Approaching the Winter Solstice/Yule time generally brings modern-day Heathens a variety of minor (in the scheme of the world-events) conundrum of choices. Most have a background in Christianity which is often considered baggage to be eschewed, something to consider as part of who we are, or somewhere in between.
The relationship with that monotheistic religion prior to moving into Heathenry (or other non-Christian practice) can be considered bitter and harmful, or positive in many ways but just not the path for that individual.
Probably one of the most uniformly celebrated holiday around the world is that of “Christmas”. Since the beginning of the Christian advancement and conversion practices, the movement has absorbed local pagan traditions, renamed them with Christian terms, incorporated them into the religious liturgy, and created new traditions to coincide with their new faith. As societies and cultures changed with integration and interaction with others, practices adapted to stimulus of new and different ideas. Over the centuries of practice, and as people were born into the faith, the origins of these practices were forgotten and often lost to the mists of Niflheim.
Thankfully, due to archaeology, writings, and the continuance of traditions from generation to generation, we can begin today to recall some of those origins and attempt to reconstruct what our ancestors may have practiced. Given that this includes a lot of geography, a vast amount of time, and really having only the most minuscule clues resulting in a lot of guessing, surmising, and connecting dots that may not belong together, volumes of books are written about the “pagan” origins of Christmas.
About this time among Heathen groups, particularly on social media, discussions arise about how people celebrate during the Yule season and how they do it in a Heathen way. The results vary from people taking examples from certain practices (as noted above) and using them as their foundation for a Heathen Yule tradition to those who unravel the traditions from their heritage and Christianity to find the the pieces with which they can form new or revised Heathen traditions to connect with the Gods, Ancestors, and Nature Vaettir (spirits).
Lighting the Sunwait Candles for a Modern Tradition
One of those re-purposed traditions is that of the Väntljusstaken (Sunwait Candles) being re-envisioned from the Advent Candles. I discovered this in 2017 from the post of a friend and found the page on Facebook to inspire the growth of this delightful tradition for the entire family.
It takes the premise of lighting a candle for a specific number of days or weeks prior to Christmas eve (usually twelve days) and changes some of the parameters (which are also flexible depending on the individual). The Väntljusstaken/Sunwait Candles practice came from Swedish traditions and adapted for a meaningful experience.
The lighting of the candles begins six weeks prior to the winter solstice on Thursdays. Thursdays were selected because of a Swedish tradition known as Thorshelg.
“The reason for the Thursdays is that, Thursdays have a traditional significance in Scandinavian folk lore. Thursdays have been the day for trolldom (folk magic) and communicating with the gods and nature spirits long into Christian times,” explained one of the page organizers. “There are accounts as late as the 19th century where the Thorshelg (Thor’s hallow) was celebrated by inviting Thor and Frigga to the house on Thursday night”
She continued to state that other cultures have a specific holy day and that as there isn’t a one day specific to all of Heathendom universally, it makes sense for people to select what works best for them in this “tradition in development.” Some may choose to do the activity on the six Thursdays prior to the Winter Solstice (21 December), some may choose to do it on the day that the solstice falls upon for six weeks prior – with the final candle on 21 December, some may choose to begin six days prior with the final day on the solstice, and some may choose another day that is special to them. “I think everyone should feel free to do as they feel most comfortable. We are creating this together,” she said.
The procedure of the event is to light one candle each week until the solstice, recite a poem, stanza, or meditation, and contemplate on the season. For the Väntljusstaken activity, the first six letters of the Futhark (F U TH A R K) were chosen as a sort of runic “guide.” In preparation of the activity, one can select the six candles, carve or draw a stave on each candle (or as part of a decorated base or candle holder), anoint each candle, or address the energy of the runes with the candle. This would be a great activity for families to include their children in a creative activity that can also include storytelling, learning about runes, and strengthening those family ties at this special time of year.
On the chosen night, light the candle while reciting the Väntljusversen poem (available in Swedish, Dutch, French, and German on the page) or one of your choosing that is meaningful to you/your family. The rest of the ceremony is up to you to create to suit your desires for the winter, Yule, the coming year, etc. One thing that this author does is to contemplate on the energy of the rune of the week. How does that energy/power influence and interact with my life? How can I harness or observe those influences and recognize them?
At the end of the time, extinguish the flame. At the next week, relight the candle prior to starting with the next until all candles are lit at the end of the process. Some choose to allow all of the candles to burn down on the final night, sending the energy and intents of the working into the universe. (A note of caution: do not leave burning candles unattended, accessible to children and pets, or around flammable decorations or items.)
Fehu – In the first of sunwait we light
The candle of Fehu so bright
Until the return of the queen of skies
May her beauty and splendor in it rise
Uruz – In the second of sunwait we light
The candle of Uruz so bright
With all that has passed and ahead of us lies
May the passing of time in it rise
Thurisaz- In the third of sunwait we light
The candle of Thurisaz so bright
When the force of winter upon us lies
May the return of spring in it rise
Ansuz – In the fourth of sunwait we light
The candle of Ansuz so bright
In worship of gods old and wise
May the powers of Regin in it rise
Raido – In the fifth of sunwait we light
The candle of Raidō so bright
In yearning for that which never dies
May our longing for new life in it rise
Kenaz – In the sixth of sunwait we light
The candle of Kenaz so bright
A light in darkness again shall arise
May the hope of yule in it rise
For some, this may not work for you for a variety of choices. In Heathenry, we develop our practices and relationships with the Gods in ways that are meaningful to each of us today. The Väntljusstaken is not a right or wrong way to honor Yule or the Gods. It is a way to do it. If you find this is a way that brings joy and meaningfulness to the season, please share your experiences and photos on the Väntljusstaken/Sunwait Candles, Huginn’s Heathenhof, and Gifts of the Wyrd Facebook pages. May your Winter Solsitce/Yule Tide seasons be filled with joy and amazement.
Listen to the podcast about Vantljusstaken which includes a reading of the poem in Swedish and English.
This article was first published on Huginn’s Heathenhof. Though it is less than six weeks to Yule, you can “catch up” by lighting each candle, reciting the verse, and contemplating on the rune that has already passed.
Images used in this article are from the Väntljusstaken/Sunwait Candles Facebook page with permission.