What Does a Germanic Sacrificial Site Look Like?

Written by Dyami Millarson

Dom-ring, or sacrificing ring, Blomsholm, Boruslan.

It is practical to ask: What does a Germanic sacrificial site look like? What objects can be found in the Germanic sacrificial environment?

To answer this, I will treat the most traditional Germanic sacrificial environment.

The following objects along with the functions with which they should be equated may be found in the Germanic traditional open air sacrificial environment:

  • Trees as natural idols or images
  • Stones as natural altars or tables
  • Heads (turned into skeletons) and hides hung in trees from previous blood sacrifices
  • Residue on sacred wood from blood and fat with which idols have been annointed
  • Ropes which are hung around trees

The Germanic idols were usually wooden. The wood from which idols were made was sacred material; for the idols were identified with the Gods. Anointing the idols with blood and fat was Germanic tradition. Therefore, it is to be expected tgat there is residue on the sacred wood from previous blood sacrifices. At sacrificial sites, there are traces from previous sacrifices. The longer such offerings have been made at a place, the more special that place is for Germanic paganism; a long tradition of blood sacrifices only makes a site more sacred, while such a local sacrificial history means from a Germanic religious perspective that the place has been dedicated to the Gods to a very high degree. Building up such a history is costly, and therefore considered highly valuable from an ancestral Germanic point of view. It is truly an investment in the relationship with the Gods.

The alternative to an open air sacrificial site is a site with a sacrificial house (Old Norse: blóthús), which is a synonym of temple (Latin: templum) — the concept of blóthús is as genuinely pagan as the related concept of hörgr. Instead of trees which are natural idols, idols made from carved wood may feature at such sites.

What Does Germanic Tree Veneration Look Like?

Written by Dyami Millarson

If one assumes the ancestral role of the Germanic polytheist who worships trees as Gods, how does one behave towards trees?

Tree worship in the Germanic context means the bringing of blood offerings (blóts) to trees; for Germanic worship always means ‘blóting/sacrificing to something’.

Germanic polytheism involves nature worship. This may not sound particularly concrete. So, what form may nature worship take in the Germanic religious context? Germanic polytheists may blót to trees, lakes and rocks.

In conclusion, when it comes to the concretisation of tree worship, bringing an offer before a tree is a Germanic polytheist thing to do; a tree is thus treated as a natural idol.

Chantepie de la Saussaye says on page 374 of volume 3 of issue 4 of Progress published in 1897: “Heads of horses and other sacrificial beasts, often the hides as well, were hung on trees as an offering to the [G]ods.”

James Steven Stallybrass translates on pages 650 and 651 of vol. II of Teutonic Mythology by Jacob Grimm published in 1883: “I have pointed out, p. 174, that the Ossetes and Circassians hung up the hides of animals on poles in honour of divine beings, that the Goths of Jornandes truncis suspendebant exuvias to Mars (p. 77 note), that as a general thing animals were hung on sacrificial trees (pp. 75-9); most likely this tree was also sacred to some [G]od, i.e. votive offerings [by] individuals, hence the whole place was called ‘ad votum.’ […] And not only were those trees hekd sacred, under which men sacrificed, and on which they hung the head or hide of the slaughtered beast, but [also] saplings that grew up on the top of sacrificed animals [observe this the natural equivalent of a gravestone]. A willow slip set over a dead foal or calf is not to be damaged (Sup. I, 838).

George Frederick Maclear says on pages 27-28 of hos 1863 work A History of Christian Missions During the Middle Ages: “The victims having been slaughtered before the images of the [G]ods, the heads were by preference offered to them, and with the hides were fixed or hung on trees in the sacred grove. The blood was caught in the blood-bowl and sprinkled with the blood-twig on the altar, the images, and the people, while the fat was used for anointing the images, which were then rubbed dry. The flesh was boiled down in caldrons, over fires placed along the whole length of the nave. Round these worshippers took their seats, and ate the flesh, and partook of the broth, while the chief, to whom the temple belonged, blessed the cups of mead or beer in honour of Odin, Freyr, Thor, Freyja, and last, of departed friends. Then the rest in order took took the cup, and each made his vow or offered his prayer.” Maclear speaks of all these details in the context of temples, but one may also see all the same details in the context of sacred groves and trees; for one may identify groves as natural temples and trees as natural images or idols. The Germanic peoples did not necessarily worship at dedicated man-made houses; they would also treat groves as Divine Houses and consequently all the details of sacrificial ritual may be applied to trees as idols.

Thomas Greenwood says on page 774 of The First Book of the History of the Germans: Barbaric Period published in 1836: “The Lombards frequently performed […] rites under a tree which they called the “tree of blood,” from the custom of besprinkling the tree with the blood of the victim. Upon the recurrence of certain pagan festivals, which were always so ordered as to fall either upon a Wednesday or a Thursday, both Lombards and Visigoths continued […] to perform sacrifice in their groves, and other places consecrated by national usage. On these occasions they practised the customary mummeries, with lighted tapers, processions, feasting, and revelry.” “[T]he sites of the ancient [H]eathen altars” are described on page 775 as places with “the aspect of the sacred grove, the fountain, the sacrificial stones, and of all the objects of pagan veneration.” This outlines the idea of the trees as natural idols.

As a logical consequence of tree worship, the Germanic peoples had sacred trees and by extension, sacred forests or groves; because, after all, when sacred trees are grouped together, they form a sacred forest or sacred grove.

We may compare Germanic sacred trees and groves resulting from Germanic tree worship to the wish trees in China and the healing trees in the indigenous cultures of the Low Countries. So, the Chinese and indigenous peoples of the Low Countries traditionally believe particular trees can be beneficial.

The traditional behaviours towards such trees are definitely comparable to the Germanic polytheist behaviours towards sacred trees; for the Germanic polytheists seek favours from trees in return for blood offers.

The Germanic tribes may religiously be described as tree-worshipping blood sacrificers (i.e. dendrolatric or arborolatric paleopagans). The Celts and Sámi were such pagans as well; they brought blood sacrifices to trees. The modern-day Mari pagans exhibit religious behaviours which are very instructive for students of Northwest European paleopagan tree worship (dendrolatry/arborolatry); for they worship their Deities in forests.

Blood sacrifice is an element that cannot be erased from the Germanic polytheist socioreligious cycle of gift-giving; in order to receive favours, favours must be paid in blood. In other words, one does the giver of favours (benefactor) a favour by offering blood. Blood is the life force of nature, and so it is a great favour to give this.

Chantepie de la Saussaye independently reached the same comclusion as evidenced by his words on 374 of volume 3 of issue 4 of Progress published in 1897: “Undoubtedly, however, sacrifice was the central fact, and Grimm remarks that many of the words used for prayers go back to the notion of an offering. … Religion was ceremonial and a bargain: the [G]ods were not thought to give blessings pour les beaux yeux [French: for the beautiful eyes] of their worshippers.”

Is Messianism Compatible With Germanic Polytheism?

Written by Dyami Millarson

Even though the concept of messianism is associated with monotheism in the popular mind, the answer to the question in the title of this article is a resounding yes and Germanic polytheistic messianism predates monotheistic messianism in Northwestern Europe. So how does Germanic folk religious messianism work? To answer that question, we need to define messianism first: messianism is the belief in a messiah or that a particular group under the influence of a messiah is destined to save the world. Apparently, to understand the definition of messianism, we need to take a closer look at the functional role of a messiah: what does a messiah do? A messiah saves, and so a messiah is a saviour, which is σωτήρ in Ancient Greek. This is a very important semantic connection to understand for Germanic messianism. Additional semantic connections with saviour which I deem particularly relevant for our discussion of Germanic messianism are protector, guardian, patron, hero, and tutelar. So, we may understand a messiah functionally as a Tutelary Deity or Spirit. This tutelary function is what we ought to focus on with Germanic messianism: since time immemorial, Germanic religion has had the concept of Tutelars.

In my estimation, messianism as a concept in monotheism is intrinsically connected with the concept of the Tutelar and ultimately comes from a belief in many Tutelars. Messianism in monotheism may be derived from a polytheistic ur-messianism. The Germanic peoples had Hero-Gods, who exhibited important heroic traits and performed great deeds (presumably for the benefit of humanity); the motif of the protective Deity or Spirit is essential to Germanic religion, and consequently it is essential to Germanic messianism. Additionally, the apparent Germanic belief that Deities or Spirits, to which one may sacrifice, are protectors, guardians, patrons, heroes and Tutelars is particularly relevant to our definition of Germanic messianism.

In Germanic religion, the Gods are messiahs; for their function is to save in return for blood sacrifices. It is a quid pro quo matter: salvation can only be achieved through blood sacrifice. Do ut des is inherent in Germanic polytheism, and this ethos may also be observed in the Hávamál. While blood sacrifice (blót in Old Norse) is the preferred instrument or means of salvation in Germanic religion, blood sacrifice is the way to come into contact with the Germanic messiahs (Æsir); the nature of blood sacrifice is defining for the relationship with the Germanic messiahs. While the concept of Patron God (which is Beskermgod in Shire Frisian and Beschermgod in Dutch) is native to Germanic polytheism, we can assert with confidence that messianism is also native to Germanic polytheism, and Germanic messianism is not about a single messiah but a multitude of messiahs; every single Deity or Spirit that can be prayed to with a blood sacrifice is a messiah of some sort.

While Deities in Germanic religion are to be interpreted as saviours who normally provide salvation by means of blood sacrifice, we can establish with a very high degree of confidence that the concept of messianism is not alien to Germanic polytheism. Germanic polytheism may be defined as the belief in multiple messiahs manifesting themselves as various Vættir (Divine Beings) and the belief that people who are under the influence of the Sacrificial Gods (Blótguð in Old Norse) are destined, or prophesied by the decree of the Nornir who spin the webs of fate, to save the world. In the vein of the second definition, Einherjar may be understood as manifestations of War Saints who help protect humanity.

While the world is continuously saved from the destruction of the Giants by the Gods, blood sacrifice may be interpreted as an act that is aiding the Gods in that continuous struggle for the world. While the Gods fight for humanity and are thus delivering humanity from danger, human beings provide food in return for their military service against the forces of chaos wreaking havoc on the natural world and the strongest, bravest or best of mankind may become Einherjar who aid the Gods in their war; this is the man-Deity role division.

So the concept of messianism is useful for understanding Germanic religion in the same manner that animism, shamanism and polytheism are useful, and while the aforementioned concept is relevant to Germanic theology, it certainly makes sense to tweak the definition to fit the Germanic context; Germanic messianism, which is messianism adapted to the Germanic context, is obviously messianism with Germanic characteristics, and therefore it ought to be understood through the lens of typically Germanic concepts (such as blót, Blótguð, Nornir, ørlög, etc.). Although messianism is superficially a new word, its underlying concept is ancient. Likewise, polytheism is a modern word, but its underlying concept is ancient. Messianism and polytheism describe something that has always been the case among the Germanic peoples. Germanic messianism as an aspect of Germanic religion answers the essential question of what is the ultimate goal or purpose of Germanic religion.

Souls Belong to Lakes

Written by Dyami Millarson

The Gothic term sáiwala, which is a cognate of the synonymous English term soul, may be related to the Gothic term sáiws, which is a cognate of the English term sea. Sáiws (pl. sáiweis) has a couple of meanings, namely lake, sea and marshland. Tacitus, Adam von Bremen and other sources of evidence point to the Germanic peoples as making offerings to sáiweis (pl.). If we may assume that the Germanic peoples sacrificed to sáiweis (lakes, seas, marshlands), then what does that mean for the relationship with the concept of sáiwala? It means that the soul itself is tied or connected to sacred sáiweis; the Urðarbrunnr Well of Urth, which is located at one of the three holy roots of the World Tree, may be interpreted as a sacred sáiws as well, or may at the very least be likened to it for insight’s sake.

After all, the sáiwala soul is connected with urðr fate from birth to death, and since urðr fate is connected with the Urðarbrunnr, it is not strange to suppose that the sáiwala soul shares a connection with the latter as well. We may suppose that the Urðarbrunnr is the beginning and end of the soul; it is whence the soul came and it is whither the soul will go. I recall watching a movie about knights in my youth where the corpse of a king was laid to rest on a raft and was then pushed to drift into the lake or sea (I am unsure of what kind of body of water it really was), and finally it was shot with a burning arrow so the raft would catch fire and would finally sink to the bottom of the sáiws (lake, sea). This scene might, coincidentally or not, been linked to a medieval Germanic ritual, as one can easily understand the burning of the king’s corpse as a way of sending the king’s soul into the sáiws.

This reminds me also of the bog mummies or bog bodies, and these finds have always made me consider the possibility that these were sacrifices according to the pre-Germanic tradition, which would be continued in Germanic times. Whether these were just sacrifices of ordinary humans or criminals is a moot point, because the Germanic peoples did not make such distinctions either in their time; any such execution, i.e. taking of a life, would have been accompanied by rituals as religion was an integral part of life (remember the social structure was more identical to that of a theocratic society as seen in the Middle Ages than anything we have in modern times where religious and secular affairs are separated, which would have appeared artificial and unfathomable to the ancients), and so what might now be regarded as the death penalty would then have been considered a sacrifice to the Gods, who could provide guidance of the sacrificial victim’s soul and with the proper rituals of dedication to the Gods, a vengeful spirit’s wrath could be averted.

It has been said that the Germanic peoples sacrificed their “worst men” to placate the Gods (see p. 59 of The Religion of Ancient Scandinavia), and this further supports the notion that the Germanic peoples may as well have sacrificed their criminals, although not all instances of human sacrifice necessarily need to have been executions of criminals; it is known that kings, who could not ensure good harvest, have been sacrificed. Additionally, Hangaguð God of the Hanged is another name for Othin and this appears to be connected with those who were killed by strangling. Killing living beings by binding with ropes to trees (i.e., strangling) seems to have been a consistent theme in ancient Germanic religion. The whole process must have been a magical rite similar to dancing around the maypole (cf. the German folk religious concept of Tanzbaum dance tree). Others have apparently had similar thoughts about the potential connection between bog mummies and sacrificial religion, it is definitely worth reading one such paper.

Why Were Germanic Sacrifices Usually Communal?

Written by Dyami Millarson

The reason why the blood sacrifices of Germanic religion tended to be communal instead of communal is practical: it was no easy task to slaughter large animals such as cows and horses (see more examples here and here). An individual could slaughter a cock or pig on his own, but a cow or horse is a whole different story.

Naturally, small animals would have been more closely associated with small feasts, large animals with large feasts. The latter would have been a lot less frequent than the former. After all, one does not need to slaughter large animals that frequent as their meat can feed human beings for a longer period of time if preserved properly.

Another reason for why the Germanic peoples tended to perform blood sacrifices together is cultural: people in the Middle and Classical Ages had a strong sense of community and they tended to do everything together. One might get a sense of this in tight-knit traditional village communities around the world.

People living in the medieval and classical times were a whole lot more communal than people are today, and so it is to be expected that it was only natural for them to perform slaughtering rituals together.

When it came to slaughtering large animals, obviously more knowledge and skill was required than with slaughtering a small animal. Here is where trained professionals might have come into play; people who served as priests must have possessed more intimate knowledge how to perform the slaughter than others. Priests are religious leaders and as such, usually distinguished or prominent men such as (petty) kings and earls took the role of priest in Germanic society.

So, to some extent, the slaughter of large animals may have been outsourced to experts as we do today in the modern world. Smaller animals could, of course, be slaughtered by anyone with some basic skills, but large animals obviously required more skills and so it was convenient to let skilled priests take care of it.

Priests combined the slaughtering ritual with fate-reading and other religious elements, so the slaughtering itself had higher significance than merely just slaughtering an animal for food and absorbing the power of its spirit. The priests could discern fateful messages during the slaughtering process and they would have looked for signs that the Gods accepted their bloody offering.

Blood sacrifice is nothing more than the highly ritualised form of slaughtering animals for meat; it has a close relationship with food and eating. The knowledge for blood sacrifice was essential for life and it was inherited. The knowledge for slaughtering small animals would have been common among all folks, but that of large animals would in all likelihood have been reserved to the most knowledgeable. So, priests would have had the function to transmit knowledge of how to slaughter animals properly, and this knowledge, as was all knowledge in the Germanic pagan world, was closely linked with the traditional religion.

Eating Strong Animals Made Germanic Polytheists Strong

Written by Dyami Millarson

We know the modern adage, you are what you eat. The ancient polytheists of the Germanic world had this folk wisdom as well, and it was so profound a wisdom to them that it was a basic principle of religion to them: having sacrificed a strong animal according to the ancient tradition, the strong animal’s spirit is transferred to the human sacrifiers who consume the animal’s meat, blood and bones. So, the Germanic polytheists believed that eating strong animals made them strong.

On Monday 20 December 2021, I was having a soup made of a cock (male chicken, called rooster in US) which we slaughtered on Sunday 19 December 2021 during full moon. It was my first time slaughtering chickens. Before, during and after the experience, it made me think about the philosophy of existence. It helped me gain more insight into the ancient Germanic traditions of communal blood sacrifice, as it allowed me to understand better, from a spiritual perspective, why blood sacrifice was a communal rather than individual affair; doing this together helps with the bereavement process (verwerkingsproces in Dutch).

I believe that everyone should actually experience what it is like to take another being’s life before you consume the meat, because it is a spiritual experience that makes you ponder about existence in the human world (which may also be called Mithgarth). I am thankful I could experience this because when we buy chicken in the supermarket, we miss this spiritual aspect of the acceptance of the transition between life and death as well as the transition from death to feeding other life. When I was having the chicken soup on Monday, I was thinking especially about the latter transition and as the meat of the cock was really strong, it made me ponder the notion that eating strong animals makes us strong.

Taking the life of an animal with your own hands for the consumption of all of its meat is not just a spiritual or philosophical experience, but it is also an ethical matter of taking responsibility. Modern people like deferring the responsibility of slaughtering animals to others or even machines, this seemingly dissolves us of guilt and responsibility so we do not think much about it when we buy meat in the supermarket and consume it on a regular basis. However, when we do take responsibility, it makes us much more mindful of the meat and where it came from.

If one were to live according to the ways of the ancestors in the modern day and age, I believe it is relevant to incorporate the notion of taking responsibility for the meat that one consumes; where possible, it is best to slaughter animals yourself so that you feel the full responsibility of your actions and know the value of the meat. To me, it seems logical that the traditional polytheist ancestors would have fully agreed with such a philosophical notion of taking responsibility; we have to do this with our own hands and we should experience the entire spiritual process.

Slaughtering an animal for meat was a part of growing up among the ancients, and since we still consume meat in the modern day and age, I do not see why we should shun the entire spiritual process, we are missing the spiritual part where we take matters into our own hands and my heart tells me we should reclaim this spiritual aspect of existence that we are currently missing when it comes to consuming meat; meat is not just about consumption, but also taking a life and we ought to be part of the process of helping the animal spirit pass on to the afterlife. It is a very intimate process when you take an animals life, and this ought to be done properly.

To me emotionally, it makes sense to believe that the animal spirit transfers its power to the human who consumes its meat. When we are present during the process of the animal’s death, we share a very intimate moment with it and we are also going to be the ones who will absorb its powerful spirit. When I ate the chicken soup on Monday, I felt much more intimate with the meat because I had slaughtered this cock myself, and I felt deeply thankful to the cock’s spirit. I noticed that the cock’s meat was very strong in texture and very tasty as well; this feeling made an image of a strong spirit entering my body appear before my mind’s eye.

Germanic Folk Religious Adoration of Blood

Written by Dyami Millarson

The early Germanic peoples were fascinated with blood. When studying Germanic folk religion, the centrality of blood as a topic and symbol has been often overlooked or deliberately ignored due to modern negative conceptions – as well as fear – of blood. In the ancient Germanic world, blood was highly respected. While blood is the force of life, it was an integral part of many Germanic rituals. Blood played an important role in blood sacrifice rituals and blood brotherhood rituals.

To understand the Germanic philosophy, we have to set aside our modern, especially urban, disgust with blood. Rather than seeing it as filthy and repelling, the Germanic nature peoples perceived it as pure and regenerating. Sacrificial blood was therefore considered sacred, and it was sprinkled on the attendants of a blood sacrifice.

Blood is essential to life and if one embraces nature, one ought to embrace blood as a substance of natural purity intrinsically associated with life. Germanic blood sacrifices are a celebration of life, because such rites are dedicated to blood as a force of life leaving the victim’s body. Blood sacrifice is an ancient way of helping the victim to say farewell to life and welcome the afterlife. The rite is dedicated to the transition from life to death, and this transition between two worlds is an awe-inspiring miraculous and important moment for living creatures.

Of course, there is an element of appeasement in the sacrificial blood rite. The creature, which is sacrificed, is dedicated to the Gods before consumed by humans; this is the religious tradition through which humans rendered the meat safe to consume without invoking the wrath of a vengeful animal spirit. The Gods drink liquids, and it can be presumed they drink blood, as that is a life force with regenerative powers. Sacrificial blood was smeared onto the tree idols of the Gods and the symbolism of this must be that the Gods gain life – and youth by extension – from the sacrifice and the sacrificers of blood are therefore contributing to the life – and youth – of the ancient Gods; those who sacrifice blood give power to the Gods.

Blood is not just a bestower of life force, but it is a symbol of binding living entities together as well. The magical binding properties of blood are particularly relevant in a rite such as blood brotherhood. The mixing of blood symbolises kinship, and therefore a familial duty to protect each other. Blood could thus be a source – as well as a symbol – of familial rights and duties. All of this is to highlight how immensely important the concept of blood was in the pristine Germanic world, and this article ought to prove to the reader that blood as a topic must not be overlooked when studying Germanic traditional religion.

Waarom at men vroeger vaak gevogelte?

Geschreven door Dyami Millarson

Gemak dient de mens. Men at vroeger vaak gevogelte omdat het makkelijk is. Vogels zijn overal en het vlees is zacht waardoor het makkelijk te verteren is. Men moet aan de kust leven of in de buurt van wateren om te kunnen vissen. Groot wild is niet bepaald makkelijk te vangen, het is juist een hele uitdaging. Vogels vangen en braden is een relatief makkelijke bron van vlees/voedsel.

Vandaar zullen de Germanen ook dikwijls gevogelte gegeten hebben. Zij zullen waarschijnlijk ganzen gehouden hebben om te slachten en zij zullen zeker ook wilde vogels gevangen en opgegeten hebben. Dit geeft ons een beeld van het eetpatroon van de Germanen en dit is zeker belangrijk voor ons begrip van hun geloofsopvattingen:

Voor de Germaan was het moeilijk om aan groot wild te komen, waardoor hij dit een waardig offer achtte voor de Goden. Het vereiste moed van hem om zulk een dier te vangen en slachten. Heldhaftigheid werd dus beschouwd als een wijze om de Goden eer te doen oftewel de Goden te (ver)eren.

Het slachten van een vogels was meer alledaags, waardoor het algauw beschouwd zou zijn als een klein offer voor de minder grote Goden. Ik zou mij goed kunnen voorstellen dat men een vogel juist aan de Álfar geofferd zou hebben.

De bronmaterialen lijken er namelijk op te duiden dat de grootheid van de godheid in verband stond met de grootheid van het offer. Er was waarschijnlijk sprake vand it grondbeginsel in de Germaanse religie: hoe groter de God, hoe groter het offer.

Islands Were Sacred in Germanic Folk Religion

Written by Dyami Millarson

The names Helgoland, Halligen and Fositeland are linguistic reminders that islands were considered sacred by the polytheistic Germanic-speaking ancestors. It is not hard to imagine why islands were considered sacred. Islands feel separated from the rest of the world. One can find the spiritual peace of nature on islands. The isolation is what makes islands attractive for religious purposes. The phenomenon of isolation in nature is what the Germanic peoples considered sacred; for they considered such areas chosen, favoured or preferred by the Gods for religion. Blood sacrifices were usually made in enclosed spaces in nature, which are natural sanctuaries or in Old Norse. Special rules applied to those enclosed spaces called , akin to how the spaces around Shinto shrines are treated by Japanese today. Those spaces had to be kept pure. Any defilement of the space was considered desecration; the purity of nature had to be maintained, thus man’s impurity had to be kept away, otherwise the designated place would lose its sanctity.

The places that were designated by the Gods were made apparent to man by their unusual separation from the world around them; those places were realities of their own, they allowed man to enter into an ideal yet parallel reality. They were essentially gateways into another world. They bring man closer to the Gods; for man is allowed to experience the pristine, peaceful mood of nature. I have experienced such when I was in Hong Kong in 2017 and visited the various Chinese temples there; they allowed me to retreat from the hustle and bustle of the city. The temples allowed me to recharge; they gave me much needed rest. The Chinese temples were usually surrounded by elements of nature and they were separated from the rest of the city as nature around them had been left alone. Seeing nature in a pristine state is what gave me peace of mind; I know from experience that the purity of nature in such places in Hong Kong has a positive psychological effect on humanity, and the Germanic , which had a religious atmosphere about it thanks to being situated in nature and naturally demarcated, would have had a similarly positive effect on man.

While I was quite sick and was looking for a way to heal, I was on a spiritual quest in Hong Kong and I found many answers as I listened to my instinct; I did whatever felt right or good for my body and mind, this is what kept me healthy and well in Hong Kong. Not only was it my hobby to visit Chinese temples in Hong Kong in order to recharge, but it was one of my hobbies in Hong Kong to visit islands. I was quite sick at the time and did not have much energy, so I needed to recharge frequently. Islands had a similar function for me as Chinese temples. They gave me my much needed rest; they helped me to recover from my physical and mental exhaustion. Islands have a healing effect on the mind and body; they are spiritual healers. One may perceive islands as living beings, they are their own Gods. In addition, giving credence to the notion that islands are enclosed areas designated or created by the Gods is the tale of Gefjon ploughing the land and creating the island of Zealand. Islands may not only be regarded as spiritual entities, but they are also divine creations; whatever is God-created is, on principle, God-favoured while its essence or spirit reflects an aspect of the Gods and is therefore godlike (i.e., like the Gods). Being endowed with features of the Gods could mean being inhabited by the Gods, or at least being very attractive to being inhabited by a divine being. It is, thus, not so strange that the Germanic peoples deemed islands to be God-inhabited. In conclusion, islands may be regarded as temples of Germanic nature religion.

My fascination with islands has only increased over the years as I have become acutely aware of the fact they are ideal places for unique languages and cultures. They attract such languages and cultures, house them and nurture them; islands may be regarded as parental guardian figures for this reason. Unique languages and cultures can be preserved on islands as they are protected by the enclosed nature of islands; precisely the characteristics that made islands attractive to the Germanic-speaking polytheists of yore are what makes them perfect for small languages and cultures. Furthermore, it is interesting to note that the existence of the communities of such languages and cultures that emerge on the islands has a guardian function for the islands as well; they feel naturally responsible for the protection of the island through their language and culture which bestows them with unique knowledge of the natural environment of the island. Namely, the island’s nature becomes interwoven with people’s language and culture and philosophy.

It feels like the divine islands have called or attracted human guardians to the themselves in order to aid them and protect them from harm, and the locals who live on such islands seem to take that role seriously as their continued existence is deeply tied to the well-being of the islands; the islanders have merged with the island through their identity, language and culture. This symbiosis is mutually beneficial; the islands benefit and the islanders benefit from this close relationship. When I studied the Frisian island peoples, I noticed that the island is their life, it is their nurturing parent, it is their divinity; the feel one or merged with the island. The ancient Germanic polytheists who would have been naturally charged with protecting the sacred Germanic islands as they were living on them would have felt the same way as these modern-day Frisian linguistic and cultural communities do; the guardian role of the ancestors has been passed on to the Frisian descendants. I find this a very inspiring idea, as the present-day situation among the communities of small languages and cultures is not that different from that of the ancients, and this credence to the idea that these indigenous communities are the heirs of the land on which they live, as they act and have always acted as its protectors; they feel naturally drawn to fulfil that role since it is their raison d’être, the land is what made them unique and of course they will feel indebted to the land, which they usually approach in an animistic way as being spiritually inhabited.

The Semiotics of Sacrifice in Germanic Folk Religion

Written by Dyami Millarson

My theological research aim on this blog is studying the interpretation of blood sacrifice in the philosophical or psychological context of Germanic folk religion.

Semiotics is generally defined as the study of signs and symbols (*1). I do, however, not see the point of distinguishing signs and symbols in the context of Germanic folk religion, but rather I define the semiotic object of study as the Dutch word tekens, which could mean three things: 1) signs, 2) symbols, 3) omens. The reason I prefer to use this Dutch concept to explain what I am studying with semiotics is that I do not wish to distinguish signs, symbols and omens, whilst I see the advantage of lumping them together in one single concept as is done in the Dutch language.

The do ut des principle certainly applies to the semiotics of blood sacrifice in Germanic folk religion: Germanic peoples generally made blood sacrifices in order to receive favours from the Gods. Namely, when Germanic peoples made blood sacrifices, they asked for peace, victory, longevity, good harvest and fair wind. The formula of making a sacrifice for a specific purpose was encoded into the language: blóta til friðar sacrifice for peace, blóta til sigrs sacrifice for victory, blóta til langlífis to sacrifice for longevity, blóta til árs to sacrifice for good harvest, blóta til byrjar to sacrifice for fair wind. This is how I memorised the expressions listed under the entry blóta in Zoëga’s Concise Dictionary of Old Icelandic. The formula, underlying structure, of those sacrificial expressions is: sacrificial verb + preposition til + genitive case. The semantic function of til + gen. is to denote the purpose.

Interestingly, the verb for sacrifice in Old Norse uses the accusative to denote the recipient of the sacrificial gift and the dative to denote the sacrificial gift itself. We may deduce from this that sacrificing in Germanic times worked more like “honouring someone with something” than “giving something to someone.” The Roman formula is as follows: “sacrifice gift Y to deity X.” However, the Germanic formula is: “sanctify deity X with gift Y.”

So, the Germanic concept of sacrificing would rather have been the equivalent of “sanctify a God with a sacrificial gift” than “sacrificing a sacrificial gift to a God.” In other words, “making a God sacred with a gift” (sanctify = make sacred with) rather than “making a gift sacred to the God” (sacrifice = make sacred to). The Germanic sacrificial concept falls into the same category as the following verbs: praise, please, honour, feed, heal, bless. Consequently, one may interpret the Germanic sacrificial verb as “praising, pleasing, honouring, feeding, healing, blessing a God with a gift.”

What does this have to do with semiotics? For our semiotic study of blood sacrifice, we are interested in blood sacrifice as a teken and the use and interpretation of this teken. The interpretation of the sacrificial act itself is important for improving our understanding of blood sacrifice, and the sacrificial act is reflected in the verb that is used for sacrificing. The Germanic verb that is used for sacrificing gives us a linguistic clue about what to expect with regards to the Germanic conception of the sacrificial act. Of course, it is also important to consult the written source materials for getting a picture of the semiotics of blood sacrifice in Germanic folk religion, but that is beyond the scope of this article, which is merely to introduce the aim of the semiotic study of Germanic folk religious blood sacrifice to the readers.