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Viking Saga - Newsletters by Donald Hansen

Vol. 1 No. 1

Vol. 1 No. 2

Vol. 1 No. 3

Vol. 1 No. 1

 

In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson proclaimed October 9 as Leif Erickson Day. President Clinton renewed the proclamation in 1999, but little was done except for local celebrations. One may wonder why it is that we celebrate Columbus Day and St. Patrick’s Day but largely ignore Leif Erickson Day. The answer was suggested to me by an Italian friend in New York who said “we Italians and Irish have better PR than you Nordics!” They parade and some take a day off (maybe that’s it!) while Leif languishes.

 

What is so important about Leif Erickson that we should celebrate him? Here are some words from President Clinton’s proclamation, which sum it up well:

 

“One … remarkable individual was Leif Erickson, who led a small, intrepid band on a voyage of discovery across the Atlantic from Greenland, arriving on the coast of North America … 1000 years ago. The courage, resourcefulness, & fortitude of Leif & the other Viking seafarers foreshadowed the strength & character of the many Nordic pioneers who would make the voyage to America centuries later. Building new lives through hard work, they also helped build our Nation and sustain our fundamental values of freedom, justice & democracy.”

 

Leif was the first European to land in North America – 500 years before Columbus. He established a colony in Newfoundland, L’Anse aux Meadows, although it was short-lived. Leif was the son of Erik the Red, a Norwegian who was banished to Iceland for a crime and then moved to Greenland with his wife. When his wife demanded that Erik convert to Christianity, he decided to remain with the old pagan religion and was banned from her bed though he continued to live nearby. Their son Leif Erickson did convert at the behest of King Olaf I of Norway. Celebrating Leif Erickson’s landing in Newfoundland over 1000 years ago is usually a matter of “personal virtue” to paraphrase a contemporary politician.

 

In Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota, Illinois, Colorado, California, Nevada and Washington, it’s an official state holiday. Here in Washington State, the governor signed a proclamation in 2007 to Lief Erickson Day an official state holiday. The Viking Trader has worked vigorously to make it happen. Will you do the same in your state? In any event, please honor Leif Erickson each October 9 as the man, and his shipmates, who first came to the new world from Europe. They did not discover America, nor did Christopher Columbus 500 years later, as there were people already in these lands – who didn’t seem to want to be “discovered.”

 

 

A replica Viking ship sailed triumphantly into Dublin’s harbor on 18 August re-enacting the arduous 1,000 mile journey Scandinavian warriors made more than a millennium ago. This time, there was some towing with the rowing and at last report, no pillaging. Owing to extremely violent seas, the ship was towed 345 miles across the North Sea.

 

The 6-week journey of the “Stallion of the Sea” left Roskilde, Denmark, sailed around Scotland and into the Irish Sea, retracing the path of Vikings who invaded Ireland. The 65-man crew was overjoyed upon arrival. Capt. Poul Nygaard said, “Tonight we celebrate in an Irish pub.” Danish Minister of Culture Brian Mikkelsen chose the occasion to apologize for the Viking invasions of Ireland (perhaps after some time in the pub?).

 

The 30 meter (100 feet) Stallion is a replica of a Viking ship believed to have been built in 1042 in Glendalough, Ireland. Traces of the wood from the ship, excavated from Roskilde harbor, were matched with similar wood from Glendalough. The Danish craftsmen who built the replica in Roskilde used Viking-era tools.

 

Learn more about Viking ships including the Sea Stallion from The Danish Viking Ship Museum  www.havhingsten.dk

 

 

In early September on northern Gotland Island, Sweden, a house owner dug in his small kitchen garden, as he has done for 20 years. He turned the soil upside down, and left it as usual until next spring. But a heavy rain in the night turned into a fascinating discovery next morning. On top of the soil, cleaned by the rain, were two silver coins from the Viking Age!

 

The discovery of the two coins led to an archaeological excavation, and it uncovered a well preserved Viking silver hoard, consisting of at least 54 coins. The hoard is rather small to be from Gotland, the great Viking Age East-West trading center, but it contained some remarkable Swedish coins together with English, German and Arabic coins, minted for King Olof Skötkonung from Sigtuna. Two of the coins were a type that had been previously found in just one other place (coins number 42 and 50, found in Poland). Further excavations will be carried out soon by Prof. Dan Carlsson of Gotland University.

 

A small hut of one’s own is better,

A man is master at home

A couple of goats and a corded roof

Still are better than begging

 

– From the Hávamál (words of the High One, attributed to Odin)

Compiled in Iceland in the 9th Century as maxims for the Viking to live by.

 

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Vol. 1 No. 2

 

The first recorded Viking raid was their sack of the Anglo-Celtic monastery at Lindisfarne, an island in NE England, AD 793. The Anglo Saxon Chronicle said:

 

"In this year fierce, foreboding omens came over the land of Northumbria. There were excessive whirlwinds, lightning storms, and fiery dragons were seen flying in the sky. These signs were followed by great famine, and on January 8th the ravaging of heathen men destroyed God's church at Lindesfarne."

 

This is acknowledged as the beginning of the Viking Age (and it was probably in June, not January, as the Vikings would not have sailed in January).

 

There have been centuries of debate about this. Duddo, a priest in Normandy around the 13th Century, said it was because of over-population in the Viking homelands. The 13th Century writers of the Icelandic Sagas thought it was the tyranny of those in power which caused mass migrations. The probable main causes were that available farm land was limited by growing populations together with the search for wealth in goods and land plus the imposition of strong royal power. Piracy gave bursts of wealth, but only trade provided a steady income. You might want to read the novel-like Icelandic Saga of Egil Skallagrimsson, poet, warrior and farmer who defied the Norwegian kings.

 

There are 851 UNESCO World Heritage Sites and 32 are in Scandinavian countries. One of special interest is the “birth certificate” of Denmark on the Jutland peninsula, the Jelling Mounds, runes and old church. The two rune stones erected by the pagan king Gorm The Old in the 900’s are the first notation of Denmark as a nation. His son, Harald Bluetooth is also mentioned.

 

The wireless Bluetooth technology is name after Harald Bluetooth who united the dissonant Danish tribes into a single kingdom. The name Bluetooth was introduced by Jim Kardach in 1997, who developed a system that allowed mobile phones to communicate with computers. At the time he was reading the historical novel titled "The Long Ships" by Frans G. Bengtsson which is about the Vikings and Harald Bluetooth. This gave him the idea that his wireless technology which unites communication protocols into a universal standard was much like what Harald Bluetooth did with the Danish tribes.

 

The Bluetooh logo is a ligature of two runic glyphs from the Younger Futhark, the runes used during the Viking Age. The runes Hagall and Bjarkan, which represent King Harald's initials were merged together.

 

Be a friend to your friend;

match gift with gift;

meet smiles with smiles,

and lies with dissimulation.

No need to give too much to a man,

a little can buy much thanks;

with half a loaf and a tilted jug

I often won me a friend.

 

– From the Hávamál (words of the High One, attributed to Odin)

 

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Vol. 1 No 3

 

Norse raids on Ireland began in AD. 795, on Moorish Spain in AD 844 and on Wales in AD 851. That’s only the beginning – they treated many others equally.

 

Jörgen Johansson, Site Manager of the Ale Viking Age Farmstead in Sweden has done considerable work in re-constructing how Vikings heated their houses and avoided dying from suffocation. His crew built air channels under the floor to lead outside fresh air into a central fireplace, using authentic stones found in house remains. The fireplace is hollow and airflow is regulated with small stones leading air directly into the embers. Smoke goes upward, not into the fire, and is exhausted through smoke openings under each gable of the house. Jörgen concludes that the fireplace and air channels inside of the re-created Viking house are authentic and that the system gave a comfortable indoor temperature quite safely.

 

 

“He stands alone on the earthen floor, his face red in the firelight. He wraps his cloak.. around himself and, clearing his throat, he allows his eyes to sweep over the assembled crowd. The story begins. The characters, the time and the place as he leads his listeners into a different world. A world of heroes and monsters, of myths and legends…moments of suspense, high drama, deep despair and sheer joy… . The audience claps its hands and stamps its feet as he takes a modest bow and returns to his seat for a well-earned drink.”

 

The art of the storyteller is ancient but who now would sit still for a storyteller? Despite the attractions of modern technology, the tradition is alive and kicking worldwide, and nowhere more strongly than in the Northern Islands of Scotland (the Shetlands, Unst, the Orkneys). Islands’ stories and legends reflect the influence and prevalence of Norse Viking settlers and their beliefs and superstitions. The remoteness of the Islands allowed them to retain their Norse culture despite contrary efforts by a succession of Scottish overlords. Storytellers in the Islands now participate in the EU-sponsored Destination Viking Sagalands project which is now forming connections between storytellers in the Northern area.

 

The first Vikings to undertake ocean voyages were sailing into the unknown. But the 12th century Icelandic Landnámabók gives simple instructions for sailing from Norway to Greenland:

 

"From Hernar in Norway one is to keep sailing west for Hvarf in Greenland and then you will sail north of Shetland so that you can just see it in very clear weather; but south of the Færoes so that the sea appears half-way up the mountain slopes; but on, south of Iceland so that you may have birds and whale from it."

 

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