I don’t live in the past—I only visit—and so can you!

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CHOICE OF TERMINOLOGY

 

There are a great number of terminology that is unique to living history, but there s also terminology that is not unique to living history, that is commonly used elsewhere and which might be wrong elsewhere but it is extremely wrong in living history. Here are three examples.

Authentic

Authentic is often used to describe something that is historically accurate, but it is also often used to describe something that dates from the time. Many years ago, I used the term as carelessly as anyone, but at a display, a young girl asked if the helmet before me was authentic. I said that it was, and her eyes grew wide. “You mean that this was actually worn by someone back then?”

Ever since then, I use the term “accurate” or “historically accurate,” which is what people often want to know. But of course, I still use “authentic” when describing a technology from the time or an artefact that dated from the time.

Anglo-Saxon

The term is used to refer to the English people after the migration but before the Norman invasion. It was used three times in period but in times since, especially in modern times, it is used as a racial epithet meaning white and especially white superiority.. I referred to the Regia scope as Anglo-Saxon years ago; then at a fair, two MoPs saw the sign as they walked through gave me the white power sign and said, “Yeah, keep them niggers in their place.”

Ever since, I have used the term “Englisc,” which is also period but which is not confusing and tells the MoP exactly what we are referring to. I still use Anglo-Scandinavian and Anglo-Norman.

Viking

In period, Viking was a verb that meant sailing out to do trading and/or raiding. It was first used as a noun in English around the start of the eighteenth century. It refers to avocation and not to a nationality and certainly not a race. It is often incorrectly used to refer to Scandinavian culture; I use “Norse” most often.

I still say the Viking Age and refer to pirates of the time as Vikings though.


THE SCALE OF ACCURACY

It should go without saying that there is a scale of accuracy in living-history practices, and it is this scale that I would like to examine today.

If they’da haddit, they woulda used it. The existence of objects—or references in accounts written before the present or modern interpretations or period facts or a desire to believe that fantasy is actually true—is seen by many dabblers in living history as provenance for its existence and use. For example:

•    The trousers of Ragnar Lodbrok (Shaggybreeches) were made of fur coated with pitch
•    Leather reindeer armor is mentioned in a saga
•    Bersarks were a common feature of the Scandinavian culture
•    Shields were elaborately detailed
•    The so-called “blood eagle” was a common Norse torture
•    Viking warriors all wore horned helmets
•    The copper Buddha indicated that there was a Buddhist subculture in Sweden

Unfortunately, there is little reason to justify the existence of many such objects. Most if not all of these are reenactorisms. Even the single physical existence of an object—or an interpretation that such an object or action might have existed—does not provide justification for its wide use. Let us look closer at these cases of “provenance” for wide and justified usage.

Fur trousers has no provenance except in the stores of Ragnar, and there it might be a fantasy or might simply be so unusual that it is not only stressed but giv3es him his soubriquet.

While leather trousers might have been worn as work clothing (in one translation, Ælfric indicates that leather breeches were manufactured), they do not appear to have been armor.

Because many of these are so obviously plot devices in sagas, or misinterpretation of earlier writings. The concept of bersarks, for example, certainly seems not to have dated much earlier than the twelfth century (the object in the Lewis chessmen of a warrior biting his shield) and perhaps no earlier than the thirteenth century). The appearance of the bersarks in sagas—tales written down by Christians for a Christian audience—are both late and obviously plot devices. Reindeer leather—not only notoriously thin but enchanted—is obviously not a practical thing. We cannot assume that every warrior went around in leather armor (enchanted or not) because of its appearance in a saga, but it becomes a reason for many reenactors to wear leather armor. Accepting even the appearance of the enchanted reindeer armor in the sagas as true fact is somewhat similar to embracing ghosts, divination and other supernatural events as the gospel truth since they appear in sagas!

Most shields seem to have had simple geometric designs (see the Gokstad shields) and not elaborate motifs. After all, most shields were apparently expected to serve for a single battle so elaborate designs would only have been temporary and had to be repeated for any later shields.

The blood eagle—the lungs of a living person are drawn out through incisions in the back so that they look like wings—was a discreditrf interpretation of a poetic kenning in a poem of Ivar the Boneless in which the poet marked an eagle on the back of Ælla, his enemy. It was probably a poetic kenning, referring to the fact that he was killed and made likely food for carrion birds, but later interpretations changed into a factual appearance and has continued to evolve so that now salt is rubbed into the wounds to increase Ælla’s torment.

Undoubtedly, the idea of Viking helmets with cow horns first appeared in the nineteenth century, although there is some indication that heathen priests of a thousand years before performed rituals while wearing metal protuberances which could be interpreted as horns, and many people wishing to justify their use of horned helmets will spin this as provenance.

There is little doubt that the Buddha actually exists, but that does not mean that it was commonly found. The Buddha was manufactured in India and was apparently passed from merchant to merchant until it ended up in Holgö Sweden. It seems to have been a unique object in the Scandinavia world, perhaps picked up for sentimental reason and not an indication of the proof the Buddhist faith in the culture and certainly not that everyone went out to obtain a Buddha to be part of the in crowd (the so-called Buddha on the bucket is merely an imaginative interpretation in my opinion).

Many people religiously believe the old trope that something would logically exist—using modern logic—even if such an article has not been found. For some people, especially members of fantasy LARPs, a single occurrence or literary reference is all that is needed to adapt these into their appearances, and the multiple appearance of a unique artifact is not only tolerated but encouraged. To have a whole bucketload of supposedly unique things is considered commendable. One such person said that his personal attempts to “recreate” the culture of the past hinges on the appearance of unique and romantic items. They speak the loudest to him, and they represent what sort of an impression that he wishes to present. He seeks to avoid the more usual and conventional objects and to present unusual items as the artifacts that define that earlier time. It is as though he has been most influenced by popular culture, by novels and film about the era.

I call this trying to find an individual occurrence to justify an existing supposition to be retro-research. For me, retro-research is frustrating and causes anyone who does it to grasp at straws: To read something and then to try to interpret it in the manner that best supports the theory the reader wants to prove.

At the other end of the scale from what I choose to call romantic recreation is a more common convention in living history, that reenactors should be trying to recreate the ordinary life of the time. A person must find at least three occurrences of an artifact or three separate literary descriptions before it can be considered factual and routinely used or done. Determining what are three separate descriptions and not merely a duplication of something from an earlier account or source can sometimes be difficult, but this is one reason that extensive research is essential to good living history!

There are people who proclaim that they hate the authenticity police and want to be able to do anything that is not from the present day or at least common in the present day. There are people who say that unless an object or action has at least three proven and separate instances, you should avoid its use even if some object is needed and the proven article is unavailable, too expensive or dangerous. Many people take up a position somewhere in the center, and I suppose that if I was totally honest, I do as well. But I certainly veer toward the more accurate end of the scale!

What about you?


HOMOSEXUALITY

Homosexuality did not exist until 1869, when the German Austrian-born novelist,  Karl-Maria Kertbeny, used the term in a pamphlet against Prussian anti-sodomy laws. It did go into popular use until almost twenty years later, when Richard von Krafft-Ebing used the terms homosexual and heterosexual in his book Psychopathia Sexualis, and it did not lead to the creation of a distinct sub-culture until even later.

Before this time, homosexuality was neither a culture nor a description; instead, people were more concerned with physical activities. Therefore, a common description of what we now call a homosexual was sodomite, which referred of course to sodomy—defined as man on man sex—which was decried by a church which was concerned with any sexual activity that did not lead to procreation.

And that brings us to the whole question of homosexuality in the Viking Age. By this time, the Anglo-Saxons had been converted for several centuries, so they probably followed the Church’s prejudices fairly well, at least in public. However, the Norse converted toward the end of the era, and we already know of the various ways in which the Norse went their own way in cases of activities, beliefs and practices. Let us look for a moment at the manner in which the Norse approached sodomy and same-gender affection.

Let’s face it, the Church little cared about same-gender affection; it was the act of sodomy to which they objected. If you look at correspondence and actions later in time, such intimate friendships were criticized only when they involved people of different classes. Norse laws, poetry and folklore were not written down in general until after the Viking Age, when Christianity was already deeply rooted, and much of what is generally thought of as indicative of Norse culture was invented by Christians from Christian viewpoints.

As Christine Ward-Wiedland motes, “myths and legends show that honored gods and heroes were believed to have taken part in homosexual acts, which may indicate that pre-Christian Viking Scandinavia was more tolerant of homosexuality.” The fact that during the Christian era that laws had to be drafted which dealt with and had injunctions against homosexuality is of the same cloth as etiquette rules: Their very existence indicate that people performed these activities.

Wolf notes that “Heterosexuality was the norm in Viking-age Scandinavia, but that homosexual relations between men were recognized as social phenomena were clear from Old Norse-Icelandic literature, especially the sagas.” While on the one hand, there was a general Norse dislike of effeminate men as well as non-effeminate women, this apparently had nothing to do with private sexual practices but instead with public behavior. In fact, the only offense noted in the secular law only prohibited the actions of the passive male.

However, it is interesting to note that “The secular laws of Viking Age Iceland do not mention homosexuality. The only place where homosexuality is documentably prohibited is by the Christian Church.”

From all this, a single decision is inevitable, that the Norse allowed homosexuality so long as the homosexual was not betraying gender stereotypes. Literary evidence is unavailable except when seeing what the Church warns against—suggesting that such activities were being practiced—and since any literary accounts were written down by Christians, and of course adhered to the Christian mythos.

It is interesting to note that lesbianism was not mentioned, but it was pretty well standard. After all, “according to the church sexual desires were evil and sinful…therefore women were not to orgasm or enjoy sex. Many times sex with men was not gentle because it was not meant to please the woman. It seems likely to me that since there were often more men than women in a stead, that they might have turned to each other, like cowboys on the range in a later time, for sexual release. The men did not apparently object to this and, in that manner, they might have been behaving in ways very close to conventional sexist ways seen today!

It seems obvious from these and other references that the Norse were very likely to behave in a manner that was convenient and pleasurable, a freedom that is duplicated in the modern time!

Christine Ward-Wieland’s take on the subject may be found at The Viking Answer Lady.


DEALING WITH MODERN R*LIGION & P*LITICS IN REENACTING

I have noted many times that living history is an illusion (good living history is a good illusion, and good illusion is an accurate recreation of a past culture). It s not a spotty recreation whose gaps and failures are unseen and unnoticed by the reenactor (I am not castigating the bad reenactor as a bad person, just as very misguided one who cannot see what he is accomplishing; they are to me more the source of disappointment and sympathy).

The subject of this installment is not the spex at events, the modern tattoos,  the improper fabrics & colors, the furry mukluks pr the bright red plastic grinder drills. I saw them all at the recent event, but the most disturbing thing was the attempt to break the illusion with modern views on politics and religion.

To a good extent, this was not on the part of the reenactors. Most reenactors—no matter how farby or how accurate—try to avoid modern politics and religion (there are a few exceptions, but these are people with a very loose interpretation of living history to begin with, along with a self-assured belief that their beliefs have ben predominant throughout history). Without exception a good reenactor does not bring up things like the Republican or Democratic or any other political party, about any democracy except that of early Iceland, or Lutheranism or Latter Day Saints or Scientology. You might bring these subjects up as a way of putting the past into perspective but only fleetingly and not for their own sake.

Despite the fact that many MoPs do not understand this and may want to desperately to personalize their religious beliefs to you, it is essential that a good reenactor remains faithful to this behavior. These MoPs seem to want to intrude their personal belief into the past or in fact believe that no one in the past could believe any different from what they believe.

A reenactor represents all living history when he is in costume. This means not only that he must be accurate in his portrayal but that he must take care not to offend the MoPs. There are several ways to be polite when confronted by this…

When they bring up these matters, unless you can very quickly and easily put their views into perspective as what was different from what was believed during the period, you should just ignore it and not say anything either favorably or unfavorably. And then as son as possible, break in and attempt to bring the conversation back to the early middle ages.

Most MoPs will take the hint, but there are certain zealots who want to impress upon you how wrong you are and how right they are. At that time, the only way that you can react is to just smile and nod and not say anything. Listen for them to finish their ranting, then nod and dismiss them, saying, I have to go do this. Thank you for talking to me. At no time do you encourage them to goon…even if you personally agree with what they are saying.

Take care not to argue with them…even if they say things as patently foolish as Jesus told us the world was flat. They are the people to be educated and not belittled, so they must always be treated with care and with respect…even if you might not ordinarily give them that respect!


SPEAKING WITH THE REENACTORS!

SEVEN TIPS FOR GAINING MORE FROM YOUR VISIT TO THE PAST THAN YOU MIGHT OTHERWISE

We dress in historic costume. We attempt to do things as accurately to the period as we can without endangering ourselves or you. We are not time travelers or visitors from another time. We do not live in some kind of Amish community. We do not live in the past, and we appreciate the many aspects of modern technology that has made life better and safer and many times more satisfying.

But we like to pretend that we live in a culture that no longer exists, and we stand ready to share information with you how life was lived at that time. We stand ready to educate and to entertain you, and we are so very willing and able to answer your questions about the time, about the culture and about the items that we have on display. Feel free to ask and to interact, and here are a few tips for how to gain the most from speaking with us!

Just remember: There are no foolish questions. The only foolish question is one that is left unsaid!

1  Embrace the Unknown

When you visit our encampment, you are not traveling to your past. You are traveling to another country! For the past is another country. Like any foreign land, you might travel to, it is natural to have some assumptions about what it is like. Your assumptions may come from your high school history class or what you heard from a friend or a novel on historical romance or a film or teevee series. Unfortunately, what you have been told, what you have seen and what you have read is not necessarily all the truth and may even be fantasy or misinterpretation. We encourage you to bring your natural curiosity and be prepared to enlarge or revise your thinking!

2  Put the Screen Down

It is difficult to immerse yourself in the tenth century if there is a screen between you and the encampment and the reenactors. Do not let yourself get distracted taking photos or texting. There will be plenty of opportunities to pull out your phone or camera, but you will have more fun if you set them aside for at least a little bit. Remember, we are not just models for vacation pictures, we want to talk to you.

Do not be afraid to speak in modern English. Do not try to pretend that you are something you are not. Do not think that we can only talk about the time period and culture we portray and cannot put things into focus, talking about things that created this culture and what was later created from it. There is much of the culture that remains today, that is still important or that helped form it. We find it fascinating to put the culture into proper focus for us and you today!

3  Start a Conversation on the Right Foot

Ask difficult questions if that is what you want know, and do not feel bad. If we do not know the Answer—and that will happen, often more frequently than we would like it to happen—we will admit the ignorance, direct you to persons or other things that may answer them and discuss theories and probabilities with you. History is often not a set of dry and unchanging facts. It is often the interpretation of these facts, and it will often change because of perspective, because of new facts and because of reinterpretations of old facts. Some disdain this as revisionist history, and perhaps it is. However, it is not a terrible thing but a part of the evolution of understanding. Remember that what you hear today might well change in the future and is not the end of comment on the matter. Be amendable to change; remember that the objects discovered in the Staffordshire Hoard a few years ago changed much of what we thought and knew about earlier life.

Begin a conversation just like you would with any stranger: exchange small talk. Share some pleasantries. Just say Good Day, ask how they are doing, or where they are from. Comment on the weather. But do not be hesitant to ask questions.

Some guests hesitate, especially in potentially sensitive situations such as slavery or prejudices or massacres or religious intolerance. These are all parts of the past and are important to the construction of how we view the past. Unless it is relevant, we will not speak on modern politics or religion. We are very consciously apolitical and religious.

Just say hello, remember that simply being polite goes a long way.

4  Let Your Guard down

Do not be frightened or intimidated by our costumes or our tools or that sword that is always nearby. Let go of the present and go into the moment—even if that moment is a thousand years ago.

Reenactors sometimes think of themselves as “playful scholars,” people who are deeply committed to conveying their passions to you but find it amusing and entertaining and who hope to pass these feelings on to you. Every reenactor has different interests and expertise, and no single reenactor will know everything. The reenactor will very happily refer you to another reenactor who might be able to answer your question, so you should not feel bad or hesitant. As we said, immerse yourself in the past, and feel free to ask questions of interest.
Play the game by letting us be your guide. Bring your own perspective. We will meet you wherever you want, help you be whomever you want and —hopefully—answer any questions you might have.

5  Ask Us Anything

You do not have to ask us about the fate of Vikings or the Englisc or anything else that is deemed important. Ask us trivial questions about the tools we use. Ask us about how clothing was constructed, how we worshiped our deities, how we made money (literally) and how we made so much of what you see. Ask me how I met our mates, about our children, about our friends (or enemies) and even about our pets and other animals. Ask about anything that might have been important in the culture we seek to recreate.

We are all afraid of feeling dumb sometimes. But remember when your high school teachers insisted there are no dumb questions. Even if you never believed them, you can believe that here.
We know that many of our guests have little frame of reference for a tenth-century world, and that means that sometimes they have to take a risk to make a connection. But we know that you are calling up whatever frame of reference you have and trying to make connections. And we appreciate it! So start with something simple, and work your way toward deeper questions. Do not be afraid to ask hard questions, since they will probably lead to an interesting conversation in any case.

6  Say Yes

We will go out of our way to say hello, to greet you and to draw you in. We might ask if you have any questions— we know you probably will and do not want you to hesitate asking them—and if we offer you a brochure that explains what we are trying to do or ask you a question or ask you to join us in a conversation or in a game or just to hold something, say yes. Trust us, and we promise not ne dangerous or will make you look foolish.

We are not trying to trick anyone, so believe our sincerity in helping you make the leap back in time. We appreciate the effort and will help you all that we can!

When you are watching us, we are watching you at the same time. We will not force you to do something you do not want to do, and we generally know when to leave you alone. In the end, we certainly respect you for choosing to spend your time visiting us.

7  Make Connections

It is not merely acceptable but encouraged to talk to any reenactor more than once during the day. We are not following a script, and we are not so absorbed in our own conversations that we will ignore you. Feel free to speak to us, even interrupt us if we are talking with a mate. You can feel free to come back and see us again, to continue a discussion, to ask a follow-up question, or to get another picture. You might be surprised that we remember you!

As you meet people during the day, try to put some of the historical pieces together. Make connections by figuring out how we relate to each other and how we might have related to the very world at that timer.

Have fun connecting the dots.

Inspired by “How to Talk to a Costumed Interpreter in 7 Easy Steps” by Bill Sullivan, published by Colonial Williamsburg


TRANSPORTATION

The most prevalent form of transportation was by foot. This was not only inexpensive, but most people never traveled more than ten miles away from home! Skis and skates (both used with ski poles) were known for balance and propulsion across the snow and ice in the North.

Two-Wheeled Carts

Two-wheeled vehicles were most frequently seen at this time, mainly for poorer people, since they were less expensive. Some define carts as conveyances that are propelled by only human labor, and carried timber, vegetables and other goods. See, for example, the June illustration of the Julius Work Calendar; this cart might well not be human-propelled, since we see oxen waiting nearby as the coach is loaded.

Chariots were popular in many civilizations early than the Viking Age, including the Roman, but had largely fallen out of use and popularity by this time, although once again semantics and definitions are important.

Four-Wheeled Waggons

Waggons were heavier duty than carts, with four wheels and always pulled by animals. They were of varying complexity and appearance and were used to transport goods as well as persons.

Sleigh

Instead of wheels, sleighs had runners that enabled transportation across a flat surface, for example stone and, most frequently, snow. They were popular in Northern Europe; see the sleighs found in the Oseberg burial, for example, and were frequently elaborately ornamented. Sleighs, like carts and waggons, could be used to transport both cargo and human passengers, and they were almost invariably propelled by non-human meas. They were not so popular in areas which did not as much snow as other areas which did.

Riding horses

Horses were for the elite. Rarely, they rather than oxen or mules, pulled waggons or ploughs, but that was not their general use. The horses of th period was small, since they had not yet been interbred with the larger Arabian horses, and the smaller (and cunning) Icelandic horse was very similar to the general horses of the time. Sally Crawford notes, “Horse bridel fittings and trappings, and horse burial, are almost exclusively associated with male burial, suggesting that horse riding was an aspect of male, rather than female, elite identity (though it does not necessarily mean that women never rode horses.”

Ships

As Kevin Crossley-Holland notes, “sea power was essential to the success of Viking enterprises.” Because the name of the age was derived to a great extent from the Viking ship, the importance of ships and boats cannot be minimized. The importance of the crafts can be seen by such things as earlier inclusion in graves such as the Sutton Hoo burial (it is unknown whether these earlier ships had sails or if this was a Viking ship innovation), and later ships from a number of cultures imitated the Viking ships. They were quick and maneuverable and was replaced only taller ships which enabled extensive sea battles.

There were a number of Viking ships used at the time, including:

Faering

Open boat with two pair of oars.

Knarr

Ocean-going trading ship (the truck  of the Viking Age).

Byrding

Coastal and river-sailing ship, transport ship.

Karvi

Smallest longship, passenger ship, also known as a Karve..

Snäcka

A smaller longship, also known as a Snekke, Snekke or Snekkja.

Drekkar

A larger longship also known as a Drake, a Busse, a Skeid or a Sud, often used as a warship.

Roland Williamson notes that “I think they might have qualified each type by number of oars. Saexering and Fembering are names that come up. Also the various benches or thwarts on the boats and especially the bigger ones were ‘called’ rooms. So each room was two men in the crew.”


RELIGION

What many people think we know about the Norse religion was written down some two or three-hundred years after the close of the Viking Age by Snorri Sturluson, a Christian writer, for a Christian audience. He adopted many oral tales and wrote new ones that has more to do with Christian than with heathen theology.

The so-called Vulgate Latin translation of the Bible was done in the late fourth century at the direction of  Pope Damasus I to revise the Vetus Latina collection of biblical texts in Latin then in use by the Church. The term “Vulgate” refers to the common tongue, which was used to describe the Latin tongue. Although it is called the Saint Jerome translation, it is conceivable that he did not translate it; but it remained the standard Latin translation until the sixteenth century, when strict Church authority over editions lessened, and further editing and interpretations were seen.

Although the translation of the Bible into common tongue from the Vulgate was later forbidden and deem heretical, leading to a great extent  to the rise of the protestant faiths, it was commonly done during the Viking age and was routinely known as a gloss. Some editions of the Vulgate had the English translation–or gloss–written upon the page between the lines of the Latin.

Jesus was accepted as a god by many heathen Norse, but he was one deity among many, which irritated the Christian church. We are told in J. Sephton’s 1895 translation The Saga of King Olaf Tryggwason that:

“Helgi the Lean…was a Christian in name, but his faith was a very mixed one; for though he was baptized, and declared his belief in Christ, he made vows to Thor whenever he was engaged in seafaring, or any matter that required hardihood.”

The so-called Fenris cross was a tenth-century cross from Iceland and is probably a sample of what I refer to as a “Hedge Your Bets” cross. It features a Þor’s hammer with a Fenris Wolf at the top and a cross carved into the hammer itself. Some do not accept that interpretation, noting that crosses were used as motifs in heathen times without referring to Christianity.

Vikings did become Christians, but it is altogether possible that they also converted to Islam and to Judaism, though there is only a handful of such incidents recorded.

Early, “local” saints were just recognized as such as people in the area, and a person who was a saint in one area was not necessarily considered a saint in another. Saint Udalric was canonized by Pope John XV in 993 but some maintain that the first papal canonization was Saint Swibert by Pope Leo III in 804. Both local and papal canonization continued until 1153, and in 1170, only papal canonizations were thenceforth permitted.

There were three basic tonsures. These were shaving of the head done for religious purposes, and medieval monasteries even dictated who would use the hottest water for shaving.

With the Oriental method, the whole head was shaved. This was common in the Eastern Churches, though not in the Western Church. For example, Theodore of Tarsus—schooled in Byzantium—allowed his hair to grow out before being tonsured in the Roman style when he was ordained Archbishop of Canterbury by Pope Vitalian in 668.

The Celtic style involved shaving the head from ear to ear, but there are no illustrations of the exact shape. The Celtic tonsure was worn in Ireland and Great Britain and was connected to the distinct set of practices known as Celtic Christianity. It was despised by those affiliated with the Roman church, and some sources have also suggested links between this tonsure and that allegedly worn by druids in the Pre-Roman Iron Age. it ended with the Synod of Whitby in 660, where Roman Christianity triumphed over Celtic.

In the predominant Roman tonsure, only the top of the head was shaved, allowing the hair to grow in the form of a crown. This was almost universally see in the Viking age.

The preaching cross is a cross—sometimes wooden and sometimes stone, sometimes surmounting a pulpit—originally erected before the construction of churches to designate a place where a preacher would preach and where worshipers might gather top hear him. Some of the stone crosses have elaborate carving and runes, incorporating heathen as well as Christian motifs, and some still exist today, with a church built around them or perhaps moved to a church.

Chastity often referred to legal sexual relations, and priests were allowed to wed until th eleventh century, although it was frowned upon by the Church itself. In the eleventh century, it was outright forbidden.


SLAVERY

Micel Folcland’s portrayal of slavery in the Viking Age is a portrayal of what was common at the time. It is not, in any way, an endorsement of the practice!

You can find the concept and practice of slavery throughout history, in nearly every culture and religion, from ancient times to the present. However the social, economic, and legal position of slaves and Klein and Vinson in, African Slavery in Latin America and the. Caribbean, noted that slavery  was also vastly different in different times and places. Most folk in the United States—and other present-day nations as well—can only think of slavery in terms of the American pre-bellum ideal, based on race and rationalized by claims that the African natives were being converted to Christian belief.

Both the Englisc and the Norse peoples had slaves. The Englisc referred to a slave as a þeow or a  þræl (bondsman or slave), while the Norse referred to a þrall or þræll (a wretch or a scoundrel). A female Norse slave was sometimes known as an ambátt, although this may have exclusively referred to sex slaves. Many concubines—frillur—were ambátts at least in the heathen times.
Slaves were routinely bought and sold. Running away was also common and slavery was never a major economic factor in the British Isles during the Viking Ages, though Ireland and Denmark provided ready markets for captured Anglo-Saxon and Celtic slaves. Slavery was so ubiquitous in Europe in the early middle ages that Pope Gregory I reputedly made the pun, Non Angli, sed Angeli (“Not Angles, but Angels”), after a response to his query regarding the identity of a group of fair-haired Angles, slave children whom he had observed in the marketplace. This chance phrase has been asserted as the origin of the term “Angle” and “Anglo-.”

Ruth Johnson in her encyclopedia of medieval subject, All Things Medieval, notes that all homes and businesses had repetitive, unskilled manual duties, and if possible, servants or slaves were engaged to do these tasks. There were few differences, it seems, between servants and slaves for the most part, though there were almost certainly differences that probably had to do with punishment and travel.

In the past few years, a new appreciation of artistic triumphs during what had been erroneously called “the Dark Ages” (and still is by many persons unaware of the actual cultures), have inspired certain people who dislike the idea of revisionist history, and they have written article detailing the thuggery of the time and have attempted to emphasize the inhumanity of slavery to justify their continued use of the term “Dark Ages.” Often, these writers tend to emphasize the worst aspects of slavery practices and to associate it more with what is familiar to them for later slavery.

We do not want to assert the benign nature of slavery by any means, and slavery was indeed the lowest social status for members of the Norse and the Englisc society, but there were few differences between slavery and other lower classes. We certainly cannot use it to tear down the society in general!

Acquisition of Slaves

There were five main ways that slaves were acquired. The first was that the children of a female slave—no matter whether the father was free—was a slave. The child might be manumitted by the owner, but this was not a automatic.

The second was that slaves were the spoils of war, raiding and other violent encounters. An amusing story is given of an Irishman called Murchad, who was captured by Vikings and sold to a nunnery in Northumbria. After seducing all the nuns, he was recaptured by Vikings and sold to a widow in Saxony, whom he also seduced! After many adventures Murchad eventually returned home to be reunited with his family. Not all accounts of slavery were so amusing and so well ended, but they certainly did happen.

The third is the slave trade, where slaves were purchased or even given as tribute. Slaves could also be acquired by the individuals by paying for them. The slaves for the slave market were made available in a number of ways—see the other sources for acquisition—and it is interesting to note that few slave markets or accounts exist in more advanced societies. It has been suggested that captured poisoners from more affluent areas were ransomed instead of being enslaved.

Prices for slaves, of course, varied, but Ben Levick and Roland Williamson gave the average price of a male was 197.5 pence (about $8000) for a male and 131.5 pence (about $5000) for a female.

The fourth way is that slavery was voluntary by people going through hard times. Sometimes this was for relief of debt, where the new owner took over the debts of the slave. Many times, slavery for debts was for a limited time—closer to being indentured than to being enslaved proper, and we can assume that the treatment of these slaves was more amiable than the treatment of other slaves. The fact that people willingly sold them and their family into slavery indicates that slavery at the time was very different than that of later times.

The fifth way was that, like today, slavery was a punishment for breaking laws. It appears that so-called penal slavery was imposed not only on the criminal but upon his or her family.

Trivia to Enslave Your Interest

Slaves were property, just as in most other times. They could be beaten and slain at the owner’s whim, but this was not apparently done often, since they were property and, therefore, money in the owner’s pouch. Ahmed ibn Fadlan tells of how slave girls were sacrificed at the funerals of their owners in heathen times so that they could accompany their lords to the after life. This was not a unilateral decision, apparently, the sacrifice apparently approached it like the sacrifices in some South American cultures, as an honor.

Slaves were often manumitted. Generally for payment of what they were worth. Owners seemed to often help slaves acquire the cost for their freedom.

It appears that slaves wore iron collars when being led to and from slave markets, but seldom wore them when settled into a home. Most people had two or three slaves it seems, and they were often treated as members of the family.

Slaves had knives. This was guaranteed by law; smaller knives were tools, not weapons.
There was a tendency for slaves to have short hair to help distinguish them if they ran away, and to wear tunics—generally made of rough fabric, although many slaves, and particularly ambátts, were given dress of very rich fabric—with no sleeves and high hems for the women’s skirt. Þor Ewing notes: that illustrations of some women—trolls but probably based in reality–were very short indeed!

Slaves who were manumitted became freedmen and not freemen. This was the very lowest status of society, and it seems that freedmen were not given the liberty to travel and may have been the progenitor of serfdom.

If a slave was killed or injured by someone other than his master, the offender had to pay the master the equivalent of the slave’s weregild (man price, the financial recompense given for violation, for injury, for loss of a body part or death). This same philosophy was used in fines for loss of any other property or livestock. No money was given to the slave except by the decision and action of the owner.

On the whole, there were few laws regarding slavery. A slave-owner had the obligation to provide medical care and a living for slave who were injured or crippled in their service. Slaves had to be granted permission by their owners to own real property and become married, though some slaves were given plots of land by their masters to raise and sell produce. The slave’s goal was to accumulate enough money to eventually purchase his own freedom.

The Norse had rituals of manumission, during which the slave was freed.  In Iceland, the slave was inducted into the law, (lögleiddr), and functionally given citizenship.

The “End” of Slavery

Christianity saw the end of much slavery in Christian Europe, though the Church did not outlaw it directly and, as noted above, owned slaves themselves. The church did call for better treatment of slaves—for example, owners were forbidden to kill or maim slaves during lent—and they encouraged the manumission of slaves as acts of piety. However, it is worth noting that this was done mainly because the Church disliked the treating of Christians as slaves by other Christian. They were entirely accepting of the treatment of persons from other faiths, such as Moors, as slaves, and this philosophy continued through many later periods and might well be the source of pre-bellum American slavery.

There was an apparent uneasiness about slavery by the eleventh century, and many wealthy folks made certain that their slaves were manumitted in their wills. Slavery, for the most part, was ended in the start of the twelfth century, being replaced by the new concept of serfs and feudalism which was less extreme but in many ways no more permissive than many instances of earlier slavery. The reason was not a matter of morality but rather of economics. Slavery was no longer economical to maintain.

As Robert Lacey and Danny Danzinger note, “in the year 1000 very few people were free in the sense that we understand the word today. Almost everyone was beholden to someone more powerful than themselves, and the men and women who had surrendered themselves into bondage lived in conditions that were little difference to those of any other member of the labouring classes. ‘Slave’ is the only way to describe their servitude, but we should not envision them manacled like a galley slave in ancient times, or living in segregated barracks like eighteenth-century slaves on their cotton plantations—or indeed like the workers in South African mines in our own time.”


TEXTILE PRODUCTION TERMS

Distaff

The term comes from the Old English distæf “stick that holds flax for spinning,” and describes a holder for raw material that is being spun into thread or yarn. It is associated, as its current use indicates, with women.

Drop Spindle

Since the spinning wheel did not enter northern Europe until around 1280, thread and yarn was made with a drop spindle, in which a weight (whorl) at the end of a stick twisted the raw fiber. Whorls were metal, stone and sometimes beads, but wooden weights might well be a modern derivation since period examples have not been found. In addition, the whorls seemed to have been at the bottom, although modern crafts drop spindles often have them at the top. They were still being used by people too poor to have a wheel until at least the eighteenth century.

Loom Weights

On warp-weighted looms, bundles of warp threads are tied to hanging weights called loom weights which keep the threads taut. They often looked like doughnuts and were made from clay or from stones.

Lucet

A two-pronged tool used in cordmaking or braiding which is believed to date back to the Viking age, although this is controversial. Later and modern crafts lucets are often wood, though devices of the Viking age that are interpreted as lucets were made of bone.

Niddy-Noddy

A niddy-noddy is a wooden tool used to make skeins from yarn. It consists of a central bar, with crossbars at each end. Niddy-noddies of the Viking Age were generally flat, although at some later point, the ends are at ninety degree angles.

Naalbinding

A process for creating fabric that in Danish literally means “binding with a needle” or “needle-binding,” it is also known as nälbinding, nålbinding and naalebinding. It predates both knitting and crochet and is done with one needle. It was warmer than knitting, and the Finns had a caustic saying that a man with knitted mittens had an unskilled wife (who was not good enough to do naalbinding).

Sprang

An ancient method of constructing fabric that has a natural elasticity. Its appearance is similar to netting when pulled open, but the intersections are not knotted. Unlike whole cloth, sprang is constructed entirely from warp threads.. Its uses were limited, and there are few good examples of its use. It was in use as late as the eighteenth century to make sashes for military officers, and the sashes doubled as litters for the wounded.

Swift

Swifts are tools, generally wooden, used to hold a hank of yarn while it is being wound off. It has an adjustable diameter so that it can hold hanks of many sizes, and rotates around a central rod.

Tablet- or Card-Weaving

This is a weaving technique where tablets or cards are used to create the shed through which the weft is passed. The method makes narrow flat strips for ties or trim. Tablet-woven cords are used to begin the end of a piece of woven fabric. The so-called loom was merely a frame to the warp under tension, and could as easily be a chair, a tree or the weaver’s waist; the tablets were themselves the loom. A band of card-weaving is used to start the warp for the vertical warp-weighted loom; the weft of the card-weaving becomes the warp threads for whole cloth.

Warp-Weighted Loom

The vertical warp-weighted loom was the most common loom for the Viking age, although horizontal looms were beginning to come into use at the end of the era. The warp-weighted loom was a simple and ancient loom that is upright in which the warp yarns hang from a bar between the uprights. The inkle loom was invented later and introduced to America only in the twentieth century.

Weft & Warp

The weft threads are horizontal threads on a loom through vertical warp threads are passed to make cloth.

Wool Combs

Combing is method to prepare a fiber for a spinning method. Combs were nails that arose and through which the fabric was pulled to arrange the fibers in a parallel fashion, to clean the fiber to an extent and to remove tangles and clumps (noils) as well as short fibers and stuff like vegetable matter. In the fourteenth century, wool combing was developed.

 

Many thanks to Julie Watkins, who reviewed and commented on this list.


A BUNCH OF “NO, I’M SORRY BUT…”s

“Viking” is a job description and not an ethnic descriptor. It entered English in the ninth century in the poem Widsith, but was not used very much and was not used during the rest of the Middle Ages. It started to be used in English only in the eighteenth century. The usual terms earlier were Danes—even when describing people from other lands than Denmark—Heathens or Northmen.  and was not generally used as a noun in Scandinavian writings before that time, being a part of “i-viking,” a verb meaning to go on a pirate/trade voyage. Pirates from other cultures, for example Muslim cultures, were known as Vikings in Scandinavian literature. In the Magnúsona Saga, for example, Snorri Sturluson relaters that near the Straits of Gibraltar, King Sigurth encounters a large number of Saracen corsairs (serkir Vikings).’

Histories are written by the winners it as I said, but it also written by the literate. The poor ideas that we have of the Norse raiders is from the writing of the people most assaulted: The clerics. This does not mean that the raiders were always peaceful and benevolent; they were thugs. However, everyone of the time was a thug, and there are plenty of examples of Christian atrocities that went without being complained about or even commented on by the Christian clerics.

Vikings did not have horned helmets. Horned helmets for Vikings—rather than earlier cultures—were first conjectured in the 1820s by the Swedish artist, Gustav Malmström, in illustrations for an edition of Frithiof’s Saga. The concept was popularized in 1869 by Carl Emil Doepler for Richard Wagner’s operatic cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen. Earlier, horned helmets are seen in artwork, but they were worn by priests in religious ceremonies, were never used in battle and by the Viking Age seems to have no longer been seen.

Vikings did not wear furry loin cloths, black leather biker outfits or go bare-chested. In fact, the men  wore the same sort of clothing seen in most other European cultures of the time, differing only in the length of tunics.

Though modern thought often refers caustically to Anglo-Saxon obscenities, there is no indication that the Englisc had obscene curse words. They did have swear words, but in which they swear using religious terms such as God’s blood and I swear by Christ’s wounds.

Despite finding weapons in female graves, there is little indication— outside of fiction and fantasy of the time—that women fought. There is no doubt that women were taught to use weapons and that women were expected to help defend the home, but they did not go out on raid with weapons in hands for a number of reasons. The fact that weapons were found in graves means about as much that they were warriors as finding an adult key in a girl-child’s grave means that she was mistress of the house.

The only physical evidence of Norse occupation in North America has been found in L’anse aux Meadows and Sutherland, a farther north site. The Kensington Stone, the Heavener Stone, the Gulfport Tower and the Vinland map have all been proven almost conclusively to be the products of later times, either the results of forgery or of mis-interpretation.

The Norse were not a dirty people. Each Norse person carried a comb—like most other people of the time. This was not exclusively to look better but to help comb out lice and other bugs, but the Norse took a bath every Saturday night, and the original meaning of Scandinavian words for Saturday was laurdag: Washing Day. The results were apparent, for Anglo-Saxon girls were known to find the Norse boys more pleasant to date than home-grown ones. In fact, John of Wallingford, prior of St. Fridswides, who complained bitterly that the Norse men of the Danelaw were unChristianly clean, noted that the Norse bathed so completely just to put the moves on the Anglo-Saxon females. Gwyn Jones notes:

“It is reported in the chronicle attributed to John of Wallingford that the Danes, thanks to their habit of combing their hair every day, of bathing every Saturday and regularly changing their clothes, were able to undermine the virtue of married women and even seduce the daughters of nobles to be their mistresses.”

Norse men were not all big and blond. Analysis of bones from cemeteries of the Viking age indicate that Vikings and Englisc were about the same height as an average person nowadays, neither exceptionally tall nor exceptionally short. There were exceptions, to be certain, but these are specifically pointed out so that they were probably extraordinary then as now. Although blond hair was valued, it was not universal among the Norse, and there are many accounts of men bleaching their hair.

 


RUINING THE ILLUSION

Living History is an illusion, and it is our duty to make the illusion as well as we can. We are not living in the past. We are trying to make onlookers regard us as if we are! We are attempting to recreate a totally different culture as completely and as accurately as we can.

We are dealing here with male costume for recreating the culture of Northern Europe in the Viking Age; that covers roughly the years 800–1100 ce. To a great extent, essential kit depend on the accuracy regulations that you subscribe to. Here, I adhere to the regulations mandated by Regia Anglorum (different societies have different interpretations, different strictness and, in the case of one society, no regulations at all. I shall assume that anyone reading this has an interest in the more strict side of the coin).

Let us divide the soft kit into three categories:

First is the material. Quite simply, that means that no garments will be made of cotton nor of any man-made material such as nylon or polyester. The materials to be used are wool, flax (linen, hemp or nettle) or silk. Silk was very expensive and should only be used for posh, uncommon kit. Only royalty or high ecclesiasticals had garments entirely of silk; even the wealthier folk would only use silk for trim. Linen was not nearly as expensive, but it was expensive and had to be processed in an expensive, time-consuming method. However, because some people are allergic to wool to one extent or another, the fact that garments touching the skin are linen is well within the limits of safety and compromise, even if the garment made of linen is not for the class that might have routinely used it. Wool, inexpensive and plentiful, easily manufactured and available, is the preferred material.

Second is the design. Books such as Þor Ewing’s Viking Clothing and Gale R. Owen-Crocker’s Dress in Anglo-Saxon England deal with the styles that were available. It is interesting to note that styles were largely the same across different cultures, but they did change slowly with time, and they did change in little details from one area to another. Whether or not you assume an impression, you should take care to establish costume for a certain era and a certain location and not merely wear a coat from one era and trousers from another and carry jewelry and objects from another. While this is bad and should be avoided, it is not as bad as just making up things whole sale (or copying from Victorian illustrations and such films as Lee Major’s Norseman or The History Channel’s Vikings). It is called the practical application of research, and it centers upon Research!

Finally is the basic necessity—a tunic. You can have no footwear. You can have no trousers. You can certainly have no hat, gloves or belt. But there is a medieval Scandinavian law that forbade men to expose their chests in public (unlike women, although that was probably to allow breast-feeding and not for any prurient interest). The Tiberius and Julius work calendars show men working in the heat of the field, bare-headed and wearing a long-sleeved tunic. But trouserless to keep cool. The reticence to show a male naked chest continued to some extent into the early twentieth century. Men’s swim suits concealed the chest until the third decade and later. In early Tarzan films, Tarzan wore something across his chest (in silent films, it was Jane who was topless in some instances!).

Let us assume that you have more than the bare necessities. You have an adequate, if not posh soft kit: an undertunic, a tunic, trousers, a belt (and knife; as Eleanor said of a slightly later era in “Lion in Winter:” “Of course he has a knife, he always has a knife, we all have knives! It’s 1183 and we’re barbarians!” I think the term “barbarian” is too much modern chauvinism, but you never find me today without a knife!). And shoes.

Let us further assume that the garments are on the extreme side of accuracy. There are three ways to ruin the illusion can be ruined:

The inclusion of oop jewelry and body modifications, such as a watch, male earrings, other modern jewelry and visible body jewelry and tattoos of any sort.

Footwear that is not accurate, that has been external modified for convenience and comfort. The shoes should be turn-soled, no higher than just above the ankles and have no buckles or buttons. There are plenty of surviving shoes from the Viking Age. There is a very good developmental chart in Leather and Leatherworking in Anglo-Scandinavian and Medieval York. There are some reenactors who stress that having an improper set of shoes is the crowning part of a wonderful impression, and substituting sneakers, boots and even welted facsimiles of period shoes is an easy way to make everything worthless!

And finally, there are spectacles. Anyone wearing spex while portraying a Norseman—even an otherwise impeccable portrayal—is just doing a fantasy LARP and flushing any historical integrity that they might have down the toilet. Wear contacts if necessary; go without spectacles if you can replace them with contacts. You might not see details, but most people can operate without the aid. Experiment, and go without spectacles at other times as well. A friend has long talked about writing an article on her own experiences going without spectacles in period kit, and I still hope that she will write it!

Living History is an illusion, and it is our duty to make the illusion as well as we can. What can ruin that illusion for you?


MEETING AT THE MARKET VII

At the 2015 Market at the Square in Urbana, Illinois, Micel Folcland manned a table once a month. We released a new installment every month, at our appearance at the Market, in this continuing serial set in the Danelaw of the early eleventh century. We tried to keep the installments as related to common everyday life in the Anglo-Scandinavian culture of the, and we tried to deal with matters of history and culture that were largely unknown and that would provoke question and thought. We were glad to answer any questions that might be posed, and we still are!

WHAT HAS GONE BEFORE—Sixteen-year-old Beornræd’s family has a stall at the market, selling grain and textiles, and they are doing brisk work. Business has been good, and Beornræd encountered a young girl who is still in his thoughts. The family has also encountered a Norseman, who buys fabric to trade, but when a thievery is discovered several booths away, the Norseman disappears. When the victim of the thievery, Rædwulf the smith, learns that the Norseman is near, he sends out a manhunt to find him. Afterwards, as they search, Beornræd goes to visit the minster and runs into the girl, who is hiding, and Rædwulf’s knife falls at her feet…

Surprised, Beornræd stared at the knife in his hand. Then he looked at the girl he still held onto and said, “Wh-what…”

“Do not tell anyone,” she pleaded. “I was going to sell it for food…I will…”

“An innocent man stands accused,” said Beornræd. He stared at the girl.

She teared and looked down. “I am an orphan.” the girl cried, “with no money, with no home, with…”

“Become a nun,” he said. “If they will take you.” And he was immediately sorrowful that he had been so smitten with her. “Now…come with me!”

He pressed his way through the crowds, dragging her behind him. “Make way! Make way!” he cried as he pulled her toward Rædwulf’s stall. People got out of the way, and the curious followed. And at the smith’s stall, he hesitated. There he say the red-faced Rædwulf standing with Eadmund, and armed men held spears at the throats of disarmed and bound Ármóðr, Fróði and two other Norsemen. They looked solemn and angry.

Rædwulf was crying, “…and the Danes who are attacking our shores to the south will be given a distinc5t warning tha…”

“Hold!” cried Beornræd ass he walked up to them. He pulled the girl around and flung her to the ground in front of Rædwulf.

“What is this…?”

Beornræd cast the seax into the dirt at Rædwulf’s feet. “Here is who stole your seax,” he said. “The Norsemen are innocent!”

Rædwulf paused and stooped to pick up the knife. Then he stared at the girl. “Did you steal this?” She said nothing, but she nodded sadly. The fur left Rædwulf’s face, and he turned to Ármóðr. “My apologies…my apologies to you.” He waved his arms. “Let them go!”

Ármóðr said nothing but reached out to grasp Beornræd’s shoulder. Then he nodded his head and led his mates and Beornræd off without a backwards glance.

Wærburh stared as the procession approached. “What is going on here?” she asked.

“He is innocent,” said Beornræd. “The girl stole the seax…”

“His testimony freed us,” said Ármóðr. He paused, looked at Beornræd and said, “Know this, that you are now under my protection. You have done me a good turn, and you will find me always willing to give you a good turn.”

Beornhelm smiled at his son. “You did a good thing.”

And Ármóðr said, “We will secure you lodging for the night. You need not travel in the dark and face those robbers who might come forth on darkened roads.”

Beornræd glanced at his mother and father, and they smiled. He said, “My thanks…”

“And we will visit the pubs and listen to storytellers sing of your actions.” He paused and smiled. “And if they do not…then I will compose a song for you myself!”

the end

 


MEETING AT THE MARKET VI

At the 2015 Market at the Square in Urbana, Illinois, Micel Folcland manned a table once a month. We released a new installment every month, at our appearance at the Market, in this continuing serial set in the Danelaw of the early eleventh century. We tried to keep the installments as related to common everyday life in the Anglo-Scandinavian culture of the, and we tried to deal with matters of history and culture that were largely unknown and that would provoke question and thought. We were glad to answer any questions that might be posed, and we still are!

WHAT HAS GONE BEFORE—Sixteen-year-old Beornræd’s family has a stall at the market, selling grain and textiles, and they are doing brisk work. Business has been good, and Beornræd encountered a young girl who is still in his thoughts. The family has also encountered a Norseman, who buys fabric to trade, but when a thievery is discovered several booths away, the Norseman disappears. When the victim of the thievery, Rædwulf the smith, declares the Norseman is the villain and sends out a men to find him. As the search begins, Beornræd goes to visit the minster.

The minster was close to the market, but that was not to say that Beornræd could reach it easily or quickly. Not merely because of the market or even the crowd of people in it, but because there were so many things to see. Beornræd was not often allowed to wander, and he too advantage of his freedom from the family stall to look at the merchandise, to stop and handle it, to exchange greetings with people whom he knew but seldom saw. Some were from farms and even villages some distance away, and others were kept as busy on their farms as he was on his father’s.

Vegetables and grains did not interest him. Breads were boring, and his mother made better fabric than anything he saw in the stalls. But the handicrafts, the carved spoons of wood and horn, the turned bowls and the ceramic cups. They all interested him, and he took his time handling and examining them. But at last, he reached the edge of the market and walked on to the minster.

Few buildings in the village were made of stone, but the church was one of them. It was not as if Beornræd had never seen it before, but the sight of the tall stony bell tower always caused him to pause reverently. He had run through the market, but as he got close to the minster, he slowed and stood motionless before the building.

Then he went inside. The building was deserted. Even Father Særic, the paroche preost, was not around. But for what he needed to do, a priest was not necessary. Beornræd walked up the center aisle and knelt before the altar, a slab of Roman stone, inscribed now with crosses, and covered with a pure white altar cloth, with a triptych set up at the rear, in front of chalice and pyx. Within, a relic was secreted, a bone of St. Mark, in whose name the minster was named. In front of the altar, Beornræd crossed himself and looked up at the cross which rose before the arched window behind the altar. Then realizing that his father expected him back soon, he knelt on the steps before the altar.

Aloud, he prayed. “And to us sinners who are your servants, grant confidence in the multitude of your mercies, and some lot and part with your holy apostles and martyrs…”

There was a noise to one side of the chapel that interrupted him. Beornræd looked and saw a flash of blue. Not Father Særic or someone else from the church. Curiosity forced him to stand and to move. The blue figure, hiding in the shadows, moved out, and Beornræd caught the figure by the wrist.

And the face of the young girl who had so haunted his mind looked at him, eyes wide in fear. Not letting go of her wrist, he grinned and said, “Hold. What are you afraid of…”

And the seax dropped onto the floor. Beornræd stooped and picked it up. He immediately saw the maker’s mark.

R.

—to be continued

 


MEETING AT THE MARKET V

At the 2015 Market at the Square in Urbana, Illinois, Micel Folcland manned a table once a month. We released a new installment every month, at our appearance at the Market, in this continuing serial set in the Danelaw of the early eleventh century. We tried to keep the installments as related to common everyday life in the Anglo-Scandinavian culture of the, and we tried to deal with matters of history and culture that were largely unknown and that would provoke question and thought. We were glad to answer any questions that might be posed, and we still are!

WHAT HAS GONE BEFORE—Sixteen-year-old Beornræd’s family has a stall at the market, selling grain and textiles, and they are doing brisk work. Business has been good, and Beornræd encountered a young girl who is still in his thoughts. The family has also encountered a Norseman, who buys fabric to trade, but when a thievery is discovered several booths away, the Norseman disappears.

Beornræd was kept away by the crowd about Rædwulf’s stall. It was not that Rædwulf was so popular, but he was the only smith hereabouts, and his neighbors were more concerned with his happiness than if he was just another smith, and they are important enough!

He asked the man to his left, “What is missing? What was stolen?”

The man glanced at him. “A seax I hear.”

Another said, “It is terrible that one cannot trust his neighbors.”

“Aye. Everyone at the market is known and…”

Beornhelm said, “There was a Norseman.”

They looked at him. “What?”

“There was a Norseman, a stranger, going through the market. He stopped at…”

And Rædwulf was suddenly by him. “I recall him.”

“He was a trader, trying to find goods he could buy for Birka.”

“So said he,” said Rædwulf. “Where is he now?”

Beornræd said, “I know not, but he could not have gone far.” He paused. “Why, do you think…”

Rædwulf said, “He is a stranger.” He turned to the crowd of people. “Hwæt! Spread out and find the Norseman. Ælfwig, go fetch Eadmund. If we find this Norseman, I want a fine levied against him and have him exiled from this land!” He folded his arms and breathed heavily, saying almost under his breath, “I will deal with him…” Then he caught sight of Beornræd standing there, and he stared at him as if he had never seen him before and said angrily, “Get out of my sight, boy! Run down that lawless Norseman and bring him to me!”

Beornræd nodded and, saying, “Yes, sir,” turned and walked away very rapidly. He shook his head and smiled to himself. When Beornræd returned to the stall, his father was busy with a customer. When the customer was gone, Beornhelm looked at his son and asked, “What was stolen?”

“A seax. Rædwulf now has people out searching for Ármóðr. Since Ármóðr is a stranger, we feel that he is the thief.”

Beornhelm sighed. “Rædwulf might be a decent smith but he is sometimes a real wanhoga. An honest trader who will spend good silver on a cartload of fabric but will steal one small seax? I rather doubt it.” He shook his head.

Another customer came by, and Beornhelm smiled his merchant smile and turned to help him.

It was by then about mid-day, and the bells of the minster rang sext. Beornhelm waited for his father to stop talking with the customer, then said, “Da, may I go to the minster and say a prayer for Grand-da’s soul?” Wærburh’s father had died last winter.

Beornhelm nodded. “Business is slowing down, so certainly. Just be back as soon as you can, because I expect business to speed back up this afternoon.”

With a nod, Beornræd smiled and ran off toward the church.

—to be continued

 


MEETING AT THE MARKET IIII

At the 2015 Market at the Square in Urbana, Illinois, Micel Folcland manned a table once a month. We released a new installment every month, at our appearance at the Market, in this continuing serial set in the Danelaw of the early eleventh century. We tried to keep the installments as related to common everyday life in the Anglo-Scandinavian culture of the, and we tried to deal with matters of history and culture that were largely unknown and that would provoke question and thought. We were glad to answer any questions that might be posed, and we still are!

WHAT HAS GONE BEFORE—The family of sixteen-year-old Beornræd has set up their stall at the market, where they will sell grain and textiles. Beornræd has encountered a young girl, but she has moved on. They are doing a brisk business, talked when they notice a Norseman approaching.

Brunstan saw the Norseman first, and he urgently said, “Da,” and pointed. His tone was not of fear but of fascination. Beornhelm followed his son’s outstretched arm. Although they lived in the Danelaw, most Norsemen in the area by this time have been assimilated into the Englisc culture. The Norseman walking toward them, however, obviously had not.

He was tall, muscular, with long brown hair ane carefully trimmed beard. What he wore was close to what they wore—tunic, trousers, boots—but there were small differences. The tunic was not as long as what they wore. The trousers were not as fitting. And he was alone, not one of the here that were causing trouble with their invasions to the south.

As the family watched, he walked straight toward their stall in rolling steps that had been borne of an experience from ships. He stopped in front of the stall and bowed slightly, saying in an accented English, “Beornhelm?” Beornhelm nodded. “I am Ármóðr Halfdansson. I have been told of your wife’s weaving?”

Beornhelm led the Norseman to where te fabric was folded and stacked. Ármóðr stooped to examine it more closely, keenly looking at it and holding it carefully in his fingers, and he rubbed. “Good, good,” he said. He straightened up and said to Beornhelm, “I am a trader, from the ship Glærfreki, newly arrived from Jótland. Several mates and I have been looking for goods we can take back to Jótland. I think I have found some!” He smiled, and Wærburh said, “It is my weaving, sir.”

“How much do you have?” Wærburh named an amount and then a price. Ármóðr gave a smaller sum, and so they debated back and forth for a time, until they agreed. Then they shook hands, and Ármóðr brought forth his pouch. He counted out several coins.

Beornhelm took the coins and looked at them. They were old dirhams, brought at some point from Arab lands and once the purest silver available. He brought out a small iron scale and carefully balanced the coin with his weights. “Too much,” he said.

“You are honest,” said Ármóðr. He took a coin and, pulling out his seax, cut it in two, handing one half back to Beornhelm. Beornhelm added it to the scale and, with a smile, nodded. “That will do it.”

“Good.” He looked back and saw a mate pushing a small cart. “Fróði! Here!”

Fróði pushed the cart up, and Ármóðr snapped an order. Fróði started to pile the fabric that Beornræd and Brunstan brought forward onto the cart.

Beornhelm and Ármóðr stood together, watching, and Ármóðr said, “We will be back. If those in Birka or Hedeby like this fabric as much as we think they will, we will be in the market for more. Can you supply it?”

“We can, indeed. We…”

There was a cry from Rædwulf’s booth. He cried, “Someone has stolen some goods!”

Beornhelm frowned. A bad incident at a market that was known to be friendly and honest. “See what is gone,” he snapped at Beornræd. Then he turned to Ármóðr and Fróði, but the Norsemen were gone.

—to be continued

 


MEETING AT THE MARKET III

At the 2015 Market at the Square in Urbana, Illinois, Micel Folcland manned a table once a month. We released a new installment every month, at our appearance at the Market, in this continuing serial set in the Danelaw of the early eleventh century. We tried to keep the installments as related to common everyday life in the Anglo-Scandinavian culture of the, and we tried to deal with matters of history and culture that were largely unknown and that would provoke question and thought. We were glad to answer any questions that might be posed, and we still are!

WHAT HAS GONE BEFORE—Sixteen-year-old Beornræd’s family has set up a stall of the local market to sell grain and textiles, ad sales have been good. Then they are visited by a young girl who attracts Beornræd’s eye!

Beornræd smiled at the girl in what he hoped was an irresistible manner. “May I help you?” he asked.

The girl smiled back. “I am only looking. My mother is over yonder, and I am merely marking time until she has made her decision.” She was examining the fabric. It was unbleached and undyed, but the weave was very well done. Wænhold was a accomplished weaver and often complained that she had no daughters to learn the art.

Beornræd said, “My mother wove this from wool she got from the sheep we grow.”

“That I can see.” She smiled at him warmly and then turned her head. “My mother is calling. Good day, sir. I had better be moving on.” She moved through the crowd gracefully, and Beornræd looked on her until she faded out of sight.

Beornhelm reached and ruffled his son’s hair. “Bring back your wits, boy. You are needed here!”

Beornræd turned to his father. “I suppose that you are so old that you tell me how to be realistic about things,” he drawled.

“But still young enough to…”

“Beornhelm!” cried a new voice. Both turned to see the reeve walking up in an even gait.

Beornhelm said, “Good day, Eadmund. How fare you this fine day?”

“A good enough day.” said the reeve. He was a slender man who had seen forty summers. His black hair was beginning to grey, but he was still a vigorous and strong man. He walked up and shook Beornhelm’s hand. He nodded to Beornræd and his brother. “Good day, boys.”

“Good day, sir,” they chorused back, and the reeve turned his head to their father. “Are your prices the same as they have been in the past?”

“They are. And we have taken care not to adulterate our wares.”

The reeve nodded. “No less than what I expected from you.” He drew closer. “There is a merchant up there, named Ceolwulf, is a traveling vendor. He comes from Mercia, or so he says. I don’t know whether to trust him or not, since I have found that his wares are not what he advertises. If he continues to misrepresent himself, I shall have him scourged and driven from the market.”

Beornhelm clucked and said, “It is people like him who tar us all. If it were in my power, he would already be running away.”

“To be expected,” said Eadmund. “But you are not the reeve, and I have made my decision.” He smiled and bowed toward Beornhelm and moved on.

Beornhelm watched him move away as avidly as his son had watched the girl. When the reeve was out of earshot, Beornhelm said, he thinks he is a worthy man and that all fear, respect and love him.”

“But he is respected no more than the Lord’s goat?” said Beornræd, just as he had often heard his father say.

“Indeed!” his father laughed. “But…”

He went silent, staring at the man who was approaching. “We seldom see such as he in this area,” he said.

Beornræd followed his father’s gaze, and so he saw the Norseman as he sauntered through the crowd, coming toward them.

—to be continued

 


MEETING AT THE MARKET II

At the 2015 Market at the Square in Urbana, Illinois, Micel Folcland manned a table once a month. We released a new installment every month, at our appearance at the Market, in this continuing serial set in the Danelaw of the early eleventh century. We tried to keep the installments as related to common everyday life in the Anglo-Scandinavian culture of the, and we tried to deal with matters of history and culture that were largely unknown and that would provoke question and thought. We were glad to answer any questions that might be posed, and we still are!

WHAT HAS GONE BEFORE—Sixteen-year-old Beornræd and his family are traveling to a nearby market and have just arrived and are ready to set up their stall, selling grain and textiles.

The oxen were guided to where the family’s booth would be set up, and th father reined in the oxen. He carefully guided the waggon to where it would sit, and he turned to Beornræd.”Unhitch them and stake them yonder,” he said to Beornræd. “Give the man a coin so they could get fed, and then hasten back here, and we will set up the stall.”

Beornræd ran to do what his father said, as his father and Brunstan began to pull out the poles that would hold up the fly. The oxen were placed with other animals a distance from the market area, and he talked to the old man who oversaw the animals so that they would be fed and protected. And ran back to where his father and brother were hard at work. All around him, people were setting up, ready to sell. At some he smiled and waved, and they greeted him as he ran past. When he arrived, panting, where the Father and brother were working, his father snapped, “Help us with the frame. Wærburh, fetch out the cloth for the awning.”

It is a good day,” she said innocently. “There is little likelihood of rain.”

Beornhelm took an acid glance at her and said, “The clouds may blow away, and we will need shade from the sun,” he smiled, but Wærburh was already pulling out the fabric that would be stretched over the frame.

As they worked on it, securing the frame and stretching forth the fabric, a plump man in a deep green tunic walked up. “Good day, Beornhelm,” he said when he stopped before the stall..

Beornhelm turned and smiled. “Stay at work or you get the back on my hand,” he said to his sons. Then he walked over to the burgess and shook his hand. “What is the toll, Æthelberht?”

“It is as much as it always is,” said the burgess, “Sometimes I think you are merely trying to have me impose a lesser toll, so often do you ask that. But I am not so old that I would forget and do that.”

“Indeed,” agreed Beornhelm. He pulled his pouch about his neck from beneath his tunic and carefully pulled out a coin, hading it to Æthelberht. The burgess smiled and slid the coin into his own pouch. “So much do I trusty you, I will not even check on its purity,” Æthelberht smiled. “And besides, if you have tried to cheat me, I know where to find you!” He clapped Beornhelm on the back and went on to the next booth.

Beornhelm returned to where his sons had the fly mostly up, and he nodded begrudging approval, noting, “Hurry now. Customers are already filling the market, and I want to be ready for them. Now, put that frame leg there, and stretch the wool. Good…good.” He smiled and turned back to the wagon, pulling out a plank which Beornræd ran to help slide it between the frame to make a table. As soon as they had set out wares, folk began to stop by, taking glances, examining the wares. Some Beornhelm knew and greeted by name. Others. He did not. By the time they had been set up for an hour, trade had been brisk and quick, and Beornhelm was smiling. It will be a good day,” he said.

Then a young girl, dressed in fine blue, her hair unbound and blonde came up. Beornræd smiled and said to his father, “I can take care of her.”

His father, glancing at Beornræd’s mother with a knowing grin, said, “I am certain you think you could…”

—to be continued

 


MEETING AT THE MARKET I

Welcome to a continuing serial set in the Danelaw of the early eleventh century. At the 2015 Market at the Square in Urbana, Illinois, Micel Folcland manned a table once a month. We released a new installment every month, at our appearance at the Market. We tried to keep them as related to common everyday life in the Anglo-Scandinavian culture of the, and we tried to deal with matters of history and culture that were largely unknown and that would provoke question and thought. We were glad to answer any questions that might be posed, and we still are!

Beornræd was shaken awake by his mother before sunrise, and within moments, he was wide awake. Today was the great market, and he had been looking forward to attending it since they had gone to the last a month ago. Last night, the waggon had been loaded with grains grown by his father and with textiles that had been woven by his mother, and she said, “Harness the oxen. We’ll be off!”

With a grin, he sprang out of bed and pulled on tunic and braises, slipped into shoes and ran out to fetch the oxen and to harness them to the waggon. He was by now fourteen and being given the responsibilities of adulthood, and he welcomed the status, trying to do his best. By the time he was finished, the first red fingers of dawn were filling the skies. His father climbed onto the waggon and said, “Let’s get going!” When his mother and brother joined them, the waggon began to roll.

It was only an hour from the farm to the market, but the father did not tarry. They rolled down the path, over a hill, past a wooded glade and then onto the old Roman road. The stones were burnished and worn from centuries of traffic, but it was not overgrown and was smoother than the unpaved pathway had been. Still the wooden wheels creaked and groaned, and they jostled in their seats as the wheels made their way across the stones of the old road, and they joined in with the others traveling toward the market.

Their fellow travelers were no doubt merchants as well. Most were neighbors, and Beornræd already knew them, though some had traveled much farther and were known only from being seen at earlier markets, perhaps even in previous years. He was fascinated. There was Uhtred, who would sell onions, leeks and turnips from his farm. Beyond him was the smith, Rædwulf, whose cart clattered with his wares and the contents of his repair shop. He did original work as well and “signed” that work with a maker’s mark of R, for he was proud of his ability. And far ahead, Beornræd could see the cart of Alric, who carried milk and eggs. He smiled, since there would be so much and so many to see, and he had not seen many of them for months.

As they rolled along, Beornræd’s younger brother, Brunstan, said, “Will we have trouble finding a spot?”

“Nay,” said the father, “Not in there days…”

Beornræd closed his eyes and smiled anew, for he knew that a tale from his father was coming up, and his father was an excellent storyteller.

“When I was your age,” the father said, “The market was not chartered, and merchants set up as they were able. Many were the fights and disputes. I remember when old Æthelhun was knifed by a merchant who disliked where he set up. There followed a great struggle, and many people had their heads knocked about!” He sighed. “Things have become so much safer after the market received a charter, even if the tolls are greater than they were then.” He laughed. “But I would not want to go back to those days!”

In a while, the roads began to convert, joining together in a great hub, and the oxen were guided to a space close to a bridge over the river. It was by then quite bright, and the day looked warm and clear, and the Father smiled and said to the mother, “Today will be a good day…I can tell!”

The mother replied, “That it will be” and looked around excitedly herself.

—to be continued

 


A DOZEN INEXPENSIVE WAYS TO IMPROVE YOUR PERSONAL IMPRESSION

This is based on an article by Cal Kinzer for the American Civil War community. To see what it contains, see http://www.authentic-campaigner.com/forum/showthread.php?1094-A-Dozen-Inexpensive-Ways-to-Improve-Your-Personal-Impression-By-Cal-Kinzer

Cal notes better than I could, “Everyone thinks it costs big bucks to have a first-rate authentic soldier impression. However, there are a number of things any Reenactor can do to improve his impression that cost little or no money.” As he directed his list to ACW reenactor, I direct this list to Viking Age reenactors.

DO NOT WEAR ANYTHING INACCURATE THAT CAN BE SEEN

Non-period BVDs are permissible (we will not here deal with the fact that period underwear remains for the most part unknown), but anything that is seen should be documentable. Wearing a kirtle of the proper weave, cut and color does not obviate the need not to wear not to wear farb such as black cotton pants, Harley boots and a cowboy hat if nothing comparable may be found or bought. A person wearing a period style kirtle and nothing else is preferable to the person dressed as a fancy party goer!

IN FACT, KEEP ALL MODERN FARB OUT OF SIGHT

This should go without saying. Do not wear watches, spectacles or shades. Keep any tattoos hidden, as well as most body jewelry (women can wear earrings, but only if they are accurate to what a few women of the time wore). Even if a mobile phone is kept with you (put it on Vibrate and Mute it), keep it hidden and retire to someplace where you are not obvious to use it. Even if you keep your keys with you, keep them in a pouch and unseen. The same with money (especially since it may be needed if there are things being sold at the event). Do not combine modern and period wear in camp or walking around, although that may be permissible on the drive home if you cannot change. You might not be from the period—all living history is an illusion, but good living history is a good illusion!)—but you should look as if you are, an if you are miraculously transported back in time, ideally, those around you will not suspect you are not from their time and culture until you open your mouth!

COMB YOUR HAIR AND TRIM YOUR BEARD

Everyone had a comb. It was used to help strain out fleas and other louses, but it was also used just to be presentable. People took pride in their appearance, and they combed their hair, bleached it often, braided it apparently and had various toiletries that they used to make themselves look better. In fact, the Norse took full immersive baths once a week, a practice that upset at least one English clergyman, who complained that local girls wen after the sweet-smelling Norse youth rather than to the English boys who did not bathe so often!

DO NOT LOUNGE OR STROLL AROUND IN YOUR ARMOR FOR NO REASON

It is a great reenactorism to walk around in full armor, helmet on your head and mail jangling, looking deep and dark and macho. Chances are that this was not done in period and ought not to be done by reenactors. Unless there is a reason–guard duty, coming from or going to the battle), the cumbersome armor was probably set aside, and the warrior would be lounging around in his civvies.

I won’t even mention the old Shield Maiden myth. If a woman dresses in armor and fights alongside the men, she had better look like just another bloke and change into female dress at the end of the battle!

REGULATE YOUR JEWELRY

There has been a pretty good indication that jewelry was gender related. A man wore a pendant for good luck and to do homage to his deity(ies), but he seems to have worn only two or three beads if at all, and some at his waist. It was the women who wore a lot of jewelry, since their bling indicated how rich–and generous–their men were. In fact, if you are a man and wear a lot of beads, it might be advisable to just give it to your woman and take pride in how she looks! 🙂

MAKE YOUR APPEARANCE CONSISTENT

I am referring both to era and status. There are exceptions, but we think that having one piece from another era (just one, and from an earlier era, not anything after the era portrayed) and class (a person in peasant rags carrying a broad sword is just ridiculous, although a person of a lower class might well have one small item that had been given by the lord). The idea that you would be dressed like some kind of scarecrow wearing anything gathered as a souvenir on your travels is either a cinematic affectation or a stark reenactorism!

DO NOT LAUNDER YOUR SOFT KIT VERY OFTEN

Metal and jewelry should be polished and burnished frequently, but unless the material is covered with mud or grease, or it absolutely reeks, brush the wool and launder the linen every once in a while. Believe it or not, many people in the past were not always immaculate and bright!

BE CAREFUL OF WHAT YOU TALK ABOUT BEFORE MOPs

Modern politics, modern religion, television shows, novels, films…anything that does not have a direct reference to your presentation. Talking about a modern folkway or fact is okay if you are doing a third-person impression and are using it to compare or contrast with what is being done today, but take care that it is only a tool—and not over-used—and not the whole reason for talking!

TAKE MIND OF THE SEASON

This a reference not only to clothing but also to what you might eat in public. Know what fruits and vegetables might be available fresh; otherwise, dried or preserved victuals should be used (as well as tack about the Hunger Month if that is timely and appropriate), and meat should be carefully moderated so that it was either salted and preserved or fresh only in slaughtering months. Persons of the time—even the most exalted and wealthy—were dependent upon agriculture, and that differs from today so much, and that should be accurately presented to the MOPs!

TURN THE FUR AROUND

Chances are from extant garments and practical experience, any fur was worn with the fur toward the body and not as a shaggy cloak, hat or something else. It was warmer, and that was as good a reason as any!

DO NOT HAVE THE END OF YOUR BELT HANG DOWN

This was a later style, it seems, and probably was not done in our era because of the slides that are found so often that keeps the end of the belt attached to the belt itself after the buckle. A metal slide is inexpensive and often may be easily found, but slides of leather or even of cod are also acceptable.

DO NOT THINK THAT BIGGER MEANS BADDER

At least if “bad” is a positive, macho term. Amulets, belts and much else was small by modern standards. Belts were thin, and most jewelry and pendants were similarly small. We are trying to portray ordinary people from the time, and not members of the wrestling foundation from the 1980s! (At least hopefully)

 

 


GOSSIP

Despite the modern moralistic condemnation of gossip, gossiping is a very important part of human nature, and this was true in the Viking Age as well as today. It gives us a very good idea of how the culture approached certain private matters, just as gossip today does. For example, in the ancient cave at Mæshowe, Norse runes were carved saying:

“Ingebjork the fair widow—many a woman has walked stooping in here a very showy person”

“Thorni fucked. Helgi carved” [This was censored on the original site, which notes that “the official guidebooks usually tone this inscription down.” Is this evidence for exhibitionistic sex?]

“Ingigerth is the most beautiful of all women”

In other words, people behaved the way that people do nowadays, and they were not afraid to comment on it.

Other examples may be taken from the rune sticks that appear in England and Scandinavia. University of Oregon medieval scholar Martha Bayless shared rune sticks from centuries past that were found in Bergen, Norway. They were thought to be rare and restricted to important matters but there were 660 such sticks found in a small area of Bergen, Norway and they carry brief and personal everyday messages (exactly like tweets) that show that sharing “too much information” is nothing new!

“They are both living together, Clumsy-Kari and Vilhjalm’s wife.”

“Ingebjorg loved me when I was in Stavanger.”

“Arni the priest wants Inga.”

“I love another man’s wife so much that fire seems cold to me. And I am that woman’s lover.”

So if you have a good story about Olaf getting drunk and pissing in the kitchen sink, you’re not being inaccurate by spreading it!


Image

DRESS ME FOR REENACTING!

Dress Me for Reenacting


THE DEAD TRUTH ABOUT VIKINGS (you don’t hafta read anything else)

After researching some of the most up-to-date and well-written books on the Norse culture, I got tired and threw the books aside to watch the best of Viking films I could find: “The Long Ships,” “The Norseman,” “Vikings” and “Pathfinder.” With testosterone surging through me, I wrote the following!

The Vikings were a misunderstood bunch of merchants. Each year, the Vikings would do a lot of housekeeping at their manors. Then they would gather together all their junk and go to their Things (which were sort of like flea markets, only you didn’t want to use that term since it kept people away during the Black Plague). These were sometimes called “stable sales” and were forerunners of today’s “garage sales.”

After a while, the Vikings figured out that they were just moving things around and not really getting rid of anything. So they loaded their old paperback sagas, junk jewelry and teakwood statues of Odin with clocks in his left eye into ships and sailed off to make a buck somewhere else.

Unfortunately, the Church didn’t like the Vikings, since they were cutting into the Church’s sale of its own worthless junk (called “relics”). So the Church got its propaganda machine going and told all their priests to end their prayers with “And deliver us, O Lord, from the dross of the Norsemen.” Unfortunately, Latin was already a dead language; and the priests misunderstood, praying instead to be delivered from the “wrath” of the Vikings.

When their congregations heard this, they figured that the priests had pissed people off again and that it was up to them to save their skins. So when the Vikings arrived to set up shop, the natives tended to hustle down and try to close them down, breaking their display cases and setting fire to their merchandise. The peace-loving Vikings, seeing the destruction for no reason, decided to give the Christians a taste of their own medicine and really kicked ass. They then helped themselves to Christian merchandise to help replace their own damaged goods.

When news of the fiasco came out, the Church decided to cover up for their priests’ mistakes and came up with the Viking myth as we know it today. The Vikings, who were very sensitive, changed their names to Normans. Since no one expects much from anyone named Norman, they were easily able to conquer half of Europe before the Church figured out what was going on. The Church then shrugged and sat back to wait until the King of England wanted a divorce. Then, they figured, they would show them.

The Vikings invented a lot of things but didn’t patent them, so other people took credit for them. They loved to go boating but never got the hang of waterskiing. When they were on dry land, they really missed their ships. Their phrase, “I ban longin’ for my ship” became shortened to “long ship” and became synonymous with the ships themselves, which the Vikings actually called “floaty things,” since they were looked on as floating flea markets.

A few Vikings set up a protection racket, called “Dane Geld,” which was short for “Give the Dane your spare change or he’ll cut your balls off.” When the Vikings changed their names to Normans, this group conquered Sicily and later changed their names to Mafia.

Swedish Vikings never wore horned helmets; theirs had wings. Norwegian Vikings wore horned helmets and were distinguished from Swedish Vikings. Danish Vikings wore flutes on their helmets. All of them dressed alike otherwise. Anyone who did not wear a furry skirt and a muscle shirt wore blue jeans and t-shirts (their t-shirts had fancy Celtic knotwork embroidery but no snappy sayings, since hardly anyone could read their runes). It is still being debated whether Vikings wore tennis shoes or cowboy boots.


BAD VIKING BINGO

Old pal, Dr. Emily McEwan-Fujita, came up with a funny thing pertaining to her specialty: Anti-Gaelic Bingo. It reminded me a lot of the SCA’s Bad Garb Bingo and set me to working on a Norse equivalent.

Here is my version…

bad viking bingo g

To see Dr. McEwan-Fujita’s original, see http://emilymcfujita.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/Anti-Gaelic-Bingo-Card-1.jpg


TWO NEW POSTS

SKIN ART

A reader looking into the histories of tattoos must realize that they were not known as tattoos since that is a Polynesian term that originated in the eighteenth century in a journal by Captain James Cook (it is one of two words in the standard English lexicon that comes from Polynesian sources; the other is taboo). Tattoos were indelible pigmentation inserted under the skin and were before 1760 known as markings, incisions, pricking or even painting. We see samples on the “Iceman” Ötzi, in China, in Egypt, Japan and, of course, Polynesia. Tattoos were used by the Celts, by the Anglo-Saxons and by the Norse. Ahmed ibn Fadlan’s description of the marks on Rus Vikings is well known, and tattoo enthusiasts have come up with an exaggerated history of their use that takes the slightest indication and expand it immeasurably. For the most part, these tattoos were symbols of heathen faith, and there was a steady attempt by the Church to get rid of them, though that never seems to have been complete. What were the tattoos for? Apparently as magical symbols, as medicinal marks, for identification and for the same reason that many tattoos are applied nowadays, because they’re cool art. Were they part of the sex life or considered sexually attractive? Probably so, though you can never tell since they are not generally talked about. What did the tattoos look like? Well, we have those on the body of Ötzi, which predates the Viking Age quite a bit; and we have the ambiguous description by ibn Fadlan, that the Viking males were covered from “fingernails to neck” with dark blue or dark green “tree patterns” and other “figures.” Whether this was actual flora knotwork or runes remains uncertain, so we do not know what tattoos were worn by the Norse! It is interesting to note that some folk—particularly prudes and modern tattoo-removal doctors—insist that the Norse had no tattoos. The ultimate truth, perhaps, will not be revealed until we find a flash frozen Norse Ötzi!

SEX TOYS OF THE VIKINGS

Great variation in toys for obtaining sexual gratification has been known for nearly as long as humans have had sexual organs and opposable thumbs. Vibrators, for example, might only date back to no earlier than 1870—with a steam-powered model invented in Britain to treat female genital congestion and hysteria—the manual dildo was invented in Germany about 30,000 years ago and by the Third Century bce, was well enough known that one was featured in a Greek play. Dildos were, therefore, period and were used almost universally. However, there are no real examples of dildos from the Viking Age, though that might be because people are looking in the wrong place. The Norse chieftain, Ivar the Boneless, is a famous war leader, though the exact character and extent of his illness remains controversial. Some think it refers to skinny legs, some to actual crippling and some to impotency. It is interesting to note that in his grave, “he had been buried with a small Thor’s hammer and a boar’s tusk,” It has been suggested that the tusk was because of his supposed impotency as a substitute for his penis. It is amusing then to think that the boar’s tusk was used as a dildo, though we can of course never validate any such supposition! The use of other sex toys is similarity vague. “Chances are the archeologists (many of whom lived during the ultra-conservative Victorian era) were just a little too embarrassed to report back to the scientific community that they had discovered the world’s first sex toys.” Manacles and chains were known but were generally assumed to be used for slavery and managing slaves. Since we know that bondage—just like homosexuality and many other alternative lifestyles—was popular before they received names, the chances are that chains and other cords were used for sexual purposes as well. A good example is that of the whips of the time. Although the whip is now said by the Museum of London to be a slaver’s whip, it was originally classified as a sex toy used by prostitutes. However, despite being made of rawhide, the whip is so light that its use for herding slaves is a little doubtful, and I think that the original classification might be correct and prudery dictated the reclassification.