Sacred tree at Uppsala

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The sacred tree at Uppsala was a sacred tree located at the Temple at Uppsala, Sweden, in the second half of the 11th century. It is not known what species it was, but a scholar has suggested that it was a yew tree.[1][2]

It is even more sparsely documented than the famous temple by which it stood. In the 1070s, the writer of a scholium in Adam of Bremen's Gesta Hammaburgensis ecclesiae pontificum explained:

Near that temple is a very large tree with widespread branches which are always green both in winter and summer. What kind of tree it is nobody knows. There is also a spring there where the pagan are accustomed to perform sacrifices and to immerse a human being alive. As long as his body is not found, the request of the people will be fulfilled.[3]

The description of the tree and the location of a well nearby are reminiscent of the evergreen, Yggdrasil, which stood above the Well of Urd, and it is possible that the Swedes consciously had created a copy of the world of their Norse gods at Uppsala.[4]

Image showing the sacred tree to the right of the temple, from Olaus Magnus' Historia de Gentibus Septentrionalibus (1555). To the right of the tree is a depiction of a man being sacrificed in the spring.

The later Icelandic source, Hervarar saga, contains a description of how the tree was used in the pagan rites, concerning an event taking place only a few years after the scholium was written. It is in reference to the ancient Indo-European ritual of horse sacrifice:

Svein, the King's brother-in-law, remained behind in the assembly, and offered the Swedes to do sacrifices on their behalf if they would give him the Kingdom. They all agreed to accept Svein's offer, and he was then recognized as King over all Sweden. 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.[5]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Ohlmarks, Å. (1994). Fornnordiskt lexikon. p 372.
  2. ^ Hellquist, O. (1922). Svensk etymologisk ordbok. p 266
  3. ^ Adam of Bremen's Gesta Hammaburgensis Ecclesiae Pontificum at Northvegr.
  4. ^ Harrison, D. & Svensson, K. (2007). Vikingaliv. Fälth & Hässler, Värnamo. ISBN 978-91-27-35725-9. p. 141
  5. ^ The Saga of Hervör and Heithrek (c. 1325), in translation by Nora Kershaw.