Updated: Jan 24
We have two historical references to the Nine-Year Sacrifice: Thietmar of Merseburg circa 1000 AD, and Adam of Bremen writing in the exact year of 1073 AD. Interesting point for Old Saxon Heathens, is both writers wrote in Old Saxony. One of the writers, Adam of Bremen, discussed the Heathenry of the Saxons, and the Saxon Irminsul, just before his paragraph discussing the Uppsala 9-year Sacrifice. Let's look at both historical passages: The Chronicon of Thietmar of Merseburg Chapter 17 (circa 1000 AD): "As I have heard odd stories concerning their ancient mid-winter sacrifices, I will not allow this custom to be ignored. The middle of that kingdom is called Lederun (Lejre), in the region of Sjælland, all the people gathered every nine years in January, that is after we have celebrated the birth of the Lord [Christmas], and there they offered to their gods sacrifices; 99 people and just as many horses, dogs and hens or hawks, for these should serve them in the kingdom of the dead and atone for their evil deeds."
From this passage we learn the following: 1. The 9-year Sacrifice in Lejre (Denmark) was done at "mid-winter" or "Yule" in January. Historical Heathenry had a lunisolar calendar with two seasons: winter and summer. Winter and Summer had mid-points. Mid-Winter is also called "Yule" or hokunótt historically. Yule or Jol was on the full moon of Yulir-Manuthr or Jol-Manuthr (spelling pending the location in Scandinavia.) Therefore, this sacrifice happened after Xmas, on December 25th, which was also the Solstice on the Julian Calendar at the time. This does correspond to pre-christian Jol-Manuthr (Yule Moon) being close to January.
2. Thietmar was not 100% honest in this passage. Thietmar claims the Danes did this to "atone for their evil deeds." The word "atone" or "atonement" means "covering." In Hebrew, the word implies that blood taken from an animal sacrifice in the temple of Jerusalem, would "cover" (or atone) for their sins, i.e. disobeying the laws of Yahweh like the 10 Commandments given to Moses at Mt Sinai. OBVIOUSLY the concepts of "sin" and "atonement" are HEBREW biblical concepts, brought into Christianity, i.e. the blood of Jesus the Lamb of God. It is safe to say that Theitmar of Merseburg doesn't really know why the sacrifices were done at Lejre. Sacrifices in Heathen times had NOTHING to do with sin and atonement. 3. All Thietmar knows is that the 9-year sacrifice included 99 people, including animals, and it was done every nine years at Yule or mid-winter sometime in January after the Solstice, also known as Xmas. (Unless of course Theitmar gives an exaggerated account of what happened to "demonize" the Heathens. Sidonius said that the Saxons only sacrificed prisoners of war to their gods, this passage comes off as if the Heahtens sacrifice their own people, which many have a hard time believing as it contradicts other sources.)
Gesta Hammabirgemsos ecclesiae pontificum (c.1073 AD)
Adam of Bremen, Deeds of the Bishops of Hamburg, 1073 AD.
“For the Saxons worshiped those who were not gods. Among them they venerated Woden, who they were to venerate on holy days, even with human sacrifice. They did not think it was appropriate to confine their Gods in Roman temples or mold them in any likeness of human form. They consecrated groves and they venerated ancestral spirits there with reverence. They valued with reverence leafy trees and springs. They worshiped also a stock of wood of no small size, set up in the open. In the native language, it was called “Irminsul” (strong pillar) which in Latin means “universal column,” as it sustains everything. The excerpts about the beginning, the customs, and the religious observances of the Saxons (the Slavs and Swedes still observe their Heathen rites) we have taken from the writings of Einhard. The Swede Folk have a famous temple called Uppsala. Near this temple stands a large tree with wide spreading branches, always green in winter and summer. What kind it is no one knows. There is also a spring at which the Heathens are accustomed to make their sacrifices, and into it plunge a live man. If he is not found, the peoples' wish will be granted. The spring is situated close to the city of Sigtuna and Bjorko. Around the temple, a golden chain is wrapped. It hangs over the gable and sparkles from a distance to those approaching because the temple stands on level ground, but surrounded by hills like a theater. In this temple, entirely decked out in gold, the people worship the statues of three gods. The mightiest of them, Thor occupies a throne in the middle, Woden and Frikko have places on both sides. The people also worship heroes made gods, whom they endow with immortality due to their remarkable exploits. For all their gods there are appointed priests to offer sacrifices for the people. If famine or plague threaten a libation is poured before the idol Thor, if war, to Woden, if marriages are to be celebrated, to Frikko. It is customary to gather at nine-year intervals in Uppsala, a general feast of all the provinces of Sweden. All Swedes must attend this feast. No one is exempted. Kings and people all send their gifts to Uppsala. What is most distressing is that those who have adopted Christianity have to pay to redeem themselves from these ceremonies. They sacrifice nine of every living creature, all males. The sacrifices last for nine days. On each day they offer a man along with one of the other living beings. In the course of the nine days, seventy two sacrifices are made. This feast takes place around the time of the vernal equinox. They hang the bodies of the sacrifices in a sacred grove next to the temple. This temple is so sacred to every Heathen that all believe even the trees in this sacred grove are divine. A Christian, one who is seventy-two years old told me this, that he saw the bodies hanging there in the trees posthumously. There are incantations sung there that are so evil it is better to keep silent about it."
From this passage, we learn the following about the Saxons: 1. Adam right out of the gate accuses the Saxons of venerating those "who are not Gods." 2. Adam says the Saxons venerated Woden. 3. Adam says that the Saxons did human sacrifices to Woden on "feast days." This conflicts with the Old Saxon Heliand poem that states that the Saxons did not do this. Since the Heliand was also written by a Christian monk, Adam of Bremen must be called into question here. Heliand verses v.5198-5200 show that human sacrifices was AVOIDED on Saxon Feast days. 4. The Saxons venerated in sacred groves. 5. The Saxon Irminsul was their world tree. While Adam mentions this, he seems to have no idea of the fact that the Royal Frankish Annals, a contemporary source written when the Irminsul was destroyed, does record a temple next to the Saxon Irminsul. The Old Saxon Heliand shows that the Saxons had their temple next to a river. Once again, the Heliand, written in circa 830 AD, and the Royal Frankish Annals, mention a temple.
For the Swedes we learn the following: 1. Adam states that the Uppsala temple was next to a large tree, similar to the Old Saxon Irminsul, i.e. a temple was next to the Saxon Irminsul. 2. Adam mentions two seasons: Winter and Summer. Pre-Christian Germanic Heathens had only two seasons: Winter and Summer.
3. A man is drowned in a river. This is similar to Tacitus' testimony of priests being drowned to Nerthus. Tacitus wrote in 97 AD, in his work "Germania." 4. Adam gives the names of three Gods who had large idols inside the Temple. One (Thor) is in Norse spelling. Woden is a Saxon spelling, not a Norse spelling. Scholars GUESS that Frikko is "Freyr." 5. Thor is the supreme God to the Swedes at Uppsala per Adam of Bremen, who heard this second hand. Thor was sacrificed to for famine (good crops), Woden for war, and Frikko for fertility.
6. Adam says all Swedes must attend, even the christian Swedes. 7. Adam says that 72 animals (and humans) were sacrificed over 9 days, one man, and 7 male animals each day for nine days. 8. Adam states that this gathering was at the time of Disting (i.e. near the vernal equinox, but not on it.) Historical Pre-christian Norse Disting was on the third full moon after the first new moon after the winter solstice. This most years is middle of March. This cannot be Sigurblot, the start of the Norse Summer, as Sigurblot is typically a few weeks after the Equinox. This may mean that the Danes and Swedes did their 9-year sacrifices at different times.
9. Was Adam of Bremen correct that this was around the time of Disting? The Sagas imply that the Swedes had public rituals. Ynglinga Saga 8 agrees with this passage, all Swedes were expected in Uppsala. But Ynglinga Saga 8 states that there are only three major blots a year: Winter Nights, Yule, and Sigrblot. Therefore, it appears Adam of Bremen had his timing wrong, as Sigurblot was in April, unless of course since Sigrblot can sometimes occur in early April (most years it is mid-late April) that the timing was Sigrblot. Ynglinga Saga (chapter 8): “Odin established the same law in his land that had been in force in Asaland… On winter day (first day of winter) there should be blot for a good year, and in the middle of winter for a good crop; and the third blot should be on summer day, a Victory-blot.”
CONCLUSIONS: Did Theitmar of Merseburg and Adam of Bremen over-exaggerate? Thietmar shows ignorance thinking Heathens did sacrifice for atonement, which is clearly incorrect. But Thietmar has no reason to lie regarding the timing of Yule being in January, and that every nine years the Danes in Lejre do a major sacrifice. Adam of Bremen shows ignorance on the Saxons, disagreeing with Sidonius who in his Nine Books of Letters (written in 489 AD) that the Saxons did not sacrifice their own people, but prisoners to the Gods. Adam also disagrees with the Heliand, written almost 250 years earlier by a monk who claims the Saxons did not do human sacrifices on feast days (uuihdage). Adam believes the Swedes did their nine-year sacrifice around the time of Disting (March) near the equinox, and Thietmar shows that the Danes did their nine-year sacrifice in January at Yule. Did the Danes and Swedes have different customs here? The Danes sacrificed 99 animals (and people) and the Swedes sacrificed 72. I do believe these sacrifices were done every nine-years. (Though I am sure blots were done every year on the uuihdage, but the nine-year sacrifice seems to have MAJOR significance.) I do not believe these were done every eight years. What does this mean for Saxon Heathens? Why did Adam of Bremen use "Woden" as the name of a Norse God? This is clearly the Old Saxon spelling, and Adam was writing in Old Saxon lands. Archaeological evidence at Lejre Denmark has uncovered two large halls, well documented as they match the description of Danish halls given in Beowulf. The evidence doesn't show any cult sacrifice in Lejre however. The same is true at Uppsala. No archaeological evidence of bones left over from cult sacrifices. Maybe this is because the bodies were later burned in pyres? Or is it because these sacrifices are recorded to bash Heathens as "barbarians?" Nonetheless, the errors shown in the testimony of Adam and Thietmar are concerning and raise a level of doubt here for sure.
Sidonius “Nine Books of Letters” (489 AD)
Sidonius, Apoll, “Nine Books of Letters” ep, vi. Lib.8, as quoted from Page 192 of “The History of the Anglo-Saxons” Volume 1 by Sharon Turner
“When the Saxons prepare to set out from their homeland (patriam), their custom (mos) dictates they sacrifice one-tenth of their prisoners. The victims are chosen by lot and killed by water or crucifixion. (per aquales et cruciarias poenas)”
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