Vetranótskeið can be translated into "winter night ship", and falls in the month of þrýmheimr ("noisy world") - home to the goddess Skade (Damage), the goddess of Scandinavia and her name. The month is also called Haustmyrkr, Haustmánaðr (“Autumn Darkness” / “Autumn Month”), with the zodiac sign Vekti (weight). The current time period in the Gregorian calendar is from September 24 to October 22.
Vetranótskeið is a Norse pagan high festival. On this day, the bear starts digging for winter. We find this high festival again on the Primstaven, where the mark is most often a house (like the bear “digs its house”).
Vetranótskeið is related to the rituals that mark Balder's death. It was common to light bonfires in advance of the seasonal shifts in nature, as has been previously explained. On this evening, larger and smaller ship formations were ignited, to mark the introduction to the winter nights. Just as the burial rites were most often performed in the “burning age” (cremation age), where the dead were placed in a ship, pushed out on water, and lit. Like Balder being "cremated" in mythology, or in which entire ships were placed in the burial mounds, moored to the soil with the dead inside, later in the “mound age” (the age of the burial mounds). The ship was considered by our ancestors to be the spirit's vessel, and was not only the most important physical means of transport – as some of the ship's significance in everything from the earliest rock carvings and throughout our mythology and symbolism tells.
As the sun slowly "dies" before the winter nights arrive, the bear will hibernate for the winter. Primstaven is marked with two heather twigs. The bear is also drying heather for her winter layer now. At the time the bear goes into the layer / cave – Balder is in Hel. He hibernates in the domain of death, similar to the bear in the cave / winter layer - similar to our "hibernating" ancestors in the burial mounds - all, as the "hibernating" sun, being "reincarnated" with the accumulating power on the solstice.
From the time of Vetranótskeið the winter cabbage was to be harvested, and work on wool carding began. When these winter preparations were over and one was ready for the winter, this was marked with Háustblót (autumn sacrifice - the origin of the later “Thanksgiving”). Our still strong tradition of sheep meat and cabbage (typical Norwegian dish – Fårikål) at this time of year is directly related to the harvesting of winter cabbage and butchering of sheep, before the celebration of winter stockpiles filled. The autumn sacrifice (blót) fell at the time around October 14 in today's Gregorian calendar. This was exactly 28 days after Haustjafndøgri (autumn equinox), otherwise according to the woman's 28 day fertility cycle.
A blót - illustration by Knut Alfred Ekwall (1888).
The mark of Vetranótskeið was as a burial cermony as for the rest of the pagan era, filled above all with joy, gratitude and a tribute to the season's crop and fertility cycle. Not least, it was a tribute to death. For something to be reborn, grow and live, something must die. Our ancestors, in general, never made anything excessive about a death. It was considered a completely natural change and a shift, in a circular determined perspective of eternity. In many ways, they feared death as little as a birth.
After the forced Christianisation, the Christians dedicated Vetranótskeið and the day October 7 to Birgitta of Vadstena and made her a saint. After the year 1391 a monastery and an "order" for her was created. The day was renamed “Britemesse”. October 9 was the day our ancestors ended the fishing for herring and marked that the leaves were now blown off the trees. Primstaven is marked with a fish or a flag, which is related to the ended herring fishing period and the wind that had blown the leaves off the trees. The day after the Christians named “Dinesmesse”, and dedicated it to St. Denis (Dionysius). He was a bishop of Gallia (France), beheaded by the Romans in the year 286. The butchering day before the autumn sacrifice the Christians named “Lukasmesse”, and was dedicated to the evangelist Lukas, and was set for October 18 in today's Gregorian calendar. Our ancestors slaughtered the oxen exactly at this time, keeping this day as the last to have all the root crops in the house. Therefore, Primstaven is marked with an ox or a slaughter bench.
After Vetranótskeið and Háustblót, our ancestors held Vetranóthelgr (winter night weekend). Then, rich rituals related to Balder's death (the symbolic burial of the light and sun) were held.
“The mead stands brewed
for Balder here,
the certain drink
covered by shield;
The Æsir await in excitement;
forced I spoke,
I will now be silent”
- Balder´s dreams (Vegtamskvadet)
Note: It is worth noting that the Vegtamskadet and the myth of Balder's death contain exactly the same components as our other myths, and can also be interpreted at other levels of natural processes. Hel is the guardian / witch / "midwife" inviting to battle, the mead (the intellect / memory drink – of poetry is brewed and covered with shield (it must be achieved, covered and in the womb), Hermod (Odin) is the messenger (spirit) who visits the realm of death. Balder returns, he is reincarnated.