Of Elves and Men
Alfablót - Alfr = elves, blót = sacrifice. The sacrificial ceremony to honor the elves takes place on the full moon that starts winter. In Old Norse, the elves refer to nature spirits of all kinds. There are light elves who help things grow and who are guided by the god Freyr to bring fertility into the earth. There are dark elves who live beneath the earth, huldre, mound folk, and dwarves. There are utgard spirits such as giants who try to make their way into the farmyard for an easier go of it during winter months. There are household and farmyard spirits including Nisse (Tomte, Tontuu) who protect the barns, sauna, and other out-buildings from the dangers of the wild spirits that roam during winter. The world of spirit becomes more powerful in this dark time of year and the Wild Hunt for lost souls led by Odin and Freyja is a very dangerous time.
October 14 is the Winter Side
The Scandinavian Primstav calendar is a two sided stick. Prim is Latin for new moon and Stav is Scandinavian for staff or stick. One side marks the summer months and starts on April 14. The other side marking winter starts October 14. Primstav was an attempt to integrate important pre-christian land-based knowlege and traditions with the Gregorian calendar "month" dates and mandatory masses. While the Gregorian "months" do not actually follow the new moons, this year, 2020, they line up! October 14th was the new moon starting "Slaughter Month." It is time to cull the herds. Animals that are pregnant and only as many as we can feed are brought into the barns. The rest become sausage and dried meat for winter stores. Hides, bones, hoofs, and horns are processed. And it is time to supplement the meat supply with hunting.
Alfablót takes place on the full moon of Slaughter month and in 2020, this happens to fall on October 31st. Call)ed Halloween, the evening of All Saints Day on the Christian calendar. Called Samhain (pron. Sao-ahn) in Celtic tradition.
A family of origin ceremony
Not much is known about this ceremony because it was a time for immediate family only. We know that from the story of Sigvatr Þórðarson, the court poet and marshall of King Olaf (Bloody Olaf as per the heathens he converted). The normal rules of hospitality were suspended at Alfablót. He was traveling and stopped at five different farms and was turned away! Unthinkable in a culture where "guest friendliness" was the law...except at Alfablót.
The word for elf, álfr, is masculine. There is no feminine version. So in addition to honoring and asking the help and protection of nature spirits, this is a ceremony to honor the male deified ancestors, álfr. The female deified ancestors, disr, are honored with their own ceremonies towards the end of winter. Freyja is honored at Disablót as Freyr is honored at Alfablót. The god Ullr and goddess Skadi might also be honored here for the hunters.
My Alfablót 2020
October has been a most unusual month in this most unusual year. Aside from COVID, economic and political crisis, and cultural uprisings, our family farm has been sold into another family's hands. This is the farm that my grandfather homesteaded. He had eighty acres and his twin brother had an adjoining eighty acres. My grandfather came to America in 1906 with his mother and father, brother, and little sister Karin who is my name sake. He went to the University of Minnesota to study agriculture and was a very earth-based person. He was the well finder (diviner) of Polk County, Wisconsin using willow sticks to find water for new wells on countless farms. When my mother asked why he didn't sell manure in town to make extra money he answered, "What comes from the farm must stay on the farm." He never used chemical fertilizers or other poisons. He died in 1957 but my grandmother kept the farm going and finished raising the children there.
We kids spent every summer on the farm putting up hay for the horses we kept. We played in the creek and built forts in the woods. We brought our own children there to love the land that our grandparents loved. When grandma died in 1999, the farm passed into the hands of my sister and her partner. They raised bees, chickens, and rented the fields to organic vegetable growers and leased land to the Johnson family whose cattle, pigs, and sheep now free range where we once built our forts. They are a young couple, both with degrees in environmental studies, organic and sustainable practices, and with two little children who will now play in the creek. They took ownership of the farm on October 1st. Mom said grandpa would approve of them. And we can buy the meat they raise on our ancestral land.
Also this October I found where Karin's grave is. She died in 1909, age 11, from a burst appendix. Ten years ago my mom and aunts located the grave in North East Minneapolis, not far from where I lived in my twenties. We went to find it again, in the paupers grave section. It's just a cement plug with #37 on it buried six inches beneath the sod. We uncovered it and made plans to get her a proper head stone come spring. I discovered her birthday was October 1st.
This is why I am feeling the presence of my grandfather on so many levels in this month of Alfablot. I feel him in the thoughtful and sorrowful shift of his farm into other hands, the care and love we are showing his little sister after over 100 years of being an unknown in a potters field, and the roast I plan to cook in his honor that came from his own beloved land.
I will pour some of the blood into the blot bowl, mix it with cider (he was a teetotaler so ale is not appropriate here), and wet my stone altar outside. I will make up a plate for him at my table and ask him to guide and protect our family in these dark, cold days. I will set out a saucer of coffee with a sugar cube, the way he liked it, and thank him for the gifts of protection, impeccable word, and love of the earth that he imparted in me without ever having met me.
Finally, I will pay shild by donating to MIGIZI, a wonderful non-profit run by and for Native youth in Minneapolis whose building was destroyed in the uprising on Lake Street and whose land my grandfather farmed in a good and respectful way. Shild is debt in Old Norse. Alfablot is a good time to pay shild to those ancestors and spirits of the land that my ancestors settled in, Dakota and Anishinaabe. I am deeply grateful for these ancient ceremonies, keeping me balanced and connected in these intense and unsettling times.