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Blt versus Sacrifice: An Examination of Modern Heathen Terminology Gary P Golden Jr. ne of the things that !

ill incite "assionate de#ate amongst heathens is the use of the terminology blt and sacrifice. $n this "a"er $ !ish to ta%e a loo% at it from a historical vie!"oint as o""osed to the current modern one and the use of the term blt to descri#e a modern heathen ritual !hether it includes #lood sacrifice or not. $ also !ish to discuss ho! !e can ta%e !hat !e %no! and a""ly it today. As mentioned a#ove& the term blt is used even if no #lood sacrifice ta%es "lace. $ %no! for me "ersonally after years of doing it in the current common fashion of 'ust mead& !ords or the occasional votive offering and no! most recently having actually conducted a #lood sacrifice $ can say my o"inion has indeed changed. $ no! loo% at it as !ithout #lood& it is not a blt. $ am #y no means saying the term must #e thro!n a!ay in favor of something (more accurate) if one does not do #lood sacrifice& #ut for us !e call it and consider it a blt only if an actual #lood sacrifice is made and only the actual act of the sacrifice is called blt !ith the rest of the festivities sim"ly #eing called !hat they are. $f !e give anything other than #lood !e sim"ly are giving votive or food offerings and !hile it is still a sacrifice it is not ho!ever blt and call it accordingly. $n the surviving literature there are exam"les of !hat !as #elieved to have ta%en "lace and& !hile not "roviding a detailed account of !hat too% "lace during a blt, it gives us an outline. Some of these exam"les are found in H*%on inn go+i saga& Eyr#ygg'a saga& and ,lfl'-tsl.g and are as follo!s. According to Eyrbyggja sag: (/ut he set u" for himself a great house at Hofsv-gr !hich he called Hofsta+ir. There he let #uild a tem"le& and a mighty house it !as. There !as a door in the side0!all and nearer to one end thereof. 1ithin the door stood the "illars of the high0seat& and nails !ere therein2 they !ere called the gods3 nails. There !ithin !as a great frith0"lace. /ut off the inmost house !as there another house& of that fashion !hereof no! is the choir of a church& and there stood a stall in the midst of the floor in the fashion of an altar& and thereon lay a ring !ithout a 'oin that !eighed t!enty ounces& and on that must men s!ear all oaths2 and that ring must the chief have on his arm at all man0motes. n the stall should also stand the #lood0#o!l& and therein the #lood0rod !as& li%e unto a s"rin%ler& and there!ith should #e s"rin%led from the #o!l that #lood !hich is called 4Hlaut4& !hich !as that %ind of #lood !hich flo!ed !hen those #easts !ere smitten !ho !ere sacrificed to the Gods. /ut round a#out the stall !ere the Gods arrayed in the Holy Place. To that tem"le must all men "ay toll& and #e #ound to follo! the tem"le0 "riest in all farings even as no! are the thingmen of chiefs. /ut the chief must u"hold the tem"le at his o!n charges& so that it should not go to !aste& and hold therein feasts of sacrifice.)5 $n the exam"le in Hkon the Goods saga it reads: ($t !as an old custom& that !hen there !as to #e sacrifice all the #ondes should come to the s"ot !here the tem"le stood and #ring !ith them all that they re6uired !hile the festival of the sacrifice lasted. To this festival all the men #rought ale !ith them2 and all %inds of cattle& as !ell as horses& !ere slaughtered& and all the #lood that came from them !as called "hlaut", and the vessels in !hich it !as collected !ere called hlaut1

Eyrbyggja saga Ch. 4, p.29 1989

vessels. Hlaut-staves !ere made& li%e s"rin%ling #rushes& !ith !hich the !hole of the altars and the tem"le !alls& #oth outside and inside& !ere s"rin%led over& and also the "eo"le !ere s"rin%led !ith the #lood2 #ut the flesh !as #oiled into savoury meat for those "resent. The fire !as in the middle of the floor of the tem"le& and over it hung the %ettles& and the full go#lets !ere handed across the fire2 and he !ho made the feast& and !as a chief& #lessed the full go#lets& and all the meat of the sacrifice. And first din3s go#let !as em"tied for victory and "o!er to his %ing2 thereafter& 7iord3s and 8rey'a3s go#lets for "eace and a good season. Then it !as the custom of many to em"ty the #rage0go#let2 and then the guests em"tied a go#let to the memory of de"arted friends& called the remem#rance go#let.)9 And lastly it is says in Ulfljtsl g: (A ring of t!o ounces in !eight or more should lie on the "latform in each main hof2 the "riest should have this ring on his arm at all legal assem#lies !hich he himself !as res"onsi#le for& and he himself should redden it #eforehand !ith the red #lood of an ox !hich he himself had sacrificed there. Every man !ho needed to "erform any legal #usiness at the court should first s!ear an oath on that ring and name t!o or more !itnesses. He should say& ($ name !itnesses that $ s!ear an oath on the ring& a la!ful oath2 so hel" me 8reyr and 7'ordr and the almighty god insofar as $ shall "rosecute this case or defend it or #ear !itness or give verdicts or "ass sentences& as $ %no! to #e most right and true and closest to the la!2 and "erform all la!ful acts that fall u"on me !hile $ am at the assem#ly.): There are a fe! other exam"les !hich !e !ill discuss later #ut in the three accounts a#ove there are similarities. Eyr#ygg'a s"ea%s of the high seat "illars and the holy nails attached to them !hile #oth Eyr#ygg'a saga and H*%on the Good;s saga mention the "latform& the idols & the sacrificial t!ig& the #lood& the #o!l that collects the #lood and finally the armring that the go+i !ears !hen officiating. The account in ,lfl'-tsl.g ho!ever says nothing a#out any of these !ith the exce"tion of the arm ring !orn #y the "riest and the oaths. According to Terry Gunnell in (Hof& Halls, Go!ar and "#arves: $n E%a&'nat'on of the ('tual )*a+e 'n the ,agan -+eland'+ Hall) it seems that the em"hasis is "laced on the sacrificial feast and the arm ring and ho! it transforms the go!' into something more "o!erful as "art of their religious activities.

$n regards to the similarities in the a#ove accounts concerning the as"ergillum& Jon Hnefill A+alsteinsson says (Holy !ater !as s"rin%led as a sym#ol of "urification& #ut #lood !as s"rin%led to charge the surroundings !ith "o!er...)< and Ga#riel Turville0Petre inter"reted Snorri;s idea of the sacrificial feast as follo!s: (The meaning of the sacrificial feast& as Snorri sa! it& is fairly "lain. 1hen #lood !as s"rin%led over altars and men and

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Snorri Sturluson, Heimskringla Ch. Terry Gunnell, Hof, Halls, Goar and Dwarves: An Examination of the Rit al !"a#e in the $agan %#elandi# Hall 4 Jon Hnefill Adalsteinsson, A $ie#e of Horse &iver

the toasts !ere drun%& men !ere sym#olically 'oined !ith gods of !ar and fertility& and !ith their dead ancestors& sharing their mystical "o!ers. This is a form of communion.) =

$t !ould seem then #ased on the accounts listed a#ove that historically& the em"hasis of blt !as "laced on the sacrifice& the #lood from that sacrifice& and the individual officiating the sacrifice. $f one !ere to loo% at the source material one !ould deduct that it is in fact #lood. According to $ .on+'se "'+t'onary of /ld -+eland'+ #y Geir T >o?ga blt is a sacrifice& sacrificial feast or #an6uet01 /y contrast& it is common "ractice for most modern heathen grou"s to hold blt on a monthly #asis to a different deity and that is !here the em"hasis is "laced. 1hile no actual #lood sacrifice ta%es "lace at these the term b-t is used as a catch all "hrase to descri#e the entire event as o""osed to the act of !hat !ould #e sacrificing the animal itself. $n most instances !ords are s"o%en and food or votive offerings are given. $t also has the added #enefit of allo!ing them to get together on a regular #asis to share in fello!shi".

$n contrast the !ord sacrifice can #e used to mean any offerings given #e they food or votive& other than #lood. $t seems that #ased on these definitions and literary accounts that blt !as& in fact& a #lood sacrifice& done in a ritualistic setting !ith the intention of gaining favor of the "o!ers or fulfilling the contract #et!een men and the "o!ers.

Ho!ever& not all forms of !orshi" !ere #lood sacrifices. Some other sources !e have for !orshi" in the form of sacrificial offerings come to us from $#n 8adlan and his ex"erience !ith the @us in A99 in the Bolga area: (1hen their shi"s arrive at their anchorage each man goes on shore& ta%ing !ith him #read& eggs& meat& lee%s& mil% and #eer& and goes to a tall u"right !ooden "ost !ith a face that loo%s li%e a man;s. @ound it there are smaller figures& and #ehind these figures high !ooden "oles "lanted in the ground. So he goes u" to the #ig figure& flings himself on the ground& and says: ( my lord& $ have come from far off !ith so many slave0girls and so many sa#le furs.) Chere he counts u" all the !ares he has #roughtD (and no! $ come to you !ith this offering). CHere he lays !hat he has #rought in front of the !ooden "ost.D ($ !ish that you !ould send me a merchant rich in dinars and dirrhems& !ho !ill #uy from me as $ !ish& and !ill not argue !ith !hat $ say.)E

He further ex"lains that the merchant may re"eat the offering several times if the trade is slo!& #ut if it #ris% he says: (My lord has seen to my needs2 it is my duty to re"ay him.) 8adlan says: (He goes to fetch a num#er of shee" and cattle& and slaughters them. Some of the flesh he gives as
ibid Geir T "o#$a, A 'on#ise Di#tionary of (ld %#elandi# % Ja&'ueline Si(pson, !ome !#andinavian !a#rifi#es

alms2 the rest he ta%es and thro!s #et!een the #ig "ost and the smaller ones surrounding it2 the heads of the cattle and shee" he hangs u" on the holes "lanted in the earth. After dar% the dogs come and eat u" all this2 the man !ho has done it says: (Flearly my lord is "leased !ith me and has eaten my offerings.)G

$n the account a#ove from $#n 8adlan !e have an exam"le of #oth votive offerings as !ell as #lood sacrifice #eing given for the same "ur"ose. The votive offerings !ere given to #ring the trader merchants to #uy his !ares& and if and !hen he does !ell he than%s the "o!ers #y #lood sacrificing to them.

That is another area !here #lood sacrifice differs. $n most cases it seems the sacrifice !as "art of a larger gathering in !hich those in attendance !hile the other "art !as given to the gods. $n some instances& such as Horm*%;s saga& the entire animal !as given: (There;s a certain hilloc% a short !ay from here& in !hich elves live. Iou are to ta%e the #ull that Horma% %illed& redden the surface of the hilloc% !ith the #ull;s #lood& and ma%e the elves a feast of the meat2 then you;ll recover.)A

This idea ho!ever of communal feast should not #e confused !ith #lood sacrifices that !ould ta%e "lace at large gatherings outside of religious festivals such as !eddings& funeral feasts or assem#lies and !hile these gatherings may have #een religious #ut they !ere certainly also "olitical as references found in the Book of Guta and 2andna&abok.10

1e also have accounts from the A=J;s !here $#rahaim at0Tartushi !as visiting Hede#y& there he noticed: (They hold a feast at !hich they all gather to honor their god and to eat and drin%. 1hoever %ills a #east as a sacrifice sets u" a "ole at the door of his house and fastens the animal to it C!hether ox& ram& he0goat or "igD2 thus the "eo"le %no! he has made an offering in honor of his god.)55

An account from around A=J from Em"eror Fonstantine Por"hyrogenitos tells of a "erilous river 'ourney and ho! after "assing the ra"ids they came to an island in the Knie"er to ma%e than%0offerings: (Then they succeeded in reaching an island named after St. Gregory& to !hich they #ring their offerings #ecause a gigantic oa% tree gro!s there. They ma%e offerings of live
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ibid )or(*+,s sa$a 1.u&as / 0&Go1ern, )loody !la ghter 11 Ja&'ueline Si(pson, !ome !#andinavian !a#rifi#es

#irds2 they stic% 'avelins in a circle in the ground around them2 others ma%e offerings of #read and meat too& and !hatever they each may have& as is the "revailing custom among them. Also they cast lots over the #irds& !hether they should slaughter them& or eat them themselves& or let them free.)59

7o! that !e have #ac%ground on some of the !ays in !hich the source material tells us as to ho! blt too% "lace ho! can !e as modern heathens a""ly it to today. According to Snorri& there !ere three "rinci"al sacrifices held. These !ere the time around 1internights& near mid!inter CIuleD and at the a""roach of summer and according to He'&skr'ngla: (To!ards !inter& sacrifice should #e made for a good season& and at mid!inter for good gro!th: the third& !hen summer came& that !as a victory #l-t.) $n Gisla saga: (Thorgrimr intended to have an autumn feast at the time of the 1inter 7ights to !elcome !inter and to sacrifice to 8reyr.) The term Thorra#l-t is good evidence of a mid!inter sacrifice2 and in Batnsdaela saga there is an illusion to sacrifice in the first days of summer: (7o! his mother L'ot& !ill sacrifice to!ards summer& as she usually does according to their religion0345 Sacrifices though !ere in fact "ro#a#ly far more fre6uent& #ut the others !ould evidently have #een minor ceremonies or else sacrifices for a "articular "ur"ose as !as mentioned earlier. Koes all this information mean !e can only hold blt at only these times of yearM $f one !ere to mold their "ractice as close to historical accuracy as "ossi#le then one could say that yes& these !ould #e the times one !ould blt. $ %no! for myself and our grou"& Iule and Midsummer are the t!o times of year !e !ill blt& #ut !e are also leaving the "ossi#ility of "erforming one during 1internights.

1hat !e %no! from #oth literary and archeological records is that during blt& animals !ere sacrificed and their #lood !as smeared on the idols& "eo"le in attendance& altar and tem"le !alls. $n our grove to date !e have "erformed t!o blts, one at Midsummer in 9J55 and again at Iule that same year and in #oth of these instances it !as a "ig !hich !as the blt animal. The blts that have ta%en "lace so far had the follo!ing format ta%en: Prior to the blt all those in attendance !ere gathered and told !hat !as going to ta%e "lace and !hat to ex"ect. $f any roles !ere given to the attendants this !as the time to do so as $ feel it is necessary for all in attendance to #e a#le to "artici"ate as o""osed to 'ust #eing "resent. $t is also mentioned to #e mindful of any omens !itnessed during the blt. After this has #een discussed !e !ould !ait a#out thirty minutes to allo! everyone to get into the "ro"er mindset and $ !ould find a 6uiet "lace and "re"are myself for !hat !as a#out to ha""en.

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ibid Andre2 3a2n translation, *atnsdaela saga

$t !as then that !e !ould ma%e our !ay to the grove along !ith the blt s!ine and other blt tools such as the rifle& %nife& hlaut-vessels& hlaut-stave, idols& mead& horn& "itcher of !ater and #o!l and hand to!els. At this "oint the cage !ould #e o"ened and the s!ine coaxed out. $ !ould use my grandfathers .99 rifle to ma%e the %illing shot at !hich "oint the s!ine !ould #e lifted onto the altar !here the nec% !ould #e sliced and the #lood collected in the hlaut-vessel. The idols and god"oles !ere then #loodied !ith the #lood collected in one of the hlaut-vessels and the rest "oured onto the v60 $t !as then that the hlaut-stave !as di""ed into the smaller hlaut-vessel and the attendants s"rin%led !ith #lood as the !ords "re"ared !ere said aloud.

nce that !as finished the tas% of #ringing everything #ac% to the house and the "re"aration of the blt s!ine #egan. The Midsummer "ig !as coo%ed !hole !ith half the food #eing eaten at the feast and the other half #eing offered to the gods #y "lacing it in the grove. The s%ull !as also attached to a "illar in the grove. The Iule "ig !as 6uartered u" !ith the head #eing "laced on to" of the 8rey "illar and the s%in hung from one of the trees inside the grove. $t !as in doing this that the gods received their share and sa! that blt and feast !as held in their honor.

$t is !ith this historical evidence in mind& #oth literary and archeological& that !hile sacrifice and blt !ere #oth %no!n to have ta%en "lace blt seems to have #een strictly a #lood sacrifice. As !as mentioned earlier& $ am #y no means saying the term must #e thro!n a!ay in favor of something (more accurate) if one does not do #lood sacrifice& #ut for us !e call it and consider it a blt only if an actual #lood sacrifice is made. $f !e give anything other than #lood !e sim"ly are giving other sacrificial votive or food offerings and call it accordingly.

A4alsteinsson, Hnefill J5n 6199878 A $ie#e of Horse &iver, H*s+5la9t$*fan. :ey+;a1<+ Gunnell, Terry 62--178 Hof, Halls, Goar and Dwarves: An Examination of the Rit al !"a#e in the $agan %#elandi# Hall, Cos(os .u&as, Ga1in and 0&Go1ern Tho(as 62--%78 )loody !la ghter: Rit al De#a"itation and Dis"lay at the *iking !ettlement of Hofstair, %#eland, =uropean Journal of Ar&heolo$y> 1-> %

0&Tur+, :ory 6199%78 !agas of +arrior $oets8 ,ormak-s saga, ?en$uin Classi&s, Great @ritain ?*lsson, Her(an and =d2ards, ?aul 619%278 Eyrbyggja saga, ?en$uin Classi&s, Great @ritain. Si(pson, Ja&'ueline 619!%78 .olklore, Aol. %8, Bo. 3, Taylor / Cran&is .td. on Dehalf of Col+lore =nterprises, .td. Sturlason, Snorri 6199-78 Heimskringla, Eo1er ?uDli&ations, =n$land. 3a2n, Andre2 6199%78 /he !agas of %#elanders8 *atnsdaela saga, ?en$uin Doo+s,Great @ritain "o#$a, Geir T, 62--478 A 'on#ise Di#tionary of (ld %#elandi#, Eo1er ?uDli&ations, =n$land