The great work the Lions do is something I have to tell you about. It is my Christmas effort, and it is a great story. There will be a donation link, be warned.
I had cancer.
I needed driving. A ‘Lion’ drove me. Each day I would be picked up and taken to my treatment sessions. Each day I would chat with the driver if I could. I was pretty ill. Sometimes I just looked out of the window.
One day I asked him what else he did and he spent the journey telling me the amazing experience which is the Lions.
If you read on you may sob.
I thought there was just the York Lions, no, there are Lions everywhere, and I mean everywhere. They pay to join and that covers admin, so every penny you ever give goes to help others.
They do three things; local care, international care and international rescue.
Now I am no expert, I am a storyteller. It has been said that I mine people for their stories. So I am telling the story of my journey and what I heard from the driver. I am telling you what I remembered said.
You are getting the whole thing, so do hang on for the bit about the fish (if you want your guts wrenching and your cheeks irrigated).
You might have seen Santa in the streets with cheesy pop and a sleigh; that is one aspect of the Lions fund raising.
As for the local care, I was told that they get letters. A neighbour has visited a frail old lady who she discovers is no longer able to use her hob top because a saucepan fell off a high shelf and smashed the glass surface. My driver tells me how he popped round personally (by arrangement) and assessed the situation. He went out to a local supply shop and paid for and arranged the fitting of a replacement.
Beverley Lions. I said they were international. If you go in the stunning Beverley Minster around Christmas time you will see a donation bucket at the foot of a Christmas tree which is covered in lions. Those lions have been hand-knitted by the lady who got the new hob top for her cooker. Every child helped in the Beverley area gets given one of her lions.
A letter came in; Can you help the lady across the street from me? It turns out, this lady is on her own with two autistic children and they haven’t been away in a long time. Beverley Lions arranged them a holiday.
B.L. thought it only right to inform Scarborough Lions about their impending visitors. S.L. met them off the train, arranged all their transport, paid for all their activities.
Did I mention international care? Each nation has a responsible task; bedding, tents, heat, lighting, you name it. In Britain the Lions raise money for water purifiers. Put anything in, water comes out the tap. Twenty litre containers with a long renewable life which can take the foulest dredges and give the gift of pure clear water.
I think I promised to talk of international rescue. Lions are everywhere. If there is a town or a community in any place anywhere there is someone there seeking to set up a Lions. They truly are international.
If there is a catastrophe the local Lions have been trained and equipped and they go out of their work and go to the spot; that could be Beverley, Green Bay, Guatemala. They are there, and they are there first.
My driver tells me that they get there and do things. They shun the media, he tells me you will hear of the Red Cross, of international government aid, of many organisations. The Lions were in there unnoticed doing what was needed.
Do you remember, or have heard of the Tsunami? That huge wave which destroyed lives, communities, nations as it swept across a huge area of the world, it wiped out several clubs of Lions who were in its course.
Lions from around the world contacted Lions in the nearest vicinity. “What do you need? The answer was replied to and responded to. £30.000 was sent to ever local area which had survived. It was received within 24 hours. Each group had enough to buy a fishing boat. They went out fishing.
Those Lions were busy for weeks, because the next morning they turned up at a devastated island and said here’s a load of fish.
They kept fishing as long as people needed help.
Follow the link to Lions International to make a donation or join up. Your area and the world need you.
Visiting Viking Attractions: An Idea Swap, ‘First Draft’.
(Book mark it or save the URL now for you will want to come back and back.)
So, here I am back in Blighty. Bit of a rest-stop before it all starts again.
This isn’t a travelogue,
I have a feel for something a little more intellectual; an idea swap. There are ‘transferable models’ out there and we are the experiencees.
I have called this the ‘first draft’ because I just know you all have ideas to share.
When I say all, I mean Viking related peeps; if you are coming from other directions or none Viking ‘attractions’ OK well we would like to chat with you too you poor little things.
Think of this as a Birth-Product for we know there are ticket buyers out there and we want them in – and besides, gosh, we are engulphed by our own enthusiasm.
You hobbyists you.
Er, sorry, Vikings. x
While I was at Njardarheimr my good friend Christof took me to the
It was a wonderful experience.
Gaius Cornelius Tacitus wrote of the concept of farms as a commune, Karl the guide in Njardarheimr says so, and so does my friend Susan who lives on er, well a farm.
An expanded community almost in the same way as villages in Britain etc.
The farmhouse gets longer as we add people on. The square of the building becomes, er, squarer. The farm.
A Viking-age cultural development still relevant today.
Voss Folkemuseum came from such a community development.
We had a lovely time there. It wasn’t ‘populated’ like Gudvangen is, but on the other hand it felt good to be free to roam. We shared the experience and did so in our own time and in our own space.
Not all of the things we spotted and liked on the farm would have been used in the Viking age, yet share them I shall. You may know otherwise, or ideas may come from them.
One such thing which I loved was the work-stool; a stool yes, but with an extra bit to slot tools in, be it crafting or carving.
Another item of furniture I loved to see, but they were probably 18th or even 19th century, were the giant cradles or cribs which were for adults; sort of like box beds and wonderfully decorated.
They were free standing but reminded me of the fitted double-bed bunk (with the cute foot-hole ladders) you find in your typical ‘Viking Hus’.
Skipping over to the Njardarheimr town for a tick, I am reminded of the words of a visitor, (from Hungary). He was very moved by the sight of the bedroom in the chieftain’s hall as he recalled that he had slept in one just like it as a child. Except that he said it was higher because the potatoes were stored under it.
Back to the farm:
Containers:- In Viking areas we tend to have buckets and bowls aplenty but I was struck by the widespread selections of larger containers. Huge amounts of water would be required on a daily basis. There’s a lot of sauerkraut. Liquids would need storage. Drinks would be fermented.
Ale or wine, mead, all would need barrels, big bowls, large kettles, massive buckets, (massive).
In medieval times they fermented lighter ales as a way of purifying water.
All that water would need transportation too.
We enjoyed going upstairs, exploring different levels, down into the dark. Such activities may be less practical in Viking age constructions although, surely, they had barns and other farm buildings.
I will talk further on this in the Viking section as this idea of exploration can be developed for children’s activities.
The big one for us was saddles, they had almost too many! I believe they were circa 1750 and onwards but they reminded us of Norwegian saddles of an older period. Viking-age saddles and tack would be a great addition for Njardarheimr.
Another feature I noticed was the rounded edge planks which retain some of the shape of the tree trunk; walls made of such were very atmospheric.
They had chickens. We got chickens. Although I note ours are more free range. That I guess is to do with the fact our place is populated (and cockerels wake people up). More on the widespread songs of the cockerels when you get to the Njardarheimr section below.
We loved the photos; grainy old atmospheric images full of folks of such character. These often are sent in, copies offered, bequeathed. They are of the age of course, plus they didn’t have cameras in the Viking period that I know of. Vikingesque areas could have displays. All the attractions we are looking at have distinctive areas which are more modern; cafes, galleries, ‘meerkats’, lots of methods.
There could be scrolling big screens in cafes and dining areas.
People like to send in photos and footage.
They like to do art too. People, artists, kids. Send us that stuff.
Why not even an international arts display.
More scope on this below.
This is an area which not only would benefit from a touch of research to see what there is out there; it also could be a good cooperative venture with ‘sister’ places.
Talking of display areas; the farm had a separate children’s area, well, it was one of the actual buildings and it was set aside for activities (not actually moved aside of course).
One thing that struck me as being a great idea in there were the benches and tables. They were lower. How empowering. You go in, there are things on the tables, the kids sit down. No having to be lifted up or being supervised climbing on. They sit straight down. They weren’t so terribly low that it was too uncomfortable for the adults but were low enough for most children.
On the tables were a couple of sets of cut outs. One set was historic figures to dress up. I was reminded of the dollies I used to cut out for my sister from her Bunty comic. And the others were buildings to cut out, colour and glue.
Great for those underused Vikingesque areas.
The Jorvik Centre in York has a great selection of activity sheets; colouring in, quizzes, games, which also might be useful as a transferable model.
Some of the photos of the farm depict children in period costumes. So there must be dressing up opportunities and presumably re-enactment days too.
The management for the farm museum expressed interest in working more closely with Njardarheimr.
This could only be a good thing. Co-promoting comes to mind, perhaps forming sister sites. Certainly visits and sharing ideas and issues would be useful and could also be used as reason for media coverage.
Norsk Høstfest, in North Dakota was an amazing experience. It is a gigantic festival with 1100-plus stalls / display areas and many stages. The whole thing has a Scandinavian theme, and I am going to concentrate on the one area – The Viking Encampment of course.
There are three areas within one; to the right as you enter from along the covered walkway there is the stage, café and activities, to the left of this is the village, (again all indoors), this area has around a hundred stalls and tents all providing activities, sales or displays, there is an outside area too.
(Tim has kindly corrected me here, as my perception doesn’t reflect the accuracy of the way it is all organised – “The building we use is two different areas, the Viking Village and the other is the Tromsø Cultural Village, where the stage is, but we share the performers and presenters on that stage,” thanks Tim.)
I understand there were fight re-enactments outside but I didn’t see any of that myself, I did see tug of war.
There were two forges demonstrating bead making which was captivating to watch,
and a food area. I was fascinated by the different foods being made although I didn’t get to try any. The blacksmith display area showing different stages of the process of working with metal was intriguing and the blacksmith kindly let me share images with you all.
(Tim has kindly reminded me that the blacksmith with the ore display is Daniel Kretchmar (Danr) and the other Minnesotan blacksmith is Doug Swenson.)
People visiting were certainly interested, the crafters indoors were all kept busy demonstrating and interacting.
The friendly Norwegian Forest Cat was very popular.
I had a small area in this section for storytelling to small groups when I was not on the big stage and True Thomas had an area in the children’s activity space, (“He paints images directly into the mind.”).
The stage itself had a big screen and had a constant flow of acts and films. I was delighted to see the film on the Stamford Bridge tapestry which I had recommended. There were moving presentations on the Sami culture and concerts by Sami singer Stina.
There were samples of foods to try, I would have liked to have seen a more café-bar style with a menu widely available so visitors could drink, dine and watch shows.
I loved the alternative pallet seating.
Felt making was very popular, as were all the activities in the children’s space, (might it be better to say ‘family space’? I enjoyed being a kid again).
Troll Island was a highlight for me, and a very transferable concept. I love models and this was a model of an island, intended as a display base, but I enjoyed it in its own right. Perhaps if Gudvangen were to take up such an idea we could have a model of a fjord settlement.
I found all the trolls delightful and so did everyone. If this was to be utilised in our settlement in Norway there would need to be some adaption. IE eyes made of natural materials or beads. Imagine what could be done with beads. Another way to adapt this would be to have kids create buildings, fences, structures; clay, sticks, natural materials. Possibly populate this village with little clay people and animals.
Folklore and troll would be great to talk about at such an attraction and would influence the model making.
Imagine the films and photo shoots that could come of this.
That’s my kingpin idea that is.
It is worth noting that the Vikings got very well looked after, drinks constantly available and hot food turning up a couple of times a day; this was none Viking and in an area not open to the public. It was quite nice to sit and mix away from the hubbub; lots of networking going on.
I got biscuits and gravy with creamed potatoes and beans. There at times was such as pizzas, fried chicken, hotdogs, lots of salads.
They had set aside time to be available, to check on how we were all doing. Yes we were very well looked after, lifts to and from, including to go shopping.
The main reason they were free to support participants was because all the work was done. What I am saying here is that they were very well organised and had been working ahead for a long time. I got a distinct impression they were very good at learning from the past, “Ah yes that situation….”
This all gave time to laugh.
UW-Green Bay Viking House
I was excited to get to see the grindbyggning, (built and then later donated by Elspeth and Owen Christianson) and there it was in the grounds of a very large beautifully rambling university.
It is a phenomenon. It is a marvellous piece of work. It is more than this. It is a concept. It is a hope. It is a symbol. It is a way of being.
It is real atmospheric inside.
I am quite staggered by it. Yes it is wonderful, but it means so, so, much more than itself to everyone involved.
When I say involved, gosh, I don’t just mean the local Uni community, I don’t just mean the local community who want to make mead, I don’t just mean the myriad of groups and funders, I don’t just mean us crafters, I don’t mean historians, I don’t just mean the head of history, I don’t just mean the original gifters, nor the whole host of internet observers, I mean…
Oh, I don’t know what I mean, because the future hasn’t happened yet. I do know you will all be in it, and I do know there is a future, I know in the depth of my heart that it will be even more wonderful than it is now, even more magical, even more participatory, even more… (OK you get the idea). I do know I want to be there.
Want me to tell you an individual story of involvement to get you all wound up? There’s loads of those.
Mariah the Jarldriss in Waiting. She does so much. She does so much with her car. She does so much with her cauldron.
Do you know, I think I might want to suggest that everyone steps back at this point because she is bubbling.
Who knows what is coming next. I am not even sure that Mariah knows. It is all going to happen, and you are all going to be drawn in.
Historic joinery is not what it is about. Mariah is. No calm down Adrian, people are. All the people. The enthusiasm. The village in the mind.
It is happening.
Skaldic skills are growing fast too. As well as doing shows in the house, er, hus, we had a ‘Share’. A story circle. Adrian’s Alþingi.
We created our death poem for Bragi to recite when we head to Valhalla (or the Viking-age afterlife of your choice).
Then everyone told tales, all sorts of topics were covered and different periods in history. It was fascinating.
One of our friends, who came to everything we did and is now a regular participant, made notes throughout each telling. She had gone away armed with ideas. I am sure what is coming out of her at ongoing gatherings is totally different from the source (me) as all our minds work in inimitable ways, and she is a wonderful, unique individual. I was thrilled to hear Professor Sherman describe her recently as Erica the Viking House Skald.
There are people who should be thanked for this amazing experience, (See I still can’t quite bring myself to say it is a building, because it has grown beyond). Elspeth and Owen Christianson, two people who have a farm and they had a building and it came here, simple yes – wonderful too. There was a lot more to it than that. Their marvellous creative genius and generosity propelled a sense of Vikingness into thousands to come.
There is a wonderful guy to thank, he generously funded the process, making the establishment here possible.
There is a university to consider.
There is Professor H Sherman. She is what did it, made it what it is; it happened.
These are no sticks in mud. There is Heidi.
If you happen to walk by Green Bay in your travels of the world make sure you go by Heidi. Go explore the very concept of Viking heritage. There is a concept of Vikingness and it is called Heidi Sherman. No sorry I got a bit carried away and ended up that I have got it a little muddled.
There is a historic building. There is a complex of structures (three to date), there is a community. There is an invitation. (It is Heidi who makes it all happen.)
Wander by and discover.
Go meet the Jarldriss (Apparently students named her – Jarldriss Flaxblood Soul-breaker, but at least we can be thankful we are not students)
When I talk later about the way ‘Chieftainness’ has developed in Gudvangen; the way respect has played such a great part. When I talk of such, I will be talking of here.
Georg once received a letter through the post addressed to The Viking, Norway, he got it.
When I talk of such I am also talking of here – UW Green Bay.
For there is the same concept of love, respect and power developing for a pure and good soul here as there was twenty three years ago when my chieftain stepped onto the ground which got to became the Viking Valley of Norway.
A community of love and giving developed around my Chieftain. He became such a chieftain because of them.
And so will Heidi.
There is a Viking community growing, building by building, concept by concept, artefact by artefact, in the grasp of her delicate fingers.
I can see it.
Go now while it grows.
Go again once it has grown.
When we shape from wood we become.
Go see the amazing building and area now for there is far more to come.
For we are Vikings.
And that is not just wattle.
There were amazing responses to my activities and I thoroughly enjoyed myself, plus the company was smashing, I think perhaps the most valuable aspect was utilisation. My skills were studied, my background researched, my energy levels considered and then I was utilised. Often places have an idea of what they want and they get you in to do it. They will probably have seen my work and think, ‘We want that’.
Here though more diverse aspects of my persona were delicately cherry-picked. I ended up doing all sorts of things.
It was a brilliant experience to do the National Railroad Museum; and it was a sell-out – over capacity. I actually performed stories of my late father’s on what would have been his birthday. I was thrilled that my niece and her husband were able to come over from Rockford to be there as an enjoyable sort of remembrance.
Out there in the world of blogs and internetting Heidi saw that I was the son of a steam engine driver (who had written his memoires), and that I was also the son of York’s first ghost walker (my mum). So she teamed these aspects up to have me create a show. It was so fulfilling.
I mention blogs; they can perform an extra service. I wrote a twelve-blog series on how to be a storyteller (link below). This was there beforehand for anyone to see, it was there for preplanning and it is there as a development area for the future.
Footage of my performances is to be shared. The ones from the jobs for Heidi have had great responses and the films of my show on trains and ghosts is to become part of a web feature on the high-profile Railroad Museum site. There is also talk that this will lead to requests for shows at other railroad museums and attraction across America.
Think of the publicity such coverage brings in for the relevant attractions. Anything of this nature is worth considering for your attraction, word spreads and any diverse opportunities are, well, new opportunities which give the media the newness and fresh angles they thirst for.
We need to ask – What skills and experiences do our workforce or potential workforce have to offer?
I am reminded of the theatre group I work for – We Are Theatre, they too can see beyond what you are, bringing you opportunities to reach a greater potential. Something challenging and new to you that as you start doing it you realise it is a just right thing for you.
This is one of those transferable models I keep banging on about.
There were of course the classes. There were classes mixed together. There were suggestions of themes. There were adaptions. There were interactive activities. Half a group listened to a story and then the other half came back in and listened to me; they then had to tell each other the tales they had heard.
While each group was out they had to jot down aspects of the Volsung Saga which went in a hat and then I improvised a story around a character.
We had discussions and skills and techniques which could be utilised after I had gone.
We will adapt further in the future.
I also did a show in the library theatre, thus bringing in different parties and individuals. This allowed me to cover different themes.
Something we would like to expand for future visits is interaction with Native American parties. The comparative work between different cultures and different perceptions was enriching and enlightening. There is loads of space for a similar interaction between Vikings and Sami people.
Another thing which will come from this is a coach trip to Finlandia (I didn’t know that was a place, I thought it was a vodka you see in duty free.) The very first Finnish Viking festival in the US. I am thrilled to be joining a coach to go and perform there.
A lot of the people who visit Gudvangen are exploring roots, and connections, or links to past life experiences, and many other inspirations. Here so too. In Green Bay though there seems to be more of a feel of organised groups, societies. For example, the fascinating group the Sons of Norway, (more women than men I noticed).
Other attractions could foster this sort of visit. Events put on especially for certain societies. Research needed.
I am very grateful to good friend Rob Wildwood of jelldragon.com for introducing me to Tim of Norsk Høstfest in North Dakota and Heidi of UW-Green Bay Viking House it has all lead to so much, especially great relationships.
Njardarheimr Viking Town, Gudvangen, Norway
This is our Chieftain’s dream, alright so it has been massively supported from the outset years and years ago, and it is a marvellous cooperation of local businesses and investors. This place isn’t funded by Government, Unesco, the council, charities. This is the Chieftain’s dream made real by the spirit of those who bought into the idea with their hearts.
What is it. There has been a market (or festival if you like) for at least fifteen years, there have been events, there have been visitors. Now. It is a Viking town. In an amazingly short time a town has been built. A small few people have found the way to make this happen. It was a massive battle to get permission and atone opposition, but it has happened.
If you go visit (and politely ignore the hidden half-built entrance way part) you will think you are seeing a full town. No there is as much again to come.
It will double.
Winter and summer our chieftain has watched every step, (and the hotelier has watched every digger and crane – he won’t thank me for that).
Why is Georg Chieftain? Well, a long time ago he decided that if he was going to be making this thing happen then he had better declare himself Chieftain.
Why is he still Chieftain?
He is not Chieftain because he is strong.
He is not Chieftain because he is tough.
He is Chieftain because he is loved.
That love is strong.
He will tell you himself that it is all about love. He feels it strong yes.
There is another factor. Thousands of people love him.
So it works.
It is wholeheartedly, overwhelmingly, undeniable.
The aspects of Chieftainness which I have alluded to in earlier sections. Those of you who do so very marvellous at running festivals and attractions do not always realise, or admit to your selves, that it is love which is the lynch pin.
You care and people care about you.
This is lesson to be learned Numero Uno.
This brings us to; please have this sword syndrome. “I have made this sword, please will you have it” Georg’s home is filled with gifts and collections. An accumulation of respect and service.
Carpets, ceremonial bowls, gods and horses.
I mainly mention this because I foresee how this can develop elsewhere.
Let us see some of the items to help us see how that other hall across the pond might become adorned.
One thing I have found to have far reaching effects is our incense burner. Coming from Poland for a pre-visit to bring Georg the gift of this beautiful piece of brass work, the lovely couple brought him the very first one from the mould. Modelled on one found in a boat burial in Norway it will have been used by Asatru (or Pagan) Vikings and then later in Christian ceremonies, it had originally come from a middle east area so will have then been Islamic. So this ceremonial device has been used by three main belief systems.
When it was the big market I went around to each tent or stall and explained that my Chieftain had instructed me to utilise the pine, charcoal and myrrh fumes to bless each area. As I swung the burner upon its chains everyone was visably moved and emotionally effected by the experience.
We parade. Each morning we parade with drums, chants and horns around the tents and buildings to the stage for the opening speeches. Incense wafted along as the burner was carried by Christian, Asatru and Islamic people in turns.
I have even told this story via video link to an Islamic leader upon the request of his cousin.
People are finding their roots here in all sorts of ways, here at the home provided for us by Njord; the fjord is dedicated to him and this is thought of as his land. He oversees us from the seashore and every year his statue is blessed with mead and recited to.
This is the longest, the deepest, and in one place, the narrowest fjord and a tall runic stone is planned to dedicate these facts. We plan to proclaim.
Njardarheimr is populated. People actually live in the houses (and some other onsite accommodation btw). This is a living village.
I am telling you about all this to help each other get fresh ideas so all attractions can develop. I am not telling you all of this because I am any sort of expert, and certainly not as any type of official spokesperson. Indeed I ask now that you all react. Send me ideas, further info, news and developments. Let us all help each other.
When it is the market it fills up even more with several hundred Vikings in tents.
You can come.
There are those of us who are employed here. Working in reception or retail, delivering historic walks and in the case of Georg and myself, presenting the great hall and telling stories.
There are also people living here for periods of times for various reasons. These are the Freemen. Robin for example comes over from Californian for a week or two at a time, lives as a Viking, crafts as a Viking and generally chats to people.
Ravn runs Ravnstova (link below) as a more of a professional service; outfit commissions, textile sales – as well as demonstrating dying and candle making. Conner and Audhild create jewellery and other metal-works on site and have a stall to enable them to ‘thrive, survive and live Viking life live’. Jenne weaves and supplies food. Karin comes with her kids to live and share.
There is also the Viking group with many members Njardarlag, they come and live and work and entertain – and all as volunteers.
Get that concept into your head.
(Well, in a gender-neutral way)
As well as many wonderful activities and offerings Karin and her two also bring the cats. A wonderful addition to our extended family. (More on animals later.)
Another category of visitors of course is the tourists – the mainstay, the raison d’être.
They are what brings in the money. When I say the place is all about the people, it also includes the tourists – you get some amazing people. Folks can be massively affected by visiting us.
When a Mexican teenager sits back down and says, “You are the best thing about my whole summer in Norway,” you know you are doing something right.
“We are going back to Minnesota and going to have a long hard think about how we can make our lives as fulfilling as yours.”
Another wing is what we call VIPs – this mainly just means that they have arranged for a private dining. There are other aspects to it, they might want to come after 6 when there is just them. They might even want Einar of Wardruna, or stories from me, or Krouka playing. They might want a big party. Torill is willing to be open minded, enthusiastic and adaptable.
There is another type of visitor lined up. Residential parties. Part of the new building program (it might be all done for all I know) is what is being referred to as Warrior Halls. Two great big halls where groups can come and stay. These could be organisations, reenactors or school parties – as long as they will live like Vikings, (during opening hours at least). There can be whole programs of activities for them.
Oh I am so excited about them because there are whole groups out there which deserve our contact and there are whole groups out there who wish for us to go and reach out to them.
Community is a timeless prospect.
While I am on new structures, I hear there is also going to be a stone round-house with a central fire-pit, I think it is being referred to as ‘the men’s place’, referred to, in a historic way. Is it possible that only men will use it? – Oh yeah like totally.
There will be developments in the arena of ceremonies, in the field of drama and the terrain of performance. I’ve seen plans for a more permanent stage facing the open playing area (see pics of the amazing Einar and uplifting Krauka) and many concerts will happen there, as well as in the huge Heidrun hall. I plan to do interactive dramas from that stage, where the audience act out according to my story points.
(We also do stories in many languages and this is linked to below.)
There is going to be a temple.
That was a statement which deserved its own line if ever there was one.
Now I know I have already stated that I am not in charge of anything. I have no power or valid opinion, beyond the fact that I signed myself up for a blog, but I will speak now: There is going to be a temple and everyone will be tolerant of each other.
There is going to be a temple and everyone will be tolerant of each other.
It will be a place of celebration, so I understand. We often have weddings, blessings, naming days, funerals; moments of life. Well bless Gudvangen, it is going to continue happening.
It is going from a holy hill with a couple or three statues, and me announcing spiritual Galda; i.e. from the runic inspiration of Lars Magnar, to having a temple for him to call you into.
There will be drama, there will be inspiration, there will be re-enactment, there will be the deeply moved, the past life, the happy to act, the incense swinger, there will be wonders to behold.
The entrance way complex will be completed real soon; with a café/bar, shop, display area and reception.
There will be other new buildings.
One day, one day, we will have a harbour.
I did say this blog is all about opinion from a verbose storyteller who has no power but just you stop and listen to what I say now.
One day, one day, we will have a harbour.
The Skald he has spake.
Or was that spaken?
People travel from one market to one market to another; this itinerant lifestyle goes on in Scandinavia from spring to autumn (fall) with crafting-up going on in the winter, (I think it is addictive), I have a vision about this, (in my optimistic way); this will happen in America.
Gosh for a powerless upstart I do keep wanting to proclaim about how I have spoken and therefore it will be. I guess that is the theme of this blog if you boil it down to ego. No, if you boil it down to Utopianism.
I have spoken.
Here I go again, carrying on…
Some of the stuff that works so so well at Gudvangen…
This is a blog about a writer / storyteller / personality (me) – who is funny: it is not a photo blog, there is text and it isn’t to supplement the art or photos, there are photos etc, they are not there to accompany the text, it is almost like they are separated ingredients ready to fry – but here for a first, and for a very, very, important reason, I am referring to a photo:- Write your name in runes.
A quiet stroke of genius. Write your own name in runes.
‘Now look I want to take credit for this because I bought the charcoal sticks.’ ‘No I brought the plank of wood – and the string.’ ‘I got the huge gift from the tannery we used some of for people to write on (with my charcoal sticks actually BTW).’
‘Now look will you two stop bickering in the Chieftain’s hut, it is like hearing some old couple.’
Oh alright – I admit – Georg was right.
It was a stroke of genius quietly put together and agelessly displayed, subtly offered.
Not only can you take part on the spot.
Not only is it done in a none modern way.
You can take a photo and take it away with you.
Think of it as a travel activity.
People love it when I suggest that.
Yes, Georg, it is a really great idea.
You can play Hnefetaflr.
The Viking Game.
You can listen to me or Georg telling you how it is played.
Many just love to hear about it.
“I am duty bound to inform you that there are sets for sale in the shop as you leave,“ usually makes them laugh.
Some want to play.
Georg is very good at being the opponent to singles.
Some will sit down opposite each other and play and play and play.
It is a very good job that we allow people to stay overnight!
Just discussing and looking at the runes is a great thing, people are fascinated.
There is so much to say.
I am so glad we just have the time to talk – and to listen.
We also offer a game, or just talk about it, that I only know from the medieval attraction in York; Barley Hall (You must go there – link below) so my name for it is of the wrong age, but, Nine Men’s Morris.
Folks like that.
There is a piece of leather on a table. ‘I got the leather and the charcoal to mark it up.’ ‘They are my precious playing pieces.’ – ‘Alright you two shush now.’
OK it draws attention – it is tic tac toe – it is noughts and crosses. It isn’t, it is earlier. You get three pieces each. The chances are you won’t get a line in three placements. Then you start moving the pieces one space at a time. It is really cookie.
We have the Lewis chess set (I am just randomly talking at this point so don’t think I am any sort of expert or even anything), I understand this is thought of as post Viking-age, but isn’t Lewis in Scotland, didn’t they have Viking kings till 1250ish. Way later.
The Vikings knew chess OK.
And anyway, it is probably from India or China, or wherever it was Snorri says Odin and the rest of the Aesir arrived from (cough).
Anyhow – chess is very popular. You pop out, you come back, there are two people playing chess. You start stories. They never notice you.
They go on for absolute hours.
Tacitus the aforementioned diarist spoke of runes from when he visited Germanic tribes. The Father of the farm chopped a branch and marked it with his own signs for the gods, (so we are sounding kind of pre-rune here), then he divined. So I have a bag of my own signs for the gods and I draw you one out.
I also offer rune readings, (Elder Futhark), and where people are happy for me to, I add in the crystal ball – scrying was of the period. The Jorvik Viking Centre have employed me to do readings for children, that was very interesting.
The runes could be compared to Ancient Egyptian symbolism; each has a meaning as well as a sound; Water, Birch, Riding etc.
The Jorvik Centre I believe still use the Elder Futhark, as do I, whereas in Njardarheimr the smaller set, the Viking runes are favoured. So one needs to decide. Runes are planned to be used for signage, so I will discuss this in that section.
More of an ornament or artefact than an activity but I just love Georg’s scales; especially crafted for him, and people love to see the engraved weights, they are a real talking point.
My chieftain has the aim, (and passion), that he will make some improvement every day, (perhaps that might be the main lesson of this blog?), and he had the blacksmiths create him an inverted L-shaped hook-stand to bang into his log-shaped table. On sunny days when we choose to bring all the activities outside this really allows the scales to look at their best.
Peter the highly-gifted bone-carver across the path has described us as a Viking-age theme park.
There are weavings hung down the walls, I would love to see them adorned with a couple of embroideries each. Such as the wonderful silks ones made by Nine Worlds Clothing, the best I have ever seen, (link below).
No I cannot talk of how great our coin minting activity is without tipping a ginormous hat to the Jorvik Centre. You have paid to come in, so extra revenue is a bonus, and we want activities don’t we, so you don’t charge a fortune. Having a path to follow helps too as so often you see people roaming, no dashing, straight past things.
Georg’s coin-making equipment is very popular. He even offers silver ones.
I cannot refer to the Jorvik Centre without talking about the flood. So we shall take a brief interlude from discussing the activities at Njardarheimr and visit York. I must tell you of what I heard. Now I am no news hound or anything, but if what I was told is on the button there are staff at the centre who deserve a medal. The reason it took so long to rebuild and reopen is that it wasn’t just floodwater that came up into the place it was something far fouler. The lower section flooded and I was told that a group risked their lives by going back down the stairs into the slightly higher section where the genuine artefacts were. Engineers took off a fire door and actually gaffer-taped it across the open doorway to hold it all back! It could have burst at any moment! The atmosphere must have been quite toxic too. Staff then saved all of the precious items.
I think we should tell the queen.
(BTW If I haven’t got all the details here I would be glad to hear more.)
One or two ideas come to mind from my experiences there. One activity I’ve been employed for is queue busting; from me that is fun characterful chat, others demonstrate their kit, and archaeology students demonstrate finds.
I frequently enjoyed borrowing interesting jewellery from stalls and telling a story related to it. People would often go over and buy jewellery as a result.
All this ideas swap business suggests to me that there could be exhibitions of regional finds on loan from other establishments.
Representatives from Viking attractions I am sure would be welcome in Njardarheimr, not just as ‘Freemen’, also to demonstrate skills and share information.
Back to the chieftain’s Home in Njardarheimr, Gudvangen, Norway and how it came about. It is real with objects in a home not in cabinets, with people in the beds!
It has a kitchen. We are especially grateful to the volunteer joiners who created this area. When you train in your craft in Switzerland or Germany you pledge that once you are qualified you will travel away and work for food and lodging (I think for two years). These wonderful people created many great things including the kitchen and the Hnefetaflr table.
Oh and the skittle castle. That has gone down great. Georg carved wooden figures to stand on it and folks love it.
We plan a larger castle for next year, to go in, and I am hoping to be able to paint it.
Other games include Kubb, Knutlegg and tug of war. I am not going to mention the Loki run.
Oh yes and axe throwing, (not hatchet catching) and archery.
Then there is fighting. There is competitive fighting, (in twos), there are battle enactments and there are choreographed shows. There is also Glima the wrestling of course.
That leads to dressing up. There is an area with mail and helms and weapons where you can don them for a photo. There is also an area with play weapons; wooden swords, shields axes etc.
Georg made me a three-metre spear and I started doing shield wall re-enactments with kids. They would line up against an imaginary enemy with me behind holding the spear between them. That was great fun and made for great photos of us stabbing warriors and horses.
Dressing up could be massively expanded. I would like to see more wooden weapons, a couple of saddles to sit on and lots of clothes for people to borrow. Fun for all ages and lots of memories to be made.
I also wondered about having a photographer. Perhaps a photo wall offering pics as you are leaving (like the ones when you come off a roller coaster).
Having a blacksmith’s shop on site is a marvellous thing. A great team of smiths too. We can all work and develop together.
All the kitchen fittings were created here. Hooks, nails, hanging oil lamps and bowl candle holders are all transferable ideas. Nails, it’s all about nails.
There is a great display of wares hung in the blacksmiths; fish hooks, knives, dozens of objects – nails! I love nails.
The annual market brings in hundreds of Vikings and of course many more visitors. Huge arrays of skills and crafts and goods come to us.
A whole series of events are programmed, worthy of far more attention and publicity. Entertainments, demonstrations, dramas. We also have always had a series of courses available. These can be a way to make it more financially viable for visiting experts and add massive value to the visit; needle-binding, storytelling, fight skills, many skills are on offer.
Story circles come fondly to mind, something we could bring back in the stone roundhouse perhaps. These tend to draw in teenagers and young adults too.
A new development for me at the 2018 festival was improvised storytelling, or perhaps more like poetry. Great musicians and percussionist joined me while I pulled one of my signs of the gods out of a bag and then we made up a piece with music and word and song. Wonderful experience.
This year I noticed that lectures were added to the repertoire. Women’s lives, Women at war, Viking-age music, and the Viking year were on offer.
As promotion improves and these activities are planned well ahead the amount of people who come especially for a certain course, show or lecture will greatly increase.
The historic walks are a brilliant feature, they are actually referred to as guided walks but I appreciate the history side the most; you come away from these historic walks with a greater understanding of the concept of Vikings.
I do wonder if these will change in the future, as the place becomes busier, (it is going to get packed out), that there will be members of the village stationed here and there strategically around all the different features and sites with visitors going from one to another. That is just a thought I am throwing in the pot and would develop on from what is already offered.
Visitors are international so guided walks aim to be so too; currently there are tours in Norwegian, English, Spanish, French, German, Latvian and Russian available most days throughout the busy season and I believe this will increase. I guess the majority of people who visit are able to speak and understand English so it tends to be more common.
Should there be Meercats? – Meercat is the nickname for freestanding information boards. I like the idea and think people will appreciate them and not think of them being out of place and out of time because they are expected and useful. I know Georg prefers the idea of only signs in runes to be more in keeping with the timelessness of living Viking style in the nowadays.
That thinking has led to the ideas of a treasure hunt, spotting runic inscriptions, plus a printed guide which tells you which runes to find for which feature.
The place has become more popular due to people developing an understanding of the place and getting the idea of how long they could visit for. As tour operators start to offer longer schedules and as publicity gets out to the people who may plan to come more and more effectively, people are able to stay for longer.
It is a genuine experience coming to Njardarheimr. It changes people. One thing you hear sometimes is, “Is that a real fire?” Many people have never seen one before and now suddenly they are being invited to sit by one. They can make bread to eat. They can mix with Vikings.
People take photos. People can be encouraged to share their photos and footage with the online presence. This is an area which could be greatly increased.
More could be done with art work, exhibitions, there could be art competitions, poetry competitions. All with galleries displaying them, both on line and in the reception area. Folks could pop in and out of the café/bar and end up watching for hours.
Just some of the ideas which have been bandied about.
The walls of the Heidrun hall could be filled.
This could even be tied in with the problem of guided tours in bad weather. Do you know when you go out for a meal, in a Greek restaurant, or a Thai place, right, and they have like 3D artwork on the walls – this makes me think that there could be relief images of the areas of the town along a wall so talks can be done inside. IE of the god statues., and the weapons
Highlights of activities must be the pottery and weaving via Marcin and Monika. People love their time there learning and they love the things they get to take away with them.
I am just doing some math – hang on – I am, nearly there with a new idea – just before going to hit publish – hang on – I am thinking – 3D displays – experts on pottery and weaving – put them together – what have you got!
I understand there is someone in the Green Bay area who does wattle and daub and I was thinking that might be something to be developed ‘ower ere’. Living sculptures, archways, and fences from something like willow are also exciting.
We’ve talked of large containers for storage, preserving and brewing etc, I also was wondering about the idea of buried food; fish and venison. (Get your muslin and your spade and then discuss.)
We have all already made a start on gardening. A great start. Collecting or buying plants of the period and of the area. So the outside areas are ‘growing’, becoming more real.
A thing that needs looking into is that it has been established that composting was done in the Viking-age and we might want to look into this. Of course this is a modern age and people living in the village will be concerned about the environment so will want to compost for the earth’s sake.
I love the peat walls which flourish with wild growth and greenery as do the rooves.
Ravn and others have demonstrated candle making and Holger has utilised old wax with moss to make candle bowls; wonderfully atmospheric.
Talking of composting leads to the topic of poo. We got chickens we have. In the future there may be more poo available as the range of livestock grows.
It is lovely when chicks are hatched, but a shock when they turn out to be male. I understand that currently there are plans to set up a second hutch in a different area. Residents will definitely be woken early, wherever their hut.
As I’ve said these chickens are free to roam and can be seen all over the town. This I hear, there is also a possibility of a different animal, I heard talk of there being a small friendly breed of Norwegian pig and two or three could roam around.
Cows would always be a no no because basically there would be far too much poo.
Cats we also have and as I mentioned above there is a breed of Norwegian Forest cat which might settle to roaming the town.
I wonder if sheep or goats might be a possibility in the future, or even deer.
We almost got rabbits, but at the last minute someone said that the Vikings only had hares. Personally I think no one would mind if we had rabbits, but would also like to know if hares might be a possibility, IE would they settle to wandering here?
(NB rabbits dont ever dig upwards, they dig down and along, so would proberbly stay.)
We do have horses visiting at times and this is something that would be popular as a more frequent occurrence.
Someone suggested pet polecats or ferrets in a hutch with a run, but that would have to be quite secure.
These are all things that need to develop along with the gradual increase in visitors to be sure of adequate staffing levels.
Any other suggestions?
You may recall how I had enjoyed clambering up and about at the farm museum, it gave me the idea for a feature for kids. Children like up, under, in and over. A Viking style equivalent of a climbing frame or adventure park. A forest. Buildings. A fort.
Talking of dark places, I have always really liked the idea of a sweat lodge. The building of it and the idea. A hole with seated sides and a pit in the bottom. A bender cover of leather over saplings. A nearby fire pit where stones are heated which then can be rolled in using big sticks. Very exciting.
There is much scope for a program of online activities and all events would benefit by lots of advance planning; this would also help fill time on the rolling displays in the entrance or café/bar. Attractions could run features on each other. IE wouldn’t a film on Njardarheimr go down brilliantly at Norsk Høstfest (or film and talk).
An online feature on how to be a Viking would be brilliant.
Examples of stories also, so Vikings can learn, skills too. People pre-armed and able to contribute.
I am very pleased to say that the great tour guide Mal Dickson, (some will know him best as Malcolm McAlister), has arranged to create a follow up to this guide. He has gathered ideas from others to compile a list of suggestions.
Many thanks to all who have supplied photos, especially my chieftain Georg who very kindly took images of many of the items I wished to talk about.
Gudvangen has a great set on how to fit in as a Viking. (“Everyone is welcome here except those who don’t make others welcome” Georg Hansen.) Policies have been developed on etiquette and authenticity of atmosphere so I am hoping to feature info on these in the future.
Thank you for reading all this way. I hope some of this is an inspiration for you and do enjoy the links below.
I have already been there, in other writings, in other lives, and these are the times. I am stood between Siw-Alfadis and Blathnaid-Brigid whilst Bjorn-Ole surveys the sea from the promontory, we are in Njardarheimr in Freyr-An’ersh’s Gudvangen Village of the Vikings. I am here with my heart. I am at once really here and yet also actually here in this dream.
My Gudvangen Dream Life IV portrays me already in a Viking-style life in Gudvangen where I am actually living as Skald to the Viking Chieftain in Njardarheimr Viking Town in Norway; in this blog version everything of myth and legend has become real.
Stay in place as followers to know what happens next; beware, nothing is made up, yet most of this is dream.
NB The names used are taken from those I have known but the characters added to them are based on other people I know.
PS Credits will be given for any writings.
PPS You can become part of this by sending me thoughts and ideas adrianspendlow @ gmail.com or by commenting below (as if you were there). A huge thank you to all those who have made suggestions and offered writings (there are loads half written up for the next one).
Gudvangen Dream Life as a Viking – Dream-time IV
We use the name Viking yet we are different, we are from different worlds, different worlds of thinking. We are together; I do not think like you. I do not think like you. I am Vanadís. I am Díser of the earth. Creature of the old ways. I craft. I drag the iron from the very earth. I tell stories. I tell stories from my mother tongue. Far away. We are all far away. We are all here. See how the spring shoots grow. See how the hammer is protective. I sew the Troll cross. There is little time to practice to survive. I swing the iron. We practice with long shafts. I see the Ramslurk grow. I see the mists and their foreboding. The children play. The wolf sleeps. Dream people; for we are a commune. Ships come.
Our chieftain, Freyr-An’ersh, respected as he is, he welcomes, while we judge and consider. They bring more skills. We flourish. We are what you call Viking and this is where we lie. Tread lightly as you go for you walk upon our heart.
Fires suddenly burn along the tall ways. Along the high edges of the fjord walls. The lands we hardly know of. Top side. Up there in the Sami lands; the seasonal lands of nomadism, they pay respect to us. They are watchers. They trade with us. They will come down soon as warmer weathers once faded lead to cold times before the hard freeze. They go somewhere else when it is all frozen solid. Some say they go to other worlds, some that they are always of those worlds and visit us through a veil, some that they cave-live for the winter, in the steep sides of uninhabited fjords where no one can observe their smoke.
They will come down for the final trade quite soon. Coming to us is the nearest they ever get to warm climes, and that is in the far end of autumn.
So the beacons burn. The ancient debt we receive for; the old old owing, yet how can we ever repay the repayors! They far surpass whatever it was in ages past that caused them to be owing to us. Yet the fire beacons burn when we are in need of warning. They watch from on high whenever they are in the heights of their seasonal hunting grounds. Their camps look down upon the fjord and they see ships come. So they light the beacon fires; one upon one upon run and light along the high ground; and we know, we know: of battles, or enemies, of returnings, of strugglings. A ship is coming, (or a leviathan). We shall not venture out to sea to see.
We shall watch. We shall prepare ourselves.
Bjorn-Ole stands the stock of blades and bows in the strategic places we have established. Our defences are in place.
Poppa-Varg, Poppa-Volva and the other children climb Yew and Maythorn trees back on the higher ground.
Warriors; Tor-Gunlodd, Brunhildr, Ailbhe Connell and Frode-T’or climb cliff sides.
There is an expected returning. There is a ship we know and love returning just as we hoped that it would quite soon. Nothing comes. The beacon fires up high should have brought a ship or result by now. Our Viking ones are overdue. The beacons must mean other than ‘Here comes your brethren returning’.
Our thoughts are that, there is a complication. Perhaps enemies assail them. Perhaps they are all dead. Perhaps they are sinking on their way home.
We do not know and Thorfinn Asmundsson will no doubt regail us of the tale in a slash by blow way after the settling of them; the hopeful settling of them. We wish and hope for a safe fare landing together if all return and blood is staunched; the fettles calmed.
A light, we see a light. Surely we do. Just a hint of a glimpse of a dot of a shine that amplifies within the mind into a massive talisman of hope. There is a ship coming, it has a light above. We peer in hope and anxiety. Down the long fjord we glimpse for real.
It cannot be an enemy shining one light. Many fires waved would be to intimidate us, but just one would serve as a warning and defeat the objective of the incomer; so this shall be our returning vessel.
One of our brave travellers must have climbed the mast with a flaming torch and is lighting the way. No, the light would guide them very little, it must be for us to see. They are letting us know that they approach. They must be a-feared that they may not make it, they are struggling. “Sail out, they are sinking,” cries Björk-Mari, “Board our vessel here at the harbour and sail out. Just enough to crew the ship, to row to their rescue.
“Yes,” calls Siw-Alfadis, “we may need room for them to board for safe return”.
The one light in the far far distance is standing now, it comes no nearer. “We must hurry, worries Jan-Robert.
Leif-Lasse leaps, “Row, row like the wind”.
“One of you must climb the mast with a burning brand so they know you are coming, to give them hope: for us to see also so we can hope,” Signy Volsungsdottir.
Long is the watching. Long is their journey. Small hands clench maternal hands. Our home ship is slowly nearing the returning vessel. Just in time perhaps we hope. But no. The far light is tipping. Slowly, steadily, heading lower. The mast is swinging. The ship is tipping. They are lost to us in some moments.
The home ship is nearing. Our hands are all gripping. We gasp. We cry out. We clench each other’s shoulders. They are, distantly from us, heading for the ice-cold sea. The nearer ship approaches them, it is traveling fast. They are rowing as hard and as sleek as they possible can. We fear that they will ram.
The one light steers beside the other light. We see the lower light lift. One ship has hit into the side of the other with its fast-incoming flank.
The power of the one ship arriving straightens the other. We see the flaming torch lift till both are the same height.
We can only guess the crew are pulled aboard. It seems that the lightened load of the suffering ship may well be enough to let her ride this stormed night.
There is no blood left in our fingertips, nor in our shoulders, or in our hearts. We can scarcely breathe for the holding of each other so very very tight.
“One ship is bringing both the crews and is pulling the other ship in too,” sighs Björk-Mari.
It is an age and an eon until those two ships near us.
The torch is gone from the mast of the rescued ship and eventually from the saviour vessel.
Our cliff-top warriors cheer.
Eventually they are home. Their ship is home.
There is much blood.
It was a battle at sea. A swooping pirate of the waters has attacked and followed and attacked again. Our ship, the returner, was valiant and saw their ship adrift and empty. The binding which held them while the crews leapt from ship to ship in battle were unloosed. And the empty ship went far adrift before it eventually would go down.
It may have been better to keep it. For our far-travelled ship was much damaged. It made it as far as it did.
The ship is home. Both our ships are home. The long-journeyed crew are mainly returned. Safe and back and families are reunited.
All is good.
This ship which returned did not remove its battle dragon. How could it do so. It is not a trade ship which returns. It is a ship of dragonhead. A serpent thing upon our land. Whether intentional or not. It has been accepted here with sign of war. With sign of mystical beasts. Of other worlds. The Díser are enraged. They abandon us. The land is cursed. Cursed. We all are cursed.
The land is cursed. The Díser leave us. All last growth dies. The new growth in the spring of tomorrows will not happen.
Our chieftain must journey to the land of the Vanadís. We burn the herbs. The juniper for the visions. We shall all sleep. We shall dance, we shall tremor, we shall sleep and some of us shall journey to the realms of the Vanadís and we shall tranquil them. Standing with our chieftain as he bravely speaks. He steps forward and declares. He acts for us all and his true heart is read, “We ask of the earth to return to us growth and plenty”.
There is a cost. In old old tales we hear from other lands terrible costs are paid; the life of the first born, the servitude of the next borne or other such heart-wrenching promises. Terrible things. We promise a terrible thing. We promise that one shall go from our midst to ever-serve in the all-time forever as a Vanadís, returning only at will in the when-ever and at times of need and of love and of celebration. Always over there though in the forever of the timelessness.
We shall not choose who will go though. We shall wait till one is willing. We will tell this tale for generation upon generation, the Sami at the topper-most shall also tell. From our midst and perhaps from theirs too shall emerge a chosen one; chosen by their self.
And they shall go. They will be the payment for the return of life to this valley. The Díser shall be welcomed back. The earthy ones who inhabit our realm in a distant way shall be here and the Vanadís shall be in their realm. With our daughter or son. They shall be ever watching through to ours.
That serpent beast-head upon the returning ship has taken a terrible cost and payment shall be forever. (The one who eventually went is still there even in your time as you read this and they are looking down upon us all.)
Lo the freeze times come and there is chanting, throat music, names of old old gods and beings, remembered ones; chanting, casting, renewing.
Hear the visitation from above. Down the goat path they come; the Sami.
Olga-Stina leads the dancing chant for all to add to. “We sing to lead.” “We sing to enchant.” “We sing to mislead.” “We have pipes of metal to suck back our kindred’s brains in revenge.” “Follow us if you dare, if you are of evil intent.” “Look you follower, a sharp drop off a cliff.” “Come with us enemies, we will keep ourselves safe by leading you, come, come, come.” They softly spookily chant, chant.
They come to trade. First. They come to work. They drag and dodge and massively bundled tree trunks dodge and slide and drag; behind, in front, by sides. They, harnessed, bring the wood they need.
They pile and build and burn and create charcoal, here in the flatter lands of warmer ways.
They bring the wood they need. They pile and build and burn and collect; resinous flowings. Twenty two trees for every trunk needed for wood work.
There had been a huge shadow behind each one of these shamanic nomadic visitations as they traversed down the steep sides in their ancient ways here in Gudvangen; with poles under arms they steered huge mountains to down here, to bring us furs.
There is, before they disappear for winter’s hard of hardest times, a trade, a final trade.
What can we give them worth their trading, worth their skills, worth their service?
They have charcoal for their forging, resin for their building, praise and thanks for their service to us. They have worked well high above and have aplenty.
The crunch and the green and the fruiting of the lower lands. We have lived a summer; they have lived a harshness.
We have a year’s worth of preserves for them. Some still fresh too. Some in sealed leather.
Food up there freezes, here it ferments, when buried (gravved) we dig for them and they guzzle like it is fresh; they chant and then eat more.
Have we a feast for them. “Come join us.” “Come feast”
“Talk of fermented, here is brew you yearn.”
High nethers never yielded such dairy. Milk; they glug. Yogurt with honey they laugh and laugh with joy. This is a feast of many things, the largest of which is joy. Joy.
We have pledges to renew and enjoin.
Then there are bounteous gifts. You from the high lands have done us so much. You are promising so much. We will be united in the blessing of the land which the Vanadís have renewed. We shall be united in the pledged of promise to these Dís. One of you, one of us, will agree to go.
We have a yield to share amongst our two types of humans and a yield to share from our world to another world; the world of Dís. We commemorate this as promise. This is an eternal gift and true true all-world promise.
Boots we have. Bounteous harvest too. Much-folded swords. Treasures; Coptic and Islamic. Gold in bent shapes, and coins. Coins with many pictures amongst them. Jasper. Jade even. Dying materials gathered for this trade. They ‘yeep’ at the colours they can make. They almost wee at the thought.
We give them arched strong bows.
We cry now for they return the wool we shared. We have a holy gift for them we have held back, held back. Here first is the return. Wool. Uncarded it went and spun it returns. The Sami they spin.
They sit and they spin. They walk and they spin. They talk and they spin. They ride and they spin. They spin.
Them Sami can spin,
We have bounteous return for them. We have worked hard over the years, over the seasons two results. One for us. One for them. We own, we have a result from our shared spinning. We have to give… A blanket.
Thus is the strength of our gift.
It will be spring-time and gone by you know this yet here is the winter gathering. The fire. The mjord. The time of tellings. Of sharings. “We gather now and hear,” declares Poppa la Princesse Une fois.
“Let me tell you of a clear blue sky,” our Sami friend now relates, “and then of a terrible sudden downpour; from an empty sky it came, till in a blink, well everything was soaked and covered. Then the strange thing happened. In that instant out of the warm blue it froze. Everything frozen. A bush, the rocky mountain side, for I was not quite at the top. The stream, the moss upon the stone. Everything was silver. Completely silver. Even myself; I had to shake, twist, to break free from it and drop thin sheets down upon the ground. In the time it takes for chick to hatch it was gone and everything was wet and damp. The sky was just as blue and clear as ever”.
“I have been down below there, nearer the dim waters – in the almost always dark,” relates Finley Mac with his woman by his side, “As we sailed out I saw things, well, a thing; it was big and it climbed. It climbed so far then it leapt. As slopes turned to crags it needed to leap to gain purchase, but all of this was fast, very fast indeed. I don’t want to know what I think it was, I don’t want to hear myself say it aloud, but it was grey, it had long arms, long legs, a big knobbly head. I almost wish I hadn’t told you”.
“Indeed, it was huge…bigger than a tree and then it climbed in no time,” Linnea-Ingeborg whispers, “Hundreds of feet it jumped and he told me late one night in the sleepless dark how he saw the space between land and sky where the dark bulk left the ground…”
“There was something on the way back,” says Olafr-Andreas whilst staring outward.
“Who looked out, we were sinking!” wonders Frederick Steinsson.
“No there was something.”
A few listening shudder and quietly groan; they were obviously looking too.
“It had wings,” continues Olafr-Andreas, “No it was wings; wings of shadow, yet with strength. There was nothing else though. Just the wings. They were slow and strong and ponderous, and they were close to the steep stone sides; low over the water. Travelling forever.” “Wings.”
“There was something else terrible travelling back with us!” outbursts Kjell-Toffe, “A man in a skirt!”
“It is a kilt”, proclaims Collum McCull.
“Well, you are from the far north, even norther than the north lands; just below the ice,” spells out Johnson.
“You are Pictish,” points out Patrick.
“It is better than Elvish!” chips in Myrull-Ylva.
“Or silky!” remembers Olve-Daan.
“Or from the realms of rain, begorra,” winks Ragnhild.
“We renamed your Pictish land after us doon forget; Land of the Scots, doon forget that means Irish,” laughs Blathnaid-Brigid.
“Irish? Eh, O, OH, Aye?” laughs Collum McCull.
“Ah yes the land of little men and rainbows,” adds Lars-Eirik.
“The place where the women came from!” Blathnaid-Brigid interjects, “The scribes”.
“That is another story,” adds Add ri An.
“Hex yer, hush noo, ahn look yee tiv the skirt of the monn will yeee,” winked Inga-Idun.
“Take the blame you sailors of all Viks,” declares Hin-Mann, “All the north and all the northern lands are of the Viking in ouradays, look not to stilltocomeadays or longgoneadays I ask you to awaken promptly. All is Norse, deal with it”.
“Kjilt inne Norske Yeh,” laughs Meretha-Silje, “Pleat the material. Look yeh at hoo affluent you look. You are a Viking if you are terribly proud.” “Aifter you.” “Aifter you.” “What yer doing pushin in yer grunta?!”
I heard the dying words of Atle, “it started here”.
“Eermm ok… once upon a time”, starts Björk-Mari, “there was a very commanding Viking chieftain named Hrollr. His village was very powerful and other chieftain would travel from afar to pay his respects in the hope that Hrollr and his army wouldn’t wage war upon them. They would bring Hrollr their most prized treasures from raids from all over the world! One day, a Scottish chieftain by the name Glnockie came to visit and he brought with him the most exquisite wool from the Highlands. Hrollr was mighty impressed with the quality and beauty of the tartan and ordered his most prestigious seamstress, Njaela to stitch together a tunic that he was going to wear during a blot and in honour of Glnockie.
Njaela was ecstatic at such honour bestowed upon her and immediately began cutting the fabric, despite it being dark – so she sat down by the fire and began her work. As she was almost finished, a tiny spark from the fire caught the fabric and in front of her eyes, half of the tartan vanished before her. She knew that the chieftain would certainly have her blood-eagled for this, so she called upon Loki to help her.
Loki had travelled far and wide in his eagle-guise and had seen many strange things however, he quite fancied seeing the two chieftains at war so he began telling Njaela a tale of how the most powerful warriors in all of Midgard wore “half skirts”. Thinking that this would surely impress the chieftains, Njaela began sewing a “half skirt” and added, bedazzled it, with jewellery and a bag with the most beautiful hide she could find.
The next day, her chieftain, Hrollr, called upon her and asked her to show him the tunic. When he saw the “half shirt” he almost exploded from rage until Njaela was able to explain to him that all the greatest warriors that Loki had seen in Midgard, wore those but that this one was the most exquisite of them all. Upon hearing this, the chieftain put it on and entered the feast, presenting his “half skirt” to Glnockie.
Glnockie was so impressed by the “half skirt” that he immediately asked Njaela to make him one too – which she of course did! Upon arriving back to the Highlands, Chieftain Glnockie became a fashion icon and all the clans in the land followed suit.
The Vikings however, quickly discovered that the cold didn’t agree with the half skirts, so the trend never really caught on here.”
“Or so it is told.”
“I came here from even farther away,” tells Bjorn-Ole, “My family were traders and travellers so I was born and bred upon the road and have never seen my homeland. I learnt of the letters though, and so I have written. I sent my ancients letters in a message to be sent to my grandparents in our faraway land”.
“Ah yes I have seen those pictures that you write which are like complicated runes,” adds Nils-Harold.
“They are our letters. I dimly remember how it is done from being a child and Add ri An commanded that I should send word. I will never be able to visit as it is so far away and I am a Viking now. If I could visit I would take sore eyes to my grandparents, but as it is I have sent the letters at the command of the Skald. He said I should say that they could congratulate me on being a good soul who knows their own path and is strong. I told him (didn’t I Add ri An) that I would be too blushed to say so even in writings. Yet he commanded it and Blathnaid-Brigid she also insisted that it be so. Mind you she also suggested I ask them to send us some silk!”
“Let the truth be known at your homes Add ri An told me and I admitted that his command was my command (‘Wise old man that you are,’ I added with a wink)”
“Hahaha he agreed reluctantly what a great honest skilled respected wise man he is who is strong and we are proud of. and he eventually agreed to say. Ah no come to think the wise bit was about me,” laughs Add ri An, “Say that a wise man said, that’s me. He promised.”
“What a noble errand indeed,” is the final word of Blathnaid-Brigid.
“Eh, it’s a good yarn,” smiles Teresa-Linn.
“I recall that when I came here I asked what the white stuff was on the tops of the mountains and now I am sending word of how well I am thought of here.”
“Your grandparents will have sore eyes,” adds Lis-Ravn..
“Wood-smoke fills us, fills this place, it will clear it will clear.”
“Tears are smoke,” acknowledges Tyra av Rafnsblõt.
“Tears are smoke and a sea trip will cheer us,” states Linnea-Ingeborg..
We sleep and as we wake we see the distant Sami climbing. These creatures are fond of welcome; fearful of a goodbye.
So, after feast leftovers are filling us to break our short sleep fast we recall the pledge of line and net to cast.
To net and line and catch and gut and clean and work together.
“A fishing trip, a boat outing, a pleasure to cruise among the fjord walls which in places never feel the step of man,” announces Linnea-Ingeborg.
“Lars-Eirik claims to be the only human to have stepped ashore at every one, (he does fish from his dugout often),” laughs Loke-Daan.
“Pale skins may have stepped there, but often it is as if my feet are the first ever human feet to stand a being tall upon these hidden inner lands, yes,” says Lars-Eirik.
Skirts are held. Arms are held. Ship bows are held.
And tensions, as we gaily step, are released.
This is a ship trip.
The waves skip.
More coming in than river ripples outwards. They bring a mix of clemency.
And we are ripping out.
A turnabout, we feel the drift, the tide within the turn within the burn; is going out. We row anyway. Sails in fjord waters are for gentle sessions or sheer emergency. We seek wider pass where half-rig will tender bob us on. While we sojourn.
Light twinkling on the facets of the stone sides gives a promise of spring,
“And while we idle,” muses the Johnson, “let me intrigue with a riddle…”
“Ooo yes we like a puzzle,” enthuses Svanvhit Smedsdottir-gjenfødt.
I am your ally on the hunt
But do not walk with me
Lest I be warning to your quarry
Eye glaze and there is quiet for a while.
Others will think longer.
“I shall tell my tale,” says Bjarki, “For this journey reminds me of many,” he says as he sits and spins.
“I went to Hildrgard, beautiful Hildrgard,” he glances fleeting to the side, “and I told her – I had made a lock and attached it to my dwelling at the other side of the by, then I untied the key from my belt and offered it to her.”
“He clearly was asking me to move in with him,” chips in Hildrgard from her rowing perch.
“But you wouldn’t would you.”
“I moved in,” she added, “I said I wouldn’t be with you because you had nothing.”
“I cannot help being an orphan; a victim of chance, war and plague.”
In a stirring of mail across towards the prow T’or-Gunlodd asides, “Balder wasn’t there for you was he.”
“No T’or-Gunlodd there was no sense of family for me,” agrees Bjarki
“Never-the-less,” states Hildrgard, “your uncle left you the house, the small house. The blacksmith Svanvhit Smedsdottir-gjenfødt taught you how to make the lock and you still owed her for the iron, not to mention for the lesson.”
“I pledged to pay the blacksmith in the same way I pledged to pay you; a future promise.”
“I wondered how you could ever repay of an equal value to such pledges. Then I learned you had arranged to go Viking.”
“So Hildrgard, you arranged to move in.”
“I agreed to move in on my own, then, when you returned, if you didn’t return dead, I would let you in if you brought treasure.”
Bjarki turns to the crew, “I came back with nothing. Nothing but an agreement to go again.”
“That wasn’t good enough, but I did admire your determination. I couldn’t agree to anything until after your return as you had no skills.”
“I used to watch my mother spin.”
“And on this ship, I asked him, there are times when you just sit?”
“Yes, yes.” Bjarki eagerly nods as if still in that moment.
“Then, I said, take this wool and this spinner and then we will see.”
“Few of us returned alive, all of us with nothing.”
“Except you, you returned with sacks of yarn. It was nearly enough for me to let you in, but not quite.”
“Then you had another idea, and I had planned another adventure.”
“I asked, when you are in foreign lands, do you sometimes sit by a fire? You said you did so, so I said, if you return and you have dyed this yarn I will accept.”
Bjarki looked proud, “I returned with blood-red yarn…”
“And treasure as well my love.”
“Armour and two swords!” beamed Bjarki.
“I made those.”
“And now you are my beloved Bjarki Famed Fletcher.”
“And father of three!” grins Bjarki.
“I am looking forward to the goat hunt in the spring,” smiles Tove-Marie.
“I less so.”
“Why would that be Add ri An?”
“I clambered the old path by the Galda Cave and through the forest came a whole pack of wolves. They were running, running wild for the sake of it. They brushed right past me. One stopped, she was a large silver-grey she-wolf. She hissed breath in and out of her teeth and it sounded like, “Rieka Sølvulven runs with wolfs,” and then they were gone.
Among the very mixed reactions is a sharp intake of breath everyone looks round, they are relieved to look away from Add ri An.
Olafr-Andreas speaks, “As I was about to die upon that tied battle ground at sea I saw a shadow of that famed she-wolf and the tide turned – the tide of the battle that is – I heard the shadow as it fell upon him say, May you feel the burning of a thousand suns as they rise at one upon you. And then I stabbed”.
The eerie silence is broken, “Perhaps once the returned ship is repaired it will be time to build another,” suggests Leif-Lasse.
Myrull-Ylva speaks, “This can be a good opportunity to be a fighter Viking for a big and rich chieftain. Maybe he will allow me to go to Gardariket also. Then I will fight for the big sultans and be rich me too. And then, I can go wherever I want after that. And get my own army of ships and Vikings. I can see me standing there with the big kings and chieftains, with sword of the best blacksmith in our known world.”
“I am a big rich chieftain,” proclaims Freyr-An’ersh.
Happy laughter bursts from all.
“Back to enjoying the boat trip,” Linnea-Ingeborg.
“We are not doing much fishing,” adds Poppa-Varg.
They all laugh and look around.
As the boat gently bobs, their chieftain Freyr-An’ersh adds, “It is enough to know we have worked so hard. That we have enough of everything. To be thankful to those who gave. We move onward in our town in happiness they earned for us. Parties are not the only way to happy. Nor are stories. We are a story. We are taking a boat trip and it is fulfilling. While there is light enough.
Take time to feel the bobbing of the rhythms.”
Poppa-Volva chips in, “Oh look it is time to turn back!”
“And so we return to sleep till spring,” adds Thorfinn Asmundsson.
“Ha you wish,” musters Tyra av Rafnsblõt, “This is when the work starts”
“Oh I long for spring,” sighs Blathnaid-Brigid, “Where I am pleased to know we will witness little miracles growing all around. I am sure we will, I am sure we will, and am so very excited.”
Footnotes and Credits
The element of the story where one ship props up another in a fjord rescue is based upon the real-life memories of my sister-Norn Sigrun watching out for family members returning upon a fishing vessel; hers is an extremely moving tale to hear.
Thank you to my chieftain Georg for the story of the dragon head and the Vanadís.
The traumatic effects of burning the fruiting juniper branch come from the book Legal Highs.
The riddle is the first of a few I shall feature and come from a small book of Vikingesque riddles by highly skilled bone-worker Peter Merrett (and I am sure many of you will wish to add comments below).
Thanks to my good friend Grethe-Irene for her tale of the warrior Viking.
The natural phenomenon of the ice rain in the Rockford area was brought to me by my niece.
Thanks go to Judson, Atle and Holly for discussions on kilts.
I could look it up, and perhaps I will, but there is almost no need of history, we are history, we are re-making it as we go along. Let ‘What is a Skald?’ be answered by what is needed of me.
Some of you are, like, yes but what is a Skald? I am storyteller to the chieftain so we can start from there.
Fame and respect I suppose. A storyteller and or poet would be noticed and enjoyable. They would be thanked loudly as well as being responded to as they go along. So it was with me I guess. I did many a performance in many a place before I was asked to be Skald. Poetry and story and most importantly, a mixture.
So audiences were aware of me. Any passing chieftains would be able to see that…