Yuletide is the period when the light returns. Originally the Winter Solstice marked the beginning of the New Year in Scandinavia. This shifted after the advent of Christianity, when the church fathers superimposed Church Feasts on the existing calendar of far more ancient heathen festivals.
As a new year is dawning, we become curious about what this new year will bring: blessings or misfortune, crises or opportunities? (Or a mix of both perhaps?!)
The "Årsgång" or Omen Walk (literally The Year's Walk) was generally performed on either Christmas or New Year's Day but this is not written in stone. Other good days are the winter solstice, the summer solstice, New Year's Day, the Feast Day of St. Lucia (December 13th). It can even be done on days of personal importance, such as birthdays, your wedding anniversary, the anniversary of the death of a loved one, the date of the publication of your first book - and so forth.
If any day holds personal significance for you - it is a good day for "Årsgång"!
The most powerful (and holy!) day of the week is Thursday, originally Thor's Day, as it was day when old Things were held and the ancestors & deities arrived to assist with the meting out of justice and passing of verdicts. A Thing (þing in Old Norse and Icelandic, nothing to do with the English word for an object!) was the governing assembly of an early Germanic society, made up of the free people of the community presided over by law-speakers. (The þ is pronounced like an unvoiced "th" or θ).
The most powerful time is just before sunrise (at the breaking of dawn) or during the hour of sunrise. In Scandinavia at the Winter Solstice that means around 2. 30 pm in the afternoon (obviously depending on how far North you are! Around 2.30 is when the sun sets in our neck of the woods in the Yule period).
Swedish author Johannes Bjorn Gardback provides the rules of engagement for Årsgång (in his wonderful book Trolldom: Spells and Methods of the Norse Magic Tradition)
Do not speak to anyone along the way
Do not turn around once you leave the place of spadom
Do not talk to anyone about this until you have “slept on it”
Other authors and experts have written up their own versions and interpretations of Årsgång. Run a google search on the word and a fair amount of material comes up!
From my own point of view Årsgång is the Swedish equivalent of the Omen Walk of e.g. the Celtic Tradition. It is a useful at any time there is a need for divination or a "reading of the signs" (ta tydor in Swedish). In the years when my main professional focus was on offering one-to-one shamanic healing sessions, I would turn the walk back from the school my children attended (after dropping them off that is) into my daily omen walk, with a special focus on receiving information for the session I was about to do. It never failed! It often provided spectacular insights as to what a specific client needed on that specific day.
In its most basic form you need to set out on a walk alone and in silence (having someone with you who wants to chat is not helpful!) Before you even take one step, focus and set a strong intention that you wish to receive information on a specific subject or question. (Obviously for a new year this is a request for essential pointers for the year to come - and how to prepare yourself for what the new year might bring!)
Once you start your walk, everything is information. From the number plates of cars, to snatches of conversation overheard, the formation on twigs on the pavement (inviting spontaneous rune readings!) - You can see that I did many years of Omen Walks in a big city (London)!
Årsgång in the countryside is a more quiet affair and you'd see different things: how is cattle behaving? What are the sheep or horses doing? How are they positioning themselves in a field? (You could draw some spontaneous systemic constellations type conclusions from that - assuming you have this skill!)
Pay attention to clouds, to trees (including falling trees), wild animals, birds. If you encounter a neighbour or person from your village, try not to see them as "themselves" (i.e. the person you know) but view their appearance and behaviour as a clue instead: what are they doing, saying, wearing? How are they moving? What are they carrying? What is the message or symbolism in that? If you meet your neighbour carrying a large pile of wood, maybe you need to stock up or prepare for a severe continuation of the winter... - And so forth.
Bringing a notepad is a good idea as many of these communications from spirit can be fleeting and ephemeral (hard to remember later, however striking they were at the time!)
Return home and write up your notes in full! Then keep those notes at hand as the year starts unfolding.
Below you will find a fascinating (if slightly frightening!) passage from the USC Digital Folklore Archives:
"The informant heard this particularly sinister and magical ritual from a Swedish friend from Malmö when she was studying abroad a few years ago in Europe.
The pseudo-pagan ritual of Årsgång, which, when translated to English, means Year Walk, was meant to reveal visions of the future to a person willing to perform the walk. In order to perform the ritual, the walker would have to make several sacrifices and meet multiple requirements. The first requirement was that the ritual be performed on a certain night, most often Christmas or New Years’ Eve, sometimes at the winter solstice, but always at midnight. For an entire day before taking the Year Walk, the walker must sit inside a dark room, and is not allowed to eat or speak. This was meant to disconnect the walker from the physical world, and open them up to the spiritual world before the ritual. The walker was to emerge from the room exactly at midnight and head to the town church, where he or she would walk counterclockwise around the building. The walker would then go up to the door of the church and blow into the keyhole, renouncing their faith temporarily. This would fully open the walker up to the world of the spirits and visions of the future, but it also invited great danger. Year Walking was full of risks.
One could expect to encounter many terrifying Swedish entities, such as the brook-horse (bäckahäst) and the huldra. The brook-horse took the shape of a normal horse, and it would invite children to ride on its back. Each time a child mounted the brook-horse, its back would lengthen to accommodate yet another rider. When the horse felt it had enough riders, it would jump into a body of water, drowning all of its riders and taking their souls for its own. The huldra was a deceptively beautiful female entity, who often had bark and treelike features growing on her back instead of skin. Said to be the forest guardians, they would lure people to their homes to either marry them or kill them. Either way, the victim would be lost forever.
The walker’s ultimate goal was to look into the windows of the church (or to reach the town cemetery, depending on the locale) in order to receive visions of the future. If the walker encountered any of the Swedish entities, including the two mentioned above, the walker could escape with his or her life if he or she was able to resist the entity’s temptation. Visions of the year to come would appear in the cemetery or in the windows of the church, and the things the walker saw would symbolize the events to come that year. The Year Walk would end once the walker made it back to the church to reclaim his or her faith.
Årsgång was more commonly performed centuries ago, when magical beliefs ran much deeper in Scandinavia. The ritual was a feared one; not all walkers returned with their lives, and others went insane upon returning from the walk. Of course, the steps of Year Walking vary, as it’s a very localized ritual, mostly passed down by word of mouth."
In his doctoral dissertation on magic in Swedish black art books, Thomas K. Johnson, Ph.D. briefly discusses the ritual of Årsgång. Here is a link for the free PDF version online.
- From: http://folklore.usc.edu/?p=29351
Enjoy your Årsgång and pitch it just right! As you become more experienced you might be ready for the extra instructions that make the experience richer (and possibly a bit more frightening!)
Imelda Almqvist is an international teacher of shamanism and sacred art. Her first book Natural Born Shamans: A Spiritual Toolkit For Life (Using shamanism creatively with young people of all ages) was published by Moon Books in 2016 and her second book Sacred Art: A Hollow Bone for Spirit (Where Art Meets Shamanism) will be published in March 2019. She was a presenter on the Shamanism Global Summit in both 2016 and 2017 and is a presenter on Year of Ceremony with Sounds True. She divides her time between the UK, Sweden and the US. She is currently in the editing stages of her third book “Medicine of the Imagination: Dwelling in Possibility” and has started her fourth book "Evolving Gods: The Sacred Marriage of Tradition and Innovation"
(YouTube channel: interviews, presentations and art videos)