Saga Brief 1: The Blood-Eagle

In our first ever Saga Brief, we explore the legendary Viking torture ritual known as the blood-eagle.  It’s a brilliantly violent practice with a complicated, but fascinating textual history.  In short, it’s perfect for the boys of Saga Thing.

Blood-Eagle Scene

Whether the blood-eagle is a historical method of ritual torture and execution or merely a literary motif designed to thrill and frighten, this is some pretty horrific stuff. Dig in!

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Plus, we dive into a passage from a modern “what-if” fantasy/history novel with a cover straight from the glory days of SF cover art:


And, if you don’t mind a bit of violent play acting, have a look at this re-enactment to wet your whistle.

9 thoughts on “Saga Brief 1: The Blood-Eagle

  1. Somewhere in the episode John suggested that the Stora Hammars stone might feature an image of the blood-eagle being performed. I posted the image above. The more I look at it, however, the less I think it has anything to do with the blood-eagle. Me thinks we’ll have to revisit this issue in a future Saga Brief.

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  2. The only sensible position to take on the issue of the Blood Eagle is that there is no proof that it ever happened exactly as the sagas spell out. Human cultures have been frighteningly clever in devising various ways to torture and execute one another in order to gain revenge or to frighten criminals or foes. The well-documented practice of hanging, drawing, and quartering is even more complex than the Blood Eagle, for example, and the grotesque mutilation of Japanese war dead by American soldiers during World War II show that humans are capable of some pretty horrifying creativity when it comes to disrespecting the bodies of their enemies. So the Blood Eagle is plausible, just not proven. Most likely it is a highly effective literary trope that drew on kernels of truth in order to create striking and memorable scenes of horror.

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  5. I get a flash to the mexican aztec sacrifices: Cut open the chest of your victim with an obsidian knife and hold out the still beating heart to the sun… though it may have been exaggerated by the spaniards to justify their looting, it is still quite well documented.
    I think that bloodeagling as ‘Cut open the ribcage’ would be a real thing. The victim would as you say have suffocated early in the process, as in other disembowelling executions.

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  6. This “ridiculous novel” you mention is actually part of pretty intriguing trilogy of alternate history.
    Never judge a book by its cover.
    The other parts are “One King’s Way” (in which Shef continues his conflict with the Ragnarsons that survived the events of the first book, tours parts of Scandinavia and faces an emerging threat from the Easter Franks) and “King and Emperor” (in which an early emerging Holy Roman Empire, East Rome and Al Andalus play key roles).

    That said, I think the quality of the books did decrease a bit as the series progressed. The nature of Shef’s visions of the gods were left open in the first book, but later some passages make pretty clear that the gods exist and even act in some way to influence the world. I thought it did fit the idea of equal footing for Christianity and The Way better if all religious experiences are left personal and only seen through the eyes of the protagonists. I also feel Harry Harrison (and his co-author John Holm [=Tom Shippey]) did neglect a bit of research concerning the Berbers and Arabs of the Umayyads (for example they should predominantly be using straight blades, not sabers as far as I am aware at this point, wit curved sword being used by the Turkish peoples and areas further east). I also find it odd that they basically added Cathars (without ever using the specific name) to a 9th century Upper March of Al Andalus. That transplantation ignores all the developments that 300 years later made the emergence of Catharism possible and also ditches the connections to the Bogomils and the Paulicians. Given that the point of divergence in the story seems to be the founding the The Way by some Frisian chief who did convert to Christianity in our timeline some decades before the actual story starts, those temporally misplaced Cathars are pretty puzzling to me. The “trolls” don’t bothered me. Michael Crichton Eaters of the Dead (aka 13th Warrior) prepared me for that.

    Anyway, it is still a good read and quite fun, especially if one knows a bit about the historical and legendary events. All who can enjoy the Vikings show and suspend their disbelieve enough to have a 9th century Leonardo Da Vinci as the main character should be entertained.survived the events of the first book, tours parts of Scandinavia and faces an emerging threat from the Easter Franks) and “King and Emperor” (in which an early emerging Holy Roman Empire, East Rome and Al Andalus play key roles).

    That said, I think the quality of the books did decrease a bit as the series progressed. The nature of Shef’s visions of the gods were left open in the first book, but later some passages make pretty clear that the gods exist and even act in some way to influence the world. I thought it did fit the idea of equal footing for Christianity and The Way better if all religious experiences are left personal and only seen through the eyes of the protagonists. I also feel Harry Harrison (and his co-author John Holm [=Tom Shippey]) did neglect a bit of research concerning the Berbers and Arabs of the Umayyads (for example they should predominantly be using straight blades, not sabers as far as I am aware at this point, wit curved sword being used by the Turkish peoples and areas further east). I also find it odd that they basically added Cathars (without ever using the specific name) to a 9th century Upper March of Al Andalus. That transplantation ignores all the developments that 300 years later made the emergence of Catharism possible and also ditches the connections to the Bogomils and the Paulicians. Given that the point of divergence in the story seems to be the founding the The Way by some Frisian chief who did convert to Christianity in our timeline some decades before the actual story starts, those temporally misplaced Cathars are pretty puzzling to me. The “trolls” don’t bothered me. Michael Crichton Eaters of the Dead (aka 13th Warrior) prepared me for that.

    Anyway, it is still a good read and quite fun, especially if one knows a bit about the historical and legendary events. All who can enjoy the Vikings show and suspend their disbelieve enough to have a 9th century Leonardo Da Vinci as the main character should be entertained.

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  7. Pingback: The Blood Eagle - Andy Ternay

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