Monthly Archives: December 2013

The Sorceress – Film Review

ImageThis subtitled French film is about a “forest woman” in a remote rural medieval village. She uses her knowledge of plants to act as a healer. Villagers come to her for her knowledge of herbs to heal sickness.  She also has some “tricks” up her sleeve in terms of cures that are more for placebo affect.  So of course, when the Catholic Church sends a new priest to the village, he accuses her of witchcraft.

The priest is depicted fairly in this film. Rather than a purely evil figure, he does try to wrap his head around what’s going on. He’s from a more urban, and his mind a more forward thinking, town.  So these rural villagers and their folkways appear backwards and superstitious.  But, the priest sees practices that just do not jive with Church teachings and the forest woman finds herself in a prison cell.

The film is interesting because theories about pagan superstitions are explored through the dialogue between the accused witch and the priest. Also, many occurrences that are known to have happened are depicted, such as the priest ordering a sacred tree to be chopped down and destroyed (this is documented to have happened all over Europe, and even in Mediterranean areas).

I really enjoyed this film and highly recommend it. Anyone interested in Medieval history and pre-Christian folkways will enjoy this film. The entire film can be viewed online for free on YouTube!  We’ve also added the DVD to our shop 🙂

~ Aelfwynne ~

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Witchdom of the True – Book Review

Review of Witchdom of the True by Edred Thorsson

Witchdom-of-the-True-Thorsson-Edred-9781885972125There is much less published on the Vanatru side of Germanic paganism than on Asatru. Whereas Asatru means true to the Aesir (Odin and the gods of Asgard), Vanatru means true to the Vanir (Freyr and Freya, and the gods of Vanaheimr).

The author studied both Germanic and Celtic philology at the graduate level and earned a Ph.D. in Germanic Languages and Medieval Studies.

Despite his impressive credentials, this book is incredibly accessible and written for a general audience. However, due to his credentials, this author is generally considered reliable with his presentation of history and expected to have done his research.

It is understood that Wicca is a contemporary religion influenced by ancient ideas  rather than actual representation of indigenous European religion.  Yet, Thorsson asserts that  Wicca actually may actually draw upon Vanic traditions. He postulates that Freyr and Freyja are the actual Wiccan Lord and Lady based on the etymology of their names (Freyr and Freyja literally do mean lord and lady).

Now, whether Gerald Gardner, the founder of Wicca, had this in mind when he created his religion, we can’t say. This theory may seem suspect to some considering that mainstream Wiccans typically place emphasis on the Celtic pantheon.

The Wiccan emphasis on all things Celtic is dubious when one considers that the word Wicca is of Germanic origin.  One may also find it mysterious that Ostara, a goddess of the Germans on the continent was grafted into the Wiccan wheel of the year. Even her counterpart in the British Isles, Eostre, is an Anglo-Saxon (Germanic) goddess.  While some examples of the “Wheel of the Year” use the Irish Lughnasadh, others use Lammas.  Lammas was an Anglo-Saxon holiday. The Wiccan calendar also celebrates Yule for winter solstice, another Germanic holiday.  The Celtic winter solstice is Meán Geimhridh.

So, considering Wicca uses a Germanic name and has such precedent of inserting Germanic tradition into their religion, one might consider the Lord and Lady may have been meant to be Frey and Freyja in Gardner’s thought process.  Or it might simply be an alternative way of viewing the religion to make it more palatable to people who value historical precedent in their religious practice.

Anyway, this book is not about Wicca. It’s about interpreting the Vanir through the eyes of a former Wiccan who’s personal practice evolved as his knowledge of ancient history deepened.  This book will not tell you how to be a Wiccan. But for some Wiccans it may open the doorway of new insights and interpretations of paganism.

While this book is highly recommended for Wiccans looking to deeper their study, it is also recommended for other pagans and Heathens interested in the Vanic gods.  This book provides a foundation of understanding the history of the Vanir, and the connection between Vanir tradition and witchcraft.  It discusses underground survivals of witchcraft and its revival.  It also gives a rudimentary introduction for the Norse/Germanic practice of Seidr (spelled Seith by the author, the ð symbol can be translated as “th” or “d” and the “r” is often dropped in translation).

seidrI have to apologize to any of you reading this right now. I bought this book a few years ago, and as I’m finishing up this review, I’m realizing it has gone out of print.  I’ll leave it in our Amazon bookshop anyway in case some reasonably priced used copies turn up. At the least if you click on it in our store, Amazon should suggest similar titles and books by this author.  Or, maybe you can find it used with another bookseller!

Anyway, I quite enjoyed this title, and I hope some of you will be able to get your hands on it.

If you are interested in Seidr, we have added another book on it to our shop.  “Seidr; The Gate is Open” is a title I haven’t read personally, but it comes highly recommended by other readers.

~ review by Aelfwynne ~

Krampusnacht

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WHO IN HELL IS KRAMPUS? (info from krampus.com)

Krampus is the dark companion of St. Nicholas, the traditional European winter gift-bringer who rewards good children each year on December 6. The kindly old Saint leaves the task of punishing bad children to a hell-bound counterpart known by many names across the continent — Knecht Ruprecht, Certa, Perchten, Black Peter, Schmutzli, Pelznickel, Klaubauf, and Krampus. Usually seen as a classic devil with horns, cloven hooves and monstrous tongue, but can also be spotted as a sinister gentleman dressed in black or a hairy man-beast. Krampus punishes the naughty children, swatting them with switches and rusty chains before dragging them in baskets to a fiery place below.

KRAMPUSNACHT (NIGHT OF KRAMPUS)

Krampus is celebrated on Krampusnacht, which takes place on the eve of St. Nicholas’ Day. In Austria, Northern Italy and other parts of Europe, party-goers masquerade as devils, wild-men, and witches to participate in Krampuslauf (Krampus Run). Intoxicated and bearing torches, costumed devils caper and carouse through the streets terrifying child and adult alike. Krampusnacht is increasingly being celebrated in other parts of Europe such as Finland and France, as well as in many American cities.

KRAMPUS’S ANCIENT ORIGINS

The European practice of mummery during the winter solstice season can be traced back tens of thousands of years. Villagers across the continent dress up as animals, wild-men and mythic figures to parade and perform humorous plays. This ancient guising and masking tradition continues to this day as the primary source for our modern Halloween with its costumes, trick-or-treat, and pagan symbolism. Among the most common figures in these folk rituals were Old Man Winter and the horned Goat-Man — archetypes now found in the forms of Saint Nick/Santa Claus, and the Devil (‘Old Nick’), aka Krampus.

SANTA THE PUNISHER?

In 19th century New York City an American St. Nick emerged in the form of Santa Claus. Although based on the Dutch Saint Nicholas, Santa incorporated more elements from pagan winter solstice customs. He relinquished his white bishop garb for a red suit, traded his horse and staff for a sleigh and reindeer, and moved his franchise to Christmas Eve.
Santa also tried to take over the dark companion’s job of punishing the naughty, but his New World temperament was apparently unsuited for the task. As Santa neglected and abandoned his punishing duties, American kids lost all fear of Santa and his lumps of coal. Thankfully, in the 21st century, Krampus has arrived in this land of spoiled and dissatisfied children to pick up the slack.

KRAMPUS CARDS

While Santa Claus expanded shop and sold products in mid-1800s America, the holiday card craze exploded in Europe.In Austria and other parts of Europe, countless season’s greeting cards featured Krampus, often emblazoned with the phrase “Grüß Vom Krampus” (Greetings from Krampus). While the lurid images are suffused with a modern sense of the comic and the surreal, they still resonant with mythic power and primordial horror. And with Krampus representing the naughty side of the season, the sexy subtext is hard to ignore in these often very cheeky cards. A century later, the brilliance of these magnificent works of pop art is now gaining global recognition.

KRAMPUS IN AMERICA

BLAB! Magazine curator Monte Beauchamp reintroduced Krampus cards to America nearly a century after their heyday. His art books are the definitive works showcasing Krampus and other Devil-inspired greeting cards. A collector’s market for Krampus cards has grown as the figure of Krampus pops up across the cultural landscape. Krampus has been featured on Adult Swim’s The Venture Bros and the CW’s Supernatural; in 2009, Krampus visited the The Colbert Report and had Stephen shaking in his Brooks Brothers’ suit. Over the last decade, Krampusnacht celebrations have sprouted up in U.S. cities such as Portland and San Francisco.

A NEW SPIRIT OF XMAS?

The hunger for a darker Xmas holiday has made the evil Santa Claus character a staple of pop culture, as seen in movies such as Rare Exports, The Nightmare Before Christmas, books such as Dean Koontz’s Santa’s Twin and many others. A resurgence of Saturnalian rituals and animistic practices during the winter season is evident in Santarchy, a flash-mob phenomenon started in 1994 on America’s west coast now enacted in many countries including Korea, Norway and Ireland. On selected days in early December, large crowds of costumed Santa Clauses descend en masse on public squares and shopping centers to confound, amuse and frighten spectators.
A new appreciation of ancient traditions that smoulder in the dark recesses of holiday revelry continues to rise around the world. Krampus, with his horns, hoove and tongue, embodies this revived spirit of the Xmas season!

KRAMPUS THROUGH THE AGES

2000 BCEEnkidu appears in the Epic of Gilgamesh, the earliest known appearance of a ‘Wild Man’ in literature.

600 BCE In the book of Daniel in the Old Testament, King Nebuchadnezzar is punished by God for his pride when he is turned into a hairy beast.

217 BCE Saturnalia is introduced as a winter celebration in Rome, marked by gift giving, wild parties, and a reversal of the normal social roles of slave and master.

4th Century CE Due to Roman influence, many Germanic tribes, such as the Goths and Vandals, convert to Christianity; their pagan traditions survive in small villages in the Alps where the Church cannot penetrate.

1250 CE King’s Mirror, a Norwegian text, features a Wild Man character who is described as being covered in hair.

17th Century CE ‘Knecht Rupert’ appears as a figure in a Nuremberg Christmas procession.

1810 CE The Brothers Grimm began publishing stories of Germanic folktales, marking a resurgence in Germanic pagan folklore.

Early 19th Century CE Holiday postcards from Austria, Germany, and other parts of Europe feature holiday greetings Krampus and other companions of St. Nicholas.

Early 19th Century CE Germanic and Dutch immigrants to the US popularize ‘Pelznickel’ traditions in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and as far west as Indiana.

2004 CE Blab! Magazine curator Monte Beauchamp publishes Devil In Design, a collection of vintage Krampus postcards from the turn of the 19th century. This book marks an increase in Krampus’ popularity in the English speaking world.

krampus~ Posted by Asfridr ~ All info from krampus.com

We’ve got a bunch of Krampus stuff in our Heathen Holiday section of our shop!  Click over to page 2 for Krampus ornaments, stockings, and playing cards!  and a couple books devoted to him are on page 1.

Also we have an entire album devoted to Krampus on our Facebook page.  Merry Fucking Christmas!

Baltic Religion Today *Free ebook* – Book Review

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Stylized ‘World Tree’ or Austras Koks (Tree of Twilight). The most used symbol of Romuva

Some Background:

Baltic Religion Today is quite possibly the only book about Baltic indigenous religion available in English today. It is written by Jonas Trinkūnas, who is one of the founders of the Lithuanian traditional pagan revival movement, known as Romuva. The religion takes its name from an old pagan temple that existed in Old Prussia.  The temple was destroyed by conquering Christian Teutonic Knights (the conversion of Europe was discussed in our last blog).

The Prussians were neighbors to the Lithuanians, and each region of the Baltic have languages and traditions that differ slightly. But, they obviously share a strong cultural heritage.  Lithuanian Romuva is the Baltic tradition with the most information available in English (which is still very little!), and being that the Balts are nestled between the Germans, Norse, Finns, and Slavs, anybody with a serious interest in Northern European pre-Christian religion would do well to learn about the region and religion.

About the Book:

ImageThere is currently very little available in English about Romuva. The English language market for Baltic pagan studies is a veritable dearth when compared with other reconstructionist movements such as Asatru, or modern neo-pagan religions like Wicca. So this book is literally a must have for anyone interested in Lithuanian and Baltic paganism.

Baltic Religion Today explains everything a beginner needs to know about Romuva. Starting with a short overview and background on the history, to tenets of belief, overview of the Baltic Deities, holidays, and the concept of Darna (Harmony).

Romuva is a truly beautiful, nature based religion. It focuses on being in tune with nature and one’s own inner harmony. For that reason, this book is HIGHLY recommended for ALL pagans, not just those on the Baltic Path, as well as anyone with an interest in spirituality in general. The concepts expressed in Romuva will deepen anyone’s understanding of the Earth and our place in it. As well as help us on our personal journeys to establish our own inner harmony.

It appears that this book was meant to be freely available as it is available for free download from the official Romuva website, which I believe is run by the author.

Follow the links above or click on the image of the book to download it for free. Also I have added a section on the Baltic to our book shop. Happy reading!

~ Aelfwynne ~

Clearing Up Confusion About the Conversion of Europe

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Cross of the Celts by Mad1Dave on Deviant Art

When people speak about conversion from the Old Religion to Christianity in Europe, they tend to use universal terms, as if it happened the same everywhere all at once. It didn’t.

There are a lot of generalizations and blatant falsities put forth from many different angles. Many Christians insist that conversion happened peacefully and voluntarily.  Many modern Pagans insist that all of conversion was bloody and forced.

What we need to remember is that the conversion of Europe occurred in a time span of over one thousand years.  The process happened differently in different areas.

Since this blog focuses on Northern Europe, defined by me as the area stretching from the British Isles to Russia, barring countries speaking a Romance language (sorry, France), I will not go into the very early Church in the Middle East and Mediterranean.

The Celts:

The  area where the biggest misunderstanding seems to lie is with the Celts who were the earliest converts outside of the Mediterranean. Wiccans, who tend to cling to Celtic culture and claim to follow a form of Celtic paganism, are often the worst offenders of spreading false history.  Sadly for them, the Celts were one group in Northern Europe who converted by and large peacefully and voluntarily.

Because they converted so early, very little is known about what Celtic pagans actually believed and practiced.  Since the Church arrived early in Ireland in the 5th century, they were the minority and therefor  had to tread lightly, and this conversion happened organically and willingly (much to the chagrin of  Wiccan writers who have been reading garbage by unqualified writers who don’t fact check).

There was no Druid slaughter by Christians. That is a myth. The Druids are thought to have blended into the Celtic Christian priesthood.  One reason for the confusion is that the Romans DID slaughter druids. But this was simply due to the fact that they were a political threat. It had nothing to do with religion. In fact, this slaughter occurred nearly 300 years prior to the conversion of Rome! It’s called the Menai Massacre, and it is the only known large scale slaughter of druids.

Also, Saint Patrick was NOT a slayer of druids. Please read this blog by The Wild Hunt and this one by P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, a Celtic Reconstructionist Pagan and scholar for more information on this rumor.

Druids by Alex Martinez on Deviant Art

The Anglo-Saxons:

The area that became England was home to many Christians when they were occupied by Rome. At this point in time, Christians and pagans lived side by side. It was actually a very diverse religions environment, where people practiced both Roman, Celtic, and a hybrid version of paganism called Roman-Gallo paganism.  When the Romans left Britain, Christianity faded away with the influx of the pagan Anglo-Saxons early in the 5th century.

Replica of the Anglo-Saxon helmet found in the Sutton Hoo burial site.

Replica of the Anglo-Saxon helmet found in the Sutton Hoo burial site.

The Church did make huge missionary efforts to convert the Anglo-Saxons. Again this was very early (tail end of the 6th through the 7th centuries) and was a complicated process. At this point in time, virtually all Germanic people were still pagan (barring the Franks who had been long Romanized by now and no longer retained their Germanic language, religion, or identity). However, France had converted to Christianity one hundred years prior under the Frankish Merovingian king Clovis I, in the year 496 A.D. Between the French to the East and Celts to the North joining up with the Roman Church, the reach of Christian political military and political power was now stretching further out of the Mediterranean. So, it appears this is the point where political pressure began to be a true factor in the conversion of the Kings and people of Northern Europe.

However, Anglo-Saxon conversion still happened very gradually. Their kings were not known for using violence to forcibly convert their people. And there were many tug-of-wars when a Christian king’s pagan son inherited the throne. The common people retained their pagan customs for many years, as is so famously lamented by the Venerable Bede. The Anglo-Saxon retained a lot of their pre-Christian culture even after they were by and large fully converted. It was really when the asshole NORMANS came in with their stricter version of Christianity when the Germanic systems of fairness in rule of law became oppressed by the choke hold of Norman rule.

A wonderful fiction novel, but one that was meticulously researched, about the old religion of the Anglo-Saxons and their conversion is The Way of Wyrd by Brian Bates.

Charlemagne’s Epic Battle Against the Valiant Pagan Saxon King Widukind:

Saxon Shields by Endakil on Deviant Art

Saxon Shields by Endakil on Deviant Art

Ok, so along comes Charlemagne in France. Just as his predecessor Clovis converted to Christianity and united the Franks, the Christian Charlemagne sought to unite the German tribes and used forced conversion as a tool. He was one of the first rulers actually use forced conversion en masse.

HOWEVER, it should noted that Charlemagne was defending Europe from onslaughts of Muslim invaders from the South (ever heard of the Reconquista? the reclaiming of Spain?). In case you haven’t noticed, uniting pagans is like herding cats. The Germanic tribes were fiercely independent and more prone to tribal raiding for land and goods than large scale war. I believe Charlemagne used Christianity as a way to unite Europe under one banner to keep the Muslims from conquering Europe.

(The Crusades are another story, but that’s another false history that the Christians were to blame. The Crusades started as a response to Muslim invasions, that had a long history. Vlad the impaler is another “hero” who kept the Muslim invaders from getting in through Southeastern Europe.)

Ahem. That said, Charlemagne is responsible for the conversion of the Saxons. The brave pagan Saxon king Widukind (who’s name means Forest Child, how perfect is that) fought against Charlemagne for years in what is known as The Saxon Wars. He was finally forced to surrender to save his people from slaughter, and his conversion was a self sacrifice to protect his people.

The Norse: 

On to the Norse. King Olaf converted as a political move in the year 995, because by now most of Europe had gone over. Olaf was an asshole. He brutally forced his people to convert or die. It was Olaf who slaughtered the Volvas and Norse pagan priesthood or “wise people.”

There’s not a heck of a lot more to say on that. Other than that the things people think happened with the Celts, actually DID happen with the Norse. It was a vile and bloody forced conversion and their religious leaders and “sorcerers” who were sort of equivalent to Druids were slaughtered by Christians. Sorry Celts, the Norse win the prize!

Sejdmen

King Olaf Trygvasson had seidmen tied up and thrown on a skerry at ebb.

The Balts and Slavs – Crusades in Northern, Central, and Eastern Europe:

The Teutonic Crusades, also called Northern Crusades, Baltic Crusades, and the Wendish crusades occurred a few centuries later. By now the Germans and Norse had been completely assimilated by the Borg (I mean Church) and were used as fighting-bots to go out and slaughter remaining pagans. This is how the Balts became Christianized, and in the case of some of them, especially the Prussians, this is even considered by many to be a genocide. The Wendish crusades were against the Slavs, I believe Poland and nearby areas.

Lithuania held out very long, until the late 15th century, when the now Christian king of Poland waged war on them. You will notice a pattern here.  Forcibly convert a people, assimilate them into the machine. Then send them off to assimilate their neighbors. That’s how the Borg, I mean the Church, worked.

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Destruction of the Baltic Pagan Temples by the Christian Teutonic Knights

The Last Holdouts – the ones that hardly anybody even knows about:

Saami Shaman Spirit Drum

Saami Shaman Spirit Drum

After that the main pagans left were the Saami in the tippy top of Scandinavia, a Finno-Ugric people, who were still pagan as late as the 18th and 19th century. It was the Lutherans who went out of their way to go after the Saami, and their tactics were remarkably similar to how Christians in America assimilated Native Americans and attempted to make them lose their languages and native religions.

The Mari El in Russia have an unbroken line of pagan tradition. Probably due to their remote location, they were left alone more than other groups, however they still faced many periods of persecution. They are still pagan today (although many are Christian, the pagans still thrive).

In Conclusion:

So, there we have it.  As you can see, conversion was a long and widely varying process.  Anyone who speaks of it in sweeping generalities simply demonstrates that they don’t actually know much about it!

We’re building our section for pagan scholarship and reliable history in our shop.  So please give it a gander. Books covering the conversion have also been added 🙂

~ Post by Aelfwynne ~

Comments on “Ten Things You Might Not Know About Christmas” by Addicting Info

All in all this article is pretty good. I support all efforts to resurrect Olde Yule, and get to the roots of many of our holiday traditions.  There are just a couple of items mentioned here, though, that I would like to address.

Influences that preceded Santa:

409px-Georg_von_Rosen_-_Oden_som_vandringsman,_1886_(Odin,_the_Wanderer)One great point in the article is something I have been saying right along, that Santa is an amalgam of many influences – BUT he is not simply Odin repackaged like a lot of Asatru bloggers keep saying.  There seems little doubt that the white bearded Odin/Woden/Wotin who flew through the air on his magical horse to participate in the Wild Hunt at Yuletide was certainly a major influence. However, there are many other influences to consider. The archetype of the wise man, magician, sorcerer was prevalent in Northern European society from Britain to Russia. Certainly Odin is a part of this tradition, as he is known as the Wanderer in pointed wide-brimmed hat, tattered robes, often carrying a staff or walking stick. He is associated with magic, bringing us the Runes and he is said to have learned the Norse magical tradition called “Seidr” from Freyja.

ded_moroz_by_brzoza77-d35np1hHowever, the image of the mage, the wise sage who is a wielder of magic is seen elsewhere in Europe.  Think Merlin, Taliesin, and Finnish sorcerers/wizards which are so common in old Finnish folklore.

Shamanic influences are also strongly theorized to be an influence on Santa. The Finnish wizards were affiliated with Finno-Ugric shamanic tradition.  Another FInno-Ugric group with a strong shamanic tradition are the Saami.  Their shamans were known to eat the red and white fly agaric costume and then journey to the spirit world aided by the beating of their drums. These drums were often adorned with jingle bells.

Other figures across Europe follow this same pattern of being influenced by “the wandering sorcerer” archetype. Ded Moroz is one such Christmas figure from Russia (pictured above). And the English Father Christmas is another (pictured below).  I do understand that other internet writers aren’t as well versed in European folklore, so they don’t mean to be dismissive of other cultures. But, I personally feel it is disrespectful to other Northern European cultures whose traditions have  a legitimate influence on Santa Claus to leave them out.

father-christmas

Saints were usually made up by monks to dissolve cults to local deities:

Another point of contention I have with the “influences” of Santa mentioned in the article, and this is no fault of the author as it is the common theory espoused about the “history” of Santa, is Saint Nicholas.

Now, a bit of nerdy Medieval explanation is necessary. When one is a student of Medieval Studies, one becomes familiar with a genre of writing not well known by the general public: hagiography.  Hagiography is a genre of literature dealing specifically with saints’ lives. However, it differs from biography because hagiographies were written with an agenda to spread the Catholic cult of saints. They were very popular during periods of conversion, when the church targeted locally venerated deities and attempted to replace them with Christian saints.  One such swap out is very well known – goddess Brigid to Saint Brigid.

StbrigidIn their campaign to build up the saint while diminishing the god, hagiographers literally made shit up.  Straight up inventions based on nothing but the imagination of the writer.  They bullshitted their way through it. Sometimes a real figure could be used as a model, and then merged with the god they were trying to erase.  But the lives were typically completely contrived, and all manner of miracles and benevolent acts were ascribed to the newly invented saint.

Therefore, it is my strong opinion that the Saint Nicolas theory is but more bunk that was put round by the Church to distract people from their traditional Christmas figures.  Many local Yuletide characters were unsavory to the church.  Italy’s Befana is a witch, and Germany’s Krampus is a creepy goat-man with likely roots as a Pan-like agrarian deity, just to give two examples! There may well have been one or more real life men who the story of Saint Nick was based on. But, more than likely, the story was purposefully devised to replace and distract people from Odin and the other figures mentioned above.

** Edit – Someone made a comment on Facebook that “the author is downplaying the real Saint Nicholas.”   Ahem. In helping a friend find scholarly sources for Valentines Day, I was reminded that it was yet another holiday rooted in a pagan past; the old Roman Lupercalia.  Saint Valentine was grafted on to the holiday in the SAME way as St. Brigid became the patron saint of Candlemas, which was formerly Goddess Brigid’s Imbolc.  If you don’t see a pattern here and want to continue to believe the tale of “real” Saint Nicholas, you go right ahead.**

Santa’s reindeer are not based on a horse. They are based on, erm, reindeer:

Corrected_Sapmi_in_Europe (1)Another point of contention is the assertion that Santa’s reindeer are based on Odin’s magical horse Sleipnir.  As explained above, the bearded magic man flying through the air at Yule does have connections to Odin and his flying horse.  However, the reindeer are more than likely inspired by the Saami reindeer herders.

Although the Saami are largely unknown by the general American public today, they were referenced quite often in writings of the 19th century when the American version of Christmas as we know it today was formed.  Back then they were referred to as Lapps, and they were of great interest to folklorists and travel writers to whom “Lapland” was an exotic and fascinating foreign location.

Reindeer herding has been a traditional livelihood of the Saami for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.  The Saami live at the tippy top of Scandinavia reaching from Norway and Sweden to Finland and over to Russia. Most of this area is considered Arctic, and it is virtually undeniable that the Saami in Lapland (Sapmi is the politically correct term for this region today) were a huge influence on our image of “The North Pole.”

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The Saami tie to Santa’s reindeer goes beyond simply the coincidence of them being affiliated with reindeer in the North Pole. As mentioned above, Saami shaman used the fly agaric mushroom to spirit travel.  Well, as we would have it, the Saami reindeer herders did as well. According to folklore and historical sources, the Saami herders would watch when their reindeer rooted out the mushrooms from beneath the snow. After the reindeer ate the shrooms, the herders would collect their urine and drink it to “fly” themselves.  And there you have it: flying reindeer. This is pretty straightforward and difficult to debate. Sorry, Sleipnir! Not that I don’t love you and your eight legs or anything, but I’m not going to make up a tenuous connection just to pander to what people want to read! Especially when the truth is equally cool! If you don’t believe me, maybe BBC can explain it to you:

Fly agaric was a super uber common motif in German, Norse, and Finnish Christmas, which in all likelihood is a hold over from old Yule  All you have to do is Google it and you will find numerous images like the one below which clearly demonstrate how Santa got his red and white suit (Sorry, Odin! No rags for Santa!):

fly_agaric_childrens_holiday_card_lg

** Quick edit with massive EYE ROLL and condescending sigh.  Yes, Coca-Cola made today’s image of Santa famous. Duh. We all know that. But this article is more about addressing the information given by the other article referenced at the top than an exhaustive meticulous history of American Christmas. However to address some comments made on Facebook… ahem, do you think the artists working for Coke lived in a vacuum?  Obviously they lived in the same culture as everyone else and were exposed to the same culturally pervasive motifs and imagery that were common to the time. As I said above, the fly agaric mushroom was a popular Christmas symbol and that pre-dated modern images of Santa.  Coke’s artists, just like everyone else at the time would have seen these everywhere. So when they were choosing colors for his outfit, there could be little question as to whether these images played a large role in their inspiration.**

Christmas Caroling began in Pagan Europe, not in the Christian 15th Century:

One last thing to mention. The article mentions Christmas “songs” going back to the 4th century in a Christian context, and that carols originated in the 15th century.  Again, no blame on the author as this information is very hidden and not well known. But Christmas caroling is a VERY pagan tradition!  It is yet another indigenous European pre-Christian custom that the Church literally rallied and launched campaigns against.  They finally decided to try to wipe out the pagan custom by replacing it with a Christian one, the same tactic mentioned above with the saints. Please read this article which explains it in detail: The Hidden History of Christmas Carols. 

winter solsticeAnd there we have it. ~ Aelfie

Please check out our section for Pagan roots of modern holidays in our shop. I will be developing and adding more great resources and recommendations to it 🙂