Unusual Viking Rituals That Might Surprise You

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Vote up the truly weird rituals the Vikings actually did - those you can't believe were really a thing.

There were some pretty unusual Viking rituals practiced from the late 8th century into the late 11th century. It’s no secret that Vikings were fierce warriors with a reputation for raiding nations and brutalizing their inhabitants. These intense, seafaring Scandinavians would slaughter dozens and perform some pretty severe ritualistic executions. What’s known is that the Viking age is littered with some extreme rituals from the Norse religion but also a few oddball traditions that Vikings practiced exclusively.  
These ruthless pirates had a softer side and a superstitious side as well. They believed in omens and used good luck charms. The same Norse Paganism that instilled their sacrificial practices also taught them to respect the land. They were productive farmers and enjoyed activities such as skiing and crafting. Women were highly respected and wielded a great deal of power within their society, which was rare for the time. They lived in a well-ordered democratic society that just happened to partake in terrifying Norse rituals from time to time. 

  • 1
    15,006 VOTES

    The Viking Chief Cremation Ceremony Involved Sex And Sacrifice

    The Viking Chief Cremation Ceremony Involved Sex And Sacrifice
    Photo: Frank Dicksee / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    After the death of a chief, one of his “slave girls” would volunteer to join him in the afterlife. In order for her to do that, a very disturbing ritual had to take place first. The girl was looked after and continuously intoxicated with various drinks while cremation ceremony preparations were made.

    The girl would then partake in “sexual rites,” whereas she would have sex with every man in the village before being strangled. The village matriarch then stabbed her and her body was placed with that of the chief on a wooden ship, set on fire and sent out to sea. This ensured that she would serve her master for ever after in the afterlife. The sexual rites embodied the Viking way of transforming the chieftain's lifeforce.

    15,006 votes
  • 2
    9,059 VOTES

    Every Nine Years, 81 People Were Sacrificed During Yule

    Every Nine Years, 81 People Were Sacrificed During Yule
    Photo: Carl Larsson / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Every ninth year, during Yule, it was customary for Swedish Kings to sacrifice men at the Temple at Uppsala.

    Nine heads would be offered to the gods, with the bodies hanging out in the temple’s sacred grove. This would go on for nine days, totaling 81 sacrifices that would be accompanied by feasts and Yule festivities. 

    9,059 votes
  • 3
    8,449 VOTES

    The Blood Eagle Was A Gruesome Execution Method

    The Blood Eagle Was A Gruesome Execution Method
    Photo: Viktor Vasnetsov / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    In Norse literature, the Blood Eagle is described as a ritualized form of execution, a sacrifice to the god Odin. Historians are uncertain whether this execution method was actually performed or if it was spread as a story to strike fear into enemies. What is known is that scholars of the age described the ritual in such great detail that it's hard to believe it didn't happen. Such torturous deaths were typically reserved to punish individuals without honor or to exact vengeance on a mortal enemy. 

    The ritual began with restraint of the victim face down as the shape of an eagle with its wings outstretched was cut into his back. Each rib was then meticulously separated from the spine with a sharp instrument. Once all ribs were detached, they were pulled outward to create the illusion of protruding wings. While still alive and in agony, the victim’s lungs were then pulled from the gaping hole and set over his “wings.” This gave the illusion that his wings “fluttered” as he took his final breaths and died.

    8,449 votes
  • 4
    4,388 VOTES

    Warding Off The Draugr Involved Scissors, Twigs, And Needles

    Warding Off The Draugr Involved Scissors, Twigs, And Needles
    Photo: Charles Ernest Butler / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    A draugr is basically the Norse mythology version of a zombie. But not just any zombie: a big, brutal, Viking zombie with fabulously lye-dyed locks and a horrendous stench who likes to wreak havoc by murdering people, killing animals, and destroying property. There are several practices to prevent this being from rising. Hiding twigs in the clothing of the recently deceased is said to work. Placing an open pair of scissors on their chest or driving needles through the bottom of their feet ward off draugrs as well.

    There were also ways to try and disorient the creature, which included lifting and lowering the coffin in three different directions and making sure the body’s big toes were tied together.

    4,388 votes
  • 5
    3,745 VOTES

    The Blót Was A Huge Sacrifice Meant To Show Gratitude To The Gods

    The Blót Was A Huge Sacrifice Meant To Show Gratitude To The Gods
    Photo: August Malmström / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    The Blót was a blood sacrifice to the gods to show gratitude, which is why it was performed publicly multiple times per year.

    Typically, animals were sliced over an altar of stones. The blood was collected in a bowl and then passed around and sipped while chanting ensued. Next, they’d pass around the carcass for more chanting, before dousing it with its own blood. The level of gratitude correlated with the size of the kill. 

    3,745 votes
  • 6
    4,089 VOTES

    Berserkers Raided Towns Like Beasts

    Berserkers Raided Towns Like Beasts
    Photo: RICpaint / Wikimedia Commons / CC0 1.0

    Berserkers were warrior shamans, but they had to undergo a symbolic death and rebirth to unlock their powers. To achieve this, they were put in dangerous situations in the wild and were expected to live as their totem animal would in the wilderness. Whether bear or wolf, they’d have to hunt and raid nearby towns as a beast would.

    They purposely stripped themselves of all humanity and morale to become savages on a physical and emotional level. They went berserk as beasts did on the battlefield with no fear nor armor.

    4,089 votes