Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Sacrifices In Ancient Scandinavia

Sacrifices In Ancient Scandinavia Cover The actual sacrifice consisted in the killing of various animals, usually oxen, horses, sheep, or swine, but on special occasions even human beings were offered to the gods. At the great Upsala festival, according to Adam's account, nine male animals of each kind were offered, as well as men; and a Christian eye-witness reported having seen seventy-two carcases of slaughtered men and beasts (dogs and horses) suspended together from the trees of the sacred grove adjoining the temple. Whether this custom of hanging up the bodies of the offerings was practised elsewhere in Scandinavia is unknown, but the connection between Odin and death by hanging makes it probable that it was more widely known than appears. In Denmark also human victims were offered along with animals; according to Thietmar's chronicle the great gathering in this country took place at Lejre (near Roskilde in Sj?lland) every nine years, in the month of January. The sacrifice here consisted of ninety-nine men and as many horses, dogs, and cocks (the latter being offered in place of hawks). How the victims were selected or obtained is not stated; but it is probable that they were usually captives taken in war, criminals or thralls. In Sweden, indeed, strangers appear to have run some risk of being selected as victims; in 997 the Icelandic poet Hallfred nearly met with this fate. In early times, however, the Swedes were credited with having burned one of their kings in his own house as an offering to Odin, in order to dispel a famine which they believed was due to his slackness in maintaining the sacrifices. One of the early kings was also reported to have offered up nine of his sons in succession to Odin, to obtain long life for himself. In an account of the heathen period in the isle of Gotland, which is given in Guta Saga, it is said that 'they sacrificed their sons and daughters and their cattle. All the land had its highest sacrifices with folk (=human beings), as also had each third (of the country) by itself; but the smaller districts had lesser sacrifices with cattle.'

In Norway and Iceland human sacrifices appear to have been more exceptional, and only resorted to in extreme cases. The usual nature of the victims is clearly indicated by the words assigned to King Olaf Tryggvason in 998, when he found his subjects obstinate in their determination to hold the midsummer blot. He then threatened 'to make it the greatest kind of sacrifice that is inuse, and offer up men; and I will not choose thralls or criminals, but will select the most distinguished men to give to the gods.' At the very crisis of the conflict between paganism and Christianity in Iceland, in the year 1000, the adherents of the old religion resolved to sacrifice two men out of each quarter, and 'called upon the heathen gods not to let Christianity overrun the country.' Then Hjalti and Gizur held a meeting of the Christians, and said that they wold also make an offering of as many men. 'The heathens,' they said, 'sacrifice the worst men, and cast them over rocks or cliffs; but we shall choose the best men, and call it a gift for victory to our Lord Jesus Christ.' Various methods appear to have been in use besides that mentioned here; at Thorsness, in the west of Iceland, tradition long pointed out the 'doom-ring,' in which men had been adjudged for sacrifice, and the stone within it---called Thor's stone---on which they were killed by being broken, ' and the stain of blood is still to be seen on it.' Another source seaks of human victims as having been sunk in a fen close to the temple on Kjalarness, which is supported by Adam of Bremen's statement that near the temple of Upsala was a fountain in which 'a living man' was immersed. A 'sacrificial pit' is also mentioned in Vatnsd?la Saga, where one Thorolf was believed to sacrifice both men and cattle. That in exceptional cases the victim may have been of higher standing than the thrall or criminal is possible enough; as late as 985 Earl Hakon in Norway is credited with having given his young son as an offering to Thorgerd, when he prayed to her for victory over the vikings of Jomsborg. In other cases, such as that of Hallstein, who 'gave his son to Thor' in order that the god might send him pillars for his house, the language is ambiguous, and may imply dedication rather than sacrifice. When the sacrifice consisted of animals which might be used for human food, it was apparently only the blood which was regarded as belonging to the gods. To this was given the name of hlaut, and it has already been stated (p. 41) that special bowls were kept to receive it in. It was then smeared or sprinkled by means of twigs, not only upon the altars and the walls of the temples (both outside and in), but also upon the assembled people. The flesh was then boiled in large pots over the fires which burned in the middle of the temple, and was eaten by the worshippers, after being consecrated by the chief man present. A prominent feature, at least of the more important festivals, was the use of horse-flesh for this purpose---a practice so intimately associated with heathenism that its abandonment was strictly prescribed to those who accepted Christianity. This appears in the strongest light in the case of Hakon the Good, who was finally forced to appease his heathen subjects by eating some pieces of horse-liver. In Iceland, however, it was permitted for a few years after the new faith was publicly adopted.

Books in PDF format to read:

Herbert Stanley Redgrove - Alchemy Ancient And Modern
David Robertson - Magical Medicine In Viking Scandinavia
William Alexander Craigie - Religion Of Ancient Scandinavia