Vanir of Winter

Frau Holda will come,
When the weaving’s done.
When plague sweeps the land,
She is close at hand.
If she wields her rake,
Some she’ll take,
But should her broom fall,
She will take us all.
Jonathan Cyr

I smelled Winter on November 2nd this year. Today we had another good storm here in central Massachusetts.  Among those who honor the Vanir or practice Waincraft, there seems to be a tendency to thrive in one season over all others.  For me, that time is Winter. The crisp, sharp air and swirling snows fill me with energy and enthusiasm not only for the glories of winter, but for the comforts of hearth and home.

The Vanir of Winter are the hunters, the gods of cleansing and, as necessary, culling.  Though they are not as famous for their bounty or kindness as their Spring and Summer counterparts, they do share a certain warmth with those who dig beneath the frozen surface of the land to uncover their mysteries.

First is Frau Holda, the White Rider of the Wild Hunt. She leads the Hunt at Yule, gathering to her the souls lost between Samhain and the Solstice.  She is particularly kindly towards the spirits of children, whom she wraps in furs to take away the chill of wandering.  She also keeps watch over the fires of the hearth and tidiness of the home, bestowing special favor to those who learn well her lessons of provisions and hospitality.

Next, Skadi, the Divine Huntress.  She walks the woods, bringing mercy to those animals weak with hunger, and in turn giving their lives to those who may be stronger for it.  The howling storm winds carry her song, joyful as she stalks her prey.

And, of course, one cannot mention Skadi without also speaking of Ullr. He is the Noble Hunter, gliding silently through the wilds on his skis. The scent of pine clings to his cloak and leathers. He is a friend to mankind, sharing his kills with skilled human hunters who have caught his eye.

Lastly, Weland, the Master Smith. Before he was lamed, he too was a hunter. Now he sits by his forge, in the heart of an icy forest. He toils for his swan maiden, lost to him so many years before, filling his small home with rings of gold. The heat of his fires attracts many to his smithy, but only those devoted to their craft may remain by its warmth.

For most here in the U.S., Winter does not hold the danger that it once did. We are, for the most part, able to stay snug and warm in our houses.  We may be inconvenienced by a storm, but it will not be life-threatening. There is little risk of running out of food, even if we can’t get to the market for a couple of days. And while I certainly enjoy these comforts, make no mistake, it can be difficult to understand why many Winter deities were looked upon with such wariness and awe in the past. One does not think of want in a time of plenty, and so the gods of Winter can go unnoticed.

Still, there is a certain discipline that can be learned from these gods that remains unmatched by the rulers of any other season. So, allow yourself to be a little bit uncomfortable. Go outside for a few moments, away from your creature comforts. Touch that wildness in the air, the freezing softness of new snow, and understand what gifts these gods have brought to us—heat in the depths of winter, and light during the longest night.

—A.V.

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