I’m a fan of the American custom of Days of Remembrance for heroes of our past. It is a great way to teach our history and remember those who stood up for the Old Ways when the world turned against us. My list is a little different than others out there because I saw it as important to work in more Swedish heroes because they seemed to get left out by others. This month’s Day of Remembrance was in honor of Blót-Sven (also Blót-Sweyn), or Sven the Sacrificer. With Dísaþing coming up I thought I’d do a little write up about him.
Sven became king of Sweden from 1084-1087. The account holds that Inge the Elder, Sven’s brother in law, was king of Sweden but refused to permit people to practice the old faith. This did not sit well with the people and they demanded that Inge permit the old customs or give up the throne. Inge refused and the people drove him from the assembly. Sven, being a cunning man, offered to actually make the sacrifices himself if the people declared him to be king.
“A horse was then brought to the assembly and hewn in pieces and cut up for eating, and the sacred tree was smeared with blood. Then all the Swedes abandoned Christianity, and sacrifices started again. They drove King Ingi away; and he went into Västergötland.” (The Saga of Hervör and Heithrek)
Sadly, Blót-Sven would be undone in 1087 by his brother in law, Inge the Elder. The Saga of Hervör and Heithrek records it this way: “Svein the Sacrificer was King of Sweden for three years. King Ingi set off with his retinue and some of his followers, though it was but as small force. He then rode eastwards by Småland and into Östergötland and then into Sweden. He rode both day and night, and came upon Svein suddenly in the early morning. They caught him in his house and set it on fire and burned the band of men who were within. There was a baron called Thjof who was burnt inside. He had been previously in the retinue of Svein the Sacrificer. Svein himself left the house, but was slain immediately”
Orkneyinga saga has a slightly different account of events: “Christianity was then young in Sweden; there were then many men who went about with witchcraft, and thought by that to become wise and knowing of many things which had not yet come to pass. King Ingi was a thorough Christian man, and all wizards were loathsome to him. He took great pains to root out those evil ways which had long gone hand in hand with heathendom, but the rulers of the land and the great freeholders took it ill that their bad customs were found fault with. So it came about that the freemen chose them another king, Sweyn, the brother of the queen, who still held to his sacrifices to idols, and was called Sacrifice-Sweyn. Before him king Ingi was forced to fly the land into West-Gothland; but the end of their dealings was, that king Ingi took the house over Sweyn’s head and burnt him inside it. After that he took all the land under him. Then he still went on rooting out many bad ways.”
Swedish historian Adolf Schück believes that he is the same person as Håkan the Red and was called the Blót Swain, or a swain (young man) who was willing to make the sacrifices, as an epithet rather than a personal name. Honestly, it’s hard to say. We know very little about Håkan or his reign and there is a good bit of contradictory evidence to go around.
Now for a bit of personal conjecture and the reason as to why I honor Blót-Sven at this time of year. There’s really no evidence for this, as it doesn’t look as if we are given a time of year for these events, but it seems to me that the sacrifice that Inge refused to make was likely the Dísablót. This would be the one time of year when so many of the Swedish people would have been gathered in Uppsala at one time and when the king would have been required to oversee such a large and important sacrifice. The accounts given tell us that an assembly was gathered. Dísaþing was also known as the Thing of All Swedes, the largest assembly in the country, where clan leaders would have been able to exert a tremendous amount of influence on a weak king and to unite behind a new king. It seems right to me to honor Blót-Sven around the time he most likely took a stand to protect the Old Faith rather than some unrelated time of year. Even if it is just conjecture.