Home » Events and Announcements » Germanic Wheel of the Year

Germanic Wheel of the Year

Part of the ADF Study Program courses requires certain documentation for various lore and hearth cultures.  We are sharing an essay from this program regarding the Germanic Wheel of the Year.

Discuss the ritual calendar of one pre-Christian Indo-European culture. Describe how at least eight High Day rituals based on this culture might be celebrated

For this essay I shall discuss a Germanic hearth culture, which I shall refer to as “Heathen.” The preponderance of literary evidence comes from Scandinavia, particularly the late Viking Age. However, the related cultures of Anglo-Saxon England and Germanic speaking regions of Continental Europe are also used.

Some Heathen holidays were solar in nature (e.g., Midsummer), some were determined by a lunar reckoning (the full moon of a certain season), and some were agricultural in nature (such as harvest festivals) (Gundarrson 309). When it comes to seasonal festivals, dates varied according to local climate and culture. There was thus no single, standardized liturgical calendar throughout the Germanic world (Gundarsson 309). The Neopagan Wheel of the Year uses eight holidays determined by a solar year, so the modern liturgist must necessarily choose the closest equivalent historical festival (Gundarrson 310).

Yule seems to have been universally observed throughout the Germanic world, though local customs could vary. Rather than lasting a single night, it was more commonly an observance lasting 13 days (Gundarrson 334). Midsummer was also widely celebrated throughout the Germanic lands (Gundarrson 310-11). In the Scandinavian tradition two more important holidays were Winter Nights (celebrated mid-October) and Sigrblot (celebrated in mid-April) (Gundarsson 310). The Anglo-Saxons and Continental Germans traded Sigrblot for Eostre and Ostara, respectively (Gundarsson 310).

Thus, the four major holidays occurred around the two solstices,  not long after the vernal equinox, and mid-to-late October. Lesser holidays include the Scandinavian Disting in late winter, the Continental Walpurgisnacht on May Eve, and the Anglo-Saxon Loaf-Mass in late summer (Gundarrson 311). Taking this into account, we have seven holidays that fit roughly with the Neopagan Wheel of the Year. The only Neopagan holiday that does not have a Germanic equivalent would be the autumnal equinox.

February 2nd

Imbolc in the Celtic traditions (and general Neopaganism) is about celebrating the first signs of spring. The closest equivalent in the Norse tradition is Disting. In some parts of Scandinavia, the female ancestral spirits were communally honored around this time, presumably to lend their efforts to the coming planting season (Gundarsson 363-64). Another possibility is the Charming of the Plough, based on English folk practice. This is a general fertility festival that celebrates the beginning of the forthcoming planting season. It is dedicated to the wights and/or to Freyr (Gundarsson 365-66).

March 21st

The general theme of the holiday is the full bloom of spring. A goddess of spring, dawn and beginnings, called Ostara in German or Eostre in Anglo-Saxon, was honored around this time. She gives her name to the common Heathen holiday known as Ostara ( Gundarsson 369-371). Those practicing a specifically Scandinavian version of Heathenry may object to honoring a Continental or Anglo-Saxon goddess; in such cases honoring a Vanic deity like Freyr and/or Freya would make sense. Finally, in some parts of Scandinavia, the improving weather meant the start of the military campaign season. A Sigrblot, or victory blot, was held in honor of Odin, the Sig-Father (Victory Father) (Gundarsson 372).

May 1st

Spring transitions to summer with this holiday. In Germanic countries May Eve is usually celebrated as Walpurgisnacht. Surviving folk customs paint the night of May Eve as a liminal time when witches held a festival, and magic and divination were performed (Gundarsson 387). The following day (May Day) is a lustful holiday dedicated to honoring the ripening earth with Maypole dances and general carnality (Gundarsson 391-392). Freyr and Freyja can both be honored; the latter especially because of her association with witchcraft (Gundarsson 388).

June 21st

Midsummer is the shortest night of the year. It was a cause for celebration in the cold north of Europe. Bonfires are the preferred method of observance, a folk custom still widely employed in Northern Europe (Gundarsson 396-97). Other traditions are burning sun-wheels and picking herbs (Gundarsson 397-98). Because of the solar aspects of the day, Sunna is often honored. However, Tyr, the god of justice, my be honored, as this was the time of the great assembly, or thing, in many parts of the north (Gundarsson 399).

August 1st

This is widely considered in general Neopaganism the beginning of three harvest festivals. August 1st specifically celebrates the first grain harvest. Loaf-mass, which is rendered as Lammas or Hlafmaest, is often celebrated as a time to break bread. Thor, the gods of rains, is often honored in his agricultural aspects, along with his wife Sif, whose golden hair is a stand-in for the fields of grain (Gundarsson 404). Others honor Tyr, as apparently another thing was held at this time (Gundarsson 405).

September 21st

There is actually little evidence for any kind of historical religious activity at this time. However, in keeping with the spirit of neopaganism which celebrates the 2nd harvest at this time, many Heathens observe an invented holiday called Winter Finding which is a general autumnal observance (Gundarsson 325). Others call it Harvest Home and honor all Vanic deities with a large feast (Albertsson 171-72).

October 31st

Winternights parallels the Celtic Samhain. It was the time of the last harvest. Livestock were culled (Gundarsson 324). The Alfar (local spirits connected with the the male ancestral line) and Disir (female ancestral spirits) were honored for their role in the harvest (Gundarsson 325). One can also honor Freyr, lord of the harvest. Finally this was the start of the Furious Host (Wild Hunt) where the spirits of the dead roamed the fields, and Odin can be given honor ( Gundarsson 330).

December 21st

Yule is by far the most important heathen holiday, and in historical times actually lasted thirteen days, not just one (Gundarsson 334). The Wild Hunt, which began at Winternights, is in full swing during Yule. Odin is thus given special honor (Gundarsson 336-37). The ancestors and house wights are also widely honored (Gundarsson 346, Albertsson 177). Special traditions involve the erection of Yule Tree or burning of a Yule Log (Gundarsson 351, 355). As with most holidays there is an element of feasting, but Yule is particularly known for baking and consuming all manner of food, including cakes and (traditionally) a boar (Gundarsson 354-55).


Albertsson, Alaric. Travels Through Middle Earth: The Path of a Saxon Sorcerer. Woodbury, Minnesota: Llewellyn Publications; 2009. Print.

Gundarsson, Kveldulf. Our Troth Volume 2: Living the Troth. North Charlestown, SC: Book Surge Publishing; 2007. Print.

— Jeremy