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Finland in the Viking Age

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.

Finland: the Viking Ages

  By Kristian Ola (Wilpuri)

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

Most overviews dealing with eastern Vikings have cast the Eastern Baltic peoples in a predominantly passive role during the large-scale Viking movement into the region. This book demonstrates how communication networks over the Baltic Sea and further east were established and how they took different forms in the northern and the southern halves of the Eastern Baltic. Archaeological as well as written sources indicate the impact these networks had on the development of local societies. In particular, areas along the northern Baltic Sea, both on the eastern and the western coasts, were characterized by a shared cultural sphere for warriors. Changes in archaeological evidence along relevant trade routes through these areas suggest that the inhabitants of present-day Finland and the Baltic States were more engaged in Viking eastern movement than is generally believed.
From Ancient Finnish Kings who ruled the whole of Northern Europe to savages living in dirt holes to the bane of Viking raiders, there are countless stories of Viking Age Finland and its inhabitants going around. How was this cold and remote country a thousand years ago? This animated documentary takes a look at some of the facts and theories of what Viking Age Finland was like.
Vikings spread terror across the Baltic Sea and beyond. But why they left Finland alone has been a mystery until now. There are several runestones describing grave military disasters experienced by Viking raiders in modern day Finland. What went so wrong for them? The answer is bloodcurdling.

Further Resources

The Viking Age in Finland III: Identity and Identification and the Viking Age in Finland (with Special Emphasis on the Åland Islands)

History of Finland: THE ERA OF SWEDISH RULE, 1150-1809

Fibula, fabula, fact : the Viking Age in Finland

Were there ever Vikings in Finland or Finnish Vikings?

Finland in the Viking Age

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Books of the Sagas

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.

The Sagas of Icelanders: (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition)

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.

The Sagas of Fridthjof the Bold
By Ben Waggoner

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 Hrafnista Sagas
By Ben Waggoner

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.

Sagas of Giants and Heroes
By Ben Waggoner

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.

Three Icelandic Sagas Gunnlaugs Saga Ormstungu – Bandamanna Saga – Droplaugarsona Saga Hardcover – January 1, 1950
by Margaret and M. H. Scargill (translators) Schlauch (Author)



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.

When we think of the roots of European civilization it’s to Greece and Rome that our thoughts turn. But there is a culture whose effect may be even more profound. Hundreds of years ago in faraway Iceland the Vikings began to write down dozens of stories – called sagas. These sagas are priceless historical documents which bring to life the Viking world.
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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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Ratatoskr – The Gossiping Messenger of the Yggdrasil

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.

Poetic Edda, stanza 32 of Grimnismal

Also Ratatoskr is mentioned in the famous book the Prose Edda written by Icelandic author Snorri Sturluson.

From Gylfaginning – Here Begins the Beguiling of Gylfi

“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.

The text by the animal reads “Rata / tøskur / ber øf / undar / ord my / llū arnr / og nyd / hoggs”. From the en:17th century en:Icelandic manuscript AM 738 4to, now in the care of the Árni Magnússon Institute in Iceland.

From Wight of the Nine Worlds

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.

Further Resources

Ratatoskr in Norse Myth

Thinking About Ratatoskr and the Spirit of Our Age

Grímnismál – The Speech of the Masked One

Mythology Ratatoskr

From the great Youtube channel called Mythology & Fiction Explained
This video I think was very well done by Zephyr’s Voice
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Eikthyrnir: The Stag of Valhalla

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;)

en af hans hornom (from his horns fall)

drýpr i Hvergelmi, (drops into Hvergelmir,)

þaðan eigo vötn öll vega (whence all waters rise)

Grímnismál

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

Further Resources:

Eikthyrnir – Mythical Male Deer And Heidrun She-Goat Stand On The Top Of Valhalla

Otherworld streams and rivers in Norse mythology

Eikthyrnir and Heidrun: The Stag and the Goat that Dwelled in Asgard

Heidrun and Eikthyrnir

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The Sacred Ritual of the Blood Eagle

The ancient ritual from the Viking Age known as the Blood Eagle is quite the popular subject in recent years since it was depicted in the television series Vikings. But was it a common practice? Was it reserved for only the “worthy”? How exactly did it take place and what evidence exists to expand upon this ritual? Well for that I have gathered some of the best sources and research online for you to explore and dive deeper into the legendary ritual known as the Blood Eagle.

The blood eagle ritual was a sacrifice usually done to a captured enemy. It was mostly associated with God Odin as it give homage to God for giving victory. There were several ways to conduct the blood eagle ritual. However, the typical blood eagle involved the back being slice open; the ribs slashed from its attachment and then pulled back by the executioner. The lungs were then drag to exposed ribs, creating an image of wings of an eagle, the bird associated to Odin. Sometimes, salt was sprinkled as the wounded back to insight further pain to the victim.

The lurid ritual was depicted in some poems, stories, and historical records. In the Poetic Edda of the 13th century, Lyngvi who was captured by his enemy, Sigurd, became victim of the blood eagle ritual. In another story from the Thattr Orms Storolfssonar, Orm drew a blood eagle from the back of Brusi in a cave. A historical record known as the Orkneyinga Saga from the 13th century depicted how Earl Einar did a blood eagle ritual from the back of Halfdan in the island of Orkni. But the most well-known record of the blood eagle was from a historically based poem of Sighvatr Poroarson, the Knutsdrapa. According from the poem. King Aella of Northumbria killed the legendary king Ragnar Lodbrok. To avenge his father, Ivar the Boneless attacked Northumbria. The forces of Ivar and Aella met in 867 in the Battle of York. Ivar luckily captured Aella. To satisfy vengeance and give homage to Odin, Ivar slashed the back of the poor Aella and drew a blood eagle from back of the Northumbrian King. However, many disputed if the interpretation of the text was correct or a result mistranslation. Nevertheless, many persist that King Aella was a victim of the blood eagle ritual… SOURCE

Expert medical theory on how a Blood Eagle was performed.
The Orkneyinga Saga as mentioned above tells of the Blood Eagle.

Further Resources:

An Anatomy of the Blood Eagle: The Practicalities of Viking Torture

Did the Vikings Actually Torture Victims With the Brutal ‘Blood Eagle’?

Executed: The Blood Eagle of the Vikings

Was Kildalton the Site of a Bloody Viking Ritual?

Torf-Einar and the Blood Eagle

King Aelle and the Blood Eagle: Ritual Sacrifice in Viking Age Britain

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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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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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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