alvablot

Alvablot

What is Alvablot?

Alvablot, or Álfablót in Old Norse, is literally translated to “elf sacrifice”. The primary source documenting the observance of this holiday in Old Norse culture is the skaldic poem, Austrfararvísur. In the poem, Olaf the Fat, then King of Norway, sends a man by the name of Sigvatr Þórðarson to Västergötaland (Modern Swedish West Gotland) on a diplomatic mission. While trying to find a place to spend the night, he is turned away as a wolf from multiple houses; each time the people say that they are heathen and that they fear the wrath of Óðinn should they allow him in and interrupt their elf sacrifice. Even when he goes to visit the man in the area best known for his hospitality, he is turned away.

The alver, or álfar, in Old Norse culture were seen as being ancestral spirits, and because of this it is to be expected that a sacrifice being given to one’s ancestors would be a very personal occasion, at most including the immediate family. The fact that hospitality was of great importance in the culture contributes to this assumption as well, as Sigvatr was not allowed to enter any one house at which he asked to come in.

When is it celebrated?

According to Austrfararvísur, Sigvatr was journeying through Sweden around the onset of winter, making his ordeal all the more difficult when he could not find a place to stay. Alvablot is commonly celebrated at the end of October to beginning of November, about six weeks after Höstblot, when the winter half of the year begins. It is one of the holidays on Samfundet Forn Sed Sverige’s calendar, with the dates being Oct. 31st-Nov. 1st. However, many groups will also work this holiday into their Winter Nights celebrations, usually taking place in mid to late October.

Who celebrates it?

Alvablot is primarily celebrated by Norse polytheists, especially of the Swedish variety considering that the events in the poem take place in Sweden. As stated above, Samfundet Forn Sed Sverige observes the holiday on their official calendar­[1], and there are groups beyond there who observe it, though many times it is up to the individual or possibly a kindred.

How is Alvablot celebrated?

Because of the apparent nature of this holiday, it is very different from most in that rather than welcoming a larger community in, the observers limit participants to just themselves and possibly close relatives. Regarding the actual customs of the holiday, there is not much described in the poem about it, though Óðinn seems to have been a prominent figure for it, as the residents of the houses were fearful of him should they interrupt the ceremony by allowing insiders into their homes. Obviously, as the name implies there is a focus on honoring one’s ancestors during this holiday, and it would appear that, though it is private in nature, it is also a positive celebration and a time to commune with those who have passed on.

How one chooses to celebrate Alvablot is up to their own preferences, but giving offerings to one’s ancestors is a good basic start. It would appear, though, that ale is a traditional offering for this one, so it is good to include that if possible.[2] It is also an option to hold a portion of the celebration as public, or open to other kindred or community members, and have the other portion as private for individuals or families. In this way there can be a community participation in the observance, but still allow for private honoring of one’s ancestors.

Why celebrate Alvablot?

Within the Germanic cultures, even today, there tends to be a large focus on the importance of family and community. In Old Norse culture, the spirits of deceased ancestors were to some degree thought to watch over and protect the family, and the two primary groups were called the álfar and the dísir. The dísir, however, were female ancestral spirits, implying that the álfar were male. Dísablot, which occurred at different times during the year based on the region, honored them.[3] The honoring of one’s ancestors also helps their memory to live on, and the fame of one’s deeds was seen as the key to immortality. Therefore, celebrations such as Alvablot help not only to commune with one’s ancestors who watch over them, but it also helps to allow their memories to continue on living.

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[1] Årets Högtider. Samfundet Forn Sed Sverige. http://www.samfundetfornsed.se/om-forn-sed/%C3%A5rets-h%C3%B6gtider-1283052

[2] The man who turns Sigvatr away at every house is named Ölvir. The first part of the name, Öl, means “beer” or “ale” in Swedish, suggesting that the name may have been in reference to a role that the person played in the sacrifice involving ale given as an offering.

[3] While many traditions hold dísablot, or dísting, as being in late October, the Swedes observed it in conjuction with the weeklong allra Svía þing, or Thing of all Swedes, which was held in late february. (From the article Dísablot in the encyclopedia Nordisk familjebok)

Image source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/55/%C3%84lvalek.jpg

Alvablot. Returning to my religious roots is like coming home.. Onions, potatoes, quince, oranges and rönneband for the powers that are, and the people who were. Today remember we those who stood us near, and make lights in the night to call their spirits to us.