Written by Mark Puryear
In studying the nature of the blot, we find many elements that must be pieced together from various sources in order to achieve a concise view on how our ancestors may have actually performed these holy rites. Part of this research involves a look into the devices that would have been used in such ceremonies and how they would play a role within the proceedings. This includes investigations into both the texts that have been left to us as primary sources, and the archaeological evidence as it has been discovered and analyzed. The two can be juxtaposed, then compared to other ceremonial systems in order to provide us with the clearest picture as to how the ancients not only performed the act of sacrifice, but also how they viewed the symbolism within the offerings to the Gods and Goddesses of the North.
One device that is often looked over, even though it is mentioned more in our sources than any other, is the kettle or cauldron. The word kettle comes from the Old Norse kettil, meaning “kettle, cauldron,” from the Proto-Germanic katilaz, “kettle, bucket, vessel.” The kettle would have been used for various purposes, from cooking the sacred feast to brewing mead, and possibly even divination. It is likely that our ancestors saw this as important for the same reason they revered the hearth, because it was central to the gathering of the folk. It was the vessel from which communal meals and drinking feasts would be prepared and procured. With this as the basis for our thesis, we shall examine the evidence and symbols surrounding this implement for our blots.
There are very few instances in our lore where we are actually told by the Gods themselves how we should honor them, and in this case both fire and the kettle are mentioned as necessary for the performance of the sacrifice. This comes directly from the words of Odin himself in Grimnismal (42):
“Ull and all the Gods’
Favor shall have,
Whoever shall look to the fire first;
For open will the dwelling be,
To the Aesir’s sons,
When the kettles are lifted off.”
From this we can discern that the sacred fire is important within the rite, which is certainly understandable considering that within the realm of Proto-European beliefs deities of holy fires permeate and were considered messengers of the Gods that carried sacrifices to them. Such was the case with the Vedic Agni, who shall “bring (the offering) hitherward to the Gods” (Rig Veda I.1) and who is in fact identical to the Odinic Heimdall (http://www.germanicmythology.com/ugm2/ugm2no25.pdf). This is interesting for it was Heimdall who came down from Asgard to establish the three classes and teach men how to use the fire for their homes, and was later greeted by the progenitors of these classes with meals that may have reflected offerings to the Asa-god. In mythic symbolism, whenever we see a God or Goddess eating a meal or enjoying a drink, this was a means of expressing how one would offer to that deity and what would be used in that offering. We see him offered “boiled calf” by the family of Ai and Edda in Rigsthula (4), which would have been prepared in a kettle.
Of course, there is mention of kettles used in the divine realms as well. The most prominent is that mentioned in Hymiskvida as the great kettle of the Gods that was retrieved from Hymir by Thor and Tyr so that Aegir can hold an annual feast for all the Aesir and Vanir. Tyr states (5): “My father, fierce of mood, owns a kettle, a rast (mile) in depth.” This kettle would be a brewing kettle, and would be utilized in the creation of the most sacred substance of our faith—the holy mead. The fact that Thor and Tyr actually went to Jotunheim to fight Jotuns in order to procure the vessel shows just how important an item it was considered.
Indeed, the kettle was so central to Odinic worship that it was later viewed as a device of diabolic witchcraft by the church. In his understanding of the cauldron used by the Suebi in The Life of St. Columban where an ale brewing vessel is described, Jacob Grimm makes this assertion (Deutsche Mythology p. 56):
“…the boilings, the cauldrons and pots of witches in later times may be connected with this .”
Also related to the notion of divine kettles were kettles related to the worship of all the Gods, or even specific deities, which we can discern from the proper names Askettil (Aesir-Kettle) and Thorkettil (Thor-Kettle). This would demonstrate that such vessels would have been consecrated either to the entire pantheon or to individual Gods or Goddesses during rites associated with them (see Grimm p. 63).
In Saxo Grammaticus’ Gesta Danorum there is mention of a stew made from serpents, which was stirred in an “ugly-looking cauldron.” At first it seems as though this food was made as some form of sorcery, but ends up being beneficial to those who partake in it and gain wisdom from having eaten it. Gaining wisdom from such a meal is important to our investigation, for it takes us into the understanding of the symbolism behind the use of sacred kettles.
In Grimnismal 18 and Gylfaginning 38 there is the following passage:
“…there will never be such a large number in Valhall that the meat of the boar called Saehrimnir will not be sufficient for them. It is cooked each day and whole again by evening…"
The cook is called Andhrimnir and the kettle Eldhrimnir. Thus it says here:
Is Saehrimnir boiled,
The best of meats;
But few know what
the Einherjar eat.”
This takes us to the pivotal source of our symbolism, which replays itself over and over again throughout our lore; that being the Odinic creation story of Ginnungagap and the three Underworld fountains. In this story we are told that the primordial ice of the north is melted by the heat of the south to become rime (hrímr or hrímnir). The rime poured into Ginnungagap, “The Yawning Chasm,” which later became Mimir’s Well (Mímisbrunnr) of spiritual wisdom (Gylfaginning 4-5, 15). This gives us three elements: Water, Fire, and Spirit, each playing their own role within this development. Here we have a riddle that refers back to this story when we see Andhrimnir or “Spirit-Rime” boiling Saehrimnir, “Sea-Rime” in the kettle Eldhrimnir or “Fire-Rime.” The heat of the kettle cooks the flesh of the boar, stirred by the cook of Valhall. It is a beautiful allegorical reference to the primal age tale.
Each of these elements also has its own well to represent it, as we see Hvergelmir representing the Ice/Water element, Mimisbrunn represents the Spirit element, and Urdarbrunn represents the Fire element. We have seen from the above passage that Eldhrimnir, the kettle, is connected to the Fire element due to its name meaning “Fire-Rime,” and would thus connect to Urdarbrunn. This is the well where Urd and her sisters, the Norns, take care of their root of the World-Tree, Yggdrasil. It may also have some relation to usage of kettles or cauldrons as divinatory devices, since the Norns are the Goddesses of Fate.
Because of this relation to the sacred Underworld wells, the kettle then becomes a vessel of inspiration, as in the Celtic traditions where the Cauldron of Cerridwen is the central source for inspiration, regeneration, and fertility (see the Mabinogian). When Odin steals the Byrgir mead he spits the substance into the vats or kettles held up by the Gods, and this was the origin of the poetry that would be brought to human beings (Skaldskaparmal 1). When the Aesir and Vanir reconciled their conflict “both sides went up to a vat and spat their spittle into it. But when they dispersed, the Gods kept this symbol of truce and decided not to let it be wasted, and out of it made a man. His name was Kvasir, he was so wise that no one could ask him any questions to which he did not know the answer (ibid.).” This Kvasir is later said to be killed by two dwarves, who then “poured his blood into two vats and a pot, and the latter was called Odroerir, but the vats were called Son and Bodn. They mixed honey with the blood and it turned into the mead whoever drinks from which becomes a poet or scholar (ibid.).” For this reason poetry is called “Kvasir’s Blood.” Although a strong case can be made that Kvasir is in fact Mimir and that the names of these vats and pot are simply alternate names of his mead fountain to which Odin sacrificed his eye for wisdom, this both shows the sanctity of the kettles, and their relationship to the Underworld wells.
That the kettles are used for both food and mead also has a connection to the primordial elements and the tale of Ginnungagap, for the wells are both the providers of the mead and are the sustainers of the World-Tree Yggdrasill. That this imagery is played out in the rites of Midgard would be seen in the kennings that relate humans to trees. “Man is referred to as trees,” and “woman is referred to by all manner of tree-names(Skaldskaparmal 47),” both of which obviously relate to the first man and woman of our folk being made from Ash trees, or the man from Ash and the woman from Elm, and were thus named Ask and Embla. Just as the wells provide both food and drink for the tree, so too are the kettles the providers of sustenance for human beings.
There is no doubt that the kettle plays a very important role in our offerings and rites, and should be utilized as part of any ceremony or gathering. Always keep in mind the profound symbolism, that of the sacred wells and how they provide the power of the primal elements to all the worlds.