Norse Ceremony - The Blot
Updated: Jan 13, 2021
Norse Ceremony - The Blot
You can create a University department concerning this topic, so here is a short overview I have written that I hope helps you understand the rich ceremonial ground of the blot and some of the practical structure and practices around it.
The academics work, by definition, to reflect knowledge of these matters from credible sources, but here I am taking a step further and exposing a more practical side, which leads inevitable to a more subjective thinking. But I hope I am answering a small part to the big question: how do we construct these old ceremonies today to benefit ourselves, our families and the community where we live?
Many of these thoughts are my personal views, please take what can be of benefit for you and leave that which doesn't resonate.
A blot (blessing) is a religious and spiritual ceremony and celebration that is pre-Christian in form and shape, we read about blots in many of the sagas. A building where the "blot" takes place is called a "Hov." Other "sacred place names" are also named, Hörgr, Vé, Lund and Haug. Lund is similar to the "Sacred Grove" of Ancient Greece. Haug means "a barrow" and is directly linked to the chthonic powers, the elves and ancestors, living within the earthen element. Christian laws forbade blot-rituals in barrows and grave locations. Therefore, we know that blots (and seidr) were practiced in those places - it's paradoxical and unintended, but the laws against the Heathen practices by Christians lawmakers are today important academic sources to understand more of the old Heathen culture.
For the early Anglo-Saxons, the month of November was known as Blōt-mōnaþ (Blot-Month) this later Old English passage points out: (from wiki):
"The month is named in Latin Novembris, and in our speech blot-month, because our forefathers, when they were Heathens, always bloted in this month, that is, that they took and devoted to their idols the cattle which they wished to offer."
And more here from Hákon the Good's Saga, section 16, Sacred Texts website.
"It was an old custom, that when there was to be sacrifice all the bóndis [freeholders] should come to the spot where the temple stood and bring with them all that they required while the festival of the sacrifice lasted. To this festival all the men brought ale with them; and all kinds of cattle, as well as horses, were slaughtered, and all the blood that came from them was called hlaut, and the vessels in which it was collected were called hlaut-vessels. Hlaut-staves were made, like sprinkling brushes, with which the whole of the altars and the temple walls, both outside and inside, were sprinkled over, and also the people were sprinkled with the blood; but the flesh was boiled into savoury meat for those present. The fire was in the middle of the floor of the temple, and over it hung the kettles, and the full goblets were handed across the fire; and he who made the feast, and was a chief, blessed the full goblets, and all the meat of the sacrifice. And first Odin's goblet was emptied for victory and power to his king; thereafter, Niord's and Freyja's goblets for peace and a good season. Then it was the custom of many to empty the brage-goblet; and then the guests emptied a goblet to the memory of departed friends, called the remembrance goblet."
What is the intent and purpose behind a blot?
My view is that as a verb "to do blot" is to "ceremonially" create a relational thread to the Gods, Goddesses, spirits, ancestors, elves, land wights and other local powers in the area where we live. This act can balance some of the debt we owe to the larger world around us: to the fish, the cattle, the great horses, the deer, the sun and the moon, the soils, lakes, seas, rivers and mountain streams - all that which works for us in the background but in our daily lives we forget about and take for granted, yes even the rising sun. In the blot we can re-address an important balance - ultimately it can be seen as an attempt to be in balance with the great Tree of Life.
From the beginning of the Norse creation myth, perhaps the most mysterious of all are the beings of Time. Where time is free and eternal, it has no purpose, it counts no stars nor follows any movements. It is when we have decay and death that time reveals itself. Within this time memory is born, he was named Mimir and had a daughter called Urd. Urd the Goddess of Life and Death, the Goddess of the cycles of time, and all time flows toward her like currents of sea, she is all past. The memory of yesterday is transformed into Urd-water, she collects each wavelet and fills the great Well of Memory. This water in turn grows the eternal Tree, Yggdrasil, the great Anima Universalis. Collecting memories to fill the well which in turn feeds the roots of the tree becomes the basis of the ceremonial function. When we blot we act similarly to Urd and we also collect these memory waters.
Here is a question following from this thinking: today, what would be a suitable ceremonial debt repayment to the motherly cow? The very wet-nurse of humanity? How can we even begin to feel the magnitude and weight of such a thing? How would we even approach such a re-balance? With what words or gesture of beauty can we say "thank you" to those beings that have kept us fed and clothed for millenia? I believe these were central questions for the nature-based communities in the past and there a blot had a real purpose of making visible environmental boundaries and a function of remembrance of what we take for granted. In short, what you received from the land you also had to pay back and blot was a ritual currency to the land, local spirits and the Gods and Goddesses.
Emma Wilby in her excellent and much recommended book "Cunning folk and familiar spirits, - Shamanistic Visionary Traditions in Early Modern British Witchcraft and Magic" she writes about offerings to the fairy before the reformation in the 16th century: "at night, housewives across the length and breadth of Britain would leave out bowls of water of milk and plates of bread and cake on the kitchen floor for the fairies. By day, out in the fields and the animal sheds, their husbands would tie up cords and bury bones and mutter charms in an effort to please these capricious spirits of the land." The fairy faith is still active today and we still see more mainstream remnants of this during the main festivals of the year, such as giving porridge to the local spirit (Tomte) in Sweden, or the giving of cognac and mince pie to Santa Claus on Christmas Eve. This can be seen as "doing blots" by entering into a gift-giving relationship and sharing of our "spirit-currency."
But just like any relationship, a blot ceremony needs to have its own balance of giving and receiving. We are giving the Gods/Goddesses, or local spirits some of our own beauty, abundance and skills. The blot can also be to hold a sacred feast with the powers as we do with friends and family - we invite the larger life to the table and share with our humanity and gifts.
The currency here is in our gesture. How much effort and beauty we offer up. The value then is in the time you have set aside to create and make these gifts. A bead you have bought from a shop would be worth less than one you have made yourself. A small clay bead that you have worked through the fire and patience has more value than a golden ring with a diamond on it that you have simply acquired. A diamond would also have big earth-debt in the way it was extracted. I am sure this doesn't have to be spelt out, anyone can see this: in the eyes of the larger life, goods that you easily acquired through an exchange of money have less ritual currency.
The three points to a blot ceremony usually are: the hallowing of the gifts, then sharing them together, and then offering part of them as a libation to the Gods/Goddesses, or other entities you are offering to: the spirits of hills, lakes, mountains, fields, trees, and rivers.
The modern expression of a blot is created within the reality of today - animal blood sacrifices are not used as they were in the past. When our ancestors lived as farmers, giving some part of the slaughtered animal to the Gods/Goddesses and land would have been second nature, it would be an act of thanks and a gesture of appreciation and respect for the gifts of the meat received.
A Native American teacher once told me that some hunters would carry one extra arrow in the quiver, an arrow made with the finest feathers, minerals and braided with beads and this arrow would then be shot into the earth as a gift once the deer was seen amongst the thicket. If you carried such an arrow you would also be a more respectful and selective hunter.
A horn containing mead (or non-alcoholic when appropriate) is the traditional and common libation. Here, the mead is blessed by the God/Goddesses, or the local spirit and ancestors, then the mead is drunk amongst the participants and finally poured out and given as a libation. Often the mead is poured into a ceremonial bowl called a "hlautbowl."
When drinking the blessed mead we enter the ceremonial time, and here words become important, we are encouraged to express gratitude, grief or praise to what has been, and what is to come. To stand with a horn in hand, tear in eye, and to praise your loved ones is something holy, you are exposed and opened, your lower lip trembles whilst the words are pushed through with difficulty. Speaking through tears means speaking the truth, a much sacred task in ceremony. To speak truthfully and to feel joy and grief in a ritual is an indication that the ritual is alive and has a beating heart, it gives us a feeling that Gods(esses) and ancestors are present. Some amnesia is being lifted.
Each of us have our own gift and expression in these matters and its best not to audition a person's voice during ceremony. The more deeply personal the blot becomes, the more important it is to have a freedom of individual expression. There is a deep well of feelings within people and some feelings have been hidden or suppressed for a very long time, to keep the blot open is the responsibility of the blot-Godi, or ceremonial leader.
Speaking such words into the air and giving them a voice is a magical act.
Here are some basic pointers and gnosis of the structure of the Blot ceremony:
Clear the area, smudge with local herbs, or sweep with a broom. The broom is a great banishing aid that was used to clear out anything unwanted; hence the witches use of broomsticks. Birch rice and an ash handle broom would be most suitable. Also a swan-feather, found in the wild, is most excellent at clearance of an area through fanning the air. Swan-feathers are also good for fanning a person’s Hamr (astral body). Don't just take my word for it, try it and see what happens. This is something you can do to every blot participant, fanning them with a swan feather - it's a good alternative to smudging with smoke, as smoke can be an irritant for some. But if you are using smudge, then I would recommend, Mugwort, Juniper, Pine and Rosemary - all excellent.
Singing a Galdr or Vardlokkur is also effective as a clearance ritual, especially those with strong resonating vowels. Vardlokkur translates as "calling in the Wardens." A vard (ward) can sometimes be viewed as an old ancestral memory that can enter the area/room when the vardlokkur's are sung.
Also this is the time to place statues of the Gods and Goddesses and to bless them. Or laying other sacred objects down, such as pictures or materials from your ancestors.
You can build a “Harg” which is an altar made of stone (cairn). I personally prefer a cairn if natural stones are available, because everyone can help build it together and it can remain there after the ceremony and become part of a regular blot practice.
A start signal is a good idea - you can sing, blow a horn, or ring a bell. The sound or song indicates that the blot is starting. Then pour mead into the horn and bless the mead with all the inspirations, peace, good will, and powers that is being called or sung in. The mead transforms into the water of life, the elixir of all that is holy and good, that which gives inspiration. Drink some if it, find some words and pass the horn and allow it go through all the participants. Each one must drink their equal share - all of the world’s problems can be solved if we re-enacted this in real life, hence the blot can be a social catalyst where we consider the importance of fair-shares. If sharing a horn is inappropriate for hygienic reasons, then everyone has to carry their own cups/horns and the mead to be poured into their horns before you drink it. (Just to reiterate, as there can be people who do not wish to drink alcohol, a non-alcoholic drink is absolutely fine to use as well).
Then pour the rest of the mead onto the cairn as the libation and gift. The more the cairn is used for this purpose, the more of a sentience you may start to feel within the stones.
Hallowing the area with the participants:
You can dedicate someone to hold torches out in the four directions, or someone to walk with a torch around the people gathered (the eldest in the group for example).
As the participants join the blot, call out for reconciliation, to leave conflict and past grievances behind as we are entering a sacred dream time, a ceremonial time. If one grievance is pertinent and present within the group or family, then this is the opportunity to lay it to rest once and for all. If forgiveness is appropriate and possible, then this can be the right time to forgive and be forgiven.
The Blots-Peace (Blots-fred) is an oath that during this time there will be no bad language or conflict between the participants when the blot is ongoing. An oath ring can be used for this purpose. Try and not begin the blot until reconciliation is established.
A prayer is often a praise to the properties of the power in question, and we attempt to give the same properties to those around us. For example Thor has the property of strength. A prayer can be called to offer strength with his name and then it's appropriate to follow on to say: we will use our own strength to help others, in this way the prayer becomes an exchange.
Also the "calling in” is an invitation, not a command.
Once people have spoken and the libation given, close the circle in the same way as you started - a call/blast from the horn, and declare the blot as finished and part as friends.
Afterwards you can have a Ceilidh/Gille which is to celebrate together and partake in some of the food that has been offered, make sure to share the meal with the Gods by leaving some of the best pieces for them on the cairn or a plate on the headed table. You can also make the Ceilidh/Gille as part of the blot altogether
A theatre performance, music or storytelling is also great to include.
Please view the above as the bare bones, add your own ideas and imaginations as you see fit to where you live.
The most important notion is the rune Gifu X = gifts, reciprocity and reconciliation.
The Year of the Wheel
(This text below of the Wheel of the Year is partly translated from Forn Sed in Sweden, which I am a member: samfundetfornsed.se)
Julblot - Midvinter Blot
One of the main Blot at Mid-Winter Solstice, the Sun has reached her lowest point. Afterwards the sun will be returning. The big power here is Odin’s character as Julfather or the JulGod and also the God Frey which blesses fertility and growth for the coming year, when the light returns. Also a few weeks before the solstice, the Goddess Sol (Sunna) she gives birth to a daughter and she resurrects the light. This happens every year. As the old sun sinks into the west her new-born daughter returns. For those who have been to Scandinavia, this is today widely celebrated and similar to the Lucia tradition: girls and women walk around in the streets and woods with candle-tiaras and offer gifts to all the households.
Disablot is a celebration usually in February and this is for all the feminine Goddess-powers. The celebration that the sun has been re-born and the light is coming back to stir and awaken the seeds that are under the soils. This is the coldest time of the year and fire takes a central role in this Blot ceremony.
Seger Blot - a victory blot for having come out of the winter! It can take place any any day between the Disa Blot and Var Blot.
Vårblot, (Spring-Blot) - a time when the green starts to grow. This is a Blot for the God and Goddess Frey and Freya, Sunna and the Light Elves. Also you can turn to Frey's lover, the Giantess Gerd, her naming day is the 23rd of March.
May-blot, the summer is beginning and the trees are cloaked in green. This blot celebrates with lighting large fires, singing songs and also a walk in procession with corn Gods/Goddesses. The “Corn Gods" blesses the fields to strengthen their growth. The blessing is foremost to Frey, but also Freya, Gerd, Thor, Siv och Jord (Earth).
Here it is common in Forn Sed to create a ritual fight and re-enact the conflict between the spirit of winter and summer.
The sun is at her highest. Dancing around the May-pole, eating pickled herring and the first of the summers fresh potatoes. Also beer and white grain alcohol is consumed (aquavit). This Blot is dedicated to the union of Frey and Freya both their spiritual and physical union. Also the light elves are praised and Sunna.
Harvest Blot celebrated beginning of August, the summer is waning, and it's time to share the harvest. Much wheat is harvested: bread being central to the celebrations. Here the “Son of Jord (Earth), Thor" is praised. Thor is he patron for the fields Tor and his wife Siv, whose hair is often described as a full grown field, both oversee the fertility and growth of the farms.
Autumn Blot - thanking the summer for all the gifts! Time to prepare for the darker times again. Many practice Seidr at this time, and journeying. The Gods and Goddesses to invite are Sunna, Skade, Ull, Frey, Freya, Frigga or Odin. If you are harvesting, then it's appropriate to have a toast and praise words for Thor and Siv.
The Elf-Blot is celebrated during the end of October/beginning November. This is the big Blot for the forefathers and foremothers. And those who are no longer with us here in Middle Earth, also the unborn are praised.
This Blot is dedicated to Frey, Freya, Odin and the Elves. Frey is the King of the Elves. It is a time of remembrance. Some also call in the power of winter in the shape of the ski-Goddess Skadi and the Winter-God, Ull.