The Viking Calendar

Runic CalendarWorm’s Norwegian runic calendar described in his book Fasti Danici dating back to 1643. The drawing only shows the winter season lasting from 14 October to 13 April. The summer season on the other side of the bone from a whale or big fish was never copied, and both the pendant and the calendar have unfortunately been lost.

Although contemporary Scandinavian sources for the Viking Age are few, there are indications that the Vikings probably divided the year into moon phases and only two seasons: Summer and winter.

The Vikings did not use exact years to date events, a so-called absolute chronology. Instead, they used a relative chronology with reference to the number of years after important events. One could for example date the year by saying “five winters after the Battle of Svolder”.

As far as we know, the Icelander Ari “the Wise” Þorgilsson was the first who in the early 1100s tried to convert the Norse time entries into an absolute European chronology.

Calendar

The Viking calendar reflected the seasons: How high the sun was in the sky, access to food and fertility. The year was divided into two equally long periods – summer and winter. A person’s age was counted in the number of winters he had lived. This may indicate that “New Year” was on 14 April, i.e. the first day of summer.

The year was divided into moon phases – from new moon to new moon or full moon to full moon. The counting of days has probably not been particularly accurate: The Scandinavia nights are so bright that it is almost impossible to spot the moon.

The darkest period was named “Skammdegí” (the Dark Days) and the year’s brightest period “Nóttleysa”, meaning “insomnia” that many Scandinavians still experience today.

The winter months are Gormánuður, Ýlir, Mörsugur, Þorri, Goa and Einmánuður.

The summer months are Harpa, Skerpla, Sólmánuður, Heyannir, Tvímánuður and Haustmánuður.

 
Viking Calendar

The calendar shows the division of the year in the Old Icelandic calendar in relation to the Gregorian calendar that we use today. (Illustration by Arild-Hauge.com)

Some years it may look as if it has been an additional 13th month to adjust the calendar: Silðemanuður (the Late Month).

Calendar with comments:

Norse Season Norse Month (English) Time period Norse Month (Icelandic) Comments
Winter Slaughter Month 14. October – 13. November Gormánuður
Winter Ýlir/Jólnir: One of Odin’s, the “Allfather’s” names 14. November – 13. December Ýlir Christmas month
Winter Bone Marrow Sucking 14. December – 12. January Mörsugur ”Mör”: Bone marrow or fat. Important to survive Scandinavian winters.
Winter Black Frost 13. January – 11. February Þorri Norse mythical winter figure, son of “Snow”. Also men’s month
Winter Daughter of Þorri 12. February – 13. March Gói, góa, gjø Women’s month
Winter One-Month 14. March – 13. April Einmánuður Men’s month
Summer Cockoo’s Month/ Unknown mythical figure 14. April – 13. May Gaukmánuður/ Harpa Women’s month
Summer Unknown woman mythical figure’s name 14. May – 12. June Skerpla
Summer Sun’s Month 13. June – 12. July Sólmánuður
Summer Haymaking Month/ Worm’s month 13. July – 14. August Heyannir/ Ormamánuður
Summer Two-Months/ Corn Cutting Month 15. August – 14. September Tvímánuður/ Kornskurðarmánuður
Summer Autumn Month 15. September – 13. October Haustmánuður
? Late Month Silðimánuður The 13th month

(Research and interpretation by Arild Hauge in cooperation with Jón Julius Filippusson, English interpretation by ThorNews)

Weekdays

Some of the Viking Age weekdays is still in use. Does “Thursday”, literally Thor’s Day, sound familiar? Another example is the German word for Thursday, Donnerstag (Day of Thunder) – pointing back to Thor, the God of Thunder.

 

Norse Weekday Today Meaning
Sunnudagr Sunday Sun Day
Mánadagr Monday Moon Day
Týsdagr Tuesday Tyr’s Day (War God)
Óðinsdagr Wednesday Odin’s Day
Þórsdagr Thursday Thor’s Day (God of Thunder)
Frjádagr Friday Freya’s or Frigg’s Day (Norse Goddesses)
Laugardagr Saturday Bath Day

 

 

 

 

 

Text by: Thor Lanesskog, ThorNews

 

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Categories: Culture, History, Vikings

28 replies

  1. This is a great presentation of the perpetual calendar. I got a primstav many years ago, but was never able to read it, I have to confess… I passed it on the Bookfayries and of course they were thrilled with this instrument. 🙂

  2. Reblogged this on Addicted to Godric…& Eric…& Andre and commented:
    This is very interesting and may be of good use to WRITERS, too:

  3. May we translate your post to portuguese giving you all the credits?

    • Hi Scott!

      I was in doubt if I should translate “laugar..” with wash (e.g. “washing your own body”), or as in “bath”. We have now changed it to “Bath Day”. Quoting your site:

      “Originally this day was known in Old Norse as Laugardagr, which literally translates into “bath day.”

      Thank you for your interest, and, I promise you more articles about our proud and adventurous ancestors 🙂

      Thor

  4. [Summer — [Unknown woman mythical figure’s name] — [14. May – 12. June] — [Skerpla]

    Where do you get that [“Unknown woman mythical figure’s name”]?

    If we look up the Icelandic word “skerpa” it means sharpness/sharp. Now, in the era of the Vikings, when they were retaliating against Christian intrusions, why have a time on the calendar named “sharpness”? because as the ice was breaking up the retaliatory raids would be getting under way. Anyone who has lived in the North knows that the ice breaks up in late spring, and waters are not free of ice until beginning of May-ish; so mid May to mid June would be appropriate to safely commence retaliatory strikes.

  5. Hi again Scott!

    That is one interpretation that might be correct. But “Skerpla” is also a woman’s name. like Rafn, literaly meaning Raven, is a man’s name. Quoting Arild Hauge who is an authority in the field:

    “Skerpla er den andre sommermåneden. Igjen har vi et kvinnenavn som er vanskelig å forklare, men antakelig er Skerpla en vett”…(…).

    Skerpla is the second summer month. Once more, we have a woman’s name that is difficult to explain, but probably Skerpla is a Vett (mythical women’s figure)…

    Meaning – we are really not sure how to interpret the name.

    Thor

  6. Reblogged this on artishorseshit and commented:
    Very interesting article about the Viking Calendar.

  7. That’s a luni-solar calendar, based on the Metonic cycle, kind of which was used during the Christian epoch in order to calculate the date for Easter and other related festivals (and indeed the surviving runic calendars are no older than 13th century). But in my opinion, even though it’s only a hypothesis, based on indirect evidences, the original Viking calendar was sidereal-lunar with 13 months.

    Here are several considerations:

    The traditional luni-solar calendars use synodic months (lunations) – 12 in the regular years and 13 in the long years with one intercalary month (f.e. there are 7 long and 12 regular years in the Metonic cycle). This additional month is usually considered as repetition of one of the other regular months and therefore it hasn’t an independent name (it’s called “second” this or that month). But the Viking calendar has 13 months with different and independent names, so we may assume that every year has had 13 months. This would be possible for instance, if they were sidereal months with 27 days each. Thus we’ll have a year of 351 days plus 3 additional days to make it equal to the lunar year of 354 days. (If we want to adjust it to the solar year too, we may repeat periodically the long 13th month, i.e. that with 27+3 = 30 days, for instance 3 times in an 8-year cycle). Those 3 days could be related to the festival of Yule around the winter solstice.

    The sidereal month of 27 days would contain 3 weeks of 9 days or nights and such period is mentioned several times in the Norse mythology – 9 nights of the crucifixion of Odin, 9 nights for the reproducing of the magic ring Draupnir etc. Such week of 9 nights was used in the Central American native calendars (Mayan, Aztec etc.) and it is an interesting question whether it was not inherited from the Vikings of the jarl Ullman (who was Quetzalcóatl, if we believe the hypothesis of Jacques de Mahieu). But it seems that it has existed also in the ancient Italia amongst the Etruscans, who according to Macrobius have celebrated every 9th day, whence came the Roman “nundinas” (although they had already only 8 days). If it’s possible, as some scholars think, that the runic alphabets have been developed based on the ancient Italic scripts (and the Etruscan particularly), then why not some calendar concepts (like the week of 9 nights) too?

    Then we have the structure of the Viking rune row or the Yonger Futhork, which seems to correspond to the model of thus reconstructed calendar: it has 13 consonants (including the rune Úr, since it has represented both U and V, like the ancient Roman letter V) and 3 vowels, which can be associated with the 13 months and the 3 additional days of the sidereal-lunar year. Moreover, if we take the month Ýlir as first and thus corresponding to the rune Fé, the other consonants in the alphabetic order of the Younger Futhork will match very closely to the names of the months: for instance Þurs will correspond to the month Þorri, Sól – to Sólmánuður etc. The months can fit also in the traditional zodiac, beginning with Capricorn/Ýlir, then the month Sólmánuður will correspond to the sign of Leo (ruled by the Sun), while Silðimánuður will be the 13th sign or Ophiuchus (between Scorpio/Maðr and Sagitarius/Yr), corresponding to the rune Lögr, which could be interpreted as related to Loki and the snake.

    • You have good logic. That, is key. Without extremely sharp and consistent logic you will never understand the old ways. I salute you, you are on the right path.

  8. Frey is not a godess, but brother of Freya/Frøya the godess.

  9. I am very appreciative of this research and all the comments connected with it. I have finished my first book (it takes place 832 AD) after ten wonderful years of painstaking joy am well writing the second. It is a romantic and fictional trilogy; fantasy with events historically correct and I have been accurate in tracking the moon phases.

  10. I have begun implementing this calendar at work for our schedule. It has had mixed reviews from the staff.

  11. Hi. As a Viking re-enactor, I enjoyed the Viking Calendar article and will find many ways to apply the information to our activities. Our web site includes lots of information helpful and interesting for both re-enactors and amateur historians. I’ve adapted your page (lightly) and added it to our web site here, http://www.vikingsofbjornstad.com/Viking_Calendar.shtm, giving you full credit for its creation. Please take a look at it; if you’d like to have it removed from our site, I’ll do that and start over on the topic from other sources. If it’s okay, I’ll add that it was used with your permission. Best regards, Jack Garrett, The Vikings of Bjornstad

  12. Re: “The year was divided into two equally long periods ”

    No. the artefact pictured above (“Worm’s Norwegian runic calendar”) had two sides.

    Do not confuse the messenger with the message.

    This is the Norhern hemisphere. We have four seasons. Nature does not lie. Our calendars and everything else that is Norse is based on real-life verifiable events and objects (ie Science, not superstition). The Old Norse would never lie to nature, or about nature. If nature shows us 4 seasons, well then there are four seasons.

    What do you think the four corners of the swastika means? Four parts of day (ie 8), four parts of year, four winds.

    Down south they have only two seasons, and that is one of the reasons why certain people from southern parts of the globe have difficulties understanding Norse timekeeping.

  13. Addendum: Your two-season year theory may actually be valid and applicable further North, in the Polar areas. There you wil find the period of “useless days” and the period of “nightless days” – ie. two seasons.

    The Old Norse generally lived North of current day Germany (some a bit more south/west, like eg current day Poland). In this belt (Germany to North Pole) there are wide fluctuations in the way the sun appears throughout the year. The Old Norse were not blind to this at all, it was a fact of life. They were not ignorant, and they would not try to fit nature into some theoretical model of their construct – rather they would observe nature for extended periods of time and base their worldview on such observations (the so-called “scientific way”).

    So, while I sated above that the theory of a binary year is clearly wrong – way up North in Sapmí and the Polar regions, it still holds merit. Do not underestimate our forbearers, please. Their brain had the exact same size as ours. They could work with and contemplate rules as well as deviations to rules. They would know that there are differences as well as similarities. In other words: The illusion that time can be calculated in just one “absolute” way is just that: a modern illusion. Real time should be measured relative to conditions.

    For most of the Old Norse areas the number of seasons was — and still are — four (4).

    In current time we still have four seasons, and our Christian paper calendars that we buy at bookstores still have only two sides.

  14. Re: “This may indicate that “New Year” was on 14 April, i.e. the first day of summer.”

    I strongly object to this! This is an insult!

    This is a Norwegian blog right? Do you know anything about the most sacred time of year (jòl) at all? The year is re-born every year, not on a specific date, but at the time of the winter solstice. This is celebrated for three days and three nights, every year. Honestly, this is essential childrens knowledge!

    Nature does not follow our calendars. Our calendars barely follows nature. However, we do not live in “calendarium”, we live in nature.

  15. Two last remarks, I’m sorry for being soverbose, but this article is very inaccurate

    (1) “Donnerstag” does not refer to Tor. It refers to a german deity “Thunar”. Thor and Tunar are very similar. Almost copies. Yet they are not the same.

    (2) Winter starts the year. Period.

    Ad last, some gossip
    As for the 13th month, I recently saw a south american calendar. I am unsure if it was Maya or Inca. The year there had 13 months. Still, that was not a Norse calendar. It still shows that there is nothing inherently “natural” about the year having exactly 12 months, this is just a Roman/Christian convention/invention.

    • Hi Dane!

      Thank you for your insightful and enthusiastic comments regarding the “Viking Calendar!” Appreciated,

      You are of course more than welcome to write Viking / Norse related articles here on ThorNews, We would be happy to publish them.

      The viking Age is fascinating, and we do not yet have full insight into the lives of our ancestors. However, archaelogical findings, science and “common sense” are opening new doors.

      Thor

      • Apologies! I am sorry for being so verbose! It’s my nature. Perhaps you’re right that I should write an article or two in stead.

        Unfortunately, Archaeology will not get you as far as it ought to because “the material record” is as holed as Swiss cheese, and artefacts from any specific cultural or temporal instance are frequently found in quite foreign “assemblies”, sometimes thousands of km or decades/milennia from the origin; be it hoards of plundered goods, gifts, imports, or just travel souvenirs. So, there are all kinds of misleading evidence there.

        Common sense actually has potential to get you far! Only, common sense is very influenced by the present-day society. Lots of stuff that would have been “common knowledge” a millennium ago is not so today. Very simple and straight-forward things from “back then” can pose as huge mysteries now. There are false positives, and false negatives.

        IMHO, scientific method (“evidence-based reasoning”) and strong/strict logic are the keys. Couple that with the archaeological record, history books, common sense, and the Sagas. I do not think that we need to look to foreign cultures in order to discover our own, but sometimes it could be helpful, as different cultures often have very similar things in common.

        I will actually consider your article-writing suggestion seriously. Thank you for the kind offer. I am not quick, it may take days or weeks or months or even years. Thank you, also, for running this blog, I may be new here but I see that much good work have gone into it.

        År og fred.

  16. Correction:”Yet they are not the same” should be “yet they may still be very different”. Actually there is a chance (a probability) that they might be the same, but only careful studies of the kennings and family relations of each character by a well trained sage can determine this. Back in the day we had such powerful sages that could understand and analyze any religion or philosophy (the modern likes of Kierkegaard is nothing compared to those masters of old) , but unfortunately the Christians killed them. All of them. We (our Norse forbearers) have been subjected to extensive ethnic cleansing, a veritable genocide by modern (UN-) definitions, few people realize that.

Trackbacks

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