Why You Need to Take a Swedish 'Year Walk'

A year walk is inherently spooky, but it's also supposed to be enlightening. . (Photo: Dmitry A/Shutterstock)

If you want to see the future, then there's something you should try. 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.

It could go well — but it might not

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.

From ancient ritual to modern times

A man stares out from a dock at night. A dog looks at the camera in the foreground.
You might adapt the idea of a year walk to your own personal beliefs. (Photo: Weston/Shutterstock)

Doesn't this sound like a strangely appealing ritual? Even if you're not a religious person, there's something magical about a meditative, nighttime walk. This is an idea that could easily be adapted to a modern, nature-centric mindfulness practice.

Oddly enough, I did a similar walk on last year's winter solstice at dusk, before I'd ever heard about the year walk concept. I did a long meditation as the sun was setting, and I went out into the hills around my house and gathered herbs and plants in the blue light that quickly turned to night, stars shining overhead. It was a somewhat windy evening, and I remember the branches dancing above my head as my eyes searched out the plants I was looking to gather, a challenge in the low light — so I ended up doing some of the gathering by hand, making it an experience that involved all my senses.

When I returned home, I burned a small amount of what I'd collected, saving the rest to burn at the summer solstice. I felt a great sense of peace after my nighttime ramblings. It was a memorable way to mark the solstice, and one that connected me to that particular place. There were no churches involved and I didn't see visions or ghosts, but it's something I would like to do again in the place where I live now. Even familiar locales look different by starlight, and perspective shifts are always valuable as you assess your life or think about the future.

Some legends never get old

The year walk is an appealing concept, even beyond the personal discovery aspect. In fact, a team at Swedish video game maker Simogo developed a game for smartphones based on it. You can see a trailer for the immersive game set in a snowy landscape in the 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."

The best tales, myths and rituals stand the test of time not by staying the same, but by being flexible enough to adjust as human culture does — simply because they appeal to those things that never change within the human spirit.

We will always want to know the future, and taking solo night walks will probably always feel like a wonderful time to connect with our innermost selves. Årsgång could be one enduring way to connect to both of those ideas. Just leave your phone at home, resist the urge to snap a year-walk selfie and you're bound to make a unique memory for yourself.

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