Sometime in the night, my wife got out of bed and turned off the fan.
I crept out of bed a few hours later and, as I made the morning coffee, a cool breeze through the open window confirmed the transition that had taken place. If I needed any more proof of autumn’s first approach, it was not long in coming: Our cat, who had been so independent all summer, gladly settled into my warm lap while, together, we waited for the coffee to brew.
Summer was dying. Autumn was being born. Soon September, then October, would be upon us, and the Ladies would be among us again…
The Ladies, of course, are the Disir – variously thought of by our ancestors as the female half of the ancestral line, the Mothers. The Disir are nourishers, guardians, comforters, and deep resources for our survival as we prepare for the winds and ice of winter. We cuddle deep in their essence, just as my cat nestles on my legs for warmth when the cool winds begin to blow.
In the lore of our people, the Disir are not very individualized. The name itself means “goddesses,” thought as mentioned above they’re actually something else. To get a mental grasp on them, we turn to the Goddess who leads them, and in her own way represents them all: Freya, lady of the Vanir, Goddess of love and lust and life. In her essence we see the nature of all the Disir. They are strong and gentle, loving and fierce, protective and self-assertive. They are our mothers, aunts, great-grandmothers unto the remotest generation, and they still look on from the Otherworld with a maternal interest in the doings of their descendants here in Midgard.
We don’t need their ministrations so much in the summer and spring. Life is easier then, the seasons milder, and Nature does not threaten us with her darker, colder side. But when the days begin to shorten and the shadows fall earlier, when the wind howls around the eaves, we turn to them. Their power influences everything from day-to-day fortunes to the greater luck of the clan, so it is wise to call on them, to give them gifts and honor.
In the Icelandic calendar, the Disir were honored in the festival called Winter Nights, falling on the Saturday between October 11 and October 17. You can give blot, or an “honoring,” to them and to Freya on this day. Long ago, an ox might be sacrificed for them – but the times have changed, and that’s no longer practical for most of us! Instead, give them mead in the horn, or leave out an offering of milk or ale for them. Your real gift, the one that really matters, is what mothers everywhere want – to be loved, and remembered.
What else can you do? You can recall the great women who have been part of your clan. You can tell stories about them, and show photographs of them to your children. It would be a good day to visit their graves, if you can, and take them some flowers. Place heirlooms that belonged to them on the family stalli, or shrine – or even on the mantle, over the fireplace.
Autumn is on the way, to be followed closely by winter. Once again, the seasons turn and bring new challenges – challenges that in the old days were perhaps more matters of life and death than today. Food for the winter is no longer a problem for most of us, and it is likely that none of us will freeze to death. Even so, the cold chills our spirits and seeps into our hearts as we await the coming of spring. Along with the challenges come the pleasures: the brisk exhilaration of the cold wind, and the beauty of snow-covered trees and houses. Through it all, challenge and pleasure alike, we are not alone. The Disir are here, watching and ready to help.