Monday, January 30, 2012

Der Butzemann

Among practitioners of Urglaawe and other Germanic paths of Northern Tradition, the time of year we are now approaching, the beginning of February, is the traditional time of creating and activating the Butzemann, a type of scarecrow, the practice of which was brought to America by German and Swiss settlers whose descendants are known as the Pennsylvania Deitsch. But rather than scaring crows, the Butzemann has the more important task of blessing and protecting the crops, making them grow large and fruitful and keeping away blights and other maladies.  The Butzemann serves as the corporeal shell for a spirit of the land which fulfills this task and to which offerings are made of flowers, food, or coffee. He has his counterparts in the Alraune which may be used to protect the home in Northern European systems of magic, and also to the Utu and similar dolls used in the African diasporic systems. Wikipedia cites a Burtzefraa as a female counterpart, set up opposite the Butzemann as his wife, though I have heard the refutation that the Butzemann is already married to the Earth. For this reason, our Hearth, which incorporates some of the Pennsylvania Deitsch and Urglaawe customs into our practice, only puts out a Butzemann. Most of what follows is how we perform this task and ceremony. Others may do it differently.

The Butzemann is activated in the Ceremony of the Corn, in which he is called to life by a name which he has already told us, and shown the land that shall be his domain and responsibility in the coming season. This is traditionally done on February 2, Groundhog Day, - or as close to it as possible, - which is also the time for Charming of the Plow. Our Butzemann is composed of the usual old clothes, but rather than the usual straw or hay, which we do not grow, we stuff ours with remnants of the previous year's crops, - bean, tomato, and squash vines, corn stalks, leaves from our fig and pear trees,  - which we wish to grow in the coming year. The corn stalks come from the Last Sheaf gathered and put out for Sleipnir at Winter Nights. As this also marks the time that the Wild Hunt returns home, we're fairly certain Sleipnir has had his fill.

At Halloween or some time before that, - but no later, - our Butzemann is retired in the prescribed method, by burning. As this comes close to the time for Winter Nights, it is usually incorporated into the observances for that time. The Butzemann is thanked for his hard work and bid farewell, and is burned facing the Last Sheaf, which, because it will be incorporated into next year's Butzemann, is referred to as his son. The ashes are then gathered and scattered upon the garden beds as a final blessing for fertility.

Burning the Butzemann before the start of Winter is important because it releases the spirit and destroys the shell. If this is not done, the spirit may still leave of its own volition, but may be replaced by a more malevolent one. Per the temperamental nature of land wights, the original spirit may alternatively remain in the body and become angry at what it sees as neglect and disrespect. Either way, the Butzemann may take on the characteristics typical of his name's more common translation in modern German, that of  "boogeyman." Farms with this type of angry spirit may find themselves with blighted crops, poltergeist activity, skittish animals, or children suffering nightmares.

This is probably the source for living scarecrows being a motif in so many horror stories. The Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz is said to have been inspired by childhood nightmares author L. Frank Baum had of being chased by a scarecrow. Baum also once spoke of the "mystical feelings" scarecrows inspired in him as a boy, and how they seemed to move of their volition.  He also noted that the scarecrow on his father's farm hung up for many seasons before being blown away in a storm. The Nathaniel Hawthorne tale "Feathertop," which is about a living scarecrow, probably  played a great influence on Baum also, as he was an avid reader of Hawthorne's work. Being of German ancestry himself, Baum may have been aware of the Butzemann legend as well. Ruth Plumly Thompson, in her Royal Book of Oz, gives an alternate origin for the Scarecrow in which he becomes alive as he is placed on his bean pole and a spirit races up the pole out of the Earth and into his body. Actor turned novelist Thomas Tryon, author of the horror novel Harvest Home, may have also been aware of the Butzemann legend or some variation thereof, as the inhabitants of the town in that novel and the 1979 television mini-series adaptation with Bette Davis also burn their scarecrows in a large communal bonfire and scatter the ashes on their fields. Though in the case of Tryon's novel, one of the scarecrows is an actual human being who dared curse the crops and the Earth. Stories of the Butzemann may also be the source for the taboo against taking clothes from a scarecrow and wearing them, as this brings much bad luck.

Our Butzemann for this year has not let us know yet what his name shall be, but his clothes are being gathered ad the crop remnants are waiting to be gathered.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Telling Time without a Clock: Scandinavian Daymarks

"Very far north (or south) of the equator, however, the difference between the length of  daylight time in the summer is very much greater than in the winter. In parts of Scandinavia above the Arctic Circle (at a latitude of 66.5° North) the Sun does not set at all for part of the summer--it is daylight all the time. On the other hand, for part of the winter the Sun does not rise in these same areas. Obviously there is no point in dividing the daytime or nighttime into twelve sections if they are not taking place! Even if the Sun sets for only three of our modern hours in the summer, if one is dividing the daytime and nighttime into Babylonian/Egyptian-style "temporal hours", the nighttime hours will be so short compared to the daytime hours that there is hardly any point in making the divisions.

However, even very far north (or south), no matter where the Sun rises or sets, the middle of its path is above about the same part of the horizon. That means you can always tell when the middle of the day is if you know above which point on the horizon the highest point of the Sun's path is. Also, no matter how high the Sun is above the horizon, it always passes over the same points on the horizon after the same interval of time. Using these facts, the people living in Scandinavia developed a system of time-keeping quite different than the Babylonian/Egyptian system."

The full text of this highly detailed and informative article, courtesy of Harvard University, may be found here.

Der Grundsaudaag ("Groundhog Day")

‎"The groundhog is similar to Ratatask, the squirrel that runs up and down Yggdrasil bringing news of the nine worlds.... Braucherei reports the day as being sacred to the “Hearth Goddess,” who naturally would be Frigg. ... Akin to the second item is the creation of the Butzemann. The Butzemann is a scarecrow who is spiritually activated via a Braucherei ceremony called the Ceremony of the Corn. ... Also akin to Frigg is the cleaning of the hearth. ... Tradition holds that the first travelers with Holle and Wodan on the Furious Host (Wild Hunt) begin to return to the land at this time, if the groundhog predicts an early end to winter."  The full text of this blog entry on how practitioners of Urglaawe ("the original faith") observe the day known to many other Heathens as Disting, to Celtic Recons and Wiccans as Imbolc, and to most Americans as Groundhog Day may be found here at the Urglawwe blog site.

Solar Storm Puts Beautiful Northern Lights on Display [VIDEO]

Video of the recent Aurora Borealis display caused by last week's solar storm, filmed in Norway, courtesy of Mashable:

Viking mass grave linked to elite killers of the medieval world

"A crew of Viking mercenaries – some of the fiercest and most feared killers in the medieval world – could be the occupants of a mysterious mass grave in the south of England, according to a new theory.
The intriguing hypothesis is being put forward in a documentary, Viking Apocalypse, which will premiere on National Geographic UK on Wednesday, 25 January, and attempts to piece together the identities of a group of men who were apparently the victims of a horrific mass execution around the turn of the 11th century." Read the full article at

Swedes set up 'ultimate Viking movie'

"After years of ridicule and misrepresentation, the Vikings are on their way home. Plans are well under way for what the Swedish company Fladenfilm is calling "the ultimate Viking movie". The $30m version of Frans G Bengtsson's bloody Nordic saga The Long Ships (which is due to shoot in 2013) will comprise two feature films and a television series. What is different about this project is that it is being made by Viking nations – the Swedes in combination with their neighbours." Read the full story at the Independent.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Sagas of Icelanders as a Historical Source

Courtesy of

"The Íslendingasögur (Sagas of Icelanders), sometimes called the Icelandic family sagas) are a valuable resource in the study of society and culture in the Viking age. However, for a variety of reasons, one can not depend upon the sagas as historical fact. This article provides an introductory look at using the Sagas of Icelanders as a historical source. The Sagas of Icelanders are comprised of about two score longer narratives and a larger number of tales. The stories are unique among medieval literature in that they focus not on kings or saints or mythological heroes, but rather on the farmers and chieftains who settled Iceland during the Viking age. Theyíre stories about plain folk in the pursuit of honor, while engaged, for the most part, in their normal, everyday activities. Additionally, the stories are unique because they were written in the vernacular, old Icelandic, rather than in Latin." The complete article by William R. Short, first published in 2005, may be found at the Hurstwic site.

The Girl and the North Wind

A retelling of this children's story. Note that the girl's name is Kari, which is also the name of the Etin associated with the wind, especially the North Wind of Winter. The story is posted at Sheer Poetry.

Wynbeam, Old English Vocabulary

A blog on Tumblr I've recently discovered:

So I just started this blog so I would have a place to be a “nerd.” I have a passionate interest in all things Medieval, ranging from the Early Middle Ages through the Renaissance, and even as far back as Late Antiquity and the Hellenistic Age. Whether it’s art history, history, literature, culture, language, religion, architecture, or legend, as long as it happened in Western Europe before c.1688 I enjoy learning about it. Occasionally I come across objects in the modern world that draw from Medieval influences and customs, and these are the things which fascinate me. I usually post about them on FaceBook or Twitter, but these sites adhere to strict character limits. I felt a blog might be a better place to share my findings.

Wynbeam: tree of delight.
Yggdrasil is the World Tree in Norse Mythology and is pictured in this page’s background. My blog Wynbeam is a collection or “tree” of things in this world which branch from the cultural influence of the Middle Ages. I hope to post photos, trivia, historical facts, hypotheses, etymologies, and anything else I find in today’s world that conjures the ideals of these fascinating eras.

You can find and read posts on Wynbeam here.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Icelandic Feasts and Celebrations - Þorrablót

"Þorri is one of the old Icelandic months. It always begins on a Friday, between the 19th and the 25th of January, and ends on a Saturday between the 18th and 24th of February. The first day of Þorri is called Bóndadagur or "Husband's Day/Farmer's Day", and  is dedicated to men (formerly only farmers). In my family (and many others) , the women bring the men breakfast in bed on this day - just as the men will do on Konudagur - Woman's Day (if they know what's good for them). ...
The tradition of a Þorri feast is an ancient one. It has its roots in old midwinter feasts, Þorrablót, which the advent of Christianity could not quite abolish, although the way in which it is celebrated has changed. This month falls on the coldest time of the winter, and therefore it is no surprise that Þorri has become a personification of King Winter. He is usually portrayed as an old man, tall and grizzled, who is as cruel to those who disrespect him as he is gentle to those who show him respect. Some have suggested that the month is named after the legendary king who united Norway into one country. Others think it is derived from the name of the thunder-god Þór (Thor), and that this was his feast during the pre-Christian era in Iceland.... "

More on this celebration, and a menu of traditional and non-traditional food items, may be found here.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Viking remains reveal warriors filed their teeth to appear more ferocious to enemies

"An axe-swinging 'rape and pillage' fighter found in a Viking burial pit had filed his teeth to look more ferocious in battle.
The pain without anaesthetic would have been excruciating - but it would have proved his status as a great warrior, archaeologists said.
The warrior, found in Weymouth, Dorset, had grooves filed into his two front teeth."

Read the full article at the Daily Mail.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Frith Within Modern Tribes - The Joy it Brings

"A man who acted in a way outside of Frith, was loosened from the whole and seen as less than nothing. As part of a family, one was fully expected to act in Frith toward other members of the family, and in turn...fully expected Frith to be shown in return. When one was confronted with a tough situation where one was bound by Frith, there was not even a struggle whether or not to show Frith. For to not show Frith, was to break the bonds that made you a human being. There was no inner struggle over the simply did what you did, because this was your family, and this is what families do." The full text of this article by Mark Ludwig Stinson may be accessed through the Facebook page for Temple of Our Heathen Gods.

On the Meaning of Frith

"Frith is often translated as "peace". The full meaning of frith encompasses peace but extends well beyond it, to cover a large portion of the most meaningful and essential foundations of human social life, especially as it is lived in more “traditio nal” societies. A full understanding of the concept of frith will show that “peace” is not identical to frith; rather, peace as we understand it is generally an outgrowth of frith, resulting from the conditions of frith being met. When frith has been ac hieved, usually peace is there too, though that is not always the case, as I shall show." The full text of this fine article on frith by Winifred Hodge of the Frithweaver's Guild may be found at Frigga's Web.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


"The month Thorri starts in the 13. week of winter, 19.-25. January. This is often the hardest winter month. So, in the last decades it has been traditional to have celebrations, Thorrablot (blot is the name of the old heathen "masses" in honour of the old gods), where people mix up old traditions and new traditions, and have generally a good time.

Individual traditions can be different in details between neighbourhoods or groups that are having the Thorrablot, but the blot here was wonderful as always. All day long we the women at Langhus were preparing the food that our group was going to eat in the evening."

This article at Icelandic Horse includes a sample menu of foods that served at a Thorrablot celebration, for those of you outside Iceland who are thinking of what to prepare for your own celebrations. The author notes that while the foods may not seem appetizing to the unfamiliar, they are partly eaten in remembrance of the days when Icelanders did not have refrigerators or supermarkets and had to rely on what little was available during the  hardest and most difficult part of the winter season, when winter stores of food would begin to deplete.  The full article may be read here.

Tarrytown, New York - Residents Honor Gods, Ancestors During Solstice

"Most people think of Christmas, Hannukah or Kwanzaa when discussing the holiday season, but a growing population in the Tarrytown area celebrates something different: the solstice.
Chuck Hognell is a member of the Asatru community, a religion that has roots in Northern Europe for several thousand years." Read the full article by Meredith Shamburger at the Daily Eastchester.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Kensington Runestone

This has recently come up as a topic of discussion on The Troth's forum list, and so I decided to post some links for those unfamiliar with this artifact and the controversy surrounding it. The Wikipedia article takes a more or less neutral stance while noting that most authorities believe the stone to be a hoax. The Runestone Story site seems to take the view that the stone is genuine.

Excerpt from the Wikipedia article: "The Kensington Runestone is a 200-pound slab of greywacke covered in runes on its face and side which, if genuine, would suggest that Scandinavian explorers reached the middle of North America in the 14th century. It was found in 1898 in the largely rural township of Solem, Douglas County, Minnesota, and named after the nearest settlement, Kensington. Almost all Runologists and experts in Scandinavian linguistics consider the runestone to be a hoax. ... The runestone has been analyzed and dismissed repeatedly without local effect. ... The community of Kensington is solidly behind the runestone, which has transcended its original cultural purposes and has "taken on a life of its own".

"Translation: Eight Götalanders and 22 Northmen on (this?) acquisition journey from Vinland far to the west. We had a camp by two (shelters?) one day's journey north from this stone. We were fishing one day. After we came home, found 10 men red from blood and dead. Ave Maria save from evil. There are 10 men by the inland sea to look after our ships fourteen days journey from this peninsula (or island). Year 1362
When the original text is transcribed to the Latin script, the message becomes quite easy to read for any modern Scandinavian. This fact is one of the main arguments against the authenticity of the stone. The language of the inscription bears much closer resemblance to 19th century than 14th century Swedish.
The AVM is historically consistent since any Scandinavian explorers would have been Catholic at that time."

Wm. P. Holman's site on the Kensington Runestone may be found here. Bear in mind that while the site claims several pieces of evidence to support the authenticity of the stone, such as stonecut moorings for boats such as were used by Vikings, it does not cite any sources for this information. The stone is currently housed in its own museum in Alexandria, Minnesota, whose site may be found here.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Iceland celebrating thirteenth and final day of Christmas

"Today is the thirteenth and final day of the Christmas festival in Iceland and what better way to celebrate than with more bonfires and fireworks?
The skies across Iceland will light up one more time this evening as the end of Christmas is celebrated and the last of the Yule Lads makes his way back home to the mountains." Read more at Ice News.

Tolkien denied the Nobel Prize for bad storytelling

"Tolkien, a professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford who drew inspiration for his works from medieval literature, was nominated in 1961 by his close friend CS Lewis, another medieval expert who dabbled in fantasy literature. But according to Nobel Prize documents released after 50 years, one of the jury members, Anders Osterling, said that the work "has not in any way measured up to storytelling of the highest quality"." The full article may be read at the Daily Telegraph.

Christmas Day in Anglo-Saxon Tamworth

"At Offa's Christmas feast venison or pork would be roasted on a spit over the open fire in the palace, with someone appointed to baste the beast.

The smell of the roast would galvanise the appetites of all and sundry and great chunks of meat would be sliced or ripped off the animal with gusto.

Hygiene was very low on the agenda and, in the preparation of the various meats, the intestines and other unusable waste from the animals would be thrown on the floor for the dogs to consume.

What they left behind would attract the mice, rats and other vermin.

A few lucky peasants who happened to be servants at the Christmas banquet may have been able to help themselves to the carcass leftovers, probably wrapping it in hessian and taking it home, their equivalent of the 'doggy bag'."

The full description of this feast at the Mercian king's palace may be read at the Tamworth Herald.

A Look Back in History: Dutch shoot in New Year

"The traditional New Year’s folklife in the Oley Valley and Oley Hills, as elsewhere among the Pennsylvania Dutch, was as follows: On New Year’s Eve, German dialect speaking neighbors of Pennsylvania Dutch descent would gather at the home of the New Year’s Wisher, who had memorized the Pennsylvania German dialect “New Year’s Chant” and was ready to call on all his farm neighbors.

The highlight of this traditional blessing was when the chanter reached the final verse and asked the homeowner if there was any reason why they should not “shoot in” the New Year for his household. If the owner gave permission, the group of well wishers shot off their shotguns in the midnight air, breaking the silence of the countryside at each home."

Essentially this is a counterpart to the English custom of wassailing, with Germanic roots. A similar custom is practiced in one small North Carolina town, in an area also settled by Germans in the colonial era. Read the full article at the Boyertown Area Times.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Barlaston Wassail: Celebrating an Anglo Saxon new year

"A village in Staffordshire is celebrating the new year with a procession in honour of its Anglo Saxon kings and heritage. ... Local historian Tim Cockin has organised a two-mile long, torch-lit procession from Barlaston in Staffordshire across the heathlands. ... Standard bearers will carry 12 Anglo-Saxon themed banners representing the 12 calendar months delivering wassail - meaning good cheer - as the Anglo-Saxon procession tours around the village." Read the full article at BBC News.

Hex sign research leads to art career

"As a Kutztown University student in the summer of 2008, Patrick J. Donmoyer began documenting hex signs on Berks County barns. ... Traveling the county's rural byways, he would photograph hex signs - sometimes called barn stars - on about 425 barns. ... Donmoyer's study, titled "Pennsylvania Dutch Barn Stars: Celestial Symbolism in Folk Culture," is one of the most comprehensive assessments of the region's cultural symbols." Read the full article, including information on contacting Mr. Donmoyer about his work, at the Reading Eagle.

Genetic Britain: How Roman, Viking and Anglo-Saxon Genes Make up the UK's DNA

Thanks to Rebecca for finding this:
"The genetic make-up of the British people is a hotly contested subject in academic and political circles. Britain has a tumultuous history that includes Anglo-Saxon, Norman and Roman invasions, but what legacy of these settlers and invaders remains in the DNA of Brits today?" Read the full article at Heritage Key.

Scottish Nationalist Party plans closer Scandinavian ties after independence

"An independent Scotland would shift much of its attention away from the UK to become a member of the Scandinavian circle of countries, with its own army, navy and air force modelled on its Nordic neighbours, according to detailed plans being drawn up by the SNP." Not surprising, as while much of Scottish language and culture is Gaelic in nature, the country has a long history of Nordic influences. Read the full article at the Independent.

Njáls saga as a novel: four aspects of rewriting


"Inspired by Njáls saga and Laxdæla saga, the novel Fire in the Ice by American novelist Dorothy James Roberts is one of numerous modern rewritings of classical and medieval literature. With her works Roberts joined a diverse group of nineteenth and twentieth century writers who borrowed plots and themes from Iceland’s early literature in their own works. The earlier adaptations were often influenced by the nationalistic and racial concerns of the rewriters, but the tides had changed when Fire in the Ice was published in 1961. By then the sagas were celebrated as remarkable works of art, even as milestones in the history of World Literature. “The best Icelandic Sagas,” writes Roberts in her preface, “approach the finest of modern novels, and are more closely related to them than to the European literature of their time.” With this statement in mind, four important aspects of Roberts’ rewriting are explored." The full article by Jón Karl Helgason of the Reykjavík Academy, originally published in The Garden of Crossing Paths: The Manipulation and Rewriting of Medieval Texts, edited by M. Buzzoni and M. Bampi (Venezia: Libreria Editrice Cafoscarina, 2005), may be viewed at the Università Ca’ Foscari di Venezia site.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Axed Man of Mosfell: Skeletal Evidence of a Viking Age Homicide and the Icelandic Sagas


"When Christianity was adopted by law in Iceland (1000 A.D.) Grim of Mosfell was baptized and built a church there. . . . When a church was built at Mosfell, the one Grim built at Hrísbrú was demolished and a new graveyard was laid out. Under the altar some human bones were found, much bigger than ordinary human bones, and people are confident that these were Egil’s because of stories told by old men – Egil’s Saga, Chapter 86.

The discovery of the skeletal remains of the person described in this chapter is one of many scientific results of the Mosfell Archaeological Project, an ongoing international research effort we began in 1995. The project’s goal is to produce a comprehensive reconstruction of human adaptation and environmental change in Iceland’s Mosfell Valley from Viking times until the present. To do this, we have used a multidisciplinary approach that integrates information from archaeology, physical anthropology, saga studies, and the environmental sciences."

The full article by Phillip K. Walker, et al, originally published in The Bioarchaeology of Individuals, may be read at The University of California Santa Barbara Department of Anthropology site.

Western Youth: The Lost Reverence for Ancestors

Thanks to Jack Donovan for sharing this link:

"In the contemporary world, reverence for ancestors and ancestral traditions has been lost to the void of hedonism and consumerism. The sad state of social practices in Western society has degraded to one of complete narcissism and the overturning of almost every traditional, ancient practice of the Occidental world. In the preceding generations to the current one, the societies of Western Civilization had always reserved a special place in the social mores for reverence and remembrance of individual and collective ancestors and their ancestral traditions." Read the full essay at the Youth for Western Civilization site.