Forn Sed – The Fennoscandic Perspective


Perhaps one thing i can observe in Scandinavian Forn Sed (exept for the temporal, non emphasis on the “Viking Age”) is a perspective that is more Fennoscandic.

There are discussions on wether the Sámi influenced the magic known as “Sidr” or not and i get the feeling that people outside of Scandinavia might see the different linguistic and ethnic groups as more historically “distinct” than they are.

They are different linguistic branches but they are also living next door.

During parts of our history (Sweden was a “superpower” for a while) both Finland and Estonia where parts of  the Swedish empire.

To a Swede it is only natural that both Finnish and Sámi influences are very present in our language and culture since long back.

An area close to where i live is called “Finnveden” (“The Finn  Woods”) because it was inhabited by forrest Finns.

Linguistics

There are three major official languages in Sweden, the same as in Finland: Swedish,Finnish and Sámi.

There are loanwords between all three and in some cases loanwords have even come back to the original language.

One such case being the cityof Haparanda in Sweden, the name is a loan from the Finnish “Haapa Ranta” (“Aspen Beach”).

“Ranta” in turn is a loanword from the Swedish “Strand” (“Beach”).

So, from Swedish to Finnish and back to Swedish again.

Seite, Sidr and so on

When it comes to religion and cult practices one might draw conclusions from the likness of “Seidr” and the Sámi “Seite”.

Stabben: A siedi(worshiped stone) inBalsfjord.

Seite is a word from Sámi religion but is more a matter of a natural idol than a methodology or discipline. It is often a large rock, oddly shaped tree or other natural formation.

The symbol of goddessBeaivi, hypostasis of the Sunand breeder of mankind. It’s also the pattern for tradtional Sami ritual drums.

The Noaide (“Shaman” in lack of a better term) IS however using a Bodhran like drum and a singing voice (there  is a distinct Sámi way of singing called “Joik”) and i imagine contemporary practitioners of “neo seidr” see “utesittning” (“sitting out”) a bit in that fashion (Shamanic trance work).

Solveig Andersson, jojk “bjiejjie”

Some have speculated that Galdr may be influenced by Joik but the same has been done with Kulning / Kauking and that sounds very different and has a different vocal technique.

Kulning / Kauking (Sweden / Norway)

However, trying to produce some artificial “separateness” between the languages because they are not related (ignoring region as a factor) is simply denying connections that are there acording to any etymologist i have read.

The Sámi God Horagalles is often also called Tiermes.

Sami people worshipping Horagalles or Tiermes. Copper engraving by Bernard Picart from Cérémonies et coutumes religieuses de tous les peuples du monde(1723–43)
Horagalles is also called Thoragalles and have been called Thoron or quite simply Thor.
He is described as wielding a hammer (sometimes two), creating thunder and fighting the obstructing powers, protecting man. He often has a nail or piece of flint in his head (my own speculation draws paralells to the shard from Hrungnirs weapon left in Thors forehead).
“Horagalles” pretty much means Þórr Karl (Thor Man).
The fact that Sámi is an Ural language and Norse a Germanic one has no real bearing (nor any arguments for them being different cultures. They are still in the same region).
The Finnish “God of thunder” is called Perkele, probably connected to Perkunas. He too has a hammer is connected to oaks and so forth.
Now, Perkunas is Baltic, not Uralic.
The Sámi moon goddess is named “Mano”.
Who influenced whom, when,if and how is open to speculation but to pretend there are no likenesses is simply being obstinate.
In all fairness totally unrelated cultures, like the African Dahomey and Yoruba cultures also have a world pillar and an axe wielding “God of thunder” (Xangó / Changó) but there there is no regional closeness or etymological connections (obviously).
Indigenous
One must remember that the Sámi are indigenous to this region and where here before there even was a distinct Germanic culture or language.
It is perhaps (?) easy to think of the Sámi as some native nomads inhabiting some corner of Fennoscandia but in reality their traditional land took up (about) half of todays Sweden and Norway and Norse people would have been in frequent contact with them.

The area traditionally inhabited by the Sami people.

Sweden in the 12th century before the incorporation of Finlandduring the 13th century.

  Geats
  Swedes
  Gutes
They would have been in southern Norway already ca.8300 BC – 7300 BC as the Fosna/Hensbacka cultures.
Archeology shows that people reached Utjoki in Finnish Lapland around  8100 BC.
The Germanic culture didnt come into being until around 1800 BC.

Map of the Nordic Bronze Age culture, around 1200 BCE

During the Iron Age and Viking Age there was heavy taxation on the Sámi by the Norse.
It is believed that a lot of Sámi where assimilated into Norse culture.
There are no proof of direct battles but there are folkloric sources naming the “Stalo”, interpreted by preacher Laestadius as Vikings, that where hostile.
Finns
There is research ongoing that might prove the first pre glacial, Neandethal finds in the Nordic countries.
Otherwise people of the Kunda and Swiderian cultures reached Finland as the ice withdrew ariound 9000 BCE and are believed to be the ancestors of the Finns and the Sámi.
Written history in Finland starts after a Swedish conquest. Iron Age is considered to have lasted 500 BC until c.1150 AD, by what time the Swedes where present.
There where Viking settlements in Finland and a lot of both commercial contact as well as plundering since pre Christian times.
There was Swedish rule in Finland through Birger Jarl since around 1249 (Second Swedish Crusade).
Wars with Finns are described in the Sagas and in legends (though “Finland” or “Finns” in this case could mean either what we call Sámi or Finns in this case).
“It happened one summer that King Agne went with his army to Finland, and landed and marauded. The Finland people gathered a large army, and proceeded to the strife under a chief called Froste. There was a great battle, in which King Agne gained the victory, and Froste fell there with a great many of his people. King Agne proceeded with armed hand through Finland, subdued it, and made enormous booty.”
Ynglinga Saga  (taking place in the 4:th century)
Norna Gests Thattr tells of Finnic Kvens and Curonians raiding in Sweden in the 8:th century.
Karelians are blamed for raiding and burning Sigtuna 1187 according to Erics Chronicle 1335.
According to Saxo and Snorri many heroes of Scandinavia had Finnic roots.
According to Egils Saga Norway had conflicts with the Kvens 873.
Divinities (Norse)
Völund (Wayland) is described as the son of a Finnic (Sámi) king in Völundskvida.

The hero Völundr the ‘ruler of the elves’ (vísi álfar), sometimes thought to bedwarves, nicknamed ‘dark elves’ (dökkálfar)
Hilda Ellis Davidson theorizes that Skadi may have had Sámi connections. She is a skier, archer and hunter and a cult in Hålogaland, northern Norway might have thrived because of this (a place where Norse and Sámi people would have lived in close proxemity) and that her split with Njördr might be symbolic of  a similar split between her cult and that of the Vanir.

Skade (1893) by Carl Fredrik von Saltza
Conclusion
All i am really trying to say is that this separateness of the Norse people that seems to be a picture held by some  outside of Scandinavia is usually not the one held by Scandinavians or Nordic people, neither is it shared by scholars.
The Norse people, as far as evidence goes, seems to have been anything BUT separate, especially from those neighbouring them, they where influenced  in both language, clothing, religion, jewlery and a number of other things.
I dont speak for other Nordic or Swedish people but i would be surprised if i cold find even one Swede with an interest in history that could imagine Swedish pre history/history separate from that of Finland and Sápmi.
That naturally spills over in Forn Sed too…..it being “Forn” and all.
(Finnish, Sámi or other historians / archeologists / anthropologists, feel free to correct anything incorrect here. Especially Stone Age pre history is not my forte).

Bragi


“Bragi” by Carl Wahlbom (1810-1858).
Bragi is the skaldic god of poetry in Norse mythology.
Bragi is generally associated with bragr, the Norse word for poetry. The name of the god may have been derived from bragr, or the term bragrmay have been formed to describe ‘what Bragi does’. A connection between the name Bragi and English brego ‘chieftain’ has been suggested but is generally now discounted. A connection between Bragi and the bragarfull ‘promise cup’ is sometimes suggested, as bragafull, an alternate form of the word, might be translated as ‘Bragi’s cup’. See Bragarfull.

Bragi is shown with a harp and accompanied by his wife Iðunn in this 19th century painting by Nils Blommér.

Snorri Sturluson writes in the Gylfaginning after describing OdinThor, and Baldr:

One is called Bragi: he is renowned for wisdom, and most of all for fluency of speech and skill with words. He knows most of skaldship, and after him skaldship is called bragr, and from his name that one is called bragr-man or -woman, who possesses eloquence surpassing others, of women or of men. His wife is Iðunn.

In Skáldskaparmál Snorri writes:

How should one periphrase Bragi? By calling him husband of Iðunnfirst maker of poetry, and the long-bearded god (after his name, a man who has a great beard is called Beard-Bragi), and son of Odin.

I hate how the word “viking” i still used as a name for an ethnicity. A bit like calling all 19th century Americans “Cowboys” regardless of proffesion, station socially or geographical situation.


Clearing Up Misconceptions that New Heathens May Have


New Heathens almost always encounter other Heathens on-line first, prior to meeting actual Heathens face-to-face in real life. Based on the behavior of many of the Heathens you encounter on-line, it would be easy to falsely conclude that all heathens are angry, mean people who like to argue and belittle other people. One might mistakenly conclude that the biggest problem facing Heathenry are the “hoards and hoards of racist” people calling themselves Heathen. One might start to incorrectly believe that Heathernry can take place on the internet. One might falsely conclude that the Prose and Poetic Edda are basically the Heathen Bible. One might sadly conclude that there is only one-true-way within Heathenry, and we’re debating and working hard to develop and define that one-true-way.

As easy as it would be to come to these conclusions, all of these conclusions would be essentially false.

REAL HEATHENS ARE A GENEROUS AND HOSPITABLE PEOPLE

Our Heathen ancestors put great important on their own families and their own local communities. But they held generosity and hospitality as important strengths of a man’s character. A man who knew how to be a generous host, and how to treat his guests well, would earn himself great respect among his peers.

Modern Heathens focus on their families and their kindred, living in Frith and cooperation within their trusted Innangarth, or trusted inner circle. While focus closely on family, kindred, and friends, they also understand the importance of extending hospitality to heathens traveling through or visiting their local area or kindred.

A man’s reputation, or Gefrain, is based on his deeds, how much he accomplishes, his generosity, his hospitality, and his honor. There is nothing about Asatru or Heathenry that encourages meaningless anger or pointless confrontations. But,on-line Heathenry is rife with keyboard cowboys that seem to delight in tearing other people down, name-calling, and being as confrontational as possible. This says much more about the nature of the internet and the nature of these people, than it has to do with Heathenry itself.

THE VAST MAJORITY OF HEATHENS ARE PROUD OF THEIR ANCESTORS

Heathens are proud of their history, their culture, and their ancestors. We feel that we share a connection with our ancestors by blood, by culture, and by Orlog, a part of the Heathen soul that is passed from parent to child. This pride is a positive pride, and does not involve hatred for other cultures or a need to tear other cultures down in favor of our own.

Some mistake this positive pride as somehow being “racist.” You’ll find that most “Folkish” Heathens don’t even use the word “Race,” in reference to their beliefs…because pride in one’s ancestors is not about “Race.” This on-going “racist” debate and name-calling is decades old within Heathenry, and has gotten us no where. It is an enormous distraction from anything constructive and positive. It should be noted, that this “racist” debate, is almost exclusively something that takes place on-line. It is an internet phenomenon, and utterly pointless.

Racism is not specifically a Heathen problem. Racism is not the problem of any one particular group. There are Racists within every religion. Christian Racists. Muslim Racists. Jewish Racists. Hindu Racists. Even Wiccan Racists.

Jotun’s Bane Kindred has been to scores of face-to-face heathen gatherings. The topic of “Race” or “Racism” never comes up at these gatherings, and is a complete non-issue within real Heathenry. It is only on-line that self-appointed “crusaders,” harp on this topic constantly. In so doing, they give the issue more time and attention that it deserves. Listening to these proverbial “Chicken Littles” on-line, one would think that Racism was a major problem within Heathenry…and that the sky is falling. I doubt they realize it, but their constant feeding and attention of this non-issue, gives this non-existent internet bogey-man a life of its own.

Rather than running about telling people what we aren’t, we should be focusing our time on telling people who we are, and why. We should explain why we honor our ancestors, and how important they are to us. What few “racist” Heathens there are, cease to have any real impact when we ignore and shun them as a topic, and focus our time and energy on moving forward.

REAL HEATHENRY TAKES PLACE FACE-TO-FACE

Real Heathenry is about community, gathering as a people, shaking a man or woman’s hand, looking them in the eye, hearing their voice, telling stories, getting to know each other. Its letting your kids play together. Letting your spouses get to know each other. Its about laughing at dumb jokes, and telling stories from your life. Its about mingling Wyrd…and taking the measure of another person, and finding them of worth.

Real Heathenry is about actually DOING something. Reading, scholarship, communication, discussing various beliefs, and even debating approaches to our Folkway are important. But, we are our deeds. What have you done? What are you doing? What will you do?

Starting, growing, and maintaining kindreds is a way of bringing Heathenry home. You build close-knit bonds of Frith with other Heathens that then become part of your Innangarth, or trusted inner circle. Gathering with other Heathens and living in Frith with them, allows for collective Luck to be built, and for great things to be accomplished. Our children get to know and play with other Heathen children. And we establish Heathen communities that draw other members of our Folk home to their ancestral Folkway.

These things can only happen face-to-face. We should never mistake internet interactions and acquaintances as “real.” They are just pixels on a screen, and these pixels flicker out when the machine is unplugged.

THE POETIC EDDA AND PROSE EDDA ARE HISTORICAL TEXTS

The Poetic Edda and Prose Edda are both historical texts, written by men. Both texts were actually written down by Christian men. The Poetic Edda was an attempt by Christians to record in writing the old poetry of their oral storytelling culture. The Poetic Edda was written by Snori Sturleson in order to preserve enough knowledge about Norse mythology and the meanings of poetic kennings, to preserve the poetry forms of the North. Heathens understand that these books are not “the word” of our Gods.

We include the Poetic Edda and Prose Edda among our Lore, a collection of primary sources we look to for information about the religion, ways, and world-view of our ancestors. We also include among this Lore, the Icelandic Sagas, Beowulf, and other contemporary writings of the time. But none of these books are “scripture.”

But you will encounter Heathens that read the poetry recorded in the Poetic Edda as scripture. They will quote it, and interpret it as literal truth, without any critical thought as to how and when they were recorded, and by whom. They quote information in the Prose Edda, as if what Snori Sturleson wrote is exactly what all Heathens thorughout history believed of our Gods and Goddesses, and the Nine Worlds. Yes, information from both the Poetic and Prose Eddas is important and well worth considering. But both sources are the works of men, and not the works of our Gods.

Other religions have their Holy Books, which they proclaim are the direct “Word” of their god. But our Heathen ancestors did not have a written tradition, nor a holy book. And modern Heathens also do not have a holy book.

TRIBAL VARIANCES ARE ACKNOWLEDGED AND EXPECTED

The ways of our Ancestors varied greatly from tribe to tribe, location to location, century to century, and even among various levels of society. The same situation exists today within modern Heathenry. There was no “one-true-way” among our ancestors and there is no “one-true-way among modern Heathens. We live in different regions, we have different backgrounds and upbringings, we have different life experiences, different personalities, different interests, and different ways of interpreting things we read and learn.

One of the great strengths of grassroots, local kindred-based, tribal heathenry is the understanding among various tribes that they can have unity of purpose and work together, without having unified beliefs or practices.

But, you will encounter Asatruars and Heathens who feel they are right, and everyone else is dreadfully wrong. Heathens who believe that the goal of the Reconstruction of our ancestral Folkway, is to rediscover the “one-true-way” of our ancestors. These Asatruars and Heathens debate angrily over details, denigrating and insulting all those that do things differently than they do, and they seem completely oblivious to the fact that the never was “one-true-way” of Heathenry.

When you look at the behavior of these elitists who insist there was one-true-way, and that they specifically are the ones that have found it, and that everyone else is wrong…does it not feel eerily familiar of the desert faiths, with their one-true-way?

Our ancestors did not act in this way, and I’m always amazed when people who claim to be the most well-read and learned among us, act in a way that is so contrary to how our ancestors would have approached their own ancestral Folkway.

BEST WAY TO CLEAR UP MISCONCEPTIONS

The best way to clear up these internet-oriented misconceptions is to meet or gather with other heathens face-to-face.  If there is a kindred or tribe within traveling distance of where you live, arranged to visit them or attend one of their meetings.  If there is no kindred or tribe within traveling distance, do some research on Heathen Gatherings…and attend one.  There is nothing like meeting with or gathering with other heathens, to give you better insight into the reality of Heathenry…rather than what lurks in the internet shadows.

Mark Ludwig Stinson

Jotun’s Bane Kindred

Temple of Our Heathen Gods

http://www.heathengods.com/

(Source: facebook.com)

Havamal


 Hávamál (“Sayings of the high one”) is presented as a single poem in the Poetic Edda, a collection of Old Norse poems from the Viking age. The poem, itself a combination of different poems, is largely gnomic, presenting advice for living, proper conduct and wisdom. The verses are attributed to Odin, much like the biblical Book of Wisdom is attributed to Solomon. The implicit attribution to Odin facilitated the accretion of various mythological material also dealing with Odin. For the most part composed in the metre Ljóðaháttr, a metre associated with wisdom verse, Hávamál is both practical and metaphysical in content. Following the gnomic “Hávamálproper” follows the Rúnatal, an account of how Odin won the runes, and the Ljóðatal, a list of magic chants or spells.   The Hávamál is edited in 165 stanzas by Bellows (1936). Other editions give 164 stanzas, combining Bellow’s stanzas 11 and 12, as the manuscript abbreviates the last two lines of stanzas 11. Some editors also combine Bellow’s stanzas 163 and 164. In the following, Bellow’s numeration is used. The poems in Hávamál is traditionally taken to consist of at least five independent parts, the Gestaþáttr, or Hávamál proper, (stanzas 1-80), a collection of proverbs and gnomic wisdom a dissertation on the faithlessness of women (stanzas 81-95), prefacing an account of the love-story of Odin and the daughter of Billingr (stanzas 96-102) and the story of how Odin got the mead of poetry from the maidenGunnlöð (stanzas 103-110) the Loddfáfnismál (stanzas 111-138), a collection of gnomic verses similar to the Gestaþáttr, addressed to a certain Loddfáfnir the Rúnatal (stanzas 139-146), an account of how Odin won the runes, introductory to the Ljóðatal the Ljóðatal (stanzas 147-165), a collection of charms Stanzas 6 and 27 are expanded beyond the standard four lines by an additional two lines of “commentary”. Bellow’s edition inverses the manuscript order of stanzas 39 and 40. Bellow’s stanza 138 (Ljóðalok) is taken from the very end of the poem in the manuscript, placed before the Rúnatal by most editors following Müllenhoff. Stanzas 65, 73-74, 79, 111, 133-134, 163 are defective. Stanzas 81-84 are in Malahattr, 85-88 in Fornyrthislag. The entire section of 81-102 appears to be an ad hoc interpolation. Stanza 145 is also an interpolation in Malahattr. [edit]Contents [edit]Gestaþáttr The first section Gestaþáttr, the “guest’s section”. Stanzas 1 through 79 comprise a set of maxims for how to handle oneself when a guest and traveling, focusing particularly on manners and other behavioral relationships between hosts and guests and the sacred lore of reciprocity and hospitality to the Norse pagans. The first stanza exemplifies the practical behavioral advice it offers: All the entrances, before you walk forward,you should look at,you should spy out;for you can’t know for certain where enemies are sitting,ahead in the hallNumber 77 is possibly the most known section of Gestaþáttr:  Deyr fé,deyja frændr,deyr sjálfr et sama;ek veit einn,at aldri deyr:dómr of dauðan hvern.Cattle die,kinsmen diethe self must also die;I know one thingwhich never dies:the reputation of each dead man.[4][edit]On women Billingr’s girl watches on while Odin encounters the bitch tied to her bedpost (1895) by Lorenz Frølich. Stanzas 84 to 110 deal with the general topic of romantic love and the character of women. It is introduced by a discussion of the faithlessness of women and advice for the seducing of them in stanzas 84-95, followed by two mythological accounts of Odin’s interaction with women also known as “Odin’s Examples” or “Odin’s Love Quests”. The first is an account of Odin’s thwarted attempt of possessing the daughter of Billing (stanzas 96-102), followed by the story of the mead of poetry which Odin won by seducing its guardian, the maiden Gunnlöð (stanzas 103-110). [edit]Loddfáfnismál The Loddfáfnismál (stanzas 111-138) is again gnomic, dealing with morals, ethics, correct action and codes of conduct. The section is directed to Loddfáfnir (“stray-singer”). [edit]Rúnatal “Odin’s Self-sacrifice” (1908) by W. G. Collingwood.The younger Jelling stone (erected byHarald Bluetooth ca. 970) shows thecrucifixion of Christ with the victim suspended in the branches of a tree instead of on a cross.[5]Rúnatal or Óðins Rune Song, Rúnatáls-þáttr-Óðins (stanzas 138-146) is a section of the Hávamál where Odin reveals the origins of the runes. In stanzas 138 and 139, Odin describes his sacrifice of himself to himself:  Veit ec at ec hecc vindga meiði anetr allar nío,geiri vndaþr oc gefinn Oðni,sialfr sialfom mer,a þeim meiþi, er mangi veit, hvers hann af rótom renn.  I know that I hung on a windy treenine long nights,wounded with a spear, dedicated to Odin,myself to myself,on that tree of which no man knowsfrom where its roots run.Við hleifi mic seldo ne viþ hornigi,nysta ec niþr,nam ec vp rvnar,opandi nam,fell ec aptr þaðan.No bread did they give me nor a drink from a horn,downwards I peered;I took up the runes, screaming I took them,then I fell back from there.The “windy tree” from which the victim hangs is often identified with the world tree Yggdrasil by commentators. The entire scene, the sacrifice of a god to himself, the execution method by hanging the victim on a tree, and the wound inflicted on the victim by a spear, is often compared to the crucifixion of Christ as narrated in the gospels. The parallelism of Odin and Christ during the period of open co-existence of Christianity and Norse paganism in Scandinavia (the 9th to 12th centuries, corresponding with the assumed horizon of the poem’s composition) is also evident from other sources. To what extent this parallelism is an incidental similarity of the mode of human sacrifice offered to Odin and the crucifixion, and to what extent Christianity exerted direct influence on the mythology associated with Odin, is a complex question on which scholarly opinions vary. [edit]Ljóðatal The last section, the Ljóðatal enumerates eighteen charms (songs, ljóð), prefaced with Ljóð eg þau kann / er kann-at þjóðans kona / og mannskis mögur“The songs I know / that king’s wives know not / Nor men that are sons of men” (stanza 147).The charms themselves are not given, just their application or effect described. They are explicitly counted from “the first” in stanza 147, and “a second” to “an eighteenth” in stanzas 148 to 165, given in roman numerals in the manuscript. There is no explicit mention of runes or runic magic in the Ljóðatal excepting in the twelfth charm (stanza 158), which takes up the motif of Odin hanging on the tree and its association with runes, svo eg ríst / og í rúnum fá’g“So do I write / and color the runes”Nevertheless, because of the Rúnatal preceding the list, the Ljóðatal has been associated with the runes, specifically with the sixteen letters of the Younger Futhark. Müllenhoff takes the original Ljóðatal to have ended with stanza 161, with the final three charms (16th to 18th) taken as late and obscure additions. [edit]Germanic Neopaganism The difference of sixteen runes of the Younger Futhark vs. eighteen charms in the Ljóðatal has notably motivated proponents of Germanic mysticism to expand the row by two extra runes. The best-known attempt to this effect are the Armanen runes by Guido von List (1902). Various proponents of Germanic Neopagan groups place an emphasis on Hávamál as a source of a Norse pagan ethical code of conduct. The “Nine Noble Virtues”, first compiled byOdinic Rite founder John “Stubba” Yeowell in the 1970s are “loosely based” on the Hávamál.[citation needed] The Northvegr Foundation cites the Hávamál among other Old Norse and Old English sources to illustrate “the ethical ideal of the Northern spiritual faith of Heithni.” Sveinbjörn Beinteinsson, leader of the Icelandic Ásatrúarfélagið, published his performance of a number of Eddaic poems, including the Hávamál, chanted in rímur style.

 

Hávamál (“Sayings of the high one”) is presented as a single poem in the Poetic Edda, a collection of Old Norse poems from the Viking age. The poem, itself a combination of different poems, is largely gnomic, presenting advice for living, proper conduct and wisdom.

The verses are attributed to Odin, much like the biblical Book of Wisdom is attributed to Solomon. The implicit attribution to Odin facilitated the accretion of various mythological material also dealing with Odin.

For the most part composed in the metre Ljóðaháttr, a metre associated with wisdom verse, Hávamál is both practical and metaphysical in content. Following the gnomic “Hávamálproper” follows the Rúnatal, an account of how Odin won the runes, and the Ljóðatal, a list of magic chants or spells.

The Hávamál is edited in 165 stanzas by Bellows (1936). Other editions give 164 stanzas, combining Bellow’s stanzas 11 and 12, as the manuscript abbreviates the last two lines of stanzas 11. Some editors also combine Bellow’s stanzas 163 and 164. In the following, Bellow’s numeration is used.

The poems in Hávamál is traditionally taken to consist of at least five independent parts,

  1. the Gestaþáttr, or Hávamál proper, (stanzas 1-80), a collection of proverbs and gnomic wisdom
  2. a dissertation on the faithlessness of women (stanzas 81-95), prefacing an account of the love-story of Odin and the daughter of Billingr (stanzas 96-102) and the story of how Odin got the mead of poetry from the maidenGunnlöð (stanzas 103-110)
  3. the Loddfáfnismál (stanzas 111-138), a collection of gnomic verses similar to the Gestaþáttr, addressed to a certain Loddfáfnir
  4. the Rúnatal (stanzas 139-146), an account of how Odin won the runes, introductory to the Ljóðatal
  5. the Ljóðatal (stanzas 147-165), a collection of charms

Stanzas 6 and 27 are expanded beyond the standard four lines by an additional two lines of “commentary”. Bellow’s edition inverses the manuscript order of stanzas 39 and 40. Bellow’s stanza 138 (Ljóðalok) is taken from the very end of the poem in the manuscript, placed before the Rúnatal by most editors following Müllenhoff. Stanzas 65, 73-74, 79, 111, 133-134, 163 are defective.

Stanzas 81-84 are in Malahattr, 85-88 in Fornyrthislag. The entire section of 81-102 appears to be an ad hoc interpolation. Stanza 145 is also an interpolation in Malahattr.

Contents

Gestaþáttr

The first section Gestaþáttr, the “guest’s section”. Stanzas 1 through 79 comprise a set of maxims for how to handle oneself when a guest and traveling, focusing particularly on manners and other behavioral relationships between hosts and guests and the sacred lore of reciprocity and hospitality to the Norse pagans.

The first stanza exemplifies the practical behavioral advice it offers:

All the entrances, before you walk forward,
you should look at,
you should spy out;
for you can’t know for certain where enemies are sitting,
ahead in the hall

Number 77 is possibly the most known section of Gestaþáttr:

 

Deyr fé,
deyja frændr,
deyr sjálfr et sama;
ek veit einn,
at aldri deyr:
dómr of dauðan hvern.
Cattle die,
kinsmen die
the self must also die;
I know one thing
which never dies:
the reputation of each dead man.

On women

Billingr’s girl watches on while Odin encounters the bitch tied to her bedpost (1895) by Lorenz Frølich.Stanzas 84 to 110 deal with the general topic of romantic love and the character of women.

It is introduced by a discussion of the faithlessness of women and advice for the seducing of them in stanzas 84-95, followed by two mythological accounts of Odin’s interaction with women also known as “Odin’s Examples” or “Odin’s Love Quests”. The first is an account of Odin’s thwarted attempt of possessing the daughter of Billing (stanzas 96-102), followed by the story of the mead of poetry which Odin won by seducing its guardian, the maiden Gunnlöð (stanzas 103-110).

Loddfáfnismál

The Loddfáfnismál (stanzas 111-138) is again gnomic, dealing with morals, ethics, correct action and codes of conduct. The section is directed to Loddfáfnir (“stray-singer”).

Rúnatal

“Odin’s Self-sacrifice” (1908) by W. G. Collingwood.The younger Jelling stone (erected byHarald Bluetooth ca. 970) shows thecrucifixion of Christ with the victim suspended in the branches of a tree instead of on a cross.Rúnatal or Óðins Rune SongRúnatáls-þáttr-Óðins (stanzas 138-146) is a section of the Hávamál where Odin reveals the origins of the runes. In stanzas 138 and 139, Odin describes his sacrifice of himself to himself:

Veit ec at ec hecc vindga meiði a
netr allar nío,
geiri vndaþr oc gefinn Oðni,
sialfr sialfom mer,
a þeim meiþi, er mangi veit, hvers hann af rótom renn.
I know that I hung on a windy tree
nine long nights,
wounded with a spear, dedicated to Odin,
myself to myself,
on that tree of which no man knows
from where its roots run.
Við hleifi mic seldo ne viþ hornigi,
nysta ec niþr,
nam ec vp rvnar,
opandi nam,
fell ec aptr þaðan.
No bread did they give me nor a drink from a horn,
downwards I peered;
I took up the runes, screaming I took them,
then I fell back from there.

The “windy tree” from which the victim hangs is often identified with the world tree Yggdrasil by commentators. The entire scene, the sacrifice of a god to himself, the execution method by hanging the victim on a tree, and the wound inflicted on the victim by a spear, is often compared to the crucifixion of Christ as narrated in the gospels. The parallelism of Odin and Christ during the period of open co-existence of Christianity and Norse paganism in Scandinavia (the 9th to 12th centuries, corresponding with the assumed horizon of the poem’s composition) is also evident from other sources. To what extent this parallelism is an incidental similarity of the mode of human sacrifice offered to Odin and the crucifixion, and to what extent Christianity exerted direct influence on the mythology associated with Odin, is a complex question on which scholarly opinions vary.

Ljóðatal

The last section, the Ljóðatal enumerates eighteen charms (songs, ljóð), prefaced with

Ljóð eg þau kann / er kann-at þjóðans kona / og mannskis mögur
“The songs I know / that king’s wives know not / Nor men that are sons of men” (stanza 147).

The charms themselves are not given, just their application or effect described. They are explicitly counted from “the first” in stanza 147, and “a second” to “an eighteenth” in stanzas 148 to 165, given in roman numerals in the manuscript.

There is no explicit mention of runes or runic magic in the Ljóðatal excepting in the twelfth charm (stanza 158), which takes up the motif of Odin hanging on the tree and its association with runes,

svo eg ríst / og í rúnum fá’g
“So do I write / and color the runes”

Nevertheless, because of the Rúnatal preceding the list, the Ljóðatal has been associated with the runes, specifically with the sixteen letters of the Younger Futhark.

Müllenhoff takes the original Ljóðatal to have ended with stanza 161, with the final three charms (16th to 18th) taken as late and obscure additions.

Germanic Neopaganism

The difference of sixteen runes of the Younger Futhark vs. eighteen charms in the Ljóðatal has notably motivated proponents of Germanic mysticism to expand the row by two extra runes. The best-known attempt to this effect are the Armanen runes by Guido von List (1902).

Various proponents of Germanic Neopagan groups place an emphasis on Hávamál as a source of a Norse pagan ethical code of conduct. The “Nine Noble Virtues”, first compiled byOdinic Rite founder John “Stubba” Yeowell in the 1970s are “loosely based” on the Hávamál.[citation needed] The Northvegr Foundation cites the Hávamál among other Old Norse and Old English sources to illustrate “the ethical ideal of the Northern spiritual faith of Heithni.”

Sveinbjörn Beinteinsson, leader of the Icelandic Ásatrúarfélagið, published his performance of a number of Eddaic poems, including the Hávamál, chanted in rímur style.

 

Preserved foods of the Viking Age


 Preserved foods of the Viking Age   Why food preservation is important While the urban population during the Viking age may have had access to frequent markets or food stalls, the majority of the (rural) Vikings population had to rely on food preservation to survive the winter.  Most Viking farmers had comparatively small holdings, and produced food mainly for the subsistence of their own families, rather than generating cash crops what would allow them to purchase food from external sources. Starving sucks In a subsistence farming economy, each farming household had to rely on the produce of their farm for the majority of their living.  Given the short growing season in the North, it was even more important to preserve the farm’s produce over the winter. No refrigeration Almost all of the techniques for food preservation that we rely upon today were unknown in the Viking Age.  There were no refrigerators, no canned food, and no freeze drying (at least as we know it today).  The Vikings had to rely on traditional methods of food preservation. Some vegetable foods can be preserved in their “raw” form over the winter, particularly in a cool climate.  Onions, root vegetables, and to some extent cabbages can be preserved by burying them in sand or loose soil, or storing them in hay in a cool place like a root cellar.  Since Viking cabbages were not headed cabbages like we have today, they probably didn’t hold up to such treatment as well as modern head cabbage. How was food preserved Drying Many different foods can be preserved by drying, including grain, meat and fish, vegetables and fruit.  Drying is well suited to the cold and often windy conditions prevalent in Northern Europe, and requires little in the way of resources.  Dried food can be kept for long periods of time as long as it is kept away from moisture.  Foods with a high fat content do not dry well without salt or other anti-bacterial agent. Pickling Many different foods can be pickled, either in vinegar, salt, or other acids such as soured whey.  In areas where salt was affordable, meat, vegetables and fish can be pickled in salt.  In areas where salt was more expensive or unavailable, the same foods could be preserved in vinegar or sour whey.  Soft vegetables, and fattier meats such as pork lend themselves well to pickling. Salting Some foods can be preserved in salt without liquids, such as some cheeses, smoked fish, or fatty meats like pork.  However, the farther north you go in the Viking world, the less likely it is that salt was readily available or affordable.  In Iceland salt was essentially absent, so pickling in acid or drying were much more practical.  In the South, such as parts of Denmark or the Danelaw in England, salt would have been more available and affordable, making things like bacon, ham, or smoked fish more popular. Fermentation There are a whole host of bacteria that can be employed to preserve food for human consumption.  Lactobacilli can pickle meat and vegetables by producing acid in liquids.  Cheese, soured milk, and other dairy ferments are all produced by bacteria as well.  Fermentation also produces alcohol, vinegar, and a wealth of other healthy and long-keeping foods. Smoking Smoking is particularly important in keeping food that has a high fat content and will not be kept in liquid, such as ham, bacon, smoked fish or smoked cheeses.  Smoking by itself is not sufficient, and smoked foods usually need to be salted as well.  Smoke was also used to preserve some foods on a day to day basis.  Dried breads were hung from a pole or string over the hearth, where the heat and smoke kept them dry and free from insects. What was preserved Grains Grains such as barley, rye and oats can be preserved for a limited time just by drying.  But grain in bins can only last so long.  There are several ways of making the calories from grain last longer. Bread Bread or crackers baked hard will keep longer than grain by itself.  Hard tack or crisp bread dried completely and stored in either waterproof containers or over the fire will keep nearly indefinitely.  They are easy to eat, easy to store, and easy to transport.  Thin dried bread (like modern rye crisps) can be eaten plain or with fish, cheese, or whatever you might have.  Hard tack is best soaked or cooked in liquid before eating.  You can break up hard tack for “porridge” or use it to thicken soups. Beer Calories from grain can also be preserved in the form of beer.  By converting some of the grain’s starch to alcohol, bacteria or other contaminants can’t grow, and the calories are preserved.  However, it is unclear how long the kind of beer made by the Vikings would really have kept.  Given the brewing techniques available, beer may have been comparatively perishable. Fruit The Vikings had access to a wide variety of fruits, and many of those are comparatively easy to store.  Some fruit can be dried, some pickled, and a few might keep in a cool place well into the Fall at least. Dried Several easily dried stone fruits, including cherries and plums of various kinds were known to the Vikings.  Apples can be dried as well, and some berries can be dried in a dry enough climate. Pickled Apples in particular are traditionally pickled all over Europe today, and lend themselves well to it. Frozen? It is traditional in Finland to store lingonberries in water, which then freezes during cold weather.  There’s no evidence (that I’ve seen) to suggest this was common in the Viking Age, but it’s not something that would be likely to show up in the archeological record. Vegetables Cold storage Some vegetables will keep for a long time in cold storage if properly packed and cared for, such as turnips, carrots, parsnips, onions, and garlic.  See above note on cabbages. Pickles The most likely way to preserve vegetables is by fermenting them.  Lactic acid pickles are easy to make, delicious and nutritious to eat, and contribute to a healthy digestive system (as modern science is rediscovering).  Sauerkraut and “kosher” or “sour” dill pickles are good modern examples, but other vegetables like turnips, carrots, celery and others can all be pickled this way.  Once you have a good bacterial culture, such pickles can be made with little to no salt, as it is primarily the lactic acid produced by the friendly bacteria that keep out the unfriendly ones. Meat Salt The most common way to preserve meats is with salt.  Salts of various types (sodium/potassium/etc.) keep unfriendly bacteria from getting into meat and allow it to be stored for long periods.  Smoking will help fattier meats keep longer than salt by itself, as will immersing them in liquid (brine) since the liquid helps keep oxygen away from the meat. Acid Acid solutions such as vinegar or soured whey can also be used to preserve meats.  Sausages in particular have traditionally been pickled in brine, in vinegar, in sourced whey, or by themselves.  In Iceland they still use sour whey to preserve sausages made at slaughtering time, and such was most likely the case in the Viking Age as well.  Some traditional (i.e. early modern) sausages are made with rye flour added to them.  When rye flour is left in water, it sours naturally, so the rye-laden sausages were placed in jars of water that soured and thus preserved the sausages.  Note: any such meat preserved in acid without salt is cooked first before being submerged. Fish Pickled Many oilier fish can be readily pickled.  Herring, sardines, anchovies and possibly mackerel-esque fishes can be pickled in salt or in a lactic acid solution.  The pickled herring that adorn the modern Scandinavian table are certainly different, since they tend to contain a fair amount of sugar and spices that were unavailable in the Viking period, but the overall effect would have been the same.  Chopped up bits or herring suspended in a sour solution, possibly with the addition of some salt if available. Dried One of the great mainstays and staple foods of the Viking world was dried cod.  Because cod contain almost no fat, they can be dried hard in the cold and windy Scandinavian climate, and will keep pretty much as long as they can be kept dry.  The Viking warriors who travelled overseas took dried cod with them, and in a pinch were known to gnaw on the dried fillets all by themselves.  In a more comfortable setting, the stockfish, or klipfisk, would have been soaked in liquid until they were soft(er) and made into soup or mixed into other dishes. Smoked If salt is available, oilier fish can be smoked.  Salmon, herring, haddock, and mackerel can be smoked and preserved for long periods, although not as long as cod. Dairy products Only a very few Scandinavians are lactose intolerant compared with rates in the rest of the world.  It has long been speculated that this is because dairy products are easy to produce and the keep in their climate, which makes the ability to digest milk into adulthood a survival characteristic.  Whether that is true or not, it is certainly true that milk and milk products have long played an integral role and source of nutrition in Scandinavia since well before the Viking Age.  Dairy products are one of the few food products mentioned in the sagas, so there is some good documentary evidence for milk and milk products in the Viking period. Sour milk If raw (unpasteurized) milk is left out in mild temperatures, it will naturally grow lactobacilli that cause it to sour.  Sour milk was commonly drunk as a beverage and probably used in cooking, baking, and in making cheese.  In early modern Sweden, sour milk was mixed with small beer both as a beverage and as a cooking medium.  If sour milk is heated, it will coagulate, and can then be drained to make a simple cheese to be eaten fresh, or preserved with salt or further bacterial action as cheese. Cheese The simplest fresh or “farmer’s” cheese can be made from soured milk or fresh milk which is heated and coagulated by the addition of soured milk or other acids. Milk can also be combined with rennet to create a whole variety of cheeses and cheese products.  If salted and dried, “hard” cheeses can be kept for very long periods of time without spoiling. Skyr Skyr is somewhere between a cultured milk and a cheese.  It is cultured with lactobacilli much like yogurt of buttermilk, but it also is coagulated with rennet.  Once the rennet causes it to set, the curds are drained, and the result is very similar to a drained yogurt.  It is mildly sour and quite dense, and contains a great deal of protein.  Skyr is traditionally made with skim milk, since the milk fat was used to make butter.  Skyr was a mainstay of the Icelandic diet, and was eaten by itself, with fruit, or mixed into porridge or other dishes to stretch them and to add additional protein. Butter The milk fat from cow’s milk is easily converted into butter, which has a much longer shelf life than fresh milk.  Also, since the Vikings tended to make butter from cultured or soured milk, the additional acid content would help preserve the butter. Other cultured milk products The documentary evidence speaks mainly of “sour” milk, but it is unclear if that means raw milk that sours naturally, or milk which was intentionally cultured.  In modern Scandinavia, there are a number of cultured milk products that are “traditional” (meaning at least early modern) but there is no telling how far they go back.  Piima, viili, and fil mjolk are all examples of modern Finnish or Swedish dairy cultures.  They are fairly easy to obtain and to propagate, and may come close to simulated the naturally soured milk that we can no longer achieve with pasteurized milk today. What evidence do we have? Unfortunately, fermented foods are difficult to distinguish in the archeological record.  Most food products decompose rapidly, and if anything is left it is the hard parts like seeds and bones, where it would be almost impossible to tell if they came from preserved foods or fresh.  There is some evidence from the sagas about butter, cheese, skyr and sour milk, as well as dried cod.  Several pieces of carbonized breads have been found in various Viking contexts, and good analysis has been done on their composition. Luckily, a few artifacts have survived that are linked to food preservation The bottom board from a rectangular cheese press made of wood, similar to those used in Aland in the early modern period Several wooden butter churns Curd strainers, both wooden and hair Vegetable matter from potsherds consistent with fermentation References Primary sources Hansson, Ann-Marie. On Plant Food in the Scandinavian Peninsula in Early Medieval Times.  Theses and Papers in Archaeology B:5. Stockholm: University of Stockholm. 1997. Isaksson, Sven.  The culture of food in Early Medieval Middle Sweden.  A pottery use perspective.Food and Rank in Early Medieval Time. Stockholm: University of Stockholm. 2000. Jørgensen, G. et al. Analyses of Medieval Plant Remains, Textiles and Wood from Medieval Svendborg. The Archaeology of Svendborg 4, Odense: Odense University Press. 1986. Early modern references Bringéus, Nils-Arvid. “A Swedish beer milk shake.”Milk and Milk Products from Medieval to Modern Times. ed. Patricia Lysaght, pp. 140-150.  Precedings of the Ninth International Conference on Ethnological Food Research.  Edinburgh: Conongate Academic, 1994. Gísladóttir, Hallgerður. “The use of whey in Icelandic households.” Milk and Milk Products from Medieval to Modern Times. ed. Patricia Lysaght, pp. 123-129.  Precedings of the Ninth International Conference on Ethnological Food Research.  Edinburgh: Conongate Academic, 1994. Modern works on food preservation Nourishing Traditions, by Sally Fallon Wild Fermentation, by Sandor Katz Truly Cultured, by Nancy Lee Bentley Preserving Food without Freezing or Canning, by the Gardeners and Farmers of Centre Terre Vivante Making sauerkraut and pickled vegetables at home, by Klaus Kaufmann Charcuterie, by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn Resources Dairy cultures http://www.culturesforhealth.com/ in Oregon City has several dairy as well as vegetable cultures, and fermentation and cheese making equipment. http://gemcultures.com/ in Lakewood, WA has several dairy cultures. In the past I’ve gotten piima and fil mjolk cultures from www.fermentedtreasures.com, but their server seems to have gone kaplooey. http://www.kookoolanfarms.com in Yamhill has lots of cheese making supplies, as well as raw cow’s milk http://www.cheesemaking.com is Ricki Caroll’s excellent cheese making supply company.

 

Preserved foods of the Viking Age

Why food preservation is important

While the urban population during the Viking age may have had access to frequent markets or food stalls, the majority of the (rural) Vikings population had to rely on food preservation to survive the winter.  Most Viking farmers had comparatively small holdings, and produced food mainly for the subsistence of their own families, rather than generating cash crops what would allow them to purchase food from external sources.

Starving sucks

In a subsistence farming economy, each farming household had to rely on the produce of their farm for the majority of their living.  Given the short growing season in the North, it was even more important to preserve the farm’s produce over the winter.

No refrigeration

Almost all of the techniques for food preservation that we rely upon today were unknown in the Viking Age.  There were no refrigerators, no canned food, and no freeze drying (at least as we know it today).  The Vikings had to rely on traditional methods of food preservation.

Some vegetable foods can be preserved in their “raw” form over the winter, particularly in a cool climate.  Onions, root vegetables, and to some extent cabbages can be preserved by burying them in sand or loose soil, or storing them in hay in a cool place like a root cellar.  Since Viking cabbages were not headed cabbages like we have today, they probably didn’t hold up to such treatment as well as modern head cabbage.

How was food preserved

Drying

Many different foods can be preserved by drying, including grain, meat and fish, vegetables and fruit.  Drying is well suited to the cold and often windy conditions prevalent in Northern Europe, and requires little in the way of resources.  Dried food can be kept for long periods of time as long as it is kept away from moisture.  Foods with a high fat content do not dry well without salt or other anti-bacterial agent.

Pickling

Many different foods can be pickled, either in vinegar, salt, or other acids such as soured whey.  In areas where salt was affordable, meat, vegetables and fish can be pickled in salt.  In areas where salt was more expensive or unavailable, the same foods could be preserved in vinegar or sour whey.  Soft vegetables, and fattier meats such as pork lend themselves well to pickling.

Salting

Some foods can be preserved in salt without liquids, such as some cheeses, smoked fish, or fatty meats like pork.  However, the farther north you go in the Viking world, the less likely it is that salt was readily available or affordable.  In Iceland salt was essentially absent, so pickling in acid or drying were much more practical.  In the South, such as parts of Denmark or the Danelaw in England, salt would have been more available and affordable, making things like bacon, ham, or smoked fish more popular.

Fermentation

There are a whole host of bacteria that can be employed to preserve food for human consumption.  Lactobacilli can pickle meat and vegetables by producing acid in liquids.  Cheese, soured milk, and other dairy ferments are all produced by bacteria as well.  Fermentation also produces alcohol, vinegar, and a wealth of other healthy and long-keeping foods.

Smoking

Smoking is particularly important in keeping food that has a high fat content and will not be kept in liquid, such as ham, bacon, smoked fish or smoked cheeses.  Smoking by itself is not sufficient, and smoked foods usually need to be salted as well.  Smoke was also used to preserve some foods on a day to day basis.  Dried breads were hung from a pole or string over the hearth, where the heat and smoke kept them dry and free from insects.

What was preserved

Grains

Grains such as barley, rye and oats can be preserved for a limited time just by drying.  But grain in bins can only last so long.  There are several ways of making the calories from grain last longer.

Bread

Bread or crackers baked hard will keep longer than grain by itself.  Hard tack or crisp bread dried completely and stored in either waterproof containers or over the fire will keep nearly indefinitely.  They are easy to eat, easy to store, and easy to transport.  Thin dried bread (like modern rye crisps) can be eaten plain or with fish, cheese, or whatever you might have.  Hard tack is best soaked or cooked in liquid before eating.  You can break up hard tack for “porridge” or use it to thicken soups.

Beer

Calories from grain can also be preserved in the form of beer.  By converting some of the grain’s starch to alcohol, bacteria or other contaminants can’t grow, and the calories are preserved.  However, it is unclear how long the kind of beer made by the Vikings would really have kept.  Given the brewing techniques available, beer may have been comparatively perishable.

Fruit

The Vikings had access to a wide variety of fruits, and many of those are comparatively easy to store.  Some fruit can be dried, some pickled, and a few might keep in a cool place well into the Fall at least.

Dried

Several easily dried stone fruits, including cherries and plums of various kinds were known to the Vikings.  Apples can be dried as well, and some berries can be dried in a dry enough climate.

Pickled

Apples in particular are traditionally pickled all over Europe today, and lend themselves well to it.

Frozen?

It is traditional in Finland to store lingonberries in water, which then freezes during cold weather.  There’s no evidence (that I’ve seen) to suggest this was common in the Viking Age, but it’s not something that would be likely to show up in the archeological record.

Vegetables

Cold storage

Some vegetables will keep for a long time in cold storage if properly packed and cared for, such as turnips, carrots, parsnips, onions, and garlic.  See above note on cabbages.

Pickles

The most likely way to preserve vegetables is by fermenting them.  Lactic acid pickles are easy to make, delicious and nutritious to eat, and contribute to a healthy digestive system (as modern science is rediscovering).  Sauerkraut and “kosher” or “sour” dill pickles are good modern examples, but other vegetables like turnips, carrots, celery and others can all be pickled this way.  Once you have a good bacterial culture, such pickles can be made with little to no salt, as it is primarily the lactic acid produced by the friendly bacteria that keep out the unfriendly ones.

Meat

Salt

The most common way to preserve meats is with salt.  Salts of various types (sodium/potassium/etc.) keep unfriendly bacteria from getting into meat and allow it to be stored for long periods.  Smoking will help fattier meats keep longer than salt by itself, as will immersing them in liquid (brine) since the liquid helps keep oxygen away from the meat.

Acid

Acid solutions such as vinegar or soured whey can also be used to preserve meats.  Sausages in particular have traditionally been pickled in brine, in vinegar, in sourced whey, or by themselves.  In Iceland they still use sour whey to preserve sausages made at slaughtering time, and such was most likely the case in the Viking Age as well.  Some traditional (i.e. early modern) sausages are made with rye flour added to them.  When rye flour is left in water, it sours naturally, so the rye-laden sausages were placed in jars of water that soured and thus preserved the sausages.  Note: any such meat preserved in acid without salt is cooked first before being submerged.

Fish

Pickled

Many oilier fish can be readily pickled.  Herring, sardines, anchovies and possibly mackerel-esque fishes can be pickled in salt or in a lactic acid solution.  The pickled herring that adorn the modern Scandinavian table are certainly different, since they tend to contain a fair amount of sugar and spices that were unavailable in the Viking period, but the overall effect would have been the same.  Chopped up bits or herring suspended in a sour solution, possibly with the addition of some salt if available.

Dried

One of the great mainstays and staple foods of the Viking world was dried cod.  Because cod contain almost no fat, they can be dried hard in the cold and windy Scandinavian climate, and will keep pretty much as long as they can be kept dry.  The Viking warriors who travelled overseas took dried cod with them, and in a pinch were known to gnaw on the dried fillets all by themselves.  In a more comfortable setting, the stockfish, or klipfisk, would have been soaked in liquid until they were soft(er) and made into soup or mixed into other dishes.

Smoked

If salt is available, oilier fish can be smoked.  Salmon, herring, haddock, and mackerel can be smoked and preserved for long periods, although not as long as cod.

Dairy products

Only a very few Scandinavians are lactose intolerant compared with rates in the rest of the world.  It has long been speculated that this is because dairy products are easy to produce and the keep in their climate, which makes the ability to digest milk into adulthood a survival characteristic.  Whether that is true or not, it is certainly true that milk and milk products have long played an integral role and source of nutrition in Scandinavia since well before the Viking Age.  Dairy products are one of the few food products mentioned in the sagas, so there is some good documentary evidence for milk and milk products in the Viking period.

Sour milk

If raw (unpasteurized) milk is left out in mild temperatures, it will naturally grow lactobacilli that cause it to sour.  Sour milk was commonly drunk as a beverage and probably used in cooking, baking, and in making cheese.  In early modern Sweden, sour milk was mixed with small beer both as a beverage and as a cooking medium.  If sour milk is heated, it will coagulate, and can then be drained to make a simple cheese to be eaten fresh, or preserved with salt or further bacterial action as cheese.

Cheese

The simplest fresh or “farmer’s” cheese can be made from soured milk or fresh milk which is heated and coagulated by the addition of soured milk or other acids.

Milk can also be combined with rennet to create a whole variety of cheeses and cheese products.  If salted and dried, “hard” cheeses can be kept for very long periods of time without spoiling.

Skyr

Skyr is somewhere between a cultured milk and a cheese.  It is cultured with lactobacilli much like yogurt of buttermilk, but it also is coagulated with rennet.  Once the rennet causes it to set, the curds are drained, and the result is very similar to a drained yogurt.  It is mildly sour and quite dense, and contains a great deal of protein.  Skyr is traditionally made with skim milk, since the milk fat was used to make butter.  Skyr was a mainstay of the Icelandic diet, and was eaten by itself, with fruit, or mixed into porridge or other dishes to stretch them and to add additional protein.

Butter

The milk fat from cow’s milk is easily converted into butter, which has a much longer shelf life than fresh milk.  Also, since the Vikings tended to make butter from cultured or soured milk, the additional acid content would help preserve the butter.

Other cultured milk products

The documentary evidence speaks mainly of “sour” milk, but it is unclear if that means raw milk that sours naturally, or milk which was intentionally cultured.  In modern Scandinavia, there are a number of cultured milk products that are “traditional” (meaning at least early modern) but there is no telling how far they go back.  Piima, viili, and fil mjolk are all examples of modern Finnish or Swedish dairy cultures.  They are fairly easy to obtain and to propagate, and may come close to simulated the naturally soured milk that we can no longer achieve with pasteurized milk today.

What evidence do we have?

Unfortunately, fermented foods are difficult to distinguish in the archeological record.  Most food products decompose rapidly, and if anything is left it is the hard parts like seeds and bones, where it would be almost impossible to tell if they came from preserved foods or fresh.  There is some evidence from the sagas about butter, cheese, skyr and sour milk, as well as dried cod.  Several pieces of carbonized breads have been found in various Viking contexts, and good analysis has been done on their composition.

Luckily, a few artifacts have survived that are linked to food preservation

  • The bottom board from a rectangular cheese press made of wood, similar to those used in Aland in the early modern period
  • Several wooden butter churns
  • Curd strainers, both wooden and hair
  • Vegetable matter from potsherds consistent with fermentation

References

Primary sources

Hansson, Ann-Marie. On Plant Food in the Scandinavian Peninsula in Early Medieval Times.  Theses and Papers in Archaeology B:5. Stockholm: University of Stockholm. 1997.

Isaksson, Sven.  The culture of food in Early Medieval Middle Sweden.  A pottery use perspective.Food and Rank in Early Medieval Time. Stockholm: University of Stockholm. 2000.

Jørgensen, G. et al. Analyses of Medieval Plant Remains, Textiles and Wood from Medieval Svendborg. The Archaeology of Svendborg 4, Odense: Odense University Press. 1986.

Early modern references

Bringéus, Nils-Arvid. “A Swedish beer milk shake.”Milk and Milk Products from Medieval to Modern Times. ed. Patricia Lysaght, pp. 140-150.  Precedings of the Ninth International Conference on Ethnological Food Research.  Edinburgh: Conongate Academic, 1994.

Gísladóttir, Hallgerður. “The use of whey in Icelandic households.” Milk and Milk Products from Medieval to Modern Times. ed. Patricia Lysaght, pp. 123-129.  Precedings of the Ninth International Conference on Ethnological Food Research.  Edinburgh: Conongate Academic, 1994.

Modern works on food preservation

Nourishing Traditions, by Sally Fallon

Wild Fermentation, by Sandor Katz

Truly Cultured, by Nancy Lee Bentley

Preserving Food without Freezing or Canning, by the Gardeners and Farmers of Centre Terre Vivante

Making sauerkraut and pickled vegetables at home, by Klaus Kaufmann

Charcuterie, by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn

Resources

Dairy cultures

http://www.culturesforhealth.com/ in Oregon City has several dairy as well as vegetable cultures, and fermentation and cheese making equipment.

http://gemcultures.com/ in Lakewood, WA has several dairy cultures.

In the past I’ve gotten piima and fil mjolk cultures from www.fermentedtreasures.com, but their server seems to have gone kaplooey.

http://www.kookoolanfarms.com in Yamhill has lots of cheese making supplies, as well as raw cow’s milk

http://www.cheesemaking.com is Ricki Caroll’s excellent cheese making supply company.

This work: http://vikingfoodguy.com/wordpress/preserved-foods-of-the-viking-age/

 

Blot


The blót (Old Norse neuter) refers to Norse pagan sacrifice to the Norse gods and the spirits of the land. The sacrifice often took the form of a sacramental meal or feast. Related religious practices were performed by other Germanic peoples, such as the pagan Anglo-Saxons. The blót element of horse sacrifice is found throughout Indo-European traditions, including the Vedic Indian, Celtic, and Latin traditions.  The verb blóta meant “to worship with sacrifice”,[3] or “to strengthen”.[4] The sacrifice usually consisted of animals, in particular pigs and horses. The meat was boiled in large cooking pits with heated stones, either indoors or outdoors. The blood was considered to contain special powers and it was sprinkled on the statues of the gods, on the walls and on the participants themselves. It was a sacred moment when the people gathered around the steaming cauldrons to have a meal together with the gods or the Elves. The drink that was passed around was blessed and sacred as well and it was passed from participant to participant. The drink was usually beer or mead but among the nobility it could be imported wine. The old prayer was til árs ok friðar, “for a good year and frith (peace)” They asked for fertility, good health, a good life and peace and harmony between the people and the powers.  Modern adherents of the reconstructionist religions Theodism and Ásatrú continue to practice the ritual of blót, which is one of the most important ritual observances of their religion, in addition to symbel.

The blót (Old Norse neuter) refers to Norse pagan sacrifice to the Norse gods and the spirits of the land. The sacrifice often took the form of a sacramental meal or feast. Related religious practices were performed by other Germanic peoples, such as the pagan Anglo-Saxons. The blót element of horse sacrifice is found throughout Indo-European traditions, including the Vedic IndianCeltic, and Latin traditions.

 

The verb blóta meant “to worship with sacrifice”, or “to strengthen”. The sacrifice usually consisted of animals, in particular pigs and horses. The meat was boiled in large cooking pits with heated stones, either indoors or outdoors. The blood was considered to contain special powers and it was sprinkled on the statues of the gods, on the walls and on the participants themselves.

It was a sacred moment when the people gathered around the steaming cauldrons to have a meal together with the gods or the Elves. The drink that was passed around was blessed and sacred as well and it was passed from participant to participant. The drink was usually beer or mead but among the nobility it could be imported wine.

 Sacrifice (via Old French from Latin sacrificium, from sacra ”sacred rites” + facere, “to do, perform”) is the religious practice of offering food, objects (typically valuables), or the lives of animals or people to the gods as an act of propitiation or worship. While sacrifice often implies ritual killing, the term offering (Latin oblatio) can be used for bloodless sacrifices of cereal food or artefacts. For offerings of liquids (beverages) by pouring, the term libation is used.  In modern Heathen /  Pagan religions like Wicca and Neo Druidry animals are NEVER sacrificed, EVER. Both in modern and historical religions Oblatio and Libation has been the most common (and human sacrifice the least common). Livestock would have been expencive and sacrificed at the bigger celebrations. Human sacrifice was mostly common in times of dire danger and panic.  Among Polytheistic reconstructionism animal sacrifice is a matter of debate but many are for it IF it is performed by a butcher, hunter, farmer or anyone else with a PROFFESSION including slaughter. It should be said too that both in historical times, and now, the meat is eaten (as opposed to popular belief). Generally only the blood, fat or something similar (or maybe portions of the meat) is set aside for the Gods. Sacrifice is not meant to leave you without.   The practice of sacrifice is seen in the oldest records. The archaeological record contains human and animal corpses with sacrificial marks long before any written records of the practice. Sacrifices are a common theme in most religions, though the frequency of animal, and especially human, sacrifices are rare today. Literally anything of some value may be a sacrifice in some religion’s practices. The more valuable the offering, generally, the more highly the sacrifice is regarded but the more difficult to make. On a day-to-day basis, offerings may be quite simple indeed: flowers, candles, incense, spilling some of the drink from a cup before drinking. Commonly, the most valuable sacrifices have been that of lives, animal or human.  The Latin term came to be used of the Christian eucharist in particular, sometimes dubbed a “bloodless sacrifice” to distinguish it from pagan practices of “blood sacrifice”. In individual pre-Christian ethnic religions, terms translated as “sacrifice” include the Indic yajna, the Greek thusia , the Germanic blōtan, the Semitic qorban/qurban, etc. The term is also used metaphorically to describe selfless good deeds for others or a short term loss in return for a greater gain, such as in a game of chess. Recently it has also come into use as meaning ‘doing without something’ or ‘giving something up’ (see also self-sacrifice)

The old prayer was til árs ok friðar, “for a good year and frith (peace)” They asked for fertility, good health, a good life and peace and harmony between the people and the powers.

Modern adherents of the reconstructionist religions Theodism and Ásatrú continue to practice the ritual of blót, which is one of the most important ritual observances of their religion, in addition to symbel.