Ancient Swedish ritual of the ‘year walk’: Årsgång

by Starre Vartan

This Swedish ritual reportedly helps people see the future. Start by spending your daylight hours shut in a dark room. No eating, speaking, sleeping or engaging with technology or the outside world for a whole day. By cutting yourself off in this manner, you’re preparing your mind and spirit for the Swedish pseudo-pagan ritual of Årsgång, or the “year walk.”

Next, leave your home when the clock strikes 12. Alone in the dark, walk to the local church or house of worship. This ritual can only be done at midnight, preferably on the winter solstice or Christmas, but another winter’s eve of your choosing will work. When you arrive, walk around the building three times counterclockwise, then blow in the keyhole of the front door. (This is to temporarily renounce any attachments you may have to religion.)

Once you’ve completed these steps, you will have opened yourself up to enter the spirit world — and you may even be able to see the future.

When pagan beliefs and rituals were at their height in Scandinavia, some people were known to disappear during these walks, while others were rewarded with seeing what was ahead personally or for those in their community.

“The walker might gain information about marriage, the harvest, the possibility of war, or if there will be fires, but the most common information was about who was going to die in the upcoming year,” explains Atlas Obscura.

A year-walker might also see visions, like the brook horse, which gathers children on its back and then plunges into the water with them, drowning them all. Or the huldra, “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,” according to this page on folklore from the University of Southern California.

When the walker was ready for the experience to be over, he would return to the church and reclaim his faith.

A team at Swedish video game maker Simogo developed a game for smartphones based on the year walk. You can see a trailer for the immersive game set in a snowy landscape in the video below:

“We based [the game] off folklore in a very unscientific way,” the writer of the game, Jonas Tarestad, told Atlas Obscura. “In a way we recreated the word-of-mouth process of the past and added our own details. In the end we had sort of lost the grasp of what parts we made up to fit the game and what parts were original folklore.”

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