Worship And Rites

Temples and Idols

Various names were in use among the ancient Teutons for a sanctuary. In the Gothic translation of the Bible, "temple" is rendered by alhs, a building being always referred to in the particular connection. The Old High German wîh (Norse ) and haruc are rather indefinite in their meaning, being applied without distinction to fanum, delubrum, lucus, and nemus alike. Both occur in a number of names of places. Tacitus repeatedly mentions sacred forests in which the tribes assembled and worshipped their gods; the "temple" of Nerthus is perhaps also identical with the sacred grove (castum nemus) of a few line previous. The sanctuary of Tamfana of the Marsi, that Germanicus razed, was probably a building, although it is not inconceivable that even this was a sacred grove with its enclosure, which were levelled to the ground.

In these sacred forests the ceremonies connected with the cult took place, and the sacrifices were offered. They were also regarded as the abode of the gods, and were approached only with a feeling of awe and terror, as may be gathered from the remarks of Tacitus on the sacred forest of the Semnones. In these forests were kept the figures and emblems—at times representing animals—that accompanied the armies into battle. Here also the prisoners of war were sacrificed on altars, and their heads hung on the trees, as we know was done with the soldiers of Varus.

Survivals of this reverence and of these usages are met with even in the Middle Ages. The church inveighed against them and sought to destroy the sacred forests and hew down the sacred trees. Thus we are told by Adam of Bremen (II, 46) that archbishop Unwan built churches with wood from forests that had formerly been held sacred. In the fifth century there existed in the city of Auxerre—the possibility of this being Keltic must therefore be reckoned with—a pear tree, on whose spreading branches, according to a poem of the ninth century, quoted by Grimm, hung heads of wild beasts.

When Grimm remarks in the same connection, "The transition from the notion of a forest temple to that of a single tree to which divine honors are paid is an easy one," he places the two rather too closely together: the forest as temple, and tree worship, are two distinct and separate things. In Tacitus, as a matter of fact, only the former is to be found, but in popular belief numerous observances point to the conception of trees as possessing a soul and as constituting objects of worship.

Even in the days when the cult itself was carried on in the temple the forests did not lose their significance. The beech groves in Seeland were none the less sacred because a temple had been erected at Lethra. Near Alkmaar (formerly Alcmere, i.e. the temple near the sea, in the Netherlands) lies Heilo (the sacred forest). At the sanctuary at Upsala the sacrificial animals were hung up in the forest. Not merely the building of a temple but all the environs were sacred, as in the case of Fosite's land (Helgoland), with its temples, springs, and pastures. From the centuries immediately succeeding the time of Tacitus the names of very few temples have come down to us. From the sixth century on we possess considerable evidence concerning the existence of sanctuaries and temples among the Burgundians, Franks, Lombards, Alemanni, etc., but as a rule these references consist of a bare mention. We are acquainted with Frisian sanctuaries through the biographies of the missionaries; such existed on the island of Walcheren, near the Bordena, near Dokkum, and on the island of Fosite. Among the Anglo-Saxons the temples must have been both numerous and large. Bede repeatedly mentions both sanctuaries and images, among others the sanctuary "with all its enclosures" which the chief priest Coï_ himself destroyed. In the remarkable letter in which pope Gregory discusses the missionary methods to be followed, he advises that the people be won over "by steps and degrees and not by bounds," and that the heathen sanctuaries are accordingly not to be razed, but to be arranged for Christian use, "in order that when the people see that their own sanctuaries are not being destroyed they may banish their error from their hearts, and knowing and adoring the true God, may the more freely assemble at the accustomed places."

Important temples are actually known to us only in the case of the Scandinavian peoples. Especially prominent among these were the temple at Lethra in Seeland and the temple at Upsala, which, while not as yet mentioned in the life of Rimbert, is described with considerable detail by Adam of Bremen (IV, 26). It was wholly equipped with gold, and was situated not far from that ancient sanctuary at Sigtun (Sictona) where, according to the Ynglinga Saga, Chapter 5, Odhin had taken up his abode and had instituted the bloody sacrifices. On the island of Gotland stood another large temple, with hundreds of images and large treasures, which Hakon Jarl seized. In Norway there likewise existed a large number of temples: we know of about one hundred by name. They are frequently mentioned in the sagas, especially those at Throndhjem, Gudhbrandsdalir, and Hladir. For the most part these were consecrated to the worship of Thor or of Freyr, of whom they contained images of all dimensions. Such a hof (the Norse name for "temple") was usually constructed of wood, only rarely of stone. In iceland it was at time built of peat, or wood brought along from Norway, as in the case of the temple of Thorolf, a description of which, to be found in the Eyrbyggja Saga, we cited under the head of "Thor."

In view of our meager knowledge of ancient Teutonic temples, the construction and arrangement of these Norwegian and Icelandic temples possesses the greater interest for us. Such a temple consisted of two separate but adjoining buildings, together forming and oblong, which on one of its sides was semicircular. The following figure will serve to make this clear. The open spaces represent doors. The dimensions of these temples varied, but one part was always larger than the other. This larger division was designed for use at the sacrificial feast, and was arranged like a common hall, with the hearth-fire in the center and the seats arranged on the two sides. Prominent among the latter was the high-seat for the priest (ondvegi), with its pillars (ondvegissulur), which were adorned with a row of nails, and also at time with carved images of the gods. The smaller building was called the afhus (off-house), and contained the images of the gods and the stallr, a sort of altar, on which lay the ring that the godhi put around his arm at the sacrifice. On the stallr burn also the sacred fire, and there likewise stood the sacrificial bowl (hlautbolli), with its sacrificial whisk (hlautteinn), with which the priest sprinkled the images and at time also the walls, Around the temple was an enclosure (gardhr, skidhgardhr) of about a man's height. That the plan of such and Icelandic temple is an imitation of the architecture of a Christian church, with its nave, choir, and apse, as Golther would have us believe, is not at all probable for the centuries (ninth and tenth) of the Icelandic emigration.

We know from Tacitus that the forests, among the Semnones and the Nerthus tribes, were regarded as peculiarly sacred, and were dreaded. Among the Frisians sever penalties were attached to profanation of temples. "Whoever has broken into a temple and has taken any of the sacred things, is conducted to the sea, and in the sand which the tide of the sea is accustomed to cover, his ears are slit, he is castrated and offered up to the gods whose temples he has violated." In the North the carrying of arms within the temple enclosure was forbidden, and he who violated the sacred peace of the temple was put under the ban as an outlaw, as a vagr i veum, a wolf in the temple.

The holy places were of old closely connected with the political life, as we know from Tacitus and from the conditions among the Frisians and Saxons of a later period. This applies to the Scandinavian countries as well. The four large Danish temples, at Viborg (Vebjorg), at Odhinsvé (on the island of Funen), at Lethra, and at Lund (from lundr, sacred grove) in Scania, formerly belonging to Denmark, are also political centers. The same is true of Upsala, in Sweden, and of the Norwegian temples, to be found in each separate fylki (shire). Scholars have a times gone too far in assuming a complete religious organization in these countries, such as really existed in Iceland alone. This island was divided into four parts, one of which had four things, while the others had three each. Each of these thirteen things had three temples (godhordh), each with its own hofgodhi, who also levied the temple tribute. These thirty-nine temples coincided with the religious organization of Iceland, each godhi being at the same time priest and political head. Private persons also possessed the right of erecting a temple of their own, but without performing in that case the public functions or enjoying the public rights and privileges of the godhi. These political conditions survived paganism and continued until the very end of the Icelandic republic.

Tacitus states that the Teutons had no idols ("nulla simulacra"), and he attributes this to the lofty ideas they entertained of their gods ("ex magnitudine caelestium"), a philosophic observation in which we need scarcely follow him. Just what was the outward form of the symbols to which he refers by such phrases as "effigies signaque," "signa et formas," "ferarum imagines," we have no means of ascertaining. Nor do we know whether the numen ipsum of Nerthus, which rode about on a wagon and was cleansed in the lake, was an image or a symbol. The Irminsul was, however, not an image. Nor are images mentioned in connection with Fosite's island. The vitæ of Willehad, Willebrord, and Liudger repeatedly refer to images, among which the great idol on Walcheren, which Willebrord himself destroyed, is to be especially noted. The earliest testimony concerning an image of a Teutonic divinity is that of Sozomen, who states that the Gothic king Athanaric had an image (x _a n o n ) drawn about on a wagon, commanding the people to worship it an to offer us sacrifices to it. When we are told that the Christian Burgundian consort of Chlodowech says to him, "Your gods are only gods of stone, wood, and metal," this is perhaps nothing more than a conventional phrase of Gregory of Tours, which proves nothing at all in regard to Frankish idols.

In the Scandinavian North there were numerous images either in the temples proper or on the stallr, where several stood side by side. Now and then we hear of a large number in one temple. Images were also found on high-seats and on prows of ships. Miniature images were frequently carried about on one's person. Images were usually made of wood—at times also of gold and silver,—were richly adorned and often accompanied by their attributes,—Thor by his hammer, Freyr "ingenti priapo." A number of images were famous, such as the colossal statue of Thor erected on the island of Samsö by the sons of Ragnar Lodbrok; the stone statue of Thor, splendidly adorned with gold and silver, in the temple at Gudhbrandsdalir, of which the peasants expected, even in the age of the holy Olaf, that it would annihilate its adversaries; and, likewise at Gudhbrandsdalir, the image of Thor, together with those of Thorgerdh Hlgabrudh and Irpa, on a wagon, all three adorned with golden rings.

Of greater importance than a further multiplying of examples is the question, What ideas were associated with these idols in the minds of the people? Von Richthofen denies that the Frisians thought of their images as animated. In the case of the Scandinavians, however, it is evident from a number of stories that the gods were conceived of as operative images. Thus in the example cited above, in which the statue of Thor was expected to make a stand against the enemy. In the tale of Thrond of Gate, embodied in the Fœreyinga Saga, we are told how there stood an image of Thorgerdh in a temple, just opposite the entrance, and how, from the attitude that the image assumed, the petitioners were able to infer the answer of the goddess. "We shall have it as a mark of what she thinks of this, if she will do as I wish and let the ring loose which she holds in her hand." But she held fast to the ring, and not until he had repeated his prayer was the jarl able to wrest the ring away The story also of Gunnar and the young priestess of Freyr, to which we have before referred, is based wholly on the belief "that Freyr was a living person...and the people supposed that the woman lived with him as his wife," Freyr being throughout this story identified with his image. Chapter 150 of the same saga affords another example. King Olaf makes every effort to persuade a certain Raudhr to adopt Christianity, but the latter puts his trust in Thor, inasmuch as the god by blowing in his beard caused a tempest t rise against the king. All this, however, was to no purpose, for, as Thor himself had predicted, the king reaches the island of Raudhr notwithstanding. Finally a decisive test was proposed and agreed upon: Thor and the king were to stand on opposite sides of a fire, and, in order to show which was the stronger, each was to attempt to draw the other into the fire. Thor proved to be the weaker of the two, and was burnt to ashes. This image accordingly was made of wood.

It is hardly possible to regard this conception, that the god is actively present in his image or symbol, as a more recent development. The ancient tribes would certainly not have brought forth their symbols from the forest, to accompany them into battle, if they had not been of the opinion that with these the gods themselves took part in the conflict. While images among the Teutons, as also elsewhere, seem to be of later date than symbols, we may yet assume that the ida of vitality present in the image was there from the very beginning.


The earliest testimony regarding Teutonic priests, or rather regarding the absence of priests, is to be found in the well known words of Cæsar: "They neither have druids, who superintend divine worship, nor do they make frequent use of sacrifices." The evident contradiction between these words and the data of Tacitus has never been satisfactorily explained. It has, indeed, been contended that Cæsar is merely intent on drawing a contrast between the Teutons and the Gauls, the latter being accustomed to frequent sacrifices and having a organized priesthood; but such considerations do not alter the fact that he expressly denies the existence among the Teutons of priests "who superintend divine worship," whereas from Tacitus we are absolutely certain that such priests existed. To maintain that in the century and a half which separates Cæsar and Tacitus a development took place which would account for this difference, is a gratuitous assumption. As a solution of the problem, Seeck suggests that the Gallic druids, when driven from Gaul by Roman persecution, crossed the Rhine and became the nucleus of the Teutonic priesthood. Wresting divination from the hands of the old women, they founded a power that was ever increasing, and which might have led to a theocracy, if its course had not been interrupted by foreign dominion and by the spread of Christianity. Ingenious as this hypothesis is, it does not harmonize with the data at hand: there is not a single trace to indicate that the Teutonic priests were of foreign origin, a fact which would also certainly not have escaped the eye of Tacitus. It is equally inconceivable that the Gallic druids reached, for example, the Frisians, among whom priests also play an important rôle.

As is usual, the evidence of Tacitus on this point is weighty but fragmentary. We learn to know the priests more especially in their political capacity. While they also perform the sacred functions of the state, bring sacrifices, and consult omens, they are equally important from the political point of view: they administer justice (the priest being in fact called êwart, "guardian of the law") and preserve peace in the army and popular assembly. When Tacitus (Germania, Chapter 7) discusses the limited power of the kings and leaders, he adds: "But only the priests have power to put to death, to put in chains, or even to inflict stripes; not by way of punishment, nor at the command of the leader, but as if ordered by the god, whom they believe present with those engaged in war." By way of an anticlimax the power of deciding over life and death (animadvertere), of casting in chains, and of inflicting the ignominious punishment of scourging are here denied the leaders and assigned to the priests alone, who acted in the name of the god, the latter being present in the army as well as in the popular assembly. There is no good reason for invariably identifying this god with Tiu: the divinity was doubtless a different one among different tribes.

In Germania, Chapter 10, the priest is regarded as the sacerdos civitatis (priest of the state), who consults the omens for the state, as does the pater familias in the personal and domestic affairs of life. Together with the king or chief, the priest accompanies the wagon drawn by the sacred horses and gives careful attention to the neighing of these horses, priests and chiefs alike regarding themselves as servants of the deity. Chapter 11 of the Germania tells us of the functions performed by the priests in the popular assembly: "Silence is commanded by the priest, who also has the right to enforce it." They were not what we are accustomed to call leaders or presidents of an assembly, but they invested judicial procedure with a certain sanctity, and guarded justice and peace in both the thing and army, meting out punishment upon the violators. With the office of law-speaker, such as existed in the Icelandic republic, Tacitus was not acquainted. It is, however, quite generally assumed that the office of the Frisian âsega also bore a priestly character.

It is certainly imputing a meaning to the words of Tacitus that they do not of themselves possess, when, to the exclusion of the chieftains, we invest the priests, apart from their priestly functions, wit the entire criminal jurisdiction. If such had been the case, the public life of the Teutons would practically have borne a theocratic character, which is scarcely conceivably in the absence of a fixed organization of the priesthood. The priests belonged most likely to noble families and were accordingly of the same rank and station as the chiefs. The office may even have been a hereditary one. Their political functions, consisting of the maintenance of peace in thing and army, were important and doubtless gave them considerable influence and power. Only few priests are mentioned by name; by chance the name of a certain Libus, a priest of the Chatti, who took part in the triumphal procession of Germanicus, has come down to us. Sinistus, a name that occurs for the chief priest of the Burgundians, seems to have been a title, signifying "the oldest." Ammianus Marcellinus (XXVIII, 5, 14,) tells us that he was irremovable, whereas the king could be deposed in case of failure of crops or of defeat. We do not anywhere else meet such a chief priest, but only priests of particular sanctuaries. Tacitus usually speaks of priests (sacerdotes) in the plural.

In the discussion of the individual tribes, in the second part of the Germania, priests are occasionally mentioned. The goddess Nerthus has a male priest, whereas the god Freyr, at Upsala, had an attendant priestess. At the cult of the Dioscuri, among the Nahanarvali, there presided a priest bedecked like a woman (muliebri ornatu). This latter probably refers to the hairdress. Among the Lugii and the Vandals the royal family was called Hazdiggôs, i.e. men with the hairdress of a woman, like the Merovingi among the Franks. The priesthood therefore shared this characteristic with the nobility. Neither the Norse vlur, nor such godlike women as Veleda and Albruna, of whom we hear occasionally, are to be classed among the priests.


In the case of a number of Teutonic peoples our information concerning their priests is very meager. Among the Goths the priests, like the kings, belonged to the nobility (pileati, "wearing a cap"), as over against the people (capillati, "with flowing hair"). Among the Anglo-Saxons it was not "lawful for a priest either to bear arms or to ride on horseback, except on a mare."

Least of all are there traces of a priestly caste among the Scandinavians. In Norway it is the king or jarl who at the thing conducts the sacrifice, presides at the festive meal, and makes the libation. While temples possessed officiating priests (blótmadhr, spámadhr), it nowhere appears that these possessed exclusive powers of prerogatives. It is difficult to estimate just what rôle they played in public and private life. In Iceland the godhi was the proprietor of the temple and the leader at the thing. They were not exclusively nor even primarily priests: they combined priestly and political functions, and retained the latter even after the conversion to Christianity. The organization of Iceland, with its office of law-speaker, had in any case little of a priestly, theocratic character.

Prayer and Sacrifice

Jacob Grimm was of the opinion that prayer owed its origin to sacrifice He distinguishes three states: sacrifice without prayer, sacrifice with prayer, and prayer without sacrifice. This view, however, is erroneous. From the very outset the gift bestowed was accompanied by the words with which it was to be dedicated to the gods, and through which its purpose was indicated, just as divination was accompanied by the invocation of the gods. Tacitus tells us that when a priest or the father of a household sought to divine the future by drawing lots "he invoked the gods and lifted up his eyes to heaven." When the magic runes are employed for obtaining victory Tyr is invoked, while for the safe delivery of a woman in labor the dísir are called upon.

As regards ritualistic practices, the baring of the head and bending of the body seem of old to have been in vogue. The Gothic priests formed, however, an exception to this customary baring of the head: "They made sacrifices with caps (tiaræ) on their heads," and were accordingly call pileati. Whether the bending of the body was meant to signify, as Grimm thinks, "that the human suppliant presented and submitted himself as a defenseless victim to the mighty god, his vanquisher," we do not venture to decide, but the notion seems rather lofty. In the Norse sagas men kneel or even cast themselves down upon the ground before the divine images. While praying, the suppliant looked towards the north. Christianity introduced the custom of looking towards the east, and by way of contrast, at the abjuration of the heathen gods, the convert was made to face the west. A trace of a ritual, upon the observance of which the success of sacrifice and prayer depended, is thought to be contained in some lines of Hávamál, 143, and 144:

Knowest thou how once is to pray? Knowest thou how one is to sacrifice?...

It is better not to pray than to make sacrifices to excess.

Oaths were likewise sworn with invocation of the gods. Von Amira maintains that this adjuring of the gods is unessential, and that the oath consists of the pledging of certain objects. Thus one swears by one's beard, sword, and various other things, that are thereupon touched with the hand. But it is obvious that, when a person taking an oath touched the staff of the judge, or the ring of Ullr dipped in sacrificial blood, these were not objects that were being pledged. There can be no doubt whatever that oaths were sworn by water and rocks, and by numerous gods that are know to us by name.

For sacrifice the usual word, especially common in Old Norse, is blót. We also find in Old High German kelt, Old Saxon geld. The oldest Teutonic sacrifice or which we possess a record is that of the Cimbri, related by Strabo. Among the women that accompanied the army were soothsaying priestesses, with gray hair, robed in white, with an upper garment of fine linen fastened on the shoulder, wearing a girdle and going barefoot. With drawn swords they advanced towards the prisoners, crowned them with wreaths, and conducted them to a bronze sacrificial vessel which held about twenty amphoræ. One of the priestesses ascended a ladder and bending over the caldron cut the throats of the prisoners. Some prophesied from the blood that flowed into the basin, others from the entrails of the victims. The three characteristic features of this account to which attention may be called are: (1) that prisoners of war are slaughtered; (2) that the sacrifice is exclusively for purposes of divination; (3)that no god is named to whom the sacrifice is made.

The sacrifices mentioned by Tacitus have already been touched upon. They comprise: that of the Roman prisoners whose skulls were fastened to trees; the great sacrifice with which the war between the Chatti and Hermunduri was to end; the sacrifice in the forest of the Semnones, in which a man was slain in behalf of the state, but where it is not clear whether the victim was a prisoner of war, a criminal, or simply a member of the tribe; the drowning of the slaves of Nerthus. In Germania, Chapter 9, we are told that on stated days human sacrifices were brought to Mercury, which must, of course, not be taken as implying that no other gods received human offerings. "Hercules and Mars," Tacitus continues, "they appease with allowable animals," which we must not interpret as meaning that the offerings consisted of the special animals sacred to each of the two gods, but that the sacrifices were admissible from a Roman point of view, i.e. not horrible human sacrifices. The term for appropriate sacrificial animals was Ziefer, Geziefer (German). Only the exuviæ, the hide and head, were given to the gods, the rest being eaten at the sacrificial feast.

A large number of sacrifices are mentioned by the historians of the period of the migrations, in the vitæ of the missionaries, and in the laws enacted against paganism. At his invasion of Italy Radagais vowed that he would bring the blood of the Christians as a libation to his gods. The Goths sacrificed their prisoners to Mars. The Franks threw the captive women and children into the Po before crossing the river. Among the Frisians prisoners of war and those who had violated a temple were sacrificed. Among the Saxons Charles the Great had to forbid human sacrifices. We must not suppose that criminals and prisoners of war alone were sacrificed. Of the Franks, Heruli, and Saxons we are told that "they were confident that the wrath of the gods was appeased by the shedding of innocent blood; that they might be restored to the good favor of their gods, they had been accustomed to sacrifice their kinsmen." Similarly, the Vita Wulframi, Chapter 2, relates how the two sons of a widow had been designated by lot "for sacrifice to the gods and for death in the waves of the sea."

There is no reason for supposing that the ancient Teutons possessed a fixed sacrificial ritual any more than they possessed an organized priesthood. While offerings were made at stated times (certis diebus), and in the sacred places which formed the centers of the amphictyonies (Semnones, Nerthus nations, Marsi, Frisians), there also were sacrifices on special occasions, as when a victory had been won or a river was to be crosses. Three kinds of sacrifices may be distinguished: those subserving purposes of divination; human sacrifices to appease the wrath of the gods; sacrifices of animals followed by the sacrificatory feast. We frequently read of song and dance accompanying the sacrifice, as among the Lombards at the sacrifice of a goat: "At this same time, when the Lombards had obtained nearly four hundred prisoners of war, they offered up to the devil, in accordance with their custom, the head of a she-goat, consecrating it to him by running about in a circle and by impious songs." The sword-dance in honor of Tiu and the choral songs were likewise from an early time accompanied by sacrifice. Even Saxo still mentions in connection with the sacrifice at Upsala "the effeminate gestures and the clapping of the mimes on the stage, and the unmanly clatter of the bells."

There are numerous detached references to heathen sacrifices in the religious literature of the early Middle Ages. In Burchard of Worms we read of "nocturnal sacrifices to the devils" on graves and at funerals, of song and festive meals, of jest (joca) and dance, of the bringing of tapers, bread, or gifts in general, to wells, stones, and cross-roads. Similar evidence may be found in Eligius, the Indiculus Superstitionum and elsewhere. These observances are doubtless partly old and partly new, partly universal and partly local. They furthermore represent soul cult, nature-worship (more especially of water and wells), and gifts to the gods, without our being able in each particular instance to distinguish sharply between these several sides. Most of the gifts here named were bloodless, but in the case of persons sacrificed to water, as was at time done, the victims were drowned. The customs here forbidden must from the nature of the case, even in prehistoric pagan times, have been popular observances rather than part of the public cult.

For the Scandinavian peoples the material at our disposal is far more abundant. Numerous instances of human sacrifices are recorded. The Norsemen were dreaded in Western Europe more especially on account of their practice of cutting the "bloody eagle" (blodhorn), in which they cut away the ribs of their victim near the spinal column and through the openings thus made drew out the lungs, doubtless as a sacrifice to their gods. In their own land criminals and slaves were, on the occasion of the meeting of the thing, still sacrificed on the altar or drowned in the sacred pond. At time royal and even sacred blood had to flow; in a period of great famine the Swedes had during the first year sacrificed oxen, the second year men, and still the crops continued to fail. "Then held the great men council together, and were of one accord that this scarcity was because of Domald their king, and withal that they should sacrifice him for the plenty of the year; yea, that they should set on him and slay him, and redden the seats of the gods with the blood of him; and even so they did." For similar reasons the Swedes burnt king Olaf Tree-shaver (trételgja) in his house and "gave him to Odhin, offering him up for the plenty of the year." Another king, Aun or Ani by name, at Upsala, had contrived to prolong his life to an unusual limit by sacrificing nine of his ten sons to Odhin. Although already imbecile from old age, he would have slain the tenth also, had the people not prevented it. When king Vikarr and his men were detained by adverse winds, the lot designated the king himself as the victim to be offered up to obtaining favorable winds, and Starkad obeys the decree by handing king Vikarr on a tree, and piercing him with a spear.

Not from the sagas alone, but from times that are wholly historical, accounts of human sacrifices have come down to us. Thus jarl Hakon in his fight with the Jomsvikings offers up his son to Thorgerdh Hlgabrudh, and king Olaf Tryggvason threatened that if he was to return to paganism, he would have to hold a big sacrifice; "and neither will I choose hereto thralls and evildoers; but rather will I choose gifts for the gods the noblest of men," whom he thereupon proceeds to call out by name from among those present. The Kristni Saga relates, in connection with the period of conflict between heathen and Christians in Iceland, how the former proposed to sacrifice to their gods two persons from each district, but were unable to secure the victims, whereas the Christians easily found two who were willing "to devote themselves to a purer life." On the island of Gotland the inhabitants sacrifices their sons and daughters, as the Historia Gotlandiæ informs us. The accounts that Thietmar of Merseburg and Adam of Bremen give of the great human sacrifices at Lethra and Upsala may be somewhat exaggerated; even though we allowed large deductions, what remained would still be considerable. When a ship was launched, it was let run over the body of a victim, whose blood thus colored the rollers (hlunn-rodh, "roller-reddening"), a custom that is parallel to that of walling up a child in the foundations of a building. There is not trace, however, of this latter custom among the Scandinavians, although there are a number of instances of it on record among other Teutonic peoples.


A description is given in the saga of Hakon the Good of a sacrificial feast on the occasion of the thing.

It was the olden custom that when a blood-offering should be, all the bonders should come to the place where was the temple, bringing with them all the victuals they had need of while the feast should last; and at that feast should all men have ale with them. There also was slain cattle of every kind, and horses withal; and all the blood that come from them was called hlaut, but hlaut-bowls were they called wherein the blood stood, and the hlaut-tein a rod made in the fashion of a sprinkler. With all the hlaut should the stalls of the gods be reddened, and the walls for the temple within and without, and the men-fold also besprinkled; but the flesh was to be sodden for the feasting of men. Fires were to be made in the midst of the floor of the temple, with caldrons thereover, and the health-cups should be borne over the fire. But he who made the feast and was the lord thereof should sign the cups and all the meat; and first should be drunken Odhin's cup for the victory and dominion of the king, and then the cup of Njordhr and the cup of Freyr for plentiful season and peace. Thereafter were many men wont to drink the Bragi-cup; and men drank also a cup to their kinsmen dead who had been noble, and that was call the cup of memory.

Those who sat down to this feast were called sudhnautar, i.e. partakers of the sodden. It was not permissible to omit the cup in memory of the dead. Vows made over the cup occur, Helgakvidha Hjrvardhssonar, 32, 33. On the occasion of such a sacrificial banquet Hakon was reluctantly prevailed upon to take part in the heathen ceremonial, which the nobility refused the abandon.

In the Scandinavian North these sacrifices were usually designed to promote fertility, and in German folklore too we meet with a number of usages, connected with agriculture and the breeding of cattle, that are to be classed among sacrifices. They sought to ward off harmful influences and to promote the fruitfulness of the soil. It is obvious that the same ceremonies that were employed to conjure pestilence, hailstorms, and similar calamities would, from their very nature, also serve to insure the success of the harvest and the welfare of the cattle.

A prominent place among the expiatory sacrifices was occupied by the need-fires, which doubtless owed their existence to the presence of plague among the cattle, but gradually fell together with the St John fires. We do not venture to decide whether this custom is based solely on the ida of the purifying power of fire as a natural element, or whether the sun is also concerned in the matter, although the use of the wheel (as emblem of the solar disk) might seem to point in the latter direction, one method of generating this fire being the turning of a piece of wood inside a wheel; a burning wheel was also hurled in the air or rolled down a hill. As a rule, the flame was kindled by rubbing two pieces of wood against each other, all the ires in the village having previously been extinguished. The Indiculus Superstitionum et Paganiarum, drawn up in the year 743 by the synod of Listines, speaks of "fire produced by friction, i.e. nodfyr," and in the preceding year another synod had referred to "those sacrilegious fires which are called niedfyr." Through this fire the infected flocks are driven: swine, cattle, horses, and geese. Men also leap through the flames and blacken their faces with the cinders. With the firebrands fruit trees, fields, and pastures are fumigated, and they are also used to start new fires on the hearths. Burnt-out cinders and ashes are placed in the mangers and strewed about in the fields. There is nothing to show that these usages were connected with particular deities. That their origin is to be traced back to heathen times is at least probable.

Pagan origin is certain in the case of the processions held of old for Isis, Nerthus, Freyr, etc. These are also condemned in the Indiculus under the head of "the image which is carried about through the fields (per campos)." The greater part of these processions may be explained as representing the entry of a particular deity at the beginning of a new season. They too are connected with the yearly increase of field, pasture and orchard. With songs the images were carried per campos; people went about with a plough or with animals for the sacrifice, to promote the fertility of the soil.

On every hand there still exist among the people various sacrifices and observances at sowing and reaping, either to insure fruitfulness for the coming year or to obtain some omen in regard to it, the observances frequently bearing a decidedly magic character. The question has been raised, whether these disjecta membra can be combined to form a connected whole; whether, in other words, these separate observances constituted part of an ancient pagan sacrifice ritual. Observing certain necessary restrictions, Jahn has attempted to reconstruct such a whole. According to this point of view, both the expiatory sacrifices in time of disaster and the animal sacrifices for the furtherance of agriculture and the breeding of cattle, including the private sacrifices of a family and the public ones of a community, represent ancient pagan customs that persist among the people.

We shall here attempt to give a sketch of such a public sacrifice, without presuming to determine whether it actually eve took place with this degree of completeness in a historical milieu. At the approach of the heat of summer, both the herdsman and the husbandman fear the perils with which this season is fraught: the plague that attacks the flocks, the hail that beats down the grain. To ward these off, they choose for a sacrifice their finest animals (or those which on that particular day were the last to reach pasture) and adorn them with garlands, horses, cattle, and dogs being set apart for Wuotan, swine and cats for Frija, he-goats, geese, and fowl for Thunar. Twigs are cut from special kinds of trees, and, interwoven with flowers, these are fastened to the tails for the animals intended for the sacrifice. Drenched with dew, these switches are turned into magic brooms, which are put to various uses: cattle are struck on the back with them to drive away the demons of sickness;stables and barns are swept with them, they are planted on the dung-hill; and they are hung as a talisman over the door of the house. The milk of the cow thus exorcised is, with eggs and herbs, prepared for the sacrificial meal. The procession now begins. Leading the sacrificial animals, bedecked with garlands and colored ribbons, and preceded by an image of a god, the procession passes throughout the village, thereupon makes a circuit of the fields, a halt being made at each of the four corners to pray to Thunar that he may spare the fields, and finally ends up at the village well, into which each of the participants throws a sacrificial cake for Frija, and from which he thereupon takes a drink. From the height of the water in the well predictions are made concerning the success of the year's harvest. Water is drawn into a cask and taken home to act as a safeguard, in time of need, against misfortune and the evil spirits.

While the herdsmen and husbandmen are thus making the rounds, the children visit the houses of the village, gathering fuel to start a big fire on the village square or a neighboring hill. In it they burn the figure of a doll, i.e. the evil spirit or witch.

Meanwhile evening has come. The heads of the animals to be sacrificed are cut off; dogs and cats are burnt on the pile in their entirety, of the other animals only the hide, the bones, and the entrails. With dance and song they circle around the flaming fire, and from the smoke all manner of things are prophesied regarding weather and harvest, and life and death in the family. As in the case of the need-fire, people run about with the flaring brands or leap through the flames. The meal has now been made ready: the meat sodden, the sacrificial cakes baked, beer and minne-drink prepared. All make merry at the banquet that follows, every one taking part, and even the stranger not being excluded. The feast continues through the night, and remnants of the food are taken home; they are powerful magic charms against sickness and calamity. Similarly, at the slaughtering of the sacrificial animals people show great eagerness to get possessio of certain leavings.

It is evident, therefore, that the various observances are capable of being united to form a connected whole, even though we are unable to assign it to any particular pagan period.

 "The Religion of the Teutons," by P. D. Chantepie De La Saussaye, trans. by Bert J. Vos, page 355-378.