This Halloween, visitors to the Swedish island of Björkö can look forward to a unique Viking event that features devilish elves, ethereal maidens, and mythical deities.

On the weekend of October 28-29, international tourists and Scandinavians alike will gather to celebrate Álvablót (often anglicized as Alfablót), an ancient Norse ritual with a thousand years of history.

To find out more about the traditions of Álvablót and the event itself, The Viking Herald speaks with Veronica Björkman, destination manager for the Birka Museum, which is situated less than 30 kilometers from Stockholm.

An authentic alternative

As The Viking Herald has detailed, Birka is one of the most important Norse archeological sites in the world, with a total of approximately 4,000 Viking graves, including the world-renowned Viking female warrior. 

It is also an immersive living museum with a reconstructed Viking village, a detailed visitor center, and a campsite where you can live in the style of the Northmen.

Veronica and her team have also organized a series of special events on the island, including a historical tattoo festival, a wild boar guild, and full Viking immersion weeks.

Always on the lookout for new ideas, Veronica found further inspiration during a Halloween party with friends:

"People were dressed as zombies, skeletons, and pumpkins, and it struck me that we are celebrating a tradition that is not ours, that we have borrowed from other countries." 

"There is, of course, nothing wrong with that, but we have so many exciting things in Scandinavia that many people don't know about. The following year, we had the first event: Álvablót – the Halloween of the Vikings." 

The Álvablót ceremony, rich in symbolism, marks the transition from warm months to dark winter, symbolizing change, remembrance, and connection with the spiritual realm. Photo: Birka Museum

Welcoming the dark months 

Álvablót, or the Elven Sacrifice, is an ancient pagan ceremony that traditionally took place on the cusp of fall and winter. 

Though its rituals and customs are shrouded in secrecy, with few authentic written accounts available, Veronica has worked hard to piece together its main features. 

"In ancient Scandinavia," she informs us, "Álvablót was the time when ancestors were honored, and nature spirits, elves, and gods such as Frey, the prince of the elves, and Hel, the goddess of death, were exposed."

There is a strong symbolism to a ritual that marks the end of warmer weather and the arrival of the dark winter months – a contrast that is particularly strong in the far north. 

"It is a time for contact with those who lived before us," Veronica says, "A time when nature "dies" and for hunting and slaughtering on the farms. It is also a time of change, where you leave the old behind." 

Unlike the lively ambiance of modern Halloween, Álvablót is a more introspective and solemn pagan ceremony. Photo: Birka Museum

An intimate feel 

Veronica notes that there are great similarities between the Celtic festival of Samhain, which is thought to have inspired Halloween, and the Vikings' Álvablót. 

Yet there is a clear difference in tone between the carefree party atmosphere of modern Halloween celebrations and Álvablót, which is a more thoughtful, contemplative affair.

Indeed, one rare reference to the ritual gives us some indication of the closed, intimate solemnity of the occasion. 

In the Skaldic poem Austrfararvísur, Sigvat the Skald provides a first-hand account of how seeking lodging, he and his companions are rejected at every turn, as the local inhabitants withdraw to make their sacrifice:

"'Do not come any farther in, wretched fellow,' said the woman; 'I fear the wrath of Óðinn; we are heathen.' The disagreeable female, who drove me away like a wolf without hesitation, said they were holding a sacrifice to the elves inside her farmhouse." 

In the midst of Birka's historic setting, attendees engage in a true blót ceremony, reflecting on cherished memories and showing gratitude to the spirits. Photo: Birka Museum

Real Norse traditions 

At Birka, of course, visitors are warmly welcomed to celebrate the Álvablót tradition. Most arrive via boat from Stockholm and are met by a völva, or staff bearer, who provides a dramatized tour of the area surrounding the museum and burial site. 

Then, among the haunted hills of Viking ancestors, the group has the chance to watch the dramatic pagan ritual unfold, which is also attended by various mythological creatures and Norse gods. 

"We think of our loved ones and thank the spirits and gods for a good year," Veronica tells us. "We hold a genuine blót ceremony where everyone can participate."

Afterward, visitors can try their hand at rune reading, explore various types of craftsmanship and other activities in the Viking houses, and enjoy a traditional Norse meal at the Särimner restaurant before returning by ship to Stockholm. 

Further evening activities are planned for the future. Truly a memorable weekend in a historic Viking setting, with magic and mythical beings closer than ever.

If you are interested in experiencing the magic of an authentic Norse pagan ritual, you can read more about the Álvablót event on the website of the Birka Museum

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