Monday, September 27, 2010
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.
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.
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.