I resolve to never use the term “Dark Ages.”
I resolve never to use the term “Viking” to describe a culture.
I resolve never to wear spex while in Early Medieval clothing
I resolve never to wear cotton jammie bottoms in costume.
I resolve never to wear a belt more than an inch thick in costume.
I resolve never to darken my appearance with pitch black.
I resolve never to participate in a society that has to apologize for and rationalize its farbiness.
I resolve never to wear a necklace of beads.
I resolve never to respond to anyone who apologizes or rationalizes his society’s farbiness and then calls his society’s events “reenactments”…but I will continue to laugh like crazy whenever I read this!
I resolve to always examine and to implement any valid new research.
I resolve to always do as good a job creating and maintaining the illusion required by living history and remember at all times that merely dressing in historical clothing means that I am a model for all reenactors.
I resolve to educate people, to have a good time doing it and to never be ashamed for being silly off hours…but not to claim that this has anything to do with reenactment.
Most of these are not new. That does not mean that they are not important!
[I delayed this for a week trying to track down the origins of a fylfot that I had seen, a beautiful variation of a fylfot that was not really a fylfot. But the design is most probably a modern adaptation and so, unfortunately, should not be used 😦 ]
This week we would like to speak on the reclamation of symbols that have been demeaned by a gentleman that J. R. R. Tolkien called (with magnificent understatement) “that ruddy little ignoramus.” We are referring, of course, to the demonization of a millennia-old good luck symbol because of the actions of that gentleman. If you are still uncertain, I am referring to the Nazi perversion of the fylfot (swastika).
The fylfot was an ancient symbol that was also known as a swastika. “The word swastika comes from the Sanskrit svastika, which means “good fortune” or “well-being.” One can see it used everywhere. I saw it in a city steeple in Reykjavík and at a resort in central Indiana. It was used as a symbol for sports teams and for religions. In terms of the Viking age, it was used on the Oseberg tapestry, and upon reliquaries of the contemporary Christian church. Fylfots, in other words, were seen many many places. The fact that it was to become a despised political symbol by being used by a bunch of hateful bigots—and is still being used that way, along with other symbols such as the Volknot today—is due to one man. (Saying it was one man is a bit of an exaggeration; perhaps, it is more accurate to say that it was due to the influence and hateful bigotry of one man and his mindless followers)
The Nazi adoption—might we say perversion of—of the symbol in 1920 relegated its five millennia of being a symbol of good fortune to the trash heap (they did much the same thing with other Nordic symbols and stories; even today, MoPs will pass by a Regia display and say, “Yeah; you show them black gentlemen [not the term they used] that white power will git their asses!”). Many of the things adopted by the Nazis came out with a stench about them; for example, the out-thrust arm salute was used until the time of World War II for use with the American Pledge of Allegiance.
The fylfot, because of its use by the German dictatorship, became a hated symbol, one that was almost universally reviled, and this feeling has continued for almost a century. It would seem foolish, of course, to think that it use by single political faction—even so hideous a one as the National Socialists—in the twentieth century, would forever cause it to be reviled, distrusted and forbidden to be used, yet as recently as 2014, Hallmark had to discontinue a wrapping paper because it contained a geometric design that some liberals saw as a fylfot! Its original purpose has been forgotten.
However, in the years since its use as a Nazi symbol, it has been adopted by those people supporting the German Nazi philosophy and hate philosophies of their own. No one is willing to espouse it for its original meaning, and it has been allowed to become a symbol of those things that are rightfully despised!
Will the fylfot be reclaimed? Has the possibility of reclamation even been negated? The possibility of it being perceived as a non-racist, apolitical might be remote. Those persons wishing to reclaim it as something more benign than its use as a symbol of hate and prejudice are often overwhelmed by the probability of ignorance coming own against them. Even those wishing to reclaim it are often warned not to try, since it will only stir up an unthinking perception of prejudice!
How long will this continue? Will it ever be reclaimed as a benevolent symbol? Unfortunately, the struggle for its reclamation might well continue to be impossible as long as it is used only by hate organizations! Too many people will see it atomically and immediately as a symbol of Naziism, of the Aryan nations, of other white supremacists, without pausing to think of it in its larger historical influence.
So there is a reluctance among many people who want to reclaim it to display it; and ironically, until it is commonly displayed in a benign or beneficent atmosphere, it will continue to be seen as an exclusive symbol of hate.
Will the fylfot be reclaimed the way that so many other hated symbols and phrases have been reclaimed? In the present, rather pc environment, probably not. At least not in the near future. In the distant future, once the incredibly obscenities of the second word war have passed into history, and there are no living persons—and living descendants who knew them so well—that was affected by them, reclamation may be possible. But for right now, fylfots must remain in the camp of those symbols that have been unrightfully maligned, and there is little chance that it will be reclaimed without stirring up unthinking hatred of another sort!
I can only, at the present, whisper the hope that the symbol might be picked out of the mud, laundered and reclaimed for what it was originally meant to be.
I have been reading an article available on the internet about a reenactor’s “refusal” to back up progressives because he feels they are being bullies, that they are being snarks (my word, not his), that they re trying to tell other people how to behave and how to kit themselves out. “Progressive” is a term that is used by—and against—reenactors who try to be accurate in their portrayals. He is speaking of the eighteenth century, but what he says has impact upon any reenactor, including those who do the Viking Age.
It is a very infuriating article not precisely because of the man’s beliefs but because of the way he expresses them. And the way that he can totally ignore—or perhaps not see—some of what I consider to be the most vital aspects about the progressive movement.
He notes that some people who want to become involved in the hobby are poor. That is certainly true. However, the fact of the matter is that you should try to align the class of your impression with your ability to pay. Even in history, it was more expensive to dress posh! I have more respect for someone who makes a good simple woolen overtunic, perhaps in the style that Þor Ewing describes for slaves in Viking Clothing, than for someone who does an inappropriate posh design with insufficient inappropriate fabrics, who cuts corners and who tries to portray above his station.
What I believe is that there is a need to have different societies with different standards. Different Authenticity Regs. A person interested in getting into the hobby can choose the level of accuracy that he wants to attain. It is not right in any sense for someone to join a society and then dismiss these regs as being too restrictive, any more than it is right for someone from another society to lecturer a person on what he should wear, based on the critic’s society’s authenticity regs and not those of the other’s!
Knowing the authenticity regs and abiding by them is essential for successful membership. A member has essentially signed a contract and agreed to abide by the regulations. Anyone who has agreed with what they are going to represent to the MoPs and then to complain they cannot do it or to refuse outright to adhere to these standards is being a selfish and dishonorable malcontent. Attempt to change the standards, but abide by them until they are changed, or leave the society altogether. These are honorable action!
In other words, a progressive whose society has high standards is not being an authenticity nazi if he tells a member of his society how to make a better presentation. He is if he says the same thing to the member of another society who has different or lower standards. They have not signed up for his interpretations! They are not, in the same way, fulfilling their contract!
The gentleman in question however refers only to The Hobby and not to different societies that may well have different standards. At larger, multiple society events, obviously, everyone needs to go by the standards of the host society. The sponsors should have, should publish and should make easily obtainable a list of the standards that are being expected. And if the level of the accuracy is not to the liking of the potential participant, then they can stay away from the event and not go around to bitch that someone’s kit is “inaccurate.”
I cannot agree with everything he says because of his scatter-gun approach. Because of his creation of straw men that can be easily demolished to favor his opinion and that he can easily demolish. He does not deal at all with how his version of The Hobby is being represented to the public. What I have found is that the people who are more stringent about their accuracy are more willing to tell MoPs that this is not how it was done, that this is safer than what was done at the time. It is the societies that have very low or no authenticity regs who say proudly We are a reenactment group when referring to their fantasy LARP, who have no real standards, and who try to pass off the farb that they do have as accuracy, I am reminded of an early fair that I officiated at for the SCA. One fighter decided that he was going to be a hero and not take any blows because, as you know, the MoPs won’t know any different. So he was areal hot dog, ignoring blows and portraying The All-Star Wrassler that he probably wanted to be. Finally, tired, he took a killing blow. Later, I was greeted by a pair of MoPs who expressed their thanks for the presentation and then, at the end, said, “And I’m glad that Mister Hero realized that he was dead…”
MoPs are often more knowledgeable about things than many of the participants commonly think! A society must have at least minimal authenticity regs! And anyone who joins them or to participate behind their ropelines must be willing to attain these standards and not complain that he is too poor to make a good showing! Lower your sights. Find something that you can afford that is accurate. We are not asking that everyone has a full, posh outfit. What we are asking is that what is being worn reaches up to and attains the accuracy standards that the participant has agreed to attain!
In the end, I suppose, I should place myself among those progressives that he dislikes so much. However, on the other hand, I only think that standards of accuracy that I attempt to attain and that I go by, that are delineated in the Authenticity Regs are pertinent only to the society which wrote and adopted them. I will never complain or unilaterally advise a member of a different society who has different or less quality of standards. They are off limits. Criticizing the members to their faces when they have not asked an opinion is not fair game!
An excellent Yahoo group of AWI Progressives is RW Progressives.
By “picturing”, I am primarily referring to photography. The following entry is devoted to two subjects, though they are both about photography. Assuming, to begin with, that there is a natural desire to take photographs and videos of a historical reenactment, the desire to make such photographs is natural and that the photography is a good thing, the questions we investigate are valid.
The first deals with the question of what the finished photographs should look like, whether they should be altered in one way or another.
The second is how someone in an era before cameras would be able to carry a camera at an event he is participating in and not look like some kind of burlesque! (Disguising the camera so that it looks like current cameras during the era after photography was invented is a matter also dealt with below)
For many people, this means that you are recording military reenactments which boil down to battlefield reenactments. It should be noted that while I have taken battlefield photographs, it has been in civilian dress. To take photographs of the everyday life that is represented at the living-history exhibitions is more satisfying to me. While it is possible to have a camera in eras being recreated that had this technology—times since 1836—as long as the cameras look similar to the historic version. We will forgive those eras when the length of the exposures means that there were no photographs of the actual military actions unless they were incredibly blurred and ghostly, and this last almost up to the invention of motion pictures! Until then, it was all still photography where they attempted to get photos of the soldiers—usually staged and static—and the aftermath of the actual battle—showing posed living persons (such as the prisoners after Gettysburg), corpses (for example the scenes of a deceased sharp shooter in the Devil’s Den…which was apparently a posed shot itself), scenes of what had been a battlefield (such as the scene of Seminary Ridge) and non-battle shots of stationary scenes as meetings (such as Grant’s meeting with his staff at Bethesda Church, Maryland). Sepiaizing or otherwise making modern shots look as if they were period shots has an advantage for eras that actually had photography because it tries to emulate the photography that was actually done at the time. For eras before the invention of photography—as well as many eras after the invention when they did not have the means or technology for action photography—it becomes a matter of choice. How many scenes of a Saxon reenactment looks as if it might have been a shot of a Victorian era Viking reenactment? Has this shot been sepiaized but for no good reason and does not add to the verisimilitude of the shot?
For that matter, the color of the photograph undergoes a number of questions. Do you make all the photographs all sepia? Do you make them as colorful as possible? Do you adjust the color balance so that it does reflects the colors that were available in artwork of the era? For that matter, when dealing with black-and-white prints, should the actual black and white balance be altered? These are all questions that the photographer must ask…and answer as well. There is no single answer. And photographers have to make their own decisions. For that matter, they must even decide whether they should even forsake the idea of photography and make all shots line or wash drawings?
The answer to photography in reenactments of the earlier days, when photography—even the camera obscura—was not known is threefold:
First, to be done only by MoPs or by members wearing modern dress and therefore not at all looking farby; or
Second, not to do any photography at all (though there is, as noted, a desire to see the reenactment, so there is a desire both by the MoP and by the participant to have shots done); or
Third, and this is the most delicate and questionable, is to have cameras that hide—in “books” for example—that can be brought out for a quick photograph (not out of the enclosure of course) and then quickly returned to hiding.
This latter is what I have resorted to, and I have created what looks like a leather-bound book. It has surprised many people, who see it sitting before me among other books (real books) that I have bound and never realized it was something more. Some folk have even noticed it being used and do not recognize what it is!
The method I use for disguising the camera is not the only way that a dedicated reenactor can approach the subject. I first considered, for example, hiding the camera inside a runestone, but I decided against that because of a lack of needed mobility. Anyone who has any method that he uses that goes beyond the book are encouraged to share their methods with us all here. The more ways that reenactors know to disguise their cameras, is good. It helps to avoid a common way that people disrupt the atmosphere of a reenactment!
To some extent there have always been historical reenactors. In ancient Rome, there were reenactors who performed in fates and festivals. There were reenactors in the Middle Ages who recreated Biblical and historical scenes. This did not mean that they had any sense of what was correct or accurate or even that the costume of the previous day was not the same as the costume used at that time. Look, for example, at art featuring Biblical scenes in which the participants are dressed in a current fashion. While they may have been able to know when such and such an activity happened, they could not will you the appearance of the participants.
Reenactors continued for some time being people who wanted to celebrate the past but who did not knowing how the past might look. For example if you look at any of the popular art and fiction during the eight5eenth and nineteenth centuries when interest in “Viking” folklore began. You can see that they had a very minimal idea of what was going on at that time and, probably little desire to present anything that was in opposition to what they believed. This attitude continued well into the twentieth century and is seen in many depictions yet today!
If we look at the first medieval reenactment in the United States—actually in British-held Philadelphia—the costumes and equipment were less historically accurate than romantic and appealing to the participants and spectators. We have some illustrations from the event, known as the Mischianza, done by Major John André, that show this quite well!
A couple generations later, what was known as The Last Tournament was planned but because of weather conditions postponed. Armor was actually taken from drawing rooms, but it is uncertain whether the armor was used or if, indeed, it survived because was not. It was about this time that people had begun to realize that the costumes, the kit and the accouterments of the earlier day were indeed different from those of the current day. But this was during the Romantic, neo-Gothic era of the Victorian era, a tendency to have costumes based on that which was found by the archaeologists, though there was still a tendency to interpret it according to contemporary morés and tastes. In photos of the nineteenth century medieval and Viking reenactments, the costumes are a curious mixture of the accurate and the fanciful. But then, even into the early twentieth century, such a freewheeling amount of interpretation was seen in artistic representations, in films (and is still seen today in many infancies) and in such places as books by Wilcox and Norris was still seen and still commonly available. Total uncritical acceptance must be guarded against!
The fact that the myth of the Viking helmet with horn was born in the middle of the nineteenth century—originally a theatrical design from Carl Emil Doepler for Wagner’Ring cycle and achieved vast popularity that is seen yet today needs not, I hope, be mentioned with any intense investigation…
It was not until the latter half of the twentieth century that a true sense of what was proper—and not merely the illusion of it, as was seen in pageants, plays and, later, films. Most of the early manifestation of reenactors were in the black powder community and in the counter-cultural societies of the mid 1960s, and they were more concerned with idealized technology—and its adaptation to modern requirements—than with the accuracy of costuming. However, as you look at photographs of the various examples of historical costume, you can tell the development of research and knowledge, so that many of the reenactments of today are very accuracy itself, and some of the fiction and films also mirrors at least part of this accuracy.
The fact is that much early reenacting was bound up in the American Civil War centennial, but not only were these reenactments seen—in the words of President Kennedy—as “sham battles,” but participants were content to wear modern suit jackets of blue or grey and to use bb guns. But there among those folk some who were more concerned with historical accuracy, and an increasing spiral upwards toward accuracy was seen. The start of renn faires and LARPs in the 1960s saw a culture more influence by Victorian misinterpretations than by strict accuracy, and this continues to this day, although there again were people who began to do more research and to try to attain a greater accuracy. There are now societies that demand greater accuracy and even in the farbier societies, places of extreme accuracy (although the phrase created by progressives—”what you permit you promote”—is well seen in these subcultures).
In the end, the increasing prominence—or at least knowledge of—reenactors in modern society and its mass media has increased in the past few decades. You can be jaded and note that this has occurred because mainstream media has become more concerned with the representation of the past but not wholly with accuracy, just the illusion of accuracy. People want to dress in a peculiar manner, but the interest is primarily in being able to look different from the mainstream and to stand out, rather than to recreate any sort of historical accuracy and validity. Any change in this attitude has been gradual and often in one area or another, and it has progressed at different speeds in many different sub-communities. To a great extent, the societies who have stringent authenticity regs—and therefore exacting requirements for your appearance before you can participate—are being praised by the media even when they cannot understand it or denigrate it with a back-handed compliment!
Today we see that reenacting and reenactors are treated with a familiarity by the popular media that is on one hand a very welcoming sensation but on the other hand and at the same time is treated in a degrading manner by a mas media that seems to want to create a lower class of people who their mainstream audience can feel superior to and, feeling superior, can purchase the products being promoted by their commercials! Members of the more realistic subculture are not treated as serious historians but rather as jokes, so you will see reenactors being portrayed as humorous in such things as comic strips, in films and even in news coverage of their events. Even any desire for accuracy is presented as a kind of joke, with the media inviting their audience to laugh at the anal types who are attempting to attain any kind of accuracy!
Therefore, with the varied perception by the media, by the mainstream and even by academia, will the perception of reenacting attain a sort of somber acceptance and respect, or will it continue to be the degraded third cousin who likes to wear peculiar outfits. In the end and for me, it little matters. I will, despite the perception and the level of respect and acceptance, continue to try to evolve and to present the most correct interpretations. Perhaps that is a failing on my part…but I can do no less. Hopefully, nether can you!
This installment comes about for two separate but complementary reasons that fit together like a jigsaw. One was reading about glazed pottery in Julian D. Richard’s Viking Age England, a very interesting and informative book dealing with the Norse culture in Britain. The second was an inquiry from friend, Tim Jorgensen, a couple days later that forced me to reread parts of the book before answering him. These two things got me thinking and realizing that I really should try to comment on what Viking Age reenactors should and should not be looking for.
Should pottery used in Viking reenactment have a glaze? That is a very controversial question, since it would appear in artefacts of the time—both Norse and Anglo-Saxon—glazing is found but is not catholic or common. There is pottery that has a glaze and pottery that does not have a glaze. Pottery from some areas—and presumably nations or cultures—is not the same as in other areas, so a universal, generalized statement is of no more validity in this instance than in many others.
Glaze is a layer or coating which covers the pottery and then has been fused to pottery. Glaze can serve to color, to decorate, to strengthen or to waterproof the pottery, and its fusing process involves a certain amount f heat, that was more difficult to attain during the Viking Age because of its technology. On the Regia pottery page, Ben Levick and Roland Williamson note that “Sometimes the pottery was glazed with simple glazes, most often of yellow or olive green (the technique of glazing appears to have been reintroduced from the Byzantine countries through France). Other pottery was decorated with a red paint or slip in the continental style….In the early period the pots were fired in a covered fire pit called a clamp. This did not always reach a very high temperature so the pots often did not fire very well. The fire that was built over the pots excluded most of the oxygen which fired the pottery black or charcoal-grey. By the later period firing was done in a simple kiln which was easier to control, guaranteeing a better and more even firing.” The temperature was still more primitive3 and, therefore less effective, than that easily attained in later times
To a good extent, it appears that the probability of an object being glazed was influence by what the object was. It makes sense that the pottery that was glazed had a specific and dedicated use. For example, Ian Richards in The Viking World, notes that flasks, lamps, spouted pitchers and sprinklers were more likely to be glazed, while cups, mugs and bowls were not.
The colors also appear to be relevant, and they are relevant for both glazed and unglazed pottery. Richards notes in that book notes that “The potters generally selected white-firing clays, enable then to achieve clear yellow, or olive-green colour Experiments in glazing dark reduced wares, such as at Lincoln, tended to be short-lived.” To the list of likely colors, we will add yellow-orange, which was found in York. Therefore, you would not usually find a piece of pottery that was dark, such as dark red, strong, dense colors, though an area such as Stamford seemed to have glazed pottery and painted it red from the beginnings of the industry in the ninth century. Richards notes that “Their sudden appearance suggests that they may have been introduced by foreign potters working in Stamford. These are unlikely to have been Danes, as the idea originated in northern France or the Low Countries.”
Many of the potters with whom I had talked about this do not lave their pottery unglazed—one worker I know glazes the inside but not the outside in some instances—partly for commercial reasons—many clients will not buy unglazed pottery since they feel, perhaps justifiably in some instances, that it is unsafe—and partly because they fear a law against its sale. While it is true that unglazed pottery can be more dangerous—harboring unsafe bacteria or other toxins despite cleaning—I am unaware of any such law—which is not the same as saying that no such law exists anywhere—I am amused by the imagined loopholes that some potters—such as the one above who glazes only the interior of pottery—willingly jump through!
In the end, I can only note that when you accumulating kit for your impression or for the portrayal of your wic, that you consider whether you should have glazed or unglazed pottery, what colors you should have and the forms, designs and markings. When purchasing pottery for use in your kit, it would be best to take a look at designs, styles and forms that have been found in that area during the time you are reenacting. It is my feeling that most pottery in your kit should be unglazed if it is more common and smaller, while glazing should be used on larger, more specialized and more important–-to you if nothing else—pieces. The colors of both the glazed and the unglazed pottery are dependent on the class and the location in which the pottery was created. A compromise—for safety matters—might be involved as well.
I recommend that you have an idea of what you want and that you shop around. And if you do not find what you are looking for, talk to the potters! They may relish the challenge. They might disdain the restrictions of accuracy. And they might be able to direct you to other potters who would be able to give you what you need or to willingly and perhaps profitably debate the matter.
Pottery from the era is readily available—in shards if nothing else—and there have been many studies that reenactors might find educational and engaging. For example, I might note this ebook available for free from the York Archaeological Trust.
More wit, wisdom and philosophy from literary works of the Viking Age:
Wealth brings leisure
But share it freely
if you really want God’s pleasure.
The Rune Poem (tr. Harper)
For our women’s work they are to give at the proper time, as has been ordered, the materials—that is, the linen, wool, woad, vermilion, madder, wool combs, teasers, soap, grease, vessels, and the other objects which are necessary.
Capitulary De Villis (Tr. Robinson)
They journeyed boldly
Went for gold
Fed the eagle
Out in the east
And died in the south
A man in the open country must not
go more than one step
from his weapons;
because one can’t be sure
when, outside on the roads,
a spear will be needed by a warrior.
Verse 38 of The Havamal (tr. Ball)
I ask you O Lord to send your delight into my heart and your love into my senses, and to let your mercy cover me
The Book of Cerne
There are many who have spent a long time at court, and know but little or nothing about these courtesy. And this is true of those who bear the hirdman’s name and should be very close to the king, as well as of those who have lesser titles and rarely see the king….when you remarked that those who came from the court seemed no more polished or cultured, or even less, than those who had never been at court. To that I replied, and with truth, that everyone who wishes to be proper in his conduct needs to guard against such ignorance as they are guilty of, who know not the meaning of shame or honor or courtesy, and learn nothing from the conduct of good and courtly men, even though they see it daily before their eyes.
from 192 of The King’s Mirror (tr. Larson)
(With thanks from Regia mates: Hrolf Douglasson, Gary Golding, Rich Price, Kim Siddorn, Ali Vikingr and Paula Lofting Wilcox)
(With thanks from Regia mates: Hrolf Douglasson, Gary Golding, Rich Price, Kim Siddorn, Ali Vikingr and Paula Lofting Wilcox)
It is called “experimental archaeology,” not “I got it right the first time because I’m so Damned good archaeology.” The process goes beyond merely experimenting with new methods but looking at the construction of objects.
I am a woodworker. Whenever I start a new project, attempting to reproduce on some manner, an historical artifact from the Viking Age, I assume that there are going to be problems with the first attempt. I often make it out of cheap pine or scrap wood rather than any other expensive wood. And I assume that I am going to be learning something about how to better put it together.
Anyone who is not taking notes of how the project was done and what material were used is being a fool. Write down what actions were taken, what materials were employed and how much material was used. Sometimes the excitement of doing something and doing something successfully—or the exasperation and frustration of doing something unsuccessfully—can lead you to forget important details about the process.
Making mistakes when first doing a project can often be more illuminating and more educational than doing it right to begin with.
When doing an experimental archaeology project, it is of course best to do all the proper research beforehand. Uncover any suppositions about how something was done in period and then design—perhaps on paper, on your computer or even if your head if you trust your memory—the exact method you would use when going about the reproduction. One of the worst thing you can do is to see a photograph—sometimes not even a good photograph—of an artifact and then sit down with a scrap of lumber and attempt to recreate that artifact without making any plans, without thinking about it and without making any plans about it at all, so confident in your ability—as taught by modern methods, which are in may minds superior to any medieval technology—that you do not do any planning or thinking!
A major difficulty, which is not usually mentioned or debated, is when the first attempt is so successful. You are overjoyed and perhaps over-confidant, but the next attempt is not nearly so successful. 😦
This is not to say that your first attempt at reproduction will be unsuccessful. It will probably be a learning experience and in the end greatly educational. You might very well have to discard this first project, which is another reason to keep it cheap!
A correspondent was uncertain of the reason for our series of triptychs. She wondered if I was attempting—and failing—to duplicate exactly the inspiration? I realized that I had alluded to but had not come out and said the reason for the triptychs.
The fact is—and let me plain about this—these are shots that stemmed from and may well be included in for a book that I am doing on the proper way to move in historical dress. I believe that maintaining the proper method of movement is almost as important as wearing the accurate dress, and I have been incredibly upset by photos of people dressed even in accurate costume but who look as if they just came from a modern fancy-dress party! As Ruth M. Green says in The Wearing of Costume: “…when you have a fine tool you need to know how to use it. The most correct costume looks like fancy dress if you don’t know how to wear it, and when you do know you’ll find the clothes give more scope than you thought.” Hopefully when you see someone dressed even in immaculately accurate costume but posing and behaving like someone from the twenty-first century, you will be as unsettled as I am! The illusion is broken!
Therefore, in the triptychs, there is an incorrect scene, where a person dressed in at least some accurate costume is posing and behaving in an inappropriate manner; a correct scene, where the person dressed in accurate clothing is in my opinion at least posing ad behaving appropriately; and a period illustration that stands as the inspiration. I have attempted to show what irritates me, what pleases me and what inspired my feelings. The correct photo is not a scrupulous copy of the inspiration but rather an attempt to show the proper way to pose and behave, for example not slouching, head covered (if a woman) and not showing too much—or inappropriate—regions of skin.
I am sorry that I have not been so detailed in earlier appearances of the triptychs and hope that this brief note will help explain what I have attempted to do and will be attempting to do in the future!
This is the next in a series of tryptychs that will regularly appear here that show what some people think is an adequate representation, what is an adequate representation (in my mind at least) and the original inspiration for my view.
My thanks to K’La Albertini–not a reenactor–who dyed her hair and helped me out in this project!
To my mind, the main purpose of reenacting is not merely to entertain but to educate. I realize that for many reenactors and for many societies this is not a popular view. They are doing things, they tell me, for fun, to honor their ancestors and things a little bit wrong is not a serious matter. To a generation raised on fantasy novels, on fantasy films and on fantasy comic books, this is often a foreign concept. If they are wearing something that is a little bit different from modern dress, that often seems to be enough, but to my mind that is not enough at all! Perhaps the most significant thing learned from a recent weekend was that any so-called reenactor who wears or uses something that is out of period, that is imaginative or fanciful and not based on solid research is actually performing an act of misinformation. Any of the MoPs who look at them tend to think that they are all absolute accurate in their garments and gear, that they have all done exhaustive research and that they all have the highest integrity. The MoP might therefore assume that the average Norseman of the period wore black, wore spectacles, wore turtlenecks, wore leather loafers and wore a belt at least five inches wide. As I waited at the table set up before the showing of “Vikings Live from the British Museum” at a local theatre, one of the curious asked how much I liked “Vikings.” I replied that I did not like the inaccuracies, and he looked surprised. “Like what?” I replied, like the clothing. He then asked, “What do you mean, what they wore was not accurate? What did the Vikings normally wear?” I stood and stepped back. Something like this, I said. Trousers, an under tunic and an over tunic. In linen in wool, and certainly not leather leaving the arms or chest bare. He nodded and said, “Oh. I see what you mean.” I would have been unable to do this if my clothing was not accurate, and I would certainly have felt responsible for miseducating him. So whenever you are presenting a display for the public, not a bufu (By Us, For Us) event where you can present as much fantasy as you want, you are obligated to make everything as accurate as possible, just to educate the MoPs properly. You are dealing with people who are not members of your society who are looking at you, who are judging your presentation and who are trusting that you will be able to learn from you. You must make certain that you dress in the most accurate manner, that you use the most accurate gear, and when you must compromise the accuracy—generally for safety reasons or because the actual thing would be too expensive—you must note the deviation from true accuracy. For example, in my laece cist, I have the copy of a whip that was used to beat out the demons that caused madness. The original was made of porpoise hide; but because that is now illegal, I worked with my leather supplier for a likely alternative. I used lamb leather, which was grey, light and smooth enough that it stood in good stead, but I always mention this to the curious MoP. Most MoPs will readily understand this, appreciate the candor and as a result of this honesty, learn something they did not previously know. Unfortunately, it seems as if some reenactors do not want to educate people; that is too much like school. They just want to entertain people as well as possible and to receive as much applause as they feel they deserve. In one of the most disturbing conversations I had recently, a participants told me that she did not want to do reality-based reenacting because that was simply too difficult, that it was disagreeable, that she was doing this just to have fun. I do not know if she was denigrating research entirely or just the research that a good impression required, but it left me shaking my head. In my mind, I was thinking that she should not call her society a medieval one, that she should go do steampunk or cosplay at a science-fiction convention. Because the idea of dressing up and presenting yourself in quasi-accurate clothing and saying that this clothing is an accurate representation of the clothing of the time portrayed—when they are not—is not proper. Even surrounding yourself with articles not of that period is unsettling to me; and I hope that I do not do that in my impressions! For me, being surrounded by fellow reenactors who share this belief is a relaxing and enjoyable experience. To have the little points of inaccuracy in the portrayals is to me very unsatisfactory and something that I hope I never do regularly again!
It came to me recently that people might be interested in knowing what books on the Viking Age I value over all the others. These are books mainly on Scandinavia and on England, which are the center of my interests. Please note that in many of these cases, I list two or more books in the same category and counted them only as one book. Mea culpa. It was a way to publicize a few more worthy volumes that I recommend that people read and keep in their libraries.
I have stayed away, for the most part, from popular overviews, pure academia, lists of facts, histories of kings, historical fiction and books on reenacting philosophy. We are interested here in exploring the everyday life of the time, something between Susan M. Margeson Eyewitness Book for children, Viking, and Marianne Vedeler’s specialty academic book, Silk for Gold.
I realized as I was editing this I did not include any martial books. While I realize the thud and blunder for many Norse reenactors, I guess that it is not that important to me. I also have eleven categories and was unable to include Stephen Pollington’s Leechcraft: Early English Charms, Plant Lore, and Healing, but I would like to state here that any of Stephen’s books are very worthwhile!
While it would be popular to list such books as The Havamal and The King’s Mirror, various sagas and the eddas, the fact remains that these are not really products of the Viking Age. They were transmitted orally, probably changed over time and location. The sagas and other writings were not written down until two or three hundred years after the end of the Viking Age by Christian writers for Christian authors and probably contain vastly altered or even invented segments and details. Whether they started out as factual accounts or not, they no longer necessarily are. Still, the Sagas are illuminating and valuable pieces of literature, I recommend The Sagas of the Icelanders, a collection of Icelandic sagas which contain not merely new translations of the sagas but extensive appendices, notes, glossaries and illustrations that are very helpful in understanding the Viking Age. In terms of historical writings, one needs to look at Beowulf. It is considered the first English epic, though it might have originated elsewhere, It comes down to us from a written copy created in the tenth or eleventh century, so we know that this is probably what the people thought of at this time and was not being interpreted by later writers according to later viewpoints. Modern translations and editions are often abridgements or rewritings, and you need to carefully regard your volume. I recommend the recent translation by Seamus Heaney, which is available in several editions (including an audiobook so you can hear it orally in the way its original audience did and an illustrated version that gives illustrations to what is described in the verse). It manages to promote the alliterative verse of the original and still be very artistic and poetic. Reading Beowulf, especially in connection with recent discoveries such as the Staffordshire Hoard, shows that the writer was aware of what various artifacts looked like. And if one must look beyond the obvious, to the kennings and poetic allusions, that is a small thing to do and in fact helps you understand the era a little bit better.
9—IN THE OLDEN TIMES
Of earlier books, I might mention two of the first solid pieces of scholarship of the Victorian Age and early twentieth century: The Viking Age I and The Viking Age II by Paul D. Chaillu (perhaps the first book on the culture and still rewarding even if it is not uniformly up to date, featuring line drawings of artifacts) and Social Scandinavia in the Viking Age by Mary Wilhelmine Williams (from the early twentieth century, a combination of Victorian and Modern prose). Somewhat later is The Viking by Bertil Almgren, a large-format and heavily illustrated book that tells a lot about how certain things were accomplished Norse culture. Outdated in some areas, but well worth it if you are willing to check on statements; a good overview of inaccuracies may be found at Carolyn Priest-Dorman’s “Brief Critique.”
8—THE BAYEUX EMBROIDERY
We have avoided books collecting prints of artwork, though there are many, often of high quality. However, because of its content we have included this. There are many books on the Embroidery, ranging from large-format facsimile reproductions of the Embroidery to an excellent history of the Embroidery, The Bayeux Tapestry: The Life Story by Carola Hicks. However, my favorite is the French-published The Bayeux Tapestry Embroidering the Facts of History edited by Bouet, which has a number of interesting articles, including one on the physical items seen in the embroidery and one that shows photographs of the back of the Embroidery.
7—ILLUSTRATIONS OF ARTIFACTS
We have mostly stayed away from books with photos of artifacts, though they can be greatly helpful. We have also avoided for the most part books of line illustrations, partly because we remember Herbert Norris. However, this oop museum catalog, From Viking to Crusader, is an invaluable collection of photographs and descriptions of artifacts. Later books have larger photographs in color but not nearly as extensive and illuminating. This book should be brought back into print but probably never will be 😦
There are a number of volumes available from the York Archaeological Trust, and they are all very well written, well illustrated and highly recommended. Books are available in print editions, and many out of print are books available as free pdf downloads. My favorite, dealing with shoes, belts and scabbards is Leather and Leatherworking in Anglo-Scandinavian and Medieval York by Quita Mould, Ian Carlisle and Esther Cameron.
I have a failing for Iceland and its history. While there is an excellent book by Magnus Magnusson called Iceland Saga, I find myself returning to Viking Age Iceland by Jesse Byock, which contains much information about culture and life of that era that I find rewarding and illuminating.
4—NORSE EXCURSIONS INTO BRITAIN AND IRELAND
Katherine Holman’s The Northern Conquest is a wonderful look at the invasions and conquests of the Norse in Britain and in Ireland. It is based on much of the most recent research and discoveries, and she makes worthy statements on Norse-Englisc communication, on Norse religion and on the assimilation of the Norse into foreign cultures. Very worthwhile.
There are a number of books on everyday life in the era, usually entitled Every Life… or Daily Life… I have an acknowledged failing for volumes that speak on everyday life rather than on the lives of the posh and royal, and certainly not on lists of dates, events and war. My favorites are Daily Life of the Vikings (The Greenwood Press Daily Life Through History Series) by Kirsten Wolf and Daily Life in Anglo-Saxon England (The Greenwood Press Daily Life Through History Series) by Sally Crawford. These volumes are part of an exemplary series that is miles above similar volumes such as those by Simpson and Quennell.
2—BOOKS ON CLOTHING
Two very good and recommended overviews of recent and older clothing research are Viking Age Clothing by Þor Ewing and Dress in Anglo-Saxon England, Revised and Enlarged Edition by Gale R. Owen-Crocker. It is worth noting that Owen-Crocker’s book deals not only with the Englisc but with Norse living in England as well. Both are well illustrated.
1—THE YEAR 1000
The Year 1000: What Life Was Like at the Turn of the First Millennium by Robert Lacey and Danny Danziger is a very readable account of everyday life in England during the eleventh century, hinging on the illustrations of the Julius Work Calendar. I find myself returning to it time and again and always finding new revelations, explanations and accounts. The one book on the era that I would want on a desert island!
It should be stressed that this is not a definitive list but a very idiosyncratic, personal list. Paraphrasing Win Scott Eckert, there is no doubt that fans of the Viking Age, both in England and in Scandinavia, will take issue with this list or certainly with aspects of it. There might be other volumes that people have found equally or more valuable for them and their interests. I would love to hear from any reader who has another contribution as well as a critique for or against he books listed.
My wife and I just returned from a journey to Minot, North Dakota, where we set up for the seventeenth annual Norsk Høstfest ON 1–4 October, 2014. We were invited up by Tim Jorgensen to be part of the Viking Village. It was a long, exhausting and rushed trip. Certainly if I go again, I will be taking more time and make it a more leisurely trip. Driving 18 hours a day, setting up and being on stage for four days and then turning around to drive 18 hours home is hardly my idea of a vacation!
It was a very pleasurable event. Large and important, it featured singers such as Merle Haggard and was advertised on a billboard as far away as Bismarck. The building set aside for the Viking Village was a bit off from the main hall so there was not much pass through on the first day or two. Then measures were taken by Tim and others to bring attention to us, and the attendance did increase.
The MoP—the participants at the Fest—seemed to be doing things from a grim determination to do justice to their Scandinavian roots, not to have fun but rather just to experience things. Many people, when I went to the main hall, seemed to be walking around with an intent frown on their faces. Fortunately, those who came over to the Viking Village were—or became—much more cordial and smiling. Those who came by were very knowledgeable, asked intelligent questions and did not ask the usual foolish tourist questions. While the fest itself was filled with the usual travel please, Scandinavian kitsch and food (but no herring 🙂 ), intermingled with some stunning artwork and other goods.
The Viking Village was designed, apparently, to be a sideshow that the attendees could enjoy. The fair wanted there to be as many “Vikings” as possible, and accuracy took a very back seat. There were no authenticity regs and no sort of a jury.
There were, to be certain, some very incredible artisans: Woodcarvers, moneyers, metalworkers, beard makes and weavers—and also Telge Glima, a Swedish gaming troupe, and a Jomviking combat group. In addition, there were people selling books, gaming boards, horns and much else. This was the first Viking Age event for some participants, so costumes, accoutrements and the like were not always exemplary. Some interpretations of Norse dress—if interpretations they were and not merely fantastical imaginings—were incredibly dubious. There were some attempts at Viking shoes, but nearly none were turnshoes; one attempt was a modern suede boot with fake fur attached to it!
Interestingly enough, the MoPs we talked to apparently understood how farby some were, and they talked enthusiastically about what we were attempting to do. Julie wrote about one experience:
“On the first day of Høstfest (Wednesday), I was wearing my new grey wool hangeroc and walking in one of the many halls for shopping and one merchant who sewed traditional costumes for dolls came out to greet me and pointed to the top row where there was a doll in a blue hangeroc. She said, ‘I’m still refining the pattern—” I think she wanted to make her doll costume look more like mine! We had a discussion about my tortoise broaches, and how they were not buttons. On the last day, Saturday. she came to find me in the Viking Village because she wanted to get another look and to take pictures. We had a happy conversation, and she took pictures of how the broach was attached. I had Folo take a picture of the two of us because I liked that she wanted to get it right. She then had Folo take a picture with her camera. The whole conversation was very satisfying.”
But the participants were friendly, and some presentations were incredible and seemed to attract a lot of attention. They included Jay Haavik, a master woodcarver, who did carving for a recent Oseberg ship; the great folk from Telge Glima; Dawson Lewis, a coin moneyer; Cameron Christian-Weir, an arrowmaker; Pedro Bedard; a metal worker and horn carver; Wendy Speary, who cooked; Rita Nauman, a fiber dyer; Elspeth McBain, a weaver; Craig, a lathe worker; Alysa Harron, a beadmaker; Phil Lacher, a woodworker; Doug Swenson, a blacksmith; and a group from the Sons of Norway. For many, it was their first Viking Age event! Some started out doors, but inclement—cold and wet—drove them all indoors!
In the end, I would like to thank Tim for inviting us and for working so hard in a difficult job! And I want to thank those people who I met and who did very admirable jobs. If we are invited to attend again, I think that I will go. I had a lot of fun, and only the event’s great distance gives any sort of a real downswing to the event! On the whole, it was a very good experience, and I encourage that anyone who is interested in Scandinavian culture to attend and to have an enjoyable time!
Revision: Dawson points out thi was the thirty-seventh Høstfest; the literature I quoted said seventeen, but I had heard the 37 as well and will willingly admit I chose the wrong one. 😦
More wit, wisdom and philosophy from literary works of the Viking Age:
Behold God’s prevailing gifts on earth, discernable
to all souls! His unique powers are bestowed
and apportioned widely to every woman and man.
None are so wretched, unfortunate, or feeble-minded
to believe that the Giver of all has not endowed them
at least with a living breath, speech, and a smart mind
to appreciate their wordly abilities in this life.
Gifts of Men (tr. Jackson)
Grief is remarkab1y hard to shake off. The clouds roll on…A hawk must go on a glove, the wild thing stay there. The wolf must be in the forest, wretched and solitary, the boar in the wood with his strong, fixed tusks. A good man must gain honour in his own country. The javelin goes in the hand, the spear that glitters with gold. On a ring a jewel should stand large and prominent. A river must mix in the waves with the sea’s current. A ship must have a mast, a standing spar for sails. The splendid iron sword must lie in the lap. A dragon must live in a barrow, old and proud of his treasures. A fish must spawn its kind in the water. In the hall a king must share out rings. A bear must live on the heath, old and terrifying. A river must run downhill in a grey torrent…God’s place is in heaven, he is the judge of deeds. A hall must have a door, the building a broad mouth. A shield must have a boss, a firm finger-guard. A bird must play, up in the air. In a deep pool the salmon must glide with the trout. Stirred by the wind the shower shall come down to this world from the sky.
The Laws of Nature (tr. Shipley)
Teacher: What skills do you have?
Fisherman: I am a fisherman.
Teacher: What do you gain from your skills?Fisherman: I get food, clothes and money.
Teacher: How do you catch the fish?
Fisherman: I get into my boat, put my nets into the river and then I cast my bait and wicker baskets, and whatever I catch I take….I catch eels, pike, minnows and dace, trout, lamprey and any other species that swim in the rivers, like sprats.
Æfric, Colloquy (tr. Watkins)
Take any life you choose and study it: It gladdens, troubles, changes many lives. The life goes out, how many things result? Fate drops a stone, and to the utmost shores. The circles spread.
Domesday Book (tr. tr. Masters)
Bare is the back of the brotherless.
From Chapter 84 of The Saga of Grettir the Strong (tr. Morris)
Wondrous is this masonry, shattered by the Fates. The fortifications have given way, the buildings raised by giants are crumbling. The roofs have collapsed ; the towers are in ruins There is rime on the mortar. The walls are rent and broken away, and have fallen, undermined by age. The owners and builders are perished and gone, and have been held fast in the earth’s embrace, the ruthless clutch of the grave, while a hundred generations of mankind have passed away. Ked of hue and hoary with lichen this wall has outlasted kingdom after kingdom, standing unmoved by storms. The lofty arch has fallen.
The Ruin (tr. Kershaw)
Merchant: I embark on board ship with my wares and I sail over remote seas, sell my wares and buy precious objects that are unknown in this country. I bring these things to you over the sea enduring great danger and shipwreck with the whole of my goods hurled overboard and with me hardly escaping with my life….I bring purple cloth and silk, precious stones and gold, various sorts of clothes and dyes, wine and oil, ebony and brass, tin and brimstone, glass and like products.
Ælfric Colloquy (tr. Watkins)
Wood must be hewed in the wind,
row out to sea in good weather,
talk with maidens in the dark,
many are the eyes of the day.
A ship must be used for a swift journey
and a shield for protection,
a sword for a blow
and a maiden for kisses.
Verse 82 of The Havamal (tr. Ball)
Hard-striving soul, greet the wayfaring stranger,
To the keen-sighted singer give welcoming words,
Question to the questing one of all the worlds before,
Implore him to tell of incalculable creations,
The innate artful forces forever quickening
That day after day under God’s dominionBring wonders laid bare to fairing generations.
Song of the Cosmos (tr. Tobin)
Old friends are the last to sever. Ill if a thrall is thine only friend.
From chapter 84 of The Saga of Grettir the Strong (tr. Morris)
Tanner: I buy hides and skins and prepare them with my skill. I make many styles of shoes from them, baskets and clogs, boots and buckets, bridles and harness, flasks and leather bottles, spurs and halters, bags and purses, not one of you would like to spend the winter without my skills.
Ælfric Colloquy (tr. Watkins)
Deeds done will be told of.
From chapter 40 of The Saga of Grettir the Strong (tr. Morris)
In the night, as soon as the king is sated with sleep, it should be his duty and business to center his thoughts upon the kingdom as a whole and to consider how his plans may be formed and carried out in such a way that God will be well pleased with the care that he gives to ,the realm! also how it may be made most/profitable and obedient to himself; further what measure of firmness <ne must use in restraining the rich lest they become too arrogant toward the poor, and what caution in uplifting the poor, lest they grow too defiant toward the wealthy.
From pages 250–251 of The King’s Mirror (tr. Larson)
O Christ, our Morning Star,
Splendour of Light Eternal,
shining with the glory of the rainbow,
come and waken us
from the greyness of our apathy,
and renew in us your gift of hope.
My heart is in Dublin
And the women of Trondheim
Won’t see me this autumn
The girl Has not denied me
Pleasure visits; I’m glad
I love the Irish lady
As well as my young self.
Magnus “Barelegs” Olaffson
(With thanks from Regia mates: Hrolf Douglasson, Gary Golding, Rich Price, Kim Siddorn, Ali Vikingr and Paula Lofting Wilcox)
Woods: When I first realized dimly that plastics were farby, I turned to wood. However, the woods chosen were often no less farby, up to and including plywood (laminated woods date to ancient Egypt and were used sporadically through the ages, though not apparently in the early middle ages, and what we view as modern plywood was patented in the nineteenth century but not regularly and popularly used until the Second World War). You can find a list of native and available woods in an earlier entry in this blog. Please note that in the case of such woods as larch, the wood was not native but was imported, either in a raw of, more likely, a finished form!
Fabrics: When I realized that double knits, nylon and danceskin tights were not at all period, I lit upon cotton. It was a natural fabric, right. It was only later that I realized that cotton was expensive and directed mainly toward the posh and the knowledge that cotton was virtually unknown and certainly unused during the early middle ages was not acquired until later. The knowledge that silk was even more expensive than the finest linen and used mainly as trims came along about at the same time, but the knowledge that raw silk was a byproduct that was usually thrown away even when silk became less expensive and that as a fabric it came to used only in the twentieth century was a very late piece of knowledge. To put it simply, wool and linen were the most popular fabrics—in that order—but not all colors and weaves were period. http://www.squidoo.com/medieval-fabrics-for-re-enacting. Linsey-Wolsey, a combination of linen and wool apparently was not created until the eighteenth century. This has been a very recent discovery on my part, and I am still not entirely convinced…
Shoes: Boots were de rigeur in my early days in “living history.” Black boots were the best. The boots had sewn-on soles, heels of varying sizes and ascended to at least mid-calf. Later, I realized that despite all preconceptions, Richard the Lion-Hearted probably did not wear Harley boots. But the shoes I bought mostly had nailed-on soles; I did buy an early pair of turnshoes, but the maker apologized for not being nailed. The ironic thing is that turnshoes were standard until the end of the fifteenth century, when welted shoes were introduced. I later learned that black leather was unknown and then that the height of shoes during our period was not much above the ankle and certainly not knee- or thigh-high as popular images and notions indicate. A good chart of shoe styles may be found in the YAT’s book on leatherworking.
Tents: Here I am not talking merely of the shapes of the tents—though I never really considered that until I became involved in American Revolution reenacting. After that, thinking on what was used for the tents—certainly not the blue plastic sheets that were everywhere!—I went on to want tens of cotton Sunforger canvas (unfortunately still preeminent since because of availability), flax canvas, wool and hemp canvas. The early discovery that the Norse A-tent was used as a sort of shipboard cabin was illuminating, as were the illustrations of tents being used to dry wet clothes on wash days in eighteenth-century camps! A very late and interesting discovery was that grommets—the brass or metal circles—were not invented until the eighteenth century, and earlier versions in which a brass ring was tied to the fabric with a rope around it, seems to have occurred no earlier than the fourteenth century. We have attempted to develop stitching—from sails for the most part—to substitute and should disguise the metal grommets with an overstitch of some sort (but sloth has delayed that; but eventually…”
Food: Foodstuffs and their preparation never entered into my mind, except when ham was preparing prepared in a kosher kitchen. Only later, reading medieval cookbooks—or rather, their modern redactions and interpretations, though that fact eluded me—I began to understand that there was a period and accurate way to prepare food. Later, I came to understand that certain foods—potatoes, tomatoes and hot peppers for example—were unknown by and not eaten by people in the era. Finding out what was available and eaten was more difficult, although through the efforts of Anne Hagen and others, the information has been gathered from archaeological investigations and became more readily available. So was the availability of “heirloom” vegetables, which still have to be selected through to see that they are period. There are still controversies, and there are still discoveries that I have made with far-ranging affects—I stopped watching the HBO series “Rome” when they dumped over a cart of bright orange carrots—so that this is still a very ongoing process!
Frequency: This is less a physical than an ordinal matter. In the early days, I was little concerned with any kind of or number of instances of provenance for an artifact or a practice. Finding a single provenance was generally unnecessary and unknown. Then, any unique incidence or artifact was enough to justify its appearance in many impressions. However, it was soon apparent that there had to be more than a single incidence of its use or appearance before it was deemed common enough to be legitimately portrayed in ordinary everyday living history. One member of the society to which I originally belonged announced that he preferred objects or practices that were unique because they are more important. In other words, he and others would rather be Roland or Lancelot rather than a common foot soldier of their retinue and certainly not a peasant laborer they might triumphantly ride past when returning to the castle to celebrate a success. As it is, I did not then and do not now want to The epic hero, and this is an approach with which I cannot agree and heartily condemn! Finding multiple incidents becomes paramount to the portrayal of everyday life in a different era. You do not want to deal with things like the Helgo Buddha but instead with things like the Þorr’s hammer. You want something that is seen everywhere that is common. In other words, three examples of the same type of physical artifact descriptions or of a period description—even if they were not identical, since this was the time before mass uniform reproduction—was required for its adaptation. A single artifact could be what Darrell Markewitz terms an “Aunt Martha,” a unique and unuseable object that one got from Aunt Martha and then placed into someone’s grave because ir was a white elephant to him! The rule of thumb developed in most living history—and which I readily adopted once I was exposed to it—was that there were at least two—and now three—separate, unrelated incidents of the artifact or practice had to be found before it was allowed on the line. As noted in Micel Folcland’s Newbie Handbook: “If you cannot provide at least three cases of primary documentation, reconsider the purchase of an article—at least to wear or to use at Regia event. Don’t choose an item because it looks period or because it’s cheap or even because an older member advises its purchase without providing documentation. Many vendors will provide documentation for what they sell; ask for it, and don’t buy from someone who wants to sell you something without being able to provide documentation.”
The examples listed above only touch the surface of the matter. There are many more subjects—metals, weapons, size of jewelry among them—that a good reenactor must consider if an accurate impression is planned.
Keep in mind that any opinion set forth by someone without proper provenance is simply that: An opinion. Perhaps a reenactorism or perhaps just reciting piece after piece of familiar, comforting trivia. For example, the tattoos which were found on Harold Godwinsson at Hastings were apparently invented in the1950s and which have been perpetuated by anyone wishing to justify the historical importance of tattooing
The moral of this essay then is that you should not assume that you know everything about. What are the areas with which you most conversant? These are the areas with which you must be most diligent and most skeptical. All new information might not be valid, but you must be able to analyze the information and not merely reject it as being in opposition to your dogmatic knowledge! Learn to qualify your statements by adding “in my experience” and “to my knowledge” or “from what I have read, experienced or seen” And at all times, in every situation, be willing, be able and in fact be excited to accept the possibility that you must change the matter about which you are so familiar! You mus be willing to amend it, to clarify it and bring new facts and interpretations to bear!
Sôþlîce. Þanc êow, Fæder
Fæder, forgive me, for I have sinned.
I did not start out as an anal progressive. One could say that it is a state into which I regrettably slid…or evolved. I of course prefer the latter. When I started in what I might laughingly refer to as living history—though that term did not attain any type of popularity for another decade or so—or perhaps medievaloid fantasy. I was as a member of a fancy-dress group. For many years I knew that I knew more than anyone else who was not in the group (and who did not have more grandiose titles than I did). Knowledge was just an injection into my brain from that membership card in my pocket! Looking back on it, I have to laugh only because I do not want to cry.
However, the knowledge of those days—spawned by the association with popular culture such as films, teevee, historical novels and comic books—was minimal, and the personal perception of the knowledge immensely wrong. The first glimmer of a consciousness emerged when I designed costumes based on Arabian Nights films and King Kull costumes, and it emerged suddenly as a kind of epiphany that this was not. That fact because evident within a decade. It started with historical cultures in college and then grew with leaps and bounds as I became familiar with folks who did real living history and did not merely say that they did. I realized that I did not know as much as I thought that I did. It became absolutely repulsive within twenty years as I became involved in other societies and I realized how ignorant I actually was. And the more that I knew, as the common folk wisdom goes, the more that I realized I did not know! Many times, it took a while even to consider what I did not know
Gradually, as I looked more intently into matters of everyday life—which is not altogether easy in a culture that attempts to define history as only what happens to the great men—I came to see that so many things that I took for granted, that I never even thought about, were among the things that were most important for defining the culture of a previous time. I came to see that I knew very little if anything. I was forced to do additional research into period sources, period artifacts and contemporary interpretations in order to figure out what was the proper way to do things! I wish to thank the authenticity officers, the historical inspectors, the other folk who are eager to share what they have discovered and especially those people who keep you honest! They have provided—and continue to provide—me with a direction toward which my researches should travel.
Here are, for example, a few areas with which I thought I was very familiar, but which, upon closer look…
Spectacles: The knowledge that Norse warriors did not wear spex was pretty ubiquitous even early on/; the trouble was that I did not realize how much of a burlesque it created. That happened later, in American Revolution reenacting. Until I bought some nineteenth-century frames, I successfully went without spex (the frames were accepted for use in eighteenth-century reenacting because we did not know better; all living history is an evolution!). For a time, I used these frames in medievaloid acting; but I eventually set them aside while in costume and even found a set of more period spex (I was doing fourteenth-century impression then) that I could use for close-up vision. Eventually, when we started doing early medieval impresions, my wife and I both discarded spex at all times. It was easier for me; I had cataracts surgery and the insertion of permanent contact lenses. For her, it was more radical; and when she puts her spex back on at the end of an event, her first line is usually, “Ah, the green blobs have leaves…” The use of contact lenses—permanent or temporary—is a compromise that is not easily discerned by the public.
Hats: Slouch felt hats are dashing, and I eagerly wore them in my early days. In fact, even when I stopped wearing the cowboy hats and other modern incarnations, I still wore the hats. After all, I was doing a fourteenth century impression, and these are examples of their use. When I began to do an early medieval impression, I eventually stopped. Broad-rimmed hats were still in the future. Caps might have been worn by the Norse, though there is no indication that they were worn by the Englisc (see the laborers in the Julius and Tiberius work calendars, working bare headed in the sun), though there is controversy over how these caps were constructed. What I term “baby bonnets” were not yet used, and the most frequently used head covering for some genders was the hood. There is no real evidence for straw and wide-brimmed hats during this era in England and Scandinavia. http://www.vikingage.org/wiki/index.php?title=Sun_hats notes that there is a description of Oðinn wearing a wide-brimmed hat that might be straw, but the saga was actually written down in a later periods! I decided that going about bare headed—for males; wimples and caps were used by females, at least married and older females—is the most common act!
Belts: If I ever thought about belt widths, I’d have assumed that they were as big and bold as the medieval warrior. As time ent on, I learned that wide WWF-style belts were not known during this period. Going from the sizes of buckles and other belt furniture, belts were usually between ½ and ¾ inch (6.35 and 12.7 mm) wide and never more than one inch (25.4 mm ); merely by purchasing thenty buckles (assuredly not buckles from someone who made them bigger and bad because members of their client base knew that belts were all big and bad). In addition, dangling ends were apparently a later development, and belts were tucked into slides like modern belts // http://regia.org/members/basclot3.htm // . The so-called ring belts,_ in which there is merely a brass or other circle at the end of the leather—are totally spurious and perpetuated just by vendors and sellers catering to the lowest denominator, The only buckles which had no tongues merely lost the tongues, so the ring belt is, above all, fantasy!
Names: The idea of regularized spelling is a relatively new concept. It certainly post-dates the invention of the printing press; and even in Colonial America, one finds examples of what Mary Dohan terms “phonetic spellings remarkable even in that relatively freewheeling orthographic age.” Different spellings might refer to the same person, not only different translations and interpretations according to contemporary popularity (Eric, Erik, Eirik, Eirkr) but absolutely bonker spellings can be seen, and writers apparently did not even notice the difference. For example in The Origin of English Surnames, P. H. Reaney writes, “On April 23, 1470, Elizabeth Blynkkynesoppe, of Blynkkynsoppe, widow of Thomas Blynkensope, of Blynkkensope received a general pardon,” and notes that “Here are four variations within two lines written by the same hand. This will give the casual reader an idea of the vagaries in spelling.”
–To Be Continued
How do you prepare yourself for a reenacting session?
I pose this question because I am concerned with the entire reenacting experience. Reenacting is based upon looking at things, experiencing them and teaching them a little bit differently than you might expect . Recognizing what is different, you do not want to speak about modern politics, about modern religion, the science-fiction novel you love so much or about the television show you watched last night.
(Actually, speaking about the first two in contrast to modern day politics and religion is fair, but the third is entirely out of bounds!)
You cannot automatically think the way that someone from the past thought no matter what you think—ad it is probably impossible to do so when making a conscious effort. You have too much modern baggage with you to do this. You cannot logically delude yourself that such a thing is possible. To ignore this is to give a lie to the entire reenacting process. Howev3er, there should always be something in the back of your mind while you are dressed up in your fancy togs that you are not portraying a person of the twenty-first century. That your tastes and knowledge would be different. That what you think is important is going to be different.
It is not important that you see the details of what is going on, at least if you and your fellows have done your bit to make the details accurate during manufacture. At one event, we had a member go without glasses or contact lenses just to prove that it could be done! There has to be a striving for safety. In fact, making our encampments safe for the limited sighted has actually helped us, because we began to clean up the encampment more so that people did not stumble over things so much!
Doctor David Friedman, a Scadian and a proponent of first-person impressions but not of accuracy in the environment, points out that he does wear spex while in his impression notes in his Miscellany that
” Doing without glasses when I am in persona is not merely a matter of being authentic — it is also a striking way of reminding myself that I am in a different world. Fuzzier. As an adult, Cariadoc has never seen the stars clearly, and cannot recognize a friend across the length of a hall. Those are some of the ways in which he is a different person from David.
One might say that this is only important when one is doing a first person—or a second person, as some describe an impression which is mainly first person but which allows the participant to break into third person as needed—impression, however, it is also important for someone doing a third-person impression. It is something that you must always keep in your mind. You must realize that what you pick up, how you sit, how you walk, what you use, affects the way that you are perceived and the illusion that you are attempting to create.
Not only does I help in the selection of clothing and kit, but it helps them to think about what they need to talk about so that they are not talking about modern concerns except in relation to period concerns. Hopefully, it will keep them from thinking about modern concerns in the first place!
It should be pointed out that such a transition is not the exact way that a person of the period would have thought or acted. After all, your knowledge and actions, even for someone doing first-person, are affected to some extent by things that you know that the period person did not, is not a reflection of what the period person thought. There is no way that this is possible. It is a interpretation, and hopefully an interpretation based on facts. However, it is better than coming to an event, putting on fancy dress, shades, sneakers, spending the event texting on your phone about what a grand old time you are having and strutting around like your favorite character from “Braveheart”!
For most reenactors, it is recommended that you have a certain ritual that you perform when you begin a reenacting session. Changing into historical clothing might be good enough for some people, but there is still the natural impulse to move in a modern manner (we shall not mention the desire to emulate what has been seen in popular culture, which often must be avoided as well and requires research more than anything).
The ritual that you follow while converting to, for lack of a better word, a reenactor mindset may vary. Perhaps it is only putting on a certain artifact or making a certain action which helps convert you—at least hopefully—from your modern-day mindset. For some people, it may be just be the act of donning historical clothing. For some, it might be repeating the pater noster in Old English or Old Norse. Or even, for all the fact that it is erroneous, one of the prayers that are being made by a Norse figure from “The Thirteenth Warrior” or similar films.
For example, I have a Fenris (also Fenrir) cross For me, it is a clew to guide my reactions an d thought processes at the time. Just reaching up and touching it reminds me to change my mindset. If I am encouraged to say something political or religious, it provides a reminder that I should not do this and that I should steer the conversation into something that is more period. So at the beginning of an event—actually before the event starts, when I am arranging things and getting them prepared—I give it a kiss, which is a real action which helps me to change the way the way I am thinking. I then hang it around my neck, and I take care not to take it off during public hours. Any time that I do take it off—for example sleeping at overnight events—I make certain that I repeat the process. I again kiss the cross, and I make certain that I do put it on.
At events I use my Fenris cross to enter myself into the proper frame of mind. It is a reproduction of one found in Iceland, in which Norse motifs—the Fenris wolf and Þor’s hammer—is combined with Christian—a cross. I call it my Hedge Your Bets Cross, a dual religious icon for someone who has not settled on a single deity. In the morning, as I say, he might go to Church and pray to Jesus; but in the afternoon, he might embark on a journey and pray to Þor for a safe journey.
This interpretation is controversial, of course. Some people think that it is nothing more than the inclusion of a non-Christian cross in the heathen jewelry (after all, the cross had other pre-Christian meanings and besides, in the thoughts of many heathens, Jesus was just another god, an addition to he Norse pantheon but hardly unique). It seems probable to me that it combines the motifs from two different faiths, but it is not my intent here to debate the matter; for me, it is just different enough that it brings home the fact that things were different in the past!
To me it is a reminder. Just reaching up and touching it reminds me to change my mindset so that if I am tempted to say something inappropriate, it reminds me that I should not do this!
It is suggested then that you come up with your own ritual to usher yourself into the period world. It may not be to your liking—that is why different societies have such different or nonexistent authenticity regs—but you may well find it a very valuable and, indeed, fulfilling!
Recently, I have been working on a portable altar in the style of the one found at Jarrow and a reproduction of which can be seen at Bede’s World. That got me thinking about religion in the middle ages. The original notes it is to the honor of Saint Peter; mine is to the honor of St. Olwyn, the patron saint of Micel Folcland. Matters in several books read lately, including a list of tithe days in Larsom’s Canute the Great, combined with the matter and set me scribbling…
The importance of the Church in the middle ages cannot be minimized. The Middle Ages was defined by the Christian Church. So many aspects of medieval life—from the royalty, to the taxes, to some of the actual kit being worn—was defined and regulated by the Church. Any attempt to engage in an historical recreation while not incorporating or disregarding ecclesiastical thought and life is entirely specious and inadequate if not fantasy. What some folk call a medieval reenactment or, indeed, the more ambiguous re-creation but which ignore the Church is doing nothing but having a fancy-dress party. By that, we do not mean just having people walk around in formal ecclesiastical garments but that certain rituals, certain rites, certain practices, the illusion of certain beliefs are presented and in fact required and reenacted. This is, to a great extent, the difference that you will see between a fantasy organization ands serious living history society. At the most, you can only call such half-baked attempts medievaloid or perhaps medievalish.
However, the importance of religion in the culture of the middle ages is not restricted to Christianity. For example, in heathen times the common people of England respected their kings when they were responsible for a good interaction with the deity but not when there apparently was not. As Laurence Larson notes in Canute the Great, “They were to secure the favor of the gods. A failure of crops meant that a duty had been shirked. The feeling lingered for some time after the disappearance of heathendom.” For several centuries afterwards you can still perceive heathen practices and beliefs within the so-called Christianized Europe. This is not to say that they were trying to perpetuate heathen practices. In fact, certain superstitions that we see yet today sprang out of the heathen beliefs ad practices!
In fact, if we look at the battle that was taking place in northern Europe around the time of the Millennium when Christianity tried to assert itself over the prevalent heathenism, one is left with a certain feeling that the people who were to be converted were being succored into the Christian faith by the acceptance of certain heathen beliefs, which were incorporate into Christian thoughts and practices. This is seen as far back as the conversion of th Anglo-Saxons in the seventh century, when Pope Gregory said,
“The temples of the idols in that nation ought not to be destroyed; but let the idols that are in them be destroyed; let holy water be made and sprinkled in the said temples, let altars be erected, and relics placed. For if those temples are well built, it is requisite that they be converted from the worship of devils to the service of the true God …. And because they have been used to slaughter many oxen in the sacrifices to devils, some solemnity must be exchanged for them on this account…. but kill cattle to the praise of God…. For there is no doubt that it is impossible to efface everything at once from their obdurate minds; because he who endeavours to ascend to the highest place, rises by degrees or steps, and not by leaps.”
This quote is, the way, recounted by Bede in Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum, quoting a letter to Mellitus in June 601. (We shall not mention the importance of Bede, a cleric, in our understanding of what went on in early medieval English culture…)
Returning to the importance of Christianity during the period, we might mention the reason for Crusades, or the various pogroms that massacred Jewish populations or the brutality seen in the conquest of Jerusalem from Muslims, where an eyewitness, Fulcher of Chartres, who noted in Gesta Francorum Jerusalem Expugnantium that, “In this [non-Christian] temple 10,000 were killed. Indeed, if you had been there you would have seen our feet coloured to our ankles with the blood of the slain. But what more shall I relate? None of them were left alive; neither women nor children were spared.”
However, the importance of religion in the eleventh century in England can be seen much closer than Jerusalem. The sheer requirement of tithes was essential to the conduct of business during the middle ages as can be seen by the list of customary ecclesiastical fees that Larson notes in his biography of Cnut that Church Lights were gathered at the Feast of the Purification (Candlemas, 2 February), Easter Eve and All Saints Day (1 November); the Church Scot on Martinmas (11 November); Peter Pence on Saint Peter’s Day (1 August); Plough Alms on Fortnight after Easter; the Tithe if the Harvested Crops on All Saints Day (1 November); and the Tithe of the Young Beasts on Pentecost.
To ignore these as so many “reenactors” do—or perhaps they have no idea of their existence at all—is to create a fallacious concept of life in the time. In fact, we look at the conflict between the ecclesiastical and the secular cultures during this time, it becomes very important! And its portrayal is essential to an honest portrayal of the culture of the time!
This is the first in a series of tryptychs that will regularly appear here that show what some people think is an adequate representation, what is an adequate representation (in my mind at least) and the original inspiration for my view.
My thanks to K’La Albertini–not a reenactor–who dyed her hair and helped me out in this project!
A few days ago, my wife wondered aloud when modern demarcation of the hours became popular. This was, of course, to be translated as “Find this out; I want to know but not do research!” Here is a brief answer; the exact answer is, as you might expect, a lot more complex and longer!
In ancient history, the daylight was divided into a number of hours (in societies—such as Egyptian—which had sundials, the sunlit hours were divided into twelve parts, which were of varying lengths depending the time of year. The importance of 12 has been attributed to the number of lunar cycles in a year.
Because sunrise, sunset and noon are conspicuous, most societies starting counting hours at these times, and the development of a system of starting at midnight ordinated only later, when mechanical clocks were invented. In fact, before the invention of artificial light more reliable than candles, fire brands and hearth fires, daily tasks started and ended only when light was available. There was simply no good reason to know an exact time!
The Anglo Saxons used the term dægmæl, meaning “day mark,” rather than o’clock. The times were largely based on liturgical hours after the Anglo-Saxons were Christianized, although there were other times generally recognized for the dôgor (consisting of either twelve or twenty-four hours) on the farms:
(Times are approximate; Old English words taken from A Handy Anglo-Saxon Dictionary by James Harrison)
The liturgical hours—also known as the canonical hours cathedra hours, monastic hours and offices—were based on the requirement for fixed-hour prayers that were standard by the fourth century and became used in both secular and ecclesiastical cases.
(Times are approximate; taken from A Hypertext Book of Hours)
Much of what I wrote about Anglo-Saxon hours is also relevant for the Norse, The big difference is simply that the Norse did not use liturgical hours until much later since they were not converted to Christianity until later. The Norse hours were:
Rismál or Midur Morgunn
Hádegi or Middegi
Undoru or Nón
Elding or Ótta
(Times are approximate; the site I cribbed these from no longer exists 😦 )
Fixed modern hours—not determined by the actual length of the sunlit day—seems to have been devised in the eleventh or twelfth century, when clocks made the mechanical division of the time easy and automatic. Prior to that point, clocks apparently mechanically activated bells denoting the liturgical hours, and they were only gradually modified into modern 24-hour segmentation.
I sometimes think burlesque dancer Red Hot Annie was a reenactor in a previous life! Anne is a Chicago-based burlesque performer/ and she regularly posts Burly Q Biz aphorisms over on Facebook, and they are often remarkably pertinent to reenactors. They inspired me to compose a few specifically for reenactors; some are based on what Anne has posted, and some are completely new! https://www.facebook.com/redhotanniechicago
Be honest and thorough. Answer all questions! Remember that one of our main reasons for doing this is to communicate with the public!
Have a single person in charge of arranging for shows, but make certain all members know that they can refer likely shows to that person.
The person ultimately responsible for booking shows should not hesitate to delegate responsibilities but should make certain that he know what is going on.
The person ultimately responsible for booking events should keep other members of the unit apprised of what is going on.
Approach your work with an eye toward the long-haul instead of aiming for immediate pay offs.
When being interviewed, be honest. If you don’t know, say you don’t know. They’re looking for something interesting to print and “I don’t know” is rarely interesting. Being misquoted because you reached for information you didn’t know won’t help your cause. Do not say anything to the interviewer in jest; that—no matter how wrong it obviously is—will be what is quoted as being serious!
Find the time to regularly ask opinions and feelings of each member of your unit. They all need to be heard.
The fee for a show is not always as important as the intangibles. Sometimes the publicity or some aspect of the show or sponsor can be very important!
Answer every email. People will “fill in the blanks” about why you don’t, and they could assume…disinterest…spam…death…
Never ignore any inquiries, no matter how insignificant they might seem. Answer every inquiry to avoid assumptions that you are disinterested or are not available.
Be positive – a beacon of shining light! If you can’t be nice, address the problem or ignore it and move on, but don’t gossip!
Keep a list of all your sponsors so that you can contact them from time to time if they have not contacted you for a while, to let them know that your unit is still in existence and still interested in appearing for them!
If you are no longer interested in appearing at a certain venue or a certain sponsor’s shows—for whatever reason— polite when turning down requests for further show, but be firm!
Set expectations. Be proud of how well you make your presentation and present an accurate image.
Remember that when in costume, you represent not only your unit but all reenactors. But especially your unit!
When greeting a MoP at an event, be the first to say “hi.” Others may be nervous about saying anything, and your shyness may read as snobbery.
Remember it might seem awkward to MoPs to approach you or to ask questions, so do what you can to make it easy for them.
Update your website regularly to keep it relevant. An up-to-date schedule of shows you have booked is essential.
Try to have at least one entirely new presentation for each season. Do not be afraid to return to old presentations that you have not done for a while, but never be afraid to make a presentation better or more accurate.
Give yourself opportunities to learn and to practice activities. Do not hesitate to experiment with risky ideas.
Ask sponsors to give you feedback on your displays and performances. Most are willing to do so if asked but will not volunteer critiques.
You are only as strong as your unit. Do not do it all yourself when someone who does it better wants to help you.
Be prepared for performance. Do not hesitate to practice and always realize that you want to present a professional performance and display.
Know what time you are expected to set up or to display and adjust your actions according to that schedule.
Every social networking site should point to your website. It makes your website appear more important to search engines.
Always practice combat in costume and shoes—especially shoes!
So not publicly denigrate any farby or substandard society that professes to do the same thing that you do. But at the same time, make certain that the public know that there is a difference!
Do not downgrade your requirements for membership and participation just to gain greater numbers. It is better to have five people who are accurately kitted instead of five-hundred who are shoddily garbed.
Members of a unit should know what their key contributions to the unit and to your shows are and how to pull their weight.
More wit, wisdom and philosophy from literary works of the Viking Age:
Things boded will happen, so will things unboded.
From Chapter 14 of The Saga of Grettir the Strong (tr. Morris)
The Lord lavished life on me I had it all
Blessings were rife for me honor in hall,
Clad in the gladsome cloth of the looms
Dyed with the handsome hues of the blooms,
Men the looked up at me, friendship reigned
Filling the cup for me, wine never waned.
The Riming Poem (tr. Stallings)
Where is the horse gone? Where the rider?
Where the giver of treasure?
Where are the seats at the feast?
Where are the revels in the hall?
Alas for the bright cup!
Alas for the mailed warrior!
Alas for the splendour of the prince!
How that time has passed away,
dark under the cover of night,
as if it had never been!
A man must be a friend
to his friend
and give gift for gift.
Men should use
mockery in return for mockery,and deception in return for a lie.
Verse 42 of The Havamal (tr. Ball)
He [the reeve] must provide many tools for the manor, and keep many implements for the buildings: axe, adze, bill, awl, plane, saw, spoke-shave, tie hook, auger, mattock, crow-bar, share, coulter and also goad-iron, scythe, sickle, hoe, spade, shovel, woad-trowel, barrow, broom, mallet, rake, fork, ladder, curry-comb and shears, fire-tongs, steelyard; and many cloth-working tools, flax-lines, spindle, reel, yarn-winder, stoddle, beams, press, comb, card, weft, woof, wool-comb, roller, sly, crank, shuttle, seam-pegs, shears, needle, beater.
Ale is another man.
From chapter 19 of The Saga of Grettir the Strong (tr. Morris)
the self dies likewise;
I know one thing
that never dies:
the repute of each of the dead.
Verse 77 of The Havamal (tr. Ball)
Remember that many a man lives but a brief time while his deeds live long after him; and it is of great importance what is remembered about him. Some have reached fame through good deeds, and these always live after them, for one’s honor lives forever, though the man himself be dead.
From page 205 of The King’s Mirror (tr. Larson)
A man must wait when he speaks oaths,
until the proud-hearted one sees clearly
whither the intent of his heart will turn.
A wise hero must realize how terrible it will be,
when all the wealth of this world lies waste,
as now in various places throughout this middle-earth
walls stand, blown by the wind,
covered with frost, storm-swept the buildings.
From The Wanderer
A.D. 793. This year came dreadful fore-warnings over the land of the Northumbrians, terrifying the people most woefully: these were immense sheets of light rushing through the air, and whirlwinds, and fiery, dragons flying across the firmament. These tremendous tokens were soon followed by a great famine: and not long after, on the sixth day before the ides of January in the same year, the harrowing inroads of heathen men made lamentable havoc in the church of God in Holy-island, by rapine and slaughter.
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (tr. Ingram)
The day must be praised in the evening,a woman, when she is cremated,
a sword, when it is proven,
a maiden, when she is given away,
ice, when it is crossed,
ale, when it is drunk.
Verse 81 of The Havamal (tr. Ball)
A tale is but half told when only one person tells it.
From chapter 46 of The Saga of Grettir the Strong (tr. Morris)
(With thanks from Regia mates: Hrolf Douglasson, Gary Golding, Rich Price, Kim Siddorn, Ali Vikingr and Paula Lofting Wilcox)
The Bayeux Tapestry: The Life Story of a Masterpiece by Carola Hicks
I got this as an ebook when looking for another book on the Embroidery recommended by Hazel Uzzell. I got what she recommended, but I want to recommend this one! It was fascinating and well written, and I will be looking at other appropriate books by Hicks!
(Why do I always say Bayeux Embroidery while everyone else says Bayeux Tapestry? Two simple reasons. First, it is more correct; second of all, in 2008 I wrote Dr. Desiree Koslin a question on the pricking and pouncing technique which she had cited in an article: “Turning Time in the Bayeux Tapestry,” Textile and Text, xiii, 1990, pp. 28-45. For her gracious answer, I asked what I could do for her. She replied that she would love it if I only referred to the Bayeux Embroidery, and I have done so ever since! Hicks by the way does not say why the title changed from Broderie de Bayeaux but does note that it happened in the eighteenth century.)
After an extensive chapter on the battle that inspired the Embroidery, Hicks comments at length on the reasons for the Embroidery, who originated the idea, who designed it and who did the actual embroidery, along with remarks on feminism connected to the process. There is even a very good chapter on the way in which embroideries—and therefore this was one—was done, going from design, transfer of the original artwork, manufacture of the raw materials and so forth. Fascinating for persons interested in medieval textiles even if they have little interest in this particular embroidery.
At this point, the book features a largely chronological account of the history of the Embroidery. The first few centuries of the Embroidery’s existence are ambiguous. To a great extent, we do not know whether it was a gift, to whom it was a gift, whether it was given from the start of the Bayeux Cathedral and so forth. We know that the Embroidery was kept in a cedar chest in the cathedral and brought out for display for only one or two occasions each year. It is first mentioned in the fifteenth century, and its amazing series of adventures begin.
Hicks compares it to a cat with nine lives, and its romantic and unbelievable exploits are more exciting than the best fiction. We are told of its travels, of its exploit with Napoleon and Hitler (both of whom wanted to use it as a symbol of the successful invasion of Britain), of its almost as dangerous encounters with people refurbishing it and its possession by one entity or another. We are told of its close escape in WWII, when Hitler sent SS men to bring it back to Berlin when Paris—to which it had brought—was in danger of falling, but a quick-thinking official was able to stymie the SS officers who never came back. And we are told of its various travels about the countryside that should have brought about its destruction. Hicks wonders if the fact that it survived was because of how it was made. Although made with a stitch used for gold threads, it is merely wool and so beneath the interest of looters looking for gold. While this is probably true, it does not deal with its other close escapes and redemptions. The Embroidery has had a dozen guardian angels or many many admirers who have worked to ensure its continued existence!
Hicks deals with the reproductions—embroidery, sketches and photography—made over the years, including the seminal reproduction by Charles Stothard. Not only was the cover not accurate in many instances—the Embroidery was considered a primitive piece of artwork compared to current Renaissance standards, and he seems to have prettied up things a little, showing shadows and the such as he deemed fit—but Stothard did other questionable things, such as clipping off one of two pieces of the ragged ends (an act which was later attributed to his wife in what might have been an effort to keep his reputation intact) and an attempt to make a plastic cast of the Embroidery by forming a mold by pressing hot wax against the fabric. His errors were in many cases continued into the actual Embroidery itself; for example, the arrow in the eye incident that allegedly slew Harold was supposed to have originally been a spear over the character’s head but which was shortened, its trajectory altered and fletching being put on the end by Stothard.
We are told of the reproductions and artistic efforts inspired by the Embroidery, and we are told at length of the best-known reproduction, the successful efforts of a group of English women from Leeks to embroider a copy of the embroidery—with breeches on the figures that assault moral virtue. They used naturally dyed wool rather than the chemical-dyed stuff used earlier to repair the actual embroidery, and as a result their effort is still vibrant today. The replica was toured—including apparently a visit to the United States—but never made the expected large profit, and was sold to the city of Reading, where it is on display yet today in a museum built especially to house it.
Graphic reproductions of the Embroidery—of various accuracy—are included in many cases, and we are told of the questionable Victorian repairs, which was done not only with inadequate yarn but with inadequate knowledge, being based to a great extent on Stothard’s inadequate pen and ink reproduction. We are also told of the many photographic reproductions made, as well as the way that some of them were displayed—including affixed on a long sheet of fabric themselves—and the pains taken by many photographers as well as the damage that some photographers might have afforded by the constant rolling and unrolling of the Embroidery and by their flash bulbs.
Besides the artistic and photographic replicas and reproductions we are told about the plays, the poems, the novels and eventually the films which were based on and inspired by the Embroidery. Hicks has added immensely to what we commonly know about the Embroidery, and she does it in a lucid, comfortable and well-written manner that adds much to the understanding of the Embroidery. I cannot recommend reading this volume if you have any interest in the Embroidery itself! Well worth the time and effort!
The book is available as an ebook.
The Vikings were a practical sorts and used items that were readily available at the time in an immediate area. So when someone asks, what is the most appropriate wood to be used in Viking-Age projects—and how large should the artefacts be—one must respond, whatever he could get his hands on. Truthfully, the Vikings—in fact, all the Norse and virtually anyone else from the time—would use any wood that was available and make the object as large or as small as the wood would permit.
It obviously depends on what you are trying to do. Make an exact, museum-quality reproduction means that you are trying to duplicate the size, the composition and, yes, even the laws of the original. However, making a copy of an artefact, duplicating the spirit and the lines of the original but not making an exact copy is another matter. Certainly, making a six-inch Þorr’s hammer or a five-inch belt is out of line, but there is a wriggle room when you consider the size of various artefacts that have been found!
As long as the wood is not obviously something that was not obtainable, any wood used should be acceptable. After all, it is known that at the beginning of the Viking Age, drakkars were being constructed of oak, but several centauries later when oak was not as easily available, ships were made from pine, which was more readily available. Extant objects have been found to be constructed out of more than a single wood. This, I think, indicates that more than anything else, that making all of an artefact only of the one wood would be inappropriate unless you were making an extract museum-quality reproduction.
We do have a list of woods that were obtainable—and woods that were seen in extant artefacts—in the December 2011 installment of The Anglo-Scandinavian Chronicle. //