The altar is the center of the rite, and as such is considered to be the holiest of places for us. There are many considerations for how an altar can and should be set up: from the natural stones of the Hǫrgr to the more elaborate and crafted Stalli (also called Blótstallr or “Sacrificial Altar”). We will discuss the rites and traditions surrounding this in the chapter on sacred space.
For now, it is important to note that the altar is central to the ceremony and is considered the home of the Gods on Miðgarðr. It is a place that is to be sanctified and kept protected. It holds all the sacred items and becomes the focal point of every offering you are to perform. In our understanding of the cosmology and ritual space, which we shall discuss, the altar and the area it lies upon become a gateway to the other worlds by replicating the Underworld, which is its placement when one considers their stance at the roots of a tree or sacred pole. This shall become clearer as we continue.
In the Eyrbyggja Saga we are told that the altar stood in the middle of the floor (stalli á miðju), and this might coincide to the standing in the center of the Grind or Nine Square Grid (see). We are told in Vegtamskviða 9 that Óðinn “towards the north looked,” while performing sacred galdr, which is an act we should consider in placing the altar. This act is also mimicked in Jómsvikingsaga ch. 36 by Jarl Hákon to his patron Goddess Þórgerðr Hǫlgabrúðr where he “knelt down facing the north and prayed.” If one is constructing a Stalli and wants to utilize a sacred number in it’s sizing, a 3’x3’ design would be perfectly suitable, or you could consider any variant of 3 in your measurements that would be suitable for your practice. The Hǫrgr is to be made of stone, and the Stalli of wood, but we have no indication of what types. We can say with confidence that oak and ash were the most sacred types of wood, so likely they would be the highest considerations in building an altar.
In the Kjalnesinga Saga ch. 2 we are told that:
Frammi fyrir þar stóð stallur með miklum hagleik ger og þiljaður ofan með járni. Þar á skyldi vera eldur sá er aldrei skyldi slokkna. Það kǫlluðu þeir vígðan eld. Á þeim stalli skyldi liggja hringur mikill af silfri ger. Hann skyldi hofgoði hafa á hendi til allra mannfunda. Þar að skyldu allir menn eiða sverja um kennslumál ǫll. Á þeim stalli skyldi og standa bolli af kopar mikill. Þar skyldi í láta blóð það allt er af því fé yrði er Þór var gefið eða mǫnnum.
In front of them was a stalli made with great skill and covered with iron on the top. On this there was to be a fire which would never go out—they called it Vigðan Eld (Consecrated Fire). On the stalli was to lie a great armband, made of silver. The Hofgoði was to wear it on his arm at all gatherings, and everyone was to swear oaths on it whenever a suit was brought. A great copper bowl was to stand on the altar, and into it was to go all the blood which came from animals or men given to Þórr.
This gives us a description of our altar: it having an iron inlay on top of it (likely in the form of a Grind or Nine Square Grid, see), and three items; the fire, the ring, and the bowl. This source also mentions the Hlautteinn and with this would be the Blótspann. In the Chronicon (bk. 6, ch. 23) we are told that “there was a beautifuly crafted altar or shrine made of wood and supported on a foundation made of the horns of beasts.” In Vǫluspá 7 there is the hátimbruðu hǫrgr “high- timbered hǫrgr” which may mean a stone altar placed upon some form of dais. Snorri seems to associate the building of this hǫrgr to the Goddesses and the building of Vingólf,( Gylfaginning ) which may also coincide with the hǫrgr mentioned in Hyndluljóð 10, dedicated to the Ásynjur by Óttarr, which is reddened by the blood of beasts and turns to glass. These may also correspond to the Stallhelgum (Holy-Stalli) dedicated to the Dísir (Goddesses) in Fjósvinnsmál 40.
Then there is the altar cloth, which should be considered. In every instance when we see mentions of holy cloths this is always linen. When Móðir makes Rígr-Heimdallr her offering, she first lays an embroidered linen cloth out before him.1 When Hermóðr-Óðr visits Baldr and Nanna in Hel, the latter sends Frigg a rifti, which is a linen smock or veil. When Þórr dresses up as Freyja to fool Þrymr at the wedding he wears “bridal linen” (brúðar líni), which demonstrates the importance of the cloth in the wedding. Tacitus tells us that women normally dress in purple linen in Germania (ch. 17). Then there is the vǫlsi of the Vǫlsa þattr found in Ólafs Saga hins Helga, which is a horse penis wrapped in linen. The phrase lína laukar (linen and leeks) was written in rúnar on several knives that have been found. In any case, the linen as a sacred cloth should be recognized as the holy covering of the altar, which Tacitus mentions in Germania ch. 10 when he states that the rúnar are “thrown carelessly and at random over a white garment,” which we can assume would have been made of linen.
We have reason to believe that the altar should be placed in the middle of the sacrificial area or Blótstaðr. In the Eyrbyggja Saga ch. 4 we are told that in the Hof “there stood a stall in the middle of the floor in the fashion of an altar,” so given this description and what we have pieced together thus far we can say that it would be placed in the center facing north. Indeed, in several sources we find placement within the middle as being the place of prominence, such as in Kjalnesinga Saga ch. 2 where it says that “There stood Þórr in the middle” (Þar stóð Þórr í miðju) or in Adam of Bremen’s account (bk. 4) where it states that “Þórr occupies a throne in the middle of the chamber.” The idea of being in the center, if connected to the cosmology, would emphasize the importance of Ginnungagap/Mímisbrunnr in our rites as this is the center root of the tree and the central realm of Jǫrmungrund.
I present here our layout for the Stalli, which coincides with what we are told Kjalnesinga Saga ch. 2 about it being overlaid with iron. Using the Grind pattern that designates the “streets” of the Underworld, which may have this layout, we set the stage for worship by employing a holy design connected to the Sagas and archaeology, as we shall see. This design provides us with a detailed vision of exactly how to build our altar and the materials to do so. As stated above, horns of different animals form the base, a wooden (ash or oak) platform rests upon it, with an iron overlay on top of that. The same pattern can be utilized with a stone Hǫrgr by simply carving the grid into the stone or utilizing an altar cloth. Each realm on the grid is directionally connected to the area mentioned and the symbol connected to it.
(Right to Left from top):
1. Lindbaugi connects to the serpents in Niflhel, that rests in the far North, which is also said to be related to Jǫtunheimr, which resides in the East.
2. Hvergelmir is the Northernmost well.
3. The Úrarhorn represents Auðhumla, who stood atop the Northern region of Niðafjǫll and gave life to the Gods.
4. Þórr’s Hammer Mjǫllnir was made in Alfheimr in the Eastern realm of Jǫrmungrund.
5. Mímisbrunnr lies in the center of the Underworld.
6. Vanaheimr is the land of the Vanir, fertility Gods connected to growth and vegetation, hence it is connected to the Hlautteinn. Remember also that the Mistiltoe (Mistelteinn) that killed Baldr also grew in the West.1 Sǫkkdalir lies in the deepest South (and Jǫtnar are generally connected to the East), where the primordial flames were used to make the sun and stars.
8. Urðarbunnr is the Southern well of warmth.
9. Rúnar are connected to fate and thus are placed next to the Well of the Nornir.
-Excerpts from Æfinrúnar book 1