RAUHNÄCHTE - GERMANIC FOLKLORE AND HEATHENRY IN THE YULE SEASON
By Our Tribe Völva
Odin’s Warrior Tribe is a Norse/Germanic Heathen Tribe with a warrior focus and traditions. One of our key values is the study of Northern European culture. While we often write and post in our social media on the Norse side and history of our heathen faith, we also like to also share information on the equally important Germanic side. While there are few direct sources (the outside commentaries by Romans) there is more archaeological and linguistic material and one of the largest sources for information on Germanic heathenry/paganism are folk traditions. Many of these have come down from heathen times though some have been coopted and some heavily modified by Christianity. It is not always clear which is the case.
Rau(h)nächte are celebrated by traditional Germans and now many in the German Heathen/Neo Pagan community. Our Tribe has a strong connection to Germany with several members there, including our world class Volva. Many of our rituals have German language in them. Our Chieftain visited Germany this last summer and met there with our members. He too is fluent in German and previously studied and lived in Germany and Austria. The following explanation of Rau(h)nächte was prepared by our Tribe Volva. A German version will be coming out soon.
Some believe that these Days used to be called 'Smoke Nights' (RAUCHNÄCHTE)
Rau(h)nächte are the days between the winter solstice on 21st December or 24th of December (Christmas) and Epiphany on 6th January. They are referred to as symbolic days of transition - e.g., seen from Life to Death and vice versa (new Birth and rebirth) - thus also as a kind of Time of atonement, the offsetting or reckoning over the deeds of the past Year (Life). On these Days, one should reflect and, if necessary, purify, but find a redefinition or further plans for the New Year (Life).
The Rauhnächte are 'LOS' - Nights! (from German Lostage – there is no better translation to English as maybe ‘qualifying date', it would be better suitable to call such Times 'Magical Days or Nights'). The word 'LOS' has to be considered in connection with 'listen' - and 'predict'.
With Herbs, spruce resin, and frankincense all evil should be expelled. In the Magical Nights, according to the Germanic myth, the fate of all Life on Earth is decided, therefore the people offered everything to come to the aid of the coming Light. With smoked Herbs, spruce resin, and frankincense all evil should be expelled. These twelve cold, dark nights which, across Northern Europe, are steeped in myths, legends, and spirituality. In these nights, heathen images collide with the Christian Christmas messages.
Many rituals and customs accompany this sacred time that have existed for ages. They exist in heritage and in local customs from Germanic tradition. During this period there are Yule wreaths, lighting Yule lights/Julleuchter, baked goods in folkloric shapes, runes, wagon wheels, and other shapes. These baked goods would have been served on traditional wooden plates. The 12 hallowed Seasons symbolize the return of souls and the appearance of spirits.
The Days between the Years are particularly suitable for future interpretations through dreams, for smudging the dwelling ceremony or for recognizing omens by oracles.
The Rauhnächte were Holy Nights for our ancestors. As far as possible they did not work during this time, but only celebrated, perceived and lived in the Family. These 12 Magic Nights always were from Night to Night.
Mostly from 24.00 on Christmas Eve, the 'Mother's Night' (Mōdraniht) to 24.00 clock on 25th December - this was the first Magic Night.
” Night' because we are, according to the Celtic Wheel of the Year in the Annual Night. Thus, the whole Day is 'Night'.
The (Celtic) Lunar Year has only 354 Days. The missing 12 Days to the Solar Year are thus lost and thus magical, mysterious Days and Nights.
A simple explanation for the 12 Rauhnächte is the different duration of the Moon - and Solar Year.
The last Rauhnacht ends at 24.00 clock on January 5. In this last Rauhnacht, one should open all the windows for a while, send out evil spirits and ask the good ones in, welcome them like good friends. Some traditions call the 6th Friga’s Day.
This Night is again a special Night, the Perchten ('procession') Night, where in many places in Austria, Bavaria and Switzerland held so called 'Perchtenläufe', Perchten-Runs. Perchtenlaufen are a folk custom of wild costuming, masking and disguise. Those dressed in wild costumes and masks make lots of noise to drive away bad spirits - Grimm would have perhaps said this is driving out Winter. In the Austrian Tyrol many such ancient, pre-Christian, traditions have continued despite attempts in earlier centuries by the Churches to ban them.
Rauhnaechte also mark the turn of the year, they were believed to have mysterious influence on the future (animals were believed to talk, laundry was not to be left on the clothesline overnight).
People thought they could see into the future by fortune-telling and other oracular customs; by smoke (thus the name "Rau(c)hnaechte" - nights of smoke) and by giving the cattle blessed fodder ("Maulgaben") they tried to avert bad fortune from their houses and farms.
For good luck they gave donations to beggars (Epiphany carol singers, refuse collectors).
The Great Goddess of the Northern Hemisphere, Lady Holle (Frau Holle) is the patron saint (goddess) of these Nights.
The last Night, the 5th of January, the whole house, the stables and in some places around the property was smudged with Artemisia vulgaris (Beifuss).
In the Alpine region, Frau Holle, Hulda, Holda or Hel also corresponds to the Winter Goddess Berchta (Perchta) - of which come the Perchten Parades in Austria, Bavaria and Switzerland. In many places at this time these Perchten - Umzüge (processions) - depicting the Wild Hunt with demons, ghosts and certain animals and the Percht (Frau Holle) as a Winter Goddess. She is the original Germanic Goddess Holda or Hel, in Greek mythology it corresponds to Hecate (the Goddess of the lower or intermediate World). She is assisted by Odin-Wodan - both leading the 'Wild Hunt' - in some versions they are witches riding brooms through the skies on these Nights. Therefore, it is still a tradition in some areas of Germany today to make or get new brooms during this time of year.
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