Sunday, 26 June 2016

Blood On An Altar

"'...once in this land, when Domald Visbursson was king, the harvests failed. To make the gods friendly again, the Swedes offered many oxen; but next year was worse. Then they gave men; but still the hunger deepened. In the third year they slew King Domald and sprinkled the altar with his blood. There followed good seasons and peace."
-Poul Anderson, Hrolf Kraki's Saga (New York, 1973), p. 215.

Skeptics say that the harvests would have improved anyway. But, for the purposes of fiction, we accept this fantasy about the gods. They were satisfied neither by oxen nor by men but by the king. This reminded me of another deity who was satisfied neither by animals nor by good deeds but by the death of his son whose blood, as wine, is on many altars this Sunday morning.

When rereading a Poul Anderson text, it is impossible to predict which details will be worthy of blogging. Recently, we have had Vogg and now Domald.

I have just finished reading A Fatal Inversion by Barbara Vine for at least the third time. (it was also very well televized.) I highly recommend it. It has twists, surprises and a neat resolution. Without giving too much away, there is death, blood and new life.


  1. Kaor, Paul!

    The fall of mankind created an unbridgeable gap between the human race and God which nothing any man who was merely a man could cross. However strange and baffling it might seem, God chose to become Man, in the Person of the Second Person of the Trinity, the Logos, to become incarnate as man for our salvation. Because only a Being who is God as well as man could make the infinitely efficacious sacrifice needed for our redemption.

    But, I do see your point about how, in a fantasy like HROLF KRAKI'S SAGA, pagan could be assumed to be real and that they could be appeased only by King Domald's death.


  2. Paul and Sean:
    And the king as sacrifice was a common pagan belief. Anderson even based a story around the concept updated to the Space Age, "Kings Who Die," and Mary Renault titled a book set in Ancient Greece *The King Must Die*.

    1. Hi, David!

      I agree, the king as sacrificial victim is a motif which can be found among many religions. Altho, I think by the time pagans were also becoming literate and civilized this idea faded away. I THINK pre-historic Egypt sometimes had sacrificial kings, but it faded away after the First Dynasty unified Egypt.


    2. Sean:
      *The Cartoon History of the Universe* by Larry Gonick agrees that Egypt used to sacrifice kings in pre-dynastic days ... but "these royal murders stopped at some point -- probably as soon as the king got enough soldiers more loyal to himself than to the system!"
      King: I think *cough hack* I need to take --wheeze-- some PRIESTS with me, boys...
      [Soldiers advance with leveled spears]
      Priests: No sense carrying this too far!!!

    3. Hi, David!

      Ha, ha!!! That was amusing! For all we know that's exactly what happened, sacrificing kings stopped once they had enough soldiers more loyal to them than the religious system.

      I have a vague recollection of how ancient Egypt used to sacrifice kings, probably in pre-Dynastic days, who had reached the thirtieth year of their reigns.


  3. David,
    Thank you for making this connection. This is what the blog is for - and I should have spotted the link to "Kings Who Die."