As we approach the darkest time of winter in the northern hemisphere, we also enter the period leading up to Christmas and Yule. Even amidst the commercialization and the widely associated christian traditions, Heathens and practitioners of Norse/Germanic Paganism can enjoy meaningful practices during this time.
Lighting of candles at this time of year has been traditional in northern European countries for centuries and are a mix of welcoming returning light to recognizing the birth of Jesus.
Lighting the Sunwait Candles for a Modern Tradition
Recognizing that candles are not only something for one specific religion, the tradition of the Väntljusstaken (Sunwait Candles) has been 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 updated for people of today to have a meaningful experience.
It is a tradition that can be created and enjoyed by the whole family. The procedure of the event is to light one candle each week leading up to the solstice, recite the stanza of the poem that coincides with the rune/day (this can also be expanded to include meditation on what it means), and welcome the inspiration of the season. Väntljusstaken poem takes the first six letters (staves) of the Elder Futhark (F-U-TH-A-R-K) as a runic “guide” to bring in blessings for the coming year.
Listen to episode 25 the podcast about Vantljusstaken which includes a reading of the poem in Swedish and English.
Creating the Candles and Holder
Selecting and preparing the candles and candle holder for the Sunwait lighting, can be a fun experience for the family. No need to have commercially prepared materials; though that is also an option based on your ability, availability, and time. Select any six candles you want to use for the year. Any color, shape, size. Be mindful of your candle holders and how you want to decorate them (avoid flammable additional materials). Carve or draw a stave on each candle or onto the candle holder base. You can anoint each candle with an oil or incense and call/galdr the energy of each rune into the specific candle. For example, Fehu (the first rune) represents prosperity and wealth. Anoint with that energy for prosperity of health, love, job, finances, etc.
You can also creatively decorate a base to hold candles using regular holders, plates, clay pots, or however inspired. If you cannot use real flame for safety or other reasons – no worry! Use electronic candles or small lights. Your intent and enjoyment in the process is connecting to the tradition and the energy from the Web of Wyrd. (See the many examples shared on Facebook -linked above- and Instagram – @sunwait_candles – for ideas.)
December 21 falls on Monday and you can begin on November 16 with the final candle lit on Dec. 21. Or you may start on December 16 and do one each night before Yule.
The Väntljusstaken / Sunwait Tradition
The lighting of the candles begins six weeks prior to the Winter Solstice/ Yule 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.
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 I do with the poem is to contemplate on the energy of the rune of the week. How does that energy/power influence and interact with my life? I call on their specific energies to bless me and guide as I move into the new year.
For example: I call on fehu to give me prosperity in the things I do creatively, at work, with relationships, to generate wealth, etc. I would reach to uruz to give me the strength to meet the challenges the year will bring with the guidance of my ancestors and ability to keep going. And so forth with the rest of the runes.
Extinguish the flame when you are finished. For the next week, relight the prior candle(s), then repeat the program with the next verse of the poem. 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
In Heathenry and Germanic Paganism, 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 and Gifts of the Wyrd Facebook and Instagram pages (@sunwait_candles and @wyrdgifts1). May your Winter Solstice/Yule Tide seasons be filled with joy and amazement.
Images used in this article are from the Väntljusstaken/Sunwait Candles Facebook page with permission. Header photo is my own.