SPEAKING WITH THE REENACTORS!
SEVEN TIPS FOR GAINING MORE FROM YOUR VISIT TO THE PAST THAN YOU MIGHT OTHERWISE
We dress in historic costume. We attempt to do things as accurately to the period as we can without endangering ourselves or you. We are not time travelers or visitors from another time. We do not live in some kind of Amish community. We do not live in the past, and we appreciate the many aspects of modern technology that has made life better and safer and many times more satisfying.
But we like to pretend that we live in a culture that no longer exists, and we stand ready to share information with you how life was lived at that time. We stand ready to educate and to entertain you, and we are so very willing and able to answer your questions about the time, about the culture and about the items that we have on display. Feel free to ask and to interact, and here are a few tips for how to gain the most from speaking with us!
Just remember: There are no foolish questions. The only foolish question is one that is left unsaid!
1 Embrace the Unknown
When you visit our encampment, you are not traveling to your past. You are traveling to another country! For the past is another country. Like any foreign land, you might travel to, it is natural to have some assumptions about what it is like. Your assumptions may come from your high school history class or what you heard from a friend or a novel on historical romance or a film or teevee series. Unfortunately, what you have been told, what you have seen and what you have read is not necessarily all the truth and may even be fantasy or misinterpretation. We encourage you to bring your natural curiosity and be prepared to enlarge or revise your thinking!
2 Put the Screen Down
It is difficult to immerse yourself in the tenth century if there is a screen between you and the encampment and the reenactors. Do not let yourself get distracted taking photos or texting. There will be plenty of opportunities to pull out your phone or camera, but you will have more fun if you set them aside for at least a little bit. Remember, we are not just models for vacation pictures, we want to talk to you.
Do not be afraid to speak in modern English. Do not try to pretend that you are something you are not. Do not think that we can only talk about the time period and culture we portray and cannot put things into focus, talking about things that created this culture and what was later created from it. There is much of the culture that remains today, that is still important or that helped form it. We find it fascinating to put the culture into proper focus for us and you today!
3 Start a Conversation on the Right Foot
Ask difficult questions if that is what you want know, and do not feel bad. If we do not know the Answer—and that will happen, often more frequently than we would like it to happen—we will admit the ignorance, direct you to persons or other things that may answer them and discuss theories and probabilities with you. History is often not a set of dry and unchanging facts. It is often the interpretation of these facts, and it will often change because of perspective, because of new facts and because of reinterpretations of old facts. Some disdain this as revisionist history, and perhaps it is. However, it is not a terrible thing but a part of the evolution of understanding. Remember that what you hear today might well change in the future and is not the end of comment on the matter. Be amendable to change; remember that the objects discovered in the Staffordshire Hoard a few years ago changed much of what we thought and knew about earlier life.
Begin a conversation just like you would with any stranger: exchange small talk. Share some pleasantries. Just say Good Day, ask how they are doing, or where they are from. Comment on the weather. But do not be hesitant to ask questions.
Some guests hesitate, especially in potentially sensitive situations such as slavery or prejudices or massacres or religious intolerance. These are all parts of the past and are important to the construction of how we view the past. Unless it is relevant, we will not speak on modern politics or religion. We are very consciously apolitical and religious.
Just say hello, remember that simply being polite goes a long way.
4 Let Your Guard down
Do not be frightened or intimidated by our costumes or our tools or that sword that is always nearby. Let go of the present and go into the moment—even if that moment is a thousand years ago.
Reenactors sometimes think of themselves as “playful scholars,” people who are deeply committed to conveying their passions to you but find it amusing and entertaining and who hope to pass these feelings on to you. Every reenactor has different interests and expertise, and no single reenactor will know everything. The reenactor will very happily refer you to another reenactor who might be able to answer your question, so you should not feel bad or hesitant. As we said, immerse yourself in the past, and feel free to ask questions of interest.
Play the game by letting us be your guide. Bring your own perspective. We will meet you wherever you want, help you be whomever you want and —hopefully—answer any questions you might have.
5 Ask Us Anything
You do not have to ask us about the fate of Vikings or the Englisc or anything else that is deemed important. Ask us trivial questions about the tools we use. Ask us about how clothing was constructed, how we worshiped our deities, how we made money (literally) and how we made so much of what you see. Ask me how I met our mates, about our children, about our friends (or enemies) and even about our pets and other animals. Ask about anything that might have been important in the culture we seek to recreate.
We are all afraid of feeling dumb sometimes. But remember when your high school teachers insisted there are no dumb questions. Even if you never believed them, you can believe that here.
We know that many of our guests have little frame of reference for a tenth-century world, and that means that sometimes they have to take a risk to make a connection. But we know that you are calling up whatever frame of reference you have and trying to make connections. And we appreciate it! So start with something simple, and work your way toward deeper questions. Do not be afraid to ask hard questions, since they will probably lead to an interesting conversation in any case.
6 Say Yes
We will go out of our way to say hello, to greet you and to draw you in. We might ask if you have any questions— we know you probably will and do not want you to hesitate asking them—and if we offer you a brochure that explains what we are trying to do or ask you a question or ask you to join us in a conversation or in a game or just to hold something, say yes. Trust us, and we promise not ne dangerous or will make you look foolish.
We are not trying to trick anyone, so believe our sincerity in helping you make the leap back in time. We appreciate the effort and will help you all that we can!
When you are watching us, we are watching you at the same time. We will not force you to do something you do not want to do, and we generally know when to leave you alone. In the end, we certainly respect you for choosing to spend your time visiting us.
7 Make Connections
It is not merely acceptable but encouraged to talk to any reenactor more than once during the day. We are not following a script, and we are not so absorbed in our own conversations that we will ignore you. Feel free to speak to us, even interrupt us if we are talking with a mate. You can feel free to come back and see us again, to continue a discussion, to ask a follow-up question, or to get another picture. You might be surprised that we remember you!
As you meet people during the day, try to put some of the historical pieces together. Make connections by figuring out how we relate to each other and how we might have related to the very world at that timer.
Have fun connecting the dots.
Inspired by “How to Talk to a Costumed Interpreter in 7 Easy Steps” by Bill Sullivan, published by Colonial Williamsburg
The most prevalent form of transportation was by foot. This was not only inexpensive, but most people never traveled more than ten miles away from home! Skis and skates (both used with ski poles) were known for balance and propulsion across the snow and ice in the North.
Two-wheeled vehicles were most frequently seen at this time, mainly for poorer people, since they were less expensive. Some define carts as conveyances that are propelled by only human labor, and carried timber, vegetables and other goods. See, for example, the June illustration of the Julius Work Calendar; this cart might well not be human-propelled, since we see oxen waiting nearby as the coach is loaded.
Chariots were popular in many civilizations early than the Viking Age, including the Roman, but had largely fallen out of use and popularity by this time, although once again semantics and definitions are important.
Waggons were heavier duty than carts, with four wheels and always pulled by animals. They were of varying complexity and appearance and were used to transport goods as well as persons.
Instead of wheels, sleighs had runners that enabled transportation across a flat surface, for example stone and, most frequently, snow. They were popular in Northern Europe; see the sleighs found in the Oseberg burial, for example, and were frequently elaborately ornamented. Sleighs, like carts and waggons, could be used to transport both cargo and human passengers, and they were almost invariably propelled by non-human meas. They were not so popular in areas which did not as much snow as other areas which did.
Horses were for the elite. Rarely, they rather than oxen or mules, pulled waggons or ploughs, but that was not their general use. The horses of th period was small, since they had not yet been interbred with the larger Arabian horses, and the smaller (and cunning) Icelandic horse was very similar to the general horses of the time. Sally Crawford notes, “Horse bridel fittings and trappings, and horse burial, are almost exclusively associated with male burial, suggesting that horse riding was an aspect of male, rather than female, elite identity (though it does not necessarily mean that women never rode horses.”
As Kevin Crossley-Holland notes, “sea power was essential to the success of Viking enterprises.” Because the name of the age was derived to a great extent from the Viking ship, the importance of ships and boats cannot be minimized. The importance of the crafts can be seen by such things as earlier inclusion in graves such as the Sutton Hoo burial (it is unknown whether these earlier ships had sails or if this was a Viking ship innovation), and later ships from a number of cultures imitated the Viking ships. They were quick and maneuverable and was replaced only taller ships which enabled extensive sea battles.
There were a number of Viking ships used at the time, including:
Open boat with two pair of oars.
Ocean-going trading ship (the truck of the Viking Age).
Coastal and river-sailing ship, transport ship.
Smallest longship, passenger ship, also known as a Karve..
A smaller longship, also known as a Snekke, Snekke or Snekkja.
A larger longship also known as a Drake, a Busse, a Skeid or a Sud, often used as a warship.
Roland Williamson notes that “I think they might have qualified each type by number of oars. Saexering and Fembering are names that come up. Also the various benches or thwarts on the boats and especially the bigger ones were ‘called’ rooms. So each room was two men in the crew.”
What many people think we know about the Norse religion was written down some two or three-hundred years after the close of the Viking Age by Snorri Sturluson, a Christian writer, for a Christian audience. He adopted many oral tales and wrote new ones that has more to do with Christian than with heathen theology.
The so-called Vulgate Latin translation of the Bible was done in the late fourth century at the direction of Pope Damasus I to revise the Vetus Latina collection of biblical texts in Latin then in use by the Church. The term “Vulgate” refers to the common tongue, which was used to describe the Latin tongue. Although it is called the Saint Jerome translation, it is conceivable that he did not translate it; but it remained the standard Latin translation until the sixteenth century, when strict Church authority over editions lessened, and further editing and interpretations were seen.
Although the translation of the Bible into common tongue from the Vulgate was later forbidden and deem heretical, leading to a great extent to the rise of the protestant faiths, it was commonly done during the Viking age and was routinely known as a gloss. Some editions of the Vulgate had the English translation–or gloss–written upon the page between the lines of the Latin.
Jesus was accepted as a god by many heathen Norse, but he was one deity among many, which irritated the Christian church. We are told in J. Sephton’s 1895 translation The Saga of King Olaf Tryggwason that:
“Helgi the Lean…was a Christian in name, but his faith was a very mixed one; for though he was baptized, and declared his belief in Christ, he made vows to Thor whenever he was engaged in seafaring, or any matter that required hardihood.”
The so-called Fenris cross was a tenth-century cross from Iceland and is probably a sample of what I refer to as a “Hedge Your Bets” cross. It features a Þor’s hammer with a Fenris Wolf at the top and a cross carved into the hammer itself. Some do not accept that interpretation, noting that crosses were used as motifs in heathen times without referring to Christianity.
Vikings did become Christians, but it is altogether possible that they also converted to Islam and to Judaism, though there is only a handful of such incidents recorded.
Early, “local” saints were just recognized as such as people in the area, and a person who was a saint in one area was not necessarily considered a saint in another. Saint Udalric was canonized by Pope John XV in 993 but some maintain that the first papal canonization was Saint Swibert by Pope Leo III in 804. Both local and papal canonization continued until 1153, and in 1170, only papal canonizations were thenceforth permitted.
There were three basic tonsures. These were shaving of the head done for religious purposes, and medieval monasteries even dictated who would use the hottest water for shaving.
With the Oriental method, the whole head was shaved. This was common in the Eastern Churches, though not in the Western Church. For example, Theodore of Tarsus—schooled in Byzantium—allowed his hair to grow out before being tonsured in the Roman style when he was ordained Archbishop of Canterbury by Pope Vitalian in 668.
The Celtic style involved shaving the head from ear to ear, but there are no illustrations of the exact shape. The Celtic tonsure was worn in Ireland and Great Britain and was connected to the distinct set of practices known as Celtic Christianity. It was despised by those affiliated with the Roman church, and some sources have also suggested links between this tonsure and that allegedly worn by druids in the Pre-Roman Iron Age. it ended with the Synod of Whitby in 660, where Roman Christianity triumphed over Celtic.
In the predominant Roman tonsure, only the top of the head was shaved, allowing the hair to grow in the form of a crown. This was almost universally see in the Viking age.
The preaching cross is a cross—sometimes wooden and sometimes stone, sometimes surmounting a pulpit—originally erected before the construction of churches to designate a place where a preacher would preach and where worshipers might gather top hear him. Some of the stone crosses have elaborate carving and runes, incorporating heathen as well as Christian motifs, and some still exist today, with a church built around them or perhaps moved to a church.
Chastity often referred to legal sexual relations, and priests were allowed to wed until th eleventh century, although it was frowned upon by the Church itself. In the eleventh century, it was outright forbidden.