports, about the Finnish Christmas goat.

In any case, goat sacrifices or not, we can surely all look forward to a happier new year.

For more on Kolyada: Kolyada: The Old Slavic Winter Solstice | Kolyada: The Old Slavic Winter Solstice (

For more on the Finnish film to get in the Christmas horror spirit: Rare Exports. This Christmas everyone will believe in Santa Claus. (

Viking Soup, or What Did They Really Eat?

“The Soup Wars” are currently raging over who owns the beetroot soup, or borscht, Russia or Ukraine. In some papers it’s called The Battle of the Borscht, while one said that the knives where out, which seems like an unhandy way to eat soup.

But the question that concerns us here is: Did the Vikings in the east eat borscht? Probably not, as the first documented mention of borscht is in Domostroy, a 16th century Russian cookbook with some handy moral advice thrown in.

But people largely agree that borscht originated in what is now Ukraine, so it may have been eaten there much earlier. In fact, the soup reference in the Domostroy is an entirely different soup, here also called borscht, with wild hogweed grass and a light beer made from fermented bread.

So what did the Vikings actually eat? This will be discussed in some detail on a webinar next week hosted by culinary archaeologist Daniel Serra.

Click here if you wish to attend:

Meanwhile, if you want to know more about the Soup Wars, you can follow this link to the New York Times article:

Did the Vikings Have Standardized Godhouses?

IKEA is a popular, if not always beloved, Scandinavian indoor furnishing company know for the standardisation of its furniture. A recent archaeological discovery in Norway suggests that Vikings may also have had standardised temples of sorts.

In the village of Ose in southwestern Norway, the remains of a 8th century “godhouse” have recently been unearthed. While being the first such find in Norway, it closely resembles similar structures excavated in Tissö, Denmark and  Uppåkra, Sweden. This is seen as the best example of such a place yet.

The godhouse is thought to have been used for midsummer and midwinter solstice ceremonies in honour of the gods. Remnants of meat cooked for Odin, Thor and Freyr, thought to have been represented by figurines while the feast was eaten by the human participants, have been unearthed. The figurines are still missing, but in 1928 a phallus stone was found in the same spot.

If the standard godhouse design reached to the lands of the Rus awaits further discoveries. Meanwhile, the first functioning hof, or pagan temple, to be constructed since the Viking Age awaits completion in Reykjavik. Land has been donated to the Asatru society by the city of Reykjavik on the Öskjuhlíð Hill and a design by architect Magnús Jensson was selected, looking a little like an upturned longship. The sun’s path and the number 9, representing the 9 worlds of the old religion, are will be reflected in the structure. However, the project has had various delays, including the banking collapse of 2008 and the refusal of a bank loan in 2019. Construction began in 2015 and was planned to take a year but little progress has been made. Perhaps it will take 9 years, all in all, for the new hof to the old gods to rise.

For more on the Ose find, see here:

For more on the Hof, here is an article from 2015: