Heathenry is not nearly as united as much of the Pagan community. Where the majority of Pagans will be celebrating Samhain at the end of October, Heathens will be observing a variety of holidays which differ in name, intention, and execution. Vetrnætr, Winter Nights, Winterfylleth are all holidays celebrated at this time of year. I would write an overview, but this post by the Frozen Oak is much more comprehensive and informative than I could write!
One of the most interesting aspects of much of Germanic calendar-keeping is the tendency to divide the year into two seasons rather than the four we are more used to. This resonates with me here in the Midwest; there is the harsh cold winter, the stiflingly hot summers, and a few precious weeks of mild weather in between (if we’re lucky).
This month on the Anglo-Saxon calendar is called Winterfylleth, the winter full moon. It is on this night that the year turns for me, from the last sacred weeks of summer to the cold winds of winter. It is a night with many purposes; and for me is a multi-step process, one of the most sacred of the year.
I am a Pagan and a Heathen, and like many, I find it especially appropriate to focus on my Ancestors at this time of year. I very much enjoyed Sam Webster’s recent article on ancestors and the dead, but I fundamentally disagree with his conclusions. My Ancestors are available, and vibrant, and almost always willing to help me with what I need.
My very distant Ancestors lost in the mists of time, my Ancestors not related to me by blood, even my Ancestors who were Christian in life: almost without exception they are glad to be remembered, to be asked for assistance, to be appreciated for their contributions to my life.
Though I make a point to remember them every day, this time of year is the special time when I do grave visits, when I do entire rituals devoted to those I knew best in life, when I cook them meals and tell their stories and buy their favorite things to give as offerings. I do believe the line between our world and theirs is at its thinnest this time of year; the liminality of the dying days of summer brings them closer than ever.
But my Ancestors are not the only spirits I honor the night of that cold and clear full moon. It is also a time to recognize the spirits of my land, of the places that surround me. These spirits are for the large part laying down to rest, hunkering down for the cold weather that is coming. The trees are shedding their stunning colors, the perennial plants are cut back to grow again when the warmth returns.
Just as offerings are important in the spring, when the land is waking up and preparing to flourish; I believe they are essential this time of year as well. Thanking the spirits for the gifts they have given, providing for them during the harsh winter; this is important work that should not be ignored.
Finally, I find it easier to get through the coming cold if I make a point to welcome and propitiate the spirits and deities of winter. I offer to the spirit of the cold winter wind, whom I associate with the Icelandic folk character Thorri. I welcome Skadhi, who typically becomes much more of a presence in my life once the snow starts to fall. I burn incense for my house spirit down near the furnace where the pilot light stays lit through the winter; I am so eternally thankful for the gift of central heating.
These are my little actions, small things that help to make the winter more bearable and not something I dread. When the full moon rises this October, these are the things I will be celebrating.