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The Sacred Ritual of the Blood Eagle

The ancient ritual from the Viking Age known as the Blood Eagle is quite the popular subject in recent years since it was depicted in the television series Vikings. But was it a common practice? Was it reserved for only the “worthy”? How exactly did it take place and what evidence exists to expand upon this ritual? Well for that I have gathered some of the best sources and research online for you to explore and dive deeper into the legendary ritual known as the Blood Eagle.

The blood eagle ritual was a sacrifice usually done to a captured enemy. It was mostly associated with God Odin as it give homage to God for giving victory. There were several ways to conduct the blood eagle ritual. However, the typical blood eagle involved the back being slice open; the ribs slashed from its attachment and then pulled back by the executioner. The lungs were then drag to exposed ribs, creating an image of wings of an eagle, the bird associated to Odin. Sometimes, salt was sprinkled as the wounded back to insight further pain to the victim.

The lurid ritual was depicted in some poems, stories, and historical records. In the Poetic Edda of the 13th century, Lyngvi who was captured by his enemy, Sigurd, became victim of the blood eagle ritual. In another story from the Thattr Orms Storolfssonar, Orm drew a blood eagle from the back of Brusi in a cave. A historical record known as the Orkneyinga Saga from the 13th century depicted how Earl Einar did a blood eagle ritual from the back of Halfdan in the island of Orkni. But the most well-known record of the blood eagle was from a historically based poem of Sighvatr Poroarson, the Knutsdrapa. According from the poem. King Aella of Northumbria killed the legendary king Ragnar Lodbrok. To avenge his father, Ivar the Boneless attacked Northumbria. The forces of Ivar and Aella met in 867 in the Battle of York. Ivar luckily captured Aella. To satisfy vengeance and give homage to Odin, Ivar slashed the back of the poor Aella and drew a blood eagle from back of the Northumbrian King. However, many disputed if the interpretation of the text was correct or a result mistranslation. Nevertheless, many persist that King Aella was a victim of the blood eagle ritual… SOURCE

Expert medical theory on how a Blood Eagle was performed.
The Orkneyinga Saga as mentioned above tells of the Blood Eagle.

Further Resources:

An Anatomy of the Blood Eagle: The Practicalities of Viking Torture

Did the Vikings Actually Torture Victims With the Brutal ‘Blood Eagle’?

Executed: The Blood Eagle of the Vikings

Was Kildalton the Site of a Bloody Viking Ritual?

Torf-Einar and the Blood Eagle

King Aelle and the Blood Eagle: Ritual Sacrifice in Viking Age Britain

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The Legendary Viking Berserkers

One of the most well known yet still much unknown warriors of ancient times are the Berserkers (Berserkr) of the Viking Age. These fierce warriors said to go into an animalistic rage and even trance like in ferocity would bang their axes against their shields and would even chew on their shields whilst gnashing their teeth. They are mentioned in the Sagas and even an account of one famous Berserker who held off an army at the Battle of Stamford Bridge. So let us now dive into the what is known and what is thought of these ancient Special Ops warriors of the North.

Hrolf’s Saga tells of the hero Bjarki, who takes on the shape of a bear in battle:

Men saw that a great bear went before King Hrolf’s men, keeping always near the king. He slew more men with his forepaws than any five of the king’s champions. Blades and weapons glanced off him, and he brought down both men and horses in King Hjorvard’s forces, and everything which came in his path he crushed to death with his teeth, so that panic and terror swept through King Hjorvard’s army…” (Gwyn Jones. Eirik the Red and Other Icelandic Sagas. NY: Oxford Univ. Press. 1961. p. 313).

Another Óðinnic quality possessed by the berserk is a magical immunity to weapons. In Havamál, Óðinn speaks of spells used to induce this immunity:

A third song I know, if sore need should come
of a spell to stay my foes;
When I sing that song, which shall blunt their swords,
nor their weapons nor staves can wound
….
An eleventh I know, if haply I lead
my old comrades out to war,
I sing ‘neath the shields, and they fare forth mightily;
safe into battle,
safe out of battle,
and safe return from the strife.
(Lee M. Hollander, trans. Poetic Edda. Austin.
Univ. of Texas Press. 1962. pp. 44-45)

The berserk was sometimes inherently possessed of this immunity, or performed spells to induce it, or even had special powers to blunt weapons by his gaze. Many tales say of their berserkers, “no weapon could bite them” or “iron could not bite into him.” This immunity to weapons may also have been connected with the animal-skin garments worn by the berserk. As we saw above, while in animal form, “blades and weapons glanced off” Bodvar Bjarki. Similarly, Vatnsdæla Saga says that “those berserks who were called ulfhednar had wolf shirts for mail-coats” (Ellis-Davidson, “Shape Changing,” p. 133). This concept of immunity may have evolved from the berserker’s rage, during which the berserk might receive wounds, but due to his state of frenzy take no note of them until the madness passed from him. A warrior who continued fighting while bearing mortal wounds would surely have been a terrifying opponent. SOURCE

The mushroom Amanita muscaria is known to have hallucinogenic properties and is theorized to have been consumed by Berserkers.

Viking berserkers may have used henbane to induce trance-like state

It tells of the exploits of King Hrolf and of his famous champions, including Bodvar Bjarki, the ‘bear-warrior’
The Lewis Chessmen, discovered in Scotland but believed to be Norwegian, date to the 12th century and include a number of pieces showing wild-eyed berserkers biting their shields.

Further Resources:

The Viking Berserkers Were Norse Warriors Who Entered A Trance-Like Rage During Battle

Berserker: Norse Warrior

Viking Age Berserkers

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Úlfheðnar: The Wolf Spirit Warriors

The Úlfheðnar (Ulfhednar) from Viking age history was actually chronicled during the Viking Age and they have been described with definite specifics. A fascinating “Special Forces” of the Viking forces during raids and even on homelands these warriors were said to have a spiritual ability to shapeshift into Wolves. Many like to adopt the title of Úlfheðnar in modern times but my personal opinion is that is as ridiculous as someone calling themselves a modern Viking. I will expand on this opinion in a future Blog post. Now I for one am of the Wolf Spirit animal kind and give much respect to that which is why I feel this post must be looked upon as what once was and preserved with due respect.

The oldest extended description of Viking beast men comes from a 9th-century poem called Haraldskvæði, describing the army of Harald Fair-Hair:

   I’ll ask of the berserks, you tasters of blood,
   Those intrepid heroes, how are they treated,
   Those who wade out into battle?
   Wolf-skinned they are called. In battle
   They bear bloody shields.
   Red with blood are their spears when they come to fight.
   They form a closed group.
   The prince in his wisdom puts trust in such men
   Who hack through enemy shields.

The four Torslunda plates, Knut Stjerna (1874–1909) – Knut Stjerna, “Hjälmar och svärd i Beovulf” (1903)

The Ulfhednar wore wolfskins (Wolf-shirts, vargstakkar) over coats of mail, and unlike the Berserkers, who fought as squads, entered combat singly as guerrilla fighters. There were also the Ulfhamir, the wolf-shirts, who are believed to have fought, like the Berserkers, without armor.

Some had hammered, metal plates on their helmets used to magically protect them. There is a carving from the eleventh century showing these warriors. It depicts a wolf-mask with a human head looking out and armed with a spear.

Similar masks are used by shamans, acting as spirit receptacles when worn. One of the by-names of Odin, Grim, means ‘the masked one’ and the old Norse warriors wore a literally grim visage when going about their business.

The Ulfhednar used the superhuman strength of the wolf as their basis for martial arts. Their techniques were fraught with dangers, especially for the uninitiated.

From the Volsunga Saga we can learn some secrets about the Ulfhednar. Sigmund and his son put on wolf skins, agreed to follow certain rules when they fought, ‘They spoke in wolf-language,’ both understood that speech. The wolf-language is a form of ‘call’ like the Kiai of oriental martial arts, which has a momentary lowering of the blood pressure of opponents, allowing the warrior to strike. “The Beserks bayed…..the Ulfhednar howled!”

The tradition of the wolf-warriors is not just Nordic. A wolf-like cult is also ascribed to the Celtic race. From the Irish book, “The Wonders of Ireland”, “For by an evil craft they can at will change themselves into the shape of wolves with sharp tearing teeth.”

Feats of arms attributed to members of these warrior clans, and also others bearing names of wolf and bear, are legendary. The greatest Anglo-Saxon poem is about a wolf-cult warrior; “Beowulf”. Beowulf is a compound name composed of the Saxon fertility god, Beow and the wolf. SOURCE

Úlfhednar, Wolf Warriors

Beast Men: Berserkir and Úlfhéðnar in the Viking Age

Úlfhéðnar, Werewolves, Warriors and Winter Sacrifices

About Ulfhednar

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Uppsala – History, Legends and More

The Temple of Uppsala

Around the year 1070, Adam of Bremen described the great pagan cult center of Uppsala, Sweden in his work Gesta Hammaburgensis ecclesiae pontificum, the most famous source to pagan ritual practice in Sweden. It was written with the agenda of showing how barbaric and immoral were the practices and religion of the pagans, in defense of the still somewhat fragile position of the Christian church in Sweden at the time. Thus it cannot be read as an objective source to paganism, but rather as a strongly biased attack on paganism. Yet it is one of the only sources we have, and must make do with. The temple of Uppsala is described in the fourth book, chapter 26:

“This people have a widely renowned sanctuary called Uppsala. By this temple is a very large tree with extending branches. It is always green, both in winter and in summer. No one knows what kind of tree this is. There is also a spring there, where the heathens usually perform their sacrificial rites. They throw a live human being into the spring. If he does not resurface, the wishes of the people will come true.

The Temple is girdled by a chain of gold that hangs above the roof of the building and shines from afar, so that people may see it from a distance when they approach there. The sanctuary itself is situated on a plain, surrounded by mountains, so that the form a theater.

It is not far from the town of Sigtuna. This sanctuary is completely covered with golden ornaments. There, people worship the carved idols of three gods: Thor, the most powerful of them, has his throne in the middle of the hall, on either side of him, Odin and Freyr have their seats. They have these functions: “Thor,” they say, “rules the air, he rules thunder and lightning, wind and rain, good weather and harvests. The other, Odin, he who rages, he rules the war and give courage to people in their battle against enemies. The third is Freyr, he offers to mortals lust and peace and happiness.” And his image they make with a very large phallus. Odin they present armed, the way we usually present Mars, while Thor with the scepter seems to resemble Jupiter. As gods they also worship some that have earlier been human. They give them immortality for the sake of their great deeds, as we may read in Vita sancti Ansgarii that they did with King Eirik.”

The following is largely quoted, or abridged from the book Frey’s Offspring: Rulers and Religion in Ancient Svea Society by Olaf Sundqvist (2002) p.  94-136. Most of the evidence and copious examples have been truncated or omitted. Please refer to the original text for details:

“Gamla Uppsala is one of the most complex archaeological monuments in Scandinavia. The finds are sufficient for it to be considered a central place during the entire Late Iron Age. The mounds, boat-graves, traces of hall(s) and the wall to the north indicate the presence of a ruling stratum at least from the 5th or the 6th century. These finds, together with the phosphate values at the Eastern Mound and the Middle Mound, may also indicate ritual activity. Archeological analysis shows the site has been settled since the Roman period. It is an important site from at least the Migration Period up to the Middle Ages, though it may have experienced some troughs during the 9th century, after the hall on the southern plateau was burnt down.” SOURCE

Offering by Johann Lund 1831, depicting a horse being led to a statue of Thor for sacrifice.

Resources:

The Viking Age Temple at Gamla Uppsala

The Royal Mounds of Gamla Uppsala, Ancient Pagan Site of Sweden

Human Sacrifices?

The Temple at Uppsala

The Viking temple of Uppsala

Vikings in Uppsala

Pre-Viking Grave in Uppsala Reveals Ornate Sword and Jewelry

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Saxo Grammaticus – Danish Historian

Saxo, who lived in the latter part of the twelfth and early thirteenth centuries, was probably a canon of Lund Cathedral (then Danish). He was secretary to Archbishop Abslon, who encouraged his gifted protégé to write a history of his own country to emulate those of other nations, such as Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People. Absalon was able to supply him with a large amount of material for the last few of the 16 books, since, as a warrior archbishop, he had taken a leading part in the Danish campaigns against the Wends of North Germany.

The work is a prosimetrum: in the prose text of six of the first nine books he inserts poems, some quite substantial. The poetry, he tells us, are meant to put into metrical Latin verse some of the narratives he had found in old Danish (and probably Icelandic) heroic poetry, such as the courageous last stand of Biarki and Hialti defending their lord after a Swedish ambush on the royal palace. He begins his work with the ancient myths and legends. Only in Book Nine does he start to introduce recognizable historical figures, after which he proceeds through the lives and activities of Viking kings, like Cnut the Great, ending in 1185 with the earlier exploits of Cnut Valdemarson.

As the first major Danish historiographer, Saxo’s work is a valuable fund of material, even though, like many other medieval historians, his accuracy can be variable, sometimes to the extent of invented episodes. Nevertheless, he is the only source available for the period in places. Needless to say, he favours the Danes against neighbouring nations like the Swedes and Germans (we read a great deal about the treachery of the Holy Roman emperors), and he is keen to trace the rise and spread of Christianity in Scandinavia.

The Gesta Danorum is also the first outstanding work of Danish literature. Although his general style is elegant and complex, he is a consummate story-teller, and when he gets his teeth into a good yarn, he can relate it in a swift and lively manner. These narratives range from heroic tales like those told of the tough old warrior Starkath (who loathes German sausages), to the tender love stories in Book Seven, and the early books are full of dragons, witches, wizards, and tales of the supernatural, including one about a vampire. He often displays a wry sense of humour, as in the story about a drunkard who persistently defies the king’s edict forbidding the brewing and consumption of beer. One of Saxo’s claims to literary importance is his inclusion of the first-known version of the Hamlet story. The fortunes of his Amleth foreshadow those of Shakespeare’s hero in surprising detail. SOURCE

Saxo Grammaticus about Jelling, 1644 edition

The nine books of the Danish history of Saxo Grammaticus

The Danish History of Saxo Grammaticus

Saxo Grammaticus (“Saxo the Learned”)

Saxo Grammaticus – Danish Historian

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The Saga of Gunnlaug Worm-Tongue

The Saga of Gunnlaug Serpent-Tongue is the story of a promising young man named Gunnlaug who achieves fame for his bravery and poetry in the courts of kings and earls throughout the Norse world.

The story tells of poems praising kings and earls in verses received as gifts, in a culture where gift giving was a well established and important means of settling disputes, showing respect, and gaining favor and honor. However, a prophetic dream foretells the love rivalry and betrayal between Gunnlaugr Ormstunga, Hrafn Önundarson, and Helga the Fair, ending in tragedy.

The Gunnlaug saga belongs to the category of Icelandic sagas, which there are about 40, written in the 13th and 14th centuries, but disclose events that happened a long time before. Some of them even tell about a Viking settlement in the late 9th century, but also of places in the second half of the 10th century and all the way to the first part of the 11th. In Gunnlaug’s history , events occur near the 1000s, which are related to Christianity. The story is written in the latter part of the 13th century. Nothing is known about the author, but that he is a learned man who has known for many characters; perhaps he was in a priesthood.

Gunnlaug’s story is not preserved in original, but other Icelandic sagas, but two handwritten manuscripts exist, another from the 14th and the other from the 15th century. A younger paper handwriting has been run from these skins.

“A tale from Iceland, 800 years ago.

In a dream of quarrels and death

The birth of fair Helga is told

Cross the north seas ventured for fame

At the call of kings, hearth bereft

Wounded pride, spawn’d of a sensed slight

When tongues fail, sharper blades prevail

Falcon soothes the cloak wrapt wound

Fair one pines and fades from the light.” – Summary by Fritz

The Saga of Gunnlaug the Worm-Tongue and Rafn the Skald

The Story of Gunnlaug Serpent-Tongue pdf

Gunnlaug Saga (Icelandic)

The Saga of Gunnlaug the Worm-Tongue

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The Story of Ragnhildr Hrólfsdóttir

There are a number of Women who’s stories are mentioned in the Sagas of the Viking Age that I find quite fascinating and one of these Women is Hildr also known as Ragnhildr Hrólfsdóttir. Her story is wrapped into several Sagas which I will include in this blog post along with some videos I highly recommend regarding this subject. I do plan to post of other key female figures of the Sagas but for now here is the tales of this lady.

According to the sagas, Hild was the daughter of Rolv Nefia (Hrólfr nefja) jarl at Trondhjem (modern day Trondheim). In the Orkneyinga saga, the daughter of Rolv Nefia was called Ragnhild, although in the Heimskringla she was called Hild. Her father used to go on Viking expeditions. One summer he plundered in Vík. This aroused king Harald Fairhair’s anger and he was banished. Hild appealed unsuccessfully for clemency for her father. On this occasion she composed a scaldic stanza (lausavísa), which is one of the few testimonies of scaldic poetry composed by a woman that has come down to us.

She was married to Rognvald Eysteinsson (Ragnvald Øysteinsson Mørejarl) who was the jarl of Møre. They had three sons: Ívarr, Þórir and Hrólfr. Thorir (Þórir) succeeded his father as jarl of More. Rolv (Hrólfr), nicknamed Gange-Rolv, became known as Rollo of Normandy. The death of Ivar (Ívarr) during an earlier campaign in support of King Harald Finehair resulted in the Northern Isles (Norðreyar) being gifted to his family as compensation. According to the Historia Norvegiae, Rognvald’s family conquered Orkney and Shetland islands in the late ninth century.

The Orkneyinga saga

The Saga of Olaf Haraldson

Lausavísa — Hildr

Lausavísa: Hildr Hrólfsdóttir nefju

Ragnhild Hildr Hrolfsdottir

Landnámabók


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Vikings in Canada

Much regarding the Vikings in North America are still a mystery slowly being uncovered by Archeological evidence but what is know is quite fascinating like the excavation of the ruins at L’Anse Aux Meadows or where exactly “Vinland” was on the Atlantic coast. The fact that the Vikings did indeed travel to North America is undisputed but why did their settlements have such short lives unlike those of the Vikings in places such as Ireland, Russia and even into the Mediterranean? Perhaps eventually with more Archeological excavations more clues will be uncovered but until then have a look at the excellent articles and videos below which really dive deeply into the Vikings of Canada.

L’Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site

Where is Vinland?

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The Estonian Vikings

Not so well know is the subject of the Vikings of Estonia during the late Viking age and into the 12th century even though there are historical accounts of them existing. Most like over shadowed by the far more famous Vikings of Scandinavia. Yet the history of these maritime raiders from Estonia landing on shores from the Baltic’s to throughout Scandinavia is in my opinion a piece of Northern European history more should explore and be aware of.

Estland (Eistland or Esthland) is the historical Germanic language name that refers to the country at the eastern shores of the Baltic Sea, and is the origin of the modern national name for Estonia. The largest island of Estonia is called Ösel in Swedish and its inhabitants used to be called Oeselians.

The Oeselians were known in the Old Norse Icelandic Sagas and in Heimskringla as Víkingr frá Esthland (English: vikings from Estonia).

The Livonian Chronicle describes the Oeselians as using two kinds of ships, the piratica and the liburna. The former was a warship, the latter mainly a merchant ship. A piratica could carry approximately 30 men and had a high prow shaped like a dragon or a snakehead as well as a quadrangular sail.

A battle between Oeselian and Icelandic Vikings off Saaremaa is described in Njál’s saga as occurring in 972 AD.

On the eve of Northern Crusades, the Oeselians were summarized in the Livonian Rhymed Chronicle thus: “The Oeselians, neighbors to the Kurs (Curonians), are surrounded by the sea and never fear strong armies as their strength is in their ships. In summers when they can travel across the sea they oppress the surrounding lands by raiding both Christians and pagans.“

Saxo Grammaticus describes the Estonians and Curonians as participating in the Battle of Bråvalla on the side of the Swedes against the Danes, who were aided by the Livonians and the Wends of Pomerania.

From the 12th century, chroniclers’ descriptions of Estonian, Oeselian and Curonian raids along the coasts of Sweden and Denmark become more frequent.

The Chronicle of Henry of Livonia describes a fleet of sixteen ships and five hundred Oeselians ravaging the area that is now southern Sweden, then belonging to Denmark. In the XIVth book of Gesta Danorum, Saxo Grammaticus describes a battle on Öland in 1170 in which the Danish king Valdemar I mobilized his entire fleet to curb the incursions of Couronian and Estonian pirates.

Perhaps the most renowned raid by Oeselian pirates occurred in 1187, with the attack on the Swedish town of Sigtuna by Finnic raiders from Couronia and Ösel. Among the casualties of this raid was the Swedish archbishop Johannes. The city remained occupied for some time, contributing to the decline as a center of commerce in the 13th century in favor of Uppsala, Visby, Kalmar and Stockholm. [Some have addressed Sigtuna as the then capital of Sweden] Source

Further Resources:

Vikings in Estonia by Eddi Tomband

The Baltic Finns were Vikings too, but the world ignores it

The Migration Period, Pre-Viking Age, and Viking Age in Estonia

Vikings, Estonians and the Way East

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Völva: The Shamanic Seeress of the North

The Völva in Norse Paganism is in my opinion the most sacred title that can be bestowed upon a Woman who has worked tirelessly with unwavering dedication to practicing and learning the secrets and magick that is Seiðr and Galdur. It is not something just anyone can call themselves. It is a name with a history dating back thousands of years even before the Viking Age. Women as Shamans in ancient Scandinavia and across Europe has been found through Archeological evidence from the Bronze Age. It is a tradition of spiritual beliefs, medicine, divination and more passed down through the generations. Years ago I met a woman born and raised in Iceland. We quickly became good friends and to this day I consider her like a sister of mine. She also happens to be a truly recognized Völva not only in Iceland but across Europe and elsewhere. She learned the secrets and practices of a Völva from her Mother who learned from her Mother and so on going all the back to when Iceland was settled during the late Viking Age. I can honestly say that not only am I proud to be her friend but feel a true gratitude and unbelievable privilege that she has mentored me during the years and she even has gone so far to share with me things regarding this sacred magick I hold closely guarded myself. So with that said I feel the need to share what I feel are some of the best resources to learn more about the Völva.

Remember this as I have been saying this for years. No one can just become a Völva or self proclaim this title. The Völva is chosen, granted the title and only after showing that they themselves are worthy.

In the Sagas, seeresses called völur (plural) have been described. The word völva (singular) means a carrier of the wand. Usually, a völva was an older woman who traveled around helping people with her magical skills.

“There was in the settlement the woman whose name was Thorbjorg. She was a prophetess (spae-queen), and was called Litilvolva (little sybil). […] It was a custom of Thorbjorg, in the winter time, to make a circuit, and people invited her to their houses, especially those who had any curiosity about the season, or desired to know their fate. […]

The women formed a ring round about, and Thorbjorg ascended the scaffold and the seat prepared for her enchantments. Then sang Gudrid the weird-song in so beautiful and excellent a manner, that to no one there did it seem that he had ever before heard the song in voice so beautiful as now.”

Read full article HERE

Weaving the Dead: Völvas and Their Analogues in Europe

Völva, a Shamanic Seeress

A seeress from Fyrkat?