SCANDINAVIAN YULERulership ideology, belief and cult in light of the old Viking Age winter feast
I have done research on how the Scandinavian Yule feast was in the Viking age in my master thesis. In order to approach this problem have I worked out a hypothesis containing two parts. The first part of the hypothesis concerns which divinities that was worshipped or celebrated during the winter feast and which role the feast played for the rulers. I have set up the first part of the hypothesis like this: (hypothesis 1. a) The Scandinavian Yule feast was connected to both sun worship and Odin worship. The Scandinavians worshipped Odin as the opposite of the forces of chaos who was seen as threatening during the winter, and they celebrated that the sun was returning to give a new year with fertility. The sun worship is based on older traditions while the Odin worship is connected to the development of a new type of rulership ideology where the Yule feast played an important role in the struggle for power. The Vikings used the name Jólnir for Odin. The name is derived from Jól (Yule) and indicates that Odin played an important role in the pre-Christian Yule feast. Odin had probably many functions that were connected to the winter feast. He was seen as a cult leader leading the ritual drinking and eating in the hall. He was probably also seen as the leader of the dead warriors (the oskorei) that fought against the forces of chaos that was imagined to be active on the Eve of Yule. There is also a source that tells of sun worship among the Scandinavians during the midwinter. I have analysed the source and showed that the people of Thule who celebrated the return of the sun probably was Germanic Scandinavians holding a Yule feast. It is likely that the tradition of worshipping the sun on the Yule feast in the sixth century has had continuity into the Viking age. But Odin may have become a more central divinity during the age of the Vikings because of his importance in the rulership ideology and because of how the kings used the winter feast in their struggle for power. The second part of my hypothesis concerns how the Yule feast can be compared to other pre-Christian winter feasts and how they may have influenced each other. The second part I set up like this: (hypothesis 1. b) The Scandinavian Yule has many similarities and analogies in common with other pre-Christian winter feasts regarding functions and beliefs. That is particularly true compared to the Celts celebration of Samhain and the Romans and the Mithras cult’s celebration of natalis invicti the 25th December. The connection between the winter and the forces of chaos in the pre-Christian beliefs and the agricultural societies need to secure fertility is sentral aspects in each of the three winter feasts in addition to that rulership ideology has played an important role. I have used comparative methods in the research on the last part of my hypothesis. They have shown that the similarities I have mentioned between the winter feasts probably was the case, but it is important to also point out the differences between them and be careful not to generalise to much. The similarities and analogies that I have pointed at between the winter celebrations are likely to be of a phenomenological type, but there may also have been some influences between the different cultures.