Let's start with just some background information. The Wheel of the Year turns in December and I can add notes on that later if someone would like...
The meaning of Norseman was "people from the North" and was applied primarily to Nordic people originating from southern and central Scandinavia. They established states and settlements in areas which today are part of the Faroe Islands, England, Scotland, Wales, Iceland, Finland, Ireland, Russia, Canada, Greenland, France, Ukraine, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Germany.
Norse and Norsemen are applied to the Scandinavian population of the period from the late 8th century to the 11th century. The Old Frankish Nortmann "Northman" was Latinized as Normanni, famously in the prayer A furore normannorum libera nos domine ("From the fury of the North men release us, O Lord!"), attributed to monks of the English monasteries plundered by Viking raids in the 8th and 9th centuries and entered Old French as Normand's, whence the name of the Normans and of Normandy, which was settled by Norsemen in the 10th century.
The Vikings were the Norse explorers, warriors, merchants and pirates who raided, traded, explored and settled in wide areas of Europe, Asia and the North Atlantic islands from the late 8th to the mid-11th century.
These Norsemen used their famed long ships to travel as far east as Constantinople and the Volga River in Russia, and as far west as Iceland, Greenland, and Newfoundland, and as far south as Nekor. This period of Viking expansion – known as the Viking Age – forms a major part of the medieval history of Scandinavia, Great Britain, Ireland and the rest of Medieval Europe.
Popular conceptions of the Vikings often differ from the complex picture that emerges from archaeology and written sources. A romanticized picture of Vikings as Germanic noble savages began to take root in the 18th century, and this developed and became widely propagated during the 19th-century Viking revival. The received views of the Vikings as violent brutes or intrepid adventurers owe much to the modern Viking myth which had taken shape by the early 20th century. Current popular representations are typically highly clichéd, presenting the Vikings as familiar caricatures.
The most important primary sources for information on the Vikings are different sorts of contemporary evidence from Scandinavia and the various regions in which the Vikings were active. Writing in Latin letters was introduced to Scandinavia with Christianity, so there are few native documentary sources from Scandinavia before the late 11th and early 12th centuries. The Scandinavians did write inscriptions in runes, but these are usually very short and formulaic. Runes were characters consisting of mostly straight lines arranged singly or in combinations of two or more. Good-quality written historical sources for Scandinavia during the Viking Period are scarce, but the archaeological record is rich.
Vikings lived in either farms or villages with a king or chief to rule each community. Each Viking community had a council, made up of the nobles and freeman, called a 'Thing'. The council made laws, decided whether the community would go to war and held trials. The decisions reached by the council were even more important than the rulings of the chief or king.
The merchants imported glass, spices, silk, wool and more. They also exported slaves, furs, beeswax, walrus ivory and more. Their food included barley, milk, bread, mead, pork, beans, onions, beef and herbs. The Vikings also grew apples, plums and gathered mushrooms and berries. Fish was an important part of the diet including cod and herring.
Vikings lived in collective or extended families including children, parents, grandparents, workers or slaves. A Viking home often consisted one large room framed by wood or stone. In the centre was the hearth for cooking, heat and light. Most people slept on the benches with wool or fur for a blanket. They ate from wooden bowls with spoon made of horn or metal. Only the wealthy Viking could afford beds, furniture or rugs.
Viking women spun and wove cloth at home. Women generally wore a dress made of linen or wool. In colder weather they wore cloaks or shawls held in place by brooches. Viking men often wore trousers with linen shirts. Both sexes wore jewelry and leather shoes.
Women in Viking Society had both standard and non-standard roles. The division between a woman and a man domain was established at the door step. The outside work belonged to the man and the inside work belonged to the woman. She ran the house, made butter, smoked fish, make medicine and was the leader in private religious rites inside the house. However, some women could take on the cloth of a warrior called skjoldmo, 'shieldgirl', or female warrior. Another difference was the woman's belongings. If her husband treated her or the children badly or was too lazy to run the farm, she could divorce him. All the goods the woman brought with her into the marriage continued to be her personal belongings.
Our knowledge about arms and armor of the Viking age is based on relatively sparse archaeological finds, pictorial representation, and to some extent on the accounts in the Norse sagas and Norse laws recorded in the 13th century. According to custom, all free Norse men were required to own weapons, as well as permitted to carry them all the time. These arms were also indicative of a Viking's social status: a wealthy Viking would have a complete ensemble of a helmet, shield, chainmail shirt, and sword. A typical bóndi (freeman) was more likely to fight with a spear and shield, and most also carried a seax as a utility knife and side-arm. Bows were used in the opening stages of land battles, and at sea, but tended to be considered less "honorable" than a hand weapon. Vikings were relatively unusual for the time in their use of axes as a main battle weapon. The Húscarls, the elite guard of King, were armed with two-handed axes which could split shields or metal helmets with ease.
There seems to be no one unified conception of the afterlife. Some may have believed that the fallen warriors would go to Valhalla to live with Odin until Ragnarok, but some debate that this belief was widespread. Vikings who died of old age or illness went to the realm of Helheim. Others believe that there was no afterlife concept.
Devotion to deceased relatives was a mainstay in Norse religion. Ancestors constituted one of the most ancient and widespread types of deity worshipped in the Nordic region. Although most scholarship focuses on the larger community's dedication to more fantastic gods and myths of the Vikings, it is understood that some sort of ancestor worship was probably an element of the private religious practices of the farmstead and village. Often times in addition to showing adoration to the standard Nordic gods, warriors would toast to “their kinsmen who lay in barrows”.
There are numerous burial sites associated with Vikings throughout Europe—in Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Germany and other North Germanic regions. As well as providing information on Viking religion, burial sites also provide information on social structure. The items buried with the deceased give some indication as to what was considered important to possess in the afterlife
The discovery of two particular buried vessels at Gokstad and Oseberg in Norway provided information about the Viking ships. There were two distinct classes of Viking ships: the 'long ship' (sometimes erroneously called "drakkar", a corruption of "dragon" in Norse) and the 'knarr'. The long ship, intended for warfare and exploration, was designed for speed and agility, and was equipped with oars to complement the sail as well as making it able to navigate independently of the wind. The long ship had a long and narrow hull, as well as a shallow draft, in order to facilitate landings and troop deployments in shallow water. The knarr was a dedicated merchant vessel designed to carry cargo. It was designed with a broader hull, deeper draft and limited number of oars (used primarily to maneuver in harbors and similar situations). One Viking innovation was the 'beitass', a spar mounted to the sail that allowed their ships to sail effectively against the wind.
By the middle of the eleventh century, Norse expansion had ended. Colonization in Greenland declined. The Irish expelled the Norsemen in 1014. In 1042 the Saxons regained the English throne. The formation of professional armies in Europe made raiding more dangerous and less profitable.
Norsemen frequently intermarried with the local population and adopted the languages and customs of the people that they conquered. Thus, little evidence of Norse influence in cultures outside of Scandinavia and Iceland remains.
Studies of genetic diversity provide some indication of the origin and expansion of the Viking population. The Haplogroup I1 (Y-chromosome) is sometimes referred to as the "Viking haplogroup".
Norse religion refers to the religious traditions of the Norsemen prior to the Christianization of Scandinavia, specifically during the Viking Age. Viking society was permeated by their religion, although they had no word for 'religion'. Instead they used "sidr", which means custom or practice. A collection of poems and legend about their mythology is noted in the Eddas. However, knowledge of Norse religion is mostly drawn from the results of archaeological field work, etymology and early written materials.
They seemed to be polytheists. Father of the Gods was Odin, God of Wisdom. His wife was Frigg, Goddess of Love. Another important God was Thor, God of Thunder.
Sacrifices were known as blót, seasonal celebrations where gifts were offered to appropriate gods, and attempts were made to predict the coming season. Similar events were sometimes arranged in times of crisis, for much the same reasons. Today many sacrifices include mead or beer to the Gods.
Until very recent times a birth was dangerous to the mother as well as the child. Thus rites of birth were common in many pre-modern societies. In the Viking Age, people would pray to the goddesses Frigg and Freyja, and sing ritual galdr-songs to protect the mother and the child. Fate played a huge role in Norse culture and was determined at the moment of birth by the Norns. Nine nights after birth, the child had to be recognized by the father of the household. He placed the child on his knee while sitting in the high seat. Water was sprinkled on the child, it was named and thus admitted into the family.
Similar too many other societies the pre-Christian Viking religions also took interest in the eventual resting place of the dead. The Norse held so much dedication that went into making sure that the dead were cared for properly so that they could enjoy their resting place after death.
Ancestor worship was an element in pre-Christian Scandinavian culture. The ancestors were of great importance for the self-image of the family and people believed that they were still able to influence the life of their descendants from the land of the dead. Contact with them was seen as crucial to the well-being of the family. If they were treated in the ritually correct way, they could give their blessings to the living and secure their happiness and prosperity. Conversely, the dead could haunt the living and bring bad fortune if the rituals were not followed.
Wicca is a modern pagan religion that draws upon a diverse set of ancient pagan religious motifs for its theological structure and ritual practice. The religion usually incorporates the practice of witchcraft. Developed in England in the first half of the 20th century, Wicca was later popularized in the 1950s and early 1960s by Gerald Gardner. At the time Gardner called it the "witch cult" and "witchcraft", and referred to its adherents as "the Wica". From the 1960s onward, the name of the religion was normalized to "Wicca". The majority of Wiccans today are eclectic, meaning they follow no specific tradition and are free to borrow from whatever tradition they prefer.
Wiccans frequently subscribe to a broad code of morality known as the Wiccan Rede, although this is not taken literally or even adhered to by all Wiccans. Another characteristic of Wiccan religion is the ritual celebration of the lunar and solar cycles. Lunar rites, known as esbats are usually held around the time of the full moon; but they may also be held at the new moon, or the waxing or waning moon. The solar or seasonal festivals, known as sabbats take place eight times a year, in regular intervals known as the Wheel of the Year. While both the God and the Goddess are usually honored at both kinds of rituals, the Goddess is mainly associated with the Moon, and the God is mainly associated with the Sun.
Many traditions hold a belief in the five classical elements, although they are seen as symbolic as representations of the phases of matter. These five elements are invoked during many magical rituals, notably when consecrating a magic circle. The five elements are air, fire, water and earth, plus aether (or spirit), which unites the other four.
Wiccans celebrate several seasonal festivals of the year, commonly known as Sabbats. Collectively, these occasions are termed the Wheel of the Year. Most Wiccans celebrate a set of eight of these Sabbats. The names of these holidays that are commonly used today are often taken from Germanic pagan and Celtic polytheistic holidays.
Belief in the afterlife varies among Wiccans, although reincarnation is a traditional Wiccan teaching dating back to the New Forest coven in the 1930s. Wiccans who believe in reincarnation believe that the soul rests between lives in the Otherworld or Summerland, known in Gardner's writings as the "ecstasy of the Goddess". Many Wiccans believe in the ability to contact the spirits of the dead who reside in the Otherworld through spirit mediums and ouija boards, particularly on the Sabbat of Samhain.
The deities are metaphysical aspects of the primary Goddess and God. Simply sources of energy and transitional personas from which to perform with and produce different effects. Instead of believing that we were created to serve the deities, most believe that the relationship between humanity and the deities function in a mutually reciprocal manner.
In December, the wheel turns to the element Earth. Earth is Home and focuses on the principles of Justice and Truth with the Winter Solstice and Imbolc. I can do notes on just those two days or weekly notes on different elements and beings within this season...
We give thanks to the Elements,
the gift of life and their sacifice.
We pray that they shall always be powerful
and balanced, plentiful and giving.
Elements of the world give our spirit blessings