Friday, December 27, 2013

Saturday, December 21, 2013



Lussinatta, or Lussi Night, is a Swedish custom that I find completely fascinating. Today, it is celebrated on the night of December 13th, the Feast Day of St. Lucy. Young girls vie to be selected to represent their schools or towns as Lucy, bedecked in a white robe with red sash and a wreath of greenery and white candles crowning her. This is, of course, a far cry from its heathen roots.
Under the custom, Lussinatta fell on the darkest night of the year, the solstice. Partly due to calendar changes with acceptance of the Julian then Gregorian calendars, the date shifted from roughly the 21st of December to the 13th. It is suspected that the Catholic Church worked to associate the old heathen custom with their St. Lucy partly because of the similarity of sounds and both relate to light.
The Lussi is said to be a terrible witch or monster who rides forth on this night with a host of trolls, ghosts, and goblins called the Lussiferda to cause all sorts of mischief and trouble. It is said to be extremely dangerous to be caught outside from Lussinatta until Jul. This is clearly related to the Oskorei, the Furious Host, which is also known as the Wild Hunt.
In an interesting parallel to modern Santa Claus stories, the Lussi is said to come down the chimney late at night to snatch away poorly behaved children. Additionally, if a family had not properly prepared for the winter season, and Jul in particular, she is said to punish the entire household for their laziness. This has a parallel with some lore pertaining to Frigg in Scandinavia or Holda in Germany punishing the entire house for not finishing the preparations in time. Lussivaka, the tradition of staying awake all night to ward the house and family against evil, is practiced today as an all night party that ends at sunrise.
Some areas, particularly Västergötland, focus on a male creature called the Lussigubben. In Swedish, an affectionate term for an old man is “gubben.” If we understand the Lussi to be Frigg, then it would stand to reason that the Lussigubben is Odin, particularly associated with the wild hunt of the Furious Host.
In Värmland, a slightly different tradition is attested to by Erland Hofsten in an unpublished manuscript from the early 1700s about a feast and offerings made outside. No detailed description of events remains but Hofsten believed this had heathen origins. E. Fernows wrote about similar practices in 1773. Where Hofsten talked about the practice among the commoners, Fernows talked about how the wealthy practiced this feast.
The appearance of St. Lucy today appears to be related to other customs from Värmland. C. Fr. Nyman wrote about a trip in 1764 about a custom that was previously unknown to him. In his unpublished work he describes an early morning visit from a girl dressed like the description given earlier, accompanied by singing, who came to his bedroom door with food, drink, and other assorted items. It isn’t until 1820 that the first depiction of the candles on the head is documented, however.
Celebrating Lussinatta Today
While the contemporary Lussinatta customs are heavily Christianized, I see no reason to abandon the customs and traditions that have been passed down to us. They just need a little tweaking to revive their heathen spirit!
Instead of celebrating it on December 13th, I prefer to return it to its proper place at the solstice. This does, of course, require a little understanding that the Lussi is probably not a witch or monster but Frigg herself. I also believe that it should be a feast filled with light, particularly to light Sunne’s path through the darkest nights of the year and help guide her back to us.
If you should hold a blót or sumbel during this time, it would seem reasonable to me to have the blót lead by a young woman or older girl dressed in a white down, wearing the signature read sash and wreath crown. If you are holding a sumbel, the horn bearer could be dressed in the same attire. If you wish to have the lit candles, I recommend looking into one of the many battery operated crowns with electric lights. It’s much safer than lit candles on their heads!
In the morning, it would be in accordance with some of the Lussinatta customs to have the women and girls serve freshly baked (or at least heated in the oven) lussekatter, a kind of saffron bun, for breakfast.
With a little research and imagination, I’m sure you can come up with other ways to revive the heathen nature of this ancient and truly special custom.
-  Kevin Skoog
Originally posted on

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Is Santa Claus Real?

It is a bit like asking if gravity or air are real, they are demonstrable, quantifiable, but I will grant you easily missed if you aren’t looking the right way, or look a mind that will not accept what the eyes perceive readily.

Odin is the god with the most kennings (use names, bynames, and aliases) of any god in any pantheon in history.  One of them is Father Jul, the Yule Father to whom the Tree was raised, and offering given even when Christianity’s coming forced the tree to come indoors, or when Coke decided he needed to wear their colours to sell Coke at Christmas. The oldest name of Odin, like his associated rune, and his gift to man at creation are the same: inspiration.

God of war, god of poets, god of chieftains, yet the words that come to us from him are largely about gift giving, about relationship building, about hospitality.  Line after line of the Victory Father’s words are not about killing, but about the how little you need to give to improve someone’s life. A gift for a gift he teaches us, often to share our hospitality with those that we care about, to gladden them with gifts, and mingle our thoughts with theirs.

The end of the Havamal mentions some spells known by the All-Wise, for Odin is nothing If not a magician, but the bulk of his work teaches us his most powerful spell, the spell of binding.  With gifts and fair speech, with hospitality given and received, we build bridges between people, to bring them together in the heart of the dark, to bring them warmth in the heart of the cold, to bring them hope in the dying of the light.

Odin takes by-names to suit his purpose.  When he went among the Jottuns to steal from them, he called himself Bolverk, or evil worker.  When he comes among children to teach them how to reach out to each other and learn to become a family, a community, and a people, he was called Father Yule.  When he came to a nation of immigrants who worshiped commerce, he called himself Santa Claus.  What did he teach?  What he always taught.  A gift for a gift, the smallest thing can bring light into our lives, the smallest touch can turn aside the dark choices that wait for us in the killing cold.  In the light it is easy to see who is beside us, but in the darkness you must reach out to know you are not alone.   You must give voice in the silence, give song where whispers flourished.  It is always a time of privation and need, we are still poorest at the Yuletide.  We do not give because we can afford it, we give because we cannot afford not to.  Wassail hard in the heart of the dark, the Yule Father teaches us to bring light into the darkness, to bring song into the silence, that we know we are not alone.  The sun will return, the night will end.  You are not alone.

In ancient times, Odin was not depicted as stalking mortals battle fields to fight for us.  Instead, his presence was to inspire his warriors to wisdom and guile, to battle fury, to rise up to greatness.  His gifts were inspiration; both creativity and passion.  In ancient times the Yule father did the same, he inspired us to be creative and passionate; to see the ways we could reach out and brighten each others lives.  His gift is the inspiration, and for  that we honour him.  His gift is the reminder and the teaching, and for this we follow him.  He is Santa Claus, the  the magic of giving, the joy of the innocent, the wonder of staring into the dark and not seeing a thing of fear, but endless wonder.

At the feet of the Ghost of Christmas Present; the most Pagan of a Christmas Carrol’s Yule figures, are ignorance and want.  They shelter beneath the Yule Father’s robe because man has forgotten them.  The Yule Father has not  At this time he calls for us, in a time of privation and want to give to those who have less.  We CANNOT afford to give, for we all fall short in these times of our own needs.  We give anyways, because the what little you have, others have less.  We do not understand each other, or even like each other, but we are in this world together.  We reach out and give to those we do not know well, or understand, that they may at least know we care.  We receive in return.  How many of these darkest days were made bright by a little gift, a little gesture, a decoration, the bright lights burning in the dark, the sounds of joyous carols where normally angry music blares?  Reciprocal gifting and hospitality turns strangers into friends, friends into kindred, and kindred into family.  It old magic, strong magic.  It is real, provable, visible, and everywhere.

My children were small once, and knew that Santa was real, he drove around in a sleigh (tracked by NATO on the computer) and gave presents to good girls and boys.  He inspired them to give as well, and they filled the house with joy, the school, and the houses of the family and friends we visited.  As they became older, they stopped simply receiving the magic, and became part of it.  They began making or buying gifts to give to others “from Santa”.  My daughters work as elves now to make money for their gift giving, but come home as wired from working as a gift giving elf, as from a rock concert.  They have been initiated into the mysteries of Santa, and accept his reality, as they themselves have become part of his active agency.  Santa is as real as the Queen or the Constitution.  Armies march in his name, armies that give joy and hope, not blood and death.  Armies that reach out to those in need, and to those who are drifting apart.

Santa is real.  For as much as Odin known many names, his truth is singular as his nature; inspiration.  The Yule Father, Father Christmas, Santa Claus, Pere Noel, by any of his bynames, in any of his disguises his work is the same.  Seducer of children, as he has long been a seducer of fair maids, and some would argue of fighting men, his seduction serves a purpose.  Always and forever his is the drive to bring us together as a people, to renew and strengthen our bonds. 

Yule tide is his, master of fear, lord of madness, lord of the grave, he knows the heart of the dark, the brutal cold of the sunless time is only balanced by the warmth, light, love, and sustenance that we bring and share with each other.  Darkest of our gods, brightest of our truths, heed the Yule Father, listen to Santa Claus, and let the silence hear your song, the darkness see your light, the loneliness fall to your laughter.  Give, celebrate, laugh, be silly, be sentimental, be thankful or thoughtful, but above all, be together.

- John T Mainer