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  Yule - The Midwinter Festival

slaughtering the sacred boar?

Wild Boar - Illustration by Stefan BirchOne Yule tradition in the Northern Isles had distinct parallels with an ancient custom found in Norway.

On December 17, a day known locally as Sow Day, every family that kept swine would slaughter a sow for Yule.

Writing between 1791 and 1799, the author the Old Statistical Account stated there was no tradition as to the origin of this practice. He concluded that it could, therefore, have no significance, other than the fact it provided the meat for the Yule feast.

However, it seems far too coincidental that this slaughter was part of Yule, especially considering the connections between the pig - or more specifically the boar - and Yuletide traditions found across Northern Europe.

Pork is a traditional Yule dish in Norway - probably a reminder of the time when the boar, an animal sacred to Freyr, the Norse god of Yule and fertility, was sacrificed at Yule and its flesh eaten as part of the feast.

Being the sacred animal of Freyr, the boar has always had a strong association with Yule and represented the spirit of abundance and prosperity. Its sacrifice at the darkest time of the year was thought to help to ensure bountiful crops the following harvest.

It is also possible that the boar represented the sun.

In Scandinavian myth, Freyr possessed a magical gold boar named Gullinbursti (Golden Bristles). This creature was able to run as fast as any steed and glowed with a golden light that could drive away shadow and turn night into day.

The solar attributes of this incredible beast, created by the dwarfs Brokk and Eitri, are clear. The midwinter sacrifice of a boar could also be seen to symbolise the death of the old sun, and the rebirth of the new.

The boar also had a role in the swearing of sacred oaths.

On Yule Eve, the best boar in the herd was brought into the hall where the assembled company laid their hands upon the animal and made their unbreakable oaths. Heard by the boar, these oaths were thought to go straight to the ears of Freyr himself.

Once the oaths had been sworn, the boar was sacrificed in the name of Freyr and the feast of boar flesh began.

The most commonly recognised remnants of the sacred boar traditions once common at Yule has to be the serving of the boar's head at later Christmas feasts.

Tammasmass E'en