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The Pagan Belief


In Uppåkra, south of Lund, a complete temple from pagan times has been excavated. The find is unique. The temple was not particularly big , just 13 metres long and 6,5 metres wide.

The Written sources
It is first and foremost the Icelandic Sagas, which give us detailed knowledge of what the pagan belief entailed and they also tell us of the fantastic mythic gods. However, the main part of the described accounts has been written down several generations after the lives of the eye witnesses. A great deal of the contents of the accounts are probably true, but has later been added to. This is partly due to the fact that the accounts have been written in verse, which has made it easier to retell, but is has also made it more difficult to distort the texts. On the other hand we cannot be quite sure that writers in the of the 13th century did not have older manuscripts, now disappeared, at their disposal.

Arab Eye Witnesses
Sacrifice also played a great part in the pagan belief. In the year 922 Ibn Fadhlan , an Arab diplomat and theologian, described a Nordic sacrificial ceremony at an anchorage by the river Volga. When the Viking ship had reached the coast, the trader went ashore to sacrifice. He took bread, meat, onion, milk and spirits and went to a tall, upright wooden post with a carved out human face on it. Around the post there were small wooden figurines and around them tall wooden posts. The trader threw himself on the ground before the large figure and placed the sacrificial gifts in front of it, while asking for a good trade. If the business went well, he would bring more sacrificial gifts, if the did not go well, he also sacrificed to the small figurines, which he called “our Lord´s wives, daughters and sons”. Hen then pleaded with them to fulfill his prayers. If the trade went well, he had a number of cattle and sheep slaughter. Some of the meat was given away, the rest was thrown among the tall post and the lesser posts and the heads were hanged.
From the Nordic area there is an eye witness account written by an Arab, who visited the large Viking town, Hedeby, in Southern Jutland in the 10th century. He described a feast, where the pagan inhabitants met to pay tribute to their gods and to eat and drink. “He, who slaughters a sacrificial animal, hangs it on a wooden stand outside the door to his house, no matter if it is an ox, a ram, a goat or a pig. In this way everybody knows that he has sacrificed to honour his god.”

German and Norwegian Examples
The pagan ritual around sacrificial rites seems to have evolved around to different patterns. Either they delivered the whole sacrifice to the gods, or they kept part of the sacrificial gift by eating the sacrificed food and drink at a gathering. Through the meal they took more physical part in the sacrifice, than if they just passively gave a sacrifice. There are several narratives of huge sacrificial feasts with food and drink. Bishop Gregorius in Tours, who died in the year 594, describes how it took place in the pagan Cologne, where the barbarians at the feasts gorged themselves on food and drink. The missionary Columban, who died in the year 615 encountered pagans in Germany, who had gathered for a rite. In the middle there was an enormous vessel with beer and the feast was held in the honour of Wodin. However, Columban succeeded in splitting the sacrifice vessel by breathing on it!
In Snorre´s great work, Heimskringla, a blot is mentioned, which took placed in Trøndelagen in Norway: ” Sigurd Ladekarl was the most important blot man like his father, Håkan, had been. Sigurd presided over all the blot meetings on behalf of the king in Trøndelagen. According to an old custom all the farmers, when the time for a blot drew near, should bring supplies to the court. They should all bring beer and many kinds of small cattle and horses were slaughtered. All the blood they got from the slaughter was called løt and was kept in so-called løtbollar. With the løt-tenar, which had been made as spatter brooms, they had to colour all the altars and the outer as well as the inner walls in the court red and sprinkle on the people. The meat was cooked so the congregation could eat. In the middle of the floor in the court there was bonfire, over which kettles and the drinking horns were carried around the bonfires. The one, who carried out the blot and if he was the chieftain, was to bless the sacrificial cup and food. First they drank a toast for victory to Odin and then to the king to all his power and glory, then the toast to Njord and Frøs to the harvest and to peace. Then they drank a toast to Brage. They also customarily drank a toast to their kinsmen, the ones, who had done well, the so-called minnena.”

Human beings have also been sacrificed at certain pagan blots. Classic and well-known is Adam of Bremen´s report, written in 1070 of what the eye witness Sven Estridsen said of the blot in Uppsala:
” Every ninth year they have a feast in Uppsala with the participation of people from all the Sweon´s areas. Nobody is allowed to stay away from this feast. Kings and tribes, everybody send their presents to Uppsala and the ones who have already accepted Christianity, must pay not to attend these ceremonies, which is crueler than any other punishment. The sacrificial rite takes place in the following way: From every living male creature, nine parts of the body are sacrificed, whose blood is used to appease the gods. The bodies are hanged in a grove near the temple. This grove is considered to be so holy that every tree is attributed divine power because of the sacrificed bodies´ death and decay. Dogs and horses are also hung next to the human bodies and one of the Christians have told me that he has seen 72 bodies hang there newt to each other. ”
A contemporary addition to Adam´s script a so-called scholarium contains the following account: ”In nine days they held feasts and such sacrificial ceremonies. Every day they sacrifice a human being and an animal, totalling 72 living creatures in nine das. The sacrifices take place at winter solstice. ” In another scholarium it is said: ”Near this temple there is a huge tree, which stretches its branches near and far and is always green, winter as well as summer. Nobody knows which kind it is. There is also a spring feast, at which the pagans sacrifice and into which they throw a live human being. If they don´t find it again, the people´s wishes will come true.”
Uppsala Hills
Uppsala Hills

The bishop and the historian Thietmar of Merseburg ( 975 - 1018) described the huge cult feasts, which took place in Lejre in Zealand. This place near the Viking town of Roskilde was, according to the legends and myths one of the most important royal seats. Thietmar relates that in January every ninth year a large number of people gather here to blot. No less than 99 people were sacrificed to the gods with as many horses, dogs and cocks.

The Asa temple in Uppåkra
In Uppåkra just south of Lund we have found and excavated a complete temple building from pagan times. The find is completely unique. The temple was not very big, only 13 metres long and 6.5 metres wide. It had faintly curved long walls of rough, vertical oak planks, or ”sticks”, which had been dug down in a groove in the ground more than a metre deep. The middle part of the building, which were separated from the outer walls, consisted of four enormous wooden posts. The holes in these are unusually large and the depth is remarkable – more than 2 metres. The archaeologists found at least three different floor levels, which signifies that the temple had been rebuilt several times during its existence. From the building, perhaps as early as the 5th and 6th century to the Viking Age.
The building had three entrances, two to the south and one facing north. Each opening was framed by strong side posts and the south western opening had an advanced part. There is no doubt that this was the main entrance of the temple.

Valuable Finds
In the wall grooves and the post holes several hundreds gold coins were found. These paper thin, very small, gold pieces are believed to have been used as sacrificial gifts. Each one was struck with motives representing men or women. The fact that they were found in such a large number in the post holes and wall planks in the Uppåkra temple, indicates that these magnificent coins were sacrificed in connection with the building of the temple.
In the Uppåkra temple two fantastic finds have been made. Just next to the fireplace, which is placed in centrally in the building, they have dug down a bronze cup and a glass bowl. This was probably done in the 7th century. The roughly 20 centimetres tall cup is decorated with a band of thin gold pieces, which is struck with pictures. There are no cups like it and it may be made on the spot. The glass bowl is from the area north of the Black Sea and is dated to the 6th century.
In connection with the temple building in Uppåkra sacrifices to the gods have been made. Many lance and spearheads have been found near the temple south as well as north of the building. Several of them have been deliberately destroyed by bending and twisting the points. Noth of the temple there was a heap of destroyed weapons. Here they also found remnants of a magnificent helmet and plates for shields. The sacrifices may be in connection with the god, Oden, who was the war god. A small bronze figurine from Uppåkra represents a man with a horn clad helmet. The figurine only has one eye. This may signify that the figurine represents Odin, which is consistent with the weapons sacrificed in the area.

A Reconstructed Temple
The building archaeologist Sven Rosborn at Fotevikens museum recreated the temple in 2004. The enormous dimensions of the post holes and the plank wall construction and the fact that the whole building was excavated, makes it rather easy to calculate the probable size. As the four post holes in the middle of the building had enormous proportions and the post holes were so deeply embedded in the ground, the reason can only be that the post have formed a tall middle tower, which has towered above the rest of the building. A later reconstruction has been made by archaeologists in Lund, but that does not take into consideration the differences in the archaeological material and must thus be an improbable model, which is not based on what the available source material actually says about the construction.
The Uppåkra Temple
The Uppåkra Temple
The Post Holes of the Uppåkra Temple
The Post Holes of the Uppåkra Temple
The Sacrifical Finds of the Uppåkra Temple
The Sacrifical Finds of the Uppåkra Temple
The Interior of the Temple
The Interior of the Temple

©  Øresundstid 2009