Blood Eagle

Blood Eagle

The Blood Eagle (Old Norse blóðörn) was a presumed form of execution among the Vikings.

The back of the living victim was cut open, the ribs were separated from the spine on both sides and - like eagle wings - folded to the side. Some suppose that still the lungs were pulled out. However, the version is rejected by other scientists, because the lungs would collapse in seconds after such a violent opening. They assume that the shoulder blades were still folded up with it.

The Blood Eagle is well attested in various sagas, skaldic poems and Edda songs as revenge against enemies, for example in the Orkneyinga saga, the Reginsmál or the 12th century Old Norwegian king biography Heimskringla.

The Ragnarssona þáttr tells of the Danish king Ragnar Lothbrok, who had invaded England, being defeated by King Ælle and executed in a snake pit. Ragnar's sons later subdued Ælle and killed him by carving a blood eagle.

The background of the ritual, however, is as controversial as the question whether it was actually practiced or whether it was perhaps only a particularly cruel-looking literary embellishment to entertain the audience.

This is at least the argument of the Scandinavian scholar Roberta Frank.

Other interpretations see in the Blood Eagle the further development of an original human sacrifice to the god Odin or else a special form of revenge that sons carried out on the murderer of their father.

"As Frank has convincingly argued, however, the motif of 'carving the blood eagle'-at least in the case of Ella-is based on a misunderstanding of a stanza from Sigvatr's Knútsdrápa (11th century) in which it says of Ella's killing: 'And Ívarr, who sat in York, had Ella's back cut by an eagle' (Knútsdrápa 1; see below and cf. Frank 1984, 334-339); While other scholars consider Sigvatr's stanza as the second evidence - besides Reginsmál 26 - for the blood eagle motif in the poetry, Frank [an Edda scholar] sees Sigvatr's stanza as one of the extraordinarily numerous examples of the motif 'bird of the forest (eagle, raven) tears the fallen warrior with its claws or beak', more precisely: 'the victorious warrior lets the birds of the forest tear the fallen' or the like. (cf. Frank 1984, 337-339; Frank 1988; Frank 1990)."

- Klaus von See: Edda-Kommentar zu den Reginsmál.