Alfablot: A Hidden Festival

As autumn chills into winter, a holiday of that evokes elves comes ‘round once more. No, not Christmas elves. I’m talking about álfablót, a Norse tradition that called on the álfar for protection in the dark months of winter. Unlike commercial Christmas, which thrives by exploding throughout stores ever earlier and ever farther across the globe, álfablót has long cloaked itself in secrets. That means this will be a somewhat shorter post than usual, though I hope I can still share enough details to keep it interesting.

Putting the Álfr in Álfablót

I’ve briefly discussed the Norse álfar as an influence on Tolkien’s Elves, but we’ll need to go into more depth for their role in álfablót. Let’s revisit that debate about what exactly are álfar. Some maintain that they are a distinct mythical species that resemble humans, often divided into Light-Elves (Ljósálfar), Dark-Elves (Dökkálfar), and Black-Elves (Svartálfar) based on Snorri Sturlusson’s Prose Edda,1 One or both of Dark- and Black-Elves may get sorted with the similar-sounding dwarfs at times. Some claim they are tiny.2 Others picture them as human-sized. The Light-Elves have been likened to “angels,” because they are “fairer than the sun” and because they are the “good” elves who live in Álfheim.3 Yet those same features have others identifying them with the Vanir branch of gods,4 particularly Álfheim-enthusiasts Frey and Freya.

Part of the confusion is because very few beings who are clearly and exclusively álfar appear in the official texts of Norse mythology. In the Poetic Edda, the vengeful smith Vǫlundr is often interpreted as an álfr, yet his brothers seem entirely human.5 He does spontaneously grow wings, though, so he must have some kind of powers.6 Then there’s Alvíss, who tries to use his vast knowledge to convince Thor to let him marry his daughter, Thrúd. I ran into one interpretation of Alvíss as an álfr,7 but he’s usually called a dwarf. He is “pale,” which might suggest a Dark-Elf. Despite Snorri saying they are “blacker than pitch,” Dökkálfar have been called “pale” since the “Dökkr” part means “hidden” rather than “dark colored.”8 And turning to stone from sunlight, as Alvíss does at the end of his poem, only proves he isn’t a Light-Elf. So what are the features that define an álfr?

It’s likely that the original meaning of “álfar” wasn’t so tangible. Particularly in the context of álfablót, the álfar have been interpreted as ancestral spirits or at least intermediaries for them.9 Similar associations have been attached to dwarfs,10 Vættir,11 and possibly trolls since they lived in burial mounds. Rather than mythical species, maybe these names pointed to types or qualities of spirits. For instance, Icelandic scholar Ármann Jakobsson notes “a troll could be an undead or [a] beast or a human who urinates in a well” while an álfr could be a magic-worker, “a benevolent undead or a guardian spirit.”12 The main difference was negative connotation (trolls) versus positive (álfar), like in some novels where a “sorcerer” might be evil while a “magician” is good or vice versa. The most distinctive trait the álfar show seems to be healing powers. They also have the flip side, causing disease,13 but that’s the one ability that isn’t commonly seen in trolls, dwarfs, etc.

Were the álfar beings of flesh-and-blood or were they ethereal spirits? “Älvalek,” translated as “Dancing Fairies” or “Dancing Elves,” 1866 painting by August Malmström, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

The lore of álfar—or at least elves—has continued to grow and change over time. A copy of the Prose Edda with notes by Rasmus B. Anderson (1846-1936) mention rural Norwegian tales of elves similar to English ones: “diminutive naked boys with hats” who love singing and playing pranks like causing disease through “elf-shot.”14 Today, many articles claim “more than half of the population” of Iceland believe to some extent in elves and similar beings.15 Jakobsson is doubtful that statistic, if accurate, points to beliefs directly related to the álfar of old.16 Many contemporary descriptions fall under what he calls “[t]he Icelandic ‘New Age elf,’” often invisible and entirely benevolent nature spirits or even aliens.17 That does not mean that no one in modern Scandinavian countries worships elves/ álfar on álfablót, nor would I say the New Age elf is necessarily inauthentic. Stories change and concepts are redefined constantly. It’s just part of keeping them relevant and therefore functional as mythology.

Records of Ritual

So that’s the “álfr.” What about the “blót” part? Turns out the term “blót” referred to a regular Norse practice of sacrifice and feasting to honor various powers. A large, communal blót usually took place at the home of a magnate (someone with great wealth and influence) or even a king.18 The solstices and equinoxes were believed to mark “four fixed blót sacrifices.” A sort of emergency blót might be held in response to war, “a bad harvest,” or other circumstance where people sought help from the deities.19 Sacrifices might include crops and animals, and, yes, humans too. That last part is mentioned in many texts of Norse mythology, which describe ceremonies where blood from sacrificial animals is splashed on “walls and participants” while the meat was boiled and eaten. Scholars have debated whether the tales were exaggerated, but archaeological finds confirmed human sacrifice was practiced,20 particularly as part of worshiping Odin.

How similar the álfablót practices were to a public blót remains unclear since they aren’t described in detail. The Icelandic “Kormáks Saga” does mention a sacrifice to álfar, though it seems to be an emergency call for help rather than a planned observance of the official álfablót. Thorvard, the brother of a rival to Kormák (spelled Cormac in the version I read), is badly wounded when they fight in a holmgang duel. Thordis the seer then advises Thorvard to “get the bull that [Kormák] killed, and redden the outer side of the hill with its blood, and make a feast for the elves with its flesh” to call on their healing powers.21 It’s interesting this passage suggests the meat as well as blood might be part of the sacrifice, unlike in the public blót feasts. And apparently the álfar are fine with re-gifting, since the bull in question was originally killed by Kormák as a sacrifice for his own purposes.

Goði priests often led the rites during a blót. “Sacrifice to Thor,” by Johan Ludwig Lund, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Official álfablót rituals do not seem to appear in texts, probably because they were an inherently private matter. It was celebrated by individuals or families on their homesteads behind firmly closed doors.22 This is depicted in the Skaldic poem “Austrfararvísur,” where the weary narrator calls on a homestead asking for a night’s lodging only to be turned away by a woman who says they are “holding a sacrifice to the elves inside her farmhouse.”23 Norse custom usually encouraged or even required offering hospitality to strangers, but during álfablót that expectation was put on hold.24 That a woman turns the narrator away makes sense given that “the lady of the household” was said to oversee the álfablót celebration.25 These might have taken place near or on burial mounds because reaffirming bonds to ancestors and local spirits was central to the holiday.

We have an approximate time for when álfablót was traditionally celebrated. It was supposed to take place around the three-day Winternights/Vetrnætr period that marked the transition to winter.26 This is, of course, according to the Old Norse calendar. Most of what we know about ancient Scandinavian time-telling is based on Icelandic calendars in the medieval ages, which divided the year into 364 days and recognized two seasons, summer and winter.27 There seems to be more agreement on how this calendar worked than the Celtic Coligny Calendar (see my post on Halloween and Samhain), but it still isn’t likely to line up with our modern Gregorian dates exactly. Most modern celebrations of álfablót tend to put it roughly around the same time as Halloween, All Saint’s Day, and Día de los Muertos, or somewhere “between the end of autumn and the beginning of winter.”28 This has led to it being called “Norse Halloween,” though really all those holiday-neighbors are more public in their festivities than álfablót.

Álfablót Today

Álfablót does not show up often in media. Even the álfar rarely appear under their original name, though elements of their lore may influence elves in fantasy worlds. German author Markus Heitz has an unusual take where elves and álfar are not only different species but enemies. I have not been able to confirm any modern depictions of sacrifices to álfar or álfablót celebrations except perhaps in Norwegian-born author E. J. Squires’ novel Alfablot. I say “perhaps” because it’s not clear this book has actually been released. The Norwegian metal band Enslaved does have a song titled “Alfablot,” with lyrics that speak of sacrificing a “sacred boar” to the “friends of the Vanirs.”29 The song certainly packs a fair number of mythological references, though I suspect the focus on blood and survival is largely due to those themes fitting the metal vibe.

Álfablót is still observed today, although it has evolved just as much as álfar lore. Honoring local spirits and ancestors remains central, though probably any sacrifices offered are a bit different. One online ritual outline (from a “Druid Fellowship,” so maybe somewhat reinterpreted) for álfablót used eggs and wine. The photo below is from someone who chose to share their set-up for an álfablót ceremony in Sweden. The full annotation on a second photo explains the candles as representations of three norns while the boulder is used for “receiving libations.”30 The privacy element still seems to operate to some degree, but doors aren’t closed as tightly, so people outside the family can be invited.31 I wouldn’t attempt to crash an álfablót, though. That wouldn’t be respectful to either the mortals or the spirits.  

A modern álfablót near a boulder. Picture taken 7th November 2009, Getsjön, Tunge parish, Ale hundred, Västergötland, Lilla Edet municipality, Västra Götaland, Sweden, by Gunnar Creutz, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Thanks for joining me on this exploration of álfablót! I’ve never attended one myself, and I only stumbled on the concept because of a Norse-obsessed relative, but I find it quite fascinating. The more personal, spiritual element is a nice contrast with the noise and scramble of commercial Christmas. What do you think? Had you heard of álfablót before? Have you seen it depicted in any media I missed? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

  1. Shippey, Tom A., “Light-elves, Dark-elves, and Others: Tolkien’s Elvish Problem,” Tolkien Studies 1 (2004): 1-15. Project Muse (176074), 4.
  2. Bergman, Jenni, “The Significant Other: A Literary History of Elves,” PhD thesis, Cardiff University, Cardiff, 2011,, 12, 15.
  3. Shippey, 4.
  4. Bergman, 14.
  5. Bergman, 17.
  6. Bergman, 18.
  7. Clark, Siobhan, “The Alfablot and Samhain,” The Myth Legend & Lore Podcast, Nov. 3, 2018, accessed Nov. 25, 2021,
  8. Bergman, 11-12.
  9. Trulsson, Åsa, “Álfablót – Old Norse Halloween,” Soldiser, accessed Sep. 11, 2021,
  10. Bergman, 14.
  11. MacCullough, James Arnott, ed., “Eddic Mythology” in The Mythology of All Races (Boston: Archaeological Institute of America, 1930), 2:228. Accessed through Internet Archive,
  12. Jakobsson, Ármann, “Beware of the Elf! A Note on the Evolving Meaning of ‘Álfar,’” Folklore 126, no. 2 (August 2015): 215-223. JSTOR (24774311), 217.
  13. McCoy, Daniel, “Elves,” Norse Mythology for Smart People, last modified Dec. 29, 2020, accessed Jan. 15, 2021,
  14. Sturluson, Snorri, The Younger Edda: also called Snorre’s Edda, or the Prose Edda, trans. Anderson, Rasmus B. (Chicago: S. C. Griggs and company, 1880), 257. Accessed through Internet Archive,
  15. Wainwright, Oliver, “In Iceland, ‘Respect the Elves – or Else,’” The Guardian, Mar. 25, 2015,
  16. Jakobsson, 218.
  17. Jakobsson, 219-220.
  18. “The Viking Blót Sacrifices,” National Museum of Denmark, accessed Nov. 27, 2021,
  19. Clark.
  20. “Human sacrifices?,” National Museum of Denmark, accessed Nov. 27, 2021,
  21. Chapters 21-22 of “The Saga of Cormac the Skald,” trans. W.G. Collingwood and J. Stefansson, The Icelandic Saga Database, accessed Nov. 17, 2021,
  22. Härger, Arith, “Álfablót – a Sacrifice to the Elves,” Whispers of Yggdrasil, posted Nov. 22, 2017, accessed Nov. 25, 2021,
  23. R. D. Fulk 2012, “Sigvatr Þórðarson, Austrfararvísur” in Diana Whaley (ed.), Poetry from the Kings’ Sagas 1: From Mythical Times to c. 1035, vol. 1, Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages (Turnhout: Brepols, 2012), 578,
  24. Clark.
  25. Härger.
  26. Härger.
  27. Dunn, Steven T., “The Old Norse-Icelandic Calendar,” Fjorn’s Hall, accessed Nov. 27, 2021,
  28. Trulsson.
  29. Enslaved, “Alfablot,” SongMeanings, accessed Nov. 29, 2021,
  30. Creutz, Gunnar, “File:Alfablot at boulder without flash.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, last edited Mar. 27, 2021, accessed Nov. 26, 2021,
  31. Härger.        

12 thoughts on “Alfablot: A Hidden Festival

    1. It’s probably the case that alfar were never that clearly defined. I think I’ve seen references to Idun being considered an elf as well as a goddess. And even in English, Santa’s helpers were called fairies and brownies before popular culture settled on elves. The fact that they do build stuff kind of makes them more similar to dwarves, at least as they’re commonly portrayed these days.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Oh, interesting. I’d read about Freya’s connection to the alfar and alfheim, but I didn’t know Idun was also sometimes referred to as an elf. That would make sense in some ways, with elves and forest spirits being closely linked. It seems like a lot of those categories blurred into each other a bit.


        1. Apparently Idun being descended from elves comes from the poem Hrafnagaldr Óðins. I know Freya is sometimes conflated with Idun, like in the Ring cycle. I also recall reading a book on mythology that referred to woodwives as elves.

          Liked by 1 person

  1. From Sun Wukong to this, you really do know your legends (I’m not sure if ‘legends’ is the proper term). You really do educate me on things I’m super ignorant about, and your niche is pretty danged unique indeed. Thanks so much for your constant posts!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks! I’m pretty relaxed about the distinction between “legends” and “myths,” actually. I’m planning to eventually do a write up on the way I see those terms and why. Just have to corral my thoughts into something resembling coherence. 😉

      And thanks for letting me know these topics are interesting for you! That was my biggest concern about getting into this niche, so I couldn’t be happier with the positive responses I’ve had. 😊

      Liked by 3 people

  2. Wow, so much detail! I think I would also prefer a modern-day Álfablót over the current, commercialized Christmas thrown in our faces today. Aside from the animal/human sacrifices of course — which I definitely do question how exaggerated really it is. The link to the “ADF” website is interesting and I’m going to be giving that a browse.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! Yeah, I would much prefer to reflect and renew connections with land and family spirits rather than do sacrifices. Though it’s possible that was always more symbolic than the public blot ceremonies. Those were largely about displaying wealth by showing how much you could waste (also not very appealing). I would guess that alfablot, being more personal, had less dramatic offerings.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Wonderful post! It’s great reading your work again. I wish I had your dedication to research and getting posts published regularly, lol. The metal song’s reference to boar sacrifice might be an allusion to the similar custom of the sonargǫltr? Hope all is well!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you, you’ve been insightful in your commentary on my posts as well! It is fun seeing how a topic will grow the more you dig ~ also frustrating, as it usually means my posting gets stalled as I run into problems I haven’t anticipated, lol. I have like half a dozen almost complete posts languishing away… I gotta get off my sorry butt and finish them all.


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