Monday, January 20, 2014

Bloody Eagle - The Blood Eagle Ritual

During the Middle Ages, the Viking were the most infamous and feared barbarians in Europe. They were identified with fast longboats. They occupied areas of Scandinavia, Greenland, Iceland and other parts of northern Atlantic. They even said to have reached as far as the Americas. With their broad axe, they’re known as blood thirsty warriors towards their enemies and prisoners. They also have their own Gods, with Thor being the most popular but the most powerful being Odin, the god of the gods in Norse mythology. A particular ritual that gained attention of many was the human sacrifice towards Odin, known as the blood eagle ritual.

The blood eagle ritual was a sacrifice usually done to a captured enemy. It was mostly associated with God Odin as it give homage to God for giving victory. There were several ways to conduct the blood eagle ritual. However, the typical blood eagle involved the back being slice open; the ribs slashed from its attachment and then pulled back by the executioner. The lungs were then drag to exposed ribs, creating an image of wings of an eagle, the bird associated to Odin. Sometimes, salt was sprinkled as the wounded back to insight further pain to the victim.

The lurid ritual was depicted in some poems, stories, and historical records. In the Poetic Edda of the 13th century, Lyngvi who was captured by his enemy, Sigurd, became victim of the blood eagle ritual. In another story from the Thattr Orms Storolfssonar, Orm drew a blood eagle from the back of Brusi in a cave. A historical record known as the Orkneyinga Saga from the 13th century depicted how Earl Einar did a blood eagle ritual from the back of Halfdan in the island of Orkni. But the most well-known record of the blood eagle was from a historically based poem of Sighvatr Poroarson, the Knutsdrapa. According from the poem. King Aella of Northumbria killed the legendary king Ragnar Lodbrok. To avenge his father, Ivar the Boneless attacked Northumbria. The forces of Ivar and Aella met in 867 in the Battle of York. Ivar luckily captured Aella. To satisfy vengeance and give homage to Odin, Ivar slashed the back of the poor Aella and drew a blood eagle from back of the Northumbrian King. However, many disputed if the interpretation of the text was correct or a result mistranslation. Nevertheless, many persist that King Aella was a victim of the blood eagle ritual.

Whether true or legendary, the image of the Vikings as blood loving barbarians would continue to thrive. And with stories of these gruesome rituals even further reinforce that perception of the Vikings and made them more interesting to many. However, as a precaution, people should be very cautious of these stories, as the sources can be either exaggeration or only presumption of the mind. Especially when the Christianity began to dawn over the Viking world, priest spread stories of bloody sacrifices to encourage conversion. The gruesome the story, the better for the clergy. It was never boring in look into these rituals, like the blood eagle, as long as one is careful from the facts and from the myths.

See Also:
Tongue Piercing with Lady Xoc

Batchelor, S. Medieval History for Dummies. West Sussex: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. 2010. 

Chambers, R. Beowulf: An Introduction to the Study of the Poem With a Discussion of the Stories of Offa and Finn. Cambridge, The University Press, 1921. 

Edwardes, M & Lewis Spence. A Dictionary of Non-Classical Mythology. New York: Cosimo Classics, 2005. 

Holman, K. The A to Z of Vikings. Maryland: Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2003. 

Horspool, D. King Alfred: Burnt Cakes and Other Legends. Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2006. 

Larrington, C. The Poetic Edda. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.

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