Celebrating Other Spirituality 365 Days A Year – Up-Helly-Aa
January 28th – 29th
Up-Helly-Aa is a centuries-old fire festival held in the Shetland Islands. It is derived from the ancient Yuletide festival celebrating the triumph of the sun over darkness and winter, and it pays
tribute to the ancient Viking Gods and Goddesses. The festival began with torch light processions that ignited giant bonfires and culminated with the burning of a replica of a Viking ship. It was believed that the fire would dispel evil spirits from the villagers and their homes. The festivities usually ended with great feasting and dancing until dawn.
Around about now–on the last Tuesday of January–the citizens of the small Shetland town of Lerwick celebrate Up-Helly-Aa, a festival around two hundred years old that harks back over a millennia in celebrating these remote Scottish islands’ Norse heritage. Essentially a fire festival hailing the reborn sun, a “Guizer Jarl’s squad” of men dressed as Vikings carries a replica Viking longship through the streets at night, followed by hundreds of “guizers” (men in various, often termed, disguises) carrying firebrands. At journey’s end, the longship is set alight, initiating a night of wild carousing (womenfolk included)
“A Saintly Savior”
Remember St Aidan (Maedoc of Ferns, d. 626) on his feast day, for this Irish bishop protected wild animals. He is symbolized by the stag that he is said to have rendered invisible to its pursuers. (A stag, or its antlers, also represents the Horned God.)