ONW | Religious Practices of the Pre-Christian North Lesson B Text & Questions


QUESTIONS for Lesson BLesson Index A thru F

Lesson B
Religious Practices of the Pre-Christian &
Viking Age North

by Alfta Lothurrsdottir

Northvegr.org ©

Pillars, Posts and the Irminsul

From the archaeological evidence post holes and therefore posts or pillars existed in Heathen hofs. The descriptions in the sagas we have back this up as well. From the descriptions of the groundsill which Stave Churches are built on we can see that there is a good possibility that most of these pillars were practical in nature though that does not rule out their ritual significance. Many times what started out for practical reasons in time becomes sacred. The central support pillar in these hofs may have been an example of this duel purpose, both practical and sacred. Besides offering support and stability to the central part of the hof this central pillar could have represented the world tree, the center of the nine worlds.

That these pillars were considered sacred is easily seen in the sagas. The high seat pillars were considered sacred to Thorr. (
112) We have more than one example of pillars being thrown overboard into the water and in order to see where they would make landfall. The pillars were thought to have been guided by Thorr. Ingólf and Hjörleif together, Lodmund the old and Thórólf Mostrar-skeggr all three used this method when sailing for Iceland. These stories are told in Landnámabók and in Eyrbyggja Saga. (113)

An archaeological find in 1926 found post holes underneath the church at Gamla Uppsala. They were arranged in such a way that if connected would have formed concentric rectangles. (114) This shows an arrangement that seems to be present in most hofs, that is, the stalli and statues being in the center of the hof, much like the world tree and Mithgarthr is the center of the nine worlds. This very possibly shows an intentional design that was set up to mirror the cosmological beliefs of Heathenism. As I hope to show later when talking about Sacred Ground, the hofs and other sacred sites were set up so that the most sacred part of the temple was in the center and the central support pillar which was some times called the Irminsul would have represented the World Tree, Yggdrasill. Davidson lends support to this theory (as does Grimm [115]) when she says, Among Scandinavians of the Viking Age a tree appears to be the main symbol of the central pivot of the universe, but the so-called ‘high-seat pillars’ of wood which formed the main support in the center of halls and sanctuaries might be viewed as a northern version of the Germanic pillars raised in holy places.” (116)

The pillar was a very significant feature in sacred sites for the Germanic peoples. At Eresburg, the Anglo-Saxons had a high wooden pillar that they called Irminsul. (117) It thought that this pillar was connected with a god named Irmin which some believe is connected to Tiwaz (Tyr). (118) Rudolf of Fulda describes the Irminsul as a universal pillar supporting the whole, which would serve to connect it to the World Tree. (119) Irminsul is also spelled as Hirminsul in the Chron. Moissiac. The Franks in the 8th through 13th centuries connected the word Irminsul with pillars with a Heathen image carved on them. Grimm speculates that the Thorr’s pillars, the Anglo-Saxon Æthelstân-pillars and the later Roland-pillars are connected with the Irminsul. (120)

Again the Christians made use of this when they could, but more often they made a show of chopping down these pillars as they did with sacred trees and groves. The great pillars of the Christian temple of the Grail are described in the Hanover MS as irmensûl. (121) In the Frankish annals Charles the Great destroyed a chief seat of ‘Heathen superstition’ that was called Irminsûl. (122)

Sacred Ground

The idea of sacred ground is one that is common to most religions and Heathenry was no different. There were certain rules that must be followed when one treaded on sacred ground.

One prohibition that seems to have been almost universal is that no violence was to be done on sacred ground for any reason, excepting sacrifices of course, which were not considered in the same category. To commit violence on sacred ground was considered an outlaw offence, which for Heathens was almost a death sentence. An outlaw had no rights and could be killed on sight without penalty. So it is easy to see how serious an offense Heathens considered the committing of violence on sacred ground. We have more than a few examples of this in the literature. At the afore mentioned Sacred Oak at Romove no tree could be cut down nor was any beast allowed to be slain there. (
123) At Helgafell no man or beast was allowed to be injured in any way and no violence could be committed there. (124) In Eybyggja Saga we are told that the hof area was considered so holy that men should not defile the field with blood-shedding no where they allowed to relieve themselves there. “..to that end was appointed a skerry called Dirtskerry.” (125) In Landnámabók Thorhad considered the fjord where he landed in Iceland as so holy that nothing was to be slain there except homestead cattle. (126)

Another closely related prohibition was against the carrying of weapons on sacred ground. Like the prohibition against violence on sacred ground, the prohibition against the carrying of weapons on sacred ground seems to have been almost universal. In the Saga of Olaf Tryggvasson it is said when the king went into the temple at Mæri that none of his men had weapons and he had only a gold-mounted staff. (
127) This same law was in effect for the Althing as well. Everything concerned with the law was under the rule of the gods and this, therefore, made the Althing a holy assembly. Sacrificial feasts were held at the Thing and there was a ban on carrying of weapons though it is said that it was not always enforced. (128) Another incident in which Olaf Tryggvason entered into a Heathen temple shows the same thing happening at the temple in Thrandheim as happened in Mæri. (129)

That weapons were not allowed in sacred areas is also shown in the method in which some Christians chose to defile Heathen hofs. In Bede’s story of the conversion of Northumbria (History II, 13), there is a story of a High Priest who rides to the temple and throws a spear into it. Obviously he knew the laws against the carrying of weapons in sacred sites and hofs and his intention was clearly to defile the temple and show his disrespect for the Heathen gods. (130)

The penalties for those who violated these bans could be quite severe. As mentioned before the penalty for killing someone on sacred ground was outlawry which for the Heathen was nearly a death sentence. The term for this offense was ‘Varg í véum” which meant ‘wolf in the enclosure’. This law applied to the hof as well as the fields that surrounded it. It also applied to the Thing-place which was regarded as sacred while the Thing was being held. (131) The penalty for bringing weapons onto sacred ground was some times not as drastic as outlawry. In Vatnsdale Saga Hrafn and Ingimund are walking while involved in a very engrossing conversation. Not thinking, Hrafn inadvertently walks into a hof with his weapon. His penalty for this was that he had to give up his valued sword whose name was Aettartangi (132) Another example of outlawry from violence done on sacred ground is in Kjalnesinga Saga. A certain Búi entered a hof to find Thorstein laying on his face in front of the statue of Thorr. Búi crept up to Thorstein silently and before Thorstein could react he picked Thorstein’s head up and smashed it against a rock, killing him. Búi then carried his body out and threw it near the fence of the enclosure. He then set the hof on fire and locked the doors. Búi was later outlawed for this act. (
133) In Fridthjof’s Saga, Fridthjof is outlawed after he entered the Dísir hof and struck King Helgi; an act that caused the hof to catch fire and thereby he proved that his name was one well deserved, as his name Fridthjof means “peace-thief.” (134) The gods themselves were thought to avenge these desecrations as is evidenced in Fridthjof’s Saga, when Fridthjof’s men beg him to make amends to King Helge and pray that Baldr would take his wrath for Fridthjof’s violating the hofs in Baldrshaeg. (135) In Njal’s Saga the man responsible for the burning of a hof is said to expect the revenge of the gods . The earl says of the gods, that they do not avenge everything on the spot and that the person responsible would be barred from Valhalla and never be able to enter. (136) Tacitus tells us also that those who had quit their shields during battle were not allowed to join in the blót-feasts. In fact Tacitus tells us that many who escaped battle unscathed (a defeat presumably) were said to have committed suicide by hanging themselves. (137)

Another example occurs in Viga-Glúms Saga (Slaying Glúms Saga or if we were to say it in a modern way, Killer Glúm’s Saga.) Glúm kills a troublesome neighbor in a field that is sacred to Freyr and incurs the gods wrath. He eventually had to forfeit his lands as a result of this act. (138) In one instance the deed of burning down of a temple was said by Hákon Jarl to result in Hrapp (the perpetrator) being shut out of Valhalla. Another incident of violence on sacred ground occurs at Helgafell. Here Thórólf had established a Heraðs-Þing (district thing). (139) It was located on the extremity of the promontory of rocks that made up Helgafell. After his death some of those who attended a Thing held there relieved themselves on the sacred grounds and a battle arose as a result and blood was shed. Because of this the Þingvöllr (thing field or place where the thing is held) had to be moved. The ground there was no longer considered sacred because of the blood that was shed there. (140)

It was also customary to conduct some kind of purification on ones self before treading on sacred ground. At Thorsness no one was allowed to look on Helgafell without being washed. According to MacCulloch the verb used here, líta, should probably be interpreted as ‘turn toward in prayer’ as it was hardly possible to be outside at Thorsness and not see Helgafell which could be seen from just about anywhere in the area. (141) In Romove, no ‘unconsecrated person’ was allowed to set foot in the forest where the sacred oak stood. (142)

There is also cause to believe that special clothing or at least ones best was worn to the blót feasts. An indication of this would come from the Icelandic word, blótklæði which means ‘garments worn at sacrifices.’ (143)

As mentioned before answering the call of nature on sacred ground was considered an act of desecration. It resulted in bloodshed on Helgafell. It was normal for an area to be provided for relieving oneself just off of Sacred Ground as was the case in Erybyggja Saga. (144) In fact, the desecrating of another persons sacred ground was used as a means of insult by some. (145)

Another interesting custom is mentioned by Grimm. “Whoever is engaged in a holy office, and stands in the presence and precincts of the god, must not stumble, and if he falls to the ground, he forfeits his privilege. So he who in holy combat sinks to the earth, may not set himself on his legs, but must finish the fight on his knees, Danske viser 1, 115;” (146) It is interesting to note that it was considered a bad omen if one’s horse stumbled. Erik the Red’s horse stumbled when he was riding down to the ship of his son, Leif Eriksson who was about to set sail on a trip in which he would discover America almost 500 years before Christopher Columbus set sail. Because his horse stumbled Erik considered a bad omen for the trip and did not go. Was the stumbling of a gothi or gythja considered a bad omen or the a sign that the gothi did not have the approval of the gods?

There were methods of marking off sacred space. These methods created the ‘sacred enclosure,’ such as the stone circles of the hörg. One method that was commonly used was board fences. (147) In Fridthjof’s Saga Baldershage, in which was the hall of the Dísir, was enclosed with “high wooden pales.” (148) In Kjalnesinga Saga the hof is described as having an enclosure which consisted of a fence. (149)

When reading various web sites that are concerned with Heathenism or books of the same, a statement that one might come across would be something similar to, “We do not bow before out gods like sheep but stand before them with honor.” While I think this statement indicates a general concept of what the gods and goddesses are to most Heathens, that is, honored kin and not unknowable beings to be cowered before, it is never the less not very accurate. In the afore mentioned Kjalnesinga Saga, it is Thorstein’s laying face down in front of the statue of Thorr that allows Búi to sneak up on him and smash his head against a rock. (150) Likewise, in Færeyinga Saga, we find Jarl Hákon throwing himself down and laying before the statue of Thorgerd Hördabrud, when asking for her help. (151) Grimm tells us that men bowed before the statue of Thorr as well. (152) So while the statement that we do not bow before our gods like sheep is true in the spirit of the word, it is not true in the letter of the word.
According to Grimm another tradition of respect shown while on sacred ground was the uncovering of one’s head. This is a well known custom in Christian churches and it would appear from Heathen harvest customs that Grimm quotes, we have, once again, a strongly possibility of another Heathen custom appropriated by the Christians. (153)
Images of the Gods

That there were images of the gods and goddesses is without doubt. Whether or not this was a late development is a matter of some debate. The earliest sources we have describe the practices of the Germans in Tacitus’ Germania. Here more than once Tacitus describes the views the Germans had on depicting the gods and goddesses. He tells us that they did not have any statues for the Alcis. (154) He goes further and says that not only did the Germans not depict their gods in statues they considered it unsuitable to show them in any human likeness. (155) They saw their gods as living in the grove itself, in the boughs of the trees. (156)

Toward the Viking Age this practice changes and the depicting of the gods in human form becomes more prevalent at the Viking Age comes to a close. The practice of the gods and goddesses being depicted in statues may have had an intermediate phase of a sort. Thórólf Mostrar-skeggr’s hof may have been an example of this. Of his temple it is said that one of his high seat pillars had the likeness of Thorr carved on it. This carving of the likeness of Thorr on pillars may have developed into the practice of having carved statues. (157)
Whether or not statues of the gods and goddesses was an early practice, it certainly was a late practice in the Viking Age. These images were called líkneski (‘likeness’) and skurð-goð (‘carved gods’ which may have been a title bestowed by Christians.) (158) It is likely they were mostly carved out of wood. In the saga of Olaf Tryggvasson two wooden men, which are thought to be statues of gods, are taken form the mound of Freyr. One was kept in Sweden while the other was transferred to Trondheim in Norway. (159) They would have been painted and possibly overlaid with gold and silver and even clothed. Because they were made of wood and also given the Christians’ zeal for destroying ‘idols’ we have very few examples of these that have survived. The few that have survived have been smaller versions that were carved in ivory or copper. (160)
In the lore there are quite a few examples of statues being mentioned. The image of Thorgerd Hördabrud which Jarl Hákon worshipped in a hof was in the image of a splendidly dressed woman who was ornamented with gold and silver as well as fine clothing. The image was said to have been as tall as a full-grown man and to have had a large gold ring on her arm and a hood for her head. The image was looted and destroyed by Olaf Tryggvasson. (161)

Adam of Bremen, in his description of the hof at Uppsala gives a description of the statues there which may or may not be legitimate. He describes three statues all made ‘totally out of gold.’ The three gods depicted are Thor and how has the middle and most esteemed position, and to the left and right of him are Wodan (Othinn) and Fricco (Freyr.) (162)

A practice mentioned the lore which there is very little explanation for was the anointing of the statues. Grimm theorizes that the dipping of images in a stream may have been part of some Heathen rite and it is possible that this was somehow connected with the anointing of statues. (163) In Fridthjof’s Saga the wives of the kings are said to be sitting near the fire and warming them while anointing them and wiping them with napkins. (164) What this anointing was for is unsure. It is noted though that this anointing or smearing with fat and then baking in the fire of the statues is always performed by women. (165) In the account from Fridthjof’s Saga, there are multiple images of gods and goddesses that are being ‘anointed’ by the wives of the kings there and one that is specifically mentioned is an image of Baldr which falls into the fire on account of Fridthjof’s outlaw actions.

More than any other god, an image of Thorr is most often mentioned. In Thrandheim there was said to be an image of Thorr in a wagon which could be pulled along. (Flateyjarbók I, 268:320) And in Thorr’s temple in Sweden there were said to be hammers which were used to imitate the sound of thunder. Magnus of Denmark removed these hammers in 1125. (166)
There usually was more than one statue in a hof, and many times specifically three are mentioned. (167) One of the statues usually occupied the central and most honored position and that position was almost always occupied by Thorr. Even in Sweden at the temple at Uppsala where Freyr was so venerated, it was Thorr that occupied the central position in the hof there, according to Adam of Bremen. Olaf Tryggvasson is said to have attacked and desecrated a temple in Rogaland that has Thorr as the central image as well. (168) It is interesting note that in Adam of Bremen’s description we find Othinn listed among the statues at Uppsala, (169) because this is the only reliable source of literature in which a statue of Othinn is mentioned. There was an image of Freyr at Thrandheim but there is some debate about the description from Droplaugarsona Saga that places Freyr and Thorr on a lower bench in the hof and Frigg and Freyja occupying the higher bench. (170)
Thor’s statue is mentioned more than any other by far. Adam of Bremen also relates an instance in Sweden in 1030 when an English missionary found a statue of Thorr standing at the assembly place (Thing.) He smashed it up with an axe and was at once put to death for it. The hof at Mærin in Thrandheim was said to have an image of Thorr that was adorned with gold and silver and that it was honored above all the other gods. The image was seated in a splendid chariot to which was harnessed to goats that were beautifully carved in wood. Both the cart (wagon) and the goats were on wheels and the cords attached to the goat’s horns were of silver. The statue of Thorr in the temple belonging to Jarl Hákon also was placed in a wagon which is described in Njál’s Saga. The image of Thorr in the Dales which was visited by King Olaf in 1021 was not in a wagon but had a hammer which was held by the statue. This statue was carried out during gatherings and had a special platform which it stood on during these gatherings and the statue was said to have no lack of gold and silver. (171)
There was also what are called the ‘goldgubber images.’ These tiny gold images depict two figures together, one male and one female which face each other, sometimes embracing or holding a leafy branch between them. They are usually found in sets and in house-sites, instead of graves or hofs. There is a lot of speculation as to what they represent. Some believe they depict Freyr and Gerthr and that they might be used for fertility and/or to bless marriages, perhaps the Vanir version of the laying of Thorr’s hammer on the brides lap to bless the marriage. They are also thought to have been used to bless a new home as well and in one instance at least, were found in the remains of a hof.

The Blót-Feast

The basic religious observance of pre-Christian and Viking Age Heathens was the blót-feast. The word blót is a noun and a verb (blóta – to sacrifice). As a noun it is translated as ‘sacrificial feast.’ (172) It was universally used to describe the method of worship used in Heathenry. (173) Simek says that the word originally meant ‘strengthen’ (the god) [his parenthesis.] (174) At the risk of contradicting a well known scholar, I would say that ‘strengthen,’ instead, referred to strengthening the ties between the Regin and mankind, in other words strengthening the ties of kinship that exist between the Regin and those who honor them. Davidson agrees with this when she says, “They met to renew their contract with the supernatural world, and to ensure good luck for the coming season, and this was something for the whole community to share in and not for selected guests.” (
175) Not only where these feasts a way of strengthening the bonds between man and gods but they were also a way of keeping the bonds of community and family strong. (176) This idea of the blót being a means of keeping the ties between family and between gods and man strong can be seen in the sayings of the High One.

“44 With presents friends should please each other, With a shield or a costly coat: Mutual giving makes for friendship So long as life goes well.

46 A man should be loyal through life to friends, And return gift for gift, Laugh when they laugh, but with lies repay A false foe who lies.

47 If you find a friend you fully trust And wish for his good will, Exchange thoughts, exchange gifts, Go often to his house.

113 If you know a friend you can fully trust, Go often to his house: Grass and brambles grow quickly Upon the untrodden track. (177)

The blót could easily be seen as a way of “going often to the house of the gods,” and as way of exchanging gifts with a friend whose good will you wish.

The blótar were a means of insuring the health and growth of the community. Davidson says, “In spite of occasional encircling walls, it is essential to see the sacred place as something not set apart from the ordinary secular world, but rather as providing a vital center for the needs of the community and for maintenance of a kingdom. It offered a means of communication with the Other World, and was regarded as a source of power, inspiration, healing and hidden knowledge. One or more deities might be revered in the shrine or cult place, and through them men might get in touch with the underworld or with the world of the sky. Law and order essential for the established community was centered in the holy place, and sanctuaries like Tara, Uppsala and Thingvellir might service as microcosm and map of the entire kingdom.” (178)

The main element was the sacrificial feast. The blót was held at which time the animal would be sacrificed. (179) It should be noted that the character of these animal sacrifices were very much different than other practices such as those done by middle eastern religions. The animal was eaten by those present at the blót feast, except for those parts dedicated to the gods which, from the lore, was most likely the head and skin and possibly certain organs. Also of great importance was the drinking of mead or ale. Food and ale/mead were hallowed to the gods and therefore in partaking in them each person was considered as sharing in the othr of the gods and goddesses. (180) These blót feasts were distinguished from normal banquets by the fact that the participants ate hallowed meat from the sacrificed animal and drank mead or ale in the honor of the gods and of ancestors. (181)

The evidence for these feasts are quite numerous. In the mid tenth century a Spanish Jew from Cordova describes the customs of the market town of Hedeby in Denmark. He relates that to the people there sacrificing and feasting went together ‘They hold a feast where all meet to honor their god and to eat and drink. Each man who slaughters an animal for sacrifice – ox, ram, goat or pig – fastens it to a pole outside the door of his house, to show that he had made his sacrifice in honor of the god.’ (182)

It is interesting that in most references to the great feasts there is nothing saying that the sacrifices were made to any particular god or goddess. Instead it is normally offered for peace, fertility, victory, the gods in general or for other similar reasons. At other times certain deities might be sacrificed to depending on the boon desired. Thorr was often sacrificed to for safe travel as well as in times of pestilence or famine. Othinn was sacrificed too in times of war. One example of this is in Fornmanna Sögur when a sacrifice is made to Othinn and two ravens croaked loudly after the sacrifice and this was seen as a good omen that Othinn had accepted the sacrifice. After this the Jarl burnt his ships, confident that his enterprise would be successful. (183) Freyr might be sacrificed to, for a wedding in order to bless it. Special occasions like the weddings, births, coronations and funerals, i.e all the major life tides, were also causes for the blót feast. (184) The Swedes sacrificed to Freyr for peace and plenty. The account of the Rus sacrifice on the island of St. Gregory was said to be for success in trading and although the sacrifice was left at the foot of an oak tree, we cannot say for sure which god or goddess it would have been intended for, although Thorr and Freyr would be possibilities. (185) In Hallfredar Saga there is an instance where the crew of a ship make a vow to sacrifice to Freyr if they got a fair wind to Sweden or to Thor and Othinn if they got a good wind to Iceland. (186) As we will see later when examining the feasts for particular Holy Nights, the major Holy Nights had definite purposes. (187)

Besides the regular blót feasts which were held at set times each year, times of famine, failure in crops, pestilence or similar events would necessitate the need of a sacrifice. (188) Blóts were also held to gain success in trade and battle. Ibn Fadlin gives an excellent account of a blót conducted by the Rus to insure success in trade.

‘When the ships come to this mooring place, everybody goes ashore with bread, meat, onions, milk and intoxicating drink and betakes himself to a long upright piece of wood that has a face like a man’s and is surrounded by little figures, behind which are long stakes in the ground. The Rus prostrates himself before the big carving and says, “O my Lord, I have come from a far land and have with me such and such a number of girls and such and such a number of sables”, and he proceeds to enumerate all his other wares. Then he says, “I have brought you these gifts,” and lays down what he has brought with him, and continues, “I wish that you would send me a merchant with many dinars and dirhems, who will buy from me whatever I wish and will not dispute anything I say.” Then he goes away.

If he has difficulty selling his wares and his stay is prolonged, he will return with a gift a second or third time. If he has still further difficulty, he will bring a gift to all the little idols and ask their intercession, saying, “These are the wives of our Lord and his daughters and sons.” And he addresses each idol in turn, asking intercession and praying humbly. Often the selling goes more easily and after selling out he says, “My Lord has satisfied my desires; I must repay him,” and he takes a certain number of sheep or cattle and slaughters them, gives part of the meat as alms, brings the rest and deposits it before the great idol and the little idols around it, and suspends the heads of the cattle or sheep on the stakes. In the night, dogs come and eat all, but the one who has made the offering says, “Truly, my Lord is content with me and has consumed the present I brought him.”‘ (189)

Ibn Fadlan’s accounts can be considered accurate for the most part because he was a man who was very interested in the customs of foreign people. (190) It was also common to hold sacrificial blóts in thanks of victory already obtained. Tacitus tells us of such an account in his Annals. After the defeat of Varus and three Roman legions, the leaders of the Romans were all sacrificed in thanks for victory. (191) We also have an account of a blót held every Oct. 1st by the Saxons which was celebrated to commemorate the victory of the Thuringians in 534 C. E. (192) Even though any of these reasons might be part of the purpose for the feast the main reason was always the strengthening of bonds between the Regin and man. (193)

The great blót feasts were also an occasion for consulting about the future. Divination was often performed at these feasts as was also the custom to be done at the inauguration of a king. The Scandinavian boar sacrifice mentioned in Ynglinga Saga was said to be associated with enquiring into the future. (194)

The methods used are described in some cases though not fully. Some methods were a chip or chips called the blótspan (sacrifice chip) or by lots. The blótspan was dipped in the sacrificial blood. These both were cast and read by the person doing the divination. There was also a method in which scales were involved. If the favorable scale went higher then it was considered a good omen. (195) Normally this divination was about things that would be of interest to the whole community such as how crops would do in the coming year and the health of the people of the community as a whole.

Blót Feast Descriptions

Some rather good descriptions of what the blót feast would have been like have survived in the literature. One description is in the Saga of Hakon the Good.

“It was an old custom, that when there was to be sacrifice all the bondes should come to the spot where the temple stood and bring with them all that they required while the festival of the sacrifice lasted. To this festival all the men brought ale with them; and all kinds of cattle, as well as horses, were slaughtered, and all the blood that came from them was called “hlaut”, and the vessels in which it was collected were called hlaut-vessels. Hlaut-staves were made, like sprinkling brushes, with which the whole of the altars and the temple walls, both outside and inside, were sprinkled over, and also the people were sprinkled with the blood; but the flesh was boiled into savory meat for those present. The fire was in the middle of the floor of the temple, and over it hung the kettles, and the full goblets were handed across the fire; and he who made the feast, and was a chief, blessed the full goblets, and all the meat of the sacrifice. And first Odin’s goblet was emptied for victory and power to his king; thereafter, Niord’s and Freyja’s goblets for peace and a good season. Then it was the custom of many to empty the brage-goblet ; and then the guests emptied a goblet to the memory of departed friends, called the remembrance goblet. Sigurd the earl was an open-handed man, who did what was very much celebrated; namely, he made a great sacrifice festival at Hlader of which he paid all the expenses.” (196)

As we can see here it was customary for those participating in the feast to help defray the cost by contributing to the things needed for the feast. In this case the generosity of the Jarl Sigurd is shown when he paid all the expenses. This description gives us a fairly good description of what went on that these feasts.

The feast, as would be logical, always followed the sacrificing of the animal. It is likely that this part of the blót feast was performed at some sacred site and that after the animal was sacrificed, those participating in the blót feast would retire to a hall or outdoor area specifically prepared for the feast. The meat was cooked in cauldrons which were placed on fire pits that ran down the center of the hall. On either side of the fire pits were tables and benches for the community to eat their meals on. At some point the person responsible for overseeing the feast, usually the Jarl or Chief, would hallow the mead or ale and it would passed out for the full (toast). These were horns were some times hallowed by handing them across the fire. There were initial toasts that were started off with normally but the toasting could go on indefinitely. The first was called Othinn’s Full (Othinn’s Toast) and was drank in his honor. It is also said that this first toast was Thorr’s Full for those who trusted in their own strength. The second toast was Njörth’s Full and Freyr’s Full. These two fulls were for prosperous seasons and peace. Next came the Braggi Full. These fulls were used to make oaths and boast of oaths completed. Then finally there was the Minni Full which was a full in honor of ancestors or friends who had passed to the other worlds. It was the person giving the feast, that is, the Jarl or Chief who called out the beginning of each of these fulls after which each person in the hall followed suit before the Jarl began the next full. (197) The description of this feast seems to mirror one held in the halls of Aegir, the Sea-Giant, in which the Regin were in attendance.

Of old the gods made feast together

And drink they sought ere sated they were;

Twigs they shook, and blood they tried:

Rich fare in Ægir’s hall they found. (198)

The third line of this strophe seems to be referring to the hlautbolli and the hlautteinn used in collecting and sprinkling the sacrificial blood.

So as mentioned the animal sacrifice of Heathens, unlike the sacrifices of other cultures, was in the form of a sacred feast. Except for certain parts, the animals was eaten by those assembled for the feast. (199) This feast was considered to be shared with the gods and goddesses. Especially the sacrificial blood (hlaut) was considered as belonging to the gods and it was used to hallow all those present. (200) That the people actually ate the meat, as opposed to it being burned up is born out in many sources. (201)

This meat was normally cooked in a cauldron, most likely in the fire pits that ran most of the length of the hall and on either side of which were those feasting. That the meat was boiled and not roasted seems to be the case. In every example I could find it is stated specifically that it was boiled in cauldrons as opposed to being roasted on a spit. Grimm correctly believed that this tradition with the cauldron could very well be where the stereotype of the witch with the boiling cauldron originated from. (202) This is not hard to see given the Christian penchant for depicting all Heathen practices as ‘devil worship.’ The cauldron shows up in other sources as well. In a Norwegian Saga the Trolds have a copper kettle and Christians believed in a large cauldron in Hell. (203) We also find in the poem from the Poetic Edda, Hymskvitha that the meat of bulls was boiled in a cauldron. (204) Davidson also confirms the use of cauldrons in boiling meat as well. (205)

Cauldrons were also used to make the mead and hold the mead at the feasts. The Eddic poem Hymskvitha tells of Thorr’s journey to obtain the great cauldron of Hymir in which ale was brewed. (206) At the feasts there was a second cauldron in addition to the ones that the meat was boiled in. This second cauldron was for the ale or mead of the feast. (207) We see ale being brewed in a great cauldron in Hymskvitha as well. (208)

There is also evidence that cauldrons were consecrated to the gods from Old Norse proper names such as Asketill and Thorketill (abbrev. Thorkel) and the Anglo-Saxon Oscytel. (209) Cauldrons were also found in graves along with more fragile ones that hold ale. One found at Sutton Hoo was big enough to hold a sheep. (210)

Although the feasts were sacred in nature, it was no somber-faced affair as you would see in Churches on Sunday morning. It is logical to assume that the blót before the feast, where the animal was sacrificed was a very somber affair. If, as is my speculation, that this blót was performed at a sacred site different from the hof (hall) where the feast was held, we could very easily see this part of the Blót-Feast as being a very respectful affair. In any case though, by the time the feast began it was a time of joy and celebration. Just as the ties between and god and man were being strengthened and celebrated so where the ties between family and community. The feasts connected with the worship of Nerthus which is described by Tacitus show us a community celebrating with great joy. (211) Davidson agrees with this view as well when she says, “In the regular feasts in honor of the gods the atmosphere was apparently one of hospitality and enjoyment; everything that can be discovered about the celebrations at Skedemosse in the period before the Viking Age, for instance, suggests that a good time was had by all, and that the torch-lit feasting and throwing of offerings into the water must have been a memorable experience.” – (212)

There were special activities during blót-feasts. From Gregory’s dialogues and from the account of Adam of Bremen there was playing and singing. (213) In Fornmanna Sögur (VI, 99) Harld Hardradi of Norway arranged for the telling of a saga that would last for the entire Yule feast. This tradition lasted into Christian time and was appropriated by the Christians for their festivals. (214) There might also be games and contests (215) such as sports contests, racing, and wrestling to name only a few. (216) So it is easy to see that the great feasts were times of celebration and fellowship between the family and community.

Some scholars believe that once a feast had started strangers were barred from participating. (217) As the Norse were renowned for their hospitality this is something that is hard to accept. One example used to put forth this idea is that of Sigvat, the Christian skald. On a mission for the Christian king of Norway, he was traveling through Sweden. In late autumn he was turned away from more than one farm (hof) because they were holding the Álfablót. This was, however, more likely to been because Sigvat was a Christian than to have been because he was a stranger coming late. He was turned away ‘as if he were a wolf.’ One of the hofkonar (farm-wives) was said to have said that she feared the anger of Othinn should she let him in. (218) From this evidence it seems more likely that it was the Christian that was not welcome as opposed to the late-coming stranger. Earlier in the Viking Age before Christianity had been able to get a foothold Christians were expected to attend the blót-feasts whether or not they wanted to or not as was the case with the Langobards. (219) Others instead allowed the Christians to pay a fine if they did not attend.


The procession is an event that takes place before the blót-feast and may be a custom specifically connected with Vanir worship. We have more than few descriptions of these processions and in nearly every case it is a Vanir god or goddess that is being honored. The oldest account we have is from Tacitus which scholars believe to be describing a procession that is in honor of Nerthus (Herthum), the Earth Mother. A wagon drawn by two oxen made its way throughout the land and wherever it came it was welcomed with great delight and celebration. Weapons were put aside and the people feasted for days. (220) The wagon was so integral to the processions of the Vanir that they are some times called Wanes which is the Anglo-Saxon word meaning “wagon.”

Two delicately made wagons were found in a peat bog that are dated to about the same time as Tacitus was writing his descriptions in Germania. They were found dismantled in a peat bog in Dejbjorg Denmark. They were made of wood and decorated with sheet bronze. Another decorated wagon was found in the Oseberg ship find which was buried in the late ninth century. It was carved with elaborately carved scenes with human and animal figures and because of the style is thought to be a copy of a much earlier version. (221) The ship burial at Oseberg is thought to possibly have been the burial of a Vanir gythja (priestess). The reason for this is because of the beautifully decorated wagon and the corn, apples and nuts that were found in the ship. Davidson says that the ship was admirably suited to take a priestess up and down the coast from one settlement to the other on a course of visits like those made by Nerthus in Denmark. (222)

There was also a procession much like the one described of Nerthus that was in honor of Freyr. In the Flateyjarbók there is a tale that is attached to the Saga of Olaf Tryggvasson in which Gunnar poses as the god Freyr and dupes the trusting Swedes bilking them of many gifts and their gythja who was called the wife of Freyr, until Olaf finally calls him back to Norway. It is obvious from the account that the writer intended to show the folly of Heathen worship. Despite this, it is probable that the tradition of the statue of Freyr being carried in a wagon which made processions is one that is based on actual practices in Sweden as it was the whole basis of the jest. (223) In this account the people flocked to the wagon and brought their offerings and celebrated with feasts in the same manner as is described for Nerthus by Tacitus. (224)

Other processions may have been common with other deities and with sacred objects. Grimm states that the carrying out of divine images was an essential feature of Heathen cults in general. Grimm mentions an account of an unknown Gothic god that rode in a wagon. In folklore Dame Holda and Berhta make processions in wagons during midwinter. And there is Deitrich which Grimm theorizes is based on an earlier legend concerning Freyr who rides a golden boar in a procession and there is the heroes banquet in which the boar is led around the benches in a procession, albeit a short one. (225)

Grimm also theorizes that the practice of carrying images of the Madonna and images of the saints in processions during times of drought, bad crops, pestilence or war was most likely a borrowing of Heathen practices. These processions were thought to bring back rain, the fertility of the soil, etc., and Grimm says that they were even carried to help put out fires. (226)

Grimm states that incense-offerings were not used by Heathens and is a Christian addition. (227) But then he goes on to say, in descriptions of Midsummer traditions that Heathens were said to throw all manners of herbs into the fires. I would submit that since more than few herbs are used as incense and that this practice points to the distinct possibility that incense were in fact used by Heathens. As we shall see when I deal with the types of offerings that were made, there were quite a few possibilities for offerings and many times it depended on the means each person, as to what they offered. Incense may have been one of these offerings.

Freya ValhallaThe Full

I would like to hear examine the Full with a little more detail. In Old Norse the word ‘full’ means ‘a toast’ (228), usually in honor of the gods and goddesses or ancestors. The full was a symbol of that of that agreement that ended the war between the Aesir and Vanir which has never been broken. Each time we raise the horn to honor both Aesir and Vanir we honor that agreement. (229)

As we saw in the descriptions of the blót feast the rounds of full had a set pattern. The first full going to either Othinn or Thorr, the next going to Njorthr and Freyr, next was the Braggi-Full which oaths and boasts were made [Katia inserts: Note the word “brag” comes from Braggi’s name] and finally the Minni-Full (memory toast) for ancestors and friends who have passed over. Specifically it was said that these were drank to ‘kinsmen who lay in barrows (graves).” (230) This same formula is virtually repeated in Kákonar Saga goða when Jarl Sigurd drinks to Othinn for power and victory, Njörth and Freyr for peace and good seasons and to the dead ancestors. (231) These fullar were always drank with hallowed mead or ale. The full was drank in honor of other gods and goddesses than those already mentioned. Freya is mentioned as having a full drank in honor of her.  This [toasting] practice was one that was continued by the Christians when they drank the full in honor of Christ, Mary and St. Michael as was done by Olaf in Fornm Sögur. In the same saga it is demanded of Olaf later on that he drink the full in honor of Thorr, Othinn and the other Ases (gods). (232) [Katia inserts: Ases is pronounced Aces, and our word Aces comes from this old word for “gods”]

A major part of the full was the Braggi-full. During this full one would either make an oath to accomplish some deed or relate how they had completed an oath that had been sworn at a previous blót-feast. In Hervarar Saga such an oath is made (233) and there was also a Braggi-full oath involved in the coronation of a new king. In Ynglinga Saga we have one such oath described. It is said there that it was the custom of the one who was heir to the throne to throw an heir-ship feast. At this feast he would sit on a footstool in front of the high-seat until the full bowl (cauldron?) was brought in and was then to take the Braggi-horn and make solemn vows that he would fulfill. After that he would ascend to the high seat and officially take the kingship. It is related that King Ingjald stood up and grasped a large bull’s horn and made a vow to expand his kingdom in all four directions. He then took the horn and pointed it to the four quarters. (234)

As is possibly indicated from chapter 40 of Ynglinga saga it seems that the ale or mead that was drank came from a hallowed cauldron. The Suevic cupa which was filled with beer was a hallowed sacrificial cauldron as was the one which the Cimbri sent to emperor Augustus. (235) Large cauldrons have been found in Germanic graves. (236)

That the cauldron was a genuine tradition can be shown in what I call “Christian Propaganda.” These are tales told that illustrate the power of Christian priests and clerics over Heathen gods. One such example is in the Life of St. Columabanus, which is a Latin work written in the seventh century. In this tale the saint comes to the Alamanni in Switzerland. there he sees a group of men clustered around a huge vessel they called cupa, which was surely a cauldron. It held about 20 measures of beer. When the saint asked the men what they were doing, they replied that they were offering the beer to Wodan. The saint was said to approach the cauldron and blew on it which caused it to shatter and all the beer was lost. Another similar story is found in a tale of St. Verdrastus. He accompanied the Frankish king, Chlothar to a blót feast. This was in the early days of the Christian conversion so Heathen rites were still very much practiced. At this feast allowances were made for Christians. There were two cauldrons set up, one for Christians and one for Heathens that had been prepared according to their customs. Seeing this Vedrastus made the sigh of the cross over the Heathen cauldron and it burst and many were said to be converted by his show of power. (237) Now it is obvious that these stories are nothing more than Christian propaganda but they do show that the practice of ale, beer or mead in a sacred cauldron at blót feasts was a genuine Heathen practice. Otherwise the Christians would not have singled out this practice for their propaganda.

Davidson says that Celts and Germanics alike had tales that emphasize the importance of the great cauldron for holding mead or ale in the other world. (238) We see this in the Eddic poems Lokasenna and in Hymskvitha.

3. “The word-wielder toil for the giant worked,

And so revenge on the gods he sought;

He bade Sif’s mate the kettle bring:

“Therein for ye all much ale shall I brew.” (239)

5. “There dwells to the east of Elivagar

Hymir the wise at the end of heaven;

A kettle my father fierce doth own,

A mighty vessel a mile in depth.” (240)

Thorr with horn

This lay is the story of how Thorr brings back the massive cauldron of Hymir. It was only this cauldron that was large enough for Aegir to brew enough mead for the feasting gods and goddesses.

The importance of hallowing the ale or mead for the full is shown in many places in the lore. One way this was done was by passing the horn of mead over or around a fire. The hallowing of the mead with fire seems to have been an essential part of the full. (241) Other sources show that the drink was hallowed by the Jarl of the feast before the drinks were passed out. (242) It is also possible that the drink was hallowed by virtue of being in a hallowed cauldron. (243) What ever the method of hallowing the mead was, we do know for sure that it was considered important to hallow the mead or ale before drinking.

The custom of using a bulls horn to drink the full with is one that is undoubtedly an ancient one. One of the first mentions of it comes from Caesar in his Gallic Wars. He says that the Germans put great value on the horns of the auroch. He describes them with rims of silver and always used at their great feasts. (244) These horns were still used at the end of the Viking Age. These were used in Norwegian courts until the eleventh century when Olaf the Quiet replaced them with ‘cups which could be filled at table.’ A beautiful pair of gold drinking horns of Germanic workmanship was discovered near Gallehus in North Schleswig in the eighteenth century. These horns date from the fifth century and one of them was inscribed with runes. They were used in the kings court until they were stolen by a thief who melted them down before he was caught. There was a series of rings that decorated these horns and these rings were decorated with scenes of dancing and sporting events. There were also men with animal heads, a three headed giant and horses and there is a woman shown carrying a horn. Scholars theorize that these horns were meant to be used at seasonal rites. (245) Another pair of horns dated from the seventh century were found at the ship grave in Sutton Hoo and these were finely decorated with silver-gilted rims and tips. (246)

There were also legendary horns. There was one called Grim the Good that had a man’s head on the tip and was said to speak and be able to foretell the future. (247) The giving of the name Grim to horns would connect them to Othinn of whom the brewing of ale and mead was associated with. (248)

There are many depictions of a female figure carrying a horn and this could be an indication that the bearing of the horn of mead might have been traditionally done by a woman and this position might have been one of honor. This is possibly a mirroring of Othinn’s Valkyries who carry the horns of mead to the einherjar in Vallhöll. This image is seen on a number of stones from the Viking Age that were set up as memorials. There were amulets of these mead horn carrying women as well. One example was on an amulet found in Sweden in the cemetery in Birka. The same woman appears on carved stones from tenth century England. And as we noted above the fifth century Gallehus horn has an image of this woman as well. (249)

As they did with so many other aspects of the Heathen faith the Christians took the full and adapted it for their own use. In early Christian Norway, there was a law that encouraged the brewing of ale for certain festivals such as All Hallowmas and Christmas. The ale at these feasts was to be consecrated to Christ and Mary for peace and plenty, in the same way it had been dedicated to Njörthr and Freyr for the same reasons previously. To fail to do so meant the person committing the infraction had to pay a fine to the bishop. Instead of drinking the full to the Heathen gods and goddesses and departed ancestors they instead drank to Christ, Mary, St. Martin, St. Olaf and other saints as well as the Holy Ghost. The substituting of Christ, Mary and the saints for the Heathen gods and goddesses and departed ancestors for the full was suggested to Olaf Tryggvasson in dream by St. Martin. This practice was observed as late as the seventeenth century at wedding feasts in Iceland. (250) There was also a Christian custom called St. John’s mine which was a toast in memory of St. John. (251) As the full was such a strong part of Heathen tradition it is not hard to see that these later Christian customs have their roots in the Heathen practice.

The minni-full (memory toast) is a practice that has continued to this day and the modern custom of the toast has it roots in this Heathen custom. Grimm says that, “At Othergen a village of Hildesheim, on Dec. 27 every year a chalice of wine is hallowed by the priest, and handed to the congregation in the church to drink as Johannis segen (blessing); it is not done in any of the neighboring places. In Sweden and Norway we find at Candlemas a dricka eldborgs skål, drinking a toast.” (252) It is also obvious that the practice of drinking to the saints at medieval guild-feasts in Scandinavia had their roots in the full as well. (253) The Gothland Karin’s Guild drank to Christ, St. Catharine and Our Lady, while the Swedish Eric’s Guild to St. Eric, Our Saviour and Our Lady. At the funeral of Harald of Denmark who had been converted to Christianity, the full was drank in honor of Christ, St. Michael and to the memory of the dead king. (254)

The Solemn Oath

Since we know that drinking of the full many times included the taking of an oath, I think it would be good to, here, take a look at the oath. The oath was normally sworn on an object. Many times this object was the oath ring and this oath ring was a sacred item in the hof. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle gives an example of the oath ring being used by the Danes (255) in 876 and there is an account of a ring called Thor’s ring on which oaths were sworn. Thor presided over the Assembly, which opened on Thursday (Thor’s Day) in Iceland. (256) In Eyrbyggja Saga the oath ring was described as being 20 ounces of silver. When not in use it lay on the stalli and during feasts the gothi wore it on his arm. (257) In the description of Thórólf’s hof in Iceland, the ring is described as being 2 ounces and was worn on the finger of the gothi during all assemblies. Like the description in Eyrbyggja Saga, this ring laid on the stalli of the hof when not in use. (258)

In Landnámabók we have a very good description of the oath ring and its use. It was to be at least two ounces or more and when not in use it would lay on the stalli. As in the previous examples it was to be worn by the hof-gothi at all assemblies and here we find out that it was to be reddened by blood from the sacrificial animal before hand. Here also we find the basis for the modern practice of taking an oath on the Christian Bible in courts of law for every man who had a case in the Thing (law assembly) was required to swear an oath on this ring and name two witnesses. The oath was worded thusly: “I name [the two witnesses] witnesses herein, that I take an oath on the ring, a lawful oath, —so help me Frey and Njörd and the Almighty Ás (Othinn), as I shall pursue (or defend) this suit, or bear witness, or give verdict or judgment, according to what I know to be most right and true and in accordance with the law.” The example we have in Víga-Glúms Saga agrees very closely with this account. The man taking the oath was to take it on a silver ring not less than three ounces that had been dipped in the blood of a sacrificed ox. Glúm used the following words to swear his oath: “I take a temple-oath on the ring, and I say to the god,’ etc. ” Freyr and Njörth are not used in this oath, instead only ‘the god’ is mentioned. (259) The above examples that list the ring as being 2 ounces may be a mistranslation. For examples the description given in Eyrbyggja Saga listed above gives the ring as being 2 ounces. The actual text for this is 20 eyrar which Davidson says is about 550 grams or roughly 17.5 ounces. This would be a more logical weight for a ring that was worn on the arm. (260)

While rings were mentioned many times as the object on which oaths were sworn, there were others. According to Grimm oaths were sworn by the river Leiptr. (261) As we saw in the section dealing with the full, oaths were sworn over the horn of mead and there are also examples of oaths being sworn on a boar during Yule and on sacred stones.


We know without doubt that Thorr’s hammer was used in hallowing. As it can be shown that the Christian practice of the sign of the cross did not come into being until they began to make in roads into Northern Europe and therefore was most likely yet another Christian adaptation of a Heathen custom, and coupled with other literary evidence, we have good cause to believe that the sign of the hammer was a genuine Heathen practice used for hallowing. Grimm supports this when he says, “As the North made the sign of Thor’s hammer, christians used the cross for the blessing (segnung) of the cup; conf. poculum signare, Walthar. 225, precisely the Norse signa full. (262) Davidson likewise agrees when she says, “The popularity of the hammer sign and the uses it was put to in the Viking Age indicate the strength of the cult of Thor in Norway and Iceland <<(Fig. 28)>>. It was used to mark boundary-stones, was raised over a new-born child as a mark of its acceptance in the community, and according to the poem Thrymskviða was brought in at weddings to hallow the bride, and laid on her lap. It was also depicted on memorial stones for the dead, to whom Thor’s protection extended, while the conception of the hammer restoring the dead to life is found in the myth of Thor raising his goats to life after they had been killed and eaten.” (263) This is described in Gylfaginning 44. After having eaten his goats, he takes the skins of the goats and lays the bones on them and, with his hammer, hallows them and brings them back to life. (264) The sign of the hammer was also used at burials to hallow the dead and the burial ground. (265) In the Prose Edda, Gylfaginning 49, Thor hallows the funeral pyre of his Brother Baldr with his hammer. (266) In the saga of Hakon the Good we have what could be the description of the sign of the hammer being made over mead. Here, Jarl Sigurd is hosting a feast in which the Christianized King Hakon attends. Sigurd spoke some words over a horn of mead and blessed it in Othinn’s name and then passed it to Hakon. Hakon took the mead and made the sign of the cross over it. When asked what the king had done, Sigurd explains it as the king making the sign of the hammer over it as all do who trust in their own power and strength. (267) There is a lot of debate about whether or not this is an example of a genuine Heathen practice being depicted but I think that, at the very least, we must admit that it is a strong possibility. What we can say without doubt is that Thorr’s hammer was used for hallowing and the making of a sign to represent it in the absence of having a hammer is not only likely, but completely within reason.

The concept of divine implements is one that was a strong tradition in Scandinavian lore. (268) The mirroring of the practices of the gods was a practice that can be seen in many areas. The law assembly of the Thing was itself modeled after the council of the gods. (269) So we can see, from the examples of Thorr’s use of Mjollnir in hallowing how this would have become a tradition among Heathens.

Thorr himself was called upon to hallow as well. The inscription on the Danish Glavenstrup Stone which was carved circa 900-925 C. E. calls on Thorr to hallow the runes. (270) Thorr’s hammer was also often depicted on stones and was used as an amulet. In Landnámabók Einarr Thorgerisson, an Orkney migrant, marked his new territory with an ax, which symbolized Thorr, an eagle symbolizing Othinn and a cross. (271)

Just as the cross was and is considered the symbol of Christianity so was Thorr’s Hammer considered a symbol of Heathenism. (272) The hammer has been found in many late pagan amulets and inscriptions point to its use as the Heathen answer to the cross. A tenth century die shows that a metal smith was ready to cast either crosses or hammers depending on the buyers religion. (273) The hammer is found represented on many stones as well. These depictions on stones were found especially in Sweden. (274)

Hallowing was also done with fire. When talking of the full we found that the full horns were some times hallowed by handing them across or around fires before the full was drank. (275) Fire was also used to mark boundaries and Davidson believes this rite was connected with Thorr who guarded boundaries and because of lightning’s ability to start fires. Thórólf Mostar-skeggr marked the boundaries of his land by walking around them with a torch in hand when arriving in Iceland. (276) It is interesting to note that the Old Norse word for fire is eldr and the word for lightning is elding. (277)

Facing North

When engaged in sacred activities there was one direction that Heathens faced and that was North. They looked Northward when praying, and sacrificing. (278) Instead of taking this practice and converting it for their own use, like they did for so many other things, the Christians looked upon the North quarter as the ‘unblessed quarter.’ It was also unlucky to make a throw in the northern direction. (279) We know also that most Heathen graves were oriented in a northern direction and that Christian graves were oriented in an Eastern direction. At the abrenuntiatio, which many Heathens were forced to take in order to renounce their Heathen beliefs they were instructed to face west when renouncing the Heathen gods and goddesses and then to face east when accepting the one god and Christ. (280)


The types of offerings made by Heathens were varied. I’ll talk later about animal sacrifices in more detail but for now I would like to concentrate on other types of offerings that were made. Two places of offering that have been extensively excavated are Skledmosse and Käringsjön in Sweden. Besides animal sacrifices and offerings of weapons there are other offerings as well. Gold rings and various other ornaments have been found there. (281) There doesn’t seem to be any set rules for what was offered judging from the variety of things found at sites. There were ships and boats left as votive offerings, presumably to Freyr or Njörth and also food, cloth and other ornaments that might indicate offerings made specifically by women. (282) 100 tiny golden miniature boats where found in a moor near Nors in Jutland and these were presumed to be offerings for safe journeys. Deliberately broken weapons were found in Danish moors and there were also gifts of food and domestic implements. (283) Grimm also gives examples of fruit, grains and nuts being used as offerings. (284)

One practice in offerings that seems to have been very wide spread is the throwing of offerings into lakes or bogs. One of the larger bog finds is at Thorsbjerg in Denmark. Here there were gold rings, personal possessions, pottery, textiles and wooden objects. The wide range of objects suggests that these were family and/or community offerings and that women participated in the offerings as well. Gregory of Tours tells of a lake in the territory of Gabalitani where similar offerings were made. He says, ‘Into this lake the country people used to throw, at an appointed time, linen cloths and pieces of material used in male attire, as a firstling sacrifice to this lake. Some threw in woolen fleeces and many also pieces of cheese, wax and thread and various spices, which would take too long to numerate, each according to his ability. They also used to come with carts, brought with them food and drink, slaughtered animals for the sacrifice and feasted for three days.’ (285) This account tells us an important feature of the offerings, that is, that the person gave offerings that were accordance with their ability. We might be able to take from this that what a person gave was not so important as what those things given meant to that person. While someone who was less prosperous might give some cheese and this might be, to them, a valuable offering, for the wealthy Jarl this offering would almost be considered an insult to the gods because the Jarl would be capable of offering more. The main period in which these offerings were made, according to Davidson was from the 3rd century C. E. to the 6th century C. E. (286)

Whether these bog/lake offerings were made to landvættir (land spirits) or to gods and goddesses is not certain. Accounts to survive of offerings being made to landvættir in lakes, water falls and other bodies of water. Grimm cites various practices of offerings to water spirits and more especially to whirlpools which black lambs or goats were offered to. (287) The destroyed weapons and armor seem to point to thank offerings made in thanks of victory in battle and it is quite possible that these offerings might be made to at times to landvættir, and other times to the gods and goddesses.

There are descriptions in the lore about the offerings made to specific deities and beings. For instance in Fridthjof’s Saga we find that when Fridthjof and his crew fear that their ship is about to capsize in a storm, Fridthjof passes out gold to each of the crew so that they will have something to offer to Ran when they fare to her halls (drown). (288) Offerings of a bull were made to the Alfs (Elves) so that they would aid in healing. (289) Offerings were made to the mounds of dead rulers so that there good influence on the land would continue. This is connected with the Scandinavian belief that the prosperity of the land and its people was directly connected to the chief or king. Anyone who has seen the movie Excalibur would have seen this same concept depicted there with King Author. (290) Likewise gifts were offered at Freyr’s mound in Sweden so that he might continue to exercise his good influence on the land. (291) Another well documented tradition is the leaving of food for house spirits. At banquets and on Holy days it was customary to set aside a portion of the meal for the house spirits and before taking the first drink the drinker would pour some of it in a bowl for the house spirits or the gods. The Lituanians would spill some of it on the ground for their earth goddess. There was a Christian practice that most likely is Heathen in origin, in which travelers would vow to offer a silver ship to their church upon return from their trip so that the trip would be without trouble. (292) Another well attested custom was the offering of food and other items to dead ancestors at their grave mounds. Archaeological evidence in Finland and in Sweden support this. (293)

When a person made an offering the deities the offering was made to might send an omen to show the person making that offering that their offering had been accepted. In the Saga of Olaf Tryggvasson Jarl Hakon makes a sacrifice to Othinn. He saw two ravens flying, both of them croaking loudly. He took this as a good omen that Othinn had accepted his sacrifice and set fire to his ships and moved inland, eventually meeting Earl Ottar in battle, whom he defeated. (294) Before leaving his land, Thorkell sacrificed a bull to Freyr asking that Freyr might drive his enemy Glúmr out of the land as well. When Orkell asked for a sign that the sacrifice was accepted the ox bellowed loudly and died. Thorkell took this as an omen that Freyr had accepted his offering. (295)

Various food items were offered to the gods and to the landvættir. In an instance mentioned earlier we saw that cheese was offered. Animal sacrifices is the most often mentioned offering but those with less means offered fruit, flowers, milk or honey. (296) Offerings of four loaves of bread were made daily to a statue of Thor at Hundsthorp in Gudbrandsdal. (297) Offerings of meat baked in the shape of idols were made as well according to Grimm. Baked bread in the shape of animals was offered as well and this practice continued long into the Christian conversion. (298) One such tradition is still performed in some parts of Sweden up to this day. It is traditional to bake cookies and bread in the shape of a boar during Yule and in France on New Year’s Day. (299) In the Swedish custom cakes in the shape of a boar are baked on Yule-eve. A superstition of Gelderland is most likely a later variation on a Heathen tradition concerning Freyr. On Christmas-eve Night a hero called Derrick (Derk) goes around riding on a boar. The people are careful to get all their implements of husbandry in doors lest the boar trample them and make them unfit for use. (300)

It was also customary to offer the gods and goddesses the first portion of the meal, drink or harvest. (301) At feasts, the appointed portions was set before the gods and only then was the rest cut up and cooked for those assembled at the feast. In this way the people considered that they were partaking in the meal with the gods. (302) Many of these traditions have survived to this day (the beginning of the 20th century) according to Grimm. When the husbandman cuts corn, he leaves a clump of ears standing for the god who blessed the harvest, and it is adorned with ribbons. When gathering fruit in Holstein, five or six apples are left hanging on each tree and it is because of this that the next crop will thrive. (303)

Another form of offering was the oath. An oath to perform some action might be uttered as an offering to the Regin or the landvættir. During a severe winter the people of Reykdal agree to all take oaths so that they can obtain better weather. These vows were to give gifts to the hof. (304) When Hallfred Vandræðaskald, who was a Heathen, wanted to get away from Norway and Olaf Tryggvasson, he and his crew agreed to make oaths to the gods so that they could get fair winds to any Heathen country. They promised three barrels of ale to Freyr if they got a wind to Sweden, or to Thor and Othinn if they came back to Iceland. The meaning of this was that they would hold a feast for which ever god aided them. (305) During Yule oaths were made during the sónarblót (boar-sacrifice) on the sónargöltr (sacrificial boar). (306) (307) The boar itself seems to have been sacrificed to Freyr quite often and was sacred to him. Both Freyr and Freyja are said to have golden boars. (308)


Prayers to the Regin seems to have been a common practice among Heathens. One of the gods prayed to most often, judging from the literature was Thorr. Thorr was called on for protection during voyages. Even those who had converted to Christianity trusted Thorr more than Christ when it came to long voyages, as is seen in the account in Landnámabók, of Helgi the Lean, who was a Christian. Despite this, when he had to go on a sea voyage or make a difficult decision or any matter he considered of great importance it was Thorr he called on. (309) It was Thorr that was called on during draught as well. When rain was needed prayers to Thorr were given.

The gods were normally consulted on major decisions. Besides Thorr, Freyr was another god that received prayers quite often. It was thought Freyr would send visions to those who had his favor and called on him. (310) Jarl Hákon offered many a prayer to Thorgerd Hörgabrúð. It was only when these prayers were accompanied by tears and a silver ring that she listened. (311)

Animal Sacrifices

Animal sacrifices were an important part of Heathen religious practices. It is also one that is misunderstood by quite a few people. This occurs because when people think of animal sacrifices they most often think of middle eastern practices or practices from other cultures. In its most mundane and practical sense, the animal sacrifice of our ancestors was no different than going to your butcher for some prime cuts of ribs for a 4th of July cookout. The animal sacrifices of the Heathen had sacred qualities of course, but unlike some cultures where the animal is burnt to ashes, the animals sacrificed by Heathens were eaten in the sacrificial feasts. The whole community/family shared in the meal and the eating of it was considered sharing a meal with the gods and goddesses. (312)

Examples of animal sacrifices abound in the lore. In Denmark there was said to be a great sacrifice every nine years in the month of January that consisted of ninety-nine human sacrifices and ninety-nine horses, dogs and cocks. This account comes from Thietmar’s chronicle (313) and like the one given by Adam of Bremen when he described the great sacrifice at Uppsala, it is considered to be an invention of legend, (314) and is likely an exaggeration. We know that dogs were not sacrificed normally as only animals that were eaten by man were sacrificed and dogs were not normally eaten by Northern Europeans.

Though various things could be offered to the gods and goddesses, the offering of blood sacrifices and the life force that used that blood as a vehicle of existence were considered to be stronger offerings. These sacrifices would normally be thank offerings but might also be offerings made when asking for help from the Regin. (315) In Íselendinga Sögur the victor of a duel sacrifices a bull with the same weapon he won the duel with.

As with other types of sacrifices the first part of the sacrifice belonged to the gods. This was the blood and certain parts of the animal, like the head, hide, liver, heart and tongue. As mentioned before this was common no matter what the offering was, whether animal or crops. I would like to here quote Grimm on this as it bears repeating. “At the same time these sacrifices appear to be also banquets; an appointed portion of the slaughtered beast is placed before the god, the rest is cut up, distributed and consumed in the assembly. The people thus became partakers in the holy offering, and the god is regarded as feasting with them at their meal . At great sacrifices the kings were expected to taste each kind of food, and down to late times the house-spirits and dwarfs had their portion set aside for them by the superstitious people.” (316)

There is also evidence to believe that only male animals were sacrificed. According to Grimm this was the case in more than one account given in the literature. (317)

Another strong tradition that appears in many sources is the hanging of carcasses/skins of animals either on poles or in trees. I believe what eye witnesses saw as carcasses were actually the head and skin of an animal that was sacrificed. These heads and hides of the animals were many times, hung in the limbs of sacred trees or in the limbs of trees in sacred groves. (318) A traveler in Denmark in the Viking Age described how he saw cattle hanging up outside the house in which sacrifices had been made. Davidson agrees that this was most likely only the hide with the head, horns and hooves attached, as the meat would have been eaten at the sacrifice. According to Davidson this was a practice that could be traced back to very early times in Northern Europe and that it was kept up until recent times by some of the people of the Steppe. In 1805 the hides of horned creatures were given to the church in one remote district in Sweden until a bishop objected because he thought (rightly so) that it looked too much like a Heathen custom. (319) The account of the great sacrifice at Uppsala given by Adam of Bremen also states that it was carcasses that were hung in the trees of the sacred grove that was next to the hof but here again it was probably the case of an outsider seeing hides with hooves and head still connected mistaking them for carcasses. (320) Grimm confirms that the head was not eaten but instead consecrated to the gods. He also confirms that it was the head and hide of the animal and not the carcass (321), that were hung on the limbs of sacred trees. (322) It is likely from accounts such as those from a Traveler’s account of the Viking city of Hedeby that if a sacred tree was not available that the hides were hung on poles. In Hedeby the carcasses of the animals killed for sacrifice were hung on poles outside the house where the ritual was taking place. Here again it is more likely that what is being described is the hooves, head and hide of the animal. (323) On the sacred oak in Romove the Prussians would hang clothing on the limbs. (324) Does this indicate that the tradition of hanging offerings in the limbs of trees was one that was used for other offerings besides animals?

The animals that were sacrificed might be sometimes chosen by lot. In the account of the Rus Traders who sailed the Dnieper, we are told that they chose the cocks they would sacrifice by choosing lots. The lots decided which would be sacrificed, which would be eaten and which would be kept alive. (325) Using lots in this fashion was seen as letting the gods decide which should be sacrificed, for it was they who controlled the outcome of the drawing of lots. (326) Another method which some scholars believed may have been used were the horse fights and horse races that were said to have been held at the great feasts. (327) It is thought that the fights and races would decide which animal would be kept for breeding and which would be sacrificed. (328) This would be logical as it would be preferable to breed the strongest and most virile horse and thereby guarantee the line continued with the strongest horses. We know definitely that horses were sacrificed and it was the eating of horse flesh that was considered a sign of being Heathen. In the saga of Hákon the Good, the Christian king Hákon refuses to eat horse flesh at the feast as it was considered sinful by the Christians.

The types of animals sacrificed might depend on circumstances or to whom the sacrifice was intended for but we do know that only animals that were eaten were sacrificed to the Regin. We know that the sacrifice almost always was accompanied by a feast and that this feast was considered to have been shared with the gods and goddesses. Sacrificing an animal that was not eaten by man could have been seen as insulting to the gods. Grimm agrees with this when he says, “… only those animals were suitable, whose flesh could be eaten by men. It would have been unbecoming to offer food to the god, which the sacrificer himself would have disdained. At the same time these sacrifices appear to be also banquets; an appointed portion of the slaughtered beast is placed before the god, the rest is cut up, distributed and consumed in the assembly. The people thus became partakers in the holy offering, and the god is regarded as feasting with them at their meal (see Suppl.). At great sacrifices the kings were expected to taste each kind of food, and down to late times the house-spirits and dwarfs had their portion set aside for them by the superstitious people.- (329)

Although dog skeletons have been found in sites that have ritual significance these are most likely grave sites because they were found with human skeletons and we know that from various sources that it was common to kill animals owned by the deceased so that they could be buried with him or her. (330) So even though these animals were killed in a ritual way, we probably should not consider them in the same light as the blót sacrifice. Additionally, in the many accounts we have of animal sacrifice in the literature there is never a mention of a dog or any other animal that was not eaten by man. Bears, wolves or foxes were likewise never sacrificed. It was believed that they possessed a ‘ghostly being.’ The only blood sacrifice that was given but not eaten was man himself. Of human sacrifices I’ll examine more closely in another place. (331)

Among the types of animals that were popular for sacrifice were goats, oxen, sheep, swine, horses and various eatable fowls. (332) (333) The boar seemed to have been especially popular. Grimm says that the swine offered to the gods was destined for the king’s table among the Welsh. (334) The boar was such an important sacrifice that it was named specially. The blót was called the sónarblót which signified a sacrifice of a boar and the boar itself was called the sónargöltr (sacrificial boar). (335) Oxen and horses were also very popular sacrifices and as has been mentioned it was the eating of horse flesh that was considered a sign of being heathen. (336) Domesticated fowl were also offered, most popular among these being the cock and the goose. (337) There is also an account of in Kormak’s Saga of a seithkona (spell-woman, witch) who sacrifices geese in order to work magic for the name sake of the saga. (338)

The color of the animal also had significance for which animal would be sacrificed. White animals were considered favorable. White horses are spoken of as sacred in Tacitus’ Germania. Later law records pronounce white pigs as inviolable. Other colors were considered desirable as well. Black animals were sacrificed by the sami (339) and later folklore has water spirits demanding a black lamb as sacrifice. Witches (seithkonar, spell-women) also use animals of a specific color, black lambs or black cats were sacrificed in order to work magic. The Votiaks sacrificed a red stallion and the Tcheremisses a white one. (340) Grimm notes black lambs or goats being offered to fossegrim (waterfall spirit) (341), and that there was a superstition about not killing black oxen or cows for household use. He believed that this may have been because thy were used in sacrifices only. (342)

Although we have many accounts of animals being offered to one or the other of the gods and goddesses, we can’t really say that one animal was especially used to offer to one particular deity. For instance we know from accounts describing practices in Hedeby that goats were sacrificed and these may have been sacrificed to Thorr (343) but we also have accounts of bulls being sacrificed to Thorr such as at the Althing held at Thingvellir every year. (344) Oxen were also offered to Freyr as in Víga-Glúms saga. (345) In Saxo’s account the name of the blót that was in honor of Freyr was called Fröblót. Oxen were particularly offered to Freyr and his name was used as a poetic kenning for the ox. We also know that the boar was sacrificed to him on New Years eve and that oaths were taken at that time to Freyr with hand laid on the bristles of that sacrificial boar. (346) We also know that horses were sometimes kept on sacred ground that were considered sacred to Freyr. Ground sacred to Freyr in Sweden and Norway had sacred horses that were kept on the ground, as we find in Flateyjarbók and in Óláf’s Saga Tryggvasonar I. (347) In Hrafnkel’s Saga there was a sacred horse dedicated to Freyr which no one was allowed to ride on penalty of death. The horse was named Freyfaxi (Freyr’s mane). (348) Sacred horses were also used for divination as is described in Tacitus’ Germania and in Saxo’s account where there was also mentioned a white horse that no one was allowed to ride. (349)

The blood from the sacrifices was many times drank by those present at the blót. Although we do know that blood was consumed we are not told exactly how it was consumed. We may, however, have clues as to how it was consumed. In the account of the Christian king Hákon’s attending of the Heathen blót-feast at mid-winter that was hosted by Jarl Sigurd we find that, after much hesitation, that the king agreed to eat some of the horse liver from the sacrifice and to drink from the minni bowls. It was important that the king should consume some of the blood of the slain horse to insure the well-being of the land, which was connected intimately with the actions of the king. (350) Now we know that these minni bowls were usually filled with ale, but the implication here is that blood was drank from them. We know that the blood of Kvasir was made into mead after being mixed with honey and this is the origin of the famed mead of poetry. Is it possible that the blood that was drank at feasts in the sources we have was actually mead that was brewed from blood mixed with honey, mirroring the sacred mead of poetry? My own personal opinion on the matter is that this is quite possibly the case. A quote from Grimm points to this possibility as well when he says, “Apparently divination was performed by means of the blood, perhaps a part of it was mixed with ale or mead, and drunk. In the North the blood bowls (hlautbollar, blôtbollar) do not seem to have been large; some nations had big cauldrons made for the purpose (see Suppl.). The Swedes were taunted by Olafr Tryggvason with sitting at home and licking their sacrificial pots, ‘at sitja heima ok sleikja blôtbolla sîna,’ Fornm. sög. 2, 309.” (351) This, I believe, points to the distinct possibility that a portion of the sacrificial blood was, like Kvasir’s blood, used to brew mead or ale or mixed with it and drank as part of the sacred full. The consuming of blood was used as a means of mocking the Heathen Swedes after Iceland converted to Christianity. They mocked them by saying they licked their sacrificial bowls in an attempt to get every last drop of blood from the sacrifice. It is likely this is an exaggeration and that the blood consumed was actually mixed with mead or ale. (352)

Part of the blood from the sacrifice was used to hallow both people and objects. The sacrificial blood was called hlaut. It was poured into the hlautbolli (sacrificial blood bowl) and with the hlautteinn (sacrificial blood twig) it was sprinkled on the altar, the walls of the hof (353) and other sacred instruments as well as the people present at the blót. (354) This was called rjóða which meant ‘to redden or smear with blood.’ (355) Some references say specifically that the hlautbolli was made of copper while others do not specify. (356)

The animals that were sacrificed were treated with the greatest care and were fed well. They were set apart and may have been set apart from birth. Animals set aside for sacrifice were also not allowed to be used in work. Oxen had to be those which had never drawn a plow or wagon. The animals would many times be adorned with garlands and other decorations on the day of the sacrifice and might be led on a procession to the sacred site where they would be sacrificed.

Sacred Fire and Holy Water

The concept of sacred fire and holy water are concepts that are strong in Heathen tradition. These traditions also lasted well into the Christian conversion and beyond, and in the case of holy water was appropriated by the Christians. The baptizing of children just after birth was a tradition that was most likely taken from a Heathen tradition. Before the introduction of Christianity Heathens hallowed their new-borns with water. They called this vatni ausa, sprinkling with water. The similarities between the Heathen baptism of infants and the Catholic Christening are so similar that the later must have been appropriated from Heathen customs as the custom is attested to and was wide spread long before Christianity came to Northern Europe. (357)

That Heathens considered water as sacred can be seen in the large number of instances where lakes, waterfalls, pools, wells and springs were considered sacred and therefore the water in them would have been as well. Whirlpools and waterfalls were considered to have been put in motion by river spirits (358) so in some cases it could be water spirits that were being venerated instead of the water itself but in other cases it is specifically the water that is considered sacred. The Goths buried king Alaric in the bed of a river. They actually dug the river out of its normal course, buried king Aluric in the river bed then returned the river to its normal course. When crossing the river they would make offerings to him. (359)

Oaths were also sworn on rivers and there are instances in which sacred groves were next to sacred springs. Near a village in the Odenpä district there is the holy rivulet of Livonia. The source is in a sacred grove, which no one dares to break a twig and it is said those who do are sure to die within the year. The brook and fountain are kept clean and are ‘put to rights’ once every year. If anything is thrown into the spring or the small lake through which it flows, storms are said to be the result. As mentioned earlier the land where “the sacred water of a river sweeps round a piece of meadow land, and forms an ea (aue)” is marked as a residence of the gods. (360)

There was also a tradition of drawing water during holy nights which is very likely to be the survival of a Heathen custom. During a the holy season water was drawn at midnight in complete silence before sunrise. It is Grimm’s opinion that this tradition is deeply rooted in Heathen tradition. Also it was a tradition that holy water must be drawn fresh from the spring. There is also a tradition of seithkonar watching the eddies of rivers and from them divining the future. In the Islandinga Sögur the exact expression used is ‘worshipped the foss (water spirit of whirlpool).’ (361)

Salt Springs

Salt and especially salt springs were considered holy by Heathens. Salt springs were considered as a direct gift of a nearby divinity and the possessing of this location was considered worthy of going to war over. One account of this comes from Tacitus in his Annals XIII, 57. In the first century, two Germanic tribes , the Hermundari and the Chatti had a dispute over who had the rites to a piece of land beside some salt springs that they considered holy. (362) The Chatti vowed that if they won they would sacrifice their foes to Mars and Mercury (Tiwaz and Woden). The Hermundari ended up winning the battle and felt that they should likewise sacrifice their defeated foes and sacrificed the Chatti after defeating them. (363) Grimm also says that the Burgundians and Alamanns also fought for salt-springs. (364)

Grimm points out that a very large number of the names of rivers and towns that produce salt have the roots hal and sal in their names. These roots originally signified ‘the same wholesome holy material.’ (365)

According to Grimm the distributing of salt was a holy office and he speculates of the possibility of festivals connected with salt-boiling. He further theorizes that this office was held by women and that it could be the roots of the traditions surrounding witches in the middle ages. I would like to quote his theory as it does have a ring of truth to it.

“Suppose now that the preparation of salt was managed by women, by priestesses, that the salt-kettle (cauldron), saltpan, was under their care and supervision; there would be a connection established between salt-boiling and the later vulgar opinion about witchcraft: the witches gather, say on certain high days, in the holy wood, on the mountain, where the salt springs bubble, carrying with them cooking-vessels, ladles and forks; and at night their saltpan is a-glow.” (366)

It is easy to see how that, if the wise-women were charged with boiling the salt in cauldrons at holy rites, the Christians would have taken this picture and turned it into devil worshiping witches cackling with glee over bubbling cauldrons. The reasons for this are easy to see. Before the coming of Christianity the wise-woman or spaekona was treated with great respect and in some cases even revered in near goddess-like status. They were consulted before going into battle and in all important matters. This, of course, was a threat to the authority of the church and they wasted no time demonizing the wise-woman. She went from being the wise-woman and treated with respect to being a devil worshiping witch whose only purpose was to bring ill to man. After transforming the wise-woman into the evil witch the Church wasted no time following the biblical injunction to “not suffer a witch to live.” Christians made sure that the sanctifying of salt was their domain alone. I’ll, hear, quote Grimm again.

“As Christians equally recognized salt as a good and needful thing, it is conceivable how they might now, inverting the matter, deny the use of wholesome salt at witches’ meetings, and come to look upon it as a safeguard against every kind of sorcery (Superst. I, no. 182). For it is precisely salt that is lacking in the witches’ kitchen and at devil’s feasts, the Church having now taken upon herself the hallowing and dedication of salt. Infants un-baptized, and so exposed, had salt placed beside them for safety, RA. 457. The emigrants from Salzburg dipped a wetted finger in salt, and swore. Wizards and witches were charged with the misuse of salt in baptizing beasts. I think it worth mentioning here, that the magic-endowed giantesses in the Edda knew how to grind, not only gold, but salt, Sn. 146-7: the one brought peace and prosperity, the other a tempest and foul weather.” (367)

As we’ll see later, when talking about Spring rites, the fertility rites of May, may also have been turned into witches jaunts for the same reasons.


  (by Lady Arianna aka Donna K.)             Top

Send your answers to the following questions
in an email with the subject line:  “Teutonic Religious Practices Lesson B from _______ (your spiritual name)”

1. The central support pillar in these hofs may have been an example of what dual purpose?

2. The high seat pillars were considered what to Thorr?

3. Which archeological find shows an arrangement of rectangles that seems to be present in most hofs?

4. The central support pillar was sometimes called what in the holy part of the temple? And what did it represent?

5. Pillars were made often of what substance?

6. The pillars were said to be connected with what?

7. What was the one universal prohibition that concerns holy ground?

8. T/F: An outlaw had rights and could not be killed for violating holy ground.

9. What was the name of the term for the offense for killing someone on holy ground? And what did it mean?

10. T/F: It was also customary to conduct some kind of purification on oneself before treading on holy ground.

11. T/F: Answering the call of nature on holy ground was considered an act of desecration. It resulted in bloodshed on Helgafell.

12. T/F: Not only did the Germans depict their gods in statues they considered it suitable to show them in any human likeness.

13. Images were mostly carved of wood were called what?

14. What other substances were images also made of?

15. What practice in lore is also mentioned in lore concerning statues?

16. What were tiny gold images depict two figures together, one male and one female which face each other, sometimes embracing or holding a leafy branch between them. They are usually found in sets and in house-sites, instead of graves or hofs.

17. The basic religious observance of pre-Christian and Viking Age Northmen was called what? And what was its meaning?

18. What was the idea of the blot?

19. The main element was the sacrificial feast. How was this blot different from those of the middle eastern religions? [Note from Katia:  The Middle Eastern Temples, such as the one at Israel, did allow the priests to consume the sacrificed meat, except for the portion alotted to be burnt as offering].

20. T/F: These sacrifices were made only to particular gods and goddesses.

21. Blót feasts which were held at set times each year, name three of these times.

22. Fill in the blanks:  The great blót feasts were also an occasion for consulting about the ___________.   ___________ was often performed at these feasts as was also the custom to be done at the ________________ of a king.

23. T/F: Some rather good descriptions of what the blót feast would have been like have survived in the literature. One description is in the Saga of Hakon the Brave.

24. What is “hlaut”?

25. Describe what the use of the goblets that were used in the blot feast and who used them.

26. Name atleast three toasts and describe their use or significance.

27. What were cauldrons used for?

28. Name a few special activites during the blot feast.

29. What is a procession?

30. What were Wanes? And were does the term come from?

31. Fill in the blanks:  In Old Norse the word ‘full’ means ‘a _______’ , usually in honor of the gods and goddesses or _________. The full was a symbol of that _________ that ended the _____ between the Aesir and Vanir which has never been __________.

32. T/F:  Drinking the full is a practice continued by the Christians.

33. What is the importance of hallowing the ale or mead for the full? [Katia inserts: Think of the wine in Jewish in Christian eucharist rites.  It is hallowed, sanctified or “made holy” also before drinking].

34. The use of drinking the full from a bull’s horn is an ancient custom. The first mention of the custom hails from who and when?

35. Name one legendary horn that depicts a woman.

36. How has the Christian practice of drinking the full evolved today?

37. In the Anglo-Saxon chronicles what is the oath sworn on.

38. Is the practice of swearing an oath on a holy item still present today? If so, give an example.

39. How is Thor’s hammer hallowing significant to Christian practices?

40. What is the Old Norse words for “fire” and “lightning”?

41. What direction did the Northfolk face when praying?

42. Fill in the blanks: At the abrenuntiatio, which many _________ were forced to take in order to renounce their Northern ________ they were instructed to face west when __________  the Northern gods and goddesses and then to face east when ___________ the one god and Christ.

43. Name at least three other Northfolk types of offerings.

44. Offerings of a bull were made to who, to help aid their healing?

45. T/F Another well known tradition is leaving food for house spirits.

46. Prayers to the Regin seems to have been a common practice among Northmen. One of the gods prayed to most often, judging from the literature was who?

47. T/F : The animal sacrifices of the Northman/woman had holy qualities of course.

48. What animals were never sacrificed and why?

49. Fill in the blanks: The blót was called the sónarblót which signified a sacrifice of a _____ and the _____ itself was called the sónargöltr (sacrificial _____).

50. Were the colors of animals considered significant when performing sacrifices? If so, give an example.

51. The concept of holy fire and holy water are concepts that are strong in Northern tradition. Give some examples of how this tradition has survived in the Christian beliefs.

52. Fill in the blanks:  Salt _______ were considered as a direct gift of a nearby _________ and the possessing of this location was considered worthy of going to ____ over.