Human sacrifice in Norse religion
April 26, 2013
I have been watching and enjoying the television drama, Vikings. I’ve been especially interested in the treatment of religion, both the native Norse religion of the Vikings and their encounter with the Christians. This has been drawn-out primarily through the capture and enslavement of a monk during one of the raids, but the most recent episode (#8) was entirely devoted to the Vikings’ pilgrimage to the temple at Uppsala in order to make a sacrificial offering to the Norse gods, for the purpose of continued protection and future prosperity. It is a powerful episode, including the struggles of faith by the monk, but especially in the depiction of human sacrifice by the Vikings.
There have been some historical inaccuracies in the series noted by historians, such as the form of politics among the tribes (portrayed as autocratic instead of more democratic), but the sacrifice of humans is attested in the manuscripts. Most of these manuscripts are, naturally, from Christian sources — but not all. In fact, earlier in the series, we saw human ritual sacrifice during the ship burial (episode #6), which was attested by an Arab source in the 10th century (Ahmad ibn Fadlan).
During my undergraduate days, as a Religious Studies major, we studied neopaganism through anthropological studies of their nature festivals. The overwhelming feature of this movement is their desire to connect with nature in protest to a mundane and technocratic society, as well as in protest to Christianity’s perceived rejection of nature (understood in terms of eros). The more ardent advocates of neopagan religion actually advocate the recovery of the various mythological gods (although there is debate over the realist or symbolic nature of their existence). Anyway, I have yet to hear any advocates for the reintroduction of human sacrifice. That seems to be a feature of their innocent nature religion that is left out.