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COLLOQUY BETWEEN THE MÆGESTER REENACTOR AND THE LEORNERE

Leornere: As a novice to reenactment, I beg you, Master, to teach what I need to do and how to act to make a good start in the reconstruction of the culture of the Viking Age..
Mægester: What do you wish to talk about?
Leornere: I am newly come to reenacting and have need of instruction in many things.
Mægester: What do you need to be told?
Leornere: First of all, do I call what I wear a garb, a costume or clothing.
Mægester: The word “costume” is preferred by many, but just as many find it degrading and smacking of All Hallows, so it is recommended that you refer to it as clothing or, if needed, historical clothing.
Leornere: What is needed?
Mægester: Until you are more experienced, do not become bogged down in details. You should buy clothes that are generic and then refine them as you choose a more specific impression and culture and class. You will want to appear as an everyday person of the time, so take pains that the clothes are of the most ordinary. The most ordinary were made of wool, for that was the most common and least expensive. If you are allergic to wool—and often, you are allergic not to the wool but to the method preparation, so always check—then underclothing of linen is allowed. The linen, made of flax, hemp or nettle, is more expensive and higher class than wool. Any seam that is seen should be done by hand. Mechanical sewing of unseen seams are allowed but not required.
Leornere: What sorts of clothes should I buy or make?
Mægester: Going to head to feet, you need a hood, an undergarment, a tunic or gown, trousers for men, socks or stocking and shoes. A simple leather or cloth belt is useful, especially if you are active.
Leornere: What about caps and cloaks and winnings and the such?
Mægester: They should not be bought until you know they are useful and appropriate for your impression. Even in the clothes you obtain, you should research them and make certain they are appropriate.
Leornere: What sorts of shoes or boots are recommended?
Mægester: They should be turn shoes, not rising above the ankles.
Leornere: Should any modern clothing be worn?
Mægester: Modern underwear is allowed if they are not seen and do not affect your outer appearance.
Leornere: What about weapons and armor?
Mægester: Until you know more, feel free to borrow weapon. Armor is not needed for most societies. You should probably have a small, simple seax that you will find that useful. Even slaves had such small seaxes.
Leornere: What about jewelry?
Mægester: Until you have chosen and refined your impression, stay away from all jewelry and beads.
Leornere: What kind of eyeglasses, watches and the like is recommended?
Mægester: As long as you are doing an accurate impression and not a LARP persona, nothing is recommended. Some societies find it offensive to be entirely accurate, and even proudly announce the creativity of their society, but these are not historical societies.
Leornere: What kind of possessions other than clothing is recommended?
Mægester: We have already spoke of the small seax. Having a bow, a spoon (wooden or horn) and a cup might be advantageous if you are planning to do any eating. Do not have any horn cups—no provenance—or full horn vegetables—fancy and for feasts—that you use as vessels.
Leornere: Should I speak as a person of the time?
Mægester: Only if you speak fluent Latin, Old English o Old Norse. Otherwise, it becomes acting and not reenacting. Remember there are three forms of impression. First person is when you speak as if you were a person of the time, and it is mainly acting as well. Third person is when you speak and modern person. The second, or ghost impression is when you are mostly speaking as a person of the time but if necessary can break character. Remember that if you choose a first-person impression, you know nothing of history after the time of your impression.
Leornere: Should I accept advice and recommendations from more experienced reenactors.
Mægester: Only if they can provide provenance o proof. Any deviation should be for matters of safety, such as blunted—rebated—weapons. If you have any questions about the appropriateness or acceptance of anything, contact an Authenticity Office of your society.
Leornere: How should I act in general?
Mægester: Politely. Always politely! Your Mægester exhorts you to be obedient to the rules of your society, and to behave yourselves decorously wherever you may be. Speak plainly, taking care not to demean the thoughts and word of the spectator but try not to let him leave with incorrect thoughts. Be as polite with the spectator as you are a cousin reenactor. Answer his questions as best you can, but admit your ignorance and find a fellow traveler who can. Engage and entertain the spectator, but take care that you are not unseemly to please the spectator or to play the fool for the same reason. Humor often engages the spectator but should be unseemly and foolhardy just to entertain the spectator.

BIRKA WALLET

Or coin purse.

When found, the original wallet was crumpled up and confusing, so it involved interpretation from the beginning. It is filled with interpretation and extrapolation; if you want to change any of the details, feel free.

The wallet dates from between the ninth and the eleventh centuries, and the wallet was discovered in 1879 in grave bj750 from Birka. “This type of bag is a folded wallet of goat leather with multiple compartments on the inside. They were decorated with strips of gold plated leather, which was woven through the leather to form a checker board pattern. Along the edges were gold plated loops, 0.7cm long and 0.5cm wide.” // // I did not even attempt to duplicate any of these ornamentations, but that was merely my choice.

A Birka wallet consists of five pieces of leather, cut into rectangles of various sizes. They should be aligned at the bottom and then stitched together so that the bottom is five layers deep, while the top is only two. In the second layer, the leather is cut so that there is a rectangular slit, and the leather itself forms a pocket. Sone people duplicate it with interior stitching and the leather turned inside out when sewn, but I sewed the layers with a locking stitch. Some prefer to use two needles at the same time, though I find sewing each side in succession. I punch holes for the sewing using an awl.

Cut the thread into a length that is twice as long as you need. Loop it at the end, and then bring the needles into the holes pierced, first on one side and then at the other, and knot it at the other end (in the diagram, the same strand has two colors merely to distinguish the difference).

The first time I tried to make a wallet, I used slightly thicker leather. The end result was more or less unuseable. I tried to use lighter leather the next couple years and was finally satisfied with leather about 2–3 ounces thick.

The wallets seem to have been concealed under robes or tunics. They were neither worn nor displayed on the outside. After acknowledging this, it occurred to me that I needed to stuff the wallet with what was commonly found in them. So…

Clockwise from top left: A) Small utility seax; B) the Birka wallet; C) A couple beads and a Mjollnir from Repton; D) a Cross; E) a Fenris cross/Mjollnir (what I call the Hedge Your Bets Cross); F) a souvenir stone; G) a strike-a-light; H) a whetstone (jasper); and I) a coin purse with a few coins. Everything a Viking needed when he was on a raid!

LOOK UP IN THE AIR

Mankind has been fascinated by the flight of birds for Millennia. The possibility and attraction of human flight dates from at least the legend of Icarus in 60 bce. However, it was seen only as a legend, perhaps myth, until the tenth or eleventh century.

Eilmer of Malmesbury (who was also known as Elmer, Æthelmær and, because of a scribal error, Oliver) was a Benedictine monk from England. It has been suggested that he was born about 980 ce and that his attempt at flight took place sometime between 995 and 1010 ce. In his youth, he had read and believed the Greek myth of Dædalus, and he attempted to make and wear his own glider wings.

William of Malmesbury in the Gesta Regnum Anglorum of the early twelfth century noted that “He was a man learned for those times, of ripe old age, and in his early youth had hazarded a deed of remarkable boldness. He had by some means, I scarcely know what, fastened wings to his hands and feet so that, mistaking fable for truth, he might fly like Dædalus, and, collecting the breeze upon the summit of a tower [of Malmesbury Abbey], flew for more than a furlong. But agitated by the violence of the wind and the swirling of air, as well as by the awareness of his rash attempt, he fell, broke both his legs and was lame ever after. He used to relate as the cause of his failure, his forgetting to provide himself a tail.” It has been conjectured that his flight that the flight was only about 15 seconds. (In 1903, the Wright’s first non-glider flight was about 59 seconds.)

Modern calculations by Paul Chapman confirm the feasibility of the flight. “Launching into the southwest wind his initial descent would enable him to gain sufficient speed so that he could ride the air currents off the hillside. Lack of a tail would make continuing to head into the wind difficult and he would have been blown sideways to land where legend suggests—Oliver’s Lane.” Despite his injuries, “Eilmer set about rectifying this shortcoming, and was making plans for a second flight when his abbot placed an embargo on any further attempts, and that was that. For more than half a century after these events, the limping Eilmer was a familiar sight around the community of Malmesbury, where he became a distinguished scholar.”

Were there other and later (or even earlier) attempts at human flight before Leonard da Vinci’s drawing of a glider in the fifteenth century, though his physical attempts, if any, are unknown.

The unsuccessful attempt by Eilmer is fascinating but little known, and one can relate the story to MoPs at an event, accentuating the mechanics of the attempt, the attempt itself or how a near-sighted abbot’s attempts to keep his flock safe retarded the discover of aeronautics for a few hundred years. I would love to see the reconstruction of the wings at an event, although at the risk of sounding like that abbot, I might not want to see a physical attempt at the event!

BASKETRY OF THE VIKING AGE

A recent thread on a Regia newsgroup concerned questions about baskets—specifically types—of the Viking age. In it, there were plenty of extrapolations, suggestions and suppositions. Almost no hard evidence, that is, extant baskets of the time.

On one hand, we know they had baskets. There are fragments of basketry, and “The history of weaving containers with plant fibers likely goes back to the start of mankind. Unfortunately, plant fibers often have a hard time surviving in the soil that long or even as far back to the late 8th Century at the start of the Viking Age.” A ten-thousand year old basket miraculously survived—and it is not significantly different from those of later ages—was found is Israel, and we are told ““Organic materials usually do not have the ability to survive for such long periods,” Dr. Naama Sukenik from the IAA’s Organic Material Department told The Jerusalem Post. “However, the special climatic condition of the Judean Desert, its dry weather, have allowed for dozens of artifacts to last for centuries and millennia.”


There are a few extant samples of baskets from our periods, We know from extant baskets thAt they were both round and square, sometimes with solid bases and tops, made out of willow and other natural substances. We are not certain if they were painted, and we can only make conjectures about whaT they contained, since none have been found with a a content. A few logical extrapolations can be made by examining later baskets and noting that they did not significantly change, but that is closer to experimental archaeology than to anything else. Ironically, the basket weaving techniques founds in extant ancient Roman basketry, in later basketry and even in North American basketry—such as the several basket fragments ound in Binderbost in Washington State do not differ thAt much despite the time and geographic differences.

Here are a few of the baskets that we know existed.

Fragments are known to exist from Oseberg, though there is a tendency to mistake these are being from Gokstad, and these fragments are even often included with pieces of the Gokstad back pack..

The so-called Gokstad back-pack is generally acknowledges to be a basket, though no samples of the basket weaving is available. We are left with the solid wooden top and bottom, and holes for the strakes to be inserted. Weaving a basket around these strakes is logical and easily done, but there are no existing, real samples. In fact, some writers insist that no basket weaving was used at all, and the pack was enclosed by leather. In fact, plenty has been extrapolated, but very little has been proven.

A rectangular wicker basket top has been found in Coppergate. It has been suggested that it ws a pigeon coop basket.


Many of the woven baskets we have come from fishing baskets. They were submerged in mud that helped to present them!


Finding extant samples are difficult, even though many authors love to lecture us that they have been found, though without any documentation or provenance. It is like the subject of tattoos in ma ways; though statements and claims are frequent, solid evidence is sadly lacking. If you have any other sources of photos or descriptions other than those listed here, please let me know.

A GLOSSY ARTICLE

Today, we are warned not to mark in our books (there are, of course, many who will do it anyway). However, in the middle ages, owners of books were encouraged to mark in their books. This was called a gloss or glossa and is specifically an annotation written on margins or within the text of manuscripts specifically of the Bible. Jerome (though he was probably not the translator) used glosses in the process of his translation of the Latin Vulgate Bible.

The subjects of explanatory glosses may be reduced to the following glosses.
• Foreign words
• Dialectical terms
• Obsolete words
• Technical terms
• Words employed in an unusual sense
• Words employed in some peculiar grammatical form

These glosses were written between the lines of the text or in the margin of manuscripts. The glosses originally consisted of only a few words, but they grew in length as authors enlarged them with their own comments. Eventually, manuscripts had so many glosses that there were no longer room to write them in the book. These glosses were compiled in separate books, known as lexicons. But this was not common in England until the fifteen century. “So great was the influence of the Glossa ordinaria on biblical and philosophical studies in the Middle Ages that it was called ‘the tongue of Scripture’ and ‘the bible of scholasticism’.”

A splendid book on glosses has been recently published, though it deals only with the glosses of the Lindisfarne Gospels. Eleanor Jackson’s The Lindisfarne Gospels: Art, History and Inspiration is published by British Library. The Lindisfarne, and other earlier copies of the Bible, were written in the Latin that was known as the Vulgate. However, Jackson notes that “In the tenth century an Old English translation was added between the lines, which I the earliest surviving translation of the Gospels into the [Old] English language.”

Secular interlinear glosses developed from the Biblical glosses but dealt with secular writings. While translations date back to ancient times, glosses do not appear to have been used. The translations were separate sections—for example the Rosetta Stone—and as noted above were later separate books. Secular glosses seem to date only from the eleventh century.

SMILE WHEN YOU SAY THAT—II

Here are a few other matters you should consider and look for (or hope to avoid, though you should ignore it.)

• Learn code words used in articles that give you facts that you should not trust. An examples are “a new discovery that changes history” and “what has been ignored until this discovery.”

• Do not even believe an artefact that has a single meaning, since archaeologists will often be guessing themselves.

• If something is just too pat—such as the “baby with the bath water myth”—it is undoubtedly false.

• Never assume that only one piece of information is needed to be trusted. Two is better, but at least three may well be trusted as long as one piece of information is not based on another that you are using as one fact.

• How does your source of information source that information. How are they determining the validity of their statements or interpretations. But remember that they—and you—must state the sources used!

• Is the attribution as clear and detailed as possible? Does attribution provide clear enough information, or is more needed?

• Even accounts from the time cannot always be trusted, since sometimes they are written by political or religious adversaries. Always be on an outlook for biases!

This only deals with the beginning of what you need for a valid source, but it should not ignored, and altered. What sources do you use? What do you suggest as additional concerns?

**********

And now Happy Old Year on your trek into the Past!

SMILE WHEN YOU SAY THAT–I

It is not necessary for a reenactor to provide provenance for something he says. It seems to be a requirement only if you care about facts. And many reenactors, looking for the easy way to their beliefs, it is not required. It could be made by a reenactor who is considered so infallible that their word is the only thing needed.

I cannot count the times that a reenactor makes statement that goes against what I have uncovered and, when I ask them about provenance, they simply do not answer or repeat their statement, far louder and more adamant but with no more provenance than before. In fact, many will seem irritated or offended that you should question the veracity of their statements. They do not say that above paraphrase of Owen Winster’s “When you call me that, smile” out loud, but it is one of those times when you can almost read their thoughts.

Ask for provenance. No, demand it! Sometimes it works, and you learn something that you had not known. But if the speaker refuses to supply provenance, let it drop. Just never repeat or believe the tripe he spouts unless you find provenance from another source (which is sometimes you always try to attain in these cases. Getting the provenance from him or another is only the easy way to do things!). If the theory is interesting, you might even resort to saying that the reenactor says this, but you have doubts about the veracity.

Do not think that they are evil entities just because their interpretation of what is a fact is totally wrong. After all, it is a proven fact—I am being ironic here, of course—that when you are doing something that is delightful to you and you are smiling and enjoying yourself, and you discover something being said that you think is really really neat and contributes to that feeling even if it is not true that can be easily ignored. After all, having to find facts that are true can sometimes be very disappointing and discouragingly sad to you. After all, it might go against what you happily believe. Therefore, many “researchers” will just announce a “fact” whether it is provable or not, and just go from there.

It is far easier to find something being said or written that you agree with and use that as your provenance instead of coming up with something that you dislike, that does not support your thesis and that is usually much more difficult to find. It is easier to find something that agrees with your politics or religion or something else you agree with and that goes against something you disagree with than to seek out something that goes against what you think. Research is not always easy personally as well to find.

–Continued

A SMALL PARCHMENT BOOK

I looked at the scraps of parchment. And felt unhappy.

So much great parchment, just too small for proper use.

Then I thought, “Why…”

I cut the scraps into sheets and put the pages together using my standard recipe. Five sheets sewn into folios.

The resulting folios fanned out. I sewed them together, with wooden covers. I clamped them together to help flatten them. It didn’t help even after a few days.

I asked my wife whether she’d prefer a buckled band or a tied band. She looked at it and barked, “You should not do this. Use the parchment for something else.”

I tore it apart and sewed it back together, making folios o two sheers. Still refused to compress, though the results were better. I pressed the resulting book again, They still fanned, but my dander was up. I decided to make a band that tied. When I cut the leather for the cover, I made certain it would contain the strap. I tied it, and it actually looked good.

Keeping it pressed. Dunno if it will work, but at least I like the result!

NORSE AMERICA IN REVIEW

Gordon Campbell. Norse America. Oxford University Press; 2021. $25.95

An earlier book of the same title, was an infuriating collection of prejudices in which the author examined a great number of suppositions and followed them with a jaw-dropping sincerity. Except for the account of L’Anse aux Meadows, which he cheerfully denigrated and called an ignorant group of prejudices. Knowing this, I was a little wary of this volume, especially when I found it was written by a renaissance scholar. This at least indicated he had no pro-Scandinavian prejudices, so I approached it with a wary caution.

When I started reading the book, I quickly realized that Campbell had more of interest in racial matters than anything else. Though he noted Nazi and other racist thoughts, he tried to be the other side of matters, He loved to announce decisions without provided very much documentation. He knew what he believe, and the reader should believe him as well. His use of the word “fantasy” for referring to Washington Irving the Vinland Sagas is a good example of his approach to the subject.

From the very start, Campbell talks about other claimants to being the first European (or African or Asian) man in America. Magog, Brenda, Prince Henry and more, all without any physical evidence. The Norse adventurers are thrown into that group, even though physical evidence has been discovered. He loves to make snide snarks about anything, classifying a saga—admittedly somewhat exaggerated but not to the extent he claims—with the Skaholt map. It is hard to approve of an author who goes to such extremes to sound superior and witty.

He loves to note that persons from the earlier part of the history probably did not exist and that he only believes later instances although he dos not really believe them either. He loves to talk about “fantasy history,” though the term seems to grow largely from his prejudices rather than from any proof.

There is, of course, real fantasy history and cases of fraud, and Campbell hangs a lot of his prejudices on this fact. However, his reluctance to accept any theory but his own and to humiliate anyone who disagrees with him is irritating. The list of people he does believe is long and includes not merely the saga poets but Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine and, of course, Washington Irving. Unlike the earlier Norse America, Campbell does not totally dismiss L’Anse au Meadows, though he does attempt to minimize its importance. It is worth noting that the chapter devoted to L’Anse aux Meadows consists of far less pages that other chapters which he can more easily denigrate and humiliate. Campbell, though he protests that he is not neglecting the importance. Most of what he says has been said many times before, and what he writes is of minimal interest and not worth buying and reading the whole book.

Campbell writes, “This reservation is not intended to suggest that L’Anse aux Meadows is unimportant….The ultimate prize from the perspective of Canadians and Americans of Northern European descents, would be the discovery of the settlement or settlements on the mainland.” Throughout the book, Campbell tries to set up things so that he is the authority, he can quote “facts” that prove how correct he is and can ignore anything he does not want to discus or, more importantly, for readers to ignore. He loves to expound at boring length on matters that have been discredited while never mentioning at all what people now believe.

To a great extent, the book reminds me of William Manchester’s A World Lit Only by Fire, an aggravating and often incorrect view of the renaissance era. Manchester had an agenda and was able to twist the facts to fit his concept, and Campbell seems to have done the same thing. Not recommended at all!

MINI PSALTER

The Psalterium Sancti Ruperti (Salzburg, Archiv von St. Peter, Cod. A I. 0) is the smallest Psalter in the medieval world. With pages measuring only 37 x 31 mm, Psalterium Sancti Ruperti from the library foundation of St. Peter in Salzburg is a gem of bookbinding. Most likely written in the third-quarter of the 9th century in north-eastern France, it resides today in the oldest library in Austria. Additionally, its early medieval binding is unique and consists of an open book spine of the codex, whereby the two trusses with booklet seams and also two headbands are left visible. The psalter was probably created for a royal of some kind.

A special book binding feature is the open book spine of the codex, whereby the two trusses with booklet seams and also two headbands are left visible. Up until now, no other early middle-age codex with the aforementioned presentation has been found—therefore this Psalter is an absolute unique specimen of early middle-age book production.

Fascinating by the psalter, I decided to make a copy—not an exact duplicate but a version inspired by the original and one that was much simpler because o my skill and abilities. And almost immediately understood that my effort would be somewhat less than thoroughly a complete and faithful copy. I just did not have the ability t do everything exactingly, though I would try to be as close as my physical abilities would allow, and I decided to

I downloaded a version of the psalter in the vulgate and made those changes, such as punctuation, that I tend to make for such efforts. I put the edited Vulgate in the dummy. For my purposes, I put a hard return at the end of each page and then rendered the last words or phrase as redline. I chose Beowulf 8 point, with 14 pt gutters on all sides in four columns and five rows

The original had 234 pages. I made a dummy specifying the page number, and I placed each page from the dummy on the appropriate page. I chose 20 pages for each signature. I cut the pages, collating the pages and folding them double into signatures. Make certain that the unnumbered pages are in the proper order. I used small rubber bands to secure them and keep them in the proper order. Be very careful: they are small and very slippery! A page from the dummy may be marked to be 5 cm long, and marks for four.

Place this folded dummy into the folded signature, and—using an awl—pierce the signature at the marks. To sew these signatures, use thread—linen or hemp. I use the Coptic binding method I use on Cuthbert Gospel style bindings. These signatures are then compressed for two or three days. I cut front and back covers into of approximately 5.75 x 7 cm rectangles of 3 centimeters thick of poplar, though oak or another hard wood would also be valid. Keep in mind in the age before mass production, most things were manually made and some minor variations are expected.

I made one using thicker cord; it sucked. With the later ones, I used 5ply waxed linen to connect the covers. Not entirely stable, and I stayed away from the trusses at the current time, but I came up with an acceptable variation which pleases me if not anyone wanting an exact duplicate.