Charming of the Plow – another flavor of Imbolc/Candlemas

Depending on where you’re located, winter is showing its age and spring is on the horizon. This transition has always been marked by local traditions. In modern East Coast America we have Groundhog Day, Christian Europe has Candlemas, Pagan traditions celebrate Imbolc, and descendants of Vikings and Anglo-Saxons welcome the new growing season in yet another way – the charming of the plough (also known as Disting).

A team of transformed oxen driven by the Norse goddess Gefjun.
A team of transformed oxen driven by the Norse goddess Gefjun.

In Sweden at this time, a religious festival was held called the Disablot, to honor the disir – female gods, landspririts, and ancestors. Included in this observance was the governing assembly called the Thing, where laws were made and interpreted, grievances were adjudicated, contracts sealed, and so on. The combined gathering was called Disting, and marked the start of the growing season in that part of the world.

Engraving of a Disablot by J. Malmsrom, a Swedish author.
Engraving of a Disablot by J. Malmsrom, a Swedish author.

A Scandinavian legend describes early ‘land-taking’ customs in the story of the goddess Gefjon. Like many ancient tales, there are conflicting versions from various sources, but the gist is that a Swedish king promised Gefjon as much land as she could plough in a day with four oxen. She transformed her four sons (fathered by an unnamed jotunn) into supernaturally strong oxen, and: Gefjun‘s plough “cut so hard and deep that it uprooted the land, and the oxen drew the land out into the sea to the west and halted in a certain sound.” Gefjun there placed the land, and bestowed upon it the name Zealand. Where the land had been taken from a lake stands. There has been an association of women and ploughing since time immemorial. Folk traditions in some areas of Russia (where the Vikings settled as Rus) call for women to plough the borders of a community to ward off sickness or calamity. Anglo-Saxons held the Æcerbot or ‘field remedy’ ritual, to heal land that was yielding poorly and return it to full productivity. The ritual called for anointing the plow with herbs and oils, for cakes to be placed in the fresh furrows, and for daylong incantations and songs.

Erce, Erce, Erce, Earthen Mother! May the Allwielder grant thee, the great Drihten, acres waxing and covering, increasing and strengthening. A sheaf betokens the reaper’s produce and the broad barley’s produce and the white wheat’s produce and the produce of all earth. Grant to them, great Drihten whose hallows that in heaven are, that his farm be fortified against all fiends, each one, and it be bordered against all baleful things, each one, that through the land is seen. Now I ask the Wielder, that this world shaped, That there be no such cunning woman; no such crafty man, That with a word of power changes what is said.

While thumbing through all those seed catalogs, take a moment to think about the earth that grows our food, and how best to care for it. At Seven Trees Farm, we add to the health of our land by adding back manure, lime, composted livestock bedding, etc. We also use as few chemicals and toxins as possible, not just for our own health, but to keep the natural bug-filled ecosystem thriving.

Another way we show respect for our bountiful Earth is by leaving some areas ‘un-plowed’, so that our own landvaettir have an undisturbed place to inhabit. The wild birds also appreciate the thickets and brambles, as do the myriad frogs which will start their spring peeping soon. plough

For more information about ancestral early spring traditions, check out these links –

On Candlemas Day

Charming the Plow: Disting

Holy Tides – Charming of the Plough and Disting

Plough Songs

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