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Women in the Viking Age

Quite a lot of information can be found regarding women during the Viking Age but unfortunately there is a lot of misinformation or misinterpreted information that muddies the water per say of what exactly Women did indeed do regarding a lot of aspects during that time period in Scandinavia and beyond. So I wanted to bring to my readers the best of the best sources to show due respect to what roles women had during the Viking Age which is very important to me.

Introduction

The majority of women in the Viking period were housewives, who managed the housekeeping on the farm with a firm hand. It is also possible that there were female entrepreneurs, who worked in textile production in the towns. 

Just like today, women in the Viking period sought a suitable partner. The sagas are filled with stories of women competing over who has the best man. However, love did not always last. So it was good that Scandinavia was a pioneering region when it came to equal opportunities. The Viking woman could choose a husband and later decide not to marry him after all, if she so wished. However, there were limits to the extent of these equal opportunities. For example, only men could appear in court in the Viking Age.

There is believed to have been a hidden moral in the sagas in relation to a woman’s choice of husband. The family probably wanted to participate in the decision-making. When an attempt was made to woo a woman, the father did not need to ask his daughter’s opinion about the interested male.  In cases in which the girl opposed the family’s wishes, the sagas describe how this often ended badly.

The woman’s reputation and place in society was connected to that of her husband. The sagas often describe how various women compete over who has the best husband. Young girls obviously knew what to look for in a prospective husband.

The Icelandic sagas give examples of how a strong woman could overshadow her husband. It was a dangerous balancing act. Sometimes a wife’s drive and energy could make her husband respect her, whilst in other cases the man lost his reputation due to a powerful wife. The woman’s reputation, on the other hand, remained intact. Women could achieve a great reputation and wealth. We can see this at the most magnificent burial of them all: the Oseberg burial in Norway.

The literature tells us that all rich married Viking women carried keys amongst their personal items. The key symbolized the woman’s status as housewife. Or was this actually the case?

This view can at least partially be attributed to the keys that have been found in rich Viking women’s graves, as well as the legal texts, which state that the medieval housewife had the right to the keys of the house. However, archaeologists find increasing numbers of keys, but these are not necessarily from graves. This indicates that the distribution and use of keys was relatively extensive. SOURCE

One of four sleighs found in the elaborate ship burial at Oseberg, Norway, where in 834 CE two women were buried in an extremely rich setting with many grave goods such as this sleigh, an intricately carved wooden cart and various textiles including fine silks that would have been imported. This burial is classed as royal or at least as an upper-class Viking Age burial; at least one of the women must have been of very high status. The two women’s exact relation to each other is unknown. The ship itself and this sleigh are displayed at the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo, Norway. / Photo by Helen Simonsson, Flickr, Creative Commons

The Elite

If some women were indeed involved in trade, this might conceivably have placed them in the upper rungs of society or least given them means and status. The Viking Age’s rich and powerful – a group which obviously was not exclusively male – peep through the gap of time and reach the modern world in a number of ways, such as the large runestones that were erected across Scandinavia, and burials ranging from just ‘rich’ to ones so over the top it leaves us no doubt as to the buried person’s importance.

Runestones – unsurprisingly, big stones covered in runes and ornamentation usually erected to commemorate the dead – were normally commissioned by wealthy families, the runes speaking of their endeavors in life. Not only can one imagine women being important within these families, some stones were actually commissioned by women themselves (either jointly or alone), leaving an “impression of high social standing of a very few women” (Jesch, 49-50). Runestones also illustrate how important the inheritance of a woman was to facilitate the transfer of wealth from one family to another. Furthermore, some richly furnished female graves (and even boat graves) found in rural settings hint at women possibly climbing to high social positions there. In this same setting, we have already seen that women might have ended up running the farm in their husbands’ absence.

Some 40 graves from Scandinavia and beyond have lent some credence to the idea, stemming from the texts and sagas related to the Viking Age, of the existence of female ‘sorceresses’. Seiðr is a type of shamanistic magic mainly connected to women in the sources, who could be vǫlva (singular: vǫlur): powerful sorceresses with the power to see into the future and mainly associated with a staff of sorcery. Similar objects have been discovered in Viking Age burials and have clear symbolic overtones, perhaps even – according to one interpretation – functioning as metaphorical staffs used to ‘spin out’ the user’s soul. These graves are often rich in terms of clothes and grave goods and include such things as amulets and charms, exotic jewellery, facial piercings, toe rings, and, in a handful of graves, even psychoactive drugs such as cannabis and henbane. How we might imagine these women’s roles in society remains mysterious. 

We also know of some royal female burials. Judith Jesch, mentioning the Oseberg boat burial (c. 834 CE) in which two women were buried in a lavishly decorated and furnished ship accompanied by lots of high-quality grave goods, explains how,

A few obviously royal burials that we have, such as Oseberg, cannot be mistaken for anything other than the monuments of persons with enormous status, wealth and power. Although they share characteristics with other Viking Age burials, they are really in a class of their own. (27)

Who exactly these women had been in life – queen and handmaiden, two aristocratic women related to each other, or otherwise – remains a puzzle but that at least one of them was of high status is beyond doubt.

Another woman of plentiful means was the late-9th-century CE Aud the ‘deep-minded’. She is said to have been born to a Norwegian chieftain residing in the Hebrides and married a Viking who lived in Dublin. After the death of both her husband and son, she took over control of the family fortunes and arranged for a ship to take her and her granddaughters first to Orkney and the Faroes, to finally settle in Iceland. Here, she distributed land among her retinue, became an early Christian, as well as being remembered as one of Iceland’s four most important settlers. SOURCE

This is the first book-length study in English to investigate what women did in the Viking age, both at home in Scandinavia and in the Viking colonies from Greenland to Russia. Evidence for their lives is fragmentary, but Judith Jesch assembles the clues provided by archaeology, runic inscriptions, place names and personal names, foreign historical records and Old Norse literature and mythology. These sources illuminate different aspects of women’s lives in the Viking age, on the farms and in the trading centres of Scandinavia, abroad on Viking expeditions, and as settlers in places such as Iceland and the British Isles. Women in the Viking Age explores an unfamiliar aspect of medieval history and offers a new perspective on Viking society, very different from the traditional picture of a violent and male-dominated world.

Did Viking Age Warrior Women Exist?

Stories of Viking warrior women are found in a number of historical documents, but several come from factually unreliable heroic sagas, fornaldarsogurA good example is Hervor’s and Heidrek’s Saga. After the hero, Angantyr, falls in battle his daughter Hervor takes her father’s sword and uses it to avenge his death by killing his enemies. There are similar stories of Brynhilde and Freydis, in Sigurd’s Saga and the Saga of the Greenlanders. But in each case the story is more about myth-making than fact. As well, these are tales of individual women who are highly skilled with swords and fight in battles, but give no evidence for a ‘community’ of women warriors, which the shieldmaidens are supposed to have been.

There are, however, more reliable historical resources. In the 1070s, for example, Adam of Bremen (chronicling the Hamburg-Bremen archdiocese) wrote that a northern region of Sweden near lake Malaren was inhabited by war-like women. But he doesn’t say how many women, nor does he clarify what “war-like” means. Were these women just zealously patriotic, bad-tempered, aggressive, or maybe even too independent for his Medieval Christian tastes? It’s hard to say.

Then we have the splendid references to ‘communities’ of shieldmaidens found in the works of 12th century Danish historian, Saxo Grammaticus, whose writing is sure to make every modern woman livid. Keep in mind, Saxo was likely the secretary of the Archbishop of Lund, and had specific Christian notions about appropriate female behavior. He wrote:

“There were once women in Denmark who dressed themselves to look like men and spent almost every minute cultivating soldiers’ skills. …They courted military celebrity so earnestly that you would have guessed they had unsexed themselves. Those especially who had forceful personalities or were tall and elegant embarked on this way of life. As if they were forgetful of their true selves they put toughness before allure, aimed at conflicts instead of kisses, tasted blood, not lips, sought the clash of arms rather than the arm’s embrace, fitted to weapons hands which should have been weaving, desired not the couch but the kill…” (Fisher 1979, p. 212). SOURCE

Read more about this subject at Viking Warrior-Women Existed?

Viking Age Women in Archaeological Material

The archaeological material contains more male than female burials. Female graves may, however, be just as large and as richly equipped as the male graves, but the burial gifts are different. Female graves are equipped for female purposes. Instead of tools, weapons and hunting dogs, the women get household tools, textile equipment, jewelry and small dogs on their journey to the next life.

And – the richest Viking burial we know of is for a woman: The Oseberg Queen

The sagas have little information about the first part of the Viking Age. It is first and foremost the burials that can give us information about gender roles in the Early Viking Age. The deceased is in many cases buried with burial gifts that indicate what the individual did while he or she was alive. Nevertheless, we must face the fact that archeology can also give us a picture that does not match reality.

Let us see if archeology can give us a hint about the development in women’s status:

In the Late Roman and Migration Period, some centuries before the Viking Age, the tendency is that we several places in Scandinavia have more and richer female burials than male burials.

Male burials. The quality of the burials gifts seems to be reduced the older the buried man is.

Female burials. The richest burials belong to women between 50 – 60 years old. Thus; the status of women seems to increase with their age.

In the Iron Age, including the Viking Age, young girls were given away in marriage to create alliances between families. The most prominent gift a chieftain could give way was his own daughter. But – when we then see that the richest burials belong to grown up women, this strongly indicate that these women had a different foundation for their high status and power than just being a ”gift”.

First part of the Viking Age: (9th Century) the distribution between male and female burials seems to be fifty-fifty.

Middle Viking Age (10th Century): Only every 4th grave can be certainly classified as a female burial.

To conclude,
There are indications that women in the Viking Age had to achieve a higher status than men to get the kind of burial that shows up in the archaeological record. This may indicate that there was a decline in the status of women during the Viking Age.

Others believe that this may be due to changes in fashion, it may be that the oval broches that you normally use to determine women’s graves, gradually went out of fashion during the 900’s. Some have also suggested that the burnt burials at this time may have been more common for men than for women. SOURCE

A look at the Norse idea of the women warrior or shieldmaiden (skjaldmær) in the sagas, and the recent discovery that a Viking-Age burial containing weapons also contained the bones of a woman.

Further Resources

The Vikings changed Europe forever, yet half of them have almost completely disappeared from collective memory: the viking women. Quite unjustly so, as they played an important role in the world of the Vikings and performed extraordinary deeds. Viking women commanded ships and settled colonies. The two-part documentary gives completely new insights into a fascinating culture, about which it seemed everything was already known. Based on characters of the Nordic sagas, the mini-series displays the life stories of two Viking women: those of Sigrun and Jova.

‘Women at the Thing’, Nordic women in the Viking age. Coleman, N. & Løkka, N. L. (eds.). Scandinavian academic press 2014, p. 85-100

Women and Magic in the Sagas: Seiðr and Spá

Viking Age Women

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The Nine Herbs Charm

The Nine Herbs Charm poem is quite a fascinating piece that conjures words into Galdur (spoken magic spells) a mention of Oden or Woden and is still to this day in my opinion an important piece regarding herbal remedies utilized by practitioners of Galdur and Seiðr. So today’s blog post I want to share with you all the details, background and everything important to know regarding this charm.

“These nine have power against nine poisons. A worm came crawling, it killed nothing. For Woden took nine glory-twigs, he smote the adder that it flew apart into nine parts.”

— Excerpt from The Nine Herbs Charm

This tenth or eleventh century work is a collection of remedies, prayers, blessings and charms for humans and livestock (Pettit, 2001). Its 63 somewhat curious lines of verse and seven of prose have fascinated scholars of history, religion, literature and linguistics, as well as herbalists delving into the treasures of the past for knowledge and wisdom which might inform their current practice. The charm itself is difficult to translate and interpret (Banham, 2009), not helped by the corrupt nature of the manuscript text, where some words appear to be missing and certain lines may have been transposed (Cameron, 1993). It is complex and mystifying, perhaps deliberately tantalising, so that only the cunning may unpick it; the Anglo-Saxons after all delighted in riddles (Porter, 1995). SOURCE

NIGON WYRTA GALDOR

POPULARLY KNOWN AS THE NINE HERBS CHARM

The Nigon Wyrta Galdor (NWG) or, popularly, the Nine Herbs Charm, is an Old English healing spell—a galdor—intended to remedy a wound of some kind. The charm is recorded in a single manuscript, Harley MS 585 (ff 160r—163r), commonly known today as the Lacnunga (Old English ‘remedies’), which the British Museum dates to the 9th or early 10th century. The topics, themes, and entities the charm touches upon, such as animism, emphasis on the numbers nine and other multipliers of three, and the invocation of the Germanic deity Odin (Old English Wōden) stem from the pre-Christianization beliefs of the Old English.

Remember, Mugwort,
what you brought to pass,
what you readied,
at Regenmeld.

You’re called Una, that most ancient plant.
You defeat three, you defeat thirty,
you defeat venom, you defeat air-illness;
you defeat the horror who stalks the land.

And you, Waybread, plant-mother!
You’re open to the east, yet mighty within:
Carts creaked over you, women rode over you,
over you brides bellowed, over you bulls snorted!

You withstood it all—and you pushed back:
You withstood venom, you withstood air-illness,
you withstood the horror who travels over land.

Now, this plant is called Stune, she who grows on stone:
She defeats venom, she grinds away pain.

She’s called Stithe, she who withstands venom;
she chases away malice, casts out pain.

This is the plant that fought against the wyrm.
She is mighty against venom, she is mighty against air-illness;
she is mighty against the horror who travels over land.

You, Venom-loathe, go now!
The less from the great,
the great from the less,
until for both he receives a remedy.

Remember, Chamomile,
what you brought to pass,
what you accomplished,
at Alorford,
that no one should lose their life to disease,
since for him Chamomile was prepared.

Finally, this plant is known as Wergulu,
who a seal sent over sea-ridges,
to aid against venom.

These nine plants defeat nine venoms!

A wyrm came slithering, and yet he killed no one,
for wise Wōden took nine glory-twigs
and smote the serpent,
who flew into nine parts!
There, apple overcame venom:
There, the wyrm would never find shelter.

Fille and Fennel, a most mighty pair!
The wise lord shaped these plants,
while he, holy, hung in the heavens,
he sent them from the seven worlds, seven ages of man,
for wretched and wealthy alike.

She stands against pain, she stands against venom,
she is potent against three and against thirty,

against a foe’s hand, against great guile,
against malice and bewitchment
from animal and spirit.

Now! May the nine plants do battle against nine glory-fleers,
against nine venoms and against nine air-diseases,
against the red venom, against the running venom,
against the white venom, against the blue venom,
against the yellow venom, against the green venom,
against the black venom, against the bluevenom,
against the brown venom, against the purple venom,
against wyrm-blister, against water-blister,
against thorn-blister, against thistle-blister,
against ice-blister, against venom-blister.


If any venom comes flying from the east,
or any comes from the north,
or any from the west over folk!

Christ stood over illness of every kind.
Yet I alone know water running
where the nine serpents guard.

Now, may all plants arise,
seas ebb, all salt water,
when I blow this venom from you.

Ingredients: Mugwort, Waybread open to the east, Lamb’s Cress, Venom-Loathe, Chamomile, Nettle, Sour-Apple-of-the-Wood, Fille, and Fennel. Old soap.

Prepare and apply the salve: Work these plants to dust, and mix them with apple mush. Make a paste of water and ashes. Take Fennel and mix the plant into the boiling paste. Bathe the wound with an egg mixture both before the patient applies the salve and after.

Sing the above galdor over each of the nine plants. Sing the galdor three times before the patient self-applies the salve, and sing the galdor three times on the apple. Sing the galdor into the patient’s mouth, sing the galdor into each of the patient’s ears, and—before the patient applies the salve—sing the galdor into the patient’s wound.

What are the Nine Herbs?

The Nine Herbs Source: https://spitalfieldslife.com/2018/05/15/the-nine-herbs-charm/

A vast rabbit hole about medicinal healing, magickal properties, and numerology related to this charm and all its translations and interpretations exists, but we’ll get right to the point. Here are the nine herbs, their Old English names, their Latin binomial names, a few interesting points involving their history in herbalism, and lastly, the symbolism behind their corresponding number in the charm.

  1. Mugwort (mucgwyrt, Artemisia vulgaris): Mugwort is one of the oldest and most powerful herbs (one of our faves!). A potent herb for intuition, visions, and dreams, it is also antibacterial, a digestive bitter, and a relaxant. You will see it all over the side of the road in summertime. One is the number of unity and a symbol of the sun: a perfect starting point for this midsummer custom. 
  2. Plantain (wegbrade, Plantago major): Plantain was called “waybread” in ancient herbal texts for its propensity to grow where the earth was most densely packed: trails and roadways. It’s excellent for bites and stings and known for its superb drawing power. Two is the number of balance and duality and represents the waxing and waning of the moon.
  3. Lamb’s Cress (lombes cærse, Cardamine hirsuta): Also known as Shepherd’s Purse, or stune in Old English, and related to the verb stunan (‘to combat’), it is another strong antibacterial herb and also a diuretic. Three, as noted above, is poignant in pagan beliefs. It is sacred to the goddess and represents her three phases: maiden, mother, and crone. And you’ve likely heard the phrase “third time’s a charm”… Well, now you know where it came from!
  4. Nettle (stiðe, Urtica dioica): As referenced in our spring column, Nettle is one of our favorite herbs. It is abundant in our region and great for relieving pain and inflammation. Its energetics are cool and dry, which makes it a great restorative spring tonic, but its fiery sting is surely reminiscent of the summertime. Four is a very meaningful number in many mythologies and represents the seasons, the elements, the cardinal directions, the moon phases, and the tarot suits.
  5. Betony (attorlothe, Stachys officinalis): The Romans listed 47 different medicinal uses for Betony and believed that even wild beasts used it as medicine and would seek it out when wounded. In pagan beliefs, five is most prominently represented by the pentacle, a talisman that is directly used in magickal evocations and symbolizes interconnected life and eternity. It is also the number of humankind (five senses, five digits, five appendages, etc.).
  6. Chamomile (mægðe, Anthemis nobilis): Externally, Chamomile can help heal wounds, and internally, when made into a tea, is wonderfully calming. It’s often taken to soothe upset stomachs and menstrual cramps, and helps with insomnia. Its flowers also resemble the sun! Six is three times two, thus having similar attributes to the number three, but intensified.
  7. Crab Apple (wergulu, Pyrus malus): It is believed all apples evolved from the Crab Apple, the original wild apple. With ties to Christian beliefs involving the serpent in the garden of Eden, the Charm also mentions it just before the slaying of the adder. Seven is considered a spiritual number and corresponds to the psychic centers, called chakras. Also, more commonly, the seven days of the week (as well as the length of one moon phase). 

The eighth and ninth herbs of the charm, Thyme (fille, Thymus vulgaris) and Fennel (finule, Foeniculum vulgare) are mentioned together. Both are considered digestive herbs, and magickally, both are associated with protection, strength, courage, and the will to live. In some translations, Thyme is replaced with Chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium)but in either case, they both have a direct correlation to the god Woden and his power. Appropriately, eight is a number of power. It represents the sun and the eight sabbats (seasonal pagan holidays), and of course, the number nine completes the cycle. SOURCE

The god Wōden (the Old English form of the name Odin) makes a rare appearance in a small healing charm recorded in the 900s.

Further Resources

The Nine Herbs Charm
In Modern English

WODEN’S NINE HERBS CHARM from Lacnunga LXXIX-LXXXII

The Nine Herbs Charm

The Nine Herbs JSTOR

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Runestones of Scandinavia

Being someone who has studied the different variations of the Runes for years I have also enjoyed learning about the Runestones of Scandinavia. These monolithic stone carvings are believed started as early as the 4th century CE but the vast majority were created and raised between the 10th and 11th century CE in what would be the late Viking Age. These Runestones sometimes tell a story but mostly are a dedication either in Pagan context or Christian but some are a fusion of both. The thing I like most about them is how each is so unique from the next and I have several friends in Scandinavia who share videos and photos of them with Runestones that allows me to virtually tour these amazing pieces of Viking age history. So with that said I would like to dive into what they are about, importance and all there is to know about the Runestones of Scandinavia.

Runestones: Words from the Viking Age

Remnants of Scandinavia’s Viking past are scattered throughout the countryside of Sweden, Norway, and Denmark. Among the most intriguing are the stones covered in Viking runes that give a glimpse of the culture and society of the era.

According to the Swedish National Heritage Board, there are about 7,000 runic inscriptions in the world, of which roughly half are Viking Age runestones. Runestones were most commonly raised as memorials to deceased relatives and friends, but they were not burial markers. Instead they were often placed close to roads or other communication routes. The first runestones were raised in Sweden and Norway as early as the third or fourth century A.D., but most were raised during the later Viking period in the 10th and 11th centuries.

Runestones are the oldest existing original works of writing in Scandinavia. Originally they were written in a script consisting of 24 characters, known as the Elder Futhark (f-u-th-a-r-k being the sounds represented by the first six characters). Beginning in the early eighth century, this writing system was replaced by a revised alphabet, known as the Younger Futhark, with just 16 characters. Most of the runestones found in Scandinavia use the Younger Futhark. Although the standard version of this alphabet is the one typically used on runestones, there is also a variation of the Younger Futhark called short-twig runes that was used for everyday messages carved on wood. Continue reading HERE.

A girl with a teddy bear at a runestone in Söderby, Botkyrka. The inscription reads, “Sibbe and Tjarve had the stone raised in memory of Torkel, their father.” 1930. Source

The erection of the Jelling runestone by King Harald Bluetooth in the 960’s is usually seen as the beginning of this tradition, although the majority of the runestones were erected in the 11th century.

These runestones could be non-zoomorphic or zoomorphic in nature. Those that were zoomorphic had decoration in Ringerike style or in Urnes style. The inscription usually begins by stating who had the stone erected and in whose memory it was made. These inscriptions include both pagan and Christian dedications. Those with a Christian cross tending to be earlier in the sequence of Christian dedications, as if it were important to show that the person was Christian. Later Christian dedications tend to end with a simple prayer. SOURCE.

As I said in the beginning of this post that I have several friends in Scandinavia who share this passion regarding Runestones and one specific friend I refer to as my go-to friend in Sweden when it comes to this subject as well as Scandinavian Petroglyphs. She is known on Instagram as MooseLady and if you share this interest she is someone I highly recommend following. She is currently a Cultural Heritage History and Archeology student which makes her posts and even discussions in her IG story that more fascinating regarding the subject which really shows how well she presents her own studies of the Runestones. I also highly recommend checking out her Etsy shop which I own a few items from her.

MooseLady in her natural environment. Thank you for letting me use one of your photos.
Follow me on a tour around the most interesting Rune stones in Västerhaninge and Österhaninge where I live. Hear about the people and the lives of the Vikings who lived here 1,000 years ago, and why they raised the stones.
Vikings left runestones all over the world, but I decided to check out Uppland in Sweden, that has the highest concentration of runestones in the world!

Further Resources

Viking Rune Stones

Runestones in Scandinavia

Viking Age Rune Stones

Runestones

What’s New in Scandinavian Rune Stones

Viking Runestones

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The Lesser Known of Odin: Two Books

Today’s blog post I want to briefly discuss and share with you two books from my personal library that dive into the lesser know side and path of Odinn the Allfather of the Norse Gods and Goddesses. A lot look at Odinn as either this fierce warrior God or the cloaked wise old wanderer. Many tales of his light wisdom can be found in the words of the Hávamál and other works. What seems by most to be ignored or perhaps just not recognized is the “dark” or left-hand side of Odinn. This does not mean bad or evil but more of the other side of the path most cringe from. The more chaotic and primal side, which is where I am spiritually primarily. So when I came across these two books below I was absolutely fascinated by them both. They only gave me a deeper understanding of my nontraditional spiritual path specifically with how I have understood there was a side of Odinn I needed to dive deeper into. I have spoken on this for many years and that is the essential of balance in spirituality. If one only basks in the light they will be blind in the dark. To only remain in thee dark one will be blinded by the light. So learning this side of Odin and reading other’s perspectives regarding him is one I always highly recommend.

My personal copy of The Hanged God

The Hanged God:
Óðinn Grímnir
by Shanti Oates

Challenging former atrophied or outdated knowledge regarding Óðinn’s acquisition of the runes and the mead of poetry, this extensive and intense study revisits Hávamál, Vǫluspá, Skáldskaparmál, Grímnismál, Heimskringla and Ynglinga Sagas specifically, to unravel and reconnect crucial factors that collectively reveal a magical formula for rebirth and resurrection. These kennings have preserved the threads of mysteries pertaining to Rúnar entrenched in Taboo. Óðinn’s quest of discovery takes him through three historically attested trials as Rites of Passage that find parallel forms in other animistic traditions. His ordeals of Mound, Tree and Sacral Kingship together with an articulation of the role of Hamingja are hitherto connected. Continue reading HERE.

Get your copy at ANATHEMA PUBLISHING LTD.

My personal copy of GAP.

Gap: At the Left Hand of Odin by Askr Svarte

This Path is different from the standard, main-stream Right-Hand approach to Paganism because it does not recognize the positive evaluation of modern times and the modern reality surrounding us: its negative impact on the state of Norse traditions and its worldview is excessively large. This new Path does not accept the trunk of the teachings belonging to the Right-Hand Path, although without denying their expertise and contribution to the common cause. Thus, the Left-Hand Path attempts to open and question all that which until today has not been open to our tradition, that which is in the shade and is closer and deeper to the Iron Age we live in. This vision is based on known historical heritage and traditions, contemporary thinking and experiences, including some pretty interesting attempts to describe the Left-Hand Path in Oðinnism in the West since the mid-twentieth century.

Gap: At the Left Hand of Odin consists of three Mal (sayings, speeches from the Eddas):

• Sayings of the Gangraðr, on behalf of Oðinn Gangraðr – Advisor in the Path. In these speeches it is revealed the promise and the doctrine of the Abyss in Oðinnism, and we deal with questions of thinking and transgression.

• Sayings of the Vegtamr, on behalf of Oðinn Vegtamr – Accustomed to the Path. In these speeches instructions are given about the ritual practice in line with the spirit and the promise of teaching.

• Sayings of the Kvasir, in honor of the wisest of men. In these speeches one will find the texts that are not included in the main body, but that are one way or another connected with the Path, such as dreams and thoughts.

I purchased my copy published by Fall of Man and I believe is out of print which means you would have to find a second hand copy.

The history of occultism, magic and superstition behind the Left Hand Path. Arith Härger has a great Youtube channel.

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The Legendary Viking Berserkers

One of the most well known yet still much unknown warriors of ancient times are the Berserkers (Berserkr) of the Viking Age. These fierce warriors said to go into an animalistic rage and even trance like in ferocity would bang their axes against their shields and would even chew on their shields whilst gnashing their teeth. They are mentioned in the Sagas and even an account of one famous Berserker who held off an army at the Battle of Stamford Bridge. So let us now dive into the what is known and what is thought of these ancient Special Ops warriors of the North.

Hrolf’s Saga tells of the hero Bjarki, who takes on the shape of a bear in battle:

Men saw that a great bear went before King Hrolf’s men, keeping always near the king. He slew more men with his forepaws than any five of the king’s champions. Blades and weapons glanced off him, and he brought down both men and horses in King Hjorvard’s forces, and everything which came in his path he crushed to death with his teeth, so that panic and terror swept through King Hjorvard’s army…” (Gwyn Jones. Eirik the Red and Other Icelandic Sagas. NY: Oxford Univ. Press. 1961. p. 313).

Another Óðinnic quality possessed by the berserk is a magical immunity to weapons. In Havamál, Óðinn speaks of spells used to induce this immunity:

A third song I know, if sore need should come
of a spell to stay my foes;
When I sing that song, which shall blunt their swords,
nor their weapons nor staves can wound
….
An eleventh I know, if haply I lead
my old comrades out to war,
I sing ‘neath the shields, and they fare forth mightily;
safe into battle,
safe out of battle,
and safe return from the strife.
(Lee M. Hollander, trans. Poetic Edda. Austin.
Univ. of Texas Press. 1962. pp. 44-45)

The berserk was sometimes inherently possessed of this immunity, or performed spells to induce it, or even had special powers to blunt weapons by his gaze. Many tales say of their berserkers, “no weapon could bite them” or “iron could not bite into him.” This immunity to weapons may also have been connected with the animal-skin garments worn by the berserk. As we saw above, while in animal form, “blades and weapons glanced off” Bodvar Bjarki. Similarly, Vatnsdæla Saga says that “those berserks who were called ulfhednar had wolf shirts for mail-coats” (Ellis-Davidson, “Shape Changing,” p. 133). This concept of immunity may have evolved from the berserker’s rage, during which the berserk might receive wounds, but due to his state of frenzy take no note of them until the madness passed from him. A warrior who continued fighting while bearing mortal wounds would surely have been a terrifying opponent. SOURCE

The mushroom Amanita muscaria is known to have hallucinogenic properties and is theorized to have been consumed by Berserkers.

Viking berserkers may have used henbane to induce trance-like state

It tells of the exploits of King Hrolf and of his famous champions, including Bodvar Bjarki, the ‘bear-warrior’
The Lewis Chessmen, discovered in Scotland but believed to be Norwegian, date to the 12th century and include a number of pieces showing wild-eyed berserkers biting their shields.

Further Resources:

The Viking Berserkers Were Norse Warriors Who Entered A Trance-Like Rage During Battle

Berserker: Norse Warrior

Viking Age Berserkers

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Web of Wyrd: The Symbol of Fate Explained

I have been asked a lot lately about the more modern symbol used within the Norse Pagan community known as the Web of Wyrd so today I will do just that. The symbol itself first appeared in print in the 1990s but the term Web of Wyrd or spining the web of Wyrd (fate) can be found mentioned in several poems and Sagas such as the Helgakviða Hundingsbana I – The First Lay of Helgi the Hunding-Slayer, Darraðarljóð (Song of Darraðar) and Völundarkviða – The Lay of Völund. It can also be said that this symbol is made up of the entire Elder Futhark Runes which can easily be seen.

The first known appearance of the symbol occurs in German occultist Jan Fries’s Helrunar: A Manual of Rune Magick (1993, Mandrake of Oxford). Two versions of form A occur within the book: Form A.1. appears on the book’s cover, A.2. on its title page, and A.1. appears again on page 326.

The book itself contains a variety of references to English occult figure Aleister Crowley, typical of English language European occult circles in the early 1990s. While Fries’s book contains three instances of the symbol, nowhere in Helrunar does Fries mention or otherwise discuss it. Whether the symbol originates from this text or was otherwise known in occult (and modern pagan circles) at the time remains unclear. Continue reading HERE.

Wyrd is a concept at the theological heart of Ásatrú and Heathenry. For many of those who practice one of the modern forms of the Old Way, wyrd is a core element of worldview. It stands behind, runs through, and supports our words and deeds. It connects each individual’s present moment to her past actions and to the actions of those around her. It forms a constantly shifting matrix that connects us all as we move through our intersecting lives.

The word wyrd itself comes from the Anglo-Saxon. In the main volume of An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary by Joseph Bosworth and T. Northcote Toller, the first translation given for wyrd is “what happens,” followed by “fate, fortune, chance.” In the dictionary’s supplement, additional translations are presented: “what is done, a deed, an action.”

The Old Norse cognate for the term is urðr, which An [Old] Icelandic-English Dictionary by Richard Cleasby and Guðbrandur Vigfússon translates as “a weird, fate.” The same word is used in medieval Icelandic literary sources as the name for one of the three Norns who sit at the well under a root of the World Tree and “shape men’s lives.”

The Oxford English Dictionary entry for weird gives a wide range of definitions, including “the principle, power, or agency by which events are predetermined,” “that which is destined or fated to happen to a particular person,” “what one will do or suffer,” and “a happening, event, occurrence.” SOURCE.

Further Resources

The web of Wyrd, the matrix of fate (Skuld’s Net)

The Web of Wyrd Symbol, Meaning And Origins Explained

The Web of Wyrd

Web of Wyrd & Fate

The Web of Wyrd – Yggdrasil – The Tree of Life



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Njordr: Norse Sea God of Wealth and Sailors

Being a man of the sea myself I have always felt my strongest connections to the Gods and Goddesses of the sea and one specifically I wanted to feature today is Njordr (Njörðr in Old Norse). Njordr is the sea God of wealth (specifically at sea), the sea and seafarers. Still to this day in such places as Iceland where fishing is very much an essential part of life, Njordr is considered a very important God of the sea. Njordr is well know in the Eddas for his relationship with Skadhi. I have always felt Njordr is not discussed as much as he should so I compiled in my opinion the best online resources for you to explore.

Njorð is of the race of Vanir and is the father of Freyr and Freyja. He is the god of the sea. He calms storms, aids ships in distress, and causes favorable winds to blow. As with the other Vanir, Njorð is a fertility god, capable of providing good fortune in the form of safe sea voyages, wealth, and land.

When hostages were exchanged at the end of the war between the Æsir and the Vanir, Njorð and his two children came to live in Ásgarð with the Æsir. The mother of Freyr and Freyja was probably Nerthus, Njorð’s sister. Æsir disapproval of such practices prevented her from coming to Æsir with the rest of the family. Later, Njorð married a second time. Snorri Sturluson tells the story in Skáldskaparmál.

When Þjazi, the giant who kidnapped Idun, did not return home after giving chase to Idun and her rescuer Loki, Þjazi’s daughter Skadi began to worry for his safety. Soon, she realized that he must be dead. Swearing vengeance, she took up her father’s arms and traveled to Ásgarð.

Heimdall saw her approach and sounded a warning. Several of the gods went out to meet her. Having no wish to prolong the feud, the gods asked if she would accept wergild (gold as payment for her father’s death).

Skadi said she would settle instead for a husband of her choice from amongst the gods. The gods agreed, provided that Skadi chose her husband by looking only at his feet. Continue reading HERE.

Njörd’s desire of the Sea (1908) by W. G. Collingwood
Njord Sea God Norse Mythology

Ship Herd

The gulls bring word of you who widely fares

to tell the fishes where to find our net;

they’ve come from Noatun to claim their shares,

like you at home both in the dry and wet.

Within your waters play the Sisters Nine

who bask in rising Sunna’s brilliant blush,

as waves frolic in the golden shine

until the purple nightfall’s gentle hush.

O tranquil Lord of seven surging seas,

send wind to fill our sails, and grant us all

to pass to our ports with grace and ease

over the depths of Ran’s and Aegir’s Hall.

And let us in the midst of storms be stout,

firm as an anchor in the shifting sands,

that change and stay the same, tide in, tide out,

beneath your briny realm that bounds the lands.

© 2009 Michaela Macha of Odin’s Gifts

Further Resources

Njordr Online Shrine

Njord

Norrøn mytologi Njord

Njord: The Tumultuous Marriage of a Norse God of the Sea and a Goddess Giantess

Norse Mythology for Smart People: Njord

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Encyclopedia of Norse and Germanic Folklore

It has been a while since I posted a book recommendation so here we go with this true literature gem. Encyclopedia of Norse and Germanic Folklore, Mythology and Magic by Claude Lecouteux is a book filled with such great details and images it is one I refer to often as a great resource. Not only does this encyclopedia give brief yet detailed descriptions of every know God and Goddess of the Norse and Germanic pantheons but also of places, creatures and other things from the Böxenwolf, the Werewolves of Northern Germany, to the Goddess Sinthgunt, Goddess of the Cosmos and time, plus so much more. This brilliant book is one I highly recommend for the personal library of anyone who has interest in this subject.

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Úlfheðnar: The Wolf Spirit Warriors

The Úlfheðnar (Ulfhednar) from Viking age history was actually chronicled during the Viking Age and they have been described with definite specifics. A fascinating “Special Forces” of the Viking forces during raids and even on homelands these warriors were said to have a spiritual ability to shapeshift into Wolves. Many like to adopt the title of Úlfheðnar in modern times but my personal opinion is that is as ridiculous as someone calling themselves a modern Viking. I will expand on this opinion in a future Blog post. Now I for one am of the Wolf Spirit animal kind and give much respect to that which is why I feel this post must be looked upon as what once was and preserved with due respect.

The oldest extended description of Viking beast men comes from a 9th-century poem called Haraldskvæði, describing the army of Harald Fair-Hair:

   I’ll ask of the berserks, you tasters of blood,
   Those intrepid heroes, how are they treated,
   Those who wade out into battle?
   Wolf-skinned they are called. In battle
   They bear bloody shields.
   Red with blood are their spears when they come to fight.
   They form a closed group.
   The prince in his wisdom puts trust in such men
   Who hack through enemy shields.

The four Torslunda plates, Knut Stjerna (1874–1909) – Knut Stjerna, “Hjälmar och svärd i Beovulf” (1903)

The Ulfhednar wore wolfskins (Wolf-shirts, vargstakkar) over coats of mail, and unlike the Berserkers, who fought as squads, entered combat singly as guerrilla fighters. There were also the Ulfhamir, the wolf-shirts, who are believed to have fought, like the Berserkers, without armor.

Some had hammered, metal plates on their helmets used to magically protect them. There is a carving from the eleventh century showing these warriors. It depicts a wolf-mask with a human head looking out and armed with a spear.

Similar masks are used by shamans, acting as spirit receptacles when worn. One of the by-names of Odin, Grim, means ‘the masked one’ and the old Norse warriors wore a literally grim visage when going about their business.

The Ulfhednar used the superhuman strength of the wolf as their basis for martial arts. Their techniques were fraught with dangers, especially for the uninitiated.

From the Volsunga Saga we can learn some secrets about the Ulfhednar. Sigmund and his son put on wolf skins, agreed to follow certain rules when they fought, ‘They spoke in wolf-language,’ both understood that speech. The wolf-language is a form of ‘call’ like the Kiai of oriental martial arts, which has a momentary lowering of the blood pressure of opponents, allowing the warrior to strike. “The Beserks bayed…..the Ulfhednar howled!”

The tradition of the wolf-warriors is not just Nordic. A wolf-like cult is also ascribed to the Celtic race. From the Irish book, “The Wonders of Ireland”, “For by an evil craft they can at will change themselves into the shape of wolves with sharp tearing teeth.”

Feats of arms attributed to members of these warrior clans, and also others bearing names of wolf and bear, are legendary. The greatest Anglo-Saxon poem is about a wolf-cult warrior; “Beowulf”. Beowulf is a compound name composed of the Saxon fertility god, Beow and the wolf. SOURCE

Úlfhednar, Wolf Warriors

Beast Men: Berserkir and Úlfhéðnar in the Viking Age

Úlfhéðnar, Werewolves, Warriors and Winter Sacrifices

About Ulfhednar

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Uppsala – History, Legends and More

The Temple of Uppsala

Around the year 1070, Adam of Bremen described the great pagan cult center of Uppsala, Sweden in his work Gesta Hammaburgensis ecclesiae pontificum, the most famous source to pagan ritual practice in Sweden. It was written with the agenda of showing how barbaric and immoral were the practices and religion of the pagans, in defense of the still somewhat fragile position of the Christian church in Sweden at the time. Thus it cannot be read as an objective source to paganism, but rather as a strongly biased attack on paganism. Yet it is one of the only sources we have, and must make do with. The temple of Uppsala is described in the fourth book, chapter 26:

“This people have a widely renowned sanctuary called Uppsala. By this temple is a very large tree with extending branches. It is always green, both in winter and in summer. No one knows what kind of tree this is. There is also a spring there, where the heathens usually perform their sacrificial rites. They throw a live human being into the spring. If he does not resurface, the wishes of the people will come true.

The Temple is girdled by a chain of gold that hangs above the roof of the building and shines from afar, so that people may see it from a distance when they approach there. The sanctuary itself is situated on a plain, surrounded by mountains, so that the form a theater.

It is not far from the town of Sigtuna. This sanctuary is completely covered with golden ornaments. There, people worship the carved idols of three gods: Thor, the most powerful of them, has his throne in the middle of the hall, on either side of him, Odin and Freyr have their seats. They have these functions: “Thor,” they say, “rules the air, he rules thunder and lightning, wind and rain, good weather and harvests. The other, Odin, he who rages, he rules the war and give courage to people in their battle against enemies. The third is Freyr, he offers to mortals lust and peace and happiness.” And his image they make with a very large phallus. Odin they present armed, the way we usually present Mars, while Thor with the scepter seems to resemble Jupiter. As gods they also worship some that have earlier been human. They give them immortality for the sake of their great deeds, as we may read in Vita sancti Ansgarii that they did with King Eirik.”

The following is largely quoted, or abridged from the book Frey’s Offspring: Rulers and Religion in Ancient Svea Society by Olaf Sundqvist (2002) p.  94-136. Most of the evidence and copious examples have been truncated or omitted. Please refer to the original text for details:

“Gamla Uppsala is one of the most complex archaeological monuments in Scandinavia. The finds are sufficient for it to be considered a central place during the entire Late Iron Age. The mounds, boat-graves, traces of hall(s) and the wall to the north indicate the presence of a ruling stratum at least from the 5th or the 6th century. These finds, together with the phosphate values at the Eastern Mound and the Middle Mound, may also indicate ritual activity. Archeological analysis shows the site has been settled since the Roman period. It is an important site from at least the Migration Period up to the Middle Ages, though it may have experienced some troughs during the 9th century, after the hall on the southern plateau was burnt down.” SOURCE

Offering by Johann Lund 1831, depicting a horse being led to a statue of Thor for sacrifice.

Resources:

The Viking Age Temple at Gamla Uppsala

The Royal Mounds of Gamla Uppsala, Ancient Pagan Site of Sweden

Human Sacrifices?

The Temple at Uppsala

The Viking temple of Uppsala

Vikings in Uppsala

Pre-Viking Grave in Uppsala Reveals Ornate Sword and Jewelry