Human Sacrifice in Legends and Myths

translated and/or edited by

D. L. Ashliman

© 1999-2013

Contents

  1. Human Sacrifice among the Gauls (France, Julius Caesar).

  2. King Aun Sacrifices Nine Sons to Odin (Sweden, Snorri Sturluson).

  3. Buried Alive (Sweden, Herman Hofberg).

  4. Of the Pestilence in Jutland (Denmark).

  5. The Höxter Ghost (Germany, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm).

  6. Entombment (Germany, Friedrich Panzer).

  7. The Entombed Child (Germany, A. Haas).

  8. The Ghost at Spyker (Germany, A. Haas).

  9. Sacrificing Virgins to Lakes (Germany, A. Haas).

  10. The Old Church at Kohlstädt (Germany, A. Kuhn).

  11. The Name Greene (Germany, A. Kuhn and W. Schwartz).

  12. An Infant Speaks (Germany, Karl Bartsch).

  13. The Secured Foundation Stone (Germany, J. W. Wolf).

  14. Plesse Castle (Germany, Georg Schambach and Wilhelm Müller).

  15. Link to Merlin the Magician Saves King Vortigern: Why the Red Dragon Is the Emblem of Wales. In this Welsh legend the child Merlin is nearly sacrificed to protect a building under construction. This link will take you to a separate file.

  16. Sacrifice, Human (England).

  17. London Bridge Is Falling Down (an Irish-American nursery rhyme).

  18. Link to The Magdeburg Bridge -- Die Magdeburger Brücke (a nursery rhyme from Germany). This is a separate file.

  19. Story of the Bridge (Turkey -- Gypsy, Francis Hindes Groome).

  20. Rumors of Foundation Sacrifice (India).

  21. How the Cannibals Drove the People from Insofan Mountain to the Cross River (Nigeria).

  22. Link to Jephthah and His Daughter (Book of Judges). This link will take you to a separate file.


Return to D. L. Ashliman's folktexts, a library of folktales, folklore, fairy tales, and mythology.

Human Sacrifice among the Gauls

The nation of all the Gauls is extremely devoted to superstitious rites; and on that account they who are troubled with unusually severe diseases and they who are engaged in battles and dangers, either sacrifice men as victims, or vow that they will sacrifice them, and employ the Druids as the performers of those sacrifices; because they think that unless the life of a man be offered for the life of a man, the mind of the immortal gods cannot be rendered propitious, and they have sacrifices of that kind ordained for national purposes. Others have figures of vast size, the limbs of which formed of osiers they fill with living men, which being set on fire, the men perish enveloped in the flames. They consider that the oblation of such as have been taken in theft, or in robbery, or any other offence, is more acceptable to the immortal gods; but when a supply of that class is wanting, they have recourse to the oblation of even the innocent.




King Aun Sacrifices Nine Sons to Odin

Sweden

King Aun returned to Uppsala when he was sixty years of age. He made a great sacrifice, and in it offered up his son to Odin. Aun got an answer from Odin, that he should live sixty years longer; and he was afterwards king in Uppsala for twenty-five years.

Now came Ale the Bold, a son of King Fridleif, with his army to Svithiod against King Aun....

Then Aun fled a second time to West Gautland; and for twenty-five years Ale reigned in Uppsala, until he was killed by Starkad the Old.

After Ale's fall, Aun returned to Uppsala and ruled the kingdom for twenty-five years. Then he made a great sacrifice again for long life, in which he sacrificed his second son, and received the answer from Odin, that he should live as long as he gave him one of his sons every tenth year, and also that he should name one of the districts of his country after the number of sons he should offer to Odin. When he had sacrificed the seventh of his sons he continued to live for ten years; but so that he could not walk, but was carried on a chair. Then he sacrificed his eighth son, and lived thereafter ten years, lying in his bed. Now he sacrificed his ninth son, and lived ten years more; but so that he drank out of horn like an infant.

He had now only one son remaining, whom he also wanted to satrifice, and to give Odin Uppsala and the domains thereunto belonging, under the name of the Tenth Land, but the Sweedes would not allow it; so there was no sacrifice, and King Aun died, and was buried in a mound at Uppsala. Since that time it is called Aun's sickness when a man dies, without pain, of extreme old age.

Thiodolf tells of this:

In Uppsala town the cruel king
Slaughtered his sons at Odin's shrine --
Slaughtered his sons with cruel knife,
To get from Odin length of life
He lived until he had to turn
His toothless mouth to the deer's horn;
And he who shed his children's blood
Sucked through the ox's horn his food,
At length fell Death has tracked him down,
Slowly, but sure, in Uppsala town.



Buried Alive

Sweden

Many years ago an epidemic swept over Dalland, to which thousands of persons fell victims. Many people fled to the forests, or to other regions. The churches were deserted, and those remaining were not enough to bury the dead. At this stage an old Finlander came along, who informed the few survivors that they need not hope for cessation of the scourge until they had buried some living thing.

The advice was followed. First a cock was buried alive, but the plague continued as violent as ever. Next, a goat, but this also proved ineffectual. At last a poor boy, who frequented the neighborhood, begging, was lured to a wood-covered hill at the point where the river Daleborg empties into Lake Venem. Here a deep hole was dug, the boy meantime sitting near, enjoying a piece of bread and butter that had been given him.

When the grave was deep enough, the boy was dropped into it and the diggers began hurriedly to shovel the dirt upon him. The lad begged and prayed them not to throw dirt upon his bread and butter, but the spades flew faster, and in a few minutes, still alive, he was entirely covered and left to his fate.

Whether this stayed the plague is not know, but many who after night pass the hill, hear, it is said, a voice as if from a dying child, crying, "Buried alive! Buried Alive!"




Of the Pestilence in Jutland

Denmark

On the east side of the churchyard of Fur no one is buried, because when the Black Death raged in the country, a living child was buried there, in order to stay the contagion.

Other instances are given of this method of staying the pestilence.




The Höxter Ghost

Germany

When Höxter was being fortified, a small child was entombed in the wall near the Ovenhausen Gate in order to make the town invincible. Even today the child can be heard crying every seven years.




Entombment

Germany

In the small village of Vestenberg, 2 1/2 hours from Ansbach, there is a large hill, surrounded by a deep moat. Traces of ancient towers are still visible there. Remnants of grave containers can be found just below the earth's surface. A beautiful oak forest lies adjacent to the hill. The names of some of the places in this forest are Himmelreich, Helgraben, and Gründlein.

By the beginning of the middle ages Vestenberg was already the seat of the noble family by the same name. The Vestenbergs were among the most widely spread and wealthiest families of Franconia....

The narration of an eighty-year-old woman:

When Vestenberg Castle was being built, the mason built a seat into the wall. A child was placed on the seat to be sealed into the wall. The child cried, so to pacify it, they gave it a beautiful red apple.

The unmarried woman, whose child it was, had given it up for a large sum of money.

After the mason had finished mortaring the child into the wall, he gave the mother a hard slap on the face, saying: "It would have been better if you had begged your way throughout the country with your child."

...

A superstitious man claimed that the railroad bridge over the Göltsch Valley near Reichenbach in Saxony cannot be completed. They cannot find firm ground. Whatever they build during the day disappears the following night. The work will not succeed until they sacrifice seven humans to the Evil One for it. They have already entombed one child in it. People suspected this, and for this reason the schoolmasters were asked to count their children, and it turned out that one child was missing. The narrator heard this account in a tavern in Nürnberg.

In Hof a rumor was circulating among the superstitious that a man was seeking a child to entomb in the Göltsch Bridge. A gymnastics teacher, wearing his white gymnast's suit and carrying a rope in his hand, chanced to walk down the disreputable Fisher Street in Hof, where he so frightened the children that they all fled screaming into their houses.

Between Breitenbrunn and Wollmetshofen in Swabia lies the Hartenberg Forest. A hill there was being excavated for gravel for road construction. All sorts of things were found there: charcoal, bones, broken containers, etc. A human skeleton was also excavated, which was not lying, but rather standing upright. According to legend there was a castle at Hartenberg. A donkey carried water to this castle. Once when the animal had not been seen for several days the peasants suspected that something had happened at Hartenberg, and they went there. To their astonishment they could see nothing of the castle, for it had sunk into the earth. Three days later they heard a rooster crowing from the depths.




The Entombed Child

Germany

When Christianity was introduced to Rügen, they wanted to build a church in Vilmnitz. However, the builders could not complete their task, because whatever they put up during day was torn down again by the Devil that night. Then they purchased a child, gave it a bread-roll in one hand, a light in the other, and set it in a cavity in the foundation, which they quickly mortared shut. Now the Devil could no longer disrupt the building's progress.

It is also said that a child was entombed in the church at Bergen under similar circumstances.




The Ghost at Spyker

Germany

Uncanny things happen at Spyker, the ancient castle of the Wrangels. The tower there is haunted. It is said that while they were building it, every night it would collapse, until they entombed a human within its walls. He now wanders about.

According to others there is a haunted chamber there where someone met his death, and he is the one who wanders about.




Sacrificing Virgins to Lakes

Germany

There is a lake where every year a virgin is sacrificed. If this does not happen then the water becomes unruly, the waves grow larger and larger, then rise higher and higher until they finally flood the entire land.

There is also a city whose citizens have a virgin entombed within a wall every year. But today no one knows exactly where this is or why it is done. Some claim that this girl is also a sacrifice to a large lake, which otherwise would swallow up the city.




The Old Church at Kohlstädt

Germany

Next to the brook beneath Kohlstädt there is an old wall which is called the Old Church. It is said that during heathen times children were sacrificed there and that Weinberg Hill got its name from the children's crying mothers who watched the sacrifice from there.




The Name Greene

Germany

It is said that in ancient times they once sacrificed a child on the mountain above Greene. It is no longer known what the occasion was. The child grinned beneath the butcher-knife, and one of the executioners said: "It is still grinning!" (Es greint noch!) From that they named the place that was soon built at that location "Greine" or "Greene."




An Infant Speaks

Germany

Ages ago the cruel custom ruled of entombing infants in the foundations of castles and fortresses in order to provide protection against storms, weather, and the dangers of war. The infants were purchased from their mothers for large sums of money. Once a fortified castle was to be thusly built in the Stargard region. An infant had already been purchased. Before committing the cruel deed, the masons who had been engaged for the construction were talking with one another: "What is sweeter than a mother's nipple?"

The answer came to them from the infant's mouth: "The grace of God!"

Taken aback, the workmen laid down their tools and refused to proceed with the wicked building.

The castle was never completed.




The Secured Foundation Stone

Germany

High water and ice on the Haun River so damaged a miller's spillway every winter that he was no longer able to raise the funds to repair it.

Dismayed, one day he was standing at the spillway when he was approached by a drunkard who offered him advice. He promised to make the spillway so secure that it would never again be damaged, but the miller would have to pay him well.

The miller agreed, and the drunkard said, "Find a boy for us. We will bury him alive beneath the foundation stone, and I guarantee the durability of the spillway."

The miller shuddered, but when the drunkard offered to provide a boy for fifteen pecks of groats, he entered into the agreement, and forthwith they dug the grave.

The next day the child cried in vain. The two men pushed him into the pit, threw stones in on top of him, and soon the spillway was ready.

Soon thereafter the drunkard's corpse was pulled from the Haun River. The miller's conscience so gnawed at him that he wasted away and then died.

From that time forth the miller wanders about, attempting to pull passersby into the river. Every year he must lure at least one person into the river. Usually they are drunkards. He is on the lookout for them, because it was one of their kind who brought misfortune upon him.




Plesse Castle

Germany

At the time Plesse Castle was to be built people generally believed that a castle could not be conquered if a living child had been entombed in its foundation. Therefore a child was to be entombed alive in the foundation of Plesse Castle. It was proclaimed in all municipalities a sum of money would be given to anyone who would surrender a child for this purpose. For a long time no willing person could be found, but finally a woman from Reiershausen sold her deaf-and-dumb three-year old child for 300 three-pfennig coins. On the day that the child was to be entombed it was suddenly able to speak, and said, "Mother's breast was softer than a pillow, but mother's heart was harder than a stone." And with that the child was entombed.




Sacrifice, Human

England

Castles remarkable for size, strength, and antiquity are, by the common people, commonly attributed to the Picts, or Pechs, who are not supposed to have trusted solely to their skill in masonry in constructing these edifices, but are believed to have bathed the foundation-stone with human blood, in order to propitiate the spirit of the soil. Similar to this is the Gaelic tradition, according to which St. Columba is supposed to have been forced to bury St. Oran alive beneath the foundation of his monastery, in order to propitiate the spirits of the soil, who demolished by night what was built during the day.




London Bridge Is Falling Down

Irish-American

London Bridge is falling down, etc.,
My fair lady! How shall we build it up again? -- br> Build it up with lime and stone. --
Stone and lime would wash away. --
Build it up with iron bars. --
Iron bars would bend and break. --
Build it up with gold and silver. --
Gold and silver would be stole away. --
Get a watch to watch all night. --
Suppose the watch should fall asleep? --
Get him a pipe to smoke all night. --
Suppose the pipe should fall and break? --
Get a dog to bark all night. --
Suppose the dog should get a bone? --
Get a cock to crow all night. --
Suppose the cock should fly away? --
What has this poor prisoner done? --
He's broke my box and stole my keys. --
A hundred pounds will set him free. --
A hundred pounds he has not got. --
Off to prison he must go. --
My fair lady!



Story of the Bridge

Turkey (Gypsy)

In olden days there were twelve brothers And the eldest brother, the carpenter Manoli, was making the long bridge. One side he makes; one side falls. The twelve brothers had one mistress, and they all had to do with her.

The called her to them, "Dear bride."

On her head was a tray. In her hands was a child. Whoseso wife came first. She will come to the twelve brothers.

Said his wife, "Thou hast not eaten bread with me. What has befallen thee that thou eatest not bread with me? My ring has fallen into the water. Go and fetch my ring."

Her husband said, "I will fetch thy ring out of the water." Up to his two breasts came the water in the depth of the bridge there. He came into the fountain. He was drowned. Beneath, he became a talisman, the innermost foundation of the bridge. Manoli's eyes became the great open arch of the bridge.

"God send a wind to blow, that the tray may fall from the head of her who bears it in front of Lénga."

A snake crept out before Lénga, and she feared, and said, "Now have I fear at sight of the snake, and I am sick. Now is it not bad for my children?"

Another man seized her, and sought to drown her, Manoli's wife.

She said, "Drown me not in the water. I have little children."

She bowed herself over the sea, where the carpenter Manoli made the bridge. Another man called Manoli's wife. With him she went on the road. There, when they went on the road, he went to the tavern. He was weary. The man went, drank the juice of the grape, got drunk. Before getting home, he killed Manoli's wife, Lénga.




Rumors of Foundation Sacrifice

India

The Publicity Bureau has issued the following note:
Foolish rumors have been about Madras now for a week to the effect that a child was to be sacrificed at the site of the new bridge. The rumors apparently took their rise in the fact that one Muhammadan and three Hindu children have been missing in Madras and have not yet been traced, though the circumstances attending their disappearance did not suggest foul play.

But once rumor had got about, false alarms began to be raised whenever a child slipped out of sight for a few minutes. Thus people's minds became excited and they fell into a panic. As a result, in the last two days several innocent people have been savagely assulted by excited crowds in different parts of the town, having come under suspicion for perfectly innocent actions. Thus, one man seen carrying his own child on a motorcycle was stopped and assulted. A person appears to have been beaten to death.

The Commissioner of Police has taken all possible steps to restore confidence, and the Coproration has been invited to assist. It is hoped that all members of the public will help in allaying this foolish panic which has already had such tragic consequences. Investigations show no reason to suppose that any gang of kidnappers is at work in Madras. To calm the public alarm special precautions are being taken and special vigilance is being exercised.




How the Cannibals Drove the People from Insofan Mountain to the Cross River (Ikom)

Nigeria

Very many years ago, before the oldest man alive at the present time can remember, the towns of Ikom, Okuni, Abijon, Insofan, Obokum, and all the other Injor towns were situated round and near the Insofan Mountain, and the head chief of the whole country was called Agbor. Abragba and Enfitop also lived there, and were also under King Agbor.

The Insofan Mountain is about two days' march inland from the Cross River, and as none of the people there could swim, and knew nothing about canoes, they never went anywhere outside their own country, and were afraid to go down to the big river.

The whole country was taken up with yam farms, and was divided amongst the various towns, each town having its own bush. At the end of each year, when it was time to dig the yams, there was a big play held, which was called the New Yam feast. At this festival there was always a big human sacrifice, fifty slaves being killed in one day. These slaves were tied up to trees in a row, and many drums were beaten; then a strong man, armed with a sharp machete, went from one slave to another and cut their heads off.

This was done to cool the new yams, so that they would not hurt the stomachs of the people. Until this sacrifice was made no one in the country would eat a new yam, as they knew, if they did so, they would suffer great pain in their insides.

When the feast was held, all the towns brought one hundred yams each as a present to King Agbor. When the slaves were all killed fires were lit, and the dead bodies were placed over the fires to burn the hair off. A number of plantain leaves were then gathered and placed on the ground, and the bodies, having been cut into pieces, were placed on the plantain leaves.

When the yams were skinned, they were put into large pots, with water, oil, pepper, and salt. The cut-up bodies were then put in on top, and the pots covered up with other clay pots and left to boil for an hour.

The king, having called all the people together, then declared the New Yam feast had commenced, and singing and dancing were kept up for three days and nights, during which time much palm wine was consumed, and all the bodies and yams, which had been provided for them, were eaten by the people.

The heads were given to the king for his share, and, when he had finished eating them, the skulls were placed before the Ju Ju with some new yams, so that there should be a good crop the following season.

But although these natives ate the dead bodies of the slaves at the New Yam feast, they did not eat human flesh during the rest of the year.

This went on for many years, until at last the Okuni people noticed that the graves of the people who had been buried were frequently dug open and the bodies removed. This caused great wonder, and, as they did not like the idea of their dead relations being taken away, they made a complaint to King Agbor. He at once caused a watch to be set on all newly dug graves, and that very night they caught seven men, who were very greedy, and used to come whenever a body was buried, dig it up, and carry it into the bush, where they made a fire, and cooked and ate it.

When they were caught, the people made them show where they lived, and where they cooked the bodies.

After walking for some hours in the forest, they came to a place where large heaps of human bones and skulls were found.

The seven men were then securely fastened up and brought before King Agbor, who held a large palaver of all the towns, and the whole situation was discussed.

Agbor said that this bad custom would necessitate all the towns separating, as they could not allow their dead relations to be dug up and eaten by these greedy people, and he could see no other way to prevent it. Agbor then gave one of the men to each of the seven towns, and told some of them to go on the far side of the big river and make their towns there. The others were to go farther down the river on the same side as Insofan Mountain, and when they found suitable places, they were each to kill their man as a sacrifice and then build their town.

All the towns then departed, and when they had found good sites, they built their towns there.

When they had all gone, after a time Agbor began to feel very lonely, so he left the site of his old town and also went to the Cross River to live, so that he could see his friends.

After that the New Yam feast was held in each town, and the people still continued to kill and eat a few slaves at the feast, but the bodies of their relations and friends were kept for a long time above ground until they had become rotten, so that the greedy people should not dig them up and eat them.

This is why, even at the present time, the people do not like to bury their dead relations until they have become putrid.




Return to D. L. Ashliman's folktexts, a library of folktales, folklore, fairy tales, and mythology.

Revised October 28, 2013.