Although most Christians are really only comfortable with the story that Santa Claus was really ‘St. Nicholas’ (of Turkey), it seems obvious to me that the current mythology behind Santa Claus is at least in part a survival of the pagan Viking belief in Odin. This doesn’t fit well with Santa’s arrival near Christmas, and so, has been fairly well disguised over the years. Odin, the ‘AllFather’ of the Viking (Norse) pantheon would occasionally take human form and leave his comfortable abode in Asgard to mingle with men (and women) in Midgard (the land of men) often as a grey bearded old man. On the Jule (Yule) or the Winter Solstice which is the longest night of the year, he would ride his 8 legged horse Sleipnir across the sky in a great hunt. Children would leave their boots out filled with carrots and straw for Sleipnir to eat, and Odin would reward the children for their kindness by replacing the offerings with gifts or candy.
Odin on Sleipnir
From the 18th century Icelandic manuscript NKS 1867 4 now in the care of the Danish Royal Library.
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The Gods are ever present and there is no clear dividing line between the natural and the supernatural world. We are at all times balanced precariously on the interface between the divine and the profane. All around us live the denizens of the otherworld, in springs, in rivers and lakes, in forests and marshes, in caves and on mountain tops. The Gods intrude into the affairs of men and often take sides in the disputes of mortals. They are capricious and moody, and at times benevolent and helpful, at times malicious and spiteful. It is necessary to mollify and appease them constantly by means of offerings, by the correct rituals and by the proper manner of behaviour. You offend the Gods at your peril!
Pagan Celtic Ireland, The enigma of the Irish Iron Age
Thames & Hudson 1994 pp. 178
I had originally prepared to deliver this for the Tuatha de Bhriain feast of Imbolc in 1998 but the actual event went off a bit differently. Those who attended might have preferred this more sedate version. I have also posted the Wheel of the Year that I kept that year, and although the specific events and folks mentioned therein may no longer be relevant, it gives a good flavour for the Celtic year.
And what story about “The Gods” is complete without a cameo by The Dagda himself? The Dagda is “the good god” or as I have been told, its better to describe him as “the god who is good at stuff”. The link above brings up a picture I drew of him after reading a particularly detailed description of him.
I’m (maybe not so) obviously thinking about the Celtic pantheon here which is a stretch for a lot of folks since all you really get to read about in school (usually) is the Greek mythos and they’re such a bunch of backstabbing socialites its not supernatural enough for me. I mean, I think some of the Greek Gods summer out in the Hamptons. I also have a fondness for Viking mythology, but I’m not prepared to discuss that rabble tonight. Anyone else have some good Gods stories? Please note: I have enough copies of the Bible, I’m merely soliciting comments regarding polytheism here – so if you can’t afford more than one god, you can’t afford to join in on this discussion.