[First written for Oak Leaves, ADF’s quarterly publication. To be published Spring 2023.]
Dr. Rune Rasmussen, The Nordic Animist on YouTube and elsewhere online, has spent several years recreating animist calendars that reflect pre-Christian Nordic cultures and thinking. He had surmised that these groups added an additional year into their calendars, much like we have leap years, to set the celestial bodies back into a way where they could properly count the months and years. He thinks this likely happened every ninth year, based on current Swedish scholarship. He discussed this idea with other Heathen thinkers and scholars, and Dr. Mathias Nordvig of the Nordic Mythology Podcast brought up the myth of King Aun. That’s where the idea of announcing the Year of Aun was born.
The myth of King Aun the Old comes to us in its fullest version from Snorri Sturluson’s recounting in the Ynglinga Saga. However, there are similar myths from both Swedish and Danish sources. In this story, King Aun, who had lost and regained his kingdom at Uppsala several times, decided to sacrifice his eldest son in order to prolong his own life. He eventually began to sacrifice one of his sons every ninth year in order to live eight more years. However, Aun continued to age and his body diminished as he unnaturally extended his life. Eventually, he could only lie in bed and drink out of a horn, much like a medieval baby bottle. Aun was prepared to sacrifice his tenth and last son, but the people of Uppsala refused to allow Aun’s last heir to perish, instead allowing the king to die.
This myth reflects an octennial cycle, but we also have evidence of octennial cycles from historic sources. Adam of Bremen famously chronicled the large gatherings around the Disting Moon at Uppsala (Sweden), where nine of every animal were sacrificed to Odin. Thietmar of Merseburg also recounts large religious festivals that took place every eight years at Yule Moon in Lejre (Denmark) meant to “ensure forgiveness for any misdeeds.” While the theme of forgiveness may be a Christian perspective on the festival, both of these festivals were exceptionally large gatherings with especially large sacrifices that took place every eight years.
These connections are fascinating and certainly tie the ideas of calendrical cycles to large celebrations that were religious in nature. But what are we, in the modern world, supposed to take from this? What would this modern Year of Aun look like and why would it be named after an abhorrent old king?
This tale of King Aun the Old is a cautionary tale. Even to the people who first told this story, in a time when human sacrifice likely took place, Aun’s behavior was not to be emulated. This is evidenced by the people’s refusal to let Aun’s last heir die and by the way Aun diminishes as he continues to sacrifice his sons. In Scandinavia, and throughout the Indo-European world, kings were symbols of vitality, fertility, and connection to the land.
If we agree that the myth of Aun is connected to octennial sacrifices, then we have to see them as inversely related elements of a larger worldview. The gatherings at Uppsala and Lejre would have been seen as acts of proper religious action. Those sacrifices would have been restorative, while Aun’s were selfish and destructive.
Themes for the Year of Aun
Per the reckoning of the calendar cycles from Rune et al, the next year that would correspond to these cycles is, in fact, 2023. On his channel, he made an announcement for the Year of Aun in early 2022, listing a number of other Heathens who agree with the basic principles behind the Year of Aun. Throughout 2022, he and others have started conversations in various Heathen circles to generate ideas about how to celebrate the upcoming year.
Through these dialogues, deeper and deeper insights have arisen. Rune initially took a comparative approach and compared the historical octennial cycle to other cycles in other faiths, namely the Catholic Jubilee and the Hindu Kamalā. These cyclical celebrations often focus on themes of spiritual purifying, healing, or reconnection. In a lot of ways, we can also consider the historic large sacrifices and the myth of Aun as signposts for a spiritual element of the year. We can also take up similar broad ideas regarding purification, healing, and reconnection. For other religions traditions, pilgrimages, large celebrations, reconnecting to the land, and realignment with moral principles are part of larger cycles of spiritual renewal.
Other ideas and themes have arisen from this starting point. Another theme that is present in the Aun myth is violence. King Aun is literally killing his family line for the self-centered desire to live longer. Violence against one’s kin is a theme throughout Norse lore, mostly notably in Hodr’s slaying of Baldr that begins Ragnarok.
While the connection to calendrical cycles implies a cosmological element to the gatherings at Uppsala and Lejre, this thematic mythic connection holds implications on a cosmogenic level, too. If we agree that the macrocosm reflects the microcosm, as many members of ADF seem to, then the connection of ritual action to the calendar and the pseudo-history of a king to the world-changing events of the gods hint at much deeper meanings. It’s not far-fetched to say that the medieval people Adam and Thiemar chronicled thought that these large festivals and huge sacrifices were a key part of upholding the universe or even staving off the end of the world. In our own terms, this would be called upholding cosmos through right action.
Beyond general violence towards kin, Aun is specifically murdering his descendants. He is, in essence, a terrible future ancestor. Heathens regularly discuss this idea of living your life in such a way as to be a good ancestor. (I’m not sure if it started in Heathen circles, or if this is a larger phenomenon, but I think it is applicable to most Pagan paths.) We can, therefore, also look at this cautionary tale as a mirror for our own selfish behaviors. There are ways we are hurting future generations, both inadvertently and intentionally. From our consumerism and dependence on convenience that is altering our environments locally and globally, to lifestyles that actively disconnect us from others and leave us in divided communities, we are hurting those who will come after us.
Violence can be taken more broadly as a theme for the year. Those of us in the US, Canada, Australia, and elsewhere have long histories of violence against indigenous peoples as well as kidnapped and enslaved peoples. Even in our daily lives, we see people who are othered based on a number of factors, from disability to gender identity. And we can more fully consider the violence we enact on non-human beings, from native plants to the treatment of livestock.
Celebrating the Year of Aun
With these themes and ideas around the myth of Aun, the cyclical rituals, and their broader implications, we now come to the crux of the matter: What should we do during this year? Aun’s actions almost led to the end of his line and no king to lead the people of Uppsala, which is a kind of collapse of the world on a local level, much like the death of Baldr brings Ragnarok. If we are to celebrate the year properly, that is, in the same spirit as the historical celebrations at Uppsala and Lejre, then we must also do the opposite.
Considering the themes of violence, egotism, healing, reconnection, and upholding the cosmos, we have an idea of how to celebrate the year. One thing that Rune and others have stressed is that there is no particular time that is the best time to celebrate the year and that different events should take on a local nature that makes sense for that group. The people at Uppsala and Lejre celebrated their octennial festivals at different times, probably because it made the most sense for them where they were. Over the course of 2022, several Heathen groups have discussed different ideas to celebrate, and this is a short list of some of those ideas:
-If you’re part of a protogrove or grove and hold public rituals, festivals, or other gatherings, you can make them grander somehow (think of the large gatherings at Uppsala and Lejre). This can be done by announcing those events more publicly, making your gatherings interfaith, including themes of healing and reconnection, or any number of ways.
-If you’re solitary, you can do your own healing ceremonies, or gather with local groups, perhaps ones you haven’t interacted with before, for these kinds of rituals.
-If your practice revolves around the Germanic hearth culture, you can consider doing something for the full moon after Yule (January 6th in the NH), or the full moon closest to the Spring Equinox (March 7th in the NH), as the Swedes and Danes did in the early medieval period.
-However, celebrations can take place throughout the year. People have discussed doing something special on a quarterly basis throughout the year. Others have suggested making 8-year-long oaths (which is no small commitment).
-You could also do smaller, practical things throughout the year. Some examples include going vegetarian, not consuming meat on Thursdays (Thor’s Day), or perhaps buying only Halal or Kosher meat. You could commit to a No-Spend year, which is a recent trend to cut out unnecessary purchases.
-You could build better relationships with others. This could be people in your neighborhood, non-human beings like plants, or even your ancestors. Again, if you are already doing these things, do more of them next year or focus specifically on themes of healing or egotism.
-You could go on pilgrimages, either locally or to a special place in your practice.
-You could find ways to make reparations for past violence through donations to nonprofits or volunteering for causes.
An Indo-European Perspective
So far this discussion has been from an entirely Heathen framework. But I want members of ADF who aren’t part of a Germanic hearth culture to run with this idea. It’s likely, after all, that the myth of Aun and these themes regarding healing from egotism to uphold the cosmos are seen across Indo-European cultures.
One culture that comes to my mind is ancient Rome. During the festival of Parentalia, dedicated to the ancestors, there was a celebration called the Caristia, where families would come together in reconciliation and disagreements were set aside. They would feast and give gifts. It’s notable that this gathering happened during a major festival for the ancestors, as we will all become ancestors one day. I’ve also heard a suggestion that the myth of Chronos, who swallows his children in order to keep his reign over the world, has similar themes to the Aun story. Rune also compares the myth of Aun to the medieval Celtic story of the wounded Fisher King, who can be healed if the hero of the story asks him about a sacred item (later called the Holy Grail).
Perhaps other hearth cultures don’t have both historic and mythic connections in the same way that I’ve discussed here, but Neo-Pagans must always decide when to step away from reconstructionism to revivalism, and vis versa. There is a point, I think, where we must jump off from history, lore, and archeology, and we must create our own practices that reflect our lived experiences.
I see three ways that people today can work to rectify relationships during the Year of Aun. First, we can heal relations with nature, that is, both plant and animal life. Second, we can heal relations among people. Third, we can heal relations with the spiritual realms and beings. This can happen in many ways, so I will leave you with some questions to contemplate:
-How do you heal relationships?
-How do you reconnect to the natural or spiritual worlds?
-How can you rectify violence in your life?
Hopefully, these questions and the context provided here can spur some ideas for celebrating a year of healing and reconnection in 2023. I highly recommend listening to or reading the sources below to learn more about the Year of Aun.
Rasmussen, Rune. (2022). “Aun 2023: Nordic Year of Cultural Healing.” Nordic Animism. https://nordicanimism.com/aun-2023
This is a webpage that discusses the Year of Aun.
Nordic Animism. (Jan-Aug 2022). The Aun Year 2023. [Playlist]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AVYYLIo_AzI&list=PLpgfnnXC81dU-IplbXYz8MKdXQfLNeQxM&ab_channel=NordicAnimism
This is a video playlist that includes conversations Rune has had with others about the Year of Aun, including the scholar Josua Rood, Dr. Mathias Nordvig, and Dr. Tyson Yunkaporta.
Nordic Animism. (2019). Runic Calendar (short intro). [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m-NpvXNgChE&ab_channel=NordicAnimism
This is a video where Rune introduces the calendar system he is recreating and links an influential article from Dr. Andreas Nordberg.
“Caristia.” (April 2022). Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caristia
This is simply a Wikipedia page about the Roman Caristia celebration.
Other sources mentioned:
The Ynglinga Saga (commonly found in the Heimskringla) by Snorri Sturluson
The Deeds of the Bishops of Hamburg by Adam from Bremen
The Chronicle of Thietmar of Merseburg by Thietmar of Merseburg