Sigrblót, Sumarnætr and Summer Finding
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Óláfs saga helga mentions that the folk of Trondheim held a blót to welcome the arrival of summer. The specific feast is described as taking place just a few days after the Christian date of Easter, which would have been April 2 in that year (1021 CE):
Þóraldi mælti: Þat er yðr satt at segja, konungr, ef ek skal segja sem er, at inn um Þrándheim er náliga alt fólk alheiðit í átrúnaði, þótt sumir menn sé þar skírðir. En þat er siðr þeirra, at hafa blót á haust ok fagna þá vetri, annat at miðjum vetri, en hit þriðja at sumri, þá fagna þeir sumri.
Thoraldi said, “It’s true what I tell you, king, if I must tell how it is. In Thrandheim, nearly all the people are completely Heathen in their faith, although some people there are baptized. It is their custom to hold a blót in autumn and welcome winter then, a second at midwinter, and the third at the beginning of summer, when they welcome summer.”
Óláfs saga helga mentions a recent Christian convert, Sigurður Þórisson, who as a Heathen had held sacrifices at Winternights, Yule, and summer; after converting, he continues to host great feasts at Winternights, Christmas, and Easter.
This further suggests that the blót held at the beginning of "summer" fell close to the dates of Easter.
In Iceland, the last five days of the winter half-year were Sumarmál (“Summer Portion”), also called Sumarnætr, “Summer-Nights.” The first day of summer itself, Sumardagurinn Fyrsti, fell between April 9 and 15 in the Julian calendar. Today, it falls between April 19 and 25, and is celebrated as a public holiday in Iceland (Jansen, “The Icelandic Calendar,” p. 101).
One of the earliest calendrical manuscripts (Rím I III.26, ed. Beckman and Kålund, Alfræði Íslenzk, vol. 2, p. 22) relates the Icelandic calendar to the Julian calendar, using Christian saints’ days:
Þath er missaris tal, ath II missere heiter aar, þat er vetr ok sumar. Skal sumar koma eigi nér Mariu messo um fostu helldr enn XIIII nottum efter ok eigi fir enn einne nott ok XX, ok skal enn fimte dagr viko vera fyrstur i sumri. Þadan skulo lida XIII vikr ogh III netr til midsumars, ok er drottins dagur fyrstr ath midiu sumre. Sumar ma eigi koma fyrr enn fyri palma dagh, ok eigi sidar enn a annare viko efter pascha viko.
This is the reckoning of the halves of the year: a year is called two half-years, which are winter and summer. Summer must not come closer to the Feast of the Annunciation [March 25] than fourteen nights after, and it may not come farther than twenty-one nights, and the fifth day of the week [Friday] shall be the first day of summer. From then, thirteen weeks and three nights will pass until Midsummer, and Midsummer falls on a Sunday. Summer may not come before Palm Sunday, and no later than the second week after Easter Week.
While there are not as many references in the sagas to Heathen celebrations of Sumarnætr as to their counterpart Winternights, there are a few:
- Ynglinga saga mentions a blót held at Uppsala sem siðvenja var til móti sumri, “as was the custom, towards the beginning of summer” (ÍF 26, p. 70)
- Egils saga mentions a great summer sacrifice at Gaular in western Norway.
- In Vatnsdæla saga, the witch Ljót and her obnoxious son Hrolleifr prepare to hold a blót í mót sumri, “at the beginning of summer,” or more literally “to meet summer.”
Sigrblót was held during the period of Sumarnætr like Alfarblot and Disablot were held during the period of Vetrnætr
This blót at the beginning of summer was almost certainly identical with the feast called Sigrblót, “Victory Blot.”
According to Ynglinga saga 8 (ÍF 26, p. 20), Sigrblót was one of three great feasts that Odin instituted, along with Winternights and Yule:
Þá skyldi blóta í móti vetri til árs, en at miðjum vetri blóta til gróðrar, it þriðja at sumri, þat var sigrblót
“They had to sacrifice at the beginning of winter for good seasons, and sacrifice at Midwinter for good crops; the third [sacrifice] at summer, which was Sigrblót.”
Sigrblót presumably marked the start of the campaigning season: the weather was warm enough for ships to sail and armies to march, and no doubt this was when the great deeds of Viking derring-do could begin (Lindow, Norse Mythology, p. 35). As such, it would be a fitting day to offer sacrifices for victory in battle.
However, Sigrblót could be seen in a less violent light: the victory of summer, warmth, and light over winter, cold, and darkness.
Consistent with this connection between spring and victory are the ritual combats that were celebrated in southern and western Germany on the day of “Summer Finding”—the day when the first spring violet was found or the first swallow was seen.
Obviously, the calendar date for this festivity could not be fixed in advance.
This event was marked by dancing and cheering, and it sometimes featured ritual combats or debates between costumed figures dressed as Summer and Winter, or ritual mocking and beating of effigies dressed as Winter or as Death (Grimm, Teutonic Mythology, vol. 2, pp. 764-770).
Grimm quotes a traditional song of this time from the Middle Rhine region:
Der Winter hast verloren;
der Winter liegt gefangen;
und wer nicht dazu kommt,
den schlangen wir mit stangen.
Winter has lost,
Winter lies a prisoner,
and whomever doesn’t agree
we’ll beat with staves.
According to Olaus Magnus (Historia de gentibus septentrionalibus XV.8-9, transl. Fisher and Higgens, Description of the Northern Peoples, pp. 733-734), staged combats between personifications of Winter and Summer were popular entertainments in southern Sweden on May Day:
On the first of May, when the sun is passing through Taurus, the magistrates of the cities commission two squadrons, or cohorts, of riders, consisting of tough young men who make a show as if they are about to advance to some hard battle. Of these the one is commanded by a leader appointed by lot; he bears the name and costume of Winter and, clad in various pelts and armed with pokers, scattering snowballs and chunks of ice to prolong the cold, he rides about as if he has won a victory. . . .
The leader of the troop of riders on the other side, representing summer, is called Count Floral. He is garbed in the green boughs of trees, together with leaves and flowers, which have been found with difficulty, and wears summery clothes that afford little protection. Like Duke Winter, he comes into the city from the countryside, though each from a different place and with different arrangements. Contesting with their lances, they give a public entertainment to demonstrate that summer overcomes winter.
. . . the favourable opinion of the bystanders, who refuse to tolerate any longer the harsh reign of Winter, confirms the result by a just and proper decision, and to everyone’s joy the victory is awarded
Olaus Magnus’s depiction of the combat between Winter and Summer.
Historia de Gentibus Septentrionalibus (1555).540
to Summer. The latter completes his conquest by providing a splendid banquet for his companions, and validates with liquor what he could hardly have gained with lances.
Hutton (Stations of the Sun, p. 259) records a similar festivity on the Isle of Man in the 18th century. The Queen of May and her retinue fought a mock battle against the Queen of Winter (a man dressed in women’s winter clothing) and her retinue, with the loser having to pay for the feasting that followed. The forces of Winter would retire to feast and dance in a barn, while May’s court would celebrate on the green.
How Heathens can celebrate Summer Nights today
A Heathen kindred today could easily hold a spring celebration to honor both the victory of summer over winter, and the victories that kindred members have won, or hope to win.
You could also hold your own Summer Finding on the day that some sign of spring returns to the land where you live.
Summer Nights is our time to celebrate our faith in the Gods, their gifts and the victory of light over darkness
Spring and Summer are more than just seasons, they're the fulfillment of a promise.
We trust the Gods will bring Spring and Summer every year, restoring the Earth. Just like with Ostara, seeing the land restored reminds us as Heathens that our Gods will never fail to return a gift for a gift.
You may decide to hold a "Victory Blot" to Thor for the victory of light over darkness, and life over death. There is hardly a better metaphor for "Thor defeating the Frost Giants" as when you see those first blades of grass poke up from the snowfall, or when you see the buds poking up on the trees, or when you hear the familiar songs of birds.
If you want to think about a sequence of holidays within this Holy Tide: you can open Summer Nights with Ostara, have a Sigrblot somewhere in the middle, and then close them out with May Day.
|Ostara or Summer Finding||First Full Moon After the Spring Equinox|
|Sigrblót||New Moon following Ostara|
|May Day||May 1st|
For festivities you may want to stick with some of the old traditions of the May Pole, have a King and Queen of the May. Open air dances are known to break out around this time.
You can also do things like stage another mock battle (like at Disting) between the Winter and the Summer. You can have someone dress up like Thorri and have children representing the sun and new life of spring "dethrone" them or stage open air plays where Old Man Winter Thorri abdicates his throne to Thor or Freya.
You can also enjoy May Day parades to celebrate the victory of labor over the forces of capital.
For drinks, you may want to break out pale Bock beer (Maibock) or strong wheat beer (Weizenbock) but be careful of overconsumption! Lighter wheat beer like Witbier, Hefewiezen or Dunkleweizen are also popular as well as a semi-sweet sunny white wine like Riesling or sparkling white wine like Prosecco, Cava or Champagne.
Early season produce is a popular feature of the Heathen table during Summer Nights. Fresh Roasted Brussels Sprouts are a particular delicacy that make their way to the Heathen table as well as Leeks. For meat, during Summer Nights you are just as likely to see roast lamb on the Heathen table as you are to see ham.
That sounds like an awful lot of partying but if you've been cooped up inside since December it won't feel like nearly enough! If you practice with a group, it's a good idea to have everyone host one thing as opposed to putting it all on one person.
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