Álfablót – Sacrifice to the Elves (2021)

Sometimes, we have to retrace our steps and edit what we once wrote and thought was good enough. This time, I have edited and re-written my take on the Álfablót, concentrating on the actual written sources that we do have, while offering less speculation and humbler suggestions, based on what we do have to build on. I wish you all a happy autumn with whatever celebrations you may want to enjoy!

Álfablót – Sacrifice to the Elves (October 2021 Update)

It is October, soon to be November – and we are closing into the time of Halloween, All Saints Eve, and the Day of the Dead, depending on where in the world you live.

In pre-Christian Scandinavia, the same time of year appears to have been the time of the Alfablót – the Sacrifice to the Álfar – the elves.

Sources mentioning Álfablót

In the autumn of 1018, the Norwegian and Christian skald Sigvatr Þórðarson (995-1045)[1] traveled to Sweden and reported that he was continuously refused entry to the farms he tried to visit because the alfablót – the Sacrifice to the Elves – was being held.

The story goes[2]:

*Then they went through Götaland and arrived in the evening at a farm called Temple [Hóf]. There the door was closed, and they could not enter. The people in the house said at þar var heilagt; [that it was sacred there], and they walked away. Sigvat made a poem:

“I came to the Temple on an occasion/ the door was locked/I asked from outside/curiously bowing to let my nose peer inside.

I hardly got a word in return/they said the place was holy/I bid the giantesses to have them/the Heathen people chased me away.”

Then he came to another farm. There stood the House-Freyia in the door and said that he could not go in there, for she said that they were having Álfablót [sacrifice to the elves]. Sigvat made a poem:

“Do not come further in/you poor boy, said the woman/we are Heathens/ Of Óðin´s wrath I am fearful.

Sacrifice to the Elves was there/said the wretched wench/drove me out, without so much as blinking/as if I was a wolf/chased from the farm.”

The next evening, he came to three peasants, and all three of them were called Ölvír [Beer Man], and together, they drove him out. Sigvat made a poem:

“Three namesakes saw my neck/driving me before them/ these lords of swords can hardly/demand a lot of appraisal.

Now I am fearful, almost/ that men by the name of Beer-Man/all are those who most often/chase away their guests.”

They moved on again that evening, and came to a fourth farmer, who was considered to be the best man among the Swedes. But he drove them away too. Sigvat made a poem:

“Later I sought the man/the very rich, called the most friendly of them all/I expected something fair/but the lord of the region glared/grumpily at me; if this be the best/ then the worst is bad/I rarely complain.”

When they reached Ragnvald Iarl, the Earl said that he could see that they had a stressful journey. Sigvat made a poem [where he complains about being badly received by the realms´ peasants.] (…)

Ragnvald Earl gave a goldring to Sigvat. A woman remarked that the man with the black eyes at least got something back from his journey. Sigvat made a poem:

“These black eyes from Iceland, woman/showed us long and steep paths/towards this shining ring.

This foot of mine, lady/found bravely its way to here/on old paths that your husband badly knows.”

To sum up the story: After a long and tiresome journey, Sigvat and his companions arrived at a homestead called Hóf (“Temple”). They expected to be received well, according to the laws of hospitality, but the door remained shut. Sigvat had to stick his nose down into a narrow opening in order to present himself, but the people of the household refused him by saying that the place was hallowed. Sigvatr retorted that the trolls should take them, and continued to the next homestead.

At the following farm, he met a húsfreyja – a lady of the household, who told him to go away and said “Don’t go further inside unlucky man! We are afraid of Óðin´s wrath; we are pagans!” Then, she chased him away as if he were a wolf and said that they were having the Sacrifice to the Elves at the homestead.

They tried three more times to find a place to rest, but all the times they were dispatched by men who called themselves Ölvir. The title means “Beer-Man” and the “Beer-Man”, and since this is happening in connection to a ritual, it may be speculated that this Beer-Man was probably a guardian of the ritual.

Sigvat and his men, in desperation, decided to seek out the man who was reputedly the most hospitable man in the district. The last man only scowled at them, and calling the man the “guardian of the pickaxe”, Sigvat stated that if that man was the “best man”, the worst man must have been truly evil.

As far as we can see from Sigvats account, the harvest rite of the Alfablót was a time when ordinary rules of hospitality were put aside in favor of a very private and sacred celebration where outsiders from other settlements could not expect entry. It took place after the harvests, towards the end of October and the beginning of November.

What We May Learn from Sigvat´s Account

The story of Sigvat, related above, and which is told in chapter 92 of the Saga of Ólaf the Holy in Snorri´s Heimskringla, is in fact the only written source we have where we learn that there was something called an Álfablót. The source teaches us the name for the celebration, strongly suggests that it happens at autumn, after the harvest time, which places it quite safely round about the same time that Middle Age Christians would later celebrate All Saints´Eve, what has become Halloween in modern English.

We learn that it could have been held at a temple, but also inside the main house of various farms, and that the ritual demanded that nobody entered the hallowed place from outside, once the ritual had begun. This could mean a lot of things. It could mean that it was a strict family celebration, or that it was only for the people who lived at the settlement, and that people from other places could not enter, and not expect the same, ordinary hospitality that a traveler usually could.

We hear of guardians of the door, or of the ritual itself – either a single man, men who call themselves “Beer-men” – and one House-Freyia, the lady of the household, who we assume also led rituals at home, as we know some descriptions of (see Völsa þáttr).[3]

The rituals themselves, however, are not described. This is where we may see some hints in a couple of other sources.

Seeking the Elves for Healing

The first is from Kórmaks saga[4](ch.22), where we meet a woman called Þórdís spákona – Thordís the Oracle Woman, who lived at Spákonufell – the Hill of the Oracle Woman. The chapter gives several examples of Thordís´ ability to help and protect men in battle and other things with her great powers. In the context of this article, we shall only look at the latter, where one of the champions who was hurt in a combat situation, Thorvard, discovers that his would will not heal properly. He asks Thordís is she know what he must do to properly heal:

Thorvard healed slowly; and when he could get on his feet he went to see Thordis, and asked her what was best to help his healing.

“A hill there is,” answered she, “not far away from here, where álfar búa í [elves dwell within]. Now get you the bull that Kormákr killed, and redden the outer side of the hill with its blood, and make a feast for the elves with its flesh. Then you will be healed.”

So they sent word to Kormákr that they would buy the bull. He answered that he would sell it, but then he must have the ring that was Steingerd’s. So they brought the ring, took the bull, and did with it as Thordís bade them do.

This may not be a literal description of a typical, seasonal Álfablót, but it could easily be based on cultural memories of how the sacrifice to the elves had to do with sacrificing an animal – in this case, a bull – and covering the hill or mound where the elves are thought to live, with its blood. It is literally said that they should make this into a feast for the elves. And elves, apparently, enjoyed fresh blood smeared onto mounds.

The Elf in the Burial Mound

There is a third tale which may offer some vague indication as to the relationship between the elves and mounds – not just natural mounds or hills, but also burial mounds – and sacrifice – and also, interestingly, to the souls of dead people in such mounds.

The story is that of Ólafr Geirstaða Álfr [The Elf of Geirstad], and is referred to in several different sources. One source, the þáttr Ólafs Geirstaða álfs[5]lets us know that Ólafr was a good king and a good person too, and during his reign there was good years and peace. But Ólafr dreamed a dream about how there was going to be a plague very soon, and what he had to do about it in order to save his people – the story may suggest that the solution was, as it often was, to sacrifice the king.

But this is not said directly. What is said is that Ólafr gathered the parliament and warned them of his prophecy; that a plague was coming. He bid that they make a huge haugr – a burial mound – and that he would be buried in this mound together with all the important people who were going to die from this plague.

The haugr was raised, and soon enough, the plague reached the land, and as he had prophesied, the king and many of his trusted companions died from the plague, and were placed in the mound. As soon as this mound-burial was completed, king and all, the plague vanished. The people sacrificed to the mound ever after, and referred to the king as the “Elf of Geirstad”:

…ok eptir þat haugrinn aptr byrgðr, þá tók ok at létta manndauðnum; síðan gerði úáran mikit ok hallæri, var þá þat ráð tekit, at þeir blótuðu Ólaf konúng til árs sér ok kölluðu hann Geirstaða-álf.

[…and after the mound had been closed, then the great man-death (=the plague) vanished; but later, there were bad crops and famine, and then they reasoned that they should sacrifice to Ólafr King for a good year, and they called him the Elf of Geirstad.]

We do not know why the king was referred to as an álfr – an elf – after his death. From the way Snorri describes the elves, and the way they appear in Edda poetry, I think it is possible that there was a very vague line between what an elf was, and what the soul of a dead man could become after his death. Also, the sagas do speak of people who are part elves or descended from elves – Ólafr was said to be part elf through the mother line. The story of Ólafr could suggest that people may have believed that he, part elf already, turned into a proper elf as soon as he was mound-laid.

That the elf of Geirstad was also a dead king´s soul at the same time, is suggested at in a different source, the Saga of Ólaf the Holy in Flateyiarbók, where we learn that the young, Christian king, Ólaf, who was the grand-nephew of Ólafr Geirstad-Elf, had passed the mound of his ancestor and claimed to be Ólafr reincarnated – that is, the Elf of Geirstad had been reborn as Ólafr the Holy. Ólafr the Holy is confronted with this rumor when he has become older, more powerful, and more schooled in his own religion; here, he states that he never claimed to have been a reincarnation of Geirstad-Ólafr, and that the very notion of reincarnation was a pagan superstition.

Another interesting hint in the story of the Elf of Geirstad is the sacrifice til árs – for a good year-crop, a good harvest. This was the kind of sacrifice that the Elf in the mound was supposedly able to help the living with; good crops, peace, and healing from plagues. Interestingly, this function is very similar to that of Freyr and the Vanir; they too are frequently portrayed as receivers of sacrifice til árs and for peace, and healing. It is interesting to note that Freyr is said to be the owner of Álfheimr – the World of the Elves – in the Edda poem Grímnismál, st. 5. There may have been some connection here, unless this is due to some later confusion between what an elf or a Vanir may have been.

Summarizing the Sources

The image that I draw based on these sources, is that the Sacrifice to the Elves may refer to diverse sacrifices involving elves as recipients of prayers for health and abundance, or to an annual autumn celebration that was practiced by everybody in a region in autumn, after the harvest, close in time to the later, Christian Allehelgensaften (All Saints Eve), which corresponds in time and partly also in theme with Halloween and the Day of the Dead. Whether this is coincidental or not, I cannot say.

The sacrifice may have involved making a feast for the elves, it may have involved beer, meat and blood, some of the ritual would be held indoors and only open for the participants, either with family ties or residential ties to the place in which the ritual was held.

It could also have been held inside a temple, or outside at a hill or a mound or a cairn in which it was believed that the elves dwelled. It involved, obviously, a sacrifice, and blood may have been smeared onto the altar or the elfin dwelling. There may possibly have been a connection with the souls of the dead and the elves, but of this we have little more to build on.

Elves Appearing as Summoned Spirits in Hrólfs saga Kráka

In the saga of Hrólf Kráki, we meet Hrólf´s half-sister, Skuld. She is married to a regional king, Hiǫrvarðr, one of the vassals of Hrólf, who has become the king of Denmark, ruling from the ancient royal seat of Lejre. On their father´s side, both Skuld and Hrólf descend from the royal dynasty of the Skjöldungar, who believed they were descended from Óðinn´s son, Skjöld, and the goddess Gefion, the creator of Zealand in Denmark. But they have different mothers, Skuld descending from the elves through her mother line.

In chapter 47,[6]we learn that Skuld envied her half-brother´s position and decided to incite her husband against him. And here, we may read:

Skuld was the greatest of galdra-kind [sorceresses] and had come out of elves through her mother line, and for this, Hrólfr King and his champions would suffer.

Var Skuld in mesta galdrakind ok var út af álfum komin í móðurætt sína, ok þess galt Hrólfr konungr ok kappar hans.

In chapter 48[7], Skuld and her husband assemble an army against the king, and because of her sorcery, their army remains hidden as they approach, while Hrólfr and his champions are unable to perceive that the enemy is gathering and approaching:

This treachery remained hidden, so that Hrólfr King was unaware of it, and neither could his champions perceive this, since this concealment was done with the most powerful galdrar and deeds.

Skuld, in order to overpower her brother, Hrólfr King, used here the most powerful seiðr, so that, following her, were elves and norns and other intolerable misbehavers, so that human natures could not stand up to their power.

[Þessum svikum er þó leynt, svá at Hrólfr konungr verðr ekki varr við, ok eigi grunar kappana neitt um þetta, því at þetta váru mest galdrar ok gerningar.

Setr Skuld hér til inn mesta seið at vinna Hrólf konung, bróður sinn, svá at í fylgd er með henni álfar ok nornir ok annat ótöluligt illþýði, svá at mannlig náttúra má eigi slíkt standast.]

When Hrólfr and his men finally figured out that they are being attacked during their happy Yule celebration, when they least expected it, full of drink and food, it is too late. They fight bravely, but they cannot stand against the supernatural forces wielded by Skuld. For a while, only a magical bear, which appears to be a form of the king´s champion Bodvarr Bjarki, of whom we shall hear more of later, seems to give the king´s men some hope. But when the king became separated from his champions during the ensuing battle, Skuld entered the fray with her magical following of elves, norns and “intolerable misbehavers”, and now, all hope was lost.

In chapter 52[8], we read that Hrólfr and his men were attacked by a galdrahríð – “storm of galdrar”, as in spell-songs:

Now came such a galdra-storm upon them, that the champions started to fall, one after the other, and Hrólfr emerged from the shield wall, and was nearly dead from exhaustion. No more words are needed; there, Hrólfr King fell with all his champions, all with great glory (…)

[Kom nú á sú galdrahríð, at kapparnir tóku at falla hverr um þveran annan, ok Hrólfr komst ór skjaldborginni ok var svá sem fallinn af mæði. Þarf þat ekki með orðum at lengja, at þar fell Hrólfr konungr ok allir hans kappar með góðum lofstír.]

Gandálfr and other Human Elves

In the saga literature, we sometimes come across the notion of human beings with elfin lineage. I have already mentioned Queen Skuld, who was part elf through her mother lineage, and Ólafr Geirstad-Elf, also part elf through his mother lineage. According to the Ynglinga saga and the Saga of Halfdan the Black in Heimskringla,[9] the kingdom of Vestfold laid in generational conflict and war with the people who lived to the eastern side of the fjord (corresponding to present day Østfold), and this place was in fact called Álfheimr.

This realm was ruled by a king called Gandálfr. Yes indeed, this book of Snorri´s was where Tolkien got the name from. It appears that the conflict between the eastern (elfin) part and the western (Vestfold) part of the fjord may have been about control of the region known as Vingulmark (The Impenetrable Forest), which corresponds to what is now known as Oslo and Akershus. This was an ancient Oak forest, and it was said that only Light Elves dwelled there. Women from Álfheimr were usually named Álfhildr (Elf Battle), Álfsól (Elf Sun), and had a history of marrying kings from either Denmark or Vestfold.

The Elves in Mythology

According to Snorri Sturlusson, there were two kinds of Álfar – the dǫkkálfar [dark elves] and the ljósalfar [Light Elves]. The light elves were shining and glorious like the sun and existed in the two uppermost heavens, after the nine worlds listed by Snorri or in the Grímnismál.  Hel – Death – is said to rule in nine worlds, and from the way it is described, it could possibly mean that the worlds of the light elves are worlds of the immortals – that the light elves are immortal and very, well, high.

One interesting aspect of the following quote from the Gylfaginning, is that the place in the upper heavens, where the good, righteous and treachery-free souls of people are going to survive Ragnarök and dwell forever in eternal bliss and immortality, is only inhabited by Light Elves.

This is not the first time we see some sort of overlap between the concepts of dead souls and elves.

I would also add that, while many may think this concept; of a blissful, immortal existence in some upper heaven – is a Christian influence, it is a fact that such concepts existed in many pagan religions for hundreds of years before Christianity was even conceived of, for example in the many Mystery Religions that held wide influence in the world for thousands of years. I have earlier seen similarities between the initiation myths of the Edda poems, and the initiation stories of Mystery Religions.

But let us now read what the Gylfaginning says about the upper heavens – those that belong to the just souls after Ragnarök and also to the Light Elves:

17. Main Settlements of the Gods

Then said Gangleri: “You can tell many tidings about the heavens. What other main settlements exist, apart from the Well of Origin?”

The High One says: “There are many wonderful places in heaven. One settlement is called Elf-World (Álfheimr). There live the people who are called Light Elves, while the Dark Elves live beneath the Earth, and these two sorts of elves are very different to look at, and even more different in character. The Light Elves are fairer to look at than the Sun, while the Dark Elves are blacker than tar (…)”

[Intermission: They discuss the higher heavens and how all worlds will perish during Ragnarök, except Gimlé, which will stand forever when everything else is broken, and is where only good and righteous people without treachery will dwell in immortal and eternal existence]

(…) Then said Gangleri: How is this place (Gimlé) saved, when the fires of Surtr burn up heaven and earth?”

The High One: “It is said that there is another heaven to the south and aboce this one, which is called Long Breath [Andlangr], and a third heaven above this again, which is called Wide Death [Víðbláinn]. And it is in this heaven that we believe that this place (GimléI) lies, but we think that there are only Light Elves who live there.”

[17. Höfuðstaðir goðanna

Þá mælti Gangleri: “Mikil tíðendi kannt þú at segja af himninum. Hvat er þar fleira höfuðstaða en at Urðarbrunni?”

   Hárr segir: “Margir staðir eru þar göfugligir. Sá er einn staðr þar, er kallaðr er Álfheimr. Þar byggvir fólk þat, er Ljósálfar heita, en Dökkálfar búa niðri í jörðu, ok eru þeir ólíkir þeim sýnum ok miklu ólíkari reyndum. Ljósálfar eru fegri en sól sýnum, en Dökkálfar eru svartari en bik (…)»

Þá mælti Gangleri: “Hvat gætir þess staðar, þá er Surtalogi brennir himin ok jörð?”

   Hárr segir: “Svá er sagt, at annarr himinn sé suðr ok upp frá þessum himni, ok heitir sá Andlangr, en inn þriði himinn sé enn upp frá þeim, ok heitir sá Víðbláinn, ok á þeim himni hyggjum vér þenna stað vera. En Ljósálfar einir, hyggjum vér, at nú byggvi þá staði.”]

Apart from this, the elves play very passive roles in the stories, but, according to the Lokasenna, they do sit at the banquet at the end of the universe with the sea giant Aegir, where gold brighten up the hall and the ale serves itself, and the place is called Hlésey – the Wind Shielded Island. I have often reasoned why wind functions as a metaphor for mortality and death in the myths, and that whatever is breezeless or wind-shielded, is a theme of immortality.

The dark elves are different, dark and swarthy and dwelling underground, crafty, and in their description almost indistinguishable from dwarfs, or from the later Huldrefolk in Norwegian folklore, and perhaps of the álfar as they have been remembered in Icelandic folklore.

Vǫlundarkvíða – The Song of Vǫlundr

There is one Edda poem that appears to be about an elf, namely the Vǫlundarkvíða[10]. Here, we meet three brothers, Vǫlundr, Slagfiþr and Egill, who are said to be the sons of the “Finnish (or Sámi) King”. Finnish associations are typically about magically versed people, and usually refer to what we today call Sámi people. They come to a valley where they find three valkyriur in swan hides, who are spinning the threads of fate. Each brother gets married to a valkyria, and they live happily together for seven years. Then, during the eight year, the valkyriur want to travel and fulfill their fates, and the ninth year, they disappear. Two of the brothers start searching for their wives in other places, while Vǫlundr stays put, forging many rings of red gold while he awaits the return of his beloved.

But then, Vǫlund´s abode is invaded by a terrible king who hamstrings the ring-smith and keeps him captive on an islet where he is to forge riches for the king and his family. With his great Fjǫlkyngi, Volundr extracts a terrible revenge and punishment, and this is when he is referred to as a “wise elf”, and elf who shape-changes into an eagle and flies away, victorious.  

Feminine Elf-Kind

The word álfr is by definition masculine, but we do hear of female entities who are related to the elves: The Sun goddess is often called Alfrǫðull, which means the splendor of the elves.  The goddess Iðunn is said to be álfa kindar – of elf-kind, in Hrafnagaldr Óðins, st. 6. And in the Edda poem Fafnismál, st. 12 and 13, we learn that the norns come in various forms – some are of divine stock, others of elfin stock, and yet others are of dwarf kind:

12. Sígurdr said:

“Tell me this, Fafnir

as it is said you are wise

and that you know much:

Who are those norns

who come to those in need

and who choose mothers

for children?”

13. Fafnir said:

“Born of much diversity

I think that the norns are,

They do not come from a singular lineage

Some are the children of the Aesir

Some are of Elf-Kin

Some are the daughters of Hibernation (=dwarfs).”

The Elves and Other Realities

The Edda poem Allvíssmál is another poem where the elves feature as representatives for different “worlds” and how they perceive the same things in nature, alongside giants, dwarfs, god and humans – perceive the same things in different ways, according to their own nature – or to the nature of their realm (or dimension, perhaps):

10.«EARTH, she is called among men

and with the Aesir; LAND.

She is PATH among the Vanir

EVER GREEN to the giants

GROWING, to the Elves

The High Powers call her MUD-SAND

12. HEAVEN, he is called among men

And SIBLING LIGHTS with the gods

WIND-WEAVER among the Vanir

WORLD ABOVE to the giants

To the Elves, the BEAUTIFUL ROOF

To dwarfs, the DRIPPING HALL

14.MOON, he is called among men

And WANING among the gods

WHIRLING WHEEL in Hel (=death)

HASTENER among giants

SHINE among dwarfs

The Elves call him YEAR COUNTER

16. SÓL (=Sun) she is called among men

And SUNNA among the gods


ETERNAL GLOW to the giants


ALL TRANSPARENT to the sons of the Aesir

18. CLOUDS, they are called  among men

RAIN-HOPE with the giants

WIND-FLOATERS among the Vanir

ORIGINAL HOPE with the giants

WIND-POWER with the Elves

In Hel (=Death), the CONCEALING HELMET

20. WIND, he is called among men

And WAVING with the gods

NEIGHING among the sacred rulers

HOWLING to the giants



21…. What is that Calm called, that

shall descend in all the worlds?

22. CALM it is called among men

LIGHT with the gods

WIND-END with the Vanir

TOO HOT for the giants

END OF DAY to the Elves

PEACE OF DAY to the dwarfs

SEA he is called among men

ILLUSION among the gods

WAVE among the Vanir

ALE WORLD to the giants

STAFF OF LAWS to the Elves

DRIPPING STEED to the dwarfs

28. FOREST/WOOD it is called among men

MANE OF HILLS among gods

ROCK SEAWEED among people

TIMBER among giants


WAND to the Vanir

30. NIGHT she is called among men

DARKNESS among gods

DISGUISER among the sacred powers

UN-LIGHT to the giants


DREAM GODDESS to the dwarfs


Happy Álfablót, Halloween or Autumn Celebration!


[1] https://snl.no/Sigvat_Tordarson

[2] Austrafararvísur, Sigvatr Þórðarson, Skaldic poem rendered with context in Saga Ólafs hins helga Haraldssonar, Heimskringla, by Snorri Sturluson: Chapter 92: Austrferð Sigvats skálds.



[3] https://heimskringla.no/wiki/V%C3%B6lsa_%C3%BE%C3%A1ttr


[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Korm%C3%A1ks_saga



[5] https://heimskringla.no/wiki/%C3%9E%C3%A1ttr_%C3%93lafs_Geirsta%C3%B0a_%C3%A1lfs

[6] Chapter 31 in Byock, Jesse (1998): The Saga of King Hrolf Kraki, Penguin Books, London / Chapter 47 in the Old Norse version here: https://heimskringla.no/wiki/Hr%C3%B3lfs_saga_kraka_ok_kappa_hans

[7] Chapter 32 in Byock, Jesse (1998): The Saga of King Hrolf Kraki, Penguin Books, London

[8] Chapter 34 in Byock, Jesse (1998): The Saga of King Hrolf Kraki, Penguin Books, London

[9] https://heimskringla.no/wiki/Saga_H%C3%A1lfdanar_svarta


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