Charlotte has one close friend. Unfortunately, that close friend lives in Norway, and Charlotte has never seen her before. A cosplay convention in Oslo is Charlotte’s chance at finally meeting her online BFF, but when the masks come off, Charlotte is in for a big surprise.
Did you know that a Viking would wonder what you meant if you called them Viking? They used the word viking as something you did—you went viking when you traveled out to fight, conquer and raid—not as something you were.
Today we use the word Viking to describe all Scandinavians who lived between 793 (the attack on Lindisfarne) and 1066 (the battle of Stamford Bridge). Some use rounder dates and say from the year 800 to the end of the 11th century.
Facts – what are our
It may come
as a surprise, but we actually know very little about the Vikings compared to,
for instance, the ancient Romans.
The Vikings themselves were an oral people. That means all their stories, their tales, their religion and their communication was by mouth. They wrote very little down—at least very little that has survived until today.
did write down were runes. You may know them as these odd symbols that look
vaguely like our letters but are almost impossible to read. The runes were seen
as magical and something one made for very special occasions. We have runes
that show the birth of Denmark as a nation, we have runes that celebrate people
and achievements, runes from thralls who became free men, and runes we just
don’t know the meaning of.
don’t have are Viking texts of any length that tell us anything about their
lives, their history or their religion.
We do have
the Sagas, the 29 Icelandic Sagas, the king Sagas, the religious Sagas and all
the other Sagas. They were long and detailed and incredibly interesting tales
about the Vikings. Saga means “what is said,” so they are supposed to be a
written version of all the oral tales.
with the Sagas we have today is when they were written. The oldest Saga was
written in 1120 and most of them were written between 1200 and 1400. That’s
quite a lot of years after the Vikings roamed the oceans. The Sagas were
written by Christians, but the Vikings only took the new religion fairly late,
and a large part of the Vikings believed in the Norse gods.
though we have quite a lot of Sagas, historians assume we’ve lost about 90% of
them. Many were lost during the Protestant book burnings. We may have lost
vital Sagas that could contradict or give light to the Sagas we do have.
have another historical source from Scandinavia: Saxo Grammaticus started
writing his enormous History of the Danes in 1185 and the Viking age played a
Saxo’s stories incredibly interesting, but you must take them with a grain (or
a Viking ship) of salt. Some are based on myths, some on oral tales, but
they’re all colored by Saxo’s main purpose, which was to write a “heroic tale
about the history of the Danes.”
Foreign monks and Arab
quite a few contemporary written sources, but none of them were from the Vikings
themselves. There are accounts of the doings and sayings of Vikings written by
monks and priests from what’s now Great Britain, by Arab travelers who visited
Viking settlements, and by people the Vikings were at war with.
these contemporary sources aren’t very flattering to the Vikings. If you have
Vikings breathing down your door, threatening death and destruction, you’re
hardly going to write an essay to lament on the beauty and strength of the
goes for the Arab travelers. They may not have been enemies of the Vikings, but
they did find Viking customs odd and different from their own. That certainly
shows in their writings.
Graves and other
but certainly not least, source is everything the archeologists find from the
Vikings age. They’ve found graves, ships, remains of houses and cities,
clothes, jewelry, and thousands of everyday items that show us a lot about how
the Vikings lived.
problems with all these archeological findings are the lack of information.
It’s not like a body in a grave will stand up and say, “Hello, I’m Olaf the
Handsome, and I was the Jarl of Kaupang. I have pots and pans in my grave
because I made a mean porridge when I was alive. My grave also contains my
favorite horse because I’m going to need it in Valhalla.” The graves don’t have
gravestones and we often don’t even know if the bodies are men or women.
archeological findings tell us that Vikings were very busy grooming
themselves—they’ve found SO many combs, tweezers, and even instruments to rid
their ears of earwax—but they tell us little about who was who and what
relation they had to one another.
archeological findings may tell us tales of the people who lived over a 1000
years ago, but the tales need to be interpreted, and those interpretations are
often based on the life and prejudices of the interpreter, namely archeologists
have found quite a lot from the Viking age, but what about everything that
hasn’t been found? Can we deduct that what hasn’t been found, doesn’t exist? Of
I was told
by a Viking teacher here in Norway (yes, we have teachers who can teach you how
to become a Viking) that they’ve never found Viking age pants. They’ve found an
older grave—from before the year 793—with a man wearing pants, but they’ve
never found any pants in Scandinavia that can be dated from the Viking age.
Does that mean Vikings ran around bare-assed? Probably not (I do have a vivid
imagination, though, and could imagine it very well!). It’s just that pants
have never been found.
teacher told me something fascinating: Men did not remove their upper body
clothing when they were hot. They removed whatever they were wearing on their
legs. So, all these romance covers with naked male chests should probably have
naked butts instead.
Blood on the walls. 300 to 500 guests. Three days of partying. Vikings made a blast when they celebrated Midwinter Blot.
The English word Christmas is closely related to the Christian faith. The Scandinavian word for the same holiday is Jul. The use of that word–or rather Jól–can be traced back to before Christianity came to the North. And back to before the Vikings.
So how did the Vikings celebrate Christmas (or Jól)?
According to this article (in Norwegian) Vikings probably celebrated Jól when the days turned longer–when the gods brought the sun back–and it was celebrated as a blót and a large party.
Blót was a sacrifice of animals. Everyone brought sprigs and sprayed the walls–inside and out–with the blood of the sacrificed animals. People were sprayed too.
Toasts were made to Odin for victory and power, to Njord and Frøy for a good farming year and for peace, and to Brage in the memory of lost friends. Blóts were also held at Midsummer and on other important days.
The party was probably held by the chieftain who invited all the local farmers to a potluck–everyone brought something to the party–and 300 to 500 people would party for three days.
Meat and beer were central to the party. The meat was boiled on fireplaces at the center of the party and the beer was poured generously.
The Vikings were an oral people. They did not write down their stories, they told them to each other. Parties like Jól would be a perfect time to captivate hundreds of people with tales of the gods and of conquests and great achievements.
Long and great poems would be told of kings, queens, jarls, and chieftains. Music and songs would also be a central part of the party.
The Jól party was probably held around the shortest days and longest nights of the year. In Scandinavia that meant very short days (in some areas to the far north there were no days at all) and very long nights. If one prayed to the gods they might turn the season around and grant longer days again.
We know today that the longer days will come back every Winter, but for the Vikings, there was always the fear of the Fimbulvinter, the harsh Winter that comes before the end of the world.
Mobility, knowledge, skill and the element of surprise. Those are some of the answers to how the Vikings seem to have won all their battles.
Viking researcher Else Roesdahl answers the question about why Vikings were so superior in battles in this article (in Norwegian).
“Archeological findings and written sources show that Vikings didn’t always win their battles,” she says. “Viking mass graves show that some raids went terribly wrong.”
Surprise attacks were important
Vikings did manage to raid villages, churches, monasteries and cities and one of the main reasons was their surprise attacks. Especially at the beginning of the age of Vikings, the element of surprise was incredibly important.
The Vikings also had a well-developed intelligence service so they knew exactly when and where to strike, according to Else Roesdahl. She uses the attack on Nantes in 843 as an example. Vikings attacked the French city just when it was filled with large crowds of people celebrating John the Baptist.
The Vikings didn’t always go back to Scandinavia for the Winter but would stay in Europe and attack when the opportunity came. That meant knowing more about the locals and therefore striking when the opportunity arose.
They would use inner conflicts and make their move when a country or a city was weakened by political unrest.
The men and women from the north were heavily armed and very skilled as it was a requirement for all men to learn how to handle their weapons, even if they were farmers and never planned on going to war.
It was also to their advantage that dying in battle was considered an honor and not something to fear.
Hair candles? Singing about an Italian saint? Lusekatter? It’s Lucia Day in Scandinavia today.
Every year on December the 13th you’ll see thousands of Scandinavian children (and adults) with white dresses and candles in their hair, singing the Lucia song in schools, kindergartens, and workplaces.
This is in memory of Lucia of Syracusa who suffered the martyr death in year 300. This is kind of odd given that Lucia was a Catholic saint–and the Scandinavian countries are very far from Catholic.
The Lucia song
I don’t think you can find many Scandinavians who can’t sing at least some of the Lucia song–the song we sing in the Lucia procession.
He broke her nose when they were children. Now he’s telling her to be his wife. Telling her, not asking her.
Borghild doesn’t have much but she has her honor. The only way to keep it is to challenge Eivind, the new jarl, to a holmgang.
Eivind is home from his long trip abroad. He’s laid claim to the throne, now he needs his childhood friend to marry him. Borghild is as proud as he remembered.
A challenge? Let the battle begin.
This was the blurb from my new short story The Challenge – a Viking Romance.
It’s a part of the great Historical Romance Anthology Kissing and other Scandalous Pastimes. Kissing and other Scandalous Pastimes has ten wonderful historical romances. All the proceeds go to breast cancer research.
I’ve been fascinated by Vikings since I was a kid. When I grew up in Scandinavia there was always another excavation site, another Viking festival, and a new piece of information uncovered about the proud men and women who roamed these lands 1000 years ago.
What fascinates me the most is how men and women had equally strong roles back then. Both men and women fought–men, probably, more than women–and women carried the keys to the family treasures.
Women could hold important positions. They could also get a divorce–and keep their fortunes when divorced–if their husbands were violent, if he was gone for too long or if he didn’t satisfy her in bed. Actually, the two latter were connected because “being gone for too long” meant “not being there to satisfy her in bed.”
Read more about Vikings on my blog
Read this blog for more random tidbits about Vikings–and modern-day Scandinavians.
Eversince the grave of a Viking warrior was found in Birka, Sweden, in 1878, archeologists have assumed it was the grave of a man. Because Viking warriors were all men, right?
In 2017 a research article with a genetic analysis of the person found in the Swedish grave was published. It turned out it was actually a woman they’d found.
Earlier this year the same researchers have published a new article about what it really means that it was a woman who was found in the grave and about how we shouldn’t make assumptions based on whatever was buried with the dead body. Women were buried with swords and men with pots and pans.
The original 2017 article received quite a lot of attention after it was published. Experts had assumed the Birka grave was a male grave based on the findings in the grave. The grave contained swords, shields and 25 arrows, which led archelogists to assume they’d found the grave of a warrior. And a Viking warrior had to be a man.
Wrong. The grave was the grave of a woman, but she was still a warrior.
Researchers assume this woman was a very high ranking warrior based on the number of weapons found in her grave. Of the 1100 graves found in Birka, this was the grave containing the second largest number of weapons.
We need to be careful about using modern gender interpretations when we look at how Vikings lived. Maybe genders were interpreted more fluently than today? Maybe everyone had more roles than one? Maybe you could live your life based on the social roles of the other gender? Maybe you being a warrior was based on how good you were with your sword, not what you had between your legs?
This is far from the only Viking grave where archeologists have made gender assumptions based on what was found in the grave. It’s also not the only grave where these assumptions have turned out to be wrong.
The most famous grave was probably the two people found with the Oseberg ship. Archeologists were baffled when they found out the two people buried in this huge and important way–they were buried on a ship that could still sail and the grave contained large animal sacrifices–were actually women. Immediately the women were said to have been the mother and wife of someone important, not someone important in their own right.
It wasn’t until recently researchers started asking themselves why this couldn’t be the grave of someone important in their own right. Why couldn’t one or both women be a great chief or a powerful religious figure?
We still don’t know exactly who these two women were, but the assumptions made about them, tell us more about how we look at genders today than what the Vikings did.
Have you ever been in a situation where you just wanted to shout “FUCK” at the top of your lungs, but you couldn’t do it for some reason? Try the Viking word Sorðinn instead. It means the same, but you’ll probably insult fewer people (unless you know a lot of Vikings – in that case, I need to come visit you).
You may wonder how that funny looking letter in the middle of Sorðinn is pronounced. It’s like a very soft D. Put your tongue between your teeth when you say the letter and you’ll have the correct pronunciation. If you chew on your tongue, you’ll have yet another reason to say Sorðinn.
Sometimes “fuck” just doesn’t do it. Your world has turned against you, someone has her sword against your throat and you need to call out something stronger.
Try Streð mik. It means fuck me and can be used in those instances where you need a stronger Viking curse word. Someone bumped your elbow and now you have mead all over your new fur. Or you were just beaten in a friendly holmgang. “Friendly” – Streð mik!
Now we’re calling out the big shots. The old god Thor is being called upon and you don’t want to do that for any old thing that angers you.
Við hamri Þórs! means by Thor’s hammer and as you probably know, Thor has a close relationship to his hammer. Choose that Viking curse word only for the tough situations, like when your ship landed in the wrong fjord and instead of some weak monks, you’re up against warriors armed to the teeth.
You’ve probably noticed that this Viking swearword has another foreign letter, but it’s an easy one to pronounce. Þórs = Thor’s. Þ = Th.
I’m not sure I dare mention this Viking curse word. It’s a really sad one and can only be used on the very special occasions like when that easily conquered enemy turns out to be the one slaughtering you and your men and women.
Við dauði Þórs! means By Thor’s death and it almost breaks my heart to type it out.
Let’s move over to a few nicer Viking words that can be used without the risk of anyone grabbing for their swords.
Framt means smooth and can be used whenever something is nice or even great. Like when the mead is sweet and the women/men are sweeter.
Flesk fellr í kál mín
Are you lucky? Did you get something good? Did you get the last mead–you know the drops where you have the most potent honey?
Here are the words you can use to describe your luck: Flesk fellr í kál mín.
Where do all these words come from
You’re probably wondering how we know any Viking curse words. Vikings didn’t write much down. They were an oral people, telling their stories from generation to generation, keeping their memories in all the stories.
The Viking stories were written down in the sagas, but that wasn’t until several centuries after the last Viking had died. The language used in the sagas did not include any curse words.
All the words mentioned here are words we imagine Vikings might have used based on what we know of their language and their way of life.
They’ve all been made for a very interesting Norwegian HBO series named Beforeigners. It’s about people from the stone age, Vikings and people from the 1800s who suddenly pop up in our world. One of the main characters is a female Viking who does curse a lot so they had to make up som curse words for her.
A review for the story Cosplay in the anthology LOVE IN BLOOM
My heart skipped a beat whenever I read a review where my short story was mention. Luckily, all the reviews were positive <3
Five star reviews for the anthology
The whole anthology had some amazing reviews. And I can certainly see why. I didn’t get to read most of the stories until after LOVE IN BLOOM was published, but I was amazed with how great they all were. Steampunk battleship captains, vampires, police officers, dog handlers and cosplayers all found true love in the spring.
One of the five star reviews for LOVE IN BLOOM
Another five-star review for LOVE IN BLOOM
Buy a book, support a great cause
LOVE IN BLOOM has been such a fun project to be a part of, especially for a newbie like me. I’ve learned so much from all the more experienced writers in the project.
It was also great to be a part of a project that can actually help people. Every cent we make from LOVE IN BLOOM will be donated to breast cancer research and that means a lot to me. Several of the reviewers seemed to like the charity part of the book.
Everything we make from LOVE IN BLOOM will be donated to breast cancer research
Cosplay – a Scandinavian romance
My short story, Cosplay, is about online friends who meet offline for the first time. It takes place in Norway, but the heroine is from Arizona, USA. She’s traveled all the way to Norway to meet her online friend, but how well does she really know her friend?
How well do you know your online friend? Cosplay – a short story by Thyra Dane