What we know of Norse Mythology comes largely from the Eddas, two collections of writings from assorted anonymous writers, dating around 1250 CE.
All Hallows Eve, Halloween or Samhain is a Gaelic custom, not Norse. The Norse peoples did mark this time of year, although in a different way, with Álfablót – the Elf Ritual.
Elves were associated with burial mounds (also known as barrows) as it was believed that they lived in or around them, and more than this, elves were associated with the souls of the dead, rather than fairies in the other sense of the word, as a supernatural entity that was never human.
It is the largest burial mound in Scandinavia, 77 metres in diameter and over 15 metres in height. There are a number of stories associated with it, one associated with a roving sea-King Raki or Ragnar. Skull fragments were found inside it, of a man aged between 20 and 25 but there were no grave goods. The mound has been dated to the sixth century to the time of the great migration after the collapse of the Roman Empire.
It is possible that this chieftain was an ancestor of Rollo, the Norse ancestor of William the Conqueror.
Like the modern Halloween, Álfablót originally marked the general end of autumn, although it may technically be celebrated on any day around this time. However in recent years, it has been predominantly practiced on or close to 31st October (Halloween/Samhain).
Traditionally, Álfablót almost certainly involved an animal sacrifice, (blood) Records suggest this may even have been a (highly valuable) bull. It was intended as a sacrifice to the elves, asking for protection from the ancestors. Connected with this, the elves were also associated with fertility.
A chief difference here is, unlike Halloween/Samhain, Álfablót was not a community celebration. It was a private ritual performed at the homesteads. Strangers were not permitted to take part or even watch.
Old Norse Runes
What runes do we drawn this Halloween Álfablót 2022?
Ehwaz The Horse transport, journey progress
Mannaz Merkstave Communication difficulties, trouble with fellow man
Tiwaz Justice, Law and War (spear)
The message is not a cheerful one, I am sorry to say, but it will easily be understood why not in the context of the war in Ukraine and a lot more besides.
One might reasonably say, but the dead do us no harm? It is the living we need to watch for. Well, that depends upon their legacy, and the memories they leave behind. Jewish graves read ‘may their memory be a blessing.’
The rune of mankind has been drawn merkstave. This advice is a downer. In these days of travelling far afield almost at the drop of a hat, don’t be too quick at this time to get on your ‘horse’ and ride off to the lands of ‘strangers’.
Don’t be too quick to share your opinions with your neighbour, or all and sundry.
You do not know what they may be struggling with when you enter their space. Beware of the horses coming to your door carrying strangers. Some will come as friends, and honour us with their arrival. But not every stranger comes as a friend. The history books warn, it is a friendly fool that can’t tell friend from foe.
Why do you travel? What do you bring to the places you visit, for the sustenance of the people who live there?
Who is this that is coming now? Why do they come? What do they seek? What do they offer? Is it a fair just and lawful exchange? Or is this a hunting trip? What is the prey? What is the prize?
This grim counsel goes against our powerful instinct of hospitality and kindness to strangers. But that bottom line was always there, and the runes are reminding us.
The Viking raid on Lindisfarne in 793 sent a shock wave through Europe. But this was just the start of something bigger. What was driving it? In part, changes to the laws of inheritance in Scandinavia, younger sons, now dispossessed of family farms, had to go in search of their own fortunes.
So they did.
Another way of looking at these runes in terms of comment or advice about the cosmic weather right now, which is, beware of joining the crowd.
Beware of crowds. This, following the tragedy in Seoul where 150 or more people have died in a crush at a Halloween celebration. And the death toll is still rising, following the collapse of a bridge in India killing over 141 people who were celebrating Diwali, the festival of lights.
This also refers to getting into arguments on social media, and avoid gossip at this time. Stay clear of group-think.
The runes here are reflecting the fact that fiery Mars, planet of war, has just moved into the zodiac domain of Gemini, the sign of communications and siblings, and it will stay there, appparently moving backwards or retrograde, until 12 January 2023. There will be spectacular events. One can see how this combination may represent aeroplanes, missiles or indeed any kind of projectile. The threat of a nuclear attack is real, though I haven’t been shown that it will happen.
Contagion travels by the same token, suggesting an inevitable rise of flu and covid cases starting now, at least in the northern hemisphere.
There are many kinds of ghosts. There are the whirling leaves that used to be buds. There are the echoes of the distant past. There are the ghosts of our hopes, not all of which can ever be realized, the grief, the fears and memories of the living.
But Jupiter is returning to Pisces and this brings a promise of good cheer. Even in desperate times we see a Ukrainian soldier rescuing a hamster in a cage, the hamster obliviously running in its wheel. The soldier places it in the back of the truck, returns for two rabbits.
In such moments rests the hope for humanity.
Death is the theme for the season- and this is an unusually tricky Halloween season, caught between the partial solar in Scorpio on 25 October, and the upcoming Lunar eclipse in Taurus on 8 November.
The grey ghosts are shifting.
Mists are lifting on the grey graves
where sandpipers call.
Mountains or clouds,
grey whales or waves
all one under the treacherous sun.
Fishbones are heaped
on the floors of the forest
where the Red Beast crouches
Waterbones lie fractal on stones
and frozen meniscus squeaks and groans.
Giant scaffolds loom in carlights
where Death has swept up
to throttle the Titans,
shaking stiff in their ropes.
Ogres rear in the speeding corner.
White in the phantom night
respectful retainers line the lanes;
skulls and jaws, knuckles, thighbones.
stand to attention.
And the moon is ringed in a saturnine glow.
Dry bones stand tall by hedge and wall,
incorruptible, crack and creak
as the Old Year enters
The Big Sleep
Margaret Whyte 21.11.04