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Rituals, festivals, holidays

Swedish Årsgång: The Year Walk

The informant heard this particularly sinister and magical ritual from a Swedish friend from Malmö when she was studying abroad a few years ago in Europe.

The pseudo-pagan ritual of Årsgång, which, when translated to English, means Year Walk, was meant to reveal visions of the future to a person willing to perform the walk. In order to perform the ritual, the walker would have to make several sacrifices and meet multiple requirements. The first requirement was that the ritual be performed on a certain night, most often Christmas or New Years’ Eve, sometimes at the winter solstice, but always at midnight. For an entire day before taking the Year Walk, the walker must sit inside a dark room, and is not allowed to eat or speak. This was meant to disconnect the walker from the physical world, and open them up to the spiritual world before the ritual. The walker was to emerge from the room exactly at midnight and head to the town church, where he or she would walk counterclockwise around the building. The walker would then go up to the door of the church and blow into the keyhole, renouncing their faith temporarily. This would fully open the walker up to the world of the spirits and visions of the future, but it also invited great danger. Year Walking was full of risks.

One could expect to encounter many terrifying Swedish entities, such as the brook-horse (bäckahäst) and the huldra.  The brook-horse took the shape of a normal horse, and it would invite children to ride on its back. Each time a child mounted the brook-horse, its back would lengthen to accommodate yet another rider. When the horse felt it had enough riders, it would jump into a body of water, drowning all of its riders and taking their souls for its own. The huldra was a deceptively beautiful female entity, who often had bark and treelike features growing on her back instead of skin. Said to be the forest guardians, they would lure people to their homes to either marry them or kill them. Either way, the victim would be lost forever.

The walker’s ultimate goal was to look into the windows of the church (or to reach the town cemetery, depending on the locale) in order to receive visions of the future. If the walker encountered any of the Swedish entities, including the two mentioned above, the walker could escape with his or her life if he or she was able to resist the entity’s temptation. Visions of the year to come would appear in the cemetery or in the windows of the church, and the things the walker saw would symbolize the events to come that year. The Year Walk would end once the walker made it back to the church to reclaim his or her faith.

Årsgång was more commonly performed centuries ago, when magical beliefs ran much deeper in Scandinavia. The ritual was a feared one; not all walkers returned with their lives, and others went insane upon returning from the walk. Of course, the steps of Year Walking vary, as it’s a very localized ritual, mostly passed down by word of mouth.

In his doctoral dissertation on magic in Swedish black art books, Thomas K. Johnson, Ph.D. briefly discusses the ritual of Årsgång. I found a PDF version for free online directly at this link: http://media.proquest.com/media/pq/classic/doc/2030700591/fmt/ai/rep/SPDF?_s=mheSU7Ogp7e1UoKhtmSNlGL9Lao%3D

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