Dísablót- in honour of the Dísir, female spirits

You can watch the video about this subject in here: [Dísablót]

 

The Dísablót is a blót or a festival (sacrificial holiday) which is held in honour of the female spirits called Dísir. There isn’t a specific day for this celebration. We know that it was held during winter. In some accounts it was in the beginning of winter, during the time of the winternights, but in some places this holiday was by the end of winter, to celebrate the revival of nature.

Suffice it to say that this celebration was held at some point during winter – the exact timing differed widely across Germanic and Norse lands. In Norway and Iceland, for instance, this festival was known as Dísablót, “a sacrifice to the Disir,” and took place at the beginning of winter. It could be held in either a private house or a formal temple, and unlike Álfablót, this was a public celebration. In Sweden, the Disting or dísaþing, which means “Disir-Assembly”, was held at the beginning of February. To the Anglo-Saxons it seems this celebration was called Modraniht or “Mother’s Night”, which took place around the New Year and probably has connections to the Germanic and Celtic “matron” cult. The “matrons” are female spirits who are very much like the Disir; fertility spirits, guardian spirits, warriors, and so on.But what exactly is this festival about?

From the name of the festival, we understand that the principal ritual act was a sacrifice, and from historical sources we know that there was a banquet, probably after the sacrifice, as it was normal. Possibly consuming the meat of the sacrificed animals. The main purpose of this festivity was to honour all the female spirits, the female ancestors, the goddesses and other female beings such as the Valkyrjur (Valkyries).

During this festival and the days that followed it, people worship female goddesses for the fertility of the fields, to have order and peace at home, and to receive that motherly touch of motivation. The care and love that is unique in the female spirit. The Dísir are not just the goddesses of the Northern Pantheon, but also the Vættir, the wights or nature spirits that may help with the fertilization of the land, for good crops, healthy cattle and a proper soil for future plantations. In this group of female spirits are also included the female ancestors of each family, because in the northern traditional paganism, it was believed, when people died, they might choose not to go to the other world just yet, but to stay a little longer to help their descendants in their daily works. They stay to ensure that their families are safe and sound, in happiness, joy, health and wealth. They might help in the planting season and in the harvest, or taking care of the house, keeping the peace and order and unite each member of their family, to keep the family bonds strong.

We are used to the idea that the northern peoples of Scandinavia used to burn their dead in the long boats, along with their earthly goods, but there were other ways to bid farewell. One of those ways was to place their dead in some sort of a burial mound made with stones, built in a way that would resemble the “deck” of a boat, and these sacred places where built near the farmstead. This was often done in private properties by those who either had no wealth to possess a boat, or simply did not wish to destroy their boats. Boats in Scandinavian societies were so important that they represented power and wealth. Boats were the principal means of transportation and the booster of the economy of Medieval Scandinavia. The importance of boats to the Scandinavians is reflected on these grave mounds in the shape of boats. Burning a boat wouldn’t last long, but building one in stone and covering it with dirt, would last forever and the memory of the ancestors would endure. And of course, building burial mounds is an ancient prehistoric tradition, using such constructions as markers of private property.

Now you ask: Who or what exactly are the Dísir?

There seems to be a lot of speculation about what exactly are the Dísir. The sources don’t help much in answering these questions. Why did the Norse differentiate a group of female spirits from the rest of female beings?

I think it’s important to separate the Dísir from other kinds of spiritual beings, because sometimes the Dísir seem to be all the female spirits recognized by the ancient Norse peoples, but other times the Dísir seem to be a group of female spirits different from all the other spiritual beings and other female spirits. We might find some answers if we look at the Valkyries. They are depicted as being female helping-spirits of the god Odin. They are referred to as “Odin’s Dísir”. Both the Dísir and the Valkyries are depicted as being warlike spirits, but also protective. Resembling the nourishment and protectiveness of a mother, and a mother’s love can sometimes turn women into fearsome warriors when it comes to protect their children.

The Disir are often portrayed as being guardian-spirits of either a single individual, a group, or guardians of a location. They don’t seem to be distinguished from other guardian spirits such as the Fylgjur – guardian spirits of an individual; Hamingjur – entities of an individual or a group of individuals; Landvaettir – spirits of the land or of particular locations. In terms of land spirits, known in Old Norse as Landvættir, when they are female they are sometimes called Landdísir in certain literary sources and place-names in Iceland and Norway. The Disir are also often depicted as being the spirits of dead female ancestors.

 

Still feeling confused? You still don’t know what exactly are the Dísir? That’s alright! No one can answer that question.

 

Unlike other religions which have a doctrine and tell us “what is what”, the Norse pagan tradition as always been a living spirituality to this day. It’s open to interpretation and it’s free from the bounds of religious laws, regulations and dogmas. The concept of Dísir, much like any other spiritual being of this pagan tradition, varies from account to account, location to location and from time to time. To the pre-Christian Norse there was never the need to formulate a religious doctrine to make people worship in a single manner. So, the Dísir may be the female ancestors, or a particular group of goddesses, or specific spiritual beings. From source to source what they have in common is that they were female beings and important enough to make a festivity in their honour. The Dísablót might be the remnants of a prehistoric cult to the mother goddess and her helpers. A festival to honour the fertility of the land, to call for protection, nourishment and the love only a mother can give.

 

In the end it doesn’t really matter who the Dísir are. What is important to remember is this concept of honouring your female ancestors, remembering them and their deeds, how they fought to keep the peace, love and order in the family. Never forget their importance, because you, one day, shall joined them and become an ancestor of someone, and you too will want to be remembered as a great figure and an icon of love, honour, strength and wisdom, according to your deeds of course. Also, honour the female members of your family that are still alive. Keep them proud, give them love, attention and respect, so in turn you might also receive their love and respect. Try to take the essence of this festivity into your everyday life. Make all days great days full of joy and love!

 

By: Arith Härger

 

References:

Almazan, Vincente, (1986). Gallaecia Scandinavica.

Bellows, Henry Adams, (Trans.), (2007). THe Poetic Edda, The Heroic Poems.

Dasent, George Webbe, (2014). Popular Tales from Norse Mythology

Mitchell, Stephen A., (2011). Witchcraft and Magic in the Nordic Middle Ages

Örnólfur Thorsson, et al. (eds.) (2000) The Sagas of Icelanders: a selection. Penguin Books

Pires, Hélio, (2017). Os Vikings em Portugal e na Galiza: As incursões Nórdicas Medievais no Ocidente Ibérico

Price, T. Douglas, (2015). Ancient Scandinavia: An Archaeological History from the First Humans to the Vikings

Simek, Rudolf, (2007). Dictionary of Northern Mythology. Translated by Angela Hall

Sturluson, Snorri, (1997). The Prose Edda. University of California Press. Translated by Jean I. Young

Turville-Petre, E.O.G., (1964). Myth and Religion of the North: The Religion of Ancient Scandinavia.

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