Hi, I’m Dr. Jackson Crawford, I’m an old Norse specialist who teaches at the University of Colorado, Boulder It’s been an unusually warm December here in Colorado . In fact it’s December 17th or something as I’m filming this and the snow has only just fallen for the first time this year. Many cultures have a celebration during the time of year around the end of December when the days began to get longer again. And the Norse are no exception. Their holiday was called «Jól» , which also survives in the form of an English word ‘‘Yule’’ which is cognate with the Norse word In the modern Scandinavian countries the word has become «Jul» other than in Modern Icelandic where the word is still «Jól». This is a plural word and actually refers to a ceremony that took place over the course of three nights. Beginning with Midwinter Night (so December 21st or 22nd by our reckoning) and then continuing the next three nights We know that the festival contained a lot of feasting and drinking although the specific actions that might have been undertaken are not so clear to us because our main sources from Norse mythology such as the Poetic Edda and the Prose Edda talk about myths narratives and stories but very rarely about things like rituals and festivals and prayers However, we can gain some hints by looking at some of the sagas in which Jól is celebrated such as «Hákonar saga góða» the saga of Håkon the Good : one of the kings of Norway. Now Håkon the Good was king of Norway in the mid nine hundreds and he was a Christian. But he was not insistent about his religion. He wasn’t a missionary. He was fine with some of his people remaining pagan. He only insisted that everyone in the kingdom celebrate a holiday in late December Whether that was Christmas or Yule didn’t matter But he did stipulate legally that there was a minimum amount of alcohol that had to be consumed by each free man to demonstrate that he was celebrating one of the holidays and whereas measurements in the sagas are not always very clear or very strictly defined this amount as near as I can figure would be about four gallons over the course of those three nights so a pretty considerable amount Leading to the only culture I’m aware of in which you might have been pulled over by the cops for drinking too little. Now we also know that horse meat was apparently a big part of this festival. For instance in the Saga of Håkon the Good he attends a Yule Festival thrown by one of his pagan subjects and they insist at this feast that Håkon eat some of the meat of the horse : the horse’s liver specifically. Håkon is very unwilling to do this apparently because it’s part of a pagan ceremony but after a while with the help of a sympathetic pagan follower he strikes a compromise and he simply inhales the smoke off of the cooked horse liver giving a new meaning to ‘‘who inhaled?’’. Theres a moose down there by the creek. I don’t think I could show to you with the With as small as it would look on this camera but that’s cool. Well the sacrifice of horses of course is something that we know was important in the practice of Norse religion based on the testimony of numerous different sagas as well as external sources and the witness of archeology. Now the swearing of oaths was also apparently important during the Yule Festival Many sagas feature oaths being sworn at this time and of course in this culture the oath is an Ironbound thing no matter what, right, I mean so already many of these central conflicts of the Norse Sagas center around someone’s Ironbound oath that ends up being a bad idea it has to be fulfilled anyway. Like Brunhild’s oath she would never marry a man who knew fear. Or Ragnar Lothbrok’s oath that he would conquer England with just two ships. But an oath sworn on Yule was extra sacred. Now this may remind you a little bit of New Year’s resolutions, right, these are similarly oaths that are supposed to have a special force because they’re sworn at about this time of year but in this case since oaths were taken so seriously in this culture you have to think of it like a New Year’s resolution that you could be punished by death for not fulfilling. So if the idea of swearing that you’re going to lose 10 pounds by March sounds like a good idea and you think that you’d be a little extra motivated if someone could kill you in March if you know they broke into your house made you stand on a scale and you hadn’t lost 10 pounds then perhaps you could try something similar. Sagas such as Hervarar Saga ok Heiðreks and Sturlaugs Saga starfsama feature oaths sworn at a Yule feast and in both of these cases the oath sworn is about marrying or sexually conquering in some other way a woman and so Yule feast may have had in a special association with that kind of oath. One interesting thing in particular is that uh oaths at least in one manuscript of Hervarar Saga ok Heiðreks and in one of the the poems about Helgi in the poetic Edda (which I’ll also talk about a little bit more in a minute) involve touching a boar that is brought into the proceedings in order to make these oaths. Like swearing on a Bible but swearing on a pig. So in the Poetic Edda there are three poems about the hero named Helgi In one of these Helgakviða Hjovarðssonar, the Saga of Helgi son of Hjovarð (the one that does not connect into the Volsung family) says that an evening before Jól his brother Héðinn was riding and he encountered a woman who was either a troll or witch, riding a wolf using snakes for reins this is also something we see at Baldr’s funeral and in some art from the Viking Age this is this trope of evil women riding wolves using snakes as reins. And she asked if she could go along with him for a while, and he refused but when he refused her she said that he would pay for this that night when men were swearing their oaths at Jól because this was Jól Eve Well he goes in to the feast at Jól and a boar is brought in and men are swearing their oaths and Heðin under the influence of a curse this woman has put on him puts his hand on the boar and swears that he will take his brother Helgi’s lover Sváva Well rather than fulfill this oath, which of course he’s obligated to fulfill if he remains in the kingdom he leaves. Goes into self-imposed exile but some time later his brother Helgi tracks him down and asks him why he fled. Heðin tells him about his oath but Helgi says actually this is convenient I’m about to fight a duel and I know that I might die and if I die I would rather leave Sváva to my brother than wonder about where she’s going to end up perhaps fall into the hands of my enemies He says something interesting at the beginning of stanza 33 here Sakask eigi þú sǫnn munu verða ǫlmál, Heðinn, okkr beggja. Don’t worry about it, basically. The words spoken while drinking are oaths made while drinking ǫlmál will be true Heðin for us both So oaths made while drinking especially during Yule are especially important. Especially sacred and during this winter season I’m hoping that your oaths and resolutions prove good and true. And I hope that whatever holiday you celebrate as the as the days get longer and the night’s get shorter that it’s a wonderful holiday full of joy and peace for you And from beautiful Colorado I’m wishing you Gleðileg Jól!