When it comes to the Norse Gods and Goddesses we see a lot of information and vast popularity with Valhalla and Freyja’s great hall of Sessrúmnir. Unfortunately it seems in my observation that most neglect or are unaware that many of the other Norse Gods and Goddesses have their own great halls such as Fensalir, the great hall of Frigga; Himinbjorg, the great hall of Heimdallr or even my matron Goddess Rán has Ránsalir plus many more. But today I want to cover the great hall of Thor known as Bilskirnir.
The largest hall in Asgard and one of the largest single-owner hall in all the nine worlds, is Thor’s hall called Bilskirnir. This single hall is larger than Valhalla and all the houses around it, including the walls. Bilskirnir is the equivalent of a small city. This hall has six hundred and forty rooms, not only filled with people from Valhalla but also with those who died in battle and were sworn to Thor. In it Thor’s guests also live there for a while, the servants of Thor and also Sif’s servants, even Loki dwelt there for a time. The walls of this huge hall are made of brick and stone and all the rooms are high-ceilinged and each room has windows that are constantly open to let the air in, even when it is raining.
Unlike what we are used to hear or see about Thor in out modern world perspective, Thor is the champion of Asgard, he is the god of the common people such as farmers, he is the protector of mankind and often wanders in the world of mortals and has mortals as guests in his own hall. Thor isn’t blond, he is red-haired and has a red-beard.
In this great hall also lives Meile, which most don’t know who this figure is, and in truth he doesn’t want to be known or be famous, but he is one of Thor’s younger brothers who seldom is at Bilskirnir, but can be found there once in a while.
There are two other denizens of this great hall, two other of great renown a part from Sif herself, the wife of Thor. These two are Roskva and Thjalfi or Thjalfr. They are the children of Egil Skytten, the midgard mortal, it is said that he had an affair with Groa, the giant sorceress wife of Aurvandil who is the first husband of Sif, and together they had a son, the god Ullr. So it is said that Roskva and Thjalfi are the sons of Egil the mortal and of Groa, which makes them Half-human.
There are many tales of how Roskva and Thjalfi came to live with Thor, the most heard one (summarizing) is that when Thor and Loki were traveling together, they came to a farm where they found this human family with two children. They all sat and had dinner together, they ate one of Thor’s goats but all had been warned not to break any bones. The children did it and as a payment for their disobedience, Thor took them to his hall to work there.
Another tale, not so often heard, is that Groa and Aurvandil were good friends of Thor and after raising the two children, they sent them to be fostered at Bilskirnir. Thjalfi became Thor’s page, accompanying him in many journeys.
Thjalfi is also the messenger of Bilskirnir and a guide for those who are wandering about Asgard and lost. Roskva helps in Bilskirnir and she is also a guide there, for this great hall is a confusing labyrinth.
Behind Thor’s hall there is a small hall (small compared with Bilskirnir itself) that belongs to Thor’s daughter Thrud, the sister of Magni and Modi. The land where Thor’s hall was built is called Thrudheim, in honor of Thor’s daughter and to show the love and pride he has for her.SOURCE
“The land is holy | that lies hard by The gods and the elves together; And Thor shall ever | in Thrudheim dwell, Till the gods to destruction go.”~ Grimnismal
The name Bilskirnir only appears twice in Snorri’s Edda. There he quotes the verse from Grímnismál and later in Skáldskaparmál quotes a skaldic kenning containing the name.
Þá mælti Gangleri: “Hver eru nöfn annarra ásanna, eða hvat hafast þeir at, eða hvat hafa þeir gert til frama?”
Hárr segir: “Þórr er þeira framast, sá er kallaðr er Ása-Þórr eða Öku-Þórr. Hann er sterkastr allra goðanna ok manna. Hann á þar ríki, er Þrúðvangar heita, en höll hans heitir Bilskirrnir. Í þeim sal eru fimm hundruð gólfa ok fjórir tigir. Þat er hús mest, svá at menn viti. Svá segir í Grímnismálum:
Fimm hundruð golfa
ok umb fjórum tögum,
svá hygg ek Bilskirrni með bugum;
er ek reft vita,
míns veit ek mest magar.
XXI. Then said Gangleri: “What are the names of the other Æsir, or what is their office, or what deeds of renown have they done?”
Hárr answered: “Thor is the foremost of them, he that is called Thor of the Æsir, or Öku-Thor; he is strongest of all the gods and men. He has his realm in the place called Thrúdvangar, and his hall is called Bilskirnir (“From the flashing of light”); in that hall are five hundred rooms and forty. That is the greatest house that men know of; It is thus said in Grímnismál:
Death is something I have been closely connected with since a young age and in to my military career it became even more a part of my life. I have been fascinated by the idea of the afterlife and what is possibly to be after we leave this realm. As I do not believe the pirated ideologies of the Abrahamic faiths which, to be quite honest, were taken from far older Pagan beliefs and then twisted for their own agendas. On my spiritual path many many long years ago I began looking towards the Norse Goddess Hel and since then she has been a close part of my life providing me with a sense of comfort with death. I never have looked or reacted to death as what I suppose the “norm” could be classified as. But that topic regarding me could be for a future blog post regarding death. Today I want to give honor to Hel by sharing with my readers this in-depth post regarding all there is known about her along with some various outlooks and opinions.
I Am Hel (A Song of Solace) by Michaela Macha
I am Hel the Dark One, and I will get you all.
Every man and woman must come into my hall,
the young ones and the old ones, and I will not let you go,
even if all the worlds should weep for you.
I am Hel the Beautiful, be greeted and come in.
Enjoy my hospitality together with your kin.
Your ancestors are sitting next to Balder in the light,
I bid you welcome – I am Hel the Bright.
We greet you, our lady and mistress of eternity,
you will unite us with the ones who went before;
with our friends and families we keep forever company,
Hel is one of the most misunderstood and misinterpreted Goddess aspects in history. She has been greatly perverted through the years by patriarchal domination and ultimately used by the early Christian church as a scare tactic to frighten the masses into “righteous” acts. To get the real story, we have to go back to the early Nordic people and look this death Goddess in the face.
According to Norse tradition, Hel is one of three children born to Loki, the trickster, and Angrboda, the giantess. Her body and face were described as half in light and half in darkness. She was half dead and half alive. Her face was at once beautiful to look upon and horrific in form. Her siblings were Fenrir, the wolf who would destroy Asgard during Ragnarok, and Jormungand, the Midhgard serpent who lies at the bottom of the ocean wrapped around the world with his tail in his mouth (it is he that holds the world together).
Hel is cast into the netherworld and becomes the ruler of that underworld to which souls who have not died in battle will depart. As thanks for making Her ruler of the netherworld, Hel makes a gift to Odin. She gives him two ravens, Huginn and Muninn (Thought and Memory). Ravens are messengers between this realm and the next, opening pathways to death’s realm.
Her realm is named for her, Hel or Helheim. Because She accepts all to Helheim, she also becomes the judge to determine the fate of each soul in the afterlife. The evil dead are banished to a realm of icy cold death (a fate that the Nordic people found much worse in telling than a lake of fire) and torture. This particular aspect of Hel’s realm was the basis for the Judeo-Christian “hell” to which sinners are banished and tortured for eternity. Unlike the Judeo-Christian concept, Helheim also served as the shelter and gathering place of souls to be reincarnated. Hel watches over those who died peacefully of old age or illness. She cares for children and women who die in childbirth. She guides those souls who do not choose the path of war and violence through the circle of death to rebirth.
Because of Hel’s special role in the deaths of mothers in childbirth and children of all ages who die, She has become, according to some sources, the special guardian of children. Mother Goose is believed to be based on Frau Holle or Frau Holda who is a kindly and wise, if slightly horrific crone who rewards the industrious and punishes the lazy. The goose aspect is from a legend tradition that says that snow is a result of Frau Holda shaking out her bed linens.
One of the stories involving Hel is the decent of Balder into Helheim. Loki arranged for Balder to die by tricking him into a rigged contest. Because the contest was hosted in Asgard, Balder could not return to that place in death. His relocation sent him to the only other realm for the dead, Hel’s domain. His arrival to Helheim was welcomed with banquet and festival, proof that not all of Hel’s realm was torturous.
Hel governs the world beyond that of the living. In magic, she makes thin the veil between worlds. Seidhr or Nordic shamans call upon Her protection and wear the helkappe, a magic mask, to render them invisible (like Hades helm of invisibility) and enable them to pass through the gateway into the realm of death and spirit. In divination, Her special symbol is Hagalaz, hail: The embodiment of the icy realm She rules. Hel stands at the crossroads in judgment of souls who pass into Her realm. In that, She is linked to Osiris and Isis as well as Hecate.
Hel has fallen from her privileged position as guardian and ruler through years of being represented as an evil, ugly entity waiting to devour and torture lost souls. Ignorance as used Her as a means of scaring children and adults into a supposedly righteous path (instead of allowing free will to guide their actions to do what is right). May we learn and dispel the slander of years by seeing Her for the protector, judge, and guide that She originally represented.
Correspondences of Hel
Colors: white and black Moon phase: dark/new Animals: owls, ravens Herbs/Flowers: Jasmine, evergreens, any white flower Stones: moonstone, quartz crystal, onyx, hematite, obsidian Aspects: change, compassion, death, reincarnation, just rule Wheel of the Year: Samhain and Yule Rune: Hagalaz – hailSOURCE
Hel is attested to in the Prose and Poetic Eddas, in Hemskringla and Egils Saga. She is mentioned in the Gesta Denorum, and her name appears on bracteates (metal disc jewelry) from the Viking period, in Skaldic poetry, and on the Setre Comb, a 6th century artifact. She is well-known by her anglicised name Hela.
Like Greek Hades, her name is the same as the place she rules, and the name itself means “to hide”, “to cover” or “hidden place” (Hades’ name means “the hidden one”). Like Hades, both she and her realm were co-opted, corrupted and perverted by Christian colonists. Hel is both a mythical and literal place, the latter referring to grave burials. The mythic location is said to be furthest north of Miðgarðr and at the same time beneath it, the Underworld. It is separated, like Hades, from the land of the living by rivers that are challenging to cross.
In the Eddas, her brothers are Fenrir and Jörmungandr, the children of Loki and Angrboða. She is tasked by Óðin to give lodging to all who die of sickness and old age – what is called a “straw death.” She is depicted as half beautiful and alive, and half blue, the colour of cold, dead flesh. Modern artistic portrayals go further, and depict her as part corpse, an image popular in both modern paganism and pop culture.
In Norse Paganism (as in all religions) there are numerous unsettled theories regarding life after death. Modern paganism makes it clear that Hel is as it was in the pre-Christian Germanic world: not a place of universal torment or unending suffering for the sinful dead. It is far more rich and complex, and far less sinister. Nowhere in the lore does it say that Hel is a universal place of suffering, rather it has been misinterpreted as such, just like Hades in Greek myth often is.
This original concept of Hel shines through the cracks in Snorri, as honoured guests Baldr and Nanna, along with their entourage are hosted with a lavish welcoming party, and there is no indication that they are anything but comfortable and free to move about. Hel is even warm towards them – a gracious hostess, as is Norse tradition. Continue reading HERE.
Hel by Patricia Monaghan I hear you invoked every day by those ignorant of your power: Mighty Hel, Oh Hel. Thus doe she endure, the forgotten goddess, never far from us, never quite erased, Oh Hel, dark mother, we always come back to you, always, Always.
Within the Myrkþursablót tradition, there are certain sigils and bindrunes that act as keys to the old wisdom. These runes would serve as good tools for meditation and seiðr for those who yearn for the power they hold… Yet again, given the nature of rune magick, these are but a few that have come to me in trance and practice, and are shared here to serve as a guide to those wishing to begin their workings within this tradition. The runes being an unorthodox and (for the most part) unstructured form of magick, it is best for the adept to eventually use those that come to them in moments of gifted inspiration to best develop a relationship with the essences being worked with.
The Hel Rune Spell represents the death giantess, Hel. Hagalaz is Hel’s rune, as she is the ruler of Helheimr. Hagalaz is pure strife, as well as the cold hail raining on bare skin. Þurs symbolizes her hrímþurs blood, Iss her connection to Gullveig as her daughter and her Nifl-essence, and a myrkstave Algiz as her place within the death trinity.
Since the dawn of civilization, humans have been looking at the night sky viewing the stars, constellations, planet alignments, the moon and more. The vastness of space has been intertwined into folklore, myths and stories of Gods and Goddesses all over the world. It is a subject I have been fascinated with for many years with my interest specifically focusing on star navigation at sea and the ancient Astronomy found in Germanic and Scandinavian history. So today I wanted to share with you some amazing resources on this very topic regarding the ancient and some modern interpretations of Germanic and Scandinavian astronomy.
Our understanding of ancient astronomy in Northern Europe has been limited because no record exists of the native constellations among the Germanic tribes in ancient times. They certainly did not know of the constellations of the south have become our standard ones today. However, it would be unusual to suppose they never had any, only that the knowledge of them has not come down to us.
Fortunately, the surviving mythology of Scandinavia has left us enough clues to allow us to piece together this forgotten knowledge of the past. At the time these myths were recorded in 13th century Iceland the people no longer believed in the old religion. However, even back during the Viking Age, before the year 1000 AD, when the religion was still strong, many of the beliefs held then seem already to have been understood only in abstract terms, while the naturalistic explanations they embodied went back even further.
It is now clear that the mythology of Scandinavia as we know it arose from a fusion of traditional local gods with several other more widespread traditions. While the myths attained their present form within the Iron Age, some elements and aspects of it go back even into the Stone Age, when humans were first trying to make sense of their universe. SOURCE
A group of German scientists has deciphered the meaning of one of the most spectacular archeological discoveries in recent years: The mystery-shrouded sky disc of Nebra was used as an advanced astronomical clock.
The purpose of the 3,600 year-old sky disc of Nebra, which caused a world-wide sensation when it was brought to the attention of the German public in 2002, is no longer a matter of speculation.
A group of German scholars who studied this archaeological gem has discovered evidence which suggests that the disc was used as a complex astronomical clock for the harmonization of solar and lunar calendars.
Unlike the solar calendar, which indicates the position of the earth as it revolves around the sun, the lunar calendar is based on the phases of the moon. A lunar year is eleven days shorter than the solar year because 12 synodic months, or 12 returns of the moon to the new phase, take only 354 days.
The sky disc of Nebra was used to determine if and when a thirteenth month — the so-called intercalary month — should be added to a lunar year to keep the lunar calendar in sync with the seasons.Continue reading HERE.
The Egyptians, Babylonians, Greeks, and Romans all lived far enough north of the equator that they could not rely on a fairly constant Sun-path over the year, as people in the tropics did, but they were not so far from the equator that the differing lengths of day and night made it difficult for them to use their “temporal hours”, even though their lengths changed somewhat over the course of the year.
Very far north (or south) of the equator, however, the difference between the length of daylight time in the summer is very much greater than in the winter. In parts of Scandinavia above the Arctic Circle (at a latitude of 66.5° North) the Sun does not set at all for part of the summer–it is daylight all the time. On the other hand, for part of the winter the Sun does not rise in these same areas. Obviously there is no point in dividing the daytime or nighttime into twelve sections if they are not taking place! Even if the Sun sets for only three of our modern hours in the summer, if one is dividing the daytime and nighttime into Babylonian/Egyptian-style “temporal hours”, the nighttime hours will be so short compared to the daytime hours that there is hardly any point in making the divisions.
However, even very far north (or south), no matter where the Sun rises or sets, the middle of its path is above about the same part of the horizon. That means you can always tell when the middle of the day is if you know above which point on the horizon the highest point of the Sun’s path is. Also, no matter how high the Sun is above the horizon, it always passes over the same points on the horizon after the same interval of time. Using these facts, the people living in Scandinavia developed a system of time-keeping quite different than the Babylonian/Egyptian system.
As said earlier, our modern system of time-keeping divides each sun-cycle into twenty-four hours, each of which is 60 minutes long. The Scandinavians divided each sun-cycle (sólarhringr, “sun-ring” in their language) into eight sections. They did this by dividing the horizon into eight sections (north, northeast, east, southeast, south, southwest, west, and northwest). Each of these sections was called an eighth (átt or eykt). 3 A place on the horizon which lay dead center in any of these eight directions (due north, due northeast, etc.) was called a daymark (dagmark). 4 The identified the time by noting when the Sun stood over one of these daymark-points on the horizon.Continue reading HERE.
While the Germanic peoples obviously knew the night skies and had names for the objects they saw therein, as Grimm goes on to comment, few of the old names have been preserved.
Snorri Sturluson’s Prose Edda says in Gylfaginning:
Þá tóku þeir síur ok gneista þá, er lausir fóru ok kastat hafði ór Múspellsheimi, ok settu á mitt Ginnungap á himin bæði ofan ok neðan til at lýsa himin ok jörð. Þeir gáfu staðar öllum eldingum, sumum á himni, sumar fóru lausar undir himni, ok settu þó þeim stað ok skipuðu göngu þeim. Svá er sagt í fornum vísindum, at þaðan af váru dægr greind ok áratal.
[Then they (the gods) took the sparks and burning embers that were flying about after they had been blown out of Muspellheimr, and placed them in the midst of the firmament (Ginnungagap) both above and below to give light heaven and earth. They gave their stations to all the fires, some fixed in the sky, some moved in a wandering course beneath the sky, but they appointed them places and ordained their courses.]
Vôluspá in the Poetic Edda expresses the same idea:
Sól það né vissi hvar hún sali átti, stjörnur það né vissu hvar þær staði áttu, máni það né vissi hvað hann megins átti.
[The sun knew not where she had her hall, the stars knew not where they had a stead, the moon knew not what power he possessed.]
Elsewhere in the Poetic Edda, the poem Alvíssmál gives a complex series of astronomical synonyms attributed to the various races of the Norse cosmos, but doesn’t name stars or constellations:
Þórr kvað: “Segðu mér þat Alvíss, – öll of rök fira vörumk, dvergr, at vitir, hvé sá himinn heitir erakendi, heimi hverjum í?”
Alvíss kvað: “Himinn heitir með mönnum, en hlýrnir með goðum, kalla vindófni vanir, uppheim jötnar, alfar fagraræfr, dvergar drjúpansal.”
Þórr kvað: “Segðu mér þat Avlíss, – öll of rök fira vörumk, dvergr, at vitir, hversu máni heitir, sá er menn séa, heimi hverjum í?”
Alvíss kvað: “Máni heitir með mönnum, en mylinn með goðum, kalla hverfanda hvél helju í, skyndi jötnar, en skin dvergar, kalla alfar ártala.”
Þórr kvað: “Segðu mér þat Alvíss, – öll of rök fira vörumk, dvergr, at vitir, hvé sú sól heitir, er séa alda synir, heimi hverjum í?”
Alvíss kvað: “Sól heitir með mönnum, en sunna með goðum, kalla dvergar Dvalins leika, eygló jötnar, alfar fagrahvél, alskír ása synir.”
Thórr said: Say to me, Alvíss, for it seems to me there is nothing you do not know: what is heaven called, that all know, in all the worlds there are?
Alvíss said: Heaven it is called by men, the Arch by gods, Wind-Weaver by the Vanir, by giants High-Earth, by elves Fair-Roof by dwarves the Dripping Hall.
Thórr said: Say to me, Alvíss, for it seems to me there is nothing you do not know: what is the moon called, that men see, in all the worlds there are?
Alvíss said: Moon it is called by men, the Ball by gods, the Whirling Wheel in Hel, the Speeder by giants, the Bright One by dwarves, by elves Tally-of-Years.
Thórr said: Say to me, Alvíss, for it seems to me there is nothing you do not know: what is the sun called, that is seen by men, in all the worlds there are?
Alvíss said: Sól it is called by men, Sunna by the gods, by dwarves, Dvalinn’s toy, by giants Everglow, by elves Fair-Wheel, All-Bright by the sons of gods.
The pagan Great Midwinter Sacrifice and the ‘royal’ mounds at Old Uppsala
At the end of the 17 th century, the farmers of Uppland were still using the so-called rule of King Aun, according to which the phases of the moon in the Julian calendar fell one day earlier after 304 years. Such displacements in the eight-year cycle took place in 1692, 1388, 1084, 780, and 476. The semi-legendary king Aun is considered to have reigned about AD 450-500 and t o have been buried at Old Uppsala. The three ‘royal’ burial mounds there have been dated to AD 450-550. These mounds are oriented in such a way that they could have been used to regulate the sacrificial calendar.
The importance of the Disting and the precise definitions as to when it should take place
The original meaning of the Disting was threefold; there should be: a great sacrifice for peace and victory for the king, a general meeting with representatives from all the Swedish provinces, and a major market (Granlund 1958: cols 112-115). At the general meeting, important common political decisions were taken, such as election of a new king or solution of judicial questions that not could be solved at local courts. The participation of the representatives was compulsory, and Christian representatives who refused to come because of the human sacrifice had to pay a great fine.
The dates for the Disting were linked to the phases of the moon according to an ancient rule preserved in medieval texts. Already Tacitus had pointed out that important meetings among the Germanic peoples must take place at the new or full moon (Hutton 1970: 149 [Germania 11]). In his Historia de gentibus septentrionalibus, written in 1555 during his exile in Rome, Olaus Magnus, the last Roman Catholic archbishop in Sweden, explained that the Disting was started at the full moon because the light from the moon facilitated travel to Uppsala during the short days at midwinter (Foote 1996: 203 [Magnus 4.6]).
The exact rule for determining the starting date of the Disting was given by Olof Rudbeck (1679: 68), professor in medicine at the university of Uppsala and a scholar with broad scientific interest: The moon that shines in the sky on Twelfth Day (6/1) is the Christmas moon and after this follows the Disting’s moon. This means that the earliest date for the beginning of the Distingwas 21 January (7/1+14 days) and the latest date was 19 February (7/1+29 days). The Disting started on the day of the full moon between 21/1 and 19/2, according to the Julian calendar. The corresponding interval for the beginning of the Disting in our modern calendar is 28 January-26 February. It may seem strange that this originally heathen rule was related to Twelfth Day, or the Epiphany, as in the rule for the start of the Disting in Magnus (Foote 1996: 203 [Magnus 4.6]). The explanation is that the rule for the dates of the Disting was related to the Christian calendar in the 12th century. At that time, there was a shift by seven days between the Julian calendar and our Gregorian calendar that is closely related to the solstices and equinoxes. This fact also explains why the Swedish tradition says that the night of St. Lucia, 13 December, is the longest and darkest night of the year. If seven days are added to this date, we get the date of the winter solstice at that time. This fact indicates that the pre-historic Swedish calendar was closely related to the solstices and equinoxes and supports the results found in my earlier archaeoastronomical investigations of ancient monuments in Sweden (Henriksson 1983, 1989a and b, 1992, 1994, 1995, 1999 and 2002).SOURCE
Observations in Eddic Astronomy How Passages in the Eddas Act as References to Constellations by Dr. Christopher E. Johnsen
The Norse Myths have a distinctive flavor all their own, but they also have many similarities to the Greek, Roman, Persian and Indian mythologies. These myths from other cultures have many well-known correspondences with the stars, whereas the Norse mythical tradition has a paucity of them, or perhaps it would be better to say that they have been intentionally hidden and the keys to deciphering these correspondences have been lost.
Astronomy, stjörnuíþrótt in Old Norse, is the science of observation of the stars – it seems that the ancients were very good at it. It is likely that the people living far North near the Arctic circle had a natural tendency to focus on observation of the stars since so many winter nights were filled with nothing but darkness and the stars above to observe, with little sunlight present around the winter solstice.
Modern astronomy’s roots can be traced to Mesopotamia, and it descends directly from Babylonian astronomers who in turn derived their knowledge from Sumerian astronomers. The earliest Babylonian star catalogues date from about 1200 BC and many star names are in Sumerian suggesting that the Sumerians were one of if not the first people to study the stars that have been observed in the archeological record or that they inherited an astronomical tradition from some unknown earlier culture. The Sumerians developed the earliest known writing system – cuneiform – whose origin is currently dated to circa 3500 BC. Baked clay tablets with cuneiform writing have been found that recorded detailed observations of the stars which led to the sophisticated astronomy of the Sumerian’s successors, the Babylonians. Only fragments of these cuneiform tablets detailing Babylonian astronomy have survived down through the ages. Many believe that “all subsequent varieties of scientific astronomy, in the Hellenistic world, in India, in Islam, and in the West—if not indeed all subsequent endeavour in the exact sciences—depend upon Babylonian astronomy in decisive and fundamental ways.” An argument can be made that this statement also holds true for the Norse astronomers of old and that they were continuing the ancient Sumerian/Babylonian tradition.Continue reading HERE.
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.
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
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
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, fornaldarsogur. A 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 Sagaand 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
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
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
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?
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.).
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.
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
Finland is a country filled with rich history, amazing people, fascinating folklore, great culture and a beautiful landscape. It is a country I have been fascinated with for many years for a myriad of reasons. Today I wanted to explore a period of time in Finnish history that is not discussed enough in my opinion and that is what was going on in Finland during the Viking age. The Viking age in Scandinavia and throughout Europe, North Africa and the Mediterranean had a huge impact. So The question is this, how was Finland effected during this period of history? Well that is exactly what this blog post is about.
Viking Age Finland is a topic which is rarely discussed when talking about Finnish history. In schools, pupils learn next to nothing about pre-Medieval Finnish society. Also, historians have been rather reluctant to deal with the topic in-depth in recent years, and so very few works have emerged. It is almost as if it were taboo.
Because of its remote location, Finland has always been a little bit behind in technological advances. The Bronze-age had just made its arrival, when in they already started to become out-dated in the cradles of civilization. However, during the iron-age, there were strong contacts with the Finnic tribes on both sides of the Gulf of Finland, as well as to the east and to the west. During the Viking age, the tribes of Finland were more or less at par in technological development with their neighbors to the west, east and the south. Differences between western Finnic tribes and eastern Finnic tribes of Finland become evident by the Merovingian period. Finland is commonly divided between Western Finnish Cultural Sphere and Eastern Finnish Cultural Sphere. The Pre-historic period of Finland stretched all the way to Swedish conquest in the 12th century, and in eastern Finland it stretched all the way to the late 13th century.
The entire area that is thought to have been possessed or controlled by the Finns during the late iron-age was most likely not a united province politically until the medieval times under Swedish rule. There appear to have been some key areas, which formed which are thought to have acted as political entities. The most important of these areas are the Turku-region, and the area known as Vakka-Suomi, which has also been referred to as “Kaland” in some historical sources. It is impossible to tell exactly how these areas were governed, but some educated guesses would suggest a very “democratic” style of decision making. The strong men of different villages would decide together on a common course of action, as no single leader was strong enough to dominate the entire province, very much like the Vikings are thought to have operated. One cannot talk of a nobility or aristocracy as such, but there are evident class-distinctions. These become evident when looking at the items found in the graves. As swords were expensive and hard to come by (as they had to be imported from over-seas), they act as a good marker of a wealthy and usually important person within the community. As mentioned earlier, the Finns of the Turku-region and Vakka-Suomi had a very good geographical location to engage in trade with the west, especially with Birka, as this had become a dominant (if not the dominant) trade-centre of the Baltic by the Viking age.Continue reading HERE.
There is evidence of both peaceful trade and not-so-peaceful conflict between Finns and the neighboring Vikings during this time, and Finland is thought to have been a regular stop for Vikings on their way east, with significant evidence of trade with the Viking trade center of Birka (situated near modern-day Stockholm) found in archeological sites in Finland and Sweden.
Finnish ports along the Baltic sea were thought to have been key factors behind the Norsemen’s expansions eastwards, and it is believed that individual Finns did take part of Viking raids and expeditions.
Furthermore the island of Åland was considered an important Viking port at the time, and it was considered to be Finnish back then too. The Norse also acquired important knowledge about the Russian lands from the Finns, which is thought to have been crucial information enabling their future eastern endeavors.SOURCE
The Ålandic mystery
Åland has been ”a contact zone between Finnic and Scandinavian linguistic and cultural groups for at least two thousand years” (p. 7). Recurrent themes in VAÅ include some ”mysteries”. Åland is conspicuously absent from Old Norse sources, mentioned only once, in Fundinn Noregr (The discovery of Norway); but there it appears in an accurate itinerary, indicating familiarity, as Schalin with Frog point out (pp. 277–278). The lack of place names in Åland older than the late Viking Age and the dearth of artifacts from the late 10th through the 11th century have been taken as evidence of a possible discontinuity in settlement near the end of the Viking Age. Another mystery is the clay paw amulet, a grave practice mainly restricted to Åland, from which it spread to Timerëvo in central Russia. Frog focuses on this rite in relation to bear ceremonialism generally (arguing convincingly that the paws are more likely to represent bear than beaver), situating Åland between Finnic and Scandinavian mythological traditions.
Many contributions adopt indirect approaches to problems for which the evidence is minimal. Ahola, Frog and Schalin explain the methodological problems involved in trying to ascertain the language(s) spoken in Åland during the Viking Age. Aalto explores the meaning of the Norse ethnonym Finnr, which in addition to Sámi and (occasionally) the residents of present-day Finnish territory may have included Ålanders, even if they were Scandinavian speakers. Place names indicate that continuous Swedish-speaking settlement in Southwest Finland dates to around 1100 AD, according to Mikko Heikkilä. Schalin with Frog argues for Germanic etymologies for most of the older place names in Åland. Jomala, a Finnic name for ’god’, is likely an old name for the largest island, and may reflect a Viking Age borrowing of the word into Scandinavian as an appellative for Finnic sacred places (pp. 286–289).
Ahola discusses traditions in Kalevala-meter poetry associated with Saari ’Island’, which has sometimes been identified with Åland. Rather than indicating that these epic stories are based on historical events in Åland, as Kaarle Krohn thought, Ahola suggests that mainland Finns may have come to view Åland as a mystical place because of the valence of islands in epic tradition.SOURCE
When asked by people who are first diving into the spirituality of what is commonly known as Norse Paganism I always recommend the Hávamál, the Eddas and of course the Sagas. These I feel really can build a foundation for anyone interested in starting a spiritual path regarding this subject. But of course there are thousands of books regarding the tales of the folklore and the Gods and Goddesses of Scandinavia, many of which are in my personal library which will eventually be added on blogs posts here. But for now I want to focus on five books in my library so let us get to it.
A unique body of medieval literature, the Sagas rank with the world’s greatest literary treasures–as epic as Homer, as deep in tragedy as Sophocles, as engagingly human as Shakespeare. Set around the turn of the last millennium, these stories depict with an astonishingly modern realism the lives and deeds of the Norse men and women who first settled Iceland and of their descendants, who ventured further west–to Greenland and, ultimately, the coast of North America itself.
The ten Sagas and seven shorter tales in this volume include the celebrated “Vinland Sagas,” which recount Leif Eiriksson’s pioneering voyage to the New World and contain the oldest descriptions of the North American continent.Get your copy HERE.
Popular in the 19th century for its sweeping, adventurous, romantic plot and tender love story, the Saga of Fridthjof the Bold was largely neglected in the 20th century. Now, a new and fresh translation of both versions of this Old Norse saga restores it to glory. Also included is the swashbuckling Saga of Thorstein Vikingsson, the father of the hero Fridthjof; the Tale of King Vikar, telling of Fridthjof’s descendants; and plenty of notes and commentary giving the saga’s historical and cultural background. These tales of adventure, war, magic, and love can still thrill the heart today, as they did centuries ago.Get your copy HERE.
The Norwegian island of Hrafnista was long remembered in medieval Iceland as the ancestral home of a family of powerful chieftains, who were said to have faced and triumphed over dangers ranging from tyrant kings, to storms and famines, to giants, dragons, and sorcery. Descendants of these Men of Hrafnista settled in Iceland and gave rise to prominent families, who passed on tales of their ancestors for generations until they were written down. For the first time, the Old Norse sagas of the Men of Hrafnista—the Saga of Ketil Salmon, the Saga of Grim Shaggy-Cheek, the Saga of Arrow-Odd, and the Saga of An Bow-Bender—have been collected in one volume, in English translation. Enter the world of Viking legend and lore with these tales of high adventure. Get your copy HERE.
Huge in stature; living in far-distant wastelands; sometimes comically stupid or crude; but possessing vast wealth and knowledge—such are the giants of Norse myth and legend.
Four Icelandic sagas and six tales, spanning five centuries, are brought together for the first time in all-new English translations. All tell of mighty giants, and of the heroes who dared to face them, fight them, and sometimes befriend them. The giants and trolls of old still live on in these legendary sagas of old times. These tales of epic voyages, wars, and romance will appeal to both scholars of Norse mythology and fans of Viking adventure.
The sagas include the Saga of the Kjalarnes People, the Saga of Halfdan Brana’s Fosterling, the Saga of Sorli the Strong, and the Saga of Illugi Grid’s Fosterling.
The six shorter tales are: the Tale of Halfdan the Black, the Tale of Hauk High-Breeches, the Tale of Jokul Buason, the Tale of Brindle-Cross, an excerpt from the Saga of the Fljotsdal People, and the Tale of Asmund Ogre-Lucky. Get your copy HERE.
This gem may not be so easy to acquire as it is out of print as far as I know. My copy of Three Icelandic Sagas is a first edition published on Januray 1st, 1950 and is my favorite in my Sagas collection. The three Sagas told in this book are the Gunnlaugs Saga, Bandamanna Saga and Droplaugarsona Saga which all took place from the late 10th century to early 11th century in Iceland. The book is so well written and even includes some beautiful art depicting scenes from the Sagas. If you manage to get a copy of this first edition it is one you will thoroughly enjoy.
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.
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.
Ratatoskr maybe be only mentioned a few times in text but this mischievous Squirrel of the Yggdrasil is actually quite an important critter of Norse Mythology and is a personal favorite of mine. This is why I felt the need to create this post about this special Squirrel. Ratatoskr is a squirrel who runs up and down the world tree Yggdrasil to carry messages between Veðrfölnir, perched atop Yggdrasil, and the wyrm Níðhöggr, who dwells beneath one of the three roots of the tree.
Ratatosk is mentioned in the Poetic Edda, in stanza 32 of Grimnismal, presented with some context so you can see that the squirrel is described as just one piece of an essential part of the Yggrdasil.
31. Three roots there are | that three ways run ‘Neath the ash-tree Yggdrasil; ‘Neath the first lives Hel, | ‘neath the second the frost-giants, ‘Neath the last are the lands of men.
32. Ratatosk is the squirrel | who there shall run On the ash-tree Yggdrasil; From above the words | of the eagle he bears, And tells them to Nithhogg beneath.
33. Four harts there are, | that the highest twigs Nibble with necks bent back; Dain and Dvalin, | . . . . . . Duneyr and Dyrathror.
“What more mighty wonders are to be told of the Ash?” Hárr replied: “Much is to be told of it. An eagle sits in the limbs of the Ash, and he has understanding of many a thing; and between his eyes sits the hawk that is called Vedrfölnir. The squirrel called Ratatöskr runs up and down the length of the Ash, bearing envious words between the eagle and Nídhöggr; and four harts run in the limbs of the Ash and bite the leaves. They are called thus: Dáinn, Dvalinn, Duneyrr, Durathrór.
We often hear about the animal spirits that live in the great world tree of the Norse Mythology, Yggdrasil, the Eagle at the top, the Dragon at the bottom and in the middle the Squirrel named Ratatoskr/Ratatosk, which is said that he carries messages and occasional insults between the Eagle and the Dragon and to many other inhabitants of the area and also to the rest of the Nine Worlds.
Ratatoskr knows all about Yggdrasil and its surroundings, and also knows about all the hidden places in the Nine worlds, all the passages from one realm to another. This animal is a powerful symbol in the Norse Shamanic practices of old, it is the symbol that links each sacred being in the Norse mythology by peaceful means, avoiding trouble, avoiding unnecessary danger, he is also the symbol that links each realm, just as the Squirrel moves from one tree to another, silent, watchful, without drawing attention, discreet, always with eyes open, so too the Shamans of the Norse/Germanic peoples must do that when traveling between the Nine worlds, but also a lesson to take by all the others who must travel in this mortal realm, searching for food, a place to live, hunting, or whatever one must do into places he or she doesn’t know and where extra careful is necessary, always attentive, alert, for possible dangerous threats. Continue reading HERE.
I always find the animals among the Gods as a favorite of mine to study such as Ratatoskr, Hraesvelgr, Hildisvini, Huginn and Muninn, etc.Unfortunately in some cases very little is known beyond a few mentions in text. Today I wanted to share about one I really like which is Eikþyrnir, the stag of Valhalla.
Eikþyrnir or Eikthyrnir (Old Norse “oak-thorny”) is a stag which stands upon Valhalla.
Eikþyrnir heitir hiörtr, (Eikthyrnir the hart is called,)
er stendr á höllo Heriaföðrs (that stands o’er Odin’s hall,)
ok bítr af Læraðs limom; (and bits from Lærad’s branches;)
The stag Eikþyrnir stands on the roof of Valhall and eats from the branches of the World-Tree, here called Læraðr. Valhall appears to be depicted as a hall similar to the one described in Völsunga saga, ch. 2. Thus the stag, standing on its roof, can eat from the tree.
“Svo er sagt að Völsungur konungur lét gera höll eina ágæta og með þeim hætti að ein eik mikil stóð í höllinni og limar trésins með fögrum blómum stóðu út um ræfur hallarinnar en leggurinn stóð niður í höllina og kölluðu þeir það barnstokk.”
“It is said that King Volsung had an excellent palace built in this fashion: a huge tree stood with its trunk in the hall and its branches, with fair blossoms, stretched out through the roof. They called the tree Barnstock.” (Jesse Byock translation.)
1 Eik means oak but the Icelanders often used the word as a general term for tree.
2 Barnstokkr literally means child-trunk (Bairnstock), although it is not clear that this was its original meaning. In the passage the tree is called eik (oak). A few passages farther on it is called apaldr (apple tree), another general term for tree. Apaldr, however, may have a further symbolic meaning, possibly associated with the apple tree of the goddess Idunn. Barnstokkr may also be identified with the world tree Yggdrasil.
Eikþyrnir, the name of the stag, is most commonly translated as ‘Oak-Thorn’, and taken as a reference to its antlers.SOURCE