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The “Dark half” of the year in northern Europe: Halloween at the heart of darkness
Although it is now considered an Americanized and commercial festival, its legacy from the last centuries transports us into the universe of rites of our northern European neighbors. Halloween is a celebration of the Otherworld and a sacrifice of the elves, but above all, a celebration to mark the transition to the “darker half” of the year.
Celtic origins – Samhain
Halloween: today we celebrate it as the Day of the Dead while according to its Celtic roots it highlights the Celtic New Year. The Samhain festival traditionally marked the first day of the Celtic year on October 31st. The Celtic calendar is divided into two seasons, the dark half and the light half, and Halloween marks the beginning of the “dark half”. The Samhain festival is a celebration of the transition from one year to another (from the light half to the dark half) as well as the passage between the real world and the Otherworld, that of the dead, the gods and mythology. The Samhain was therefore considered as a liminal time allowing the living to cross the boundary between this world and the Otherworld more easily. Tradition has it that turnips and beetroots were cut into the shape of skulls and placed in cemeteries. They were gradually replaced by the famous pumpkin. This custom was intended to frighten the spirits.
Nordic origins – Álfablót
What about the Scandinavian origins? Álfablót transports us to the Nordic mythology. Etymologically, “Álfablót” means “The sacrifice of the elves”. The Nordic legend has it that the power of the elves is related to the ancestors and the family.
The Elven Sacrifice took place during the dark fall season, after the completion of the harvest. The celebration took place in the family homestead. Unfortunately we know very little about this Scandinavian Halloween rite because they were surrounded by secrecy and strangers were not welcome.
It also appears that the God Odin was implied with the Álfablót and that the “Ölvir” (the master of the household) was the master of the Halloween ceremony. It is also emphasized that “Öl” meaning beer, was an important element in Norse pagan sacrifices.
The relics of the Álfablót can also be found in the writings of the Norwegian poet Sigvatr Þórðarson who explains that between the end of October and the beginning of November 1018, the local people of Sweden refused him any form of hospitality since the family homesteads were dedicated to the private and sacred circle of the celebration of the Elven Sacrifice. The writings of the Icelandic poet Kormákr Ögmundarson also say that Álfablót consisted of sacrificing a bull on a hill that was inhabited by elves.
The tradition of Álfablót disappeared gradually with the rise of Christianity in the Middle Ages, giving way to Catholic festivals such as the Day of the Dead on October 31st and the All Saints’ Day on November 1st. Nowadays we celebrate an Americanized Halloween all over the world as well as in Northern Europe, ignoring the local traditions of the Middle Ages. Nevertheless, we cannot deny that the darkness prevailing at the beginning of the dark half of the year is especially conducive to the celebration of the dead and of mythology.
November at Strøm: between light and darkness
October is coming to an end and November is upon us. This year, Strøm was inspired by the cult of the North-European dark half of the year to mark the arrival of the fall twilight. November, the darkest month of the year will be experienced differently this year at Strøm with a Tribute to the light taking place from November 20th to the 26th. Evoking both the depth of darkness and the enchantment of light, the event in the middle of November will allow you to experience this fall in a different way. Take part in the celebration while paying respect to the passage of the seasons!
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