Know How to Sacrifice:
a Liberal Modernist's Approach to the Blot
©2003 Ingeborg S. Nordén
Earlier this year, Michael Kouvatsos (a regular on the Usenet forum alt.religion.asatru) brought up the question of what and how modern Heathens sacrificed in ritual. My own response to that topic forms the basis for the following article.
I am obviously unable to sacrifice live animals in blot--partly because of my disability, partly because I live in a large city where doing that could land me in jail. If someone else with the resources, the legal permission, and the necessary technical skill wants to sacrifice animals--I have no objection, as long as I am not required to watch the actual killing. Human sacrifice is out of the question altogether, unless someone means the kind of "sacralized" capital punishment described in the sagas. However, I doubt that sacrificial executions will be reinstated without the rise of a predominantly Heathen fundamentalist government in the far future.
As far as my own practice, I use food that I have prepared myself and make a special effort to find. If the time of year and my budget allow it, I will buy from a farmer's market or other local growers. I usually try to match the main dish of the feast to the deity being honored, if the lore provides enough information and the proper food is available in the first place: beef for the Disir, fish for Njord, pork for Freyr and/or Freyja. (Following that rule for a Thorsblot requires a bit of creative fudging: goat meat is impossible to come by locally, but Ţrymskviđa does describe Thor gorging on beef and salmon at a wedding ceremony--which means he probably likes those foods. If I can find goat cheese and oatmeal bread, though, I will serve those on the side at a feast in Thor's honor.)
The other dishes at my blot-feasts tend to have simple ingredients that would have grown in Scandinavia at the time: bread made from grains known to the Norsemen, appropriate kinds of fruit and nuts, mushrooms or carrots with salt and a touch of garlic. I avoid "New World" or foreign ingredients whenever practical: no tomatoes, potatoes, chocolate, or spices that were unknown after the late Viking Age. (Buying my ingredients at the store and heating them in a microwave seems heretical enough to some Heathens, but the lore never implies that Norsemen or Saxons used otherwise outdated technology to cook for ritual feasts.)
As for beverages, using alcohol is dangerous for me even in ritual; a typical wineglass full of mead will give me splitting headaches and rashes. I make the best substitutions I can, trying to keep at least a symbolic link to the lore. Most often, I use an imported Swedish brand of sparkling cider. It has a lore-based link to the apples that keep the gods alive; it comes from a place that was historically Heathen; and it at least looks like the brews most Heathens favor. For blots to the Disir or elves, I might use milk (or even eggnog, around Yule). In a pinch, I may offer plain juice or spring water; but those are the last resorts, the drinks I would offer when desperate circumstances keep me from getting something better. (At least one poem in the lore seems to justify minimalist offerings if they are the best someone honestly has: when the thralls invite Heimdall in for dinner in Rígsţula, he does NOT reject their food or shelter as too cheap.)
How do I designate these feasts as sacrifices, not just fancy dinners for myself? I set aside a small portion of the food to be laid in the blessing bowl, along with half of the beverage that I pour in there; then the contents of the bowl get poured out in the best open spot I can reach without getting into trouble with the police. If rough weather or illness prevent me from going outside, I will pour the bowl contents down a sink; I know of one prominent godhi who quoted Grímnismál ("all waters have their way from Hvergelmir") to justify that as valid Heathen practice! Despite what some very literal-minded Heathens might say, I have concluded over the years that the Hávamál question "Do you know how to sacrifice?" does not necessarily imply that the gods want 110% accuracy--compliance with every stave and stroke of the lore. "Knowing how" may well imply knowing how to make allowances for personal circumstances, finding acceptable connections with lore in modern culture...knowing how to make reasonable, appropriate changes that will still please the gods.