Culture & Society, Folklore, The Viking Age Calendar Series
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Þorri (Jan-Feb)

Fourth month of winter

Þorri is the fourth month of winter. This is the height of winter in the northern hemisphere. And one of the toughest months in terms of harsh weather when Viking Age people would see their winter storages steadily depleted.

Who or what is Þorri?

Now, here’s a pickle. How to explain a debate with murky depths and confusing etymology?

First, let’s go basic. The Old Norse word thorri means ‘dry’. Some connect it to dry snow in linguistic analysis.1 Others see a connection to winter drought. Dry winters, for example, could lead to water problems later when summers turned warm.2 Or, even drought in terms of lack of food or resources.3

Then there are textual sources. The tale about Þorri is told in the thirteenth-century Fornaldarsögum Norðurlanda (part of the Flateyjarbók). Back in the days, there was Thorri, king of Finland and Kvenland. He was the grandson of a jötunn, and his son would be the founder of Norway. According to the Fornaldarsögum Norðurlanda the month is called Þorri because of this king who would make a sacrifice in the middle of each winter.4

Þorrablót

Perhaps there was indeed such an ancient feast in midwinter, with rituals and sacrifice. It is called blót, the pagan worship of a deity.5 The tale clearly tells that king Thorri organized this blót, so he wasn’t the deity worshipped, by the way. Perhaps this idea confuses some about the feast’s history who have tried to link Þorri to the god Thor. Whilst I can imagine Thor being the happy recipient of any food and drink feast in his honour, the references to him remain (very) unclear and disputed.6 Therefore, I will happily stick to the sources we do know about.

The current Þorrablót has also little to do with the Viking Age and everything with the (Romantic) notions of a group of nineteenth-century Icelanders. Their early modern reinvention includes plenty of alcohol (a Brandywine with the cheerful name ‘Black Death’), sheep’s heads, ram’s testicles and cured shark… 7

Bóndadagur

Last but not least, the first day of Þorri is called Bóndadagur. Farmer’s or Husband’s Day. The man of the house has to go out in only his shirt and his pants on one leg – jump around the house and welcome Thorri!8

References


  1. Mikko Heikkilä, ‘Kalevaand his Sons from Kalanti: On the Etymology of Certain Names in Finnic Mythology,’ SKY Journal of Linguistics Volume 25 (2012), pp. 102–03 [pp. 93–123].  ↩︎
  2. Guðrún Kvaran, ‘Hvað þýðir mánaðarheitið þorri og hversu gamall siður eru þorrablótin?Vísindavefurinn Published 10 February 2011. Last Accessed 14 February 2021. http://visindavefur.is/svar.php?id=58509. [transl. ‘What is the name of the month þorri and how old is þorrablótin?’ | Icelandic Web of Science].
    Droughts Iceland,’ Climate Change Post Last Accessed 14 February 2021.  ↩︎
  3. Guðrún Kvaran, ‘Hvað merkir það að þreyja þorra og hvaðan er það komið?Vísindavefurinn Published 13 July 2001. Last Accessed 14 February 2021. [transl. ‘What does it mean to endure drought and where does it come from?’ | Icelandic Web of Science]  ↩︎
  4. Kristinn Schram, Obscurity as heritage: The Þorrablót revisited. (Reykjavík: Félagsvísindastofnun Háskóla Íslands, 2010), pp. 3.
    Þorri,’ ONP: Dictionary of Old Norse Prose Last Accessed 14 February 2021.  ↩︎
  5. Kristinn Schram, (2010), pp. 4.
    Guðrún Kvaran, (10 February 2011).  ↩︎
  6. Mikko Heikkilä (2012), pp. 110.  ↩︎
  7. Kristinn Schram, (2010), pp. 4–5.
    Staff, ‘Today is Bóndadagur, the first day of Þorri, when Icelanders celebrate mid–winters feasts,’ Icelandic Magazine Published 25 January 2019. Last Accessed 14 February 2021.  ↩︎
  8. Inga Rós Antoníusdóttir, ‘Icelands bóndadagur and the midwinter feast Þorri,’ Travel Reykjavik Published 29 January 2019. Last Accessed 14 February 2021.  ↩︎

(Featured Image: Photo by Egor Kamelev on Pexels.com.)

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