Thursday, 16 June 2016

Yule

There is a place called "Haven" both in War Of The Gods and in Hrolf Kraki's Saga but I am not yet clear whether these are the same place. In War..., Hadding rules from Haven where he leads the Yule offering. His housecarles fill horns with ale which Hadding blesses and passes to worshipers who take long to pass round. He leads them in draining the horns to Odin, Thor and the Vanir. Then he blesses soup with chunks of meat, fat and leeks which is ladled into bowls for the worshipers who feast, guesting the gods. Thus, a pagan communion ceremony with the king as priest.

"Among the heathen, the midwinter rites honor chiefly Thor, who stands between our earth and the giants of endless ice and night. Belief is that on the eve of it, all kinds of trolls and spooks run loose across the world; but next day the sun turns again homeward and hope is reborn."
-Poul Anderson, Hrolf Kraki's Saga (New York, 1973), p. 29.

People could not be sure that the sun would turn. Renewed hope was a real experience. Something stands between earth and endless ice and night. Thor is a good personification of it.

3 comments:

  1. Kaor, Paul!

    Even granting the lack of systematized astronomical knowledge of the kind accumulated by the Babylonians, Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans, I'm puzzled over why the Scandinavians should have seriously feared the sun would not again turn "homeward" after Yule. Repeated observation of the sun doing precisely that over generations and centuries should have told them that!

    Perhaps it takes a literate society with an educated, scholarly class (probably the priests) measuring the movements of the sun, moon, and stars for people to stop fearing the days would not lengthen again.

    Sean

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    Replies
    1. Sean,
      Maybe the celebration was by then just traditional. Still, there would have been a time when it was feared that the sinking sun would continue to sink and not return.
      Paul.

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    2. Kaor, Paul!

      Exactly! By the time of the Viking Age (circa AD 800-1066) such fears were probably fading away. But, many Scandinavians still might have feared the sun would not return in the fifth/sixth centuries.

      Sean

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