Friday, May 9, 2014

Viking Ships - The Horses of the Waves

The Vikings were the masters of the water! With their swift ships they were considered the Horses of the Waters. They were symbols of power and speed.

A Viking Ship on Display at the City Museum of Oslo

The Viking Age (793 - 1066 C.E.) was the time of the sleek, agile longship. Through the Vikings' advanced ship technology they became the dominant force in medieval warfare, politics, and trade. 

The dragon-headed ships of the vikings (like the one pictured above) were known as Drekar. They were quickly made (about 2 to 3 weeks) and could cross open oceans with their large square sail or oar up and down rivers to be able to attack with speed never before seen in Medieval Europe. Their ships far surpassed the ships of the English and the Frankish. With their powerful navy, the Vikings won large territories from the North of England to the North of Africa. 

With the success of their navy, the Vikings soon created many other kinds of ships that could aid them in more that just concurring. Among the new ships that the Vikings created there was the Knarr, a ship that could carry cargo and cross oceans. This ship enabled to Vikings to be able to establish colonies in Iceland, Greenland, and America. The Knarr, while similar to the Drekar, was higher and wider in length and had cargo desks installed. 

With their powerful navy, the Vikings believed that they could get anywhere with their boats. Therefore, the Viking Ships were an important part of their burial rituals. To the Vikings, the ship symbolized safe passage to the afterlife. Each ship in preparation was securely moored, and anchored to protect the corpse's body. The ship was also filled with their belongings and other things that the Vikings believed would help them in the afterlife. 

"Thus he [Odin] established by law that all dead men [men in terms of mankind, this included women] should be burned, and their belongings laid with them upon the pile, and the ashes be cast into the sea or buried in the earth. Thus, said he, every one will come to Valhalla with the riches he had with him upon the pile; and he would also enjoy whatever he himself had buried in the earth. 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; which custom remained long after Odin's time."

The above passage describes the Viking Mythology behind the burial ritual. It describes how the deceased was first burned with their belongings so that they may take them with them to the afterlife and then was either buried or cast out to sea in a boat.

Ships were an integral part of life for the Vikings and through their technology were the masters of the water during the Viking Age, an age that last for over 200 years.

Monday, May 5, 2014

The Helm of Awe and other Magical Staves

The Vikings' magical signs and staves can be found in Icelandic grimoires (books of magic). According the Icelandic Museum of Sorcery and Witchcraft some of the signs seem to be derived from medieval mysticism and renaissance occultism, while others show some relation to runic culture and the old Germanic belief in Thor and Odin. 

An example of a seal from a Grimoire

The Helm of Awe is the viking symbol of protection and was a magical stave. It was worn by the vikings between the eyes, often on their helmets, as a form of magic that induced fear in their enemies and protected against the abuse of power. The Helm of Awe (or Helm of Terror) in its many forms most often has eight three-forked ends.

Hulinhjalmur is a magical sign to make yourself invisible.

It was beleived if you drew the Veidistafur in wren's blood on a caul with a pen made of a raven's feather, then put it in a gimlet hole under the prow of your ship that you will always have a good catch.

If the Efohreintsveimarum was carved over the door of the house and an awl of juniper or silver was made this symbol was thought to keep the house clean.

The Angurgapi was carved on the ends of barrels to prevent leaking.

The Kaupalokar was used to promote prosper in trade; this stave was drawn on furry paper and kept secretly under one's left arm, success in trading was then thought to be ensured.

From a privatly owned 19th centery manucript

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Boar of the Anglo-Saxons

To the Anglo-Saxons the boar was a symbol of kingship, plenty, and protection in battle. It was seen in the everyday life of the nordic Anglo-Saxons, and was eaten along with apples at the ceremony of the mid-winter feast. It was also a symbol of strength and fertility. The boar with its crescent shaped tusks also symbolized the "Great Goddess" which was the goddess of battle, motherhood, and as the "Great Sow" (symbol of death).

The Symbol of a Boar

According to Thegns of Mercia the complex etymology of the boar is as follows:

"It would appear that the fundamental name for a ‘pig’ in Old English is or sugu. This means ‘sow’ and is cognate with the Old Norse sýr and the Old High German sau. These are derived from the Proto-Germanic sugó, which is itself derived from the Proto-Indo-European suhzkéhz, which is similar to the Sanskrit sukarah - a wild boar or swine. An associated word with the same roots is the Old English swín / swýn which gives us the modern word ‘swine’. This is cognate with the Old Norse svín.

There seem to be two words in Old English specifically for the Wild Boar. These are Eofor (“Ever”) and Bár. Eofor, which is cognate with the Old High German ebur and the Old Norse jór / jöfur, derives from the Proto-Germanic eburaz, which in turn comes from the Proto-Indo-European epuros. This is also the source of Latin aper - meaning ‘a wild boar’. Our modern English word ‘boar’ comes from the Old English bár. from West-Germanic *bairaz. This is said to be of unknown origin with no cognates outside West Germanic. It is tempting to derive it from the Proto-Indo-European root b(h)ars / bars - “bristling”. The modern English term ‘hog’, comes from Old English hogg. This is thought to be a borrowing from Old Norse höggva - to chop or cut."

A Anglo-Saxon Pin representing a Boar

The boar as a symbol of protection in battle is often seen on Anglo-Saxon war helmets. The golden boar was a symbol of divine power; often connected with the sun god Frey (only the golden boar is connected to the sun god Frey since gold was connected with his magic).

The Boar not only was adorned ceremonial objects, but also practical weapons as well. The Anglo-Saxons believed that anything with the adorned with the symbol of a boar was endowed with a magic energy that would suppress the fears of the user and inspire the warrior to to be brave in battle.

Image of the Gold Boar that placed upon the helmet in the Picture Below (Last Image)

The infamous Berserker warriors of the Anglo-Saxons were almost cult-like in their symbolism. They belonged to an elite order of Odin. In battle they wore only skins of boars, bears, or wolves; as well as a mixture of potent herbs that they believed would endow them with power of the animal that they wore. The Berserker  Warriors were fierce and charged into battle without any notion of maintaining personal safety, believing that any Berserker warrior was guaranteed a place in Valhalla. 

Vendel era bronze plate. Place of discovery: Öland, Sweden. Depicted are a berserker on the right and Oden on the left.

The Berserker Warriors even had an attack named the "Boar's Snout" (or Swine Array) which Berserker Warriors believed was given to the Viking People by Odin, the God of War. The Boar's Snout was used to create a hole in the enemy's shield wall and strike fear and panic through the opposing side.