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.