Patreon Topic 23: Found Offerings

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From Elfwort comes this topic:

“Would you discuss found offerings to the Gods and wights in the Viking age and before, such as bog offerings?”

It’s important to note that not all found offerings were found in bogs, though that is certainly one place they were found. Other places, as noted by Claude Lecouteux in his book The Traditions of Household Spirits, were beneath the threshold and beneath the home otherwise. These sacrifices would be snakes, cats, roosters, and the like and were likely to be understood as guardians of the home.

Some found offerings, such as bog people who were clearly strangled or had their head bashed in may have been outlaws or even willingly made offering of themselves, while whole ships and their contents may have been offered along coastlines and interred for high-ranking people. It is not known for certain if the bog people were human sacrifices, as this article from The Atlantic covering the subject states, though my inclination is towards that being the case. This paper, At the threshold of the Viking Age by Sæbjørg Walaker Nordeide, Niels Bonde, and Terje Thun, explores the ship offerings in a particular case in Kvalsund, Norway. Boat parts and whole boats put into the bog would have been known as bog offerings. The famous Oseberg ship is another example of a ship offering.

Why would this have been done? In the case of the Kvalsund bog offering the authors posit that “Because vessels and water are at the core of the activity at this particular locality, and because there is a high risk of shipwrecking in this area, the vessel offerings may have been related to this danger in order to prevent shipwrecks, and therefore save or bring back lives, which is an element of fertility rituals in the widest sense.” The  Oseberg ship, meanwhile, was a burial site. In the case of coastal offerings we could see non-burial ship offerings as made to Norðr, or perhaps to Rán and Ægir. We can speculate that ship burials on land were likely started with elaborate ceremonies that, when finished, would continue to celebrate the lives of those ‘aboard’. The ship itself was a way of securing good passage to the afterlife.

What does all this mean for the modern Heathen? We have a wide variety of ways to take care of our offerings, and that some of these methods of offerings are as old as time. It also points to some interesting ideas about setting up a household guardian. Now, I am not saying every Heathen should go out and bring home a snake, cat, etc to sacrifice to put under their theshold. However, it is important to think about why these sacrifices were made. These were invitations to the vaettr to take up residence inside the house, to guard and care for it. I am all for reclaiming our traditions of sacrifice, though I do not think folks would sacrifice what we now think of as pet animals like a cat or snake.

So, what can we do instead? We could ask the vaettr of a given animal to inhabit a substitute offering, such as one made of bread that we ritually slaughter and place beneath the threshold. Modern vulture culture provides us another way to bring this idea into modern Heathenry. Most of us work with found remains or those that result from a hunt. We could work with the skeleton or other remains of a willing animal or group of animals, and make offerings to them prior to deposition beneath the threshold. While these methods do not have the potency of a ritual sacrifice, for those who lack the skill or desire to these are important modern ways of engaging in practices alike to the old ways.

What about modern boat offerings? Given the proliferation of trash and waste in our oceans, lakes, rivers, and ponds, it is probably not the best idea to mimic our Ancestors in this way. Besides, as noted in the At the threshold paper, “Kvalsund was a bog at the time, not a lake, but the site was turned into a pond due to ritual construction and deposition.” Our offerings literally have the power to radically alter the environment. Taking care as to what and how we offer is important. So, should we carry on ship offerings? No, I would not. Besides, while the boats were made of materials that could decay over time modern boats do not.

Taking into consideration local needs for trees, including the need to retain old growth forest, to keep soil from eroding, and to reduce habitat loss, the use of whole logs to make a ship for the use of an offering, regardless of how impressive or potent it is, cannot be justified. Even seemingly benign rearrangement of stones in rivers to make cairns can have detrimental effects on the local environment, so here too we should be care what, if anything, we leave behind. If we are to leave offerings they should be compostable, or otherwise able to break down wherever we leave the offering without detrimental effect. Consider how much of the Oseberg ship was left intact despite burial and the composition of materials in it.

So does this mean we Heathens should not leave physical offerings? Of course not. It means that we need to be careful in regards to what we offer, where we offer it, and how we offer things. This honors the thing we offer and the Beings we offer it to. This honors and respects the life of the Beings we make offerings of, the Beings we offer it to, the Beings (such as Fire, Water, etc) that we offer through, and the landvaettir from which the offerings came and where those offerings will be laid down.

One thought on “Patreon Topic 23: Found Offerings

  1. I was not sure what you’d be covering here with the title of “Found Offerings<" and though it might end up being something along the lines of what has happened to me on one or two occasions, i.e. something coming up in my path or that is given to me at an opportune time which can then be used as an offering. Or, literally, something that one finds which has no evidence of having been offered, which then one can use for the purposes of offering. I don't know…that doesn't happen to people very often, I suspect, so it might not warrant a whole blog post! 😉

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