Stora Hammars

The Stora Hammars stones are four picture stones present in Stora Hammars in the parish of Lärbro, on the island of Gotland, Sweden.

Two of the stones are completely eroded. Only one of the remaining two is well preserved.

Stone I

This stone, Stone I, is notable for a scene, dubbed the “burial scene”, featuring a figure armed with a spear assumed to be Odin standing over a man lying face down on table or altar. Immediately above the lying man is a “valknut” symbol. To the right of this pair of figures are a body of fighting men with weapons raised. Of these warriors the foremost is holding a large bird before him. While another bird flies above the valknut . To the left of the valknut is assumed to be a depiction of a sacrificial hanging from a tree. Though I don’t see it myself.

Stora Hammars Stone I – “Burial Scene”

Above this scene is a scene showing two men with arms raised beside whom two swords are thrust into the ground. Behind the men is a horse bound to a post.

Stora Hammars Stone I – “Thing” Scene

Below the “burial scene” is a depiction of a woman standing between two groups of antagonistic warriors with weapons raised, the leftmost group arriving by longship. Scholars believe this to be a reference to the legend of the valkyrie Hildr. Possibly it is a just a more general reference to valkyries.

Stora Hammars Stone I – “Hildr” Scene

The scene below the Hildr scene is of a battle in the midst of which a horse tramples a man. Above the horse a raven or hawk flies.

Stora Hammars Stone I – Battle Scene

The lowest and largest panel simply depicts a longship sailing.

Stora Hammars Stone I – Sailing Longship Scene

Interpretation

By stringing these scenes together I believe it may be that the stone commemorates a successful raid. In the uppermost scene the protagonists are debating, possibly at a Thing, the case for the raid. In the “valknut” scene they are offering a sacrifice to Odin for good fortune in the raid. The next scene depicts them arriving by sea to meet their foes. Following that is the battle and then finally the return home.

Stora Hammars Stone I

Stone III

“Stone III” is the next best preserved of the four stones though it is still quite well worn making the scenes quite hard to discern. It has four scenes, the first scene shows a four legged animal beside a man like figure. The second shows a large bird, a woman holding a cup and a man brandishing a blade.
Scholars believe this scene depicts Odin’s adventure stealing the mead of poetry. The bird would represent Odin transformed into an eagle, the man with the blade would be Suttungr and the woman would be his daughter Gunnlöð carrying the mead of poetry. The next scene shows a man riding a horse approaching a standing woman. Finally the last scene depicts a longship.

Stone III

Related reading: Gotland’s Picture Stones – Bearers of an Enigmatic Legacy

Viking Age in the North West, an App

If you are interested in the viking impact on the history of England, especially in the north west, then you will glad to know there is now an app for that.

A project lead by a medieval historian, Dr Claire Downham, at the University of Liverpool produced the app. It features an interactive map of sites of interest, descriptions of those sites and images of noteworthy places and artifacts

It could be handy for planning a tour of viking sites in Wirral. Otherwise it is nice resource for educating oneself on the viking settlements in the area. In particular there is much information on the traces of Old Norse present in current place names.

The interface is a simple menu. The first option takes the user to the interactive map of points of interest. The second option goes to a list of the sites. Selecting an entry brings up detailed information on the respective site and a link to its location on the map. The third option provides a simple passage on the overall history of vikings in the area. Following that the fourth option explains the origins and purpose on the app itself. The final option opens a simple user survey.

One can find the app free in the Google Play Store for android and the App Store for the iphone. Alternatively see the app’s page on the University of Liverpool’s website.

Ideas Game of Thrones Raided from the Viking Mythology

The Vikings are not the only ones to go raiding. Sometimes it is the Vikings themselves whom are raided. So it is that fantasy authors have been ruthless pirates of the treasures of Viking mythology. This is true from medieval times, through Tolkien to the present day. Game of Thrones author George R R Martin is not the first, nor the last. But he may yet be the most rapacious of raiders for Viking legend. What follows here is a comprehensive accounting of the loot and spoils which George R R Martin dragged away from the Nordic mythology.

The Wall

A pivotal concept of the game of thrones is The Wall. This 700 foot high wall of ice separates and protects the civilised world of men from the wild and frozen lands of the north. The former is a world or laws and rules and the latter is an untamed place and an abode of monsters.

George R R Martin lifts this concept straight out of Nordic mythology. In the Nordic world view walls marked the boundaries both of law and civility. That which is inside the wall, “innangard”, is lawful, orderly and rule based. That which is outside the wall, “utangard”, is wild, chaotic and unconstrained. A high wall encloses Asgard, the abode of the gods of order, the Aesir. Midgard is the world of mankind. Utgard, “outside the wall”, is the wild lands of the Jotnar, the chaotic counterparts to the Aesir beyond them. “Gard” means wall.

Moral Ambiguity

If the duality of Good versus Evil defines the Christian world view then the duality of Order versus Chaos, or law versus wildness, defines the Norse world view. Of this world view one can not be so easily sure that one side is better than the other. The Aesir represent Order but are frequently perpetrators of crimes against the Jotnar who represent Chaos. The Jotnar for their part are not always attacking the Aesir.

The Game of Thrones cosmos and characters too contain considerable moral ambiguities too numerous to list here. As a single instructive example:

The people south of The Wall call those who live beyond the wall “Wildlings”. Southerners view them with hostility and contempt for being merciless raiders. Yet to themselves the Wildlings are the “Freefolk” and they have their own grudges against the Southerners. The Freefolk resent the Southerners for hunting them and walling them out. This is certainly reminiscent of the rivalry between the lawful Aesir and the wild Jotnar.

Fire and Ice

George R R Martin’s incomplete series of novels called A Song of Fire and Ice is the source for the Game of Thrones. In both the novels and the TV series the dialectic between fire and ice is the overarching dynamic. On one side the Whitewalkers and their army of the dead represent the encroaching ice. Daenerys and her new hatched dragons are the revival of “fire made flesh”.

There is nothing here the Vikings would not recognise from their own creation myth in which at the beginning of the cosmos a primordial world of ice called Niflheim and a primordial world of fire called Muspelheim each expand into the abyss between them until in coming into contact with the other the cosmos explodes into being.

Wargs

A number of characters in Game of Thrones have a special affinity with certain animals. This is usually wolves though also ravens and eagles. The special affinity allows them to dive into their minds, use their senses and even take control of their bodies. Notable wargs are Jon Snow and Brandon Stark.

The word warg is an Anglicisation of the Old Norse word vargr meaning “wolf” but also “destroyer”. In the Nordic legends certain warrior cults were said to take on the spirits and powers of animals, particularly wolves and bears. Some are even said to be able to physically change into the animal forms. These are the berserkir, “bear shirts”, and ulfhednar, “wolf coats”.

A Red God

The red god is a fire god and his most notable servant is the Lady Melisandre. She is full of tricks and deceptions. In the Norse myth the god Loki is also a fire god. He also is especially notorious for being deceptive and treacherous, such is the fickle nature of fire.

Witches and Seers

Melisandre is more often than not referred to as a witch. She has classic witch powers: the ability to divine the future, mix potions, curse and charm. The witch is a common fantasy trope since at least medieval times. Ultimately all are derived from the female magicians of the Norse world called seidr. The Norse did not hold the seidr to be evil, as later depictions of witches generally show. Seidr could read the future, contact the spirits and make charms and curses. The seidr would place magical staves between their legs during rituals. This is the likely origin of the idea of witches riding broomsticks

The Walking Dead

The greatest threat to Westeros comes from an army of the dead summoned by the Whitewalkers. Walking and fighting dead men were also a hazard for the Vikings. There are a number of sagas which feature warriors disinclined to die in a permanent way. These living-dead warriors were called draugr. The sagas describe them as heavy and blue coloured, “hel-blár”, or the palest white. The wights of the Game of Thrones are distinctive for their icy blue eyes. The draugr could die a second death if their corpse was burned up. So also fire was the way to kill the wights of Westeros.

Giants

In the wild lands north of The Wall there are more than Whitewalkers and Wildlings, there are giants. Giants are a feature of myths from all over the world but not from Norse legend except by a translation error. The wild Jotnar of the Utgard are still today translated as “giants” though a more accurate translation would be “devourer”.

Spearwives

The women folk of the Wildlings often carry weapons and are handy with them quite unlike the ladies south of The Wall who are largely kept from martial pursuits. These Wildling women, such as Ygritte, are known as “spearwives”.

“Spearwives” is an obvious derivation from the Norse idea of shield-maidens. These warrior women exist not only in the legendary sagas but also it seems took part in historical battles.

Ironborn and the Kraken

The Ironborn are seafaring raiders from the Iron Islands who just from being seafaring raiders make for a plausible derivation of the vikings. Their god and emblem is The Drowned God. It appears to have the form of the legendary sea monster of Norse legend called the kraken. In the books the Iron Islanders call their slaves “thralls” which is the Old Norse word for slave.

Dragons

A staple of fantasy fiction dragons also feature prominently in Game of Thrones standing in for the primordial force of fire.

It would be a stretch to say George R R Martin sourced his dragons exclusively from Nordic legend. Dragons are plentifully present within Norse legend, such as the treasure hoarding dragon called Fafnir. However they are also present in mythologies throughout the world even as far away as China.

Ravens

Ravens have great significance in Game of Thrones. Mundanely they serve as couriers carrying news from one end of the world to another. Mystically a special raven, the three eyed raven, leads Brandon Stark to his destiny as a demi-god who can see the unseen of the past, the present and the future.

The above is an unambiguous lifting from Norse myth in which two ravens serve the god Odin as messengers and spies. These ravens are called Hugin, meaning “thought” and Munin which means something like “imagination”. Odin is the magician of the Norse gods, who prizes knowledge above all.

Brandon Stark

Brandon Stark bears a few significant similarities with Odin the magician of the Norse gods. The three eyed raven leads Brandon to gain the powers to obtain unseen knowledge. Just so Odin’s ravens bring him the news of the world. Odin sacrifices himself upon the World Tree in order to gain the knowledge of a magical script called the runes and he also sacrifices an eye to gain the ability to see the future. Where Odin hangs from a tree, Bran falls from a tower. Where Odin loses a physical eye to gain extrasensory perception, Bran loses his legs to gain the ability to spirit-walk.

The Old Gods and the New

In Westeros there is a tension between two pantheons of gods, the Old and the New. The Old Gods are closely related to special trees called Weirwood trees. The New Gods are an ensemble of seven gods who came from across the sea carried by aggressively proselytising invaders called the Andals.

There is a striking similarity here to the situation of the Vikings during the Viking Age. There the old gods of the Norse faced increasing competition from a trinity of new gods brought by Christian missionaries from the south. Seven gods echo the Trinity.

The Weirwood Trees

The Weirwood trees of Westeros are psychic gateways which are closely associated with the Old Gods. While in the Norse mythology a certain great tree called Yggdrasil serves as the connective tissue between the nine worlds of the Viking cosmos. Weirwoods echo the World Tree, Yggdrasil.

The Children of the Forest

The diminutive nature spirits of Westeros called the Children of the Forest resemble rather closely medieval myths of elves. The medieval myths of elves were a rather heavy distortion of earlier Norse myths of elves. However Tolkien’s version of elves as tall and powerful is closer to the Nordic conception. If not elves the Children of the Forest bear not a little comparison to the shy but defensive land spirits, Landvættir, of Norse legend.

Heroes and Weapons with Names

Of course Game of Thrones has heroes defined by their prowess with weapons and although The Hound maintains that “a lot of c**ts” name their swords more than a few heroes in Westeros have weapons with names. Arya has Needle, Briene has Oathkeeper and Jon Snow has Longclaw.

The Norse gods also were defined not only by their prowess with weapons but the names they gave them too. Mjölnir, “Lightning”, is the name of Thor’s hammer and Gungnir, “Swaying One”, is the name of Odin’s spear.

Winter is Coming

Over arching the dense weave of plots and counter plots in the Game of Thrones is the ever present threat of a looming apocalypse. The elemental forces of death and life, fire and ice, wildness and order will collide bringing forth ruin upon all. This is the fate which the Stark’s warning “Winter is Coming” forebodes.

The Norse too foreboded of a great cosmological clash of opposing forces which would render all destroyed. This is the legend of Ragnarok. In the Ragnarok the Aesir and the Jotnar will fight each other in a great battle until they are all slain.

We don’t know yet if the Winter of Westeros will be as mutually catastrophic as the Ragnarok but thus far the close parallels between the Game of Thrones cosmos and that of the Nordic myth strongly suggest it will be.

Valknut? It is not!

Three interwoven triangles form this symbol. It is carved on many Viking Age runestones found in Gotland. Also it is carved on a bed post found on a ship discovered in a burial site in Norway. Today this glyph has the name Valknut or sometimes Hrungnir’s Heart.

Neologism

Valknut is norwegian for “knot of the slain”. However this name was applied to the symbol only quite recently. Almost certainly it did not have this name during the Viking Age.

The glyph to the left is commonly known as the Valknut.

Likewise the name Hrungnir’s Heart became associated with the symbol in recent times. Scholars made a tenuous connection between the symbol and a reference to a three pointed symbol in the story of Hrungnir’s duel with Thor. Hrungnir’s heart is described in the story as being “three pointed like the carved symbol which has that name ever since”. “Three pointed” does suggest a triangle. However this is a tenuous association because the “Valknut” symbol is three interlocking triangles not one. Therefore depending on the style, it has either six or nine points. Whatever the symbol in the story is, the phrasing suggests it also had another older name.

Scholars probably also derived the term Valknut from connecting the knot like appearance of the symbol with Hrungnir’s story. This is because it was through his death at the hammer of Thor that his oddly shaped heart was uncovered. Hence “knot of the slain”.

Another possible reason for calling it this is a runestone, Stora Hammars Stone I, depicting the symbol over a burial scene featuring a figure likely to be Odin.

Stora Hammars Runestone
Stora Hammars burial scene

However elsewhere the symbol appears in contexts which have nothing to do with death or killing.

We will probably never know what name it carried in the Viking Age. However we might yet divine what it meant to people.

Meaning

My interpretation is that since the “Valknut” has three elements, the triangles, each composed of three elements, the triangle points, making a total of nine elements all interconnected with each other that it may be a symbol of the Nine Worlds of the Viking Cosmos. The nine worlds are divided among three strata: the upper, middle and lower. Thus each triangle could represent each of these realms and each point represent a world.

In a closely related way it may also represent Yggdrasil, the world tree. This is because the three Sisters of Norn write the fates of men and gods upon the trunk of the tree in a process likened to weaving. The symbol’s intertwined elements is suggestive of knots and weaving. Importantly Yggdrasil also is the connective path for traveling between the nine worlds.

Thus the “valknut” being a knot or weave of three of three, making nine, elements would make an exceedingly apt symbol for the Viking cosmos and Yggdrasil.

This interpretation would explain why the symbol is often associated with Odin in the runestones. Odin has a very particular relationship with the world tree because he uses it to travel across the nine worlds. He even hung himself upon it in order to learn the secrets of the runes.

Looking back at the Stora Hammars burial scene with this interpretation in mind it is clear that the symbol would represent the path to Valhalla. For by what other path could Odin lead the slain hero from Midgard to Asgard?

A New Name?

Perhaps then we should henceforth rename the symbol “Níu Heimar”, nine worlds, or “Yggdrasil”. Given the importance of the world tree and the nine worlds within the cosmology of the vikings it seems fitting that they should have their own symbol.

What is your view? Comment below!

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Hávamál, Sayings of the High One

Hávamál

Overview

Hávamál, meaning sayings of the high one, is a collection of poems preserved in the Codex Regius of Iceland. They are attributed to Odin.

The first poem, Gestaþáttr, from verse 1 to 80 deals out various bits of wise advice for travelers, guests and hosts.

The next, from verse 81 to 110, laments the deceptiveness and untrustworthiness of women. This is illustrated by Odin’s own experience in his thwarted romance of Billingr’s daughter and also his successful seduction of Gunnlöð in his adventure to steal the mead of poetry from her father the devourer Suttungr.

The third, Loddfáfnismál, from verse 111 to 138, offers some more sage advice this time to a character named Loddfáfnir. This Loddfáfnir, which means “stray singer”, may be a reference through a conceit to the author of this poem. In this way he assumes the voice of Odin speaking to himself.

The fourth, Rúnatal, from verse 139 to 146, tells the story of how Odin gained knowledge of the runes as a preface to the final poem, Ljóðatal, verse 147 to 165, which runs through a number of spells that may be cast with the runes.

The Hávamál is fairly thought to have been composed at least as early as the 10th century. However the Codex Regius in which they are preserved is believed to have been written in Iceland around 1270 AD. This is long after Iceland converted to Christianity.

The Text in Translation


~ 1 ~

Before one would advance through each doorway,
one must look about and peer around,
because one can't know for sure
where enemies sit in the hall beforehand.

~ 2 ~

Greetings to the hosts, a guest is come. Where must this one sit?
He is very impatient, the one who must sit on the firewood,
to test his luck.

~ 3 ~

There is need of fire for him who is come in with cold knees;
there is need of food and clothes for the man
who has journeyed on the mountainside.

~ 4 ~

There is need of water, for the one who comes for a meal,
of towel and friendly intonation; of good disposition,
if he can get it, of speech and silence in return.

~ 5 ~

Sense is needed for the one who travels widely;
everything is easy at home.
He who knows nothing and sits with wise men becomes a mockery.

~ 6 ~

A man must not be boastful in his mind, but wary in disposition;
when he, wise and silent, comes to the homestead,
misfortune rarely befalls the wary,
because man can never have a more reliable guide
than great common sense.

~ 7 ~

The wary guest who comes for a meal
is silent with strained hearing,
listens with ears and examines with eyes;
so each of the wise searches about himself.

~ 8 ~

He is blessed who has within himself praise and esteem;
it is harder to deal with that which a man must own
in the breast of another.

~ 9 ~


He is blessed who has within himself
praise and sense while he lives,
because man has often received
ill-counsel from the breast of another.

~ 10 ~

A man does not bear a better burden on the road
than is great commonsense; it seems a greater wealth
in an unknown place such is the refuge of the needy.

~ 11 ~


A man does not bear a better burden on the road
than is great commonsense;
he does not carry a worse provision in the open field than is
the over-drinking of ale.

~ 12 ~


Ale is not as good as it is said to be good
for the sons of men;
because the man knows less he who drinks more
of his disposition.

~ 13 ~

He is called the heron of forgetfulness,
he who hovers over ale-parties;
he steals the disposition of men.
By the feathers of this bird I was fettered,
in the courts of Gunnlöth.

~ 14 ~

I got drunk, really drunk, at Fjalarr the Wise's;
it is the best ale-feast when each man recovers his disposition

~ 15 ~

A ruler's son must be silent and thoughtful and brave in battle;
each man must be happy and cheerful until he suffers death.

~ 16 ~

The foolish man thinks he will live forever
if he avoids battle; but old age gives
him no peace, though spears might spare him.

~ 17 ~


The fool stares when he comes on a visit to acquaintances;
he mumbles to himself or hovers.
Everything happens at once if he gets a drink:
then his disposition is revealed.

~ 18 ~

He alone knows, he who wanders widely
and has traveled a great deal,
what disposition each man possesses.
He is knowing in commonsense.

~ 19 ~


Do not let a man hold on to a goblet,
but let him drink mead in moderation,
let him talk sense or be silent.
No man blames you of bad manners,
that you go early to sleep.

~ 20 ~


A greedy man, unless he knows his mind,
often causes his life's sorrow by eating;
often the stomach gains ridicule,
when he comes among wise men,
for the foolish man.

~ 21 ~

The herds know when they must be home
and leave the pasture then;
but the unwise man
never knows the measure of his stomach.

~ 22 ~

The wretched man of bad character
laughs at all kinds of things.
On the other hand he doesn't know
what he ought to know,
that he is not lacking in faults.

~ 23 ~

The unwise man is awake all night
and thinks of all sorts of things;
then he is tired when morning comes,
and all the trouble is as it was.

~ 24 ~


The unwise man thinks them all to be
his friends, those who laugh at him;
he does not notice
even if they express malice against him
when he sits among wise men.

~ 25 ~

The unwise man thinks them all to be
his friends, those who laugh at him;
then he finds when he comes to the meeting
that he has few supporters.

~ 26 ~

The unwise man thinks he knows everything
if he has refuge for himself in a corner.
but he does not know what he must say in reply,
if men test him.

~ 27 ~

For the unwise man who comes among men,
it is best that be he silent.
None know that he knows nothing,
unless he should speak too much.
The man does not know it,
he who knows nothing,
whether he speaks too much.

~ 28 ~

He seems wise, he who knows how to ask
and to speak likewise;
they can conceal nothing, the sons of men,
of what is said about men.

~ 29 ~

He who is never silent speaks plenty
of meaningless words;
the fast-talking tongue, unless it have controllers,
often sings itself harm.

~ 30 ~

A man must not make a mockery of another
when he comes to visit acquaintances;
many a man seems wise if he is not questioned
and manages to sit quiet, unscathed.

~ 31 ~


He seems wise, the guest who takes flight
from the mocking guest;
he does not know for certain,
he who mocks over a meal,
whether he talks loudly among foes.

~ 32 ~


Many men are most friendly with each other
and yet fight over food;
strife among men will always be:
guest will be hostile to guest.

~ 33 ~

A man should often take a meal early,
unless he comes to visit friends;
else he sits and looks around hungrily,
behaves as though he's famished,
and can talk about little.

~ 34 ~

It is a great roundabout way to a bad friend,
though he dwell on the road;
but to a good friend there lead direct routes,
though he be gone farther away.

~ 35 ~

The guest must go, he must not be always in the same place;
loved becomes loathed if he stays a long time
in the hall of another

~ 36 ~

The dwelling is better, though it be small;
each man is a free man at home;
though he own two she-goats
and a hall roofed with willow,
it is still better than begging.

~ 37 ~

The dwelling is better, though it be small;
each man is a free man at home;
he has a bloody heart, the one who must beg
food for himself every meal-time.

~ 38 ~


A man in the open country must not
go more than one step from his weapons;
because one can't be sure
when, outside on the roads,
a spear will be needed by a warrior.

~ 39 ~

I have not found a man so liberal
or so generous with food
that to accept was not accepted,
or so free with his money
that the reward is unwelcome if he gets one.

~ 40 ~

A man should not endure want
when he has gained his money;
often he saves for enemies
what he has intended for friends;
much goes worse than expected.

~ 41 ~


Friends must gladden each other
with weapons and clothes,
which are most evident on themselves.
givers in return and repeat-givers
are friends the longest
if it endures to turn out well.

~ 42 ~

A man must be a friend to his friend
and give gift for gift.
Men should use mockery in return for mockery,
and deception in return for a lie.

~ 43 ~

A man must be a friend to his friend,
for himself and for the friend,
but no man must be a friend of a friend of his foe.

~ 44 ~

Know, if you have a friend in whom you have faith,
and you wish to get something good from him,
you must share with his mind and exchange gifts,
and go often to seek him out.

~ 45 ~

If you have another whom you mistrust,
but you want to get something good from him,
you must speak fair to him,
and think deceitful thoughts,
and give deception in return for a lie.

~ 46 ~

There is more about the one whom you mistrust
and whose disposition you suspect:
you should laugh with him
and speak other than your thought.
There should be repayment for such gifts.

~ 47 ~

Long ago I was young, I traveled on my own,
then I turned astray in my paths:
I thought myself rich when I found another,
man is man's entertainment.

~ 48 ~

Generous, valiant men live best,
and seldom nourish sorrow;
but the cowardly man fears all sorts of things
and the niggard is always troubled about gifts.

~ 49 ~

My clothes I gave in a field to two wooden men:
they thought themselves warriors
when they had clothing: a naked man is shamed.

~ 50 ~

The fir decays, the one that stands in the hamlet:
neither bark nor foliage protects it.
So is a man, who is loved by no-one:
how should he live a long time?

~ 51 ~

Friendship among bad friends burns hotter than fire for five days;
but it is extinguished when the sixth day comes
and the whole friendship spoils.

~ 52 ~

One should not give a man a single large gift:
often one can obtain for oneself with a little praise:
with half a loaf and with a sloping goblet
I got myself a comrade.

~ 53 ~

? [of small sands,]
? [of small seas,]
Small are the minds of men,
because all men
have not turned out equally wise,
? mankind is everywhere halved.

~ 54 ~

Each man must be moderately wise,
but never too wise;
for those people it is most pleasant to live
when they don't know a great many things.

~ 55 ~

Each man must be moderately wise,
but never too wise;
because the wise man's heart is seldom glad,
if he who owns it is completely wise.

~ 56 ~

Each man must be moderately wise,
but never too wise;
no-one should know beforehand his fate;
for that one is the mind most free from care.

~ 57 ~

Firewood from firewood burns, until it is burnt,
flame kindles from flame;
from man, man becomes wise in speech,
but too foolish from folly.

~ 58 ~

He must rise early, the one who wants to have another's
wealth or life;
seldom does a lying wolf get a ham or a sleeping man victory.

~ 59 ~

He must rise early, the one who has few workers,
and go to visit his work;
much will delay the one who sleeps through the morning;
wealth is half in the hands of the active.

~ 60 ~

Man knows the measure of this,
of dry sticks and of birch-bark for roofing,
and of this, of wood
which will last for the short and long seasons.

~ 61 ~

A man should ride to the Moot washed and fed,
though he be not clothed too well;
let no man be ashamed of shoes and breeches,
nor of horse either, even if he hasn't a good one.

~ 62 ~

The eagle snatches and stretches
when it comes to the sea, the ancient sea;
so is a man who comes among crowds
and has few supporters.

~ 63 ~

Each of the wise must ask and reply,
he who wishes to be called wise;
one alone must know but not another;
the people knows if there are three who know.

~ 64 ~

Each of the prudent must hold in moderation his power;
then he finds it, when he comes among valiant men,
that none is keenest of all.

~ 65 ~

Often a man gets a repayment
for the words which he says to another.

~ 66 ~

I came to many places very much too soon,
and too late to some;
sometimes the ale was drunk,
sometimes it wasn't ready;
the unwelcome one seldom hits the spot.

~ 67 ~

Here and there I would be invited home
if I needed no food at meals;
or two hams would hang at a loyal friend's
where I had eaten one.

~ 68 ~

Fire is best for the sons of men
and the sight of the sun;
his health, if he can keep it,
and to live without shame.

~ 69 ~

A man is not wholly wretched,
though he be in rotten health;
one is blessed with sons,
another with kinsmen,
another with plenty of money,
another with deeds well done.

~ 70 ~

It is better for the living than for the dead,
the living man always gets the cow;
I saw the fire burn up before a rich man,
but death was outside the door.

~ 71 ~

The lame man rides a horse,
the one-armed man drives the herd,
the deaf man fights and is useful;
it is better to be blind than burnt:
no-one is helped by a corpse.

~ 72 ~

A son is better, though he be late-begotten,
after a man is gone; memorial stones seldom
stand by the road unless a kinsman should raise them to kin.

~ 73 ~

Two men are the destroyers of one:
the tongue is the head's slayer;
I expect a fist in every fur cloak.

~ 74 ~

He becomes happy at night
who trusts his provisions;
a ship's sail yards are short;
an autumn-night is changeable.
The weather changes in many ways
in five days and more in a month.

~ 75 ~

He does not know, he who knows nothing:
many a man becomes a fool through ores money;
one man is rich, another poor;
he must not blame his woe on him.

~ 76 ~

Cattle die, kinsmen die, the self dies likewise;
but the renown for the one who gets good fame
dies never.

~ 77 ~

Cattle die, kinsmen die, the self dies likewise;
I know one thing that never dies:
the repute of each of the dead.

~ 78 ~

I saw the full cattle-pens of the sons of Fitjung,
now they are beggars: thus wealth is
like the blink of an eye -
it is the most unreliable of friends.

~ 79 ~

If the foolish man gains possession of
money or a woman's love,
pride grows in him but never commonsense;
he heads straight for haughtiness.

~ 80 ~

Then that is proven when you consult the runes,
originated by the gods,
those which the gods made and the mighty sage coloured,
that it is best if he is silent.

~ 81 ~

The day must be praised in the evening,
a woman, when she is cremated,
a sword, when it is proven,
a maiden, when she is given away,
ice, when it is crossed,
ale, when it is drunk.

~ 82 ~

Wood must be hewed in the wind,
row out to sea in good weather,
talk with maidens in the dark,
many are the eyes of the day.
A ship must be used for a swift journey
and a shield for protection,
a sword for a blow
and a maiden for kisses.

~ 83 ~

Drink ale by the fire and skate on the ice,
buy a lean steed and a dirty sword,
fatten a horse at home and farm out a dog.

~ 84 ~

No-one should trust in the words of a maid,
nor in what a woman says, for their hearts were shaped
on a potter's turning wheel,
and fickleness placed in their breasts.

~ 85 ~

A cracking bow,
a burning flame,
a gaping wolf,
a screaming crow,
a grunting pig,
a rootless tree,
a rising sea,
a boiling kettle,

~ 86 ~

a flying spear,
a falling wave,
ice one night old,
a coiled snake,
a bride's bed-talk
or a broken sword,
a bear's game
or a king's son,

~ 87 ~


a sick calf,
a self-willed thrall,
the favouring speech of a seeress,
the newly slain,

~ 88 ~

a field sown early no man should trust,
nor too quickly in his son;
weather rules the field
and the mind of the son,
each of these is unreliable.

~ 89 ~

In his brother-slayer, though he is met on the road,
in a half-burnt house, in a horse too-speedy -
a steed is useless if he breaks a foot -
a man should not be so trustful
that he trusts all these.

~ 90 ~

The love of women who are deceitful in spirit
is like riding a smooth-shod horse
on slippery ice, a spirited two-year-old
and one badly trained,
or on a rudderless boat in a raging wind,
or like a lame man trying to catch
a reindeer on a thawing mountainside.

~ 91 ~

Now I will speak openly, because I know both:
men's hearts are fickle with women;
when we speak most fair
then we think most false.
It deceives the heart of the wise.

~ 92 ~

Fairly must he speak and offer gifts,
he who wants to win a woman's love;
praise the figure of the fair maiden;
he wins who flatters.

~ 93 ~

No man must ever mock another's love.
often ravishingly fair looks capture the wise man
when they do not capture the fool.

~ 94 ~

A man must in no way mock another,
for what happens to many a man;
love the mighty makes fools of the wise
among the sons of men.

~ 95 ~

Only the mind knows what lives near the heart;
a man is alone with his own spirit.
There is no sickness worse for any wise man
than to have nothing to love.

~ 96 ~

That I proved when I sat in the reeds
and waited for my love; the wise maid to me
was body and soul -
but still I do not have her.

~ 97 ~

I found her in bed, Billingr's kinswoman,
sun-white, asleep; a jarl's delight seemed nothing to me,
unless I could live with that body.

~ 98 ~

"So towards evening, Odin, you must come,
if you want to win the maid for yourself;
all is amiss, unless we alone know of such shame."

~ 99 ~

Back I turned and seemed out of my head with love;
I thought that I would have it all, her heart and pleasure.

~ 100 ~

When I came next,the able warriors were all awake;
with burning lights and brands raised high,
so was my wretched path marked out.

~ 101 ~

And towards morning, when I came back again,
the hall retainers were asleep.
Then I found only the good woman's bitch
bound to the bed.

~ 102 ~

Many a good maid, if you look closely,
is fickle-minded towards men;
I learned that when I tried to seduce
the wise woman to wantonness,
the clever maid heaped her scorn on me,
and I got nothing from this woman.

~ 103 ~

At home a man must be glad and cheerful with guests,
knowing about himself, mindful and fluent,
if he wants to be well-informed;
he should often speak of good things.
He is called a monstrous fool,
the one who knows how to say almost nothing:
it is the character of the unwise.

~ 104 ~

I sought the old devourer, now I have come back again.
I got little from being silent there.
With many words I spoke to my own advantage
in Suttungr's hall.

~ 105 ~

Gunnloth gave to me a drink of the precious mead
on her golden throne; A bad reward
I gave her afterwards for her whole heart,
for her sorrowful spirit.

~ 106 ~

I let the mouth of the gimlet
make space and gnaw through stone;
over and under me stood the giants' paths (rocks):
thus I risked my head.

~ 107 ~

I have taken great advantage
? from the well-purchased appearance;
little is lacking to the wise,
because Othrerir has now come up
? to Odin's sanctuary.

~ 108 ~

Doubtful it is to me that I could have come again
out of the devourer's court,
if I had not enjoyed Gunnloth,
the good woman, over whom I laid my arm.

~ 109 ~

On the next day the devourers went
to ask for Har's advice in Har's hall:
they asked about Bolverkr the Evil-doer, Odin,
whether he had come back among the gods,
or whether Suttungr had sacrificed him.

~ 110 ~

Odin, I think, has sworn an oath on the sacred ring -
who shall trust in his troth?
he had Suttungr cheated of his mead, and made Gunnloth grieve.

~ 111 ~

It is time to recite from the sage's throne at Urthr's well;
I saw and stayed silent, I saw and reflected,
I listened to the speech of men,
I heard and learned about runes,
nor were they silent in counsels
at Har's hall, in Har's hall,
thus I heard it said -

~ 112 ~

I advise you, Loddfafnir, to take advice;
you would benefit, it you took it,
good will come to you, if you accept it:
don't get up at night, unless you are on guard
or are seeking a place outside for yourself.

~ 113 ~

I advise you, Loddfafnir, to take advice;
you would benefit, it you took it,
good will come to you, if you accept it:
you must not sleep in the embrace
of a woman skilled in magic
so that she locks you in her limbs --

~ 114 ~

-- she will make sure that you do not heed
the speech of either Moot or king;
you will not desire food
or mankind's pleasure;
you will go sorrowfully to sleep.

~ 115 ~

I advise you, Loddfafnir, to take advice;
you would benefit, it you took it,
good will come to you, if you accept it:
never seduce another's wife to be your mistress.

~ 116 ~

I advise you, Loddfafnir, to take advice;
you would benefit, it you took it,
good will come to you, if you accept it:
if you long to travel over mountain or fjord,
be sure you have ample food.

~ 117 ~

I advise you, Loddfafnir, to take advice;
you would benefit, it you took it,
good will come to you, if you accept it:
never allow a bad man to know of your misfortune,
because from a bad man you will never get
a good return for your good will.

~ 118 ~

I saw a man deeply bitten by the word of a bad woman;
her deceit-crafty tongue was the death of him,
and yet the charge was not true.

~ 119 ~

I advise you, Loddfafnir, to take advice;
you would benefit, it you took it,
good will come to you, if you accept it:
know this, if you have a friend
whom you trust well, go to visit him often,
for the path which no-one treads
grows with underbrush and high grass.

~ 120 ~

I advise you, Loddfafnir, to take advice;
you would benefit, it you took it,
good will come to you, if you accept it:
draw a good man to you with pleasant conversation,
and learn healing charms while you live.

~ 121 ~

I advise you, Loddfafnir, to take advice;
you would benefit, it you took it,
good will come to you, if you accept it:
never be the first to make a breach with your friend.
Sorrow eats the heart if you cannot tell someone your whole mind.

~ 122 ~

I advise you, Loddfafnir, to take advice;
you would benefit, it you took it,
good will come to you, if you accept it:
you must never bandy words with a stupid fool -

~ 123 ~

- because you can never get a reward for good
from a bad man, but a good man
can make you beloved through praise.

~ 124 ~

Peace and trust are exchanged
when one can tell another his whole mind.
Anything is better than to be faithless:
he is not another's friend
who says only what the friend wants to hear.

~ 125 ~

I advise you, Loddfafnir, to take advice;
you would benefit, it you took it,
good will come to you, if you accept it:
you must not dispute even three words
with a man less worthy than you:
often the better man is defeated
when the worser attacks.

~ 126 ~

I advise you, Loddfafnir, to take advice;
you would benefit, it you took it,
good will come to you, if you accept it:
be not a shoe-maker or a shaft-maker,
except for yourself alone;
if the shoe is badly made or the shaft bent,
then misfortune is in store for you.

~ 127 ~

I advise you, Loddfafnir, to take advice;
you would benefit, it you took it,
good will come to you, if you accept it:
when you come upon misdeeds
speak out about those misdeeds
and give your enemies no peace.

~ 128 ~

I advise you, Loddfafnir, to take advice;
you would benefit, it you took it,
good will come to you, if you accept it:
never be glad in evil,
but let yourself be pleased by good.

~ 129 ~

I advise you, Loddfafnir, to take advice;
you would benefit, it you took it,
good will come to you, if you accept it:
you must not look up in battle
- the sons of men become
like men terror-crazed -
lest men cast spells upon you.

~ 130 ~

I advise you, Loddfafnir, to take advice;
you would benefit, it you took it,
good will come to you, if you accept it:
if you want to attract a good woman to you with pleasant talk
and take pleasure with her, you must make a fair promise
and stick fast to it - no one loathes the good, if he gets it.

~ 131 ~

I advise you, Loddfafnir, to take advice;
you would benefit, it you took it,
good will come to you, if you accept it:
wary I bid you be, but not too wary:
with ale be the most wary and with another's woman,
and with a third thing, that thieves do not trick you.

~ 132 ~

I advise you, Loddfafnir, to take advice;
you would benefit, it you took it,
good will come to you, if you accept it:
never mock or laugh at a guest or traveller.

~ 133 ~

Often they don't precisely know,
those who sit first in a house,
whose kinsmen they are who come later:
no man is so good that no fault follows him,
nor so bad that he is of no use.

~ 134 ~

I advise you, Loddfafnir, to take advice;
you would benefit, it you took it,
good will come to you, if you accept it:
never laugh at a gray-haired sage
often what an old man says is good,
often clear words come out of shrivelled skin,
from the one who hangs among the hides
and dangles among the dried skins
and moves among the entrails.

~ 135 ~

I advise you, Loddfafnir, to take advice;
you would benefit, it you took it,
good will come to you, if you accept it:
do not revile a guest
nor drive him away from your gates;
treat the wretched well.

~ 136 ~

Powerful is that beam that must move from side to side
to open for all; give a ring, or it will call down
every evil on your limbs.

~ 137 ~

I advise you, Loddfafnir, to take advice;
you would benefit, it you took it,
good will come to you, if you accept it:
when you drink ale, choose for yourself the might of the earth,
because earth fights against beer,
and fire against sickness,
oak against constipation,
an ear of corn against sorcery,
the hall-tree against domestic strife,
- one must invoke the moon against wrathful deeds -
alum against bite-sickness
and runes against misfortune;
the earth must contend against the sea.

~ 138 ~

I know that I hung upon a windy tree
for nine whole nights, wounded with a spear
and given to Odin, myself to myself for me;
on that tree I knew nothing
of what kind of roots it came from.

~ 139 ~

They cheered me with a loaf
and not with any horn,
I investigated down below,
I took up the runes,
screaming I took them,
and I fell back from there.

~ 140 ~

I took nine mighty spells
from the famous son of Bolthorr,
the father of Bestla, and I got a drink
of the precious mead, poured from Othrerir.

~ 141 ~

Then I began to be fruitful and wise,
to grow and to flourish;
speech fetched my speech for speech,
action fetched my action for action.

~ 142 ~

You can find runes and meaning staves,
very mighty staves, very strong staves,
which a mighty sage coloured
and mighty powers made,
and Hroptr of the gods carved.

~ 143 ~

Odin among the gods,
Dain for the elves
and Dvalin for the dwarves,
Asvithr for the devourers
- I myself carved some.

~ 144 ~

Do you know how you must cut them?
Do you know how you must interpret?
Do you know how you must colour?
Do you know how you must try?
Do you know how you must invoke?
Do you know how you must sacrifice?
Do you know how you must send?
Do you know how you must kill?

~ 145 ~

It is better that it be not invoked
than over-sacrificed,
the gift is always for the repayment,
it is better that it be not sent
than over-immolated. So Thundr carved
before the history of the peoples,
when he rose up and when he came back.

~ 146 ~

I know the songs that no ruler's wife knows,
nor anyone's son: the first is called "Help",
and it will help you with disputes and griefs
and absolutely all sorrows.

~ 147 ~

I know a second which the sons of men need,
those who want to live as physicians.

~ 148 ~

I know the third:
if great need befalls me for a fetter for my enemy,
I can blunt the edges of my enemies,
that weapons and staves do not bite for them.

~ 149 ~

I know the fourth:
if men put fetters on my limbs, I sing so that I can go:
fetter springs from my feet and bond from my hands.

~ 150 ~

I know the fifth:
if I see a spear, shot in malice to fly into a host,
it does not fly so strongly that I cannot stop it,
if I catch sight of it.

~ 151 ~

I know the sixth:
if a warrior wounds me with the root of a strong tree
and calls forth hatreds from me,
then the harms eat the man and not me.

~ 152 ~

I know the seventh:
if I see a high hall to burn around my table-companions,
it does not burn so bright that I cannot save it,
when I can sing the spell.

~ 153 ~

I know the eighth,
which is useful for all to take: wherever hatred grows
among the sons of the prince, I can quickly cure it.

~ 154 ~

I know the ninth:
if I need to save my ship afloat
I can calm the wind on the wave
and lull the whole sea to sleep.

~ 155 ~

I know the tenth:
if I see witches playing in the air,
I can so arrange it that they go astray
from their proper shapes and proper thoughts.

~ 156 ~

I know the eleventh:
if I must lead old friends to battle,
I sing under the shields, and they go victoriously:
safe to the battle, safe from the battle,
they come safe from everywhere.

~ 157 ~

I know the twelfth:
if I see up in a tree a hanged corpse swinging,
I carve and colour the runes
that the man moves and speaks with me.

~ 158 ~

I know the thirteenth:
if I will throw water on a young warrior,
he cannot fall, though he may come to battle
the man does not fall before swords.

~ 159 ~

I know the fourteenth:
if I must reckon up a troop before gods and men,
I know the details of all the Aesir and the Elves -
the unwise man knows that not at all.

~ 160 ~

I know the fifteenth,
which Thjothreyrir, the dwarf, sang before the doors of Dellingr:
He sang the might of the gods, the courage of the elves,
the understanding of Hroptatyr.

~ 161 ~

I know the sixteenth:
if I wish to have all the heart and pleasure of a cunning girl,
I turn the feelings of the white-armed woman,
and I change the whole of her mind.

~ 162 ~

I know the seventeenth,
that the youthful maid will never avoid me;
Loddfafnir, you will be lacking these charms
for a long time, though it be good for you if you get them,
useful if you take them, needful if you receive them.

~ 163 ~

I know the eighteenth,
which I never teach to maid or man's wife,
- everything is better when one person understands it,
it belongs at the ending of spells -
to none but she alone who is wrapped in my arm
or is my sister.

~ 164 ~

Now the sayings of Har are spoken in Har's hall,
very needful to the sons of men,
harmful to the sons of devourers.
Hail to him who spoke!
Hail to him who understands!
Let him benefit who took them!
Blessings on those who listened!

Grooming and Hygiene

A common misconception about the vikings is that they were filthy and unkempt. In truth they appear to have been unusually fussy over cleanliness and personal grooming. This misconception probably arises from their reputation for ferocity which is in turn associated with barbarism and a lack of civilised habits such as grooming and bathing.

Standing against this assumption is the evidence in archeological finds, in the commentaries of literate contemporaries and in written preservations of the oral legends and histories of the vikings themselves. These sources indicate that personal hygiene was an important and routine part of life for the nordic people during the Viking Age.

viking comb
A viking folding comb







Grooming Tools Found by Archeology

Combs, razors, tweezers and even spoon-like implements for cleaning ears are regularly found in archeological finds. Moreover the larger settlements had bath-houses.

Contemporary Commentary

The prior of St. Fridswides, John of Wallingford, complained of Danish settlers in England that their unusual cleanliness allowed them to seduce local women. He notes that they comb their hair everyday, bath at least once a week and regularly change their clothes

An arab by the name of Ibn Fadlan observed vikings in Russia washing their faces and hair in basins of water and cleaning out their noses. A practice he says they did everyday.

The Sagas

The poem Hávamál, sayings of the high one, indicates that washing hands before meals was an accepted custom. It also indicates that important meetings such as the Thing prompted extra efforts towards cleanliness.

In the poem Völuspá, Odin refrains from washing his hair as a sign of mourning for his slain son Baldr which indicates that regularly washing his hair was his usual practice.

In conclusion far from being dirty savages the vikings were unusually fastidious in their attention to personal hygiene and grooming.

Just for fun and larping Amazon carries a replica viking comb made of bone:

The Origin and Meaning of the Word “Viking”

We derive viking, or vikings, from the Old Norse word vikingr. In Old Norse it referred to sea-voyagers particularly sea-borne pirates and raiders. The “vik” part comes the Old Norse word for a bay or inlet. “ingr” is a suffix that indicates being “from”, thus “vikingr” means “one from the bays”. Naturally sea voyagers and sea-borne raiders would be coastal rather than inland people.

Today we tend to use the word for all the nordic people of the Viking Age. So we may call a sword of a design common at the time of the Viking Age a “viking sword”, though vikings would not be the only ones to have them. Also not all the nordic peoples were vikingr.

It is the sea voyaging of the vikingr which define the age we call the Viking Age.

longship
A vikingr longship

Necessity is the mother of invention. Thus the geography of Scandinavia may be a particular cause for precipitating the great developments in the craft of sea travel which is distinctive of the Vikings. The land is harsh and rather poor for farming. This increases the relative importance of fishing for nutrition and so also make coastal dwelling especially desirable. Moreover the coastline is exceedingly ragged, featuring deep inlets called fjords. These fjords considerably lengthens journeys by land for coastal dwellers by forcing indirect routes. This makes journeys by sea relatively more efficient.

The people with whom the vikings interacted either as raiders or traders probably would not have used the term viking to describe them. Anglo-saxon sources refer to the raiders as the Danes. While those that settled in the British Isles were referred to by the place names of their settlements such as York.

Hnefatafl – A viking board game

Hnefatafl, which means “fist table” or possibly “king’s table”, is played on a square board similar to that of Go. Invented in the 4th century it seems to have gone out of fashion by the 12th century. Probably displaced by Chess.

Unusually for a game of this type the gameplay is highly asymmetrical both in terms of game assets available to the players and in terms of the win conditions.

Hnefatafl
The game of Hnefatafl

Gameplay

At game deployment one player, the defender, sets up in the centre of the board with a king piece centremost surrounded by around twelve minions. The opposing player as the attacker has a force of twice as many minions but with no king. And he deploys his forces divided equally on each of the four board edges. To win the defender must safely escort his king piece off the board at any one the board’s corner squares. And in contrast the attacker must capture the defender’s king.

The scenario is very likely a simulation of an assassination versus a bodyguard action. Alternatively it could simulate an insurrection.

Players take turns, moving one piece at a time. The pieces are constrained to only horizontal or vertical rather than diagonal moves. A move may be of any number of increments. Akin to how a castle or rook moves in chess.

Also like chess it is a game of attrition where players capture and remove pieces rather than add or return them, which results in an ever diminishing number of active pieces as the game progresses.

Players capture enemy pieces by surrounding them on two opposite sides by adjacent pieces. Clearly a simulation of a pincer movement.

Beyond that the exact rules of play are lost as the surviving sagas which mention the game do not detail in depth the exact game play. It is very likely that the rules varied considerably from one place to another.

From the 19th century to the present day new reconstructed rulesets have been developed to fill in the gaps enabling the game to be played again.

The game also appears in the The Vikings TV series.

Further resources for Hnefatafl