Things not to do when you travel in time. No.238: don’t kill a Viking, then let yourself get captured by his vengeful son. The result is unlikely to be pleasant; in fact, according to a number of histories, it would probably involve your own gory sacrifice to Odin in an unpleasant and agonising rite known as “the blood eagle.”
Turn aside now if you’re reading this while eating.
At its most elaborate, sketched by Sharon Turner in the History of the Anglo-Saxons (1799) or J.M. Lappenberg in his History of England Under the Anglo-Saxon Kings (1834), the ritual involved several distinct stages. First the intended victim would be restrained, face down; next, the shape of an eagle with outstretched wings would be cut into his back. After that, his ribs would be hacked from his spine with an ax, one by one, and the bones and skin on both sides pulled outward to create a pair of “wings” from the man’s back. The victim, it is said, would still be alive at this point to experience the agony of what Turner terms “saline stimulant”—having salt rubbed, quite literally, into his vast wound. After that, his exposed lungs would be pulled out of his body and spread over his “wings,” offering witnesses the sight of a final bird-like “fluttering” as he died.