Those who have been following my blog knows by now that Stav originates from a family tradition that has been passed down within a family in southern Norway. Stav has been labeled as a martial art; but Stav is in its essence Norse spirituality structured around the runes of the younger futhark.
Within the tradition there is a runic calendar, but as with many aspects of Stav there has not been that much written about it. Stav is practically still an oral tradition. I believe this is the first time an in-depth article about the calendar is published in English; but I will still leave a couple of things untold.
For many years I did not really pay too much attention to the Stav calendar, I could not really relate to it. The concept was perhaps too alien to my modern imprint. About a year ago I decided to investigate the Stav calendar further. I read up on what some of the most notable scholars in the field has to say about early medieval and pre-Christian calendric practices of Scandinavia. After I had studied for a while I was totally blown away by the Stav calendar, it´s integrity is fascinating, and it is clearly of respectable age.
This could quickly become a very long and complicated text about the calendric aspects within Stav, but I am afraid that would defeat its purpose; since very few would read it. So I have tried to stick to the basics and not make things overcomplicated. But there still has to be some terminology within the text. I will start with a short introduction of calendric systems to make this text relevant.
There is so much we take for granted today based on our modern perspective of time, just a few hundred years ago things were very different. People were dependent that someone in their proximity could calculate time based on the movements of the sun and the moon. Calendric calculations were probably an important factor that contributed to developing the mathematical understanding that laid the foundation of our civilization. In most old cultures the highest priesthood was responsible for these calculations, and there was really no difference between spirituality and science; the separation of the two is just a few hundred years old.
Our modern calendar is called the Christian calendar, or the Gregorian calendar; after the pope who was responsible for introducing it. This calendar system is basically just an improvement of an older calendric system called the Julian calendar; the name comes from the fact that the Roman dictator Julius Caesar was responsible for introducing it in 45 BC.
Both the Julian and the Gregorian calendars are based on 365 days, the practical problem is that the number of days do not exactly match the so called tropical year, or solar year. The Julian calendar will therefore have a discrepancy in relation to the solar year that increases over time. The concern out of a Christian perspective is the drift in relation to the March equinox; which is used to calculate the Easter celebrations, the most important celebration within Christianity. The Gregorian calendar has addressed the drift with a more precise system of leap years and leap days.
early history of the church it was the responsibility of the local priest to calculate
the date of the Easter celebration. Some of the priests were not competent
enough to handle the task, which meant that the celebrations could differ
between parishes. Within the Catholic church someone realized around year 800
AD that they could implement something called the Metonic cycle, named after a
Greek mathematician and Astronomer who lived in Athens in the 5th
The Metonic cycle defines that 235 lunar months almost precisely equals 19 solar years, but there is some discrepancy which we will come back to. The practical calendric use of the Metonic cycle is that; if you define a nineteen-year cycle the moon and the sun will relate to each other in a specific pattern each year of that cycle. The Metonic cycle has a very long history in calendric systems and was implemented for the first time by the Babylonians. By utilizing the Metonic cycle the clergy only had to calculate Easter for each year within the cycle, the Easter Sunday will be the first Sunday after the so called Paschal full moon. Then they applied so called golden numbers from 1-19 to each year of the cycle.
In essence, our modern calendar is a Roman-Christian way of calculating time, based on a Christian way to view the world; we count time in a linear fashion from year zero, the presumed birth year of Jesus, and the progression will just continue until the end of time.
The Norse calendar
Let’s move over to the pre-Christian Norse and heathen calendric aspects. The preserved information is quite fragmented, but we still have a pretty good idea.
The Norse probably celebrated six festivals each year, and a couple of these festivals were dependent on the sun. On the contrary to common beliefs they did not celebrate the spring and autumn equinoxes; instead those celebrations seem to have been delayed with about four weeks. The pre-Christian ritual year only had two seasons; summer and winter. The summer started sometime in April, and the festival is still celebrated in Scandinavia. The summer ended, and winter started, at the so called Alvablot; which would be around the same time as the modern Halloween celebrations.
In pre-Christian Scandinavia they seem to have followed an eight-year lunar cycle, called the Octaeteris in astronomical terms. This cycle is less accurate compared to the Metonic cycle of nineteen years. The historical sources tell that big sacrificial festivals were held every ninth year in Uppsala, Sweden. These festivals were held in relations with the yearly big winter thing- called Disting in Uppsala, and every ninth year they had extra big festivities. But in reality it was most likely every eight years, and based on the eight-year lunar cycle. To make an easy description, the way they calculated time back then was different, the ninth year and the next first year of the cycle will be calculated as the same.
They held the festivities in Uppsala for nine days, the opening day they held thing and the sacrifices started during the evening. Then they held the sacrifices for the next seven evenings. The ninth day they held a thing again, and ended the festivities. Which meant that they only sacrificed during eight nights, and each night probably represented a deity and a year in the eight-year cycle. It is unfortunately beyond this article to describe this in further detail.
The important thing to notice is that this way of calculating time is in essence heathen, it is cyclic; a 24 hours’ day is a cyclic period going from dark to light and back. A Scandinavian year is also very obviously cyclic, passing from winter to summer and back. Scandinavian heathenism is in many ways a nature religion and a lot of the philosophical aspects follows natures cyclic perspective.
In the early medieval period Scandinavia went through a major turmoil when Christianity were introduced. The change of religion was in many ways a very painful process and it took hundreds of years to fulfill, if it ever was really completely done. Around 1150 the church introduced the Julian calendar, which became the official calendar in Scandinavia.
Since Scandinavia is quite desolated people still had a need to keep track of their own time, so they knew when they needed to go to church to celebrate the Christian holidays. Shortly after the introduction of the Julian calendar the so called runic calendar staves emerged. They were often made on a big wooden plank or a stave, which had a lot of runes carved into them. They were constructed in relation to the Metonic cycle amongst other things; but instead of having golden numbers representing the years of the cycle, they used runes.
One problem was that the Runic script of the Viking age and early medieval times consisted of sixteen runes; so three additional runes were made up, so they got nineteen runes which they could correspond to the Metonic cycle. Seven runes also corresponded to the days of the week. The runic calendars had various symbols that marked the Christian festivals during the year.
The medieval runic calendars were most likely syncretic; based on old Scandinavian ways of calculating time, but adopted to fit the newly introduced Julian-Christian calendar. The epicenter of the Runic calendars was in Sweden, but they are found throughout Scandinavia and Finland, even in the Baltic countries.
As previously mentioned; the Metonic cycle are not flawless, and there were several improvements made. One important contribution was made by Hipparchus of Nicaea, who is regarded as the greatest of the Greek astronomers. He calculated that 3760 lunar months, or 16 Metonic cycles, will be equal to 304 solar years. But there is a small discrepancy of minus one day.
In medieval Scandinavia the common people seem to have been aware of the Hipparchic cycle of 304 years. In Uppsala in Sweden they hold the Disting market in February each year. The market was initially held together with the sacrifices that I mentioned before, when Christianity took over the sacrifices were abandoned; but the market is still held to this day! The difference is that the market now is held in accordance to our modern calendar; in medieval times the moon stipulated when the market would be held.
The medieval rule for calculating the Disting market is still known; “the market starts at the first full moon that follows the first new moon after the day of three holy kings” (I.E. Epiphany). I have translated this rule from the earliest notation of it, published in 1555.
Disting market in 1689, a famous Swedish scholar met a 90-year-old man with a runic
calendar that he had inherited from his great grandfather. The scholar talked
with the old man about the calendar in relation to the Disting. The old man
told him that the market had followed a nineteen-year cycle for the past period
of a little more than 300 years; but it had just passed an “Auni” and it would
follow a new cycle of 19 years for the coming period of a little more than
three hundred years. Which meant that the market would be held on slightly
different dates than those who used to occur during the previous cycle.
was intrigued and wanted to know how the old man knew this; he said that his
great grandfather had marked out Auni on his runic calendar stick. When asked
further about what an Auni was the old man said it was a period of a little
more than 300 years. The name came from the old king of Uppsala, Aun the old, that
became 300 years old. Aun is mentioned by Snorri, but in his texts the
calendric aspects are not so apparent. It is not likely that the old man in the
17th century would have been exposed to Snorris work either, so this
is most likely a reminiscence of eastern Scandinavian mythology where Aun
personalizes the Lunar cycle of 304 years. There is also accounts in the story
of Aun that indicates that incidents in his life corresponds to the Metonic
cycle of nineteen years.
Around year 1700 the more exact Gregorian calendar was introduced in Norway. Sweden was the longest protestant stronghold in western Europe to oppose the reform; and did not reform the calendar until 1753. One practical result of the reform was that the runic calendars died out, since they did not work in relation to the new calendar. Some tried to adopt the runic staves to the Gregorian calendar, but time had simply moved on and they were out of fashion.
The calendric aspects of Stav
Stav is structured around the sixteen runes of the so called younger futhark, the runic alphabet that probably was introduced around year 800 AD. Writing is just one aspect of the runes according to the Stav perspective, there are many other aspects. Everything within Stav, from mythology to herbal medicine; is systemized around the runes
Amongst many other things, there are nineteen deities of the Norse pantheon associated with the sixteen runes. Some runes have several deities associated with them; and in these cases the deities have a close mythological relationship. Each deity is connected to a specific year of the Metonic cycle! The amazing thing is that this system is totally independent of modern calendars; there is a method within the tradition that describes how to set this system based on the moon. The deities associated with each year gives this calendric system a ritual and mythological aspect that the medieval calendars totally lack. Since the core of Stav is structured around the nineteen deities of the calendar; this aspect is something that must have been taken into consideration when Stav was systemized; it is very unlikely that this would be a later adaptation.
I used to have some issues with the fact that there were nineteen deities but only sixteen runes; why not expand the amount of runes as they did on the medieval runic calendars? I realized how it all fits together when I investigated Stavs calendar; if you multiply the nineteen gods with the sixteen runes you will incorporate the Hipparchic cycle. 16 Metonic cycles adds up to 304! (16 x 19 = 304) It can simply not be a coincidence that 19 deities representing the Metonic cycle are structured on the sixteen runes. Hipparchus defined the 304-year cycle when he tried to improve calendric cycles that was based on the Metonic cycle. As stated previously, the medieval Scandinavians were aware of this cycle.
Since there no longer are any practical use of the Hipparchic cycle in Stav, the modern Stav community were not aware of this aspect. But since Stav is so highly systemized it was still preserved in the core of the structure, just waiting to be found. This is one of the cautions I want to address when it comes to the derivatives that has come off of Stav during the last decades; the encoded “secrets” within the coherent structure will be lost in the copies. Those who create the derivatives will deny their students to be able to uncover what they have not yet discovered themselves.
The festivals of Stav
Unlike the medieval runic calendars, the yearly festivals of Stav is not based on Christian celebrations but on heathen feasts. There are six festivals, Yule, Winter-thing, summers day, Balders vaki, Summer-thing and Winters night. As everything within stav, these festivals are structured around the Hagl rune, where the runes of the deities representing the festival has been placed in a particular order. Each festival has two runes that represents it, which in total gives 13 deities, since one rune has two connections. I have the impression that these 13 deities represent the pre-Christian months of Scandinavia, but as far as I know there is nothing preserved in the system that clearly says so. Six deities are not associated with specific festivals; since they represent the function of ritual leaders, and therefor are relevant for all festivals.
The deities relations to the festivals follows what is known about the pre-Christian gods and the festivals; but as often within Stav the knowledge goes beyond and fills in the blank spots. The festival year is also woven, which means that the festivals that oppose each other will also have deities connected to them that has a relation. The festival year is at the same time regarded as cyclic. There is nothing random about the festivals of the Stav calendar. I have described some of this previously on this blog. Another unique aspect is that there is knowledge on how to fixate the festivals independent of the modern calendar; something that I myself was not aware of until recently when corresponding with the inheritor of the tradition, Ivar Hafskjold, about the calendar.
The week of Stav
Within Stav all weekdays have specific runic relations, and thus associations with deities. It is common knowledge that the week as we know it has Norse origin. Tuesday is associated with Tyr, Wednesday with Odin and Thursday with Thor. The relations of the other weekdays are not quite clear, but within Stav these days have clear associations with deities too. The ritual week of Stav is dependent on this knowledge. Sunday is the last and first day of the week; and in accordance the rune associated with the day is connected to two deities. One representing death, and the other one continuation. There are several rituals that marks each week.
How old is the Stav calendar ?
In the core of Stav we have a cyclic calendric system that not only measures time over 19 and 304 years, it also relates to the yearly festivals and weekdays. This system has a strong relationship to what is known about medieval and pre-Christian Scandinavian calendric tradition; but it goes beyond the known historical systems out of an esoteric and spiritual perspective. The Stav calendar is in essence independent of the modern calendar.
Since the calendric aspect are encoded in the core of Stav, it gives a good foundation to discuss at what time period Stav, as a system, could have been structured. As already mentioned, the runic calendric systems died out when the Gregorian calendar was introduced, this happened around year 1700 in Norway. After that there were no practical use, and probably no knowledge, to structure a runic calendric system dependent on the Metonic cycle. So clearly Stavs calendar must predate the introduction of the Gregorian calendar in Scandinavia.
The absolute earliest point something like this could have been created are at the time that the younger futhark was introduced, which many believe are around 800 AD. These two events give us the timespan we have to relate to. Another key question is; would the Scandinavians have been utilizing the Metonic cycle prior to the official introduction of the Julian calendar? If the answer is no, then the timespan is 1150-1700. For the time being it is reasonable not to go beyond this time span, even though the Norse sources indicates an awareness of the Metonic cycle.
When comparing the information of Stavs calendar with the medieval runic calendars, I am personally prone to believe that Stavs calendar has to be early in this span. The oldest notation I am aware of in Norwegian archives that mentions the family that has kept the tradition, are from 1348. So I do not feel that I am the slightest preposterous to claim an early medieval origin. But in essence it does not matter when the system was structured; those who did it knew more about Norse mythology in relation to heathen calendric aspects than anyone alive today.
What is the practical use of this calendar?
The calendric aspects of Stav is something totally unique! As far as I know there is no other comparable living calendric tradition left in Scandinavia. Stav is the only contemporary form of Norse spiritualism that includes a complete calendric system. Each year has a mythological association which sets the tone of the year. All the festivals that are celebrated are genuine Norse festivals, that has a clear connection with specific deities; which gives a good understanding of the nature of the festival. The actual dates of the festivals will not be dependent on the modern Christian calendar. Each day of the week also has specific connection with Norse deities; which gives a spiritual meaning to the weekdays.
article only describes one aspect of the use of the runes within the Stav
tradition; there are many other aspects that could be expanded and explained in
the same fashion. I find Stav utterly fascinating, and it is something that
really needs to be preserved for the future. There are still so many aspects of
Stav that needs further investigation, but it takes a lot of time and devotion
to do it properly. At this time there are not enough people that really studies
the deeper layers of Stav in relation to historical sources; which is a shame.
13. "Answer me, Alvis! Thou knowest
Dwarf, of the doom of men;
What call they the moon, that men behold,
In each and every world?"
14. "Moon with men, Flame the gods
The Wheel in the house of hell;
The Goer the giants, The Gleamer the dwarfs,
The elves The Teller of Time."
Alvíssmál - The Ballad of Alvis.