The main rites in the Norse culture

Foreword

Here I will report only the fundamental passages of the main rites (so not all the rites) and without specific details. I have my reasons to do so. Every heathen is free to keep his own rites, unlike as in other religions and cults where it is the task of the priests. The only priests in the northern religion are the goðar (m. p.; goði m. s.) and the gyðjur (f. p.; gyðja f. s.), and they are only learned people who know perfectly culture and rites, so more suitable to hold rituals.

Warning

This note is about the ancient rite, the Forn Siðr, the Ancient Way. Neopaganism, in its various forms, Ásatrú, Vanatrú, and so on, has almost nothing to see with the rites here described. I write “almost” because many modern neopagan rites are founded on the ancient; anyway they are basically different. The following note contains explicit references to blood, sacrificial death and other arguments that may be considered violent by sensible people. The reader who is going to read from here on it is now conscious.

Blót Sacrifice

Let’s start with the most important rite in the Norse religion, the blót, the sacrifice. The blót can have many tasks: propitious, divination, protection, and so on. The principal blótar [plural of blót] are accompanied by the veizlur, namely the parties, but this will be better deepened after.

Every blót has the the following preparation:
1st – Consecrate a sacrificial victim to the gods. Vegetables are considered living beings; so a blót can be hold even with an apple as sacrificial victim. So, an animal victim is not mandatory.
2nd – Sprinkle the sacrificial victim with the hlaut (sacrificial blood), the mjǫðu (sacrificial mead) or the bjóru (sacrificial beer).

Then proceed to the proper blót:
3rd – Kill the sacrificial victim.
4th – Sprinkle the altar and the participants with its blood or vital fluids (such as resin, juice, etc.).
5th – The remaining of the victim been eaten and burned.
The blót can be followed by the sumbel, the sacred drinking, described below.

Sumbel Sacred drinking

Is the sacred drinking. The sumbel is one of the simplest rite; as simply the beverage is consecrated to the gods when created (when brewed, boiled, and so on), then it is drink in sacred horns or chalices. Mainly is used the mead, brewed and consecrated one year before the sumbel.

Fóstbrœðralagr – Blood brotherhood

Blood brotherhood is one of the most important rites in the Norse heathen religion. A blood brother or sister, in facts, is considered as an effective member of the family, as he/she was born together the other brother/sister. More, blood brotherhood is eternal and indelible.
First a spear and an athame are consecrated to the gods for the brotherhood. The two participants kneel. A clod of earth is hit with the sacred spear and the two participants are sprinkle with the earth. Another variant wants the clod of earth hit and then raised with two spears and the two participants going under it.
Then a cut is carved in the arms of both the participants with the athame, summoning the goddess Vár, the Goddess of Oaths. Then the blood of the participants is mixed, making touch the cuts. So they swear loyalty eachother with speeches of eternal fidelity. After this, the ritual is ended, but a sumbel is duty to celebrate the eternal kinship just established.

Brúðhlaup – Wedding

The brúðhlaup is a variant of the blood brotherhood, which states a loving and marital bonding between two individuals (also of the same gender). It is divided into four steps:

1st – Kaup: is the engagement, the betrothal. The two fiancés pay the money required to organise the marriage and in ancient time the allowing was asked to both the family.
2nd – Festar: is the proper betrothal. It’s a fundamental period, which varies from 6 months onwards, according to the agreement of the kaup. It serves as a kind of “trial period”; in which the engaged aren’t actually bounded and they can decide to stop the whole procedure when they want; because the proper Norse marriage is eteneral (as well as the blood brotherhood).
3rd – Brúðhlaup: is the proper wedding. The procedure is similar to that of the fóstbrœðralagr; but without the variant of the earth clod and the rites a bit different.
4th – Hjón: is the wedding’s ending. A new name is given to the newlyweds, mad of “-brúði” and the husband’s name for the wife and “-verr” and the bride’s name for the husband. Here also is fundamental a sumbel to celebrate the sacred kinship. In this case, the traditional sumbel is done with mead. The bride and groom will remain alone for a lunar month and they will drink mead everyday. Hence the origin of the therm “honeymoon”.

Landtǫkum – Land-taking

Especially during the viking colonisation (c.a. 750 B.C.) was developed the landtǫkum, namely the final taking possession of a conquered or found land, by the consecrament as its own. This ritual too is easy: the boundaries of the possessed land is borden with piles of salt (not mandatory in a unbroken line). Then a woodtorch is consecrated and turned on. Holding the woodtorch in hand, a walk around the land’s boundaries is done, uttering the names of the gods for the ritual. The God of Land is traditionally Heimdallr, he who watches over Ásgarðr, the land of the gods; he has a hearing so powerful to hear the blades of grass growing and has such sharp eyes to see the furthermost stars. The protector spirits of the lands’ boundaries are called landvættir.

Veizla – Feast

The veizlur (singular: veizla) are the parties in the Norse culture. They aren’t a proper ritual; but instead a feasting continuation of other rites. Famous are the blótveizlur, the parties after the blótar. A veizla doesn’t follow a particulare scheme: though, generally, it begins with the consecration of the event to the gods and ends with the sumbel, the sacred drinking. A vezila can last from few minutes to several days; as in the case of the Jólablótveizla; which lasts for 5 days after the Jól.

Blótveizla – After sacrifice feast

Is the feast after the most important blótar, which often last for all the day or even several days. Among the blótar always accompanied by blótveizlur include the Jólablót (13 January, known also as Yule or Jul), the Þórrablót (14 February), the Sigrblót (14 July or April) and the often – but now always – the Dísablótar (31 October and 2 March).

Erfi Funeral

The erfi is the Norse funeral. The funeral is the last rite to which is subject a living being’s body. The bodies are burned, to speed the access of the essence (hugr) to the Realm of the Gods and not of only the soul; which departs from the body when it dies. There are three kinds of funerals:

1) With funeral boat, called erfadrakk or báðgraf, respectively the sea-funeral boat which is sended to wide sea (or big lake) and set on fire with flaming arrows; and the earth-funeral boat used as a pyre on the mainland;
2) With pyre, erfabáleit, a pyre done on the mainland and different by the báðgraf in its form;
3) With mound, of obvious Islamic and Christian influence.

The ritual is the same only for the first two kinds of funeral.

1st – The deceased is placed on the boat with its belongings.
2nd – The rite is consecrated to the gods with an axe or an hammer, particularly to Hel, Godess of the Underworld; and to Óðinn, Father of All.
3rd – The pyre is set on fire, whether it is on earth or water.

A human body, without other fuels, take from 8-10 to 72-80 hours to burn wholly. So, since its discovering as a fuel, the oil is used to speed up the process. This is important especially for the funerals with erfadrakk – typically adopted by the vikings for the fallen in battle – because the wood boat, burning, sinks, and so the corpse may not burn completely. A fuel is used also in the funeal with báðgraf or with pyre, because c.a. 80 hours of fire are highly dangerous.

A great dishonor, as in Ancient Rome and Ancient Greece, is being left to wither when dead. Even the slaves had the right of their own funeral pyre in the North Europe, and even the sentenced to death for serious crimes. Istances of abandonment of the corpse are really rare.


Sources

Heimskringla, Poetic Edda, Prose Edda.

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