Álfablót - Old Norse Halloween


An ancient celebration of ancestors  

Halloween

In the North, the days get darker and darker during this time of the year. Today we have turned our clocks back an hour in a feeble attempt to take advantage of what little daylight we will have during the even darker months to come.

As I live in the south of Sweden I will at least enjoy some hours of light every day. But, growing up in the north of Norway I remember the bright summer nights as well as the winter days when the sun seemed to never rise.

The Powers of the Dark

According to the ancient sources, we have already entered the winter part of the year. The ancient people of the North believed this was when the power of the dark, mysterious and dead were at their strongest - and as humans would do well to keep them on our side. So, during this first dark winter month, we would do best to offer our friendship to the powers stirring. In doing so, they would aid us through the darkness and cold into yet another season of light and growth. You see, the powers of the dark were not perceived as evil but powerful and it was important to seek their assistance. This was done in the best Norse way possible, by offering them beer and meat. 

Álfablót - the Sacrifice to the Elves

Ancient texts, such as the skaldic poem Austrafararvísur[1], tell us about the Norse tradition of álfablót, the sacrifice to the elves. The álfablót was a celebration held between the end of autumn and the beginning of winter. We know little of the celebration itself since it seems to have been surrounded by a lot of secrecy. Despite the normally strict code of hospitality during this day and age, strangers were not allowed to enter the farmsteads during the álfablót. However, most historians seem to agree that the lady of the household managed the celebration and that the elves were actually closely associated with ancestors – perhaps, primarily, with the ancestral fathers, since the word for elf, álfr, is distinctly masculine and offers no feminine version in Old Norse[2]. It is likely that during the álfablót the elves were probably honored as the spirits of dead ancestors and worship as part of the life force of the family.

It is interesting and quite fascinating that this celebration took place over a thousand years ago around the same time as we today celebrate Halloween, All Saint’s Day and the Day of the Dead in places all around the world.

 

[1] Om skalden Sighvat Thordsson och tolkning af hans Austrfararvísur, Vestrfararvísur och Knútsdrápa, Sighvatr Þórðarson. Editor: Sven Alfred Ternström, publisher: H. Ohlssons boktryckeri, Lund, 1871

[2] The Old Norse Halloween or Day of the Dead: Alfablót (Sacrifice to the Elves), Maria Kvilhaug


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