by Ari Odinssen
Joltide is named so after Alfather; his name Jolnir refers to his sovereignty over this season and the works within it. It is a combination of the harvest season, which the Saxons called Blodhmonath, blotr - sacrifice or blodh - blood, month, and the works that are necessary at year’s end, around Solstice. The coming through of the Wild Hunt was sometimes taken a sign of the beginning of the months of culling the herds, both domestic and wild. ‘Culling’ does not mean to imply killing off the weak and worthless breeders. It means taking the best breeding stock aside for the next year, and slaughtering the rest, those that cannot be sustained on the current supply of fodder, to preserve as food, leather, suet, and so forth.
This applies also to wild herds such as the wild goat, deer, rabbit, fowl, etc. The finest young of the previous year, in whatever species was customarily sacrificed, were generally chosen in their youth and held aside for the festival at year’s end, and they were treated respectfully and with careful consideration throughout the growing season.
Evergreen trees are especially beautiful during the winter months, and are honoured as symbols of everlasting life and fortitude. As Laerath, or Yggdrasil, is an evergreen, the uniqueness of evergreens takes on even more importance to our kin. Juniper and yew are particularly meaningful. The holly shrub’s name is derived from the term ‘heilig’ or whole, and this word also means ‘holy’. A chosen evergreen, whichever is native to the property, is hung with gifts for the landvaettir, the alfar, and the birds and animals living on the land we share with them, to keep in their favour throughout the coming year. It is a symbol of Laerath, our sharing of the precious
things it grants us, a giving back of the wealth that come from living on Mithgarth in human forms. The wild creatures must fare through very difficult times in the winter months, and they are more than appreciative of the gifts we offer. Deer especially symbolize the forces of the Vanir, through their difficult lives often fraught with danger and constant change, living as they do in complete mercy of the elements. Their tenacity, their ability to continue their lines through the ages, is a concept especially sacred to Freyr.
Small boats and goats, and sometimes hearts and stars, woven of straw, were, and still are in some areas, hung on these trees as well - boats for the passage into the new year, and perhaps dedicated to Freyr and his father, goats, perhaps symbolizing Thorr's goats' resurrection into life again, and the hearts to Freyja. A light near or on the tree on these nights symbolizes hope for the reappearance of Sunna.
At the beginning of the krisjian invasion, this time honoured heathen rite was forbidden, as it still is in some sects of protestantism. This forced the practice to be taken indoors, out of sight, and this is the reason a tree is brought in every winter over this tide.
Mistletoe is a plant which should be given great honour, and nothing but love should be shared in its presence.
The Jol log is a custom of keeping the eternal fire, that which has faded from the skies in mid winter, alive and thriving in our care. Any portion that has not completely burned during Jol is saved carefully for the next year’s Jol fire, keeping the chain unbroken.
There was a custom in Britian of a horse being draped with a sheet and ridden through the festivities. It came to be called ‘hoodening’, but it is said it began as a symbol of Othin’s horse, and was earlier called ‘wodening’. The modern custom of a grey bearded man driving a sleigh with eight reindeer, corresponding to the legs of Sleipnir (two of them actually named after Thor, “Donner”, his Germanic name, and ‘Blitzen’, ie. Lightening), is a continuation of this tradition, actually a combination of many similar traditions throughout Europe. If one wishes to contemplate, he may consider how Alfather’s society is one based on gifting, and as the recipient of the highest gifts of our blotr and rituals, he is the one who ultimately directs what we obtain in our lives, whether spiritual or material.
The Norns are remembered in many rituals at year’s end as well. It is customary to think on all unfinished business of the previous year and lay it to rest in their laps, and often someone versed in the runes will be called upon to give rede for the family members, observing how the Norns may direct skuld for the coming year. Sunna’s disappearance is symbolized by the burning of a small wreath, upon which oaths are sometimes said and prayers for the new year given, before it is alighted.
Drinks produced from the year’s harvest are shared, naturally, including what is now called ‘wassail’, or 'vesheil' which means ‘health giver’. Previous years’ mead, fresh ale and sima, cider, buttermilk, and wine are liberally passed around. Bread is baked into the shapes of animals, and solarhvel, and small loaves are marked with the solar cross - this last custom was retained but re-mythologized to give it krisjian meanings, as so many other traditions of our ancestors were.
Most every facet of what is now thought of as 'christmas tradition' finds its roots in either Teutonic or Celtic mythology and practice, the list is very long and this is by no means exhaustive. If we remember that the birthdate of the krist, or Mithras, or Apollo, was assigned to any of a dozen dates, then think on how it finally was 'fixed' during the Solstice Tide, (as his death was ´fixed´at Ostara, and even the name was taken) we see victory of the elder ways in the persistence of custom and tradition anchored so deep that laws written to forbid it were forced off the books, and incorporated into the desert cult of krisjianity.
Glad tidings in the coming year!