The Life and Thoughts of a Modern Day American Heathen

From hlautbolli to Chocolate Bowl

From hlautbolli to Chocolate Bowl

We can deny the modern world or somehow accommodate it. Heathenism has changed quite a bit from the turn of the first millennium of the Common Era. This probably comes as a surprise to some very staunch traditionalists but it’s evident to many. The world – and our religion – used to be quite a bloody affair, full of death, both of animals and of men.

We are informed of the configuration of the old Heathen altar (ON: stall)  from Icelandic sources. In Eyrbyggjasaga we are told:

On the stall should also stand the blood-bowl (hlautbolli), and therein the blood-rod was, like unto a sprinkler (stökkull), and therewith should be sprinkled from the bowl that blood which is called “Hlaut“, which was that kind of blood which flowed when those beasts were smitten who were sacrificed to the Gods. But round about the stall were the Gods arrayed in the Holy Place.

The ancient elevation of blood as the most potent form of sacrifice is perfectly understandable. But we don’t hang people on trees to sacrifice them to the Valfather (Father of the Slain) these days, and most of us don’t sacrifice animals on our altar, but incense, or other small commodities, like food.

I’m not suggesting that the Father of the Slain become the Father of Chocolate, but since my family is inordinately fond of chocolate, our hlautbolli, or blood bowl (pl hlautbollar) has become a chocolate bowl, at this time of year a repository of chocolate Easter eggs.

Chocolate is an excellent offering – it has the virtue of being valuable in monetary terms (particularly the better chocolates – some might find American chocolates unworthy) and it is also a sacrifice in reality, since you are sacrificing something you would very much like to eat yourself – and most people seem to like chocolate a great deal indeed.

The importance of sacrifice isn’t diminished, and should not be seen to be diminished, by the form the sacrifice takes. By its very definition, a sacrifice is something that by giving it to the gods, you do without – throwing your sword in a lake, burying valuable articles with the dead – even the burning of incense, which though far less expensive now than a millennium ago, can still run up quite a bill.

Modern Heathens must decide for themselves how best to juggle the demands of tradition with the reality of modern life. Most of us will never participate in a warband’s raid that ends with somebody hung from a tree, and most of us will never offer animal sacrifice because, quite frankly, we haven’t the means or the know-how. But most ancient offerings were of the mundane variety and all that has changed over the centuries in this regard is what constitutes mundane.

You could, for example, sacrifice your MP3 player, or a cell phone. These items are ubiquitous in the 21st century. Children carry them like men once carried spears. I don’t have a spear, but I do have those other items, and many others. We all do. We shouldn’t think the Gods are any less likely to accept – or appreciate – what is common to us anymore than they would have objected to what was common for our ancestors at the turn of the first millennium.

I take my religion very seriously. I pledged troth to the gods of my ancestors and I am serious about that. I am also serious about living in the 21st rather than the 10th century. Some might object to an altar made not by my own hands out of “native” materials, others of taking a photograph of that altar, of whatever it is constructed. There is nothing wrong with these approaches but as somebody who sees himself more as a “revivalist” than a “reconstructionist” I have no problems at all with incorporating and indeed, embracing modern technology. Our ancestors, after all, used the most modern technologies available to them.

And like technologies, foodstuffs change. My ancestors may not have had chocolate but I do, and if I cannot offer blood, what better offering than chocolate, particularly in the form of an egg and at the time of year dedicated to Ostara (Eostre)?

5 Comments

  1. As we have evolved as humans, so has our way of viewing life changed. So it should be natural that our Spiritual needs have also evolved as well.
    We don not take slaves, or sell human beings like we once did, nor do we make human sacrifices like we once did. That’s a good change!
    I find the idea of sacrifice, as you have defined it, worthy of chocolate, since my household holds this delight in the same way as yours.
    My granddaughter, who is 12, will eat copious amounts of chocolate after a bad day at school or practice (gymnastics). I enjoy a good set of chocolate covered grahams over an episode of “Game of Thrones”, and my wife enjoys a good dark chocolate to munch on for no reason at all other then the pure enjoyment of Chocolate.
    To make a sacrifice of chocolate is correct, and will give a good spiritual smile to the Gods.
    I think it is important, that as we progress as human beings, with our technology, our communications, and our way of living and caring for our ancestors, our spiritual understandings will also change along with the way we communicate spiritually. Adjustments should be made. As you have pointed out, there will be traditionalists who will argue that things should be kept as in the “old days” but I think progress is not a bad thing, even in a spiritual sense.
    Just think how things would be if the Catholic Church had decided that celibacy wasn’t such a good idea in the first place. Think of how many children could have been saved. Makes ya wonder, doesn’t it? Change is good; anyway you look at it, especially spiritual change.

  2. That’s always been the struggle, hasn’t it: between the new and innovative and the “the good old ways.” Thomas Jefferson was a proponent of innovation and it is a fortuitous turn to the future that gave us a country where I can safely honor my gods and – paradoxically – the old ways. I’m neither one nor the other. I appreciate the customs and traditions – what the Romans called mos maiorum – but I think we need to temper the old with our new realities. In the old days, they might have buried a chariot and horses – today you’d lower a Beemer into the tomb. One would be no more or less appropriate than the other in the eyes of the gods.

  3. Very well explained. Thank you.

  4. Well done, Hraf. I have offered chocolate and heavy cream on several occasions. But this write-up puts the concept into clearer perspective with a justification. Thank you.

  5. Thank you. I think that’s an excellent offering. I also make offerings of a portion of meals and of course, libations of wine or, especially, mead.

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