21 December 2007
Aahh, Christmas. A time of merriment and joy.
In keeping with my mythology theme, I decided to do a little research on the rites of our mythic forefathers during the winter solstice celebrations.
Blood and demons everywhere.
The Scandinavians celebrate St Lucy’s Day around Dec 13. Sounds lovely. Blonde girls carrying candles nestled in a wreath in their crown of braids. St Lucia helped to hide Christians and needed her hands free, so she figured out a way to carry the light on her head. But St Lucy’s Day coincides with a terrifying mid-winter coming of the female demon Lussi. Lussi came down the chimney to take away naughty children and lazy people who didn’t do their work.
In Aegean Greece, there was the Lenaia, or the Festival of the Wild Women. A man would be let loose in the forest wearing the disguise of bull to represent Dionysus, then Dionysus’ female worshippers, the raving Maenads, would be let loose upon him and tear him to shreds as a sacrifice. Yay Grrl Power. In later years, a goat replaced the human sacrifice.
The Saami, indigenous to Finland and the most northern parts of Scandinavia celebrated the Beiwe Festival. Beiwe was the sun-goddess of fertility and sanity (talk about your rampant Seasonal Affected Disorder – also, I bet there were lots of September babies.) Her followers sacrificed white female animals and used the meat, bones and sinew to decorate a bed for her. They also covered the bedknobs with butter for her to eat as she traveled on her way to bring Spring back to the land.
But no discussion of death in winter is complete without mentioning the Midvinterblót in Nordic folk religion.
Totally aside, have you noticed how many of these fun little rituals are Norse in origin? This is what happens when you don’t see the sun for four months out of the year. Anyway, back on topic.
Every year at the solstice, men would bring cattle and horses to be slaughtered for the blót – a sacrifice to Odin, Niord and Freyr. Smoke from the holy fire and blood were offered to the gods and sprinkled on the participants, then ale was offered. Odin’s goblet was for power and victory, Niord’s for peace and Freyr’s for good harvest. Finally, one goblet was emptied in memory of dead friends.
ETA: The picture above is Carl Larsson's Midvinterblót. It hangs as a mural at the Swedish National Museum. You'll notice that there is a man waiting to be sacrificed. Every nine years at the Temple of Uppsala, nine males of every species, including humans, were sacrificed as part of the celebration.
Well, ok. Not all celebrations were filled with blood, but enough to make us stop and consider the darkness in which people lived and their acceptance of the cycle of life and seasons.
As we take a sip of eggnog this holy season, let us lift a cup and remember those who have sacrificed for us as we celebrate a moment of light and hope while the earth sleeps.