Weird History

Unusual Viking Rituals That Might Surprise You  

Lyra Radford
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List Rules 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 as 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. 

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The Viking Chief Cremation Ceremony Involved Sex and Sacrifice
The Viking Chief Cremation Cer... is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list Unusual Viking Rituals That Might Surprise You
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.

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The Blood Eagle Was a Gruesome Execution Method
The Blood Eagle Was a Gruesome... is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list Unusual Viking Rituals That Might Surprise You
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.

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Every Nine Years, 81 People Were Sacrificed During Yule
Every Nine Years, 81 People We... is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list Unusual Viking Rituals That Might Surprise You
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. 
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Warding Off the Draugr Involved Scissors, Twigs, and Needles
Warding Off the Draugr Involve... is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list Unusual Viking Rituals That Might Surprise You
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.

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