Our forebears had many seasonal feasts, some greater (and common to all the Germanic peoples), some lesser and more celebrated in certain areas than in other. The solstice festivals were, obviously, held at fixed times; the other year-tide blessings were more variable, being based on things such as the beginning and end of harvest and perhaps following the shifts of the Moon as well.
As discussions of the feasts themselves will show, many of the dates are very vague. Edred Thorsson suggests that the best timing for an individual Hearth or Kindred to use can be found by three means: traditional/mechanical time (that is, based on fixed heavenly events such as the cycles of Sun and Moon); traditional/organic time (based on things like the first sighting of a robin or violet in the spring, first frost or harvest-end in the autumn and so forth); and "taking into account the general timing determined by the heavenly events in order to set a time convenient for most of the folk involved" - that is, holding your blessings on a weekend or whenever everyone can come without worrying about what shape they'll be in for work the next morning (A Book of Troth, p. 135)..
The three greatest blessings of the year, which we know to have been held by all the Northern folk, are those Snorri Sturluson tells us of in Heimskringla: Winternights, Yule, and that feast at the beginning of the summer half of the year which Snorri calls sigrblót (victory-blessing) and the Anglo-Saxons and Continental Germans called Eostre or Ostara. Snorri does not mention Midsummer's, but since it has continued to be a great folk-holiday all through the Germanic lands (especially Scandinavia), up to the present day, it is likely that our forebears thought it close in rank to the other common feasts.
The lesser blessings are Þorri (Icelandic - late January), now called Feast of Thonar from popular etymology and the fact that we thought we needed a Feast of Thonar at this time; Disting or "Idis-Þing" (Scandinavian - early February); May Eve or "Walpurgisnacht" (may have started in Germany, but now common throughout the North); and Freyfaxi or Loaf-Feast (August 1).
As well as these, modern Ásatrú has added a number of feasts and Days of Remembrance. The tales of almost all these hero/ines who do not have their own sagas or lays can be found in Snorri Sturluson's Heimskringla. These are as follows:
January 9 - Remembrance for Rauðr the Strong
(a Norwegian chieftain whom Óláfr Tryggvason killed horribly for refusing to convert).
February 9 - Remembrance for Eyvindr kinnrifi
(whom Óláfr Tryggvason tortured to death by putting a metal brazier of burning coals on his belly).
February 14 - Feast of Váli
Folk etymology has led to this day being called "Feast of Váli" in modern Ásatrú. Actually, St. Valentine had nothing to do with Váli, nor do the thinly disguised Pagan Lupercalia rites which take place on this day. However, this is no reason not to make a blót to Váli on "Valentine's Day", and meditating on honour and revenge is a lot better than moping if you have no one to practice thinly disguised Pagan Lupercalia rites with.
March 28 - Ragnar Loðbrók's Day
This is when we celebrate this famous Viking's sack of Paris. A highly legendary version of his story is told in his saga, and an even more fictional version appears in the film The Vikings, starring Kirk Douglas. The line "Hail Ragnar! Hail Ragnar's Beard!" is often shouted by drunk Ásatrúar watching this flick late at night.
April 9 - Remembrance for Hákon Sigurðsson
(Hákon the Great) - one of the Jarls of Hlaðir, a great defender of heathenism in Norway.
May 9 - Remembrance for Guðröðr of Guðbrandsdál
whose tongue was cut out by Óláfr inn digri ("St. Óláfr").
Memorial Day -
Einherjar Day, for obvious reasons.
June 9 - Remembrance for Sigurðr the Völsung.
July 9 - Remembrance for Unnr the Deep-Minded
(one of the great chieftains of the Icelandic settlement. Her tale may be found in Laxdæla saga).
July 29 - Death of Óláfr inn digri!
August 9 - Remembrance for King Radbod of Frisia
(see "Migration and Vendel Ages").
September 9 - Remembrance for Herman the Cheruscan,
who kept Germany from being overrun by the Romans and suffering the cultural destruction of occupied Gaul.
October 28 - Remembrance for Eiríkr inn rauði.
Columbus Day - Remembrance for Leifr Eiríksson and Freydís Eiríksdóttir
the leaders of the earliest European settlement in America (see the collection of sagas in Gwynn Jones' North Atlantic Saga).
November 9 - Remembrance for Queen Sigríðr of Sweden, defender of heathenism
(see the example cited under "Self-Rule" in "Troth").
Thanksgiving - Weyland the Smith's Day
(The Warder of the Lore has been trying to find out why for years with no success. If anyone out there knows, please write to the Troth and tell me so I can put it in the next edition! - KHG) - see the Eddic poem "Völundarkviða" and the chapter here on "Alfs".
December 9 - Remembrance for Egill Skalla-Grímsson.
The Days of Remembrance should be celebrated by making a blessing to the memory of the hero/ine in question (following Gamlinginn's 9-point blót formula), reading the appropriate saga, saga exerpt, or poem, and meditating on the thews of the hero/ine and how you can bring them forth in your own life. This can be done either as a solitary rite or within a group. You may feel that there are other hero/ines of the folk whom you would rather honour, or other times and ways for doing it, and this is perfectly fitting. While the idea of hailing and remembering the dead is a deep root of our tradition and it is a very fine thing to do it in this manner, this is a modern, rather than an ancient practice. One good exercise, in any case, is to set aside time to sit down and meditate upon your own list of the hallowed dead - who do you think is worthiest of remembrance, and why? It is such thoughts and memories of ours that wake the might of our forebears from where it sleeps, and strengthens the very roots from which we draw all our being.
One thing that you may mark as you think on these festivals is that much of their symbolism and the will shaping them seems to stem directly from the need of farmers (and folk who often had to struggle to live from one year's harvest to the next) for fruitful fields. In this day and age, this may seem less a matter touching your own person; we all know that we must ultimately trust good harvests for our life, but few of us actually have fields, cattle, or swine to bless as our forebears did.
However, there are also other ways to consider our forebears' rites. Firstly, as rites embodying love and worship for the natural world, these rituals not only brought fruitfulness to the home-fields, but they also kept the balance of nature - of storm and Sun, of Earth and sea - which, if not supported, tilts and leads to natural disasters such as droughts and the flooding of great rivers. These are things which can certainly touch us all, as has been lately proven more than once. Secondly, all that happens in the Middle-Garth is a mirror of (or mirrored by) the happenings both in the worlds without and in the human soul. The harvest which is seen in the fields of the Middle-Garth is brought forth by the moving of the mights in the worlds around us, which shape the turning of our seasons and the good or ill luck that brings the crop to fruit or destroys it. The same mights shape our selves and our lives. The springing joy of Ostara is not just the new shoots coming forth from the hidden depths of the Earth, it is new thoughts springing forth from the hidden depths of our minds, new hope from the hidden depths of our hearts. When we hold the feast of Winternights, we bring forth what we have wrought - our harvest of word and thought and deed, all of it embodied by the apples and sheafs of grain - gather what we have, and turn our souls inward for a time. The same mights that we call on with the signs of fruitfulness also bring us luck and wod as we need them. The god/esses have not changed since the days of our forebears, nor have our souls, nor do our rites: the only difference is that the stream of might that flows between us all shows itself forth in new ways in the Middle-Garth. Each ritual is a transformation of soul as well as of the earth; each ritual brings forth in this world and in our hearts the changes which take place in the great worlds beyond, with the blessing of the god/esses and wights.
The other great part of our traditional rites which may hardly seem to fit in the modern world is the many mentions of battle, weapons, sig, and so forth. Again, this must be understood not as meaning literal, physical battles, but rather all the struggles in which one must take part. The sig we win is a sig of the soul - sometimes against those who threaten us from without, sometimes against those fears and faults of our own that we ever strive to overcome. Because our forebears lived in a warrior culture, and because both strength and ceaseless striving against the greatest challenges are part of the deepest being of the true soul, the images of sword and spear, shield and byrnie, and the sparks flying from the clash of battle are the ones which we use to speak of all those things with which we must deal in the course of living as true folk.
Something else that you will probably mark is that there are many "Saxon English" words in these rites which are not known to you straight away. Particularly in ritual practice, we try to keep to the words of our forebears - and sometimes that means not using standard English. All of these words and their meanings, however, are in the "Word-List" at the back of this book.
You should keep in mind that all of these rites were written in late October of 1993 C.E. The customs that they draw on are told of in the first part of the chapter on each ritual: beyond that, they are based only on the lore and soul-wisdom of the writer. Thus, they may easily be changed as you see fit, used as skeletons for your own work, or discarded altogether. The Troth has no dogma, we have no "official liturgy". We do not claim an unbroken and ancient tradition for anything except the most basic folk-practices (such as setting porridge out for the tomtes), and if anyone out there has had any Ásatrú rites, lore, or theology passed down to them through family-traditional lines, please write at once to the Warder of the Lore (c/o the Troth), who knows a lot of professional ethnologists and folklorists who would like to interrogate you very closely.
Other versions of rites for the same holy-days may be found in Edred Thorsson's A Book of Troth and Kveldulf Gundarsson's Teutonic Religion. Thorsson's rites are generally shorter and simpler than those given here; some of Gundarsson's are more dramatic and elaborate, written for two or three workers (though solo versions are also given). There are also rituals in Fitch's Rites of Odin, but they are eclectic, generally rather inferior, and sometimes contain christian materials (such as the infamous "Yule creché" with the infant Balder...).