Human Sacrifice in Legends and Myths

translated and/or edited by

D. L. Ashliman

© 1999-2002


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

  2. Buried Alive (Sweden, Herman Hofberg).

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

  4. The Entombed Child (Germany, Friedrich Panzer).

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

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

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

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

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

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

  11. London Bridge Has Fallen Down (a nursery rhyme from England, with commentary by Henry Bett).

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

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

  14. Rumors of Foundation Sacrifice (India).

  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.

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Aun Sacrifices Nine Sons to Odin


Jörund's son was called Aun or Ani, who became king over the Swedes. He was a wise man and a great sacrificer but no warrior, for he stayed at home in his land.

At that time when these kings who have just been named were in Uppsala, Dan the Proud was the first king in Denmark. He was now very old. After him came his son Frode the Proud or Peaceful, and after him his sons Halvdan and Fridleiv. They were great warriors. Halvdan was the eldest of them and the foremost in all things. He went with his army to Sweden against King Aun. They had several battles, and Halvdan always had the victory, so that King Aun at length fled to West Gautland [in the western part of Sweden]. He had been king in Uppsala for twenty-five winters and was in Gautland for another twenty-five winters whilst King Halvdan was in Uppsala.

King Halvdan died of sickness in Uppsala and was there buried in a howe.

After that King Aun came back to Uppsala when he was sixty years old, and he then offered a great sacrifice in order to have long life. He gave to Odin his son, who was then sacrificed to him. King Aun had this answer from Odin, that he should still live for sixty years.

Aun was king in Uppsala for another twenty-five years until Ali the Bold, son of Frieleiv, came with his army to Sweden again King Aun. They fought several battles and Ali always won. Then King Aun fled a second time from his kingdom and went to West Gautland. Ali was king in Uppsala and ruled the kingdom again for twenty-five years until Starkad the Old slew him.

After Ali's death, King Aun went back to Uppsala and ruled the kingdom again for twenty-five years. He then made a great sacrifice and offered his second son. Odin then told him he should go on living as long as he gave him a son every ten years and further gave a name to each of the districts of his land according to the number of those sons he offered up to Odin.

When he had offered up seven of his sons he lived for ten years till he could not walk and had to be borne on a stool. Then he sacrificed his eighth son and lived for ten more years, but now he had to lie in his bed. Then he offered up his ninth son and lived for another ten years, but now he drank from his horn like a baby.

Aun had now one son left, and would sacrifice him. He wanted to give Odin Uppsala and the lordships which lie thereto, and he had it called Tiundaland [the tenth land]. But the Swedes forbade him, and the offering was put off. Thereupon King Aun died and was buried in a howe near Uppsala. It was afterwards called Ana-sott [Ani's ailment] when a man died of old age without any sickness. Thus says Tjodolv:

At last Aun
In Uppsala
Began to feel
A long life
He should live.
Yet once more,
Like a young child,
When from the point
Of the ox's horn
The slayer of his sons
Drank lying down;
For the eastern king
Had no might
To hold up
The mead horn.

Buried Alive


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!"

The Höxter Ghost


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.

The Entombed Child


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."

The Entombed Child


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


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


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 Name Greene


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


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


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.

London Bridge Has Fallen Down

A nursery rhyme from England, with commentary by Henry Bett

The game London Bridge Is Broken Down, and the rhyme which accompanies it, preserve unmistakable traces of human sacrifice at the building of a bridge. There are many variants, but they nearly all agree in these suggestive particulars -- the bridge has fallen down, and attempts to build it up with different materials are all failures, whereupon there follows -- with an apparent lack of connection -- the arrest of a prisoner.

In Germany, for example, the game Die Magdeburger Brücke begins: "I want to go over the Magdeburg Bridge!" Then it proceeds: "It is broken down.... Who has broken it?... The goldsmith and his little daughter.... Let them build it up again.... But with what?... With chains and with posts...." Then the game finishes: "All creep through; all creep through; We'll seize the last!" (Kriecht alle durch; kriecht alle durch; den letzten wollen wir fangen!

In France, in Germany, and in Ireland versions of the game have been recorded which introduce the devil.

The essential part of the English rhyme is:

London Bridge has fallen down, fallen down, fallen down,
London Bridge has fallen down, my fair lady!
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 ...
Get a watch to watch all night ...
Suppose the watch should fall asleep? ...
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? ...
Off to prison she must go.
My fair lady!

The 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


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.

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Revised April 6, 2002.