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:

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 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.

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” (current blog) (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: and

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.

Good Morning!

I am learning Icelandic for the last three months. (Eg hef laert Islensku i 3 manud)

As a Viking historian: how would a Viking say, “Good Morning” to the camp or village?

The Vikings were from Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and parts of Finland. They had colonies in Iceland, Greenland, Ireland and England. The Vikings had extensive trade with the Arab countries, Turkey and Russia.

1. God morgen -- Norwegian

2. God morgon -- Sweden

3. GODDAG-- Denmark

4. Hyvää huomenta-- Finland

5. Iterlarit-- Greenland

6. Gódan daginn-- Iceland

7. Dia dui tar maidin-- Irish Gaelic

8. Dobraye ootra-- Russia

9. Günaydin-- Turkey

10. Subbaakhair-- Farsi

11. Sabah-il-kheir-- Arabic

12. Pane Sopulia-- Drafn

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Viking A-Frames Part II

Viking A-Frames diagrams........

The examples of Norse tents come from the Oseberg and Gokstad ship burials. There are only a few minor differences between the two sets of burials. The Gokstad ship is some time pictured with a tent stretched over the center. This however is a modern addition based on a saga description.

Only the gable boards survived on the Gokstad ship. They are made of oak. These are between the two sets from the Oseberg ship in size. The gable boards on all the tents had carvings of animal heads. The Gokstad heads had accents in yellow and black and the Oseberg boards had religious symbols painted, possibly in red.

For further details and information on Norse Tents.. check out
and The Viking Answer Lady

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The History of Viking Tents-Part I

by: AElina Vesterlundr- Drafn Arts and Science Officer

When you walk around Estrella War, Spring War, or even at Pennsic War, the Viking encampments stand out among the rest of the period encampments because of the unique A-frame tents. What we all know as Viking “A-frames” are modeled from the Gokstad and Oseberg finds that can be viewed at the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo, Norway. Currently, these two finds are the only physical examples of Viking A-frame tents. At the Reykjavik, Iceland’s Saga Museum similar A-frame tents were used in combination with turf and stone. There is no physical evidence of these tents but the Icelandic Sagas talk about setting up tents at the All-Thing for the merchants, farmers, priests and lawyers during their yearly Thing.
In Old Norse, there are two different words for “tents” or tjalds: there is the landtjald which was set up on the ground and the stafntjald which was set up on the deck of a ship. The Gokstad and Oseberg tents are the landtjald. The only other evidence of Viking using tents are in the Sagas. The Sagas have other words for parts of tents:
• tjaldviðir, tent frame (viðir, wood);
• tjaldáss, tjaldstöng, tjaldstuðill, tent-pole (áss, pole, often horizontal (particularly the main pole); stöng pole, often upright; and stuðill, stud, prop, etc, usually upright);
• tjaldsperra, tent spar (sperra, spar, rafter);
• tjalddyrr, tent doors;
• tjaldskör, langskör, edge border of tent;
• tjaldsnagli, tent-peg;
• tjaldkúla, the knob on tent-pegs;
• tjaldstokkr, tent-block(?) (possibly the two lower side poles of the tent);
• tjald með gráu vaðm‡li, a tent with grey fabric;
• steintjald, a coloured tent; and
• líntjald, a linen tent.
What did the Oseberg and the Gokstad tents look like? It was originally assumed that the Vikings took down their sails every night and draped them over wooden frames, possibly their oars. There was an advantage to this idea since it required fewer materials to be carried on board ship. But, after it was discovered that replacing the sail every morning was extremely difficult, other theories were developed. The average woolen sail plus rigging weighed in over half a ton and with nothing more then a simple pulley system this wasn’t practical. The archaeological team at Oseberg found a “bundle of woolen cloth of yellowish color, thought to be originally white with stripes of white sewn on.” This bundle is assumed to be tent because within the bundle there were pieces of thin hemp rope to fasten to the tilt. Surprisingly, the tent was made of wool, but also was decorated with appliquéd stripes. Boards were also discovered near the bundle the tent cover was stretched over. In both the Oseberg and Gokstad finds, the wooden frame-work was made of ash wood. The Gokstad frame works are described as “two pair of angled upright boards (verge boards) and were connected by a ridge pole which inserted like a mortise and tenon joint in to the holes near the tops of the verge boards.” Stabilizing the ridge pole with its two pairs of verge boards were still boards or poles along the ground with also tenoned through the lower end of the verge boards. It was over this wedge shaped frame that the tent was stretched over so that the decorated heads of the verge boards were visible. These decorated heads on the verge boards are distinctive features on Viking tents. These verge boards are elaborately carved and decorated heads. The heads on the Gokstad tent is painted with black, red and yellow. The most common carved animal motif on the verge boards were dragons. Possibly to ward of evil spirits and protect the sleepers inside?

Part II More Viking Tents

Kitchen Alchemy 101- Kjötsúpa (Lamb Soup)

Kitchen Alchemy 101

Kjötsúpa (Lamb Soup) Serves 6-8

By Nanna Rögnvaldardóttir

Lamb Soup is considered the “national soup” in Iceland. It is common to see sheep on the side of the major roads happily eating the grass. Motorists know that all livestock in Iceland have the right of way and must yield to them while driving. Sheep were brought to Iceland by the Vikings. The wool is highly prized for its thickness and high lanolin content.

  • 3 pounds (1,5 kg) lamb shoulder, on the bone, cut in large pieces
  • ½ onion, sliced
  • 6 cups (1,5 liters) water
  • 2-3 tbsp dried mixed vegetables and herbs* (from a soup mix) ( I have used herbs that would have been most likely imported from Europe to Iceland like rosemary)
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 pound (½ kg) rutabaga, cut in an even ½-inch dice
  • ½ pound (250 grams) small potatoes, (or use parsnips for a more period taste) peeled and cut in an even ½-inch dice
  • ½ pound (250 grams) carrots, peeled and cut in an even ½-inch dice

Place the meat and onion in a large pan and pour cold water over it. Heat to boiling point, let boil rapidly for a few minutes, then skim. Add dried vegetables and some salt and pepper and simmer for around 40 minutes. Add rutabagas, potatoes and carrots and simmer for 20-25 minutes more, or until all the vegetables are tender. Season to taste. The meat is either served in the soup or removed and served on a separate plate, but it is always eaten with the soup. Some cut it up small, then add it back to the soup, others would eat it from a separate plate. (When I was in Iceland the meat was always served in the soup.)

“Other versions of the soup may add or substitute other vegetables, like cabbage, kale or turnips, and a fistful of oats or rice was sometimes added to thicken it to more of a stew.”

This is always served with fresh bread and butter. Flatbrauð also “Flat Bread” is common bread served in Iceland. Fresh farm bread is also served warm with fresh butter.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Icelandic Food Blogsite

I hope that all of you had a safe and fun Yule, Christmas and New Year! My New Years Resolution this year is to write more on this blog and possibly have more than one reader. Wish me luck! It continues to astound me how little people really know about Scandinavian and Viking food. There is a misconception that Scandinavian and Viking food is a step above a "Fear Factor Prop Table" and that everything is washed down with either coffee or booze. Yes, there are the infamous lutfisk, Icelandic skyrhákarl (rotten shark), pickled and marinated herring, fried herring, and fish. Fish is a major part of any Scandinavian and Viking dish, you wouldn't expect anything less from a seafaring culture? Pickling and salt curing was and is a common practice for food preservation. Scandinavian and Viking food does have other dishes that are very recognizable and taste good, including Swedish meatballs (actually a newer addition introduced in the 17th Century) lamb, elk, reindeer, and ham. Most people are shocked that Scandinavian food has a wide variety of vegetables and fruits included into the meals. My Grandmother used to joke that it was a genetic disposition to have a sweet tooth. Scandinavians love their coffee cakes and deserts. I would like to introduce to you a favorite site that I have used over the years for recipes, especially for anything Viking. I stumbled onto her website about 4 years ago searching for the recipes for Syr. I had acquired a craving for it while pregnant with my son in Iceland and couldn't find it here in the states. Jo is also real nice and will also answer any questions you have regarding food, Icelandic culture, history et al. She had a website and now has switched over to a blogsite, which she updates. (drum roll please......) (Her original website) (Her new blog site)

Friday, January 8, 2010

Who are the Sami?

It is hard to avoid, while researching early Viking history, any historical accounts of the Sami or the Sapmi. Outside of this culture they are often called the Laplanders or Lapps. The Sámi are the indigenous peoples of the Arctic Area of the Nordic countries. The history and struggles of the Sami are similar and mirror the struggles of the United States Native Americans. Like the U.S. Native Americans, the Sami are also bound to nature and nature is the center of their culture, religion and belief system. Reindeer husbandry and fishing have always been important livelihoods of the Sámi, who are closely bound to nature, and for whom nature is important.
In the the Viking sagas it is told that many Sami would travel on their great ships because they could read the weather. It said they were often called "Weather Witches." Early Viking Chieftains whisper amongst themselves about not offending a Sami shaman so they can have good sailing.
Sápmi, the Sámi Country, includes areas of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. Sápmi starts at the middle of Norway and includes the eastern regions of the Kola Peninsula. The natural landscape varies greatly in this area. The Sami are known as the "People of the 8 Seasons." These seasons are winter, late winter, spring, late spring, summer, late summer, autumn and late autumn.
I grew up listening to my Dad and Grandfather discuss Native America rights. My Grandfather was an avid supporter and often contributed to several activists groups. I remember as a kid my Grandparents and Mom telling me that I was 1/2 Swedish. But, looking upon my Grandfather, he didn't match the description of your typical Swedish man. He was about 5'6", stocky built, emerald green eyes that danced with mischievousness, and dark brown hair that started at the top of his head and didn't stop until the tip of his toes. I remember opening a book one day about the history of Sweden and finding a page that talked about the Laplanders. The picture showed very brightly dressed men and women herding reindeer. One picture stood out vividly. The man could have been my Grandfather's brother. I remember asking my Dad if there was a chance we could be related to these Laplanders. I was quickly told, "No!" After a bit of youthful persistence, my Grandfather finely admitted that there was "some Sami blood" within his bones. It was until years after his death did I find out why so many Saami reluctantly told family and friends they were Sami. The same persecutions that the Native Americans went through the Sami experienced too. The only difference was that the Sami could go to another country and start over.
I have recently found that "some Sami blood" was actually "a lot of Sami blood." My quest now, like many Sami American decedents, is to find out who the Sami are. Do I dare hope to be counted amongst the Sami Parliament as a Sami? I don't know. But, I do know that as a player in the SCA I want to represent the Sami culture accurately, historically and with respect.
Those crazy Vikings need someone to navigate them through these storms.
As I discover more on this beautiful and lively culture I will post sites and more information.