Crafting Yule Traditions with Väntljusstaken

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

Vantlusstaken Fehu 02One 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.)

Vantljusstaken_Pantheon Skulptor
Sunwait Candles with statues by Pantheon Skulptor.

Väntljusversen poem

vantljusversen-swedish.jpg

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.

 

Ostara Celebrations

 

Searching for the Goddess Ostara

With the Spring Equinox coming up, many religions have special ways to honor the Gods and Goddesses of their paths. In Heathenry (and most of general pagan practices), the equinox is devoted to a goddess named Ostara or Eostre. There is no historical evidence, however it is claimed that she was worshipped and honored in Germanic lands. The traditions of hares, eggs, and associated festivals have been widely attributed to her.

But were these traditions really held in her honor? Was she indeed a Goddess venerated across the continent and carried over seas to other lands? The truth is we do not know for certain if there actually was a Goddess of Northern Europe named Ostara and worshipped as goddess of the coming spring.

In his book, Eostre Ostara Eostar: Facts, assumptions, conjectures, speculations, guesses and nonsense, GardentStone provides a wealth of texts and information that have been used to support the arguments in favor of Eostre, the Goddess.  He refrains from drawing a conclusion about the topic – neither affirming nor denying the veracity of the claims made by supporters from the 16th century to modern writings.

In fact, GardenStone sets the expectations for the book in the preface to the work, “In this book, the author does not declare himself against or in favor of the goddess Ostara, Eostre, or Eostar,” he writes. “Only the results of historical, mythological, folkloric, literary and linguistic research concerning Eostre/Ostara/Eostar (written that way or some other spelling) are presented here.”

Earliest Mentions of the Goddess

He begins with the most notable and earliest attestations of Ostara as goddess by the 8th century English monk, the Venerable Bede. Bede drew a conclusion that the English month, Eosturmonath (approximately April) was so named in honor of a goddess previously worshipped. Bede has since been the consistent source of the Ostara-is-goddess theory throughout the centuries.

Bede was cited in the 19th century by Jacob Grimm as the source for his writing about the goddess on the continent in his book Deutsche Mythologie. Modern writings about the sabbat, which was reconstructed as part of the Wiccan Wheel of the Year by founder Gerald Gardner in the early 20th century, use Grimm and Bede as the primary resources to support the theory.

GardenStone, however, draws no such conclusions with his work. He has diligently located many resources from pamphlets, papers, books and texts that have varying references the names or roots of the names used for the goddess.  He has systematically arranged the data in a coherent manner that flows in a logical order in three sections: standard sources and etymology, Ostara on the Continent, and common traditions and folklore. Within each section, he provides the conclusions drawn at the time of the writing and which source did or may have influenced the authors.

Much has been written since the 17th century about the topic using the academic strengths of the times.  A lot of emphasis to fill the gaps of actual resources was placed on conclusions drawn from place names and comparisons to other cultural practices, similar root names and parallel deities.

GardenStone makes a keen observation by pointing out that although we do not have extant sources today, it does not necessarily mean that Bede and others also did not have resources to draw their conclusions upon. Fires, wars, and other disasters occurred and documented which could have destroyed many texts leaving only the writings about the topics preserved.

He concludes the book by restating that although we do not have actual evidence of worship of Ostara/Eostre as a goddess in pre-christian times, “…that a Heathen acceptance of Ostara depending solely upon historical evidence or scientific results is unnecessary. Since no God or Goddess is actually provable in these ways, we must rely upon our faith in Them.” – GardenStone

Just the Facts…

GardenStone is of Dutch origin now living in Germany. His research about historic Germanic peoples is a passion that has yielded many books on Heathen topics.  This book is 100 pages and is translated from its original German text.  Although some will notice some minor differences in structure and punctuation, the book is easy to read and follow and these will not impede or detract from the usefulness of the book.

Many of his works on Germanic deities and topics are available in Dutch as well as English (translated from German).  The English texts are available in the U.S. via Amazon through print on demand services as well as from his personal website in Germany.

I recommend, however, to order the books directly from GardenStone’s website, www.boudicca.de. Taking into account the exchange rate and very modest shipping charges, readers will not be paying much more than if they purchase from Amazon. As an added bonus, books ordered directly are signed by the author himself.  An added bonus is that some of the books may have colored plates (such as in Gods of the Germanic Peoples volumes 1 and 2) which are not available in color when ordered from Amazon (being printed only in black and white).

What now?

I enjoyed the book very much. It has provoked me to look at Ostara and evaluate my relationship to Her. On what basis do I explain Her to others now? How will I adjust how I relate to Her and choose to connect with Her? How will this affect public displays and rituals? It is possible (perhaps likely) that she was worshipped as Bede wrote. But with the absence of any other extant evidence – how do we move forward?

For the past several hundred years, a Goddess of Spring has made herself known to many in various lands, cultures and traditions. She has come to be known to us today as Ostara – or Eostre. Whether that was Her name before – we cannot be certain. But we know Her this way now.

The gnosis of millions over times has revealed who She is to us now. How She may have been worshipped in pre-christian times may not be as relevant to us now. What matters is how do we connect and relate to Her now? What is She saying to followers? How does She reveal Herself to them now? Does She enjoy colored eggs, rabbits, chocolate and family feasts? Does she dress in pastels and warms the earth for sprouting plants and blooming flowers? Does she whisper glad tidings in your ears? These are questions for each person to ask and await Her answer.

Ostara –  by Jan Tjeerd

Winter’s darkness gives way to Sunna’s lengthening journey. Warming days heat the earth, awakening the seeds within. Frey Visits and Thor blesses the fields as the sprouts emerge from their slumber. 

Ostara brings the turning time to welcome the change and gladden our hearts. She shimmers with the colors of the flowers that reach for the shining sun. Honor her this tide with colorful eggs, beautiful songs, and bright remembrances.

Hail to Ostara, Goddess of the Spring – renewing our hearts with love, hope and joy. 

Ostara artwork created by Connla Freyjason. Find artwork by Connla on Iaconography.

Eostre Ostara Eostar by GardenStone can be ordered in German and English as well as other books) from his own site or Amazon.    This is a paperback book of 122 pages. ISBN-10: 3738655778 ISBN-13: 978-9798655773

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