Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Runes Part I

One of the most common myths about the Vikings is their barbaric and mindless brutality. Brutal, mindless, plundering, pillaging, murdering heathens do not encourage images of simple farmers that worshiped a God, Odin, who had given up his eye for the knowledge of runes. It is true that while raiding fear and terror were powerful weapons and there was glory in a warrior’s deeds but when at home the Vikings were farmers, family oriented and valued education.

The Vikings wrote, yes wrote, Poetic Eddas, Sagas, and entertaining stories and songs. Their primary form of expression was dramatic story telling and best stories and histories were written using runes. In runic writing the vary symbols had power and magic. Runes gave the ability to “draw sounds” and thus preserve the message for all time.

The earliest known appearance of runic alphabet contain a series of twenty-four angular runes called the Elder Futhark (2nd-8th Century), named after the first phonemic sounds of the first six runes.

The Younger Futhark (8th-12th Century) has only sixteen runes. The Younger Futhark became the prominent runes during the Viking Age while the Elder Futhark remained the language of the elite. The Younger Futharks became known through out Europe as “Alphabet of the Northmen” and any culture wanting to trade learned the runes for contracts and trade diplomacy. These contracts and contacts can be found in what is called Ogham of the Scandinavians" or the Book of Ballymote .

The Younger Futhark broke off into two forms during the Viking Age as language and regional influences developed the verbal and written languages of the Vikings. These two divided branches became known as the Danish “long branches” and the Swedish/Norwegian “short twigs.” The Norwegian branch developed into the Icelandic runes

The Danish Runes

The Swedish/Norwegian Runes

As the Viking world became Christianized the runes became “Latinized.” Additional symbols for specific phonemic sounds were added and were used mainly as decoration in many of the Scandinavian churches until 1850ish.

Go to http://www.omniglot.com/writing/runic.htm and check out the Lord’s Prayer in runes.

As the Vikings traveled and stayed in various places around the world the runes evolved. The Northumbrian Futhark from Northern England is heavily influenced by the Celtic language. As the Vikings settled in Russia and Turkey the runes became influenced by those languages and evolved into their own language. In every Viking settlement

archeologist have found countless artifacts from simple combs with “Helga’s comb” inscribed on it to sword hilts inscribe with runic prayer to the Gods.

One of the most intriguing uses of runes are the Runestones that can be found through out the Scandinavian world and wherever the Vikings traveled. The

tradition is believed to have started around the 4th century. These stones were erected as memorial to deceased men often near gravesites.

The tradition is mentioned in both Ynglinga saga and Hávamál:

For men of consequence a mound should be raised to their memory, and for all other warriors who had been distinguished for manhood a standing stone, a custom that remained long after Odin's time.

—The Ynglinga saga

When King Harald Bluetooth was baptized he erected large Runestones in memory of his parents. The inscriptions reads, “King Haraldr ordered this monument made in memory of Gormr, his father, and in memory of Þyrvé, his mother; that Haraldr who won for himself all of Denmark and Norway and made the Danes Christian.” These large Runestones have the earliest inscriptions and pictures of Christ. King Harald Bluetooth started a trend and for a generation after him every King in Denmark, Sweden and Norway had to erect their own Runestone.

Runes for the Vikings were a form of written communications. They were also tools of magic and divinations.

The Magic of the Runes-Part II

For further reading on the use of Runes see…

Runes, Alphabet of Mystery (my go to site) http://www.sunnyway.com/runes/links2.html

Viking Answer Lady. http://www.vikinganswerlady.com/VALArtAndLiterature.shtml

ARILD HAUGE’S RUNES http://www.arild-hauge.com/eindex.htm

Jonathan Dee The Runes An Illustrated Guide to Interpreting the Stones

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Did the Viking celebrate Easter or Eostre?

The Goddess identified with fertility, love and new beginnings are Freyja and Iđunn. Freyja, in Old Norse means “Lady”, represented love, beauty, fertility, gold, seiðr, and death. She is often seen or represented on a chariot being pulled by two cats. She was the owner (Why? I don’t know why?) of the boar, Hildisvíni. Her cloak made of falcon feathers invoked all matters of fertility and love. Freyja is found the Poetic Eddas that were written in the early 13th Century from earlier sources. She can also be found in the Prose Eddas and Heimskringla both written by Snorri Sturluson in the 13th Century. The Sagas of the Icelanders and the short story, Sörla þattr also mention Freyja. Scholars have theorized that Freyja and Odin’s wife, Frigg, may have origins as the same goddess in the Germanic mythology. Freyja’s image and name have been found throughout the Scandinavian countries especially in Southern Swden.

In the Poetic Edda written in the 13th Century by Snorri Sturluson, Iðunn is the Goddess associated with apples, youth and Spring. She is the keeper of the Golden Apple that keep the Asgard Gods and Goddess young. This also gives her the unique power to grant eternal youth. Like Freyja and Frigga, Iðunn is also linked with fertility. According to scholars, Iðunn is also linked with Germanic mythology. Apples have been found in early Germanic graves possibly representing youth and fertility. The Germanic goddess Nhalennia is also connected with apples.

Unlike Freyja, Iðunn, and Frigg,who are all mentioned extensively in the Prose Eddas, Sagas and name sakes, there is only one written sourced that mentioned Eostre. Eostre is Germanic, possibly Teutonic or Anglo-Saxon but not Norse. Her name is found in the Anglo-Saxon month of Eostur-monath which had given the name to the festival of Easter. The 8th Century monk, the Venerable Bede, wrote in his De temporum ratione that Eostur-monath was equal to April. This is the *only* documented mentioned of Eostre. No where else is she mentioned. It is theorized that the festival of “Paschal month” replaced a local goddess named Austron. Jacob Grimm in the 19th Century only found oral traditions to this goddess Austron but no other concrete evidence. There is a great deal of debate still amongst scholars whether or not Eostre was a mistranslation by Bebe or a fabrication.

So, simply put. No,the Pagan Vikings didn’t celebrate the Christian holiday of Easter. But, they did honor the Goddess Freyja and Iðunn. There is no evidence, yet, of them honoring Eostre. The Viking Age is considered to be between 793-1066 A.D. By, the mid 900 A.D. Christian missionaries were entering the Scandinavian countries to convert the “Pagans.” The Vikings often wore duel “crosses.” Sometimes they would accept a provisional baptism also known as “Prime-signing” but still call upon Thor, Odin and other Pagan gods if they felt Christ was quick enough to respond. Thus the crosses these Vikings wore were a cross between a Pagan symbol and the Christian cross. Followers of Christ were called White Christ" or Hvítakristr possibly due to the fact that newly converted Christians only wore white. It is possible that these early Christians celebrated a simplified version of Easter.

Bless Bless

Sunday, April 17, 2011

How did the Vikings handle death?

I have been pondering this question in the last week or so since my best friend past away a couple of weeks ago from cancer. His Service was held in a Lutheran church and it was a beautiful Christian ceremony. All of the Scandinavian, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, and Iceland, are Lutheran. When pioneers and immigrants came to the United States they brought their Lutheran faith with them and predominantly to the Midwest.

However, prior to the Christianization of the Scandinavian countries, which were the last hold outs to become Christian during the Middle Ages, the Vikings aka Norseman had a strong polytheistic and warrior culture. Despite their fierce out look on life they did fear death. Like many cultures around the world there were taboos regarding the handling of death and the dead. The Vikings feared that an improperly buried person would not find peace and would haunt the Earth and bring further down fall on the family or village. Yes, the mighty Vikings feared ghosts. The dead person could come back as a revenant or a visible ghost or animated corpse. It was believed that the revenant could return from the grave to terrorize the living. Another reference to ghost was a draugr or draug. It literally means “again walker.”

Extreme precautions and ritual were conducted to make sure the dead were properly buried and cared for in the after life. It was important for the Vikings to properly bury their dead so the dead could enjoy the afterlife. There are many archeological sites and references in the Eddas and Sagas. The 10th Century Arab writer Ahmad ibn Fadlan wrote a description of a funeral of a Swedish chieftain who was on an expedition, possibly down in Russia. There is validity in some of his writings, but since the movie 13 Warrior based on Michael Crichton’s book Eaters of the Dead ibn Fadlan’s writings and observation have come under scrutiny. I will encourage the reader to explore the controversies over this fun and exciting story. What is valid and concrete as evidence of Viking burial practices and handling of the dead are the archeological finds at the major medieval sites. Three locations community cemeteries or grave sites that were used by an entire community and are closely studied by archeologists are: Birka in Mälaren, Hedeby at Schelswig and Lindholm Høje at Ålborg From these three major grave fields historians and archeologist have been able to examine the Viking methods and also observe the transition from Pagan rituals to Christian burials.

The most common and most identified Viking burial is the ship burial. There are a lot of Hollywood and fantasy images of the great chieftain/warrior being laid to rest in the center of the his “flag ship”, all his worldly possessions laid to rest around him and the his “woman” being laid to rest next to him. Then a hail of flaming arrows set the ship on fire. The only concrete evidence we have this is through the Old Sagas, Old Norse Eddas, and notably from writings and observations of Ahmad ibn Fadlan. Of course since the boat and the body were cremated there would be no physical evidence.

Dramatic and beautiful-real evidence???? It is known that Great Chieftains and people of great status were given a real ships burial. The Oseberg Ship was found to have three women of great status and she is often referred to as the Oseberg Princess. However, the boat was not burned but sunk and/or buried.

The common and most rock solid evidence (no pun intended) of Viking burial are the stone ship burials. The dead were laid in the ground within a stone shaped boat and given grave offerings in accordance with the earthly status and profession of the deceased. These offerings could include slaves or commonly known as thralls. There is much controversy over the sacrificing of slaves since there is little physical evidence besides the eddas, the sagas and ibn Fadlan.

Grave goods were given to everyone even if they had been cremated. A thrall was given enough to enjoy the afterlife and not haunt his Master or Mistress. A free man was usually given weapons and equipment for riding. An artisan, such as a blacksmith, could receive his entire set of tools. Women were provided with their jewelry and often with tools for female and household activities. Warriors and Chieftans were given their swords, axes, shields and in some cases a horse. Several graves in Birka bent swords were found along side the male warrior. Some theorize that the swords were bent so they couldn’t be reused on the living. Piles of stone and soil were usually laid on top of the remains in order to create a tumulus. Even if the burial was considered expensive, the Vikings felt that it was worth the expense. The large burial fields were considered points of pride and status symbols. Runestones have been found in many of these fields and the largest concentrations of these runestones are found in Jelling, in Denmark. They were established by Harrold Bluetooth in memory of his parents and eventually for himself.

As Christianity became the prominent religion in the Viking era the importance of a proper burial continued to be important. It was frowned upon to cremate the dead at the time so many inhumation became a common practice. However, grave goods in the Christian graves are sparse.

The belief in an afterlife was important to the Vikings. They believed that their fates were already written by the Norns. It was how they would be remembered became important. The deeds of my friend in this lifetime will echo through out the ages.

Rest and feast well my friend.

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Norse Gods and Goddess!

One thing I have been remiss about posting on this blog is the Norse/Germanic Pantheon of Gods and Goddess. I just Googled Odin and came up with 79,100,000 results. Loki-surprisingly less at 56,100,000 results.

Who were the Gods and Goddess of the Vikings/Norse?

What we know of the Norse pantheon of Gods and Goddess come from the Sagas and the Eddas. Many of these stories and poems were written centuries later by Christian monks who put a bit of a Christian bent to the stories.

Snorri Sturluson(1179 –1241) was an Icelandic historian, poet, and politician. He was the author of the Prose Edda or Younger Edda, which consists of Gylfaginning ("the fooling of Gylfi"), a narrative of Norse mythology, the Skaldskaparmal, a book of poetic language, and the Hattatal, a list of verse forms. He was also the author of the Heimskringla, a history of the Norwegian kings that begins with legendary material in Ynglingg Sagas and moves through to early medieval Scandinavian history.

Other grand Sagas also give us insights on the Gods and Goddess. Like the Greek Pantheon, there are many Gods and Goddess in the Norse Pantheon. The main players found in Snorri's Eddas and Sagas are:

Odin ( Woden or Wotan) was the Father of all the Gods and men. His two ravens, Huginn and Munin (Thought and Memory) fly over the world daily and return to tell him everything that has happened in Midgard. He is a God of magick, wisdom, wit, and learning. He is also the chooser of those slain in battle. It is these slain heroes that dine with him in Valhalla. It's interesting to note that the Norse peoples also set such a great importance upon brainwork and logic. In was common practice to write poems with riddles and trickts for the listeners to figure out. To this day education is important in the Scandinavian countries. The day Wednesday (Wodensdaeg) is named for him.

Thor, (Donnar or Thunderer) was considered to be a son of Odin by some and others feel he was a much older God that was adopted by Odin. On many of the Saami (Lapland) drums there is a symbol for a “Thunder God.” Saami historians believe this is the original Thor which was adopted by the Germanic tribes when they moved into the Scandinavian countries . He is considered to be the protector of all Midgard, and he wields the mighty hammer Mjollnir. Thor is strength personified. His battle chariot is drawn by two goats, and his hammer Mjollnir causes the lightning that flashes across the sky. Of all the deities, Thor is the most independent of the Gods, even though he is loyal to the Aesirs, he enjoys living among man/woman. Thursday (Thorsdaeg) is sacred to him.

Freya (Freja) is considered to be the goddess of Love and Beauty, but is also a warrior goddess and one of great wisdom. She and her twin brother Freyr are of a different "race" of gods known as the Vanir. She is known as Queen of the Valkyries, choosers of those slain in battle to bear them to Valhalla (the Norse heaven). She wears the sacred necklace Brisingamen, which she paid for by spending the night with the dwarves who wrought it from the bowels of the earth. The cat is her sacred symbol. The day Friday (Frejyasdaeg) was named for her.

Freyr (Fro Ingwe) is Freya's twin brother. He is the horned God of fertility, and has some similarities to the Celtic Cernunnos or Herne, although he is NOT the same being. He is known as King of the Alfs (elves). Both the Swedish and the English are said to be descendents of his. The Boar is his sacred symbol, which is both associated with war and with fertility. His golden boar, "Gullenbursti", is supposed to represent the daybreak. He is also considered to be the God of Success. At Ragnarok, he is said to fight with the horn of an elk (much more suited to his nature rather than a sword.)

Heimdall is the handsome gold-toothed guardian of Bifrost, the rainbow bridge leading to Asgard, the home of the Gods. It is Heimdall who is to sound the signal horn to the Aesir that Ragnarok, the great destruction or transformation is beginning.

Frigga (Frigg, Fricka), Odin's wife, was considered to be the Mother of all; and protector of children. She spins the sacred Distaff of life, and is said to know the future, although she will not speak of it. She is a loyal and faithful wife to Odin and represents what an honorable and dutiful wife should be to the Norse.

The Norns (Urd, Verdande, and Skuld), are the Norse equivalent of the Greek Fates. It is they who determine the orlogs (destinies) of the Gods and of Man, and who maintain the World Tree, Yggdrasil. It is said that man can not change his destiny once it is woven. It is how one will be remembered in the sagas?

The goddess of the dead and the afterlife was Hel (Holle, Hulda), and was portrayed by the Vikings as being half-dead, half alive herself. The Vikings viewed her with considerable trepidation. The Dutch, Gallic, and German barbarians viewed her with some beneficence, more of a gentler form of death and transformation. She is seen by them as Mother Holle; a being of pure Nature, being helpful in times of need, but vengeful upon those who cross her or transgress natural law.

Odin's son, Baldur, the god of Love and Light, is sacrificed at Midsummer by the dart of the mistletoe, and is reborn at Jul (Yule). Supposedly his return will not occur until after the onslaught of the Ragnarok. He is married to the goddess of Joy, Nanna.

Ásatrú Religion

The religion of the Norse! Ásatrú is not Wiccan but many who are Wiccan do follow and respect the Norse Pantheon. It is a unique belief system with a strong code of ethics. People who chose to follow this path need to understand that the Gods and Goddess of the Ásatrú Religion are not roll playing characters or fantasy creatures. It is about family and life.

For more information on Asatru check out: http://www.irminsul.org/as/asw.html

The Noble Virtues:

  • Boldness/Courage/Bravery
  • Truth
  • Honor
  • Troth/Fidelity
  • Discipline/Self-Rule
  • Hospitality
  • Industriousness
  • Free-Standing/Self-Reliance
  • Perseverance

Viking Health Care

The last three months have been rather rough in our House Drekka-lundr. Over the Fourth of July weekend I fell and fractured both bones in my left leg. It eventually required three hours of surgery, two plates and nine screws to put everything back into place. So, what would a Viking Mom do during the times of the Vikings if she had broken her leg? Did they have same or similar medical care as we do now? As a living historian those questions came up with our modern doctors and fellow historians.
Short answer is, yes, the knowledge for setting bones has been found archeological finds. Very little is known about exact Viking medical practices except for hints in the Eddas and Sagas. Women are portrayed prominently in the sagas before the Christian influences. One Saga in particular- Olaf’s saga Helga, a part of Snorri Sturluson’s Heimskringla, gives a rare insight to wound and trauma care. Check out www.vikinganswerladys.com/medicine for the complete Saga.

Herbal Medicine

Much has been written and documented about Arabic, Renaissance and Anglo Saxon herbal remedies. The books on herbal remedies were collected and complied by monks and nuns in the various monasteries and convents. Many of these monasteries and convents were the collectors and keepers of sacred and ancient medicinal knowledge. Surprisingly, very little is mentioned about Viking use of herbal medicine. What fragments remain on herbal medicines in Scandinavia comes from the Urtebogen or Liber Herbarum “The Book of Herbs” by Master Henrik Harpestreng (c. 1244).

One herb used extensively in the Scandinavian both in cooking and medicinal qualities was hvönn also known as Angelica (Angelica officinalis). The Saami used Angelica to preserve their reindeer milk. It gave it a lovely green tint but left a strong dose of Vitamin C.
Healing Deities

In the pantheon of Norse Gods and Goddess the Goddess Eir was in charge of healing. Eir is only mentioned in the Prose Edda compiled by the Icelander Snorri Sturluson.
Eir also had direct contact with the Valkyries. Not a bad idea to have someone powerful by Ones side to put a good word in for a Warrior. It is also said in the Eddas that Eir helped select those would live and aid the healer or those who would die. The original “Angel of Mercy.”

Runic Inscriptions with Healing Charms

The Sagas and Eddas mention in many places the use of runes as tools in healing. “Runa” means “secret.” According to legend, Odin hung upside from the World Tree, Yggdrasil, and prayed to the Universe for the gift of the runes. His price for the gift of runes was his eye. The word rađa implies a special knowledge, which means that the runes have to be understood or read by a magician or healer. Magic!

Interestingly enough not much was written down in the traditional manner, in Latin or Greek of the time, regarding medicine or wound care. There have been many artifacts found throughout the Viking World that have runic inscriptions. Check out Viking Answer Lady’s site where she displays a piece of skull inscribed with runes praying to Odin to make the pain go away. www.vikinganswerlady.com/medicine.

Now, there have been a lot of discussions with historians regarding what is “writing.” I am of the opinion that runes are a form of writing and communication. Now, just need to find that runic inscription that reads “Vikings did drink coffee.”

After talking to my own modern doctor, he believes that my leg would have healed but not straight. It would have caused a serious limp leading to eventually arthritis and other health issues. The Vikings were and are practical people and I am sure I would still have found a way to make sure the children were taken care of, the sails were woven, clothing made, the farm managed, food preserved, reindeer accounted for, bronze smelted and life would have continued.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Viking Age Beekeeping: Vikingatiden Biodling

Photo byMike Reddy's Skep

Viking Age Beekeeping: Vikingatiden Biodling

What we know of Viking Age beekeeping is closely tied with the mead production, the oldest alcoholic drink. According to the Viking Answer Lady, “Bees were raised in the most southerly portions of Scandinavia, most especially Vermland in Sweden. The rest of Scandinavia, including Iceland and Greenland, were forced to import honey.” The importation of honey made it an expensive food item. Mead, and alcoholic beverage brewed from honey, was highly valuable commodity.

Beekeeping, early apiculture, can be dated as far back as the Ancient Egyptians, Sumeria, Babylonia and Assyria. There are hieroglyphics of bees from the First Dynasty, King Qa (3500 B.C). The bee was used as a symbol for the king of Lower Egypt. It is theorized that the Cretans introduced beekeeping to the Greeks. Homer uses bees and honey in many incidents in the Illiad. Homer uses the illusion to wine as “honey sweet.” Oil and honey were placed at the feet of Achille’s friend Patrocles on his funeral pyre. “For the foods which men loved in life were burnt on the pyre.” There are many Greek myths related to bees. Usually, with Zeus angering someone and having a swarm of bees consume him for his sexual transgressions. A Greek myth that does involve Zeus, but as a child, was about the Kuretes. The Kuretes guarded the baby Zeus. Zeus was fed by bees with their honey. The bees or bee- maidens were called the Melissae. The modern name, Melissa, means “bee-maiden.”

The honey bee, the one we know and love, is indigenous to the greater part of Europe, and among the huge forest of Northern and Central Europe; Germany, Poland, Southern Sweden and Russia. Early European beekeepers watched for wild hives. Eventually, artificial hives made from hollow tree trunks were created. Clay pots were also known to be used. In Egypt clay hives are still used. In time, skeps were formed from coiled domes of straw. The term skep comes from the Anglo-Saxon word skeppa; meaning basket. It is this image of the coiled skeps we have the visual representation of a “beehive.” The earliest archaeological remains of skep apiculture come from the Anglo-Norse town of Jorvik, modern York, England.

Unlike the modern hive boxes, skep beekeeping always resulted in the destruction of the bees and the hives. The bees would have been either smoked out with sulfur or drowned. Once the bees were destroyed the honey and combs were cut out of the skep. Honey was extracted by placing the combs inside of a bag and allowed to drain into a container. The second step would be to wring out the honey. Eventually, the bag and the remains of the comb were then steeped in warm water. It is this honey water that the mead was started from. The remaining comb and were then made into candles.

For more information in awesome detail check out Mike Reddy's Skep FA@ at


As my family and I continue to explore this new world we will keep you posted.
My public service announcement. Respect the bee. Don't fear the bee.

Bless Bless

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Skyr-Icelandic Curds

I will praise in song, edda, poetry and saga the beauty of skyr. While visiting Iceland four years ago, I discovered I was pregnant with my son. Skyr became one of my cravings and a way to reduce the massive heart burn that occupied the pregnancy. I was instantly hooked. Historically, skyr has been in Iceland since the Vikings arrived and settled. Like the language, the knowledge of skyr-making as been lost in the Scandinavian countries but remained a fixture in Iceland.
In Iceland skyr, which looks like yogurt, is actually fresh cheese. It is made with fresh skimmed milk which makes the fat content low. This low fat content allows the skyr to be eaten with cream/milk and sugar. This is one of my favorite versions. In Iceland it is also served with fresh or frozen fruits like crowberries, mango, strawberries, honeydew and blackberries. The traditional fruit served with it is blueberries. (Yum!)
When I returned home from Iceland I was disappointed to find no skyr in America! I searched every where and found some sources on line. My very patient husband had to remind me, in my very pregnant, skyr-craving-crazed mindset, that $200 a case of skyr was probably not a good idea and that I couldn’t possibly eat that much skyr.

I was delighted to find one day “Jo’s Icelandic Recipes” http://icecook.blogspot.com/2010_01_01_archive.html (current blog)
http://www.simnet.is/gullis/jo/Miscellaneous.htm#skyr (original site with skyr recipe)

AND to my delight a skyr recipe.

While in Iceland taking a tour of one of the beautiful farmsteads I did find an Icelandic copy of a recipe for skyr. At the time my Icelandic was not up to par so Jo’s was the next best things. As I danced around in delight, again with mega pregnancy brain in full swing, I had to be gently reminded by my patient husband that to make skyr required skyr or þéttir.

Jump a head four years. My longing for skyr never ended. I have tried many different versions of American skry made “in the traditional” methods. But, something was always missing. The texture would be off, the flavor would be off or it would be way too sweet. Most of these good people were using live culture sour cream or buttermilk as a substitute for the skyr or þéttir. To my delight I found the other day at the local health food store Siggi’s Icelandic style skyr! WOW! Real skyr! Check out there website: www.siggisdairy.com and www.skyr.com

My craving is now satisfied. I can now introduce to my now 4 year old son skry. He is learning to share with his 2 ½ year old sister.