The Mystery of Heathen Sacrifice

Copyright Garman Lord 1995

    In today's world, many Heathens are not always sure how many of the old ways are still appropriate or should still be practiced. Most people think that Heathenry should be a "family religion". Some would even go so far as to use buzz phrases like "family values", and would feel that there ought to be a Heathen church on every streetcorner, right there between the Presbytarians and the Lutherans or whatever. In such a context as that, who can say for sure how far today's Heathens should go with things like ritual nudity, fertility rites, shamanistic trance work, blood sacrifice and all sorts of other things that the elder Heathenry just used to take for granted, but which might seem "Satanic" to the Christianized world of today. Families are apt to have young children around, after all, and are apt to live in communities where even small misunderstandings with their neighbors can cause serious problems. It's a paranoid age that we live in; the Wolf Age, to be exact.

    We won't try to answer such questions as that here. It is indeed a different world now. Misunderstandings with neighbors was certainly far less of a problem back when one's neighbors were Heathen too, and young children were less of a problem back when most young children grew up on farms, fully aware of where new life comes from, thoroughly acquainted with all the facts of life and death from the first day they were big enough to help do the chores, knowing that violence is something that happens in the barnyard or on the battlefield, not in the streets or on your TV set, and that porkchops aren't just things with plastic skins that grow on some strange kind of porkchop tree. Fortunately, Heathenry is by definition a religion that appeals to individual conscience, and each group will always be free to do things however they see fit in any case. After many years as a Heathen, I can say that I have seen pretty much the full range of Heathen activities, barring hallucinogenic trance practices, of course, happen at one time or another in the presence of young children, without it seeming to cause any more problems for them than it would have for farm children. Children are far more adaptable and resilient than we sometimes think. But of course if you are a parent, you will know better than to abdicate your own judgment and go on nothing but my word alone in such things. Every Heathen must always use his own head.

    In Asatru, the question of the appropriateness today of blood sacrifice is one that is often raised. True "bloting" (and yes, despite what you may have heard elsewhere, the word "blot" really is related to the word "blood") has always been quite rare in Asatru, and has not always been successful at times when it has been attempted, with the result that few Asatruarar really know all that much about it. On the other hand, ritual slaying, especially swine slaying, has always been a part of Theodish Belief, and our knowledge and understanding of the subject is very considerable. In any case where Heathen might be considering blood sacrifice, or might even need to just know more about it, it would seem a shame and even a disservice to the gods not to share that fund of knowledge with our Asatru friends.

    Perhaps the first thing to note about blood sacrifice, or perhaps about any kind of sacrifice, for that matter, is that it is, in the religious sense, a "mystery", meaning a type of esoteric lore accessible only to initiates that is only truly understood by gods and is not completely intelligible to us mere mortals. We just do it, as our earthly part of the bargain, and hope for the best. The reason this is important is because Asatru, going all the way back to its founders, has rarely been thought of as a "mystery" religion in the classical sense. Back in the AFA days in the late '70's and early '80's, especially, many Asatruarar would even have hooted scorn at such an idea as Asatru "mysteries", as smacking too much of religious fraud and fakery hocus pocus and perhaps Wicca. And yet the "mystery" element was definitely part of Heathenry in ancient times, and has always been a part of Theodish Belief, which has always had Kingship as its central mystery, and the mystery of blood sacrifice as a key part of that. The reason is because Theodish Belief, much more so than Asatru, is "retro". That's the way they believed and did it in ancient times, so that's the way we believe and do it today.

    In other words, a swineblot is not just a Volunteer Firemen's Field Day barbecue; the gods can't get any meaningful blot-gift out of that. Moreover, if you don't do it right, the attempt will release woe-working mains that will destroy your group within three to nine months. So the first question one should honestly ask oneself is whether one's group is serious enough to be undertaking any really heavy Heathen mysteries.

    This is always the toughest question. Every Heathen aett, no matter how inexperienced or superficial, considers itself "serious", and will get downright insulted by the slightest suggestion that they are not real true men or real prescription-strength Heathen. We are always our own poorest judges in such things. Therefore, about the only way you could decide that would be to ask yourself, as the group's Gothi, a few tough questions. For instance: "Would I feel comfortable sending our kindred's Lawspeaker onto national television for an hour-long debate on Heathenry against a panel made up of, say, a Hassidic Rabbi, an American Indian Shaman, Billy Graham and the Dalai Lama of Tibet?" If your most honest answer to that question is "Yes, in a heartbeat!" Then you are probably a very serious and knowledgeable Heathen aett. If, however, your most honest answer would be "Jeez, I'm not sure, let me sleep on it and get back to you!" then you may not be fully evolved in your Heathenry as yet, but you may well be serious enough to successfully blot a swine to the gods we all love and trust. On the other hand, if your most honest answer would be something like "What are you, a comic? Who writes your material anyway?" then you probably don't even know what "industrial strength" Heathenry is yet, and though you might well fit in well enough with the mainstream and get a lot of benefits out of the practice of your religion, you are probably not solid enough to be getting your group involved with anything as heavy as a swine blot just yet. That's how serious swine-bloting is.

    However that may be, if you do decide to blot, and have never done it before, then Job One for the blotgothi and the group must be that nothing should be left to chance. The only acceptable blot is one that comes off perfectly; therefore your first consideration is to plan it as if it were a bank robbery, right down to the last detail. You really can't afford any slip-ups. You need five things: the right place, the right time, the right people, the right animal and the right ritual. The right place is something that can be known to you the reader alone, of course, and should be known to you and your kindred only, at least until after the fact. Good bloting should be done privately, with no advertisement, no bad vibes or distractions, and no one present except high quality sophisticated Heathen.

    The right time is generally any holy day, though winter season holy days, and especially the first day of Winter, Winternights or Hallows, were traditionally preferred. This makes some practical sense, of course, as Winter-slain meat is generally better and more wholesome than Summer-slain. As to the right people, this has already been touched upon above, and is inherently going to involve some personal judgment calls... so if you're not sure about someone, rune on it; that's what those little tines are for, after all.

    The right animal can often as not be found on the nearest farm that keeps swine, and generally the farmer will take you to the pen and let you pick out your pig. You don't need to tell him what it's for, of course; you never know when a modern farmer might be a Christian or something. So just tell him it's for a barbecue, and if he's like most farmers he will be way too glad to get his hands on your ready cash to ask any questions anyway, nor should you quibble the price or be afraid to be generous. In this part of the country, it will generally range from one to two dollars a pound on the hoof. Usually with us, the money for the swine is raised during a preliminary symbel in which boasters are offered a chance to "buy into the luck" by contributing to the kitty. When you go to make the buy, it is well to have a gifted Godman or witch or dis of some kind with you, who can tell which beast the gods have chosen. Not that this is generally difficult to do, of course; the beast himself will usually show you some sign, such as tossing his head or looking up at you curiously and meeting your gaze. He will usually be a white or light-colored animal, docile, intelligent, and hopefully the right size for your sword and board. The farmer will generally help you get him loaded onto your pickup truck or whatever, and of course reverent handling of a holy sacrifice is not always possible at that stage, but you can and should control that situation better once the beast is out of the barnyard and safely in the charge of you and your people.

    Generally, if you are inexperienced, a small animal, under a hundred pounds, is the best. A hundred pound animal will easily provide a feast for up to a couple of dozen folks, and there is a good deal of meat even on a fifty or sixty pound swine. Much will, of course, depend upon the method of killing. Ancient methods varied, even possibly including such methods as strangling or drowning, and different god-cults may have had different methods. In Theodish Belief, we keep things simple by always doing it the same way, and that is the method that will be described here.

    Our way is to strike the head off with a sword. When done properly, this is painless to the beast and very effective. A swine's neck is very thick and his hide very tough, so that, especially considering whatever size the beast is, you will want a sword that is reasonably heavy and razor sharp. A stroke that cuts clean through is best, though in fact completely severing the head from the trunk with one blow rarely happens. What is crucial is that the first blow at least gets the windpipe and jugular vein. This instantly knocks the beast cold, and even if he twitches and convulses afterwards, as may happen from adrenalin if he became frightened or excited prior to the stroke, this is just muscle spasms, and might go on for quite awhile afterwards, even though the beast is thoroughly dead. Your stroke should fall fairly high on the throat, where the neck tapers down narrowest.

    For most people, the trickiest part is actually the choice of weapon. In Theodish Belief we have much deep lore and craft about the "worth" of weapons, and any question of what weapon to use is resolved by having a witch make the choice by witchcraft. If you do not have such expertise in your kindred, you must settle for more ordinary methods, and, believe me, blind faith in your very fine-looking rune-graven museum replica weapon is not one of them, and such blind faith has been the undoing of other blots before yours. Actually, if you are sensitive enough yourself, a worthy weapon will just feel "sweet" and handy in your hand, and just naturally seem to make you want to hit something with it. If you strike at an object with it, it will accurately strike right where you aim it and cut deep even when it is dull. A worthless weapon, on the other hand, no matter how identically beautiful in appearance and craftsmanship, will always feel somewhat clumsy, will always be at least a little off its target, and, no matter if you hone it razor sharp all morning, will still bounce off a live pig's neck like it was a tractor tire. The best use for such a weapon is as a gift to a deadly enemy. This is the worst thing that can happen at a blot, and if you have not enough craft to witch the right weapon out, then about your only guarantee is to be using a weapon you know well and have used before. This point is so crucial to your success that you would be quite justified in buying a whole ham with a rind on it and trying your sword out on that before using it on a live beast.

    In Theodish Belief, a sacrificial blot and feast is called a husel, and much of worth has already been written about the subject, especially by the Wodening brothers, and been published in THEOD Magazine, particularly the Hallows '95 issue. We would like, then, to merely confine our discussion here to some of the more crucial particulars of the sacrifice itself. The animal should be very reverently treated throughout, including being lovingly fed a last meal by everyone involved, if practical. A pig will greedily and cheerfully "pig out" on pretty much anything you put in front of him, but a far better choice would be things like cobs of raw cow corn, acorns, cereal grain, clean raw vegetables and such, which are to him a real pig-heaven treat, and of course water should be handy. Even better is if you have someone who can keep the swine for awhile prior to the blot and fatten him up on such treats. Just be careful not to make him a pet! A pen is best for keeping him, and some who can't manage that use cages, but this can be a problem, since the swine will make the cage his home, and is apt to become upset and put up a struggle when you invade his home to take him out for the blot. One good alternative is simply to stake him out with a stout cord slip-knotted over his hamstring. Once he is comfortable, he will root and wallow in the cool earth, including in his own feces, and lie there quite content as long as he is not alarmed or doesn't have to search for food. Needless to say, he may be quite filthy when his time comes, and a ritual bath might be in order to make handling him easier. When the time comes, he should be brought before the King, if you happen to have one handy, or else the gothi or other sacral person, to be blessed and dedicated to the god or gods who will be receiving him as your gift. At that time the bairns and other highborn people should swear beots and oaths of their own upon him. His death song should be keened for him by a dis, if you have one, since most pigs are not very good singers themselves, and it can be a poetic boast specially composed for the occasion. Much of the rest of the ritual need not be much different from normal seasonal rites.

    Needless to say, the stoutness of your swine should be matched by the stoutness of your thanes appointed to handle him. It is important that he not be alarmed or hastily or roughly handled. However, swine are definitely not stupid animals, and he will know, and will probably have known from the beginning, why you've all been called together like this. Fortunately, it will also be a "mystery" for him, just as it should properly be for you, and he will be somewhat too awestruck himself to protest too much at first unless he is alarmed or insensitively handled. He is about to see God, after all, and can already feel the gods' nearness. He just doesn't know all the particulars yet, or quite what it all means, especially with everyone being so nice to him. This is why selection of serious people is so important. This is not the excitement of an R-rated late nite TV stalk-and-chop splatterfest, and if that is what it is for you, you are there for the wrong reason, and may well be the cause of an unlucky blot. This is the excitement of knowing you are involved in the giving to beloved gods of a kind of very rare and special gift that you know they particularly prize.

    It is important that the bloteres moot before the deed, and thoroughly discuss and even choreograph, if necessary, what they are about to do. They too should be blessed and inspirationally talked-to by some experienced sacral person, and they should plight it amongst themselves over the horn that none of them will fail the others in any way, before, during or after the deed. Such tight choreography and togetherness is absolutely essential in the manhandling of a large live beast in the path of a swinging swordblade, and you really have to get it right the first time.

    It is best if the swine not even see, any more than feel, the stroke that slays him, and finding a way to blindfold him is best, though it can be difficult, as a swine's neck is thicker than his head, which is conical, and he can easily swipe even a well-tied blindfold off with a forepaw if he becomes alarmed. An alarmed swine's squeal will also carry quite far, and a binding around his snout may also be a good idea. One good way, if you have good people, is for someone to have a combination blindfold and muzzle looped round the beast's head and held snug by tension on the ends of the cloth, with hands kept well away from the head and the path of the sword blade, of course. He will have to hold his position at the swine's head during the slaying, and a weofodthygen or dis or gythja will have to be crouched over him like a Quarterback, ready to catch the blood in a bowl for sprinkling and smearing purposes. Not far behind her should be an alewench, ready to bring the horn round to the bloteres after the bloodywork, which also tends to be thirsty work.
    Such a slaying should be done on holy ground, and preferably a witch should witch out the holiest spot on it beforehand, and godmen should ritually ward and purify the stead before the blot. A low narrow and preferably wooden support should provide a base for the swine's neck and back. We typically lay down a length of two by eight on the ground, and the slayer stoops a bit to deliver the blow. The important thing is to give a steady base for the blow and clearance for the hilts and point of the sword at the end of the stroke. What is really important, of course, is that the animal be tranquil and passive when the blow falls.

    The way we do this is for the thanes who will handle him to begin by rolling him over on his back. This is a "surrender" position for an animal, and if it can't be done without alarming him, then at least it should be done deftly and quickly. If the animal is large, you will need a thane on each leg. The main thing, however, is to get the swine hoisted aloft by his hind legs. A swine held upside down like this can't breathe properly unless he remains quiet. He is quickly carried this way to the slaying board and laid down upon it with his shoulders down but rump still kept lifted clear of the board, which will keep him quiet, and the thanes should keep his forelegs held back against his body, to make sure that they can't stray into the path of the stroke and interfere with it.

    The gothi who delivers the stroke should be tranquil too, of course. Ideally, he should not have to pay attention to any of these mechanics, and should have his mind clear of all distraction except the thought of the holy gift that he is about to give. Also ideally, he will not even be aware of the effort of aiming or striking the blow; a god will often step into him at that point and take over. He should keep his presence of mind, of course. If the thanes do their work rightly, the blotere will see the swine's throat swiftly and clearly presented, and though the blotere may be somewhat jostled around in the process, especially if it is a large beast, or even large thanes, he should strike at the first moment he can. If his men are steady, they will trust his aim, and merely keep hands and fingers from straying into the path of the sword blade. The blotere himself should help, by uttering some agreed-upon blessing word that cues his thanes that he is satisfied with the positioning of the animal and is about to strike his blow. For the thanes, the carrying and holding is a great physical strain, and the sooner it is over, the shorter and more foolproof their ordeal and the surer the deed.

    At the first stroke, you should see the blade drive deep and the severed jugular spring well into view, and you will know the beast is dead, even if he might be still twitching. The more tranquil the animal at the time, the less likely the blood is to actually squirt. The blotere quickly delivers the one or two remaining strokes to completely sever the head from the torso, which is then taken aside by the thane who was holding the blindfold, allowing the dis to get in with her bowl. Normally, the thanes must hoist the swine aloft over the bowl to fill it with enough blood for the blessing, since so much blood will gush out behind the sword stroke. The dis must work fast, since the blood will begin to clot very quickly, and it is usual to add some blot drink from the weofod to thin the blood out a bit before sprinkling.

    At this point, all present should come near enough for the dis to go round with her blot tine and bowl and sprinkle everyone, after which the gothi should sprinkle her. The dis then goes round, always sunways, to the weofod, the hofstead and the landmarks to bless them, and the thanes turn the beast over to the butchers, who should definitely be people who know, or are supervised by someone who knows, what they are doing. Ill-done butchery can easily spoil a good blot. The blotere plants a staff in the ground and mounts the swine's head on it, facing north, his mouth propped open with a rune tine scored with the names of the god or gods to whom he is a gift. Unlike the scene in "Lord of the Flies", you will probably not see flies or any other vermin go anywhere near the head from a holy blot, and you may be surprised to note how quickly Mother Earth drinks up the vast quantities of blood that have been spilled. A good blot, for some reason, tends to be strangely "cleaner" than most forms of bloody murder. The alewench then brings the horn around to the bloteres themselves, and she or some other maiden goes round to the bloteres, who may be very bloody at this point, and cleans them up with washcloths and a bowl of water. Once all is done, and preferably while the dis is sprinkling the landmarks, all present should form a circle and pass the weofodhorn or blotorc around it sunways, with toasts and praises of the beast, the gods, the work that was done for them and the people who did it. A short singalong song can be composed by the skald or scop for the occasion.

    Traditionally, all the meat was then boiled in a large pot, but such a thing is not always available to kindreds today, and other methods of cooking are sometimes used, even spitting of the carcass over an open fire. After the feast, all leftover parts of the animal plus all meat that was not eaten must go on the balefire and be totally immolated to the gods. The ashes from the balefire are lucky and can be used for blessing and sprinkling all year long, but no other part of the beast should be taken away from the husel. If you need more meat for your household, stop at the store on the way home. The gods enjoy "sharing" with us the feast we give them, both meat and drink, but "stealing" any portion to take away home with us after the feast is highly unlucky.

    A swineblot is a high holy occasion, and any kindred should make the most of it. It is excellent for symbel, games, swearing troths, gift-giving, conferment of arungs and such. Much depends upon how experienced in swine bloting your group is, and how well the blot went. Flaws or difficulties in the blot are bad omens. If there were bad omens, the blotere should be first to speak up and say frankly what he thought they were and how bad they were, relieving all others of that painful duty, whether he himself is to blame for the bad blot or not. If the omens seemed to be good, anyone can and should speak up and say what they were and why he thinks so. What no one should do is predict what he thinks the omens will mean, or try any real on-the-spot interpretations, unless perhaps you have someone who knows how to read entrails (we don't). The worse the omens are, the more likely are the utterances of the mortals involved to be giving life to them in the blood-mist and making them into self-fulfilling prophecies.

    For an inexperienced group, it is best to get the sacrifice over with as early on in the gathering as possible. That means that much less time for the weaker ones to be worrying about it, and perhaps suffering failures of nerve, and that much more time for the meat to cook, and swine meat may have parasites and should always be very thoroughly cooked, so the cooking may well take several hours. Immediately after a slaying, there is usually a sense of physical and spiritual letdown and exhaustion, especially amongst the inexperienced, both because of the nearness of gods, which can be very debilitating to humans, and because of the nervous tension which was built up and then suddenly released. This sense of exhaustion is usually false, however, and should be overcome by moving the group on to something else as soon as possible, such as dancing or games and competitions while the meat is cooking. Before feasting, however, there should also be a settling-down time, usually best provided by scheduling open air rituals, entertainments, workshops and such for the high part of the day.

    Anyone contemplating a swine blot should know that the gods take swine bloting very seriously. The promise of a swine starts all sorts of energies moving around, and your kindred will experience bizarre turns of events before, during and after the big day. On the one hand, you will find various hardships and obstacles to be overcome suddenly cropping up out of nowhere. The best thing is to just gird up your loins and soldier on and overcome them, one way or another, by whatever means it takes; it pays off. And the harder you work to overcome them, the more you will find the gods getting interested in your work and helping you in strange ways. The things you need seem to just start coming your way out of the blue. They even help you through all the hardships and dangers. It is interesting to note that in all the dozen or so swineblots that the Theodish Rice has done over the years since the late seventies, despite all the danger and hardship involved and all the risky chances taken, no mortal amongst us has ever been injured or any other dire consequences suffered. The gods want you to prove your worth, and hardships will crop up for you to help you separate the men from the boys as to who should really participate, but they want that beast, too, and the closer you draw to giving it to them, the more they seem to do to make sure that you back up your brag and finish the job. In fact, once the beast is actually chosen, if he ended up being not loaded on the truck after all for some reason, he would probably just die of a heart attack or something the next day; experienced Heathen have seen such things happen. The gods will indeed claim their chosen beast, whether you yourself end up getting any benefit out of it or not.

    Once it is given, however, a gift looks ever for gain, and in the days and weeks following the blot, participants will begin noting "gifts" of various kinds from the gods. How well the blot went will tend to tell you right away whether to expect fresh new insights, inspirations and good fortune or else perhaps coal in your stocking. In any case, blood-bloting, successful or otherwise, will put a severe stress on the ties that bind your group togetherness, and some of the gifts that some people seem to get will seem to others, and perhaps even themselves, as very "mixed", and very strange gifts indeed. Bloodshed stirs up forces. If there is any member of your group who is up to something or really isn't sincere or really doesn't belong or whom the gods don't like for some reason, you will find that that person's membership and troth will not long survive participation in a swineblot. You may never understand quite what "went wrong" with the person, when all seemed fine before on the surface, and perhaps he won't either, but a swineblot, even a good one, will inevitably trigger this kind of "trimming", which is yet another reason why non-serious or non-solid groups or those just out for thrills should not attempt a swineblot. The result is inevitably much more drastic than a "trimming". Not only will the blot probably go badly, but the group itself will self-destruct in a matter of months afterwards, even if it had been together for years before that.

    As you can see, swine bloting is a very holy and also very peculiar business, fraught with all kinds of difficulties and necessarily surrounded by all sorts of strange taboos, with unpredictable results that are guaranteed to put any aett to all sorts of tests more severe than just managing to kill yourselves and the gods some food. It is not for the faint of heart, and not just because there is bloodshed and lethal weapons involved, but all for reasons that the wisest man in Heathenry would have to be a fool to ever say he really understands. In that sense, it is indeed one of Heathenry's many "mysteries".