Pagans Honored Odin
The Lord of the Yule, or the Santa Claus known by all, is believed to have his roots in the 5th century Christian saint, Nicholas of Myra — but he is in fact of a much older origin. The long-bearded and red-dressed Father Yule (ancient Scandinavian: jólnir, the Lord of Yule, or jölfuðr, Father Yule), who makes his annual appearance in giving gifts, is none other than the ancient Scandinavian god Odin, or the ancient Fenno-Ugrean Ukko Overlord.
Nicholas of Myra
The Christian view on Father Yule is described in the Flateyjarbók (þáttr Hálfdanar svarta), an old Nordic scripture:
Let it be known to all why the pagans celebrated Christmas, for it was for a reason very different from the Christians. The Christians celebrate Christmas for the arrival of our Lord Jesus Christ, whereas the pagans honored the evil Odin. Odin had many names: He was Viðrir and Hár, and Þriði and Jólnir. Viðrir for he lorded over the weather; Hár for he proclaimed to be able to ascend one and all; Jólnir for this occurred on Christmas;and Þriði for he held knowledge of the past, present and the future.
Below is an old illustration of the one-eyed Odin with a sword in his hand, his crows on his shoulders. He wears a red dress. In his left hand, Odin holds the Sacred Thread connecting him with Mother Earth, and thereby containing the wisdom of the ancestors, and of future precognition. In the illustration, Odin seems to have quite a few similarities with the contemporary Santa Claus.
Ólafur Brynjúlfsson: Gudeskrift m. bl.a. Edda Sæmundr & Snorre Edda (1760)
The red clothes of Odin, the Lord of Yule, owe to the clothes’ having been a compulsory dress for the ancient and high cast of Nordic warrior priests. The following archeological reconstructions bear witness to this:
On the left is Gerry Embleton’s drawing of the chief of the Aorsi-tribe of Nordic connection, who was buried in the current Ukraine in the 2nd century. The tomb contained a red leather coat bearing semblance to Santa Claus’s coat, red pants and golden ornaments. On the right is the dress of a Danish chieftain from the 7th century, recreated by the Bornholm museum. Both bear a striking semblance to contemporary Santa’s dress.
Agni, the Indian god of fire, is also dressed in red, like Odin. He too was celebrated and worshipped on winter solstice. These sacrifices were made by the hearth as in the North. Below is the god of fire, Agni, using a goat for transportation like the Scandinavian god of lightning, Thor.
It then seems like the Christian Saint Nicholas of Myra is older than the commercial Santa Claus. The Nordic Odin/Ukko in turn seems older than Nicholas of Myra, and the Indian Agni seems older than The Father Yule or Odin/Ukko. And before that? Before the migration of Nordic tribes from Indus Valley to North through Ukraine? There is evidence of Santa Claus look-alikes before that time as in 1978, Chinese archeologists found the three (first) blond and light mummies in the South-West China.
Jeffrey Newbury: Discover Magazine, vol. 15, 4. april 1994
Above is the mummy of a so called Cherchen-man from 1000 BCE. He lived in China but he was genetically related to Finnish and Swedish people. He had beard and red leather clothes in the best Santa Claus-style.
Pavel Filatov: http://www.pavelfilatov.com/gall/Altai_People/
A Siberian shaman is drumming in the picture above. It is a summer festival. He too, is having a red dress, red hood, and even a grey wig and a false beard. I wonder whether he is symbolically imitating the Father Yule.
Hunt of Odin
What is Father Yule’s function and meaning? First, according to Nordic people, he was one of Overlord Odin’s forms. Second, the local priest-kings and shamans had to imitate and dress like Odin, and travel to the land of gods and ancestors, bringing people the gift of wisdom.
This travel is called the Hunt of Odin (or Wodensjäger in German). Odin rides to Asgård located beyond our world. He was believed to ride in the skies together with his valkyries (see the picture below and a later chapter) at night time during the whole Yule. Odin starts his hunt on the evening of the winter solstice, chasing down the evil creatures coming out at this time of the year. There had to be beer waiting for him and all the gates had to be open for his ride, a sheaf left outdoors for his horse. His eight-legged horse Sleipner demanded water and a sheaf of corn left for him. We are still doing that by giving the sheaf to the birds at winter time.
Peter Nicolai Arbo (1831 – 1892): Oskorei/Åsgårdsreien (1872), Nasjonalgalleriet, Oslo
Odin riding with his valkyries
Odin riding with his valkyries
It is possible the priest-king of the tribe was imitating this myth in the real world, and thus there were some real hunts at the old Yule. Still in medieval times the Danish, the German and the French kings were participating in the Yule hunt with their dogs. In the North, the hunt was usually for wild boars.
The local priest-king or shaman was not only imitating Odin/Wotan, but he was the odin/wotan, the common name of shamans and kings. It means the leader of a shamanistic ectasy, the woð. On Yule the shaman had to make a journey to the other world and bring the ancestral wisdom back as a gift (ancient Skandinavian: jólagjöf) for the coming new year.
How was this possible? The Skandinavians and Fenno-Ugreans explained this with the World Tree: In trance, the shaman climbed up to the World Tree crossing through all the worlds and skies. Physically, he climbed up to a roof on winter solstice and crawled down through the fireplace. Inside the house, he made his rituals and climbed back through the chimney again. Even nowadays, it is believed this is the case when Father Yule comes with his presents.
Presents and Sleigh
The tradition of giving Yule or New Year presents is a very long one. For example, it is documented that Hákon Aðalsteinsfóstri the Good (920–961 CE), the third king of Norway, gave lots of presents to his guests after his Yule feast. This originates from the fact that kings at that point still had the divine position inherited from Odin, the Lord of Yule.
It was believed the Father Yule was travelling with a sleigh. It is not that amazing, for people wandered from East-Asia all the way to Europe with a sleigh, which could in summer time be used as a canoe. In the 5th century, the sleigh was still the main transport vehicle in Asia.
It is well-known that Father Yule's sledge is pulled by reindeers. In old times, they were not as exotic for animals as they are now, as they could be found even in the southern Scandinavia. (Rein)deer antlers were supposed to be a symbol of masculinity and rebirth, as deers let their antlers fall and grew them back every year.
Flying to the Lord
How is Father Yule 'flying' in the sky in his reindeer sledge? Perhaps owing to of psychoactive drugs, or specifically for a particular drug from the fly agaric (Amanita muscaria. The name comes from the old English: fleogan aga ric: flying to the Lord asking for advice). This is a common mushroom spread around the whole of Eurasia. It may be the oldest of the hallucinogens discovered by man, and was once the most widely used.
Scandinavian and Fenno-Ugrean Celtic shamans as well as Celtic druids, and other mystics all over the world, were drinking juice made of fly agaric for experiencing ecstacy and seeing the other worlds. The drink of fly agaric was also useful in war, producing a violent animal rage called berserker (old Scandinavian, old English: berserk, without control).
Aryans, who 3500 years ago swept down from the North-East Asia into the Indus Valley in India, brought with them the cult of soma. In the book of Rig Veda, soma is described as a sacred and divine ceremonial drink, made of fly agaric and coming from Paranja, the god of thunder. There are a thousand hymns in the Rig Veda, and 120 of them are devoted to praising and describing soma. With time this ritual and cult died out and fly agaric as the original holy plant was forgotten. First in 1968 an amateur ethnomycologist R. Gordon Wasson proposed, with very substantial evidence from diverse fields, that the sacred soma was in fact the fly agaric.
Mushrooms were collected in July or August and dried up the whole autumn until the winter solstice. Rig Veda explains how the magic potion of fly agaric is made for the holy ceremony of soma: The juice is first pressed out and later on mixed with milk, cheese, mead and oil. The shaman would drink the potion and travel to the heavens to get wisdom and power, curse the enemies and ask for a good harvest for the coming year.
Fly agaric has psychoactive drugs, which will stay in urine, meat and blood. If reindeers have eaten fly agarics, and then people are eating those reindeers, the people will become as intoxicated as the reindeers. Reindeers eating fly agaric can gallop wildly, or in other words be flying as Father Yule's reindeers.
Nowdays it is uncommon to see fly agarics as Yule decorations, but I myself can remember how I used to decorate my grandparents' Yule Tree with their old ornaments. These included small fly agarics wrapped to the tree with a thin iron wire. They had also some decorations on tables, where Yule elves were sitting atop the man-made mushrooms.
To be continued in a subsequent blog.