Vetrnætr for the Family
What Is Vetrnaetr?
Vetrnætr is one of the most important celebrations on the Heathen calendar, with origins in the pre-Christian Norse era.
Winter Nights, Haustblót, Disablót and Winterfylleth are different names for Vetrnætr. It occurs on the first full moon of October (three full moons before Yule).
When Is Vetrnaetr?
In 2023, Vetrnætr starts October 28th. The date changes annually according to the full moon because the ancient Nordic people followed the lunisolar or lunar calendar. Every new moon was the start of a new month during their time, and certain moons marked special celebrations.
How to Celebrate Vetrnaetr
Customs of Vetrnætr are documented in the scripts of medieval scholars. These scholars wrote of observances in the areas of Norway, Iceland and Sweden.
Although there is not a lot of information on Vetrnætr, below is the evidence gathered:
There was a sumbel (a toast to honour deities, ancestors and honourable deeds);
Odin declared there should be a blót for a good year (a sacrifice/offering); and,
There was a great feast.
Winter Nights aligns with the Wheel of the Year celebration known as Samhain in many ways. New Age Norse pagans adopted Samhain in the 1970s during the creation of the Asatru movement. Samhain happens on October 31-November 1 annually, when the veil between the living and dead is the thinnest.
Whether you are observing Vetrnætr or Samhain, both paths believe honouring ancestors at this time may grant the household luck.
Below is a list of traditions to help you celebrate Vetrnætr in both the new and old ways:
Vetrnætr for the Family:
Come together with friends and family to enjoy a big harvest feast, but remember your sumbel and blót first!
2. Welcome your ancestors
Make sure you set an extra plate at your table for your ancestors and welcome their spirit to the table. Share stories of your ancestors and why they are honourable. Feel free to talk about your departed family members, friends or animals. All are closest to you at this time.
3. Light a candle with a picture representing your departed loved ones.
Most children may not have any memory of a lost ancestor. It is more likely they have feelings toward losing a pet. Feel free to encourage the tradition by displaying a picture of their departed companion and asking them to talk openly to them. They are listening tonight.
Remember to do the same with your departed loved ones. Your child(ren) will end up feeling a deeper connection to them.
Make a toast for your ancestor or deity by sacrificing a sip of your drink to the air and then take a sip yourself (this is probably best done outside).
An alternative is to pour a drink into an empty cup next to your ancestor's plate.
5. Honour your god(s)
In the old tradition, people would offer the blood of their meal to a deity. In modern practices, people make symbolic sacrifices by offering a drink or meal. Some go as far as throwing a portion of their favourite food into a bonfire. This sacrifice is called a blót.
In Nordic mythology, Freyr is likely to be worshipped at this time. He is the god of harvest, health and abundance. He lives in Álfheimr: the realm of the light elves. In some beliefs, it is the elves who deliver your messages to the dead.
That said, this is one of three holidays appointed by Odin, and as a polytheistic path, you can celebrate whoever and however many deities you want.
6. Be thankful for the harvest
Vetrnætr is a harvest celebration, and Samhain is the last harvest celebration of the year. Be thankful for the food set in front of you tonight, and be mindful of the effort and luck that goes into growing it.
7. Light a fire
A Heathen or Norse pagan celebration would not be complete without a good bonfire. Light the blaze and get lost in memories sparked by a fiery trance.
8. Follow your family tree
Even if you don't have a gathering, Vetrnætr is still a great night to open your genealogy chart. Learning the history of your lineage is a fun way to honour your origins and keep your children connected with thee past of your family.
Whether you are practicing in the old or new tradition, I hope you take the time to enjoy those closest to you.
Did you know?
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Historical Sources for Vetrnaetr
Heathen Blots and Dating:
The Reckoning of Time (De Temporum Ratione), tr. Faith Wallis, Liverpool University Press 1988, pp.53-54). 15
Ynglinga Saga, (pp 1) 8 - https://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/heim/02ynglga.htm
Heimskringla II (pp 147) 117 - http://www.vsnrweb-publications.org.uk/Heimskringla%20II.pdf
The Saga of Viga-Glum by Edmund Hund (1866) ch 6 - https://sagadb.org/viga-glums_saga.en
Winter Nights "veturnóttum"/ Winterfylleth by Robert Sass - https://www.aldsidu.com/post/winter-nights-veturn%C3%B3ttum-winterfylleth?fbclid=IwAR01qHrW4g3yZOjz2cvjD3wHOVUGt0NO94RGo7L8s6xj-UfyFGCQiHCmj1s
Nordberg, Andreas. “Jul, Disting Och Förkyrklig Tideräkning.” Kalendrar Och Kalendariska Riter i Det Förkristna …, 2006.
... And for information about the founding/creation of the Asatru movement