Religion in “Chapters 26 & 27”

Chapter 26

This people has a widely known temple called Uppsala. This is not far from Sigtuna and Birka. In this temple, which is made of gold, people worship the sculptures of three deities. The most powerful of them, Thor, has his throne in the centre of a throne room, and flanking him are Odin and Frey. Their function is as follows: Thor is said to rule in the sky and commands lightening and thunder, storms and rain, good weather and the crops. After him comes Odin. He commands warriors and instills courage in people in the battle against enemies. The third one is Frey who gives peace and happiness. His statue has an enormous private part. Odin is usually pictured with weapons the same way as our countrymen show Mars. Thor has a sceptre and seems similar to Jupiter. They also worship gods shaped like people, who in return for their deeds, have reached immortality. One can read about this for instance in the Life and Progression of Saint Anskar that they have done so with King Erik.

Chapter 27

Their gods all have their priests who do the sacrifices. In times of pests and hunger they sacrifice to Thor. If threatened by war, they sacrifice to Odin. And if they are to celebrate a wedding, they sacrifice to Frey. Furthermore all the nations in Sweden celebrate a common religious feast every nine years. Everyone has to contribute to this feast. Kings and everybody send gifts to Uppsala. What is worse than any punishment: those who have accepted the cloak of Christianity, are fined for not partaking in these ceremonies. The sacrifices proceed as follows: They sacrifice 9 heads of all living male creatures, whose blood serves to appease the gods. The bodies are strung up in a holy grove close to the temple. This grove is so sacred for the pagans that every tree in it is considered to have spiritual power as the result of the victims’ death and decomposition. Here are dogs and horses together with humans. And one Christian has told me that he has seen 72 such sacrificial victims hanging beside each other ! As usual during such sacrificial rites they also usually sing several obscene songs - which are best not discussed here.

Source: Adam of Bremen, "[Religion in] Chapters 26-27" in Beskrivelse af øerne i Nordern [Description of the Islands in the North], (Copenhagen: Wormianum, 1978), 47-48. Notes: Original Latin text and Danish translation, with commentaries by Allan A. Lund English translation by B. Wallace Original tile: Descriptio insularum Aquilonis. Written c. 1075

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