Álfablót – a sacrifice to the Elves

You can also see the video about this subject in here: [The Álfablót]

 

In northern pagan traditions there is a celebration called Álfablót – a sacrifice to the Elves. This was a celebration held at the end of autumn, but we have to take in mind that to our Norse ancestors autumn did not count as a season. There was spring, a short summer and a very long winter. After the end of the harvesting season, when all the crops were reaped and the animals well fed, it was time to go indoors. The long winter and harsh weather forced people to shut themselves in. Just as nature would sleep beneath the cold mantle of winter, all birds ceased to sing and a dead silence fell upon the world, so did humans retreated to their dwellings and spent the winter indoors, surviving by feeding on the stored food.

 

The true essence of paganism is to celebrate life; to facilitate well-being to the family and the community by working together. Each individual plays an important part in the welfare of the community. But the Álfablót is a different celebration, not like the other blóts or other pagan celebrations and festivities. This is a small celebration that can be made by one individual or one family. It was a local celebration at the homesteads of each family, and it was administered by the lady of the household. During this time, strangers were not welcomed near the homesteads when the celebrations were being held, because this is a private blót, a private sacrifice, a moment to be shared with the ancestors and honour them at their burial mounds. A celebration that focuses on the particular affections and love that people feel for the family members that are already dead.

 

This celebration is not only to honour the ancestors, but also all kinds of other spirits, such as the Elves and the Landvaettir (Spirits of the Land). The Elves are seen as spirits closely connected to the fertility of the land but also in contact with the dead. They are a source of spiritual power and through them people can communicate with the dead and the gods.

 

Much like the Celtic belief in faerie, the Norse/Germanic peoples also believed that they were always surrounded by entities of great power all over the land. Gods and Goddesses, land spirits/landvaettir, Alfar (Elves), Duergar (Dwarves), ancestors, Trolls, Huldrefolk and so on. Every entity lived in the land, on trees, rocks, streams, in animals etc. and helped the people in their daily needs, mundane life. They would also help giving guidance and wisdom, or for some, giving a hand in magical works.  People lived in close association with these spiritual entities, and the connections and friendship between both sides were forged through a series of ritual actions. The most important ritual or celebration in this matter was the Álfablót.

 

The Álfablót was a celebration held during or after the Winternights/Vetrnætr (the three days which mark the beginning of the winter season). The aim of this celebration/sacrifice was to help the participants connecting with the local spirits surrounding their farmstead, and to begin to establish the relationship of mutual trust, respect, and support with them. As I’ve said, strangers were not allowed near the farmsteads during these times. We can assume to know why strangers weren’t welcomed and why this celebration was a local family thing, because those that did not belong to the family and had no close connection with the deceased members of the family, couldn’t possibly have any link to the feelings shared by each family member towards their own ancestors.

Strangers should be at their own homes with their own families – this was the main rule. To the Norse, their property wasn’t just their home and farm, but also the place where they would bury their dead. The family’s grave mound was built within the property; the same concept of a sepulchre. It was believed that the spirits of the dead occasionally wandered near their burial mounds, so during the Álfablót the celebration was also held near or on top of the burial mound.  It was important to maintain the bonds of love and friendship with the deceased family members, because the living ones would someday join them. This reinforces the privacy of such a celebration.

 

This celebration is still held nowadays in many places. Today you can invite whoever you want, because the main objective of this celebration is to be connected with the Spirits of the Land. For instance, in Iceland, people still honour the local spirits of the place where they live, and ask them if they can build their home in the area, because the human presence may not be welcomed at such places by the local Spirits of the Land.

 

By: Arith Härger

 

References:

Bellows, Henry Adams, (Trans.), (2007). THe Poetic Edda, The Heroic Poems.

Dasent, George Webbe, (2014). Popular Tales from Norse Mythology

Mitchell, Stephen A., (2011). Witchcraft and Magic in the Nordic Middle Ages

Örnólfur Thorsson, et al. (eds.) (2000) The Sagas of Icelanders: a selection. Penguin Books

Simek, Rudolf, (2007). Dictionary of Northern Mythology. Translated by Angela Hall

Sturluson, Snorri, (1997). The Prose Edda. University of California Press. Translated by Jean I. Young

Turville-Petre, E.O.G., (1964). Myth and Religion of the North: The Religion of Ancient Scandinavia.

 

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