The Evolution of the Heathen Longhouse
Updated: May 26, 2020
In northern Germanic Europe and in Scandinavia, the Aesir were fervently venerated in sacred groves with blots, and later the blood was splattered on the Wine Hall or Mead Hall just before the eating and Sumble started. (see footnote 1 below, Hakon the Good Saga 16). The Hall was the great hall of the clan leader (kunig, coming from the word "kuni" meaning "kin"), where the blots were eaten followed by Sumble, a drinking ritual. These long houses first started to appear in Northern Europe in the early 5th century, and lasted beyond the time when Heathenry was crushed.
The Germanic Heathen words for such halls were similar to the Old Saxon words for them: Seli and Uuinseli. The word "seli" (or in Old Norse "sala") means "hall." Uppsala is named after a drinking hall. Uppsala means "Upper Drinking Hall." The word seli/sala is etymologically related to the modern English words salon and saloon. (Brink, Stefan, 1996. Political and Social Structures in Early Scandinavia. A Settlement-historical Pre-study of the Central Place.) Please note, the Old Saxon word "Uuinseli" literally means "wine hall", and "mead" as a term is actually not mentioned in the surviving Old Saxon corpus. I am NOT saying that the Old Saxons did not know mead, but I am saying that mead is made far more popular in modern Asatru than it was historically. Heathens drank a wide variety of alcoholic beverages in Sumble historically. "Valhalla" means "Hall of the Fallen" and over time, the Norse Long Houses and their halls became our more modern words "Mead Hall" or "Wine Hall." (The word Salas became Hallas so to speak.) Here is a picture of a reconstructed Old Saxon Uuinseli / Langhus, dated to circa 800 AD based on archaeological finds. This is my own picture from the Archaologisches Freilicht Museum in Oerlinghausen, Old Saxon Lands, modern Northern Germany.
Here is a typical floor plan of a Germanic Longhouse. These were mainly a large one room hall, with pillars on both sides of the hall, with a fireplace in the middle. A cellar was often a large whole dug in the ground on one end of the long house. The circles outside of the house are support posts.
Here is a picture inside the historically reconstructed longhouse in Old Saxon lands. My son is in the back. I am not sure why modern chairs and tables were placed in this longhouse. Notice the posts on the ceiling. To the right of my son is a fire pit on a hard dirt interior floor, and directly above the fire pit is an opening in the roof. Longhouses had two roof openings, one on each side, in the shape of a triangle. The roof was shaped in a way that rain could not directly fall in these openings. The walls were made via wattle and daub, and the dirt floors were oiled.
Please notice that the outside doors were double doors. I had to "duck" slightly to get under the roof section and through the doors, despite the fact that the roofs were raised slightly outside the entrances. Also, notice that there are double doors on the opposite side as well (which are closed) in front of my son, behind the blue colored modern chairs.
The archaeological foundations of a complete farmstead (I have chosen to focus on the long house here, I chose to not picture three other buildings which were not long houses) originate from excavations in Warendorf and Halle-Kunsebeck in Westphalia (Westphalia is in Old Saxony) and are decidedly dated to the 7th / 8th century. The settlement reflects a form of settlement as it was spread throughout the Heathen areas of Northern Europe. The complex (the rest is not pictured) consists of a longhouse, and this remained common practice for hundreds of years. The nave shaped longhouse from Warendorf has an unusual construction according to the archaeological writings (in German) given out at the museum: the weight of the roof rests mainly on the massive external beams of oak. This means that the interior in this house (unlike the floor map above) remains free of supporting pillars inside. Obviously there are variations in these houses throughout northern Europe. Some of these throughout Heathen Northern Europe in this period had thatch roofs, though shaped the same as the roof pictured here.
The planet keeps spinning, and time keeps moving forward. When the Saxons in Saxony were defeated in the Saxon Wars of the years 782-804 AD, Christianity was forced on them. The Christian laws forced on them were called the "Lex Saxonum." Four different capitularies were also forced on the Saxons during these times. The Saxons rebelled again in the Stellinga Uprising of 841-842 AD. The Stellinga was a revolt that tried to restore the native Heathenry of the Saxons and overthrow Christianity. It failed. In 1073, Adam of Bremen (in the same writing has his description of the nine-year Uppsala sacrifice) complained that the Saxons were STILL venerating their Gods in their sacred groves. (See Footnote two below.) The Saxon longhouse did evolve over time. The Saxons formed their own cultural style of long house, called the Sachsenhaus or Fachhallenhaus. These houses are only found in Old Saxon lands in northern Germany and the eastern Netherlands. However these houses are also found in Frisian lands just west of historical Old Saxony. Northern Germany is noticeably different culturally from southern and central Germany. These Saxon houses are simply in the North only. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Low_German_house
Here is a picture of a Saxon house in Verden Germany. *(Yes, the Verden where Charlemagne beheaded 4,500 Saxons after they renounced their forced baptismal vows, returned to Heathenry, and defeated his army in the battle of the Suntel Mountains.) Notice the thatched roof, and the white horse heads on top of the Saxon house!
Here is me, outside of a Saxon longhouse, just outside the Sachsenhain (the grove of 4,500 stones set up in 1935 to commemorate the 4,500 Saxons killed as part of forced christianization):
Here is another Saxon House, picture taken by my son just south of Verden, Old Saxony:
Here is a map of the locations of these "Saxon Houses" in northern Europe. This map shows that these farm houses were in Northern Germany, and the main points of trade of the Hanse (Hansiatic Trading League areas.)
Here is a picture of a Saxon House I had the pleasure of touring just south of Bremen in Old Saxon lands. The following pictures were all taken at the Msueumsdorf Cloppenburg: Niedersachsisches Freilichtmuseum:
Me (below) Outside a Saxon House, dated to circa 1500 (reconstructed)
These houses consisted first of a very long room, where horses and large animals were kept on both sides. In the middle there were horse heads (two) pictured below, which was common by all cooking areas inside of these houses. The main eating room followed next, with three more rooms in the back. The four rooms in total behind the main room were always less than 33% of the length of these houses. I entered around a dozen or so of these houses. These Saxon houses were common from the 13th through 19th century, and many of these buildings (obviously) still stand. Almost all have the double horse heads outside of the house.
Please note, some strongly believe the Saxon House is a descendant of the Saxon long house, others do not. I believe it is a descendant of the Saxon Heathen long-house.
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FOOTNOTES: 1. Hakon the Good Chapter 16: Sigurd Håkonsson, like his father, frequently made sacrifices. It was the common practice that all farmers from the area gathered at the hof to sacrifice. All were given food throughout the celebration. Many different animals were sacrificed, especially horses. The blood from the sacrificed animals was collected in bowls and twigs were used to spatter the blood on altars, walls, and ritual participants. The meat was cooked and then eaten by all in attendance. It was boiled in cauldrons that hung over a fire in the middle of the hall. Full cups of beer were carried around the fire and the magnate, who was the pagan priest, then blessed (sprinkled) the meat and the cups. SUMBLE: Toasts were then made. The first was in honour of Odin, “to the king and victory”. Afterwards the cups were emptied for Njörd and Frej in the hope of securing a prosperous and peaceful future. Then the participants emptied their cups with a personal pledge to undertake great exploits, in battle, for example. Finally, toasts were made for kinsmen resting in burial mounds. 2. Gesta Hammabirgemsos ecclesiae pontificum (c.1073 AD)
Adam of Bremen, Deeds of the Bishops of Hamburg, 1073 AD.
“He ordered all pagan rites, of which superstition still flourished in this region, to be uprooted in such a manner that he had new churches built throughout the (Hamburg) diocese in place of the Sacred Groves which our lowlanders frequented with foolish reverence.”
I love this passage as it shows that as late as the second half of the 11th century, almost 300 years after Widukind’s baptism, the Saxons were still quite Heathen clinging to their heritage and rejecting christianity. Hamburg is a Saxon city.