Herman and Thusnelda - George Upton

The High Priest

The sons now clearly understood the significance of their father's banquet and the reasons which induced him to order the sword dance at that particular time, for, as a rule, these ceremonies took place only upon extraordinary occasions. They realized that he was celebrating their departure, and that he wished their last thoughts should be of warriors and heroes and they also knew now why he had spoken so seriously about Valhalla.

On the following day the Prince summoned them to him and said: "My sons, let us make offerings to the gods, so that their blessing may attend you on your way." The grove in which the high priest made offering was nearer the Prince's castle than that where the priestess had met Herman on the previous evening and delivered the prophetic message to him.

When they reached the entrance to the grove, which was marked by an uncut boundary stone, Sigmar and his sons bound their wrists. This was a common custom. Germans could meet mortals as free-born, invincible men, but in presence of the gods they humbly bowed and wore the emblems of dependence and submission.

Youths followed them leading the sacrificial victim—a bull, glossy black and with white face, which had never worn the yoke, and was chosen from the number set apart for the altar. It was garlanded with flowers, and its horns were tipped with solid gold. The little procession approached the centre of the grove, which was marked by a mighty oak towering above its fellows. The priest went up to the great offering-stone under the oak. On one side stood the Prince and his sons, on the other the youth who held the bull with nervous arms. The priest, a man of stately figure, earnest face, and dark eyes, took a long knife and pierced the bull in the breast. The hot blood streamed upon the stone. The priest raised his hands, in one of which he held the gory knife. The ravens croaked in the tree-tops—a good omen. In solemn tones the priest said: "The sacred ravens, Hugin and Munin, who sit upon Odin's shoulders and tell him of the actions of mortals, are rejoicing over our offering." Raising his hands once more, he said: Odin, disposer of human destiny, send thy sacred birds also to the sons when they are far away. Look down from thy celestial golden throne upon them and protect them. Let them return like brave men to their fatherland, and prepare seats for them in the sacred hall of Valhalla."

Thereupon he took parts of the offering and placed them upon the altar with the flowers and leaves the youths had brought. As the smoke rose to the green arched dome of the oaks, the priests repaired to a dark grotto near by with a cup of the victim's blood to read the divination. He shortly returned, placed the cup upon the stone, and said to the sons:

"Odin is gracious to you, and will give undying fame to the one who remains faithful to him and to the people."

He then bade the youths carry some of the remaining flesh and blood to the castle and prepare the offering-feast. According to the custom of those times the blood was mixed with mead and drunk from horns at the feast.