Rites – Blót / Blétsung / Bletsian

Blót is the best known of our three sacred rites. Basically, blót means “sacrifice”; but not sacrifice in the sense of giving something up. When we sacrifice to the gods, we are sharing with them.

Most blóts are to the gods, but some heathens also sacrifice to the ancestors and/or the landwights.

The basic form of sacrifice for the ancient heathens was killing a live animal, and in modern Scandinavian languages the word “blot” still means “slaughter.” The animal was offered to the gods and then shared with them by everyone eating it. Live animal sacrifice is plainly not feasible for most modern heathens, and many would not want to do it. So at the beginning of the heathen revival in the US, in the 1970s, someone had the brilliant idea of substituting a sacrifice of drink, which can be even more easily shared than meat.

In US heathenry, most blóts nowadays are of drink; mead is preferred, but any alcoholic or non-alcoholic drink may be used. Many believe it is better to blót with something relatively expensive, but since it is shared with the gods, it is important that it be something one likes to drink. Some believe only alcoholic drinks are acceptable (since a passage in the lore says that Óðinn/Woden lives on wine), but there is a school of thought that the Vanir prefer spring water and that the wights, for those who blót to them, do not like alcohol and want milk. For those who cannot drink alcohol–pregnant women, alcoholics, children, and the allergic–either kiss the horn instead of drinking from it, or preferably, use fruit juice or some other non-alcoholic beverage. (Many groups provide a second horn for non-drinkers.)

In continental Europe, it is common to offer both food and drink together. Or one can save the food for the veizla/húsel afterward, as is usually done in the U.S.

It is perfectly acceptable, and attested in the lore, for a person to blót alone. A passage in Hávamál is commonly translated “Better not blóted than to blót overmuch,” but can also be interpreted as a warning against blóting “badly”–either incorrectly or in the wrong spirit. Most would agree that it is not a good idea to blót grudgingly, abstractedly, or out of a mere sense of duty; especially since the gods have not given us any rules about how often we must blót, or urged us to do it more often, so really it is our decision to do so.

Most heathens prefer to blót with mead and with a drinking horn; in a group blót, the horn is passed clockwise around a circle. (Traditionally the person who refills it is called the valkyrie, because bringing drink to the einherjar in Valhalla is one of the jobs of the valkyries.) But neither is necessary. One can conceivably use any drink (or any food) and any kind of drinking vessel.

The ancient heathens also blóted weapons and other plunder taken in battle. Modern heathens sometimes offer jewelry, candy (Freyja/Freo is said to love peppermints and gold-colored offerings as well as gold), artworks, and poetry. The offerings should be consumed, as food and drink are consumed. The weapons were thrown into a bog or pond. Modern heathens often use the fire to receive jewelry, woodcarvings, and the paper on which poems are written. Or they can be cast into water.

Many group blóts are led by a goði/gyðja (wéofodthegn/wéofodthignen), but this is not necessary and sometimes the title refers merely to the person who leads a particular blót.

Group blóts can be quite ornate, involving garbed participants, an initial procession, lengthy hallowing and offerings to the landwights, recorded music, singing, one or more readings, an address or interpretation by the goði/gyðja, and/or segments in one of the Old Tongues. But fundamentally blót consists of only three steps: hallowing, hailing, and offering. See my separate essay on hallowing; but note that some heathens, particularly Anglo-Saxon heathens, take care to hallow the offerings in addition to the place. The reading and/or talk, if any, come after the hallowing and have as their main purpose putting everyone in the mood to focus on the gods. Then one hails the god or goddess to whom one wishes to offer, perhaps recalling one or more of his or her deeds or names, perhaps adding a personal prayer. Then one offers. In a group blót, these steps are repeated by each person around the circle: everyone hails a god or goddess and then offers (at a standard drink blót, raising the horn or other drinking vessel in salute as one hails, then drinking ). Some blóts are to one deity alone, but usually a blót involves more than one round (three is the standard number) and as many gods and goddesses as those present wish to honor. The hail should not be thought of as an invocation, but as a dedication, naming the god or goddess for whom the gift is intended. So it does not need to be shouted, although particularly outdoors, this is common.

Many group blóts are held outdoors, around a fire. There may be an altar at the north end, where the person leading the blót stands and where drink offerings are hallowed. When the horn is to be refilled from a new bottle, what remains in it is often poured into the fire as an offering to the wights. This may also be done at the end of the blót. The other way to finish a blót is to pour out on the ground under a tree; often a share of drink is poured into a blót bowl each round and used for this purpose. In an indoor blót, the remainder from the horn, or a share of each drink in a solitary blót, is poured into a blót bowl and the bowl is poured out outdoors afterwards.

Blót bowls, like drinking vessels, do not have to be fancy; if they are, the general feeling is that metal or wood are best, ceramic not so good and plastic least good.

One optional step in a blót, particularly a group blót, is asperging. Following the offerings, an evergreen sprig is dipped in the blót bowl and used to sprinkle each participant as a blessing.

Here is a guide for the first-time blóter that I wrote a couple of years ago. Those who use other than Old Norse terminology and names for the gods will need to translate, for example Thor to Thunor or Donar.

Marion’s Basic Guide to Blót

You will need:

A source of fire that will stay lit: indoors, matches and a candle; outdoors, a lighter or matches and a reasonably draft-proof lantern.

Something to sacrifice: drink and/or food and/or trinkets. Traditionally, the drink should be alcoholic, but that doesn’t matter, and it should be something you like; you will be sharing it with the gods. Fruit juice and milk are comon alternatives to alcohol. Chocolate, fruit, peppermints, a cake (especially one you have baked), and steak are some ideas for food offerings. The ancient heathens slaughtered an animal but the gods do not expect that nowadays, especially not at one’s first blót. Non-consumables might include a bracelet or an artwork you have made, such as a drawing or a poem.

A medium to large bowl if offering drink or gloppy food. A mixing bowl works fine. Metal is best, plastic least good.

A drinking horn or a wineglass if sacrificing a drink. Another kind of glass will also work.

Optionally: some sort of low table (such as a nightstand) to act as an altar.

Optionally: an evergreen sprig.

Additional items if blóting for the first time in a particular place:
* a source of fire that can be held in the hand for a while (a Zippo lighter, not matches or a hotter-burning kind of lighter; a lantern or hurricane lamp)
* a little cornflour if you are in the Americas, or some other offering traditional to the indigenous culture if you are in the Middle East, Asia, or Australasia

Where to blót:
Either outdoors in a secluded and/or beautiful place (beside water is best if you wish to sacrifice something such as jewelry; if you sacrifice food or drink you will need access to earth or grass), or indoors in any place not already dedicated to other gods. You will need to know which direction is north. It is traditional to place the altar so you face north if you blót alone, but not necessary.

What to wear:
Anything clean. Barefoot and with unbound hair is nice. No special clothing is necessary. People disagree as to whether it is ok to be wearing a blade; you do not need one, at any rate.

Preparation before blóting in a particular place for the first time:
If no one has blóted in a particular place before you, so far as you know, you need to prepare the place the first time you use it. You do not have to repeat this step or undo it once you are finished.

If you are not located in one of the traditionally Germanic countries, first give an offering to the local landwights (spirits of the place and ancestors connected to it), and ask their permission to invite your gods to the place. If you are in the Americas, cornmeal is a good offering: a few pinches or a small bowlful, set on the ground or somewhere in the room where it will not be disturbed (and at the end of the day, put it on the ground outside).

At the northern side of the area you will be blóting in, face north, light fire and raise it in your hand. Looking north, say , “Thor, hallow this place.” Looking ahead and upwards, turn right and walk clockwise around the area. At each corner, face outwards and repeat the request to Thor. Make a complete circuit, then walk to where you will be standing when you blót and say the same thing again. The fire must stay lighted in your hand; if it goes out, you must stop and re-light it. You have now created a sacred space, a vé, and invited the gods to come and visit you. You do not need any other warding, but there are more complicated formulæ. Once you have done this, you should avoid unpleasant bodily noises until you have finished the blót, and you should not pray to non-Germanic gods at the blót.

If you will be using an altar and it has not been used before, wave the fire slowly over the entire surface and ask Thor to hallow the altar.

Put the fire on the altar or at your feet next to what you are going to offer.

What to do:
Pass the container of drink, the plate of food, and/or the other offering over the fire and say, “Thor, hallow this offering” for however many items you have.

Pour a serving of drink into your horn or your glass, raise it before you,and say “I wish to offer this drink to ….” and name a god or goddess. Visualize the god or goddess. Feel him or her near you. To help you do this, you may want to list some of his or her accomplishments, other names, or nicknames. You may want to make the experience more meaningful by reciting or reading from the lore or speaking poetry of your own. The poetry itself may be your offering. Or you may be raising a plate of food or a piece of jewelry and offering that. When you feel the god or goddess’ presence, pray if you feel the need. Then take a drink from the horn or glass or a bite from the food. Raise your hand high with the rest of the drink or food or the other offering in it, and say “Hail!” and the god or goddess’ name. Loudly is better, but you are greeting them not summoning them, so don’t shout. And wait at least a moment, longer if it feels right.

Pour the rest of the drink or gloppy food into the offering bowl. Set down the plate if the food is not gloppy. Throw the bracelet or other trinket into the water or into bushes, or indoors, lay it on the altar or at your feet to be given that way later. You may want to say “It is given” to make clear it is an offering.

If you wish to blót more than one deity (I usually blót three with a can of beer), pour another serving or take another bite or hold up another offering, and repeat.

Optionally, take the evergreen sprig, or your finger, dip it in what is in the offering bowl, and sprinkle yourself on the head with it. Or you can just say “Hail the gods and goddesses!”

If possible, leave the bowl and/or plate sitting on the altar for a while. But remove empty drink containers at once.

The last step is to pour out the contents of the bowl or put out the food on the plate somewhere on the ground or in grass, or to cast your offering into water or bushes if it was not food and you blóted indoors. As you do this, you may want to say:
“From the gods to the earth to us,
from us to the earth to the gods.
A gift for a gift.
Hail to the gods and goddesses!”

You do not need to re-hallow the place or the altar unless they get used for other gods before your next blót.