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Årsgång

This Swedish early modern folk tradition, which translates as “Year-Walk” is a particularly fascinating form of ritual divination associated explicitly with the Yule period, being performed either at Christmas or New Year’s Eve. The general idea, would be to participate in a night-time walk towards a specific point, usually a Church or cemetery, in doing so receiving a revelation towards the events of the next year.


To prepare for this ritual, the walker was said to have been separated from the community for the preceding day and sat in a darkened room, forbidden eat, drink, or speak, presumably in a meditative state. The purpose of this would be to separate the person from physical reality, to enter a state in which they can perceive the numinous, or spiritual environment around them. Around midnight, the walker should leave isolation and walk in darkness to the local church. Once at the church, the person would walk counter-clockwise around the church and blow or look into the keyhole of the church door. In doing so, the walker would temporarily renounce their Christian faith, allowing them to experience visions of the year to come. From there, the performer should walk to their local cemetery, prehistoric monument or other significant place.


The journey could be considered perilous, as one might encounter wights or spirits that may attempt to distract, waylay or injure the walker, such as the Huldra, an attractive female forest spirit said to either kill or seduce its victim into becoming its eternal spouse. The entities that one might meet, the sounds and sights encountered on this walk, would supposedly symbolise the events of the year to come, to be interpreted by the walker. After reaching the eventual destination, the walker would return to the church to reclaim their Chritstian faith.


While this ritual may seem fantastical, the concept of attempting to view the world around us in a way other than the obvious physical reality through a journey or exploration is not necessarily unusual even in the modern world. Psychogeography, for example, is a form of urban exploration developed during the 20th century, that through a concept called Dérive (Drift) seeks to perceive and understand urban landscapes in a psychologically subjective manner.


Performing the Årsgång was considered by the communities who practised it to be a dangerous, not to mention sacrilegious, ritual to perform. While there maybe some differences for modern heathens that wish to perform the Årsgång, risks should still be considered, physical or otherwise. Make sure that if you are walking at night alone, that someone knows what you are doing and where you are going. Dress appropriately for the weather and footing conditions, as well as researching your route in advance to avoid getting lost. As for the spiritual side of things, for modern practising heathens, who presumably have no need to renounce the Christian faith, a visit to a church is probably not necessary. After performing meditation in a darkened space for an amount of time (it is probably unnecessary to spend the whole day doing this – the aim is to reach an altered state, regardless of the amount of time this takes), the practitioner should then set out directly for their eventual destination, preferably some important geographic feature, like a hill, or a prehistoric monument.


On the way, the walker should attempt to allow their consciousness to drift, to notice things, sounds and sights from nature that would normally be ignored. Should the walker encounter anything that feels or looks out of the ordinary, like a manifestation of anything, the important thing is to radiate respect but also strength and to keep focused on the journey. Record and remember the experience, but do not allow yourself to become distracted from your goal. It may be an idea to use some form of anchor, an object you can hold (perhaps iron or silver), or a phrase that you can repeat to yourself, in order to protect yourself and keep your focus. Upon reaching your destination, allow yourself to soak in the atmosphere and introspectively meditate upon what you have seen, heard or felt and its potential meaning. After some time, you should return home the way you came, hopefully having gained some insight about the coming year. If you want to learn more about the Årsgång, please check out the following sources:


http://folklore.usc.edu/swedish-arsgang-the-year-walk/


https://www.academia.edu/9403910/He_met_his_own_funeral_procession_The_Year_walk_ritual_in_Swedish_folk_tradition


Image: THEODOR KITTELSEN/ PUBLIC DOMAIN

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