Although their warriors caused havoc and harm throughout Europe and its surroundings, people in Viking societies were very much bound by the agricultural season.
Their rhythm of the year was dominated by agriculture – summer saw the primary planting season, whilst autumn was a time for harvest.
During fall, the last major agricultural work was undertaken before planning and preparation for winter took place. The most important celebration of the fall season was the harvest celebrations.
Like many ancient and modern cultures, harvest celebrations were an anticipated part of fall. After all, who doesn't love a harvest festival or a spiced pumpkin latte?
This was a time of merriment and mirth, where people would gather the harvest, the fruits of their labor.
Crops like barley and oats, various fruits like apples and berries, and a variety of vegetables were harvested.
This was part of the preparations for the harsh winter ahead and saw some of this harvest bounty stored whilst meat or fish would be preserved along with any necessary last-minute repairs to house and home.
When the winter preparations were finished, with a hopeful surplus of food, the real festivities could begin.
- READ MORE: What did Vikings eat and drink?
As the chill of autumn swept in, Viking halls echoed with laughter and song, their tables groaning under the weight of bountiful feasts. Photo: keeble1337 / Shutterstock
Feasting like a Norse god
Feasting was a central part of all and every celebration that people in Viking societies undertook.
Whilst the midsummer feasts may be more well-known to contemporary audiences, feasting continued well into the fall months.
Mead and ale flowed freely, and feasting was seen as a celebration of the harvest for all the arduous work that the community had put in during the warmer months.
The fruits of the harvest were consumed along with any other animals that were deemed too sickly to survive the brutal winter conditions of the Nordic region.
One of the most significant feasts during this period was named in honor of the Norse god Freyr – Freyfaxi.
While his sister may be slightly better known, Freyr was also associated with fertility and prosperity.
Here, a huge feast was held at the very end of summer or the early beginning of fall, and the community would offer thanks for a successful harvest to seek his favor and continued blessings for the rest of the year.
No part of a fall feast would be complete without storytelling and skaldic poetry. These communal events were an opportunity for tall tales and the recitation of epic verses.
This was a great form of entertainment where skaldic poets would often try to outdo one another in a Viking version of a "rap battle."
Moreover, this was also an important way for cultural traditions and histories to be told and passed down through the generations.
In an era before widespread literacy, the oral broadcast of information was the key form of communication in Viking societies.
Inner reflection after the festivities
Like all pre-modern agricultural societies, the sun dominated the rhythm of life in Viking societies.
In an era before alarm clocks and electrical lights, work started when the sun rose and ceased when it set.
This celestial event marked the balance between light and darkness, between the warmth of summer and spring and the brutal cold of the impending winter months.
This equinox signaled the shift from the active agricultural season to preparations for the winter ahead.
This was a time for communal reflection and introspection, expressing gratitude for the harvest that had been reaped, and a time to offer prayers for protection against the challenges of the winter months.
Amidst the joy of harvest festivals, there was a collective understanding of the need to fortify against the seemingly never-ending Nordic winter. Photo: tarake / Shutterstock
Blóts and offerings
The fall season also celebrated many Blóts, a common religious ritual integral to the practice of the Old Norse religion.
The first was a festival dedicated to the Alvar, protective spirits associated with the natural environment, like rocks, water, and streams.
People in Viking societies would make ceremonial offerings to these deities to help protect them from the harsh extremes of the winter ahead.
A second was a specific type of sacrifice made to honor the Alfár – elves – common in Norse mythology.
This was performed in the fall to seek protection for the community from malevolent elves and to ensure a peaceful coexistence with these supernatural sprites.
Several other Blót rituals took place during the fall months. All these Blóts involved the ritualistic slaughter of animals, especially pigs and cattle, which was a common way to provide offerings for the Norse gods.
This was done in the hope of receiving celestial protection for the community and securing favor for the upcoming winter months.
During fall, the festivities and cultural traditions of people in Viking societies were deeply rooted in their strong connection to the land, their belief in the great pantheons of Norse gods, and their sense of communal harmony.
Many of these customs helped them physically, mentally, spiritually, and psychologically prepare for the most brutal time of the year, the seemingly never-ending Nordic winter.
For more information on Viking harvest festivals, visit Sky History here.
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