Álfablót (Alfablot) is an ancient Norse holiday celebrated around this time of year, the end of the harvest and the start of the winter season. As for many other peoples across the world, offerings to the spirits were in order during seasonal shifts, especially when advancing into the most challenging season.
Longhouse reconstruction Lofotr, in Lofoten, Norway
While the Álfablót celebration was held at the end of autumn, we have to bear in mind that to our Norse ancestors did not count autumn as a season. There was spring, a short summer and a very long winter. After the end of the harvesting season, when the crops were reaped it was time to head indoors, stay close with family and to honor the ancestors; it was time for the Álfablót.
This celebration is not only to honor the ancestors, but also all kinds of other spirits, such as the Elves (Alfs) and the Landvaettir (Spirits of the Land). The Elves are seen as spirits closely connected to the fertility of the land but also in contact with the dead. They are a source of spiritual power and, through them, people can communicate with the dead and the Gods.
Ängsälvor - Nils Blommér 1850
Roderick Ellis has suggested that it may have involved an animal sacrifice of some sort, the blood of which was poured on a sacred hill or cairn.
While the meat may also have been left for the alfs (elves), it’s also possible (and much more likely) that the meat was consumed by the people as part of a feast to honor them. There is an account from 14th-century Norway that mentions women bringing food to cairns or caves, consecrating the meal to spirits, and then consuming the food themselves. Beer was also a significant feature of this holiday: certain men were dubbed Ölvir, “beer men” (“Austrfararvisur”). So, it isn't much of a leap to envision an animal sacrifice followed by a feast of the animal's meat as well as beer, punctuated with toasts to the alfs and ancestors of the household.
The true essence of paganism is to celebrate life, to facilitate well-being to the family and the community by working together. Each individual plays an important part in the welfare of the community, but the Álfablót is a different celebration, not like the other blóts. It is a local celebration at the homesteads of each family. During this time, strangers were not welcomed near the homesteads when the celebrations were being held, because this is a private blót, a private sacrifice, a moment to be shared with the ancestors and honor them at their burial mounds. A celebration that focuses on the particular affections and love that people feel for the family members that are already dead.
Viking burial mounds at lindholm Hoje near Aarlborg.
Perhaps there was a tradition that ill-meaning spirits would masquerade as nondescript travelers, plaguing the household with disaster if allowed inside during the feast. It could very well have been something like a mixture of our modern Halloween and Thanksgiving.
The Álfablót was a celebration held during or after the Winternights/Vetrnætr (the three days which mark the beginning of the winter season). The aim of this celebration/sacrifice was to honor the ancestors and to help the participants connecting with the local spirits surrounding their farmstead, and to begin to establish the relationship of mutual trust, respect, and support with them. Strangers were not allowed near the farmsteads during these times as those that did not belong to the family and had no close connection with the deceased members of the family, couldn’t possibly have any link to the feelings shared by each family member towards their own ancestors.
Strangers should be at their own homes with their own families – this was the main rule. To the Norse, their property wasn’t just their home and farm, but also the place where they would bury their dead. The family’s grave mound was built within the property; the same concept of a sepulchre. It was believed that the spirits of the dead occasionally wandered near their burial mounds, so during the Álfablót the celebration was also held near or on top of the burial mound. It was important to maintain the bonds of love and friendship with the deceased family members, because the living ones would someday join them. This reinforces the privacy of such a celebration.
In modern day Asatro (Asatru) practices in Sweden, Álfablót is celebrated between the end of October and the beginning of November, giving also praise to the God Freyr, who resides with the Elves in Alfheim.
Ásatrú followers in Iceland.
The Swedish Asatro Community (Swedish: Sveriges Asatrosamfund) was founded in 1994 as an outgrowth of a group that studied Norse history and culture from a non-religious point of view. It became a registered religious organization in Sweden in 2007.
The Álfablót has always been a private family matter and, as such, traditions vary greatly from family to family. If your family practices the Álfablót, please feel free to share your traditions on the comments.
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