Hörgar

Part of elementamundi.com. By author Mark David: Twitter @authorMarkDavid


A hörgr (hörgar), a type of altar or cult site

Possibly consisting of a heap of stones out in the open, opposed to a ‘roofed hall’ that was called the hof (temple). It was at such a place as the hörgr that a ceremony called the blót was conducted, usually in the form of a sacrificial feast. The verb blóta meant “to worship with sacrifice”, or “to strengthen”. The sacrifice usually consisted of animals, in particular pigs and horses. The meat was boiled in large cooking pits with heated stones, either indoors or outdoors. The blood was considered to contain special powers and it was sprinkled on the statues of the gods, on the walls and on the participants themselves.

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Photo: Karl Oskar Eklund Archives

It was a sacred moment when the people gathered around the steaming cauldrons to have a meal together with the gods or the Elves. The drink that was passed around was blessed and sacred as well and it was passed from participant to participant. The drink was usually beer or mead but among the nobility it could be imported wine. The old prayer was til árs ok friðar, “for a good year and frith (peace)” They asked for fertility, good health, a good life and peace and harmony between the people and the powers.

Autumn Blót

The autumn blót was performed in the middle of October (about four weeks after the autumn equinox), the Winter Nights, indicating the beginning of winter. The great midwinter blót, or Yule, took place in the middle of January. Freyr was the most important god at the Midwinter and autumn blót, and Christmas ham (the pig was for Freyr) is still a main Christmas course in most of Scandinavia, served often with a spinach sauce. 

The Summer blót was undertaken in the middle of April (about four weeks after the spring equinox) and it was given to Odin, drinking to victory in war.

With the onset of Christianity, such old customs were banished, but they continued, remote locations being used more frequently explaining the importance of remote sites like the one at Trollkyrka.

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Burial Mounds from the K O Eklund Archives, Gothia, Sweden

The German chronicler Adam of Bremen has described how it was done at the Temple at Uppsala at Old Uppsala in Sweden, ca 1070:

Thor was the most powerful god and ruled over thunder and lightning, wind and rain, sunshine and crops. He sat in the centre with a hammer (Mjolnir) in his hand, and on each side were Odin, the god of war, in full armour and Frey, the god of peace and love, attributed with an enormous erect phallus. All the pagan gods have their priests who offer them the people’s sacrifices. If there is disease or famine, they sacrifice to Thor, if war to Odin and if weddings to Frey.

Every ninth year there is a blót of nine days, a common feast for everyone in Sweden. Then they sacrifice nine males of each species, even men, and the bodies are hung from the branches of a grove near the temple. No one is exempt from this blót and everyone sends gifts to the shrine, even the kings. Those who are Christian have to pay a fee not to take part in the blót.

Disablót

According to Snorri, there was a main blót at the Temple at Uppsala in February, the Dísablót, the ceremony to bring a successful harvest, during which they sacrificed for peace and for the victories of the king. 

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Álfablót

The álfablót or Elven blót was small scale sacrifice to the Elves conducted at the end of autumn, when the crops had been harvested and the animals were most fat. It was celebrated at the homestead and led by its mistress. Not much is known about these rites, since they were surrounded by secrecy and strangers were not welcome during the time of the rituals. However, since the elves were collective powers closely connected with the ancestors, some assume that it had to do with the ancestor cult and the life force of the family.

In the icelandic Kormáks saga, there is an account on how sacrifices were done in honour of the elves in order to heal a battle wound. Unlike the sacrifices described by Sigvatr, this one appears to have been a sacrifice that could have been performed at any time of the year:

Hún segir: “Hóll einn er héðan skammt í brott er álfar búa í. Graðung þann er Kormákur drap skaltu fá og rjóða blóð graðungsins á hólinn utan en gera álfum veislu af slátrinu og mun þér batna.”

“A hill there is,” answered she, “not far away from here, where elves have their haunt. Now get you the bull that Cormac killed, and redden the outer side of the hill with its blood, and make a feast for the elves with its flesh. Then thou wilt be healed.”


 

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