NORTHERN TRADITIONS AND THE NATURAL LORE
Many ancient Northern Pagan customs have survived through the ages. Although we still practice several of our Pagan ancestors' customs and even a few old magical rituals, many people are sadly not aware that they are doing so. Many of the old Pagan symbols have lost their original meaning, and how many people these days know why a horseshoe, a four-leafed clover or even the poisonous fly agar mushroom, for example, are symbols of good luck?
Fairytales, folk-tales and fables contain much of the Pagan symbolism and often carry coded messages. The fairytale of Little Red Riding Hood has been identified by Erich Fromm to be about a young girl experiencing her first menstruation. Using Pagan symbolism, one can assume that the red hood refers to the red cap which was commonly worn by shamans and wise women of the Nordic and Celtic world.
This red cap showed that the individual who wore it had special gifts. Thus the Church forbade the people to wear hats or capes in red. The red cap is said to represent the fly agar and sometimes this cap even had white spots on it. The Volva's stool, on which she sat during her soul-journeys, was also often red with white spots. Again it represented the mushroom that was ingested by magicians and shamans to aid their visions. The red cap was also associated with supernatural beings. Gnomes, kobolds and even Santa Claus are pictured with a red hat. It was believed that the red cap, also called Tarnkappe, could make its wearer invisible. Therefore, it is my belief that Little Red Riding Hood may represent a young girl who indeed was experiencing her first period and has received special powers because of that pivotal point in her life. Her journey through the woods is a spiritual journey into hidden realms.
The fairytales Sleeping Beauty and Frau Holle, for example, also contain much symbolism derived from Germanic mythology. In Sleeping Beauty, twelve fairies were invited to celebrate the baby-girl. They may symbolise the 13 Norns. It was customary in the ancient North to invite the Norns and Disir to give their blessings to the child. The thirteenth fairy, however, the one that would bring menstruation and sexual maturity as her gift, was not invited.
The much-feared thirteenth fairy came uninvited to the feast. Angrily, she announced that the girl would prick herself on a spindle on her fifteenth birthday and fall into endless sleep. Terrified, the king and queen had all sharp items destroyed. On her fifteenth birthday, the girl discovered a strange tower. Inside, she found an old women spinning. It is interesting to note that both Volvas and magicians were known to reside in towers. The old woman spinning probably symbolises a Norn, spinning Sleeping Beauty's fate. It is her fate, and nature's way, that she will reach sexual maturity. Sleeping Beauty takes the spindle, pricks herself with it and upon seeing the drop of blood, falls into deep sleep. The story shows us that the king and queen should have invited the thirteenth fairy, as she would have come anyway. Menstruation and sexual maturity would have been a blessing if she had been welcomed, not a curse.
Frau Holle symbolises the Goddess Holda, a very ancient Goddess of the North, maybe even the most ancient one of all Gods. As mentioned before, she appears to be the forerunner of both Frigga and Hel. Holda is pictured as a wise old woman, and she carries a spindle for making the threads of fate (as in Sleeping Beauty above). She is the patroness of housewives and families and the guardian of children. Holda controls the weather and causes rain and snow. The apple is sacred to her, and there are many apple trees in her beautiful garden in the underworld.
The fairytale of Frau Holle tells of two maids, one good and helpful, the other ignorant and lazy. The description of them individually jumping into a well, loosing consciousness and thereafter awakening in the beautiful garden of Frau Holle, suggests that the girls made contact to the Goddess in a shamanic journey. The first girl is greatly rewarded by Frau Holle, while her ignorant stepsister is punished. This suggests that the first girl has wandered through Frau Holle's realm with open eyes, willing to give and willing to learn. The second girl came and demanded riches. With such an attitude, the other side will not provide much reward.
Another example might be the German medieval folk-tale The Pied Piper of Hamelin, a tale which appears to be based around Odin's wild hunt. To me, the piper seems to be Odin in disguise. The Pagans believed that Odin would wander amongst men, disguised, to observe and test them. We know several folk-stories telling of people meeting the devil wander amongst us in the guise of an ordinary man. This so-called devil may, in fact, well be the demonised Odin.
After Christianity was introduced to Northern Europe, many ancient tales became more and more influenced by Christian thinking. Thus, they were retold in a different manner by people who could not understand the former Pagan thinking. Some people even deliberately demonised the characters of the tales to frighten their children into being good little Christians. The ancient Gods, the mysterious entities of the mythology, and even the Pagan people themselves were now re-interpreted as big bad wolves, demons or giants with a taste for children.
Many of the tales and songs of folklore that we know today are in fact Pagan in origin, yet they have been rewritten by the early Christians. Themes like barbarous Pagans tempting a good Christian to sin became very popular. For example, there is a Norwegian song called Lita Karin. It deals with a God-fearing girl who refuses to marry a terrible Pagan king. This king executes her and after her death she flies to heaven in the form of a dove. This song is typical of the proPaganda of its time.
Despite the new religious influence, names from the ancient days have survived through the ages. There are many places, lakes, mountains and plants that still bear the meaningful names our Pagan ancestors gave to them.
Even our weekdays are still named after our Gods of the North. Monday is Mani's day, the day dedicated to the moon. Tuesday is Tyr's day, the day of the God Tyr, the God of justice. Wednesday is Wodan's day, the day of the God Wodan (whose name can also be spelled Wotan or Odin). Thursday is the day of the thunder God Thor. Friday is Freya's day, named after the Goddess of the same name. Saturday has been renamed in English, and has become the day of the roman God Saturn. In Norway this day is still called Lørdag or Laugardag, and in the old days this was a day for washing, bathing, sport and entertainment. Sunday is Sol's day, the day of the sun. In Norwegian the Gods' names in the weekdays are more obvious. Mandag, Tirsdag, Onsdag (Odinsdag), Torsdag, Fredag, Lørdag, Søndag. In Germany the Wednesday has been changed into Mittwoch, meaning "the middle of the week". Saturday is called Sonnabend, meaning Sunday's eve.
Likewise, in Southern Europe the weekdays are named after their roman Gods and their physical manifestations, the planets.
The Northern peoples also had their own calendar. There are small variations and the different nations had individual names for the months. The months in modern Asatru practice are called: Snowmoon for January, Horning for February, Lent for March, Ostara for April, Merrymoon for May, Fallow for June, Haymoon for July, Harvest for August, Shedding for September, Hunting for October, Fogmoon for November, Wolfmoon or Yule month for December.
When the Pagans refused to give up their most popular festivals, the Church saw no other alternative than to Christianise the already existing rites. The celebration of Yule, originally a fest saluting the sun's return, was changed to Christmas. But still today, people of Northern European origin celebrate the birth of Christ with obvious Nordic Pagan symbols. Christmas in other countries is very different from ours. The Spaniards, for example, celebrate the Christianised version of a Pagan festival originally dedicated to the old Roman God Saturn. Christian countries all over the world celebrate the festivals of their Pagan ancestors, at their appropriate time and in their natural environment. Sadly, they are performed in the name of an alien religion. I would like to ask anyone to study the rites of the old religion in their native country and then compare them to the modern religious festivals practised today. You might find that the same festivals that are celebrated today in the name of Christianity, or some other Middle-Eastern religion, were once dedicated to nature and the Gods of your ancestors. Keep the festivals alive, but please celebrate them in their original form and honour the natural forces they originally were dedicated to.