word to blote (Anglo-Saxon blótan), that
word which in the Nordic is the principal term for men's
active relation to the gods, contains the full potency
of the religious act. It expresses man's power to
transform an object of ordinary holiness so that it
becomes filled with the power of divinity, and passes on
strength into the human world. When Floki was about to
set out for Iceland, he held a great sacrifice and
bloted three ravens which were to show him the way. Then
he built a cairn on the spot where the blot had taken
place, and put to sea. As far as the Shetlands and
Faroes he knew the route to be followed, but as soon as
the last known reefs vanished from sight, he put up his
ravens. And they found the way by roads his luck had
never known before. No other instance among the Germanic
people shows us more clearly the mighty human power of
uniting it's soul with a soul outside, employing it not
as a slave, but as part of oneself; man draws the
peculiar qualities of the alien hamingja into himself
and uses them, he lays himself into the other and makes
it's will his own - and the raven-man flies with sure
instinct over the seas.
the same category as Floki's ravens belong also the
blot-cattle which the people worshipped in secret when
the storm of conversion raised by the Olafs raged at its
worst over the land. In the propaganda writings of the
Olaf sagas, the blot-cattle have an honourable place
among the instruments of hell, and often enough the work
of conversion had to make a detour via the cattle-sheds
in order to get at the master in the house. There is a
piece of missionary history concentrated in the furious
great ox which Harek of Reina had to confess to at one
of Olaf Tryggvason's visits; The man would not admit the
charge of worshipping the beast, but tried to convince
the king that it was merely the remarkable affection of
the animal for himself which awakened his love in
return. But Olaf had himself been heathen enough to know
what such love meant, and did his best to make Harek
transfer his affection to a higher sphere.
is a story of King Ogvald of Ogvaldsnes, which gives us
a glimpse of those souls wherein the whole past stood
poised behind the thin wall Christianity had built
between past and present. The promontory of Ogvaldnes
was called after Ogvald, we are told, a king who put his
trust in a cow. For topographical reasons one would be
inclined to think that Ogvlad might have trusted in all
sorts of other things, but when we read the story as a
whole, we realise that the cow was actually the
principal personage. One easter, when Olaf was visiting
at Karmt, it happened one evening that Odin came
wandering in, quite innocently, as one of those queer
vagabonds who tramp about the country with no earthly
possessions beyond a ready tongue. The strange guest
knows such a host of stories of the olden times, and
tells them in such a lively fashion that every mother's
son near enough to listen pricks up his ears. The king
forgets the time and his sleep, even forgets to mark the
displeasure of the court bishop. After much question and
answer, the talk turns on the spot where they are
staying and it's history: this too the guest knows. The
place is named after King Ogvald, he can tell, who put
his faith in a cow, to such a degree that he took it
with him wherever he went, on land or sea, and thence
arose the proverb, which the king might have heard many
a time, that carle and cow shall go together; at last
Ogvald was laid to rest in a barrow in the promontory,
and the cow in another. The art of narrations achieved
by the ancients never better achieved sly humour, and
the reader feels that this making fun proceeds from a
mind which, albeit with some yearnings for the past, yet
contents itself fully with things as they are; it is the
expression of a resignation which is not melancholy, but
a frank acceptance of the fact that bygones are bygones.
Men evade old vital thoughts when they are dead, they
stamp furiously on them when they still show a slight
trace of life remaining in them, but when they are
securely bound, one is inclined to exhibit their
strength with a jest - as in this story. In face of such
champions of faith as these Olafs were, Odin and his
fellows would have to humble themselves, and be glad if
they could now and then find an opportunity to gain a
little jesting triumph over the Christian god. The
wisdom of the old god is become the wisdom of the dwarf;
and sure of it's aim, it bores it's way in at the very
point where the most stubburn thoughts of the past lay
the blot-beast is man's way of raising himself up beyond
his limitations. To blote is to increase his qualities
to the extraordinary, nay to the divine. We know that
there were degrees of holiness among cattle. Noble
beasts such as Brand's Faxi stand high above the common
herd of milch-cows and beasts of burden, and above the
noble one's again stand the holiest of all, the bloted
animal. In Christian times, the participle "bloted",
used as a living or non-living being, comes to mean
bewitched, enchanted: quite naturally, the bearer of a
superior power of heathen origin is degraded to the
instrument of the powers of evil under heaven. It was a
condition for the selection that the animal should be by
nature distinguished by it's size and beauty, but it
followed from the consecration that it's power expanded
into outward magnitude. Harek's blot-ox struck all with
astonishment, at its enormous limbs. From the firm
ground of reality, fancy shoots up into the wild
extravagances such as that of the boar which the people
of Spain bloted and invoked as a patron saint at the
time of Olaf the Ssaint's exploits in that part of the
world. The king encountered the savage beast out in the
forest, and himself saw how it's bristles swept the
topmost branches of the trees. And as the size
increased, so also did all power; the blot-cattle loomed
higher and higher in the imagination of the epigons. A
king such as Eystein of Upsala, where the blot was more
impressive than any known elsewhere in the northern
lands, could keep a cow so bloted that none could endure
hear it roar. As soon as the Swedes saw a hostile army
approaching, they loosed the beast before the array;
ordinary mortals fled when they heard it's course
utterence, and what it's victorious voice spared fell
before it's horns.
the same way as the consecrated beast was lifted up over
the everyday existence of a domestic animal simply, so
also the blot-man was from his childhood set apart and
made a holy man of God. Thorolf gave his son Stein to
Thor and called him Thorstein. This Thorstein had a son
who, on being baptised with water, was called Grim; the
father gave him to Thor, decided that he should be a
priest of the temple (hof-gothi) and called him Thorgrim.
Another of Thorolf's sons likewise bloted his boy and
gave him to Thor - and thus men had done from the
earliest times. The bloted man was pure untroubled luck;
it was true of him that he had an eye which could see
through everything and foresee everything -
"nothing came upon him unawares." He had the
corresponding power of body and spirit, and could avert
the inadvertible and manage the inevitable; he bore a
spiritual armour, impenetrable to all hostile luck.
bloting of sons belong to such great chieftains families
as that of Thorulf Mostrarkegg, who owned the important
holy seat of Mostr; generation after generation
consecrated itself in one of it's members, naturally in
the man who promised to be the luckiest of the kinsmen -
the chieftain of the clan, as he may be called. The
consecration implied an assumption on the part of the
clan; in its holy chieftain it proclaimed to the world
the exceptionally strong character of its hamingja, and
at the same time the act contained an explanation of the
family's right to occupy a leading position in the
social and religious life of the district. In glimpses
here and there we find the relics of these prominent
families, which were distinguished by their gods and
their pious power, clans which boasted of being great
blot-men - that is to say, holy, divinely strong men.
Harald Hilditonn's invulnerability and great war luck is
due to the fact that he was 'signed' - or charmed, as it
is called in the Christian rendering; and this clan mark
is so permanently attached to him and his that the
Hyndlyljod in its reckoning up of Ottar's kinship can
emphasize that branch of the family which extends up to
Harald, as god-signed man.
consecration made itself apparent in the names. These
Thorsteins and Thorgrims and Thorolfs in the
Mostrarskegg family are of more importance than all the
Thor-combinations which flooded the North in the
following centuries, when the meaning had grown faint. A
bold man of Sogn, a blot-man by name of Geir, was proud
of his vé, and his entire flock of children bore it in
their names: Vebjorn, vestein, Vedis, Vegest, Vemund.
The position of this clan in the district lies indicated
in the cognomen borne by the eldest son: he was called
"the trust of the people of Sogn".
is the solemnity of the consecration which gives the
story of Eyvind Kinnrifa it's lofty tone. Eyvind was
specially consecrated from his mother's womb, and
therefore excluded from the going over to Christianity.
The pious chroniclers of King Olaf revel in the
description of this heathen's end, and at every new
version of Eyvind's story, he comes to resemble more and
more these caricatures of "poor benighted heathen
souls" which now gladden the hearts of the
contributors to Christian missions. We recognise the
psychological enormities peculiar to stories from the
missionary field, when we read that Eyvind is the fruit
of witchcraft wrought by "Finns", or Lappish
wizards, and that these Finns had demanded that he
should always serve Thor and Odin. But Eyvind's great
confession has never-the less not been carried so far
away from reality that we cannot discern what it was
that bound him, making him not only defy the kings
"gentle words", his "stately gifts"
and "great grants of land", but also the great
dish of glowing coals which was laid on his belly and
burst it. "Take away the dish a little while,"
he prayed at last as the end drew near, "and let me
say a little thing before I die." And then he
revealed his secret to the king. His parents had long
been childless, until at last they sought counsel in
rites and incantaions (fjölkyngi). After that a
son was born to them, and they gave him to the gods. And
as soon as he himself was come to years of discretion,
he had repeated the consecration in manifold wise, so
that he had now no longer human nature, but was bound
with his whole hamingja to the old religion.
is Eyvind's "Here I stand, I can do no
otherwise," and on the strength of it he should be
suffered to live the life of his fame after his death.
blot-man was not of divine strength for his own dear
sake alone; his power was to the good of the whole clan,
and more than that; the people put their trust in him.
And it goes with the faith of the clan in it's dead that
men did not turn their backs upon the blot-man because
he was gathered to his people. The dead could be bloted
as well as the living. It is related of Halfdan the
Black that his luck in harvest and his popularity made
him an object of strife after death. The men of Westfold,
and those of Vingulmork and those from Raumariki all
wished to have their chieftain among them, and the
upshot was that they divided the body and set up a
barrow in each district, "to trust and blot for the
people". And it was not only great kings who
enjoyed the honour of being contested for after their
death, there was a settler in Iceland whose grandfather
had been so beloved that after the end of his blessed
life he was bloted. No one, however, was bloted because
he was dead. In a Vebjorn, Vegeir's son, Vestein's
brother, as in a Thorolf, father of hof-godis, the
blessing lies assured in the clan-luck to which the
barrow-dweller belonged, that which he personified in
its most splendid form. There was no gulf between the
departed and the living, and thus no specific difference
in the blot-relation to the two; the dead man was not
ranked higher because he was dead, on the contrary, his
dignity probably would not last beyond the time when a
living representative appeared who could be raised to
the same pitch of the hamingja.
supreme holiness could not be borne as a hidden life,
acting unperceived; with the highest luck went also
greater separation from the rest. The specially holy
station or ox had to observe certain considerations,
imposing on itself greater self-denial and demanding
greater attention from it's surroundings than ordinary
beats. Hrafnkel, the godi of Adalbol, had consecrated
himself and all that was his to Frey, and had in
particular marked out a stallion, Freyfaxi, which was
consecrated to serve as the bearer of divinity. It went
among the mares, but suffered no man on it's back; when
once the herdsman at a pinch had laid hold on it with a
view to going in search of some strayed cattle, it ran
home at full speed, and by unmistakable gestures
informed its master that something terrible had
happened. "It touches my honour, this thing that
has been done to you; it is well that you were able to
tell me yourself, and vengeance shall be taken,"
said Hrafnkel consolingly. Whereupon Freyfaxi went back
to it's grazing and it's mares.
also, the greater gift of grace in the chieftain-priest
carried with it special obligations, in the way of
refraining from various everyday occupations and holding
by certain ritual observances, which ordinary men only
occasionally had to do with; in a word, the blot-man had
to behave all his life as if the whole year from end to
end were one long festival.
The sacredness of the elected chief may encroach upon reality and turn to priestly segregation. From the highest pinnacle of the human there is but a short step to the inhuman, and it needs but a tiny shifting of the weight within a culture for the highest service to be transformed into something dangerous. When the epoch of work is on the decline, there comes a generation which has not shoulders strong enough to bear the great responsibility, or, expressed in a different fashion, culture comes to the point where it is not fully occupied with serving as the motive for action. When it no longer acts as a compact mass of impulse, the seperate sides of it grow out of proportion, until the harmony is broken. Then, the highest is set under protecting isolation. The chieftain is thrust out from his high seat and over into the stillness of the temple, his weapons slip for ever from his hands, the acts which should for safety's sake be avoided increase in number, until he, if the culture be given time to run it's course, sits like an incarnate captive, preserved in holiness. The Northmen never got so far as this; their kings were and ever remained holy warrior princes, who went on ahead, drawing events in their train. The Anglo-Saxons were a good way down along the road, as we see; they had priests who might never ride a stallion or wield a spear. Regarding the southern nations, our information is too meager to allow any generalisations.
In another sense, though of course proceeding from the same idea of consecration, men are bloted to the gods and killed. Prisoners of war, that is, incarnations of a hamingja conquered or to be conquered, are given to the gods to insure that the enemy is broken in his innermost luck and bound hand and foot under the will of the conquerers. The spoils are consecrated to the gods. We know from Tacitus, how Arminius crushed the legions of Varus, not only on the battlefield but also later at the holy place, by hanging the prisoners and dedicating the Roman eagles and weapons to the deities and suspending them in the sacred grove. In this case, the dedication combines, according to our ideas, making holy and rendering abominable, but within the ancient experience such a mode of cursing and placing under a ban means really consecration, in that the spoils of war were set apart from use and given over to the gods that the hamingja therin contained might be swallowed up in their power. In special cases of guilt, when the injury involved extraordinary danger to the community, the culprit was put to death that the source of weakness might be entirely removed, and the peril of cantagion broken. But the killing of a man who belonged to a community of frith, even if he be carefully severed from the stem, and all the bonds connecting him with his fellows of kin and law be cut off, must always remain a matter of careful handling. In order to ward of any unhappy consequences, the execution had to be carried out by unanimous consent and in a state of holiness: the sinner was in reality killed by the gods.
From the same stratum of thought proceeds the manner of suicide recorded in the north: hanging oneself in the temple or in the holy place; in this manner the individual who took his own life presumably insured himself by giving his life up to the gods and thus guarding himself against the possibility of being severed from the hamingja of the clan.
One step farther into the sanctuary, and we stand face to face with the gods. To blote the gods or in the grove and the rock are expressions altogether parallel to the consecration of men and cattle.
In the religion of the Teutons, such terms as worship and adore, atone and propitiate in the Jewish and Christian sense are empty words, they slip powerlessly aside; the discrepancy between the fundamental need of religion and their meaning makes them empty and superficial. The worshipper went to his grove and to his gods in search of strength, and he would not have to go in vain; but it was no use his constantly presenting himself as receptive, and quietly waiting to be filled with all good gifts. It was his buisness to make the gods human, in the old, profound sense of the word, where the emphasis lies on an identification and consequent conjunction of soul with soul. Without mingling mind there was no possibility of union here in Middle-garth, he who could not inspire his neighbor with himself never became his friend, and no will could reach from the one to the other. The gods themselves could do nothing then, nay willed nothing before those who invoked them had rendered them living, as Floki bloted the ravens. It was men who rendered the gods gracious, not by awakening their sympathy, but by inspiring them with frith of their frith. This active co-operation is the origin of those epithets "gentle", "mild", "good to the people" which we find in the Nordic as used of the gods, praises which are therefore at root different from the thoughts which ascend towards our gods borne by these words. But even more was expected of a man when he bloted, - he made the gods great and strong. It called for more than manly courage, and more than common siegcraft to assail a city known to be a "great blotstead" or a place where powerful blots were commonly held. The gods who were much bloted were - according to Christina authors - worse to deal with than ordinary supernatural beings.
With regard to the ceremonial acts which brought about the fusion of the human and divine, we have but scanty information. Gods and men no doubt shared their meat-offering; the greater part of the sacrificial meat found it's way to the table at the feast, and a portion, we may suppose, went to the blot-house. When the legends show Thor standing in the hof with the hammer in his fist, and with the imperturbability of the graven idol consuming his daily ration of four loaves of bread with meat, we can easily recognise the authorities; the good saga writers had not studied church history in vain. Possibly an unsophisticated heathen would not have understood that he was the object of their laughter when the churchmen cracked their time honoured jokes about mumbling sculptures, but all the same, he used, no doubt, to share the common board with the gods.
The centre of gravity in the sacrifice lies in the character of the animal being slaughtered. If this had not had in it something more than mere animal nature, the sacrifice would fall to the ground, and the stronger its hamingja or divinity, the mightier frith was brought about between gods and men. There was choosing from among the herd at feast time. The boar which figures in the legends as the traditional sacrifice was, as the name sonargoltr implies, the leader of the herd - qui omnis alius verres in grege battit and vincit - which according to the Lombardic edict was sacred against theft or robbery by being valued at a triple fine. In extraordinary cases, where there was need of a mighty increase of the strength of the feast, even the most lordly representatives of the livestock on the place might come to honour the feast with their meat.
The blood of the victim was a means of communicating the power of holiness. It was poured over the stone of heap of stones - stallr or horg - in the sacred place. The chieftain's ring which reposed in the sanctuary was reddened on solenm occasions, and we learn in one place about two Icelandic claimants to the rank of priestly chieftain (godi), that they procured themselves to the holy power by reddening their hands in the blood of a ram. The omen-twigs, like the ring on the stallr, were dipped in the sacrificial blood, and thus bloted to do their business among the people. When the Swedes drove out the Christian king, Ingi, from the gathering of men, and set up Blot-Swein in his stead, the change, according to Hervor's saga, was confirmed by a sacrifice; and there is no ground for doubting that the saga is right in particulars when it says that a horse was led in to the law-thing and hacked to pieces, it's flesh being divided up for eating, and it's blood used for reddening the "blot-tree".
In the poets images, we may find reality spontaneously revealing itself. A legend told of the Swedish king Egil that he met his death from his own blot-ox. "It happened in Sweden," runs the literary form, "that an ox which had been marked out for blot, was old, and fed so eagerly that it became fierce; and when men attempted to capture it, it broke away to the woods and caused great damage among men and cattle." Once Egil met it while out hunting, and before the king could defend himself, it had gored both horse and rider. This, in the verses by Thjodolf on the Ynglings, is put as follows: "The ox which had long borne the projecting horg of it's forehead about in the eastland, reddened the spear of it's head upon the king." The bloted ox, the horg and the reddening were not three disparate ideas shaken loosely together in a couple of metrical lines; the metaphores evidently were suggested by a picture which stood before the poets eyes.
In the course of the blot, too, gods and men may have become united in the same holy juice, if we may believe the Heimskringla, which offers a detailed description of the use made of the blot-house at the sacrificial feast: "All the blood from the beasts of sacrifice was gathered in bowls, and in these stood twigs made like brooms: with these the stallr was to be reddened, and the walls of the temple inside and out, and the people also sprinkled." The description is evidently warped, because the author consciously shapes his picture in the likeness of Christian sprinkling with holy water, and his evidence must be discounted accordingly.
In the word blot, then, are contained all actions designed to call forth the uttermost strength of the hamingja pregnant with life. Men blote the gods with sacrificial beasts, with food and drink, or by consecrating men or animals or things. "Men blote heathen powers when they sign their cattle to others than God and his holy men," runs the definition of the Christian Gragas of the Icelanders, denouncing heathen abominations.
Men blote with words; in the post-heathen speech, and in Swedish popular language even now, the word blota is a strong expression for abusing and cursing, that is etymologically speaking, to assert something about someone, and by the words force a quality into them. By the blot, a full and complete unity was established between men and gods, and the object bloted served as a link and a medium of using the powers of holiness. Without any considerable change of meaning, the verb to blote may be replaced by give. When a son or a treasure is given to the gods, the giving renders the gift useful in the highest degree, because giving means strengthening the intimacy of the parties, and the gift assumes the megin of the possessor. To understand the abysmal difference which separates the religious meaning of gift from our ideas, we must bear in mind the character of the ancient soul and it's experience: communion implies unity from the innermost recesses of thought and intertwining of luck to external responsive acting.
The condition requisite for making a consecration effective was that it could be made whole or real by an ale, and the force of the ale depends on the gathering of men into unity. He who wished to live for ever did not fool himself by merely ensuring his enjoyment for food and drink after death; he demanded that there should be held drinking parties of men to his memory. The secret of the blot is that frith which was the first condition of life. The unanimous act of all kinsmen is what gives all the other parts of the lot their value. While vigja denotes the making holy, as it might perhaps also be accomplished by an individual, the word blóta carries with it that irrevocable change which is brought about by the consecration's taking place in supreme holiness, by a man who has purified himself, at a place filled with divinity, and with the strengthening assistance of a holy festive gathering, which acted - not symbolically but in the literal sense of the words - of one heart and of one soul.
To breathe freely and happily, the individual must take part in the blot; the individual could not do without the company, but on the other hand, the company was equally unable to do without the individual. Thus far, it is true duty to every kinsman to attend the annual feast, but he needed no command to remind him. From the centripetal force, or perhaps rather from the habits which it had worked into the sould, descend the standing commands in the guild statutes to attend at the feasts, and the strong condemnation of brethren who idly or obstinately keep away, or even spitefully leave town at feast time.
On the other hand, the door of the festival was barred to all strangers. these assemblies, where men poured out from the source of strength with full bowls, were only for the members of the clan, the true kinsmen or true companions. The festival aloofness caused not a little inconvenience to the scald Sigvat, on the mission which he undertook early in the winter for Olaf the saint to earl Rognvald in Gautland. He and his followers sought shelter one evening at a homestead, but the door was locked, and the people inside said that the house was holy. At the next place they came to, the mother stood in the door-way and bade them stay outside, for an alfablót (sacrifice to the elves) was in progress. On the following evening he tried four homesteads, at the forth of which, moreover, lived the best man in the country (i.e. the most hospitable, according to the Nordic meaning of good), but none would let them in. It was an unpleasant experience in winter time in somewhat desolate and inhospitable regions; the cold nights which Sigvat and his fellows spent out in the woods stamped certain sides of the alfablót deeply into their memory: not one of these children of the devil but was given to deeds of darkness each in their respective homes, and none dared let honest folks see what they were about, - such were the reflections of the poet outside the barred doors of these heathen foreigners.
We can see that Egil told his circle something similar from his experiences in Norway when he described his dealings with Bard of Atley, though the point has been lost in the composition of the saga writer and replaced by some rather poor psychology of his own making. One evening, Egil came to the king's farm at Atley and was received by Bard, who showed the travellers to an outhouse and regaled them with sour milk. The host much regretted the poor fair he had to offer, but ale was not to be had -- the rascal, he was expecting his master, King Eric, on a visit, and had the house full of the loveliest brew. Later on, Egil and his comrades were, at the special command of the king, invited to a seat in the room, and found excellent opportunity of rinsing the taste of milk from their mouths, but Egil was never one to let his own politeness make up for others lack of it, and the end of his visit was an incurable hole in the body of poor Bard, together with much ado in quest of the turbulent traveller who had rendered King Eric poorer by the loss of a good steward. The author of the saga knows that the feast held in the house was a blot, and that the horn passed "round the fire" in festive wise: he knows too, that the host blessed the horn before passing it to Egil, and he may be right in that it was not the sweetest of tempers wherewith Bard seasoned the drink, but he knows no better than to make it a case of poisoning. So far he keeps to tradition, because the incidents were needed in order to make events move on; as to the cause of the host's inhospitality towards Egil, however, he is at a loss and tries to make sense by painting Bard in very black colours as a stingy fellow, but indirectly he happens to give evidence of the fact that a blot was not an occasion on which casual strangers were admitted.
The feats lasted as long as the ale held out. Not until the holy drink had been drained off and the last remains perhaps disposed of on the fire of the blot-stead, could men put off their holiness, open the doors, and begin the new year which had been "welcomed", or prepared for, at the feast. At least no remainder could be kept for use at the daily board, thus much we may surmise on analogy, and such a guess is corroborated by a tradition purporting to go back to the earliest times of Norwegian mission. It is related of Hakon Aethelstansfostri, when he was endeavouring to edge in his Christianity upon the men of Norway, that he first had the Yule feast moved forward to the time of the Christian holyday, and "then everyman should feast with one measure of ale, and keep holy as long as the ale lasted." Whoever may have credit of this proposal, the reformer was a wise man and a master builder. By utilising the prevalent religious feelings, he could make sure the holy Yuletide should be kept and Christ be honoured to the full, for all people immediately understood that everyday matters should rest and feasting rule as long as ale was in the house.