Ellen Lloyd - AncientPages.com - Can nature provide a person with answers about the future? People in ancient Sweden believed a walk in the forest could foretell future events.
In a country like Sweden, where nature played an important role in daily life, it seemed logical to assume that omen-seekers could acquire knowledge of the following year by visiting the forest. But one had to be very careful because supernatural beings that resided in forests, lakes and mountains could be harmful.
Image credit: Public Domain
For as long as anyone can remember, people have always wanted to know what the future will bring. Many ancient civilizations practiced various forms of divination. In ancient Greece, people relied on oracles where priests and priestesses were believed to have received guidance from Gods in the form of signs or messages that served as prophecies.
Ancient Chinese had their book I Ching – The Book of Changes that was used as an aid to foretell the future and make decisions for thousands of years. Like many other ancient civilizations Egyptians often relied on dreams to foretell the future. The Egyptian dream book contains 108 dreams and inscriptions on how to interpret the signs that reveal future events.
In Mesoamerica, hallucinogenic plants were used in divination and people believed creator gods possessed the knowledge of the future.
The list is long, and the belief that we can glimpse into the future is ancient.
Other ancient cultures relied on nature when acquiring knowledge about the future. Forests have played an important role in legends, myths, and fairy tales from all over the world, from the dawn of recorded history.
The Forest was believed to be the seat of ghosts, gods and monsters, or the underworld.
Årsgång – Year Walk In The Forest Was Practiced To Learn About Future Events
In Sweden, there was a ritual known as Årsgång, which can be translated as Year Walk. During the Year Walk, it was custom to visit the forest on Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve. According to Swedish folklorist Tommy Kuusela, this divination ritual dates back to the 1600s. While walking in the dark forest on a cold winter night, the goal was to catch glimpses of what would happen the following year. A person seeking knowledge about the future could gain it by interpreting signs, but he mustn’t forget that some of the creatures residing in the forest were dangerous and the year walk required discipline and concentration. Without it, a person may never back to the realm of the living.
Dangerous Mythical Creatures Lurking In The Forest
Many Norse mythological creatures were believed to live in the forest and encountering them could be a scary experience.
In the forest, one could come across Huldra, a seductive female creature who was seen from the front often had a very beautiful human appearance. However, from behind, she was shockingly ugly with her hallow bark back and a cow’s tail or that of a fox that was almost impossible to conceal. A Huldra could lure a man into her home, to marry or kill him.
Avoiding the trolls was also wise because these beings could over a longer or shorter time attract people into their world, into the mountains or down into the underworld and people who disappeared for a while could return with memory loss and confusion still present after returning home.
The neck as a brook horse by Theodor Kittelsen. Image credit: Public Domain
The brook-horse (bäckahäst) could be seen near rivers, particularly during foggy weather. This mythological animal should not be approached. Climbing onto the back of this gorgeous white horse could result in death because the animal would then jump into the river, drowning the rider taking the person’s soul as its own.
This is why it was vital to avoid distractions and proceed with caution. During the Yearly Walk, Kuusela explains that “some people went as quietly as possible to the forest, without saying a word: they did not look back and had made sure to stay away from food and drink and avoided looking into fires earlier in the day, and they made sure to be so far away that they could not hear a cock crow. When the sun rose, they were on the church road where the next years’ funeral procession could be seen. They would also see if the harvest would be good or bad by looking at the fields, meadows, and grazing grounds, and they could see if a fire was going to break out during the next year.”
A Year Walker mustn’t laugh, talk or be afraid. Breaking these rules could lead to insanity, loss of an eye, or disappearance.
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When a person embarked on this mystical journey through the forest, he should go alone, but it happened that two or three people accompanied each other. They walked silently without speaking to each other. The Year Walk started usually shortly before midnight and knowledge seekers could gain information through powerful visions. One could learn about future events such as marriage, harvest, wars, but the most common information was about who was going to die in the upcoming year.
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In Harper’s New Monthly Magazine (1871), A.H. Guernsey wrote that “the pilgrimage begins a little before midnight, and must cease before matins. The pilgrim goes first to fore the matin hour they lose the power of getting odd until one of them had given up his magical hat. The possessor of the Runic tablet and the magic hat becomes thenceforth a great soothsayer, to who all hidden things are revealed without the necessity of getting upon Ars gang.”
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As previously discussed on Ancient Pages, runes were ancient inscriptions and Odin's secret language. The Vikings believed runes were created when their chief god Odin speared himself to the cosmic world tree, Yggdrasil in hopes of receiving secret knowledge. Runes were used as a means of communication, writing, telling fortunes, protection, and casting spells. Rune masters were regarded as experts and trained in understanding and using runes to tell foretell the future and to cast spells.
The Year Walk was a long considered an effective divination method, but this is old Swedish folklore tradition is no longer practiced.
The oldest account of a Year Walk (Årsgång) can be found in a manuscript called Småländska Antiqviteter (Antiquities from Småland) written by Petter Rudebeck (1660-1710). The manuscript is held in the National Library of Sweden.
Written by Ellen Lloyd – AncientPages.com
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