Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Ceremonies And Ministers In Ancient Scandinavia

Ceremonies And Ministers In Ancient Scandinavia Cover With regard to the rites of the old Scandinavian religion a considerable amount of information has been preserved, although mainly relating to one part of the subject, the offering of sacrifice. It is clear that this was the central feature in the worship of the gods, and the great means towards propitiating their favour or averting their displeasure. Hence the verb blota, which was the distinctive word for worshipping the heathen gods, very frequently (if not usually) implies the accompaniment of sacrifice; and the noun blot similarly means either the act of worship or that of sacrifice. In the case of the verb, the object of worship stands in the accusative case, the thing sacrificed in the dative, the original sense being 'to worship (the gods) with something.' In this killing of living things as an offering to the divine powers lay one of the most obvious differences between the old religion and the new, and it is consequently one which holds a prominent place in the accounts of the struggle between heathenism and Christianity. One of the first objects aimed at by the kings who adopted the new faith was the suppression of the practice in every form, while the adherents of the old religion clung to it tenaciously as long as they could. Even after Christianity was the established religion of Norway, it was still thought necessary to remind the people that all blot were forbidden, whether to 'the heathen gods, mounds, or sacred cairns.' Here and in other passages where the word is similarly employed, it may be assumed that sacrifices are to be thought of as an essential part of the heathen worship.

Sacrifice might be offered either by individuals on their own account, or by some prominent man on behalf of the community. It was, indeed, the duty of the latter to 'keep up the sacrifices,' on which the public peace and prosperity were believed largely to depend. The king as head of his people was essentially bound to maintain this religious rite, and the adoption of Christianity by the Norwegian kings naturally brought them into direct collision with the national feeling on this point. When King Hakon in 952 proposed that his subjects should worship Christ, give up the Heathen Gods and the sacrifices to them, and keep holy each seventh day, he was met by the reply that they desired him rather to follow the custom of his father, and 'sacrifice for peace and plenty to them.' On the other hand, the importance attached to the practice by the more religious among the people is shown in the case of Loft the Old, who emigrated to Iceland from Gaular in Norway. He 'went abroad every third summer on his own account and that of his uncle Flosi, to sacrifice at that temple in Gaular of which his mother's father, Thorbjorn, had been the custodian.'

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