The Viking Age
The Vikings' homeland was Scandinavia: modern Norway, Sweden and Denmark. From here they travelled great distances, mainly by sea and river – as far as North America to the west, Russia to the east, Lapland to the north and the Mediterranean World (Constantinople) and Iraq (Baghdad) to the south.
We know about them through archaeology, poetry, sagas and proverbs, treaties, and the writings of people in Europe and Asia whom they encountered. They left very little written evidence themselves. As well as warriors, they were skilled craftsmen and boat-builders, adventurous explorers and wide-ranging traders. See Viking trade and Viking travel.
What we call the Viking Age, and their relationship with England, lasted from approximately 800 to 1150 AD – though Scandinavian adventurers, merchants and mercenaries were of course active before and after this period. Their expansion during the Viking Age took the form of warfare, exploration, settlement and trade.
During this period, around 200,000 people left Scandinavia to settle in other lands, mainly Newfoundland (Canada), Greenland, Iceland, Ireland, England, Scotland, the islands around Britain, France (where they became the Normans), Russia and Sicily. They traded extensively with the Muslim world and fought as mercenaries for the Byzantine emperors of Constantinople (Istanbul). However, by the end of the 11th century the great days of Viking expansion were over.
Historians disagree about the origin of the word Viking. In Old Norse the word means a pirate raid, from either vikja (to move swiftly) or vik (an inlet). This captures the essence of the Vikings, fast-moving sailors who used the water as their highway to take them across the northern Atlantic, around the coasts of Europe and up its rivers to trade, raid or settle. In their poetry they call the sea 'the whale road'.
Anglo-Saxon writers called them Danes, Norsemen, Northmen, the Great Army, sea rovers, sea wolves, or the heathen.
From around 860AD onwards, Vikings stayed, settled and prospered in Britain, becoming part of the mix of people who today make up the British nation. Our names for days of the week come mainly from Norse gods – Tuesday from Tiw or Týr, Wednesday from Woden (Odin), Thursday from Thor and so on. Many of their other words have also become part of English, for example egg, steak, law, die, bread, down, fog, muck, lump and scrawny.
To see questions children have asked about the Vikings, see our Viking starter lesson.
In 793 came the first recorded Viking raid, where 'on the Ides of June the harrying of the heathen destroyed God's church on Lindisfarne, bringing ruin and slaughter' (The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle).
These ruthless pirates continued to make regular raids around the coasts of England, looting treasure and other goods, and capturing people as slaves. Monasteries were often targeted, for their precious silver or gold chalices, plates, bowls and crucifixes.
Gradually, the Viking raiders began to stay, first in winter camps, then settling in land they had seized, mainly in the east and north of England. See The Vikings settle down.
Outside Anglo-Saxon England, to the north of Britain, the Vikings took over and settled Iceland, the Faroes and Orkney, becoming farmers and fishermen, and sometimes going on summer trading or raiding voyages. Orkney became powerful, and from there the Earls of Orkney ruled most of Scotland. To this day, especially on the north-east coast, many Scots still bear Viking names.
To the west of Britain, the Isle of Man became a Viking kingdom. The island still has its Tynwald, or ting-vollr (assembly field), a reminder of Viking rule. In Ireland, the Vikings raided around the coasts and up the rivers. They founded the cities of Dublin, Cork and Limerick as Viking strongholds.
Meanwhile, back in England, the Vikings took over Northumbria, East Anglia and parts of Mercia. In 866 they captured modern York (Viking name: Jorvik) and made it their capital. They continued to press south and west. The kings of Mercia and Wessex resisted as best they could, but with little success until the time of Alfred of Wessex, the only king of England to be called ‘the Great'.
King Alfred ruled from 871-899 and after many trials and tribulations (including the famous story of the burning of the cakes!) he defeated the Vikings at the Battle of Edington in 878. After the battle the Viking leader Guthrum converted to Christianity. In 886 Alfred took London from the Vikings and fortified it. The same year he signed a treaty with Guthrum. The treaty partitioned England between Vikings and English. The Viking territory became known as the Danelaw. It comprised the north-west, the north-east and east of England. Here, people would be subject to Danish laws. Alfred became king of the rest.
Alfred's grandson, Athelstan, became the first true King of England. He led an English victory over the Vikings at the Battle of Brunaburh in 937, and his kingdom for the first time included the Danelaw. In 954, Eirik Bloodaxe, the last Viking king of York, was killed and his kingdom was taken over by English earls. See Egils Saga.
However, the Viking raiding did not stop – different Viking bands made regular raiding voyages around the coasts of Britain for over 300 years after 793. In 991, during the reign of Æthelred 'the Unready' ('ill-advised'), Olaf Tryggvason's Viking raiding party defeated the Anglo-Saxon defenders (recorded in the poem The Battle of Maldon), with Æthelred responding by paying 'Danegeld' in an attempt to buy off the Vikings.
So the Vikings were not permanently defeated – England was to have four Viking kings between 1013 and 1042. The greatest of these was King Cnut, who was king of Denmark as well as of England. A Christian, he did not force the English to obey Danish law; instead he recognised Anglo-Saxon law and customs. He worked to create a north Atlantic empire that united Scandinavia and Britain. Unfortunately, he died at the age of 39, and his sons had short, troubled reigns.
The final Viking invasion of England came in 1066, when Harald Hardrada sailed up the River Humber and marched to Stamford Bridge with his men. His battle banner was called Land-waster. The English king, Harold Godwinson, marched north with his army and defeated Hardrada in a long and bloody battle. The English had repelled the last invasion from Scandinavia.
However, immediately after the battle, King Harold heard that William of Normandy had landed in Kent with yet another invading army. With no time to rest, Harold's army marched swiftly back south to meet this new threat. The exhausted English army fought the Normans at the Battle of Hastings on 14th October, 1066. At the end of a long day's fighting the Normans had won, King Harold was dead, and William was the new king of England.
Check out this great video
Rollo (Norman: Rou, Rollo(u)n; Old Norse: Hrólfr; French: Rollon; c. 860 – c. 930 AD) was a Viking who became the first ruler of Normandy, today a region in northern France. He emerged as the outstanding warrior among the Norsemen who had secured a permanent foothold on Frankish soil in the valley of the lower Seine. After the Siege of Chartres in 911, Charles the Simple, the king of West Francia, granted them lands between the mouth of the Seine and what is now Rouen in exchange for Rollo agreeing to end his brigandage, swearing allegiance to him, religious conversion and a pledge to defend the Seine's estuary from Viking raiders.
Rollo is first recorded as the leader of these Viking settlers in a charter of 918, and he continued to reign over the region of Normandy until at least 928. He was succeeded by his son William Longsword in the Duchy of Normandy that he had founded. The offspring of Rollo and his followers, through their intermingling with the indigenous Frankish and Gallo-Roman population of the lands they settled, became known as the "Normans". After the Norman conquest of England and their conquest of southern Italy and Sicily over the following two centuries, their descendants came to rule Norman England (the House of Normandy), much of the island of Ireland, the Kingdom of Sicily (the Kings of Sicily) and the Principality of Antioch from the 11th to 13th centuries, leaving behind an enduring legacy in the histories of Europe and the Near East.
The name Rollo is generally presumed to be a latinisation of the Old Norse name Hrólfr – a theory that is supported by the rendition of Hrólfr as Roluo in the Gesta Danorum. It is also sometimes suggested that Rollo may be a Latinised version of another Norse name, Hrollaugr.
The 10th-century French historian Dudo records that Rollo took the baptismal name Robert. A variant spelling, Rou, is used in the 12th-century Norman French verse chronicle Roman de Rou, which was compiled by Wace and commissioned by King Henry II of England, a descendant of Rollo.
Rollo was born in the mid-9th century; his place of birth is almost definitely located in the region of Scandinavia, although it is uncertain whether he is Danish or Norwegian. The earliest well-attested historical event associated with Rollo is his part in leading the Vikings who besieged Paris in 885–886 but were fended off by Odo of France.
Medieval sources contradict each other regarding whether Rollo's family was Norwegian or Danish in origin. In part, this disparity may result from the indifferent and interchangeable usage in Europe, at the time, of terms such as "Vikings", "Northmen", "Swedes", "Danes", "Norwegians" and so on (in the Medieval Latin texts Dani vel Nortmanni means 'Danes or Northmen').
A biography of Rollo, written by the cleric Dudo of Saint-Quentin in the late 10th century, claimed that Rollo was from Denmark ("Dacia"). One of Rollo's great-grandsons and a contemporary of Dudo was known as Robert the Dane. However, Dudo's Historia Normannorum (or Libri III de moribus et actis primorum Normanniae ducum) was commissioned by Rollo's grandson, Richard I of Normandy and – while Dudo likely had access to family members and/or other people with a living memory of Rollo – this fact must be weighed against the text's potential biases, as an official biography. According to Dudo, an unnamed king of Denmark was antagonistic to Rollo's family, including his father – an unnamed Danish nobleman – and Rollo's brother Gurim. Following the death of their father, Gurim was killed and Rollo was forced to leave Denmark. Dudo appears to have been the main source for William of Jumièges (after 1066) and Orderic Vitalis (early 12th century), although both include additional details.
A Norwegian background for Rollo was first explicitly claimed by Goffredo Malaterra (Geoffrey Malaterra), an 11th-century Benedictine monk and historian, who wrote: "Rollo sailed boldly from Norway with his fleet to the Christian coast." Likewise, the 12th-century English historian William of Malmesbury stated that Rollo was "born of noble lineage among the Norwegians".
A chronicler named Benoît (probably Benoît de Sainte-More) wrote in the mid-12th-century Chronique des ducs de Normandie that Rollo had been born in a town named "Fasge". This has since been variously interpreted as referring to Faxe, in Sjælland (Denmark), Fauske, in Sykkulven (Norway), or perhaps a more obscure settlement that has since been abandoned or renamed. Benoît also repeated the claim that Rollo had been persecuted by a local ruler and had fled from there to "Scanza island", by which Benoît probably means Scania (Swedish Skåne). While Faxe was physically much closer to Scania, the mountainous scenery of "Fasge", described by Benoît, would seem to be more like Fauske. Benoît says elsewhere in the Chronique that Rollo is Danish.
Other historians have identified Rollo with Hrólf the Walker (Norse Göngu-Hrólfr; Danish Ganger-Hrólf) from the 13th-century Icelandic sagas, Heimskringla and Orkneyinga Saga. Hrólf the Walker was so named because he "was so big that no horse could carry him". The Icelandic sources claim that Hrólfr was from Møre in western Norway, in the late 9th century and that his parents were the Norwegian jarl Rognvald Eysteinsson ('Rognvald the Wise') and a noblewoman from Møre named Hildr Hrólfsdóttir. However, these claims were made three centuries after the history commissioned by Rollo's own grandson.
There may be circumstantial evidence for kinship between Rollo and his historical contemporary Ketill Flatnose, King of the Isles – a Norse realm centred on the Western Isles of Scotland. If, as Richer suggested, Rollo's father was also named Ketill and as Dudo suggested, Rollo had a brother named Gurim, such names are onomastic evidence for a family connection: Icelandic sources name Ketill Flatnose's father as Björn Grímsson, and Grim – the implied name of Ketill Flatnose's paternal grandfather – was likely cognate with Gurim. In addition, both Irish and Icelandic sources suggest that Rollo, as a young man, visited or lived in Scotland, where he had a daughter named Cadlinar (Kaðlín, 'Kathleen'). Ketill Flatnose's ancestors were said to have come from Møre – Rollo's ancestral home in the Icelandic sources. However, Ketill was a common name in Norse societies, as were names like Gurim and Grim.
Dudo's chronicle about Rollo seizing Rouen in 876 is supported by the contemporary chronicler Flodoard, who records that Robert of the Breton March waged a campaign against the Vikings nearly levelling Rouen and other settlements; eventually, he conceded "certain coastal provinces" to them.
According to Dudo, Rollo struck up a friendship in England with a king called Alstem. This has puzzled many historians, but recently the puzzle has been resolved by recognition that this refers to Guthrum, the Danish leader whom Alfred the Great baptised with the baptismal name Athelstan, and then recognised as king of the East Angles in 880.
Dudo recorded that when Rollo controlled Bayeux by force, he carried off with him the beautiful Popa or Poppa, a daughter of Berenger, Count of Rennes. He married her and she gave birth to his son and heir, William Longsword.
Rollo's grave at the Cathedral of Rouen
There are few contemporary mentions of Rollo. In 911, Robert I of France, brother of Odo, again defeated another band of Viking warriors in Chartres with his well-trained horsemen. This victory paved the way for Rollo's baptism and settlement in Normandy. In return for formal recognition of the lands he possessed, Rollo agreed to be baptised and assisted the king in defending the realm. As was the custom, Rollo took the baptismal name Robert, after his godfather Robert I. The seal of the agreement was to be a marriage between Rollo and Gisla, daughter of Charles. Gisla might have been a legitimate daughter of Charles. Since Charles first married in 907, that would mean that Gisla was at most 5 years old at the time of the treaty of 911 which offered her in marriage. It has therefore been speculated that she could have been an illegitimate daughter. However a diplomatic child betrothal need not be doubted. The earliest record of Rollo is from 918, in a charter of Charles III to an abbey, which referred to an earlier grant to "the Normans of the Seine", namely "Rollo and his associates" for "the protection of the kingdom." Dudo retrospectively stated that this pact took place in 911 at Saint-Clair-sur-Epte.
Dudo narrates a humorous story not repeated in other primary sources about Rollo's pledge of fealty to Charles III as part of the Treaty of Saint-Clair-sur-Epte. The attendant bishops urged Rollo to kiss the king's foot to prove his allegiance. Rollo refused, saying "I will never bow my knees at the knees of any man, and no man's foot will I kiss." Instead, Rollo commanded one of his warriors to kiss the king's foot. The warrior complied by raising the king's foot to his mouth while the king remained standing, which "laid the king flat on his back" much to the amusement of Rollo's entourage. On taking his oath of fealty, Rollo divided the lands between the rivers Epte and Risle among his chieftains, and settled in the de facto capital Rouen.
Given Rouen and its hinterland in return for the alliance with the Franks, it was agreed upon that it was in the interest of both Rollo himself and his Frankish allies to extend his authority over Viking settlers. This would appear to be the motive for later concessions to the Vikings of the Seine, which are mentioned in other records of the time. When Charles III abdicated the throne to Rudolph of France, Rollo felt that his pledge and oaths to the kings of France null and void, and began raiding in the west to expand his territory, putting pressure on other rulers to propose another compromise. The need for an agreement was particularly urgent when Robert I, successor of Charles III, was killed in 923. Rudolph was recorded as sponsoring a new agreement by which a group of Norsemen were conceded the provinces of the Bessin and Maine. These settlers were presumed to be Rollo and his associates, moving their authority westward from the Seine valley. It is still unclear as to whether Rollo was being given lordship over the Vikings already settled in the region in order to domesticate and restrain them, or the Franks around Bayeux in order to protect them from other Viking leaders settled in eastern Brittany and the Cotentin peninsula.
Rollo died sometime between a final mention of him by Flodoard in 928, and 933, the year in which a third grant of land, usually identified as being the Cotentin and Avranchin areas, was given to his son and successor William.
A genealogical chart of the Norman dynasty
Rollo's son and heir, William Longsword, and grandchild, Richard the Fearless, forged the Duchy of Normandy into West Francia's most cohesive and formidable principality. The descendants of Rollo and his men assimilated with their maternal French-Catholic culture and became known as the Normans, lending their name to the region of Normandy.
One daughter of Rollo, Gerloc (also known as Adele), who married William III, Duke of Aquitaine, was mentioned by Dudo. According to William of Jumièges, writing in the latter half of the 11th century, Gerloc's mother was named Poppa.
According to the medieval Irish text An Banshenchas and Icelandic sources, another daughter, Cadlinar (Kaðlín; Kathleen) was born in Scotland (probably to a Scots mother) and married an Irish prince named Beollán mac Ciarmaic, later King of South Brega (Lagore). A daughter of Cadlinar and Beollán named Nithbeorg was abducted by an Icelandic Viking named Helgi Ottarsson, and became the mother of the poet Einarr Helgason and grandmother of Guðrún Ósvífrsdóttir (protagonist of the Laxdœla saga).
Rollo is the great-great-great grandfather of William the Conqueror. Elizabeth II and the British Royal Family are not direct male-line descendants of Rollo, as the House of Normandy ended on the death of Henry I, and the ruling family has changed many times since. On the other hand, the House of Plantagenet takes roots from the Norman Dinasty, as Henry II was Empress Matilda's son, and Matilda was sister and daughter of Norman Kings.
A genetic investigation into the remains of Rollo's grandson Richard the Fearless, and his great-grandson Richard the Good, was announced in 2011 with the intention of discerning the origins of the historic Viking leader. On 29 February 2016 Norwegian researchers opened Richard the Good's tomb and found a lower jaw with eight teeth in it. However, the skeletal remains in both graves turned out to significantly predate Rollo and therefore are not related to him.
After Rollo's death, his male-line descendants continued to rule Normandy until 1204, when it was lost by John Lackland to the French King Philip Augustus. Rollo's dynasty was able to survive through a combination of ruthless military actions and infighting among the Frankish aristocracy, which left them severely weakened and unable to combat the Rouen Vikings' growing determination to stay put.
Völva the Viking Witch or Seeress
A Völva or as it is pronounced in old Norse a Vǫlva (in Danish a ”Vølve”), is what we in English would call a Seeress. You could compare it to someone who practiced shamanism or witchcraft. So a Völva is a Nordic version of a shaman or witch, that practiced magic. The Völva in the Viking age were the predecessors of the medieval witches, so you could say, they were witches before it became cool. A Völva is not something that just dates back to the Viking age, a Völva is, in fact, very ancient, and their roots go back more than 2.000 – 3.000 years.
A Völva was a woman in the Viking age who practiced magic, known as Seidr (in old Norse seiðr), the word Seidr literally means ”to bind”. A Völva often had a very special role within the society and would often have close ties with the leaders of her clan. You could call a Völva/Vǫlva a spiritual leader or healer in the Nordic society. A man could also practice Seidr, and he would be known as a Seer, but that was very rare.
A man that practiced Seidr (Magic, in old Norse, is called seiðr) was seen down upon and called unmanly. This might have been because the Seer and Seeress both wore the same outfit. For instance one of the worst insults a man could get in the Viking age was to be called unmanly or a Völva.
A Völva wore colorful dresses, which as I said before would probably have been the same for both male and females. She would also wear gloves and a hat made from cat fur, and have a beautiful decorated staff or wand. The staff or wand was an important accessory in the carrying out Seidr.
The staff was very important to the Völva, her staff was actually so important to her that the word Völva probably means staff or wand carrier. The magic (Seidr/Seiðr) of the Völva was both feared and hated by the Church, in fact, the Church banned the use of staffs and wands, the use of magic and the heathen altars. The practice of heathendom or the use of magic was punished by death, and the Church would show no mercy to anyone who got caught.
The people were afraid of a Völva because she possessed a lot of power and the knowledge of magic. A Völva would not always live a long life, the practice of magic was dangerous and moving back and forth between dimensions/realms, had many unforeseen consequences. But her death could also be caused by her own clan if they did not like her prophesies.
A Völva could put herself into a trance, were she could to talk with the spirits around her, the Völva herself or someone else mostly young girls at the ritual would sing a song, for the spirits to the sound of drums, the purpose of the song was to lure or attract the spirits to their ritual.
The song had to sung as beautiful as possible so the spirits would be pleased and therefore be more likely to help the Völva in her ritual. The Völva would either sit on a high chair or she would be lifted up, so she would be able to see into another realm. If the spirits were pleased with the song they would help the Völva in predicting the future or seeing the past.
When the sound from the drums and song slowly began to fade, the Völva would be between the realms of the living and spirits, the participants in the circle attending the ritual would now be able to go and ask her questions about their fate and their future, one by one.
A Völva was also able to leave her own body and enter into an animal, it is uncertain how or why she would do that, but it might have been to travel great distances, for instance to another town or place to observe and gather knowledge. The practice of Seidr was mostly used to do good and help the people, and Seidr was not just used in rituals to contact the spirits, it was also used on daily basis, it could be used to heal wounds, create happiness or to control the weather.
A Völva would sometimes travel from town to town or farm to farm, and help the people, by predicting their fate or conducting a ritual that would give them a better harvest. She would probably be paid in silver, food or other necessities or luxury goods.
But the practice of Seidr could also be used in a more sinister way, what we today would call black magic. Seidr could be used to put a curse on a person or make someone deadly ill. Seidr could also be used to bind the will of the warriors in a battle, make them slow, disoriented, and in that way indirectly be guilty of their death.
Seidr was not just something that the Völva practiced, it was also practiced by the Gods and Goddesses, but the knowledge of Seidr does not originate from the Aesir. The use of magic derives from the Vanir and they are seen as masters of sorcery. The Vanir are so talented in the use of Seidr, that they are able to hide their realm, which is why we do not know how their world looks like.
Odin is seen as the master of Seidr, but Odin and the rest of the Aesir were taught the practice of magic by Freya, she is a Vanir by blood. The jötnar, also known as giants learned the practice of Seidr but it is unclear how they obtained that knowledge, but it can be read in the sagas that some of them know how to use magic. For instance, the jötunn Skrymir is a master of illusions, and uses this form of magic against Thor and his travelers in Thor’s journey to Jotunheim.
A Völva was powerful, as in really powerful, even the God Odin, asked a Völva for advice on many occasions. It was a Völva in the poem Völuspá (Old Norse Vǫluspá) that told Odin about the inevitable end of the world, known as Ragnarok (Ragnarök). For those of you who do know about the worldview of the heathens will, of course, know that Ragnarok is not really the end of the world.
Ragnarok will lead to massive extinction of every living species on the planet, including most of the Gods and Goddesses, it will however not be the end. The Vikings if I may call them that, believed that the time moved in circles, so from Ragnarok a new world will be born, which will be more green and prosperous, than the old, our current world.
In Denmark at the peninsula of Jutland in 1954 at the ring fortress Fyrkat, there was found a grave that belonged to a former Völva, that dates back to around the 9th century, which is in the early Viking age.
The Völva that were found her at Fyrkat, was wearing a long blue and red dress, with long white sleeves and a headscarf with a gold thread along its edge. She wore toe rings made from silver, which is very unusual and there hasn’t been found something like this before in Denmark, or elsewhere in Scandinavia. The Völva was buried on top of a horse-drawn carriage, it is not the one here in the image, but it is just to get you a visual image of it, and how it might have looked.
The Völva was buried with a gold plated box brooch made from silver, which contained white lead which is a white powder from a plant, the box brooch is believed to be from Gotland. This white lead has been used in Europe for more than 2000 years in medicine, and it is poisonous in its concentrated form and if you don’t know what you are doing it can be lethal. It is also possible that she also used the white lead as make-up, perhaps in her Seidr rituals.
The archaeologists also found a metal wand, this wand was probably used in her many Seidr rituals to help her carrying out Seidr, or for roasting marshmallows in the fireplace, (just kidding).
She had a small purse with seeds from the poisonous henbane plant. This plant will cause hallucinations, and it could have been part of her rituals, or even have been given to the warriors before a battle. Henbane is known to most people today who practice witchcraft, it is referred to as a witch’s salve, you rub it on your skin to get the psychedelic effect.
Some of the other objects that were found at her feet were owl pellets and animal bones from birds and mammals. There was also a silver amulet which was shaped like a chair, could this be a small model of her Seidr chair, where she practiced her magic?
Next, to her, she had two bronze bowls, which the archaeologists believe are from somewhere in central Asia, these bowls might have been used for mixing the ingredients when she made potions or some of her other Völva recipes. There were some potions next to her, but the mixtures could not be identified.
This grave can only mean that this Völva was a very important person and she probably meant a lot to the locals. She was by no means poor, and the items found in her grave, can only mean that she was of high status, and she probably had very close ties to royalty or the leaders.
There has in the recent years been speculations that she might have been Harald Bluetooth‘s (Harald Blåtand) Völva and traveled around Denmark with Harald and his warriors. Which means she would have lived in around the year 958 to 987. The reason why some archaeologists think that this could be a possibility because they have found a silver fitting that has almost identical ornamentations as the box brooch from Fyrkat.
If this is true, she would have traveled great distances, because the Viking fortress at Fyrkat and the Viking fortress at Køge are 320 kilometers apart, which is about 200 miles for my American friends. The two objects have not been analyzed yet, so it is uncertain if the silver fitting was part of the box brooch from the Völva burial. It would, however, be very cool if the archaeologists accidentally found the grave of Harald Bluetooth’s Völva.
Völva burials have been found all over Scandinavia, and quite a few were found wearing clothes or had items next to them of significant value, which suggests that they were considered important and of high status, or at least a higher status than a normal peasant. We also have descriptions from other sources about the Völva and her ritual practices, for instance, the diplomat Ibn Fadlan, mentions a Viking ritual when he observes a Viking funeral at the Volga which is part of present-day Russia.
While you might think that a Völva is something from the past, it is not necessarily true. There are still some who practice Seidr and see themselves as a Völva. If you visit some of the local Viking markets in the summer in Scandinavia, you may be lucky enough to see one of them. If a modern Völva is a master of Seidr, that is something for you to decide.
This is how a song for the spirits might have sounded like:
Eivør Pálsdóttir: Tròdlabùndin (Trøllabundin)
Although I have found interest in norse mythology in the past just for the sake of researching culture changes within the family lines, I must say, online you will find many people who lay claims to being related to Odin and other norse gods, I cannot help but laugh and cry. So hold your horses before you pay for those facebook pages offering to the illuminati memberships with odin pdf's. I must maintain that everything on the website is for research value and information I have collated over the years. All work is cited and website provided.
Norse mythology refers to the Scandinavian mythological framework that was upheld during and around the time of the Viking Age (c. 790- c. 1100 CE). Complete with a creation myth that has the first gods slaying a giant and turning his body parts into the world, various realms spread out beneath the World Tree Yggdrasil, and the eventual destruction of the known world in the Ragnarök, the Nordic mythological world is both complex and comprehensive. Its polytheistic pantheon, headed by the one-eyed Odin, contains a great number of different gods and goddesses who were venerated in customs integrated into the ancient Scandinavians' daily lives.
Peeling back the layers of history in order to form a properly detailed and accurate picture of the myths, beliefs, and customs as they actually were in the Viking Age is no mean feat, especially for an overwhelmingly oral society, as Scandinavia mostly was at the time. As such, we only have the "tips of the narrative icebergs" (Schjødt, 219) when it comes to the Norse gods.
On the one hand, we do have some genuine pre-Christian sources that preserve elements of Scandinavian mythology; most importantly Eddic poetry (poetry from the Poetic Edda compiled in c. 1270 CE, but probably dating back to the pre-Christian era before the 10th century) and skaldic poetry (Viking Age, pre-Christian poetry mainly heard at courts by kings and their retinues), preserved in later Icelandic manuscripts. The Codex Regius found in the Poetic Edda contains an anonymous collection of older Eddic poems, including ten about gods and nineteen about heroes, and although some of these tell complete myths, most of them assume – unfortunately for us – that their audience was familiar with the mythical context. The same goes for skaldic poetry; with knowledge of the myths taken for granted, for us, using these sources to create a full picture of Norse mythology is a bit like filling in a rather difficult Sudoku puzzle.
On the other hand, later medieval sources, such as Snorri Sturluson's Prose Edda (c. 1220 CE) and Saxo Grammaticus' Gesta Danorum composed a few decades earlier, reworked the changeable, enigmatic, but slightly tangled early Viking sources into much more structured accounts. Snorri's work is the main reason we have an inkling of Norse mythology and myths as a whole, but should also be read critically, as he wrote from a Christian context. However, the older Eddic and skaldic poems clearly do more justice to the dynamic and integrated role mythology actually played in Viking Age societies.
The integrated nature of the Norse mythological framework in daily life is betrayed by the word síður, meaning 'custom' – the closest concept the Old Norse language had to religion. Of course, what it was exactly the Vikings believed with regard to all these different Norse gods and the world they lived in is hard to pin down. However, archaeological evidence helps hint at personal devotion to specific gods people felt connected to, with accompanying customs and rituals being a standard part of everyday life. The sources also give the impression that the Norse gods had their own distinct personalities more so than set-in-stone domains.
In a broader sense, gods were also venerated and called upon by the whole community. Sites of potential cultic activity, for instance, may be identified by the appearance of the name of a god in place names, like in the case of Fröslunda ("the grove dedicated to the god Freyr"). Certain hotspots are hinted at by the sources, too. According to Adam of Bremen (who wrote his account - based on hearsay - c. 1070 CE) there was a great temple at Uppsala in Sweden which housed images of Thor, Odin, and Freyr, who were sacrificed to in times of famine or disease, war, or when weddings popped up, respectively. He relays how every nine years people got together there to let their long Viking tresses down during a great festival in which humans, horses and dogs were sacrificed, their bodies hanging from trees in the sacred grove. Although the archaeological record does not support the existence of an actual temple, the remains of other buildings, among which a large hall, dating to between the 3rd and 10th centuries, have been found.
There were, thus, various aspects to Norse mythology's place in Viking societies. As Anne-Sofie Gräslund words it, "Old Norse religion should not be regarded as a static phenomenon but as a dynamic religion that changed gradually over time and doubtless had many local variations" (56). Ancient Scandinavia was a world in which belief in divine powers abounded, and all of these had their own attributes and functions.
The Norse worldview only gradually changed with the emerging influence of Christianity, which becomes apparent by the second half of the 11th century CE. Even then, because Vikings were polytheistic, they simply added Christ to their already rather lengthy list of gods, and different customs and beliefs were used side by side for a good while.
The Norse worldview as we can best distill from the various sources boils down to the following general idea. There were four phases: the process in which the world - and everything in it - was created; a dynamic phase in which time is started; the destruction of the world in the Ragnarök; and the arising of a new world from the sea.
ODIN, VILI, AND VÉ KILL YMIR & CREATE THE EARTH FROM HIS FLESH, THE SKY FROM HIS SKULL, MOUNTAINS FROM HIS BONES & THE SEA FROM HIS BLOOD.
According to Snorri, before anything else existed there were the opposing realms of icy Niflheim and fiery Muspelheim (which other sources simply call Muspell). Although seemingly safely separated by the empty void Ginnungagap, the cold and heat expanded to meet after all, resulting in Muspelheim's fire melting the ice, from which two assumingly dripping wet figures emerged: the (proto-)giant Ymir and the cow Audhumla. By licking the ice Audhumla uncovered Búri, forefather of the gods, whose son Borr teamed up with giant-daughter Bestla to sire the first gods, Odin, Vili, and Vé. These three then took advantage of Ymir's convenient size by killing him and using his remains to create the world; the earth from his flesh, the sky from his skull, mountains from his bones and the sea from his blood. The first human couple, Ask and Embla, were fashioned out of two trees or pieces of wood.
With humans popping up, a new phase begins; time has started, and all the gods and other creatures and their respective realms are off doing their own thing up until the Ragnarök. The World Tree Yggdrasil, the axis of time and space, stands in the gods' home realm of Asgard while its roots encompass all the other realms, including Midgard, where the humans reside, and the giants' abode Jotunheim. A dragon of death called Nidhogg chomps on said roots, all while the three fates (known as Norns) spin the fates of human lives at the tree's base. As the Prose Edda tells it:
Ash Yggdrasill | suffers anguish,
More than men know of:
The stag bites above; | on the side it rotteth,
And Nídhöggr gnaws from below.
As if a giant tree were not enough, the surrounding sea is inhabited by the Midgard Serpent (also known as Jörmungandr), a monster who twists and coils itself around the world.
Eventually, these fairly peachy worldly conditions snowball into chaos and culminate in the Ragnarök, the 'final destiny of the gods', for which our main source is the 10th-century CE Völuspá saga. It starts with a terrible winter. The earth sinks into the sea, the wolf Fenrir (often referred to as the Fenris-wolf) breaks loose and devours the sun, and, as the icing on the already crumbling cake, mighty Yggdrasil shakes and the bridge Bifröst – the express-way between Asgard and Midgard – collapses. Understandably rattled, the gods hold an emergency council to prepare for battle against the powers of the Underworld, who are closing in. The Prose Edda heralds that:
Brothers shall strive | and slaughter each other;
Own sisters' children | shall sin together;
Ill days among men, | many a whoredom:
An axe-age, a sword-age, | shields shall be cloven;
A wind-age, a wolf-age, | ere the world totters.
Odin fights Fenrir but falls, after which the god Vidarr avenges him, while Thor destroys the Midgard Serpent but succumbs to its poison. The gods and their foes die left, right, and centre, until the giant Surtr goes pyromaniac and kindles the world-fire that destroys everything.
Luckily, phoenix-style, the destruction is not the end. Following a cyclical concept of the world, a new world rises – not from the ashes, but from the sea. Only a handful of gods are still standing, but the new world will have a new generation of gods as well as humankind, to live happily ever after.
The gods themselves are boxed into two families. Firstly, there is the bigger Æsir family mostly connected with war and government, which was in practice also used as an umbrella term for the main gods in general. It includes notables such as Odin, Thor, Loki, Baldr, Hodr, Heimdall, and Týr.
Secondly, the smaller Vanir family contains fertility gods such as Njord, Freyr, and Freyja.
Despite them all living in Asgard, they do not always see eye-to-eye - which, admittedly, is difficult considering Odin only has one eye, to begin with. In fact, they clash to the point of war (the 'Vanir wars'; or 'Æsir-Vanir Wars') but exchange hostages after making peace and fuse their families through marriage.
The contrast between the Æsir and the Vanir has been argued to stem from oppositions in Viking society, as the Vanir, with their focus on fertility, good harvests, and the climate, were popular in farming communities, while the Æsir were seen to advise kings, lords, and their warriors in matters of war and governance. As such, the peace made at the end of the Vanir wars might reflect the idea that society could only function through the combined powers of both social classes.
Finally, besides these two divine classes, there were also female deities known as Dísir, popular in private worship, Álfar (elves), Jǫtnar (giants), and Dvergar (dwarfs);
Copyright © 2022 The Royal Dragon Court - All Rights Reserved.The Royal Dragon Court, The Dragon Legacy and The Dragon Cede. By Nicholas Devere & Abbe Devere.
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