Mark Neumayer

author of the Valda & the Valkyries series

Tag: sagas

Viking: The Norse Warrior’s [Unofficial] Manual – Review

VikingManualI recently finished reading John Haywood’s Viking: The Norse Warrior’s [Unofficial] Manual and highly recommend it. The author covers basic details such as why a Norseman would choose to be a Viking in the first place, the various social levels in Viking times, weapons and tactics and the various types of Viking ships.

I like the way Haywood packs in a lot of historical information about life as a Viking and manages to do this without ever being stuffy. The whole book is written in a friendly tone that comes across more as a talk between friends than a lecture or lesson. There is a nice sections that breaks down the different countries of the world and describes them in terms of how hard it was to raid them and what kind of spoils you could expect to plunder there.

There are a good number of period illustrations scattered throughout the text along with some color photos of a modern combat reenactment group demonstrating some fighting techniques. While the book delivers a ton of information it also lists sources for further reading. John Haywood definitely has the pedigree to write an authoritative book on this time period. With Viking: The Norse Warrior’s [Unofficial] Manual he has written abook that is also entertaining.

Viking Smarts

Odin og Völven by Frølich

Viking society was not a literary society – they did not write things down to remember them. Instead the skalds, or poets, committed all of the stories and sagas to memory, passing them along orally from generation to generation. Lack of book-learning does NOT mean that the Vikings were not intelligent people. Yes, they were fierce warriors, but they also valued wisdom. Today I’ll be discussing some of the ways the sagas show that to be true.

The Big O
Let’s start out by talking about Odin. He is chief of the Aesir, ruler of the Norse gods. The gods are assigned areas that they oversee or control. For example, Thor is god of thunder and lightning. He rules the storms. So what area does Odin rule? Which attributes did the Vikings assign to their chief god? War, yes, but also wisdom. He doesn’t just oversee it in some aloof way, either. Odin actively travels the Nine Worlds seeking wisdom and knowledge. The sagas have many stories about his journeys. He often travels in different disguises, but all of the disguises share one common attribute – they only have one eye. Which leads us to…

Knowledge is Valued
We know that the Norse valued knowledge because their chief god was willing to sacrifice one of his own eyes for more knowledge. The Well of Mimir granted great knowledge to those who drank from it, but before he was allowed to drink Odin had to pay the price. He willingly sacrificed one of his eyes in exchange for a drink.
Odin also put the rest of his body through the wringer for the sake of learning. He once pierced himself with his own spear, hanging his body from a tree for nine days so that he could gain knowledge of the runes.

Flyting & Kennings
Flyting is basically a sort of insult contest conducted in verse. Kennings are poetic expressions that stand in for another word. (You would refer to the ocean as the whale-road, for example.) Some of you might disagree with me, but I’d like to argue that both of these are signs of a society that obviously values knowledge.
It takes brains to come up with a rhyming insult. We’re not just talking about two dolts standing up and saying things like “No, you’re ugly.” The saga Lokasenna tells us about a flyting which involved Loki, the Trickster.  There he just didn’t take on another god. No, one by one he took on almost every single god in the hall. The fact that this story was passed down through the generations tells us how such displays of intellect had to have been valued.
As for kennings, there are simple ones such as calling Odin Frigg’s-mate, but there are many filled with an inspired creativity that, to me at least, are signs of a society that revels in knowledge. Kennings even became multi-layered. The mouth could be called the Ship of Words which would lead to the tongue being referred to as the Tiller of the Ship. The second kenning doesn’t have an obvious reference back to the first if it stands alone. Yet audiences were expected to pick up on these references as a matter of course. You don’t hold expectations like that of an uneducated people.

Final thoughts
There is a bit of a popular misconception that the Vikings were all battle-crazed warriors. A little reading and study shows that to be decidedly untrue. The evidence of what they valued, as shown by the things they thought important enough to preserve through poem and song, show they placed a great value on wisdom and intelligence. We could do worse than to remember what we are told in the Lay of Hamdir – “That man lacks much who wisdom lacks.”

Sturlaug the Industrious

If you’re looking for a good, adventure-filled read, you should give the saga of Sturlaug the Industrious a try.  It is one of the sagas of ancient times or fornaldarsögur. I first came across it through the Norse sagas page on this site which has a nice collection of the legendary sagas translated into English. This 14th century story tells the adventures of Sturlaug, the son of a Norwegian hersir. (A hersir is roughly equivalent to an English lord. He would rule over the local area but owed allegiance to the king.)

In a bit of a twist on the usual order of things, Sturlaug starts off by marrying the beautiful princess – Asa the Fair. He demands her hand in marriage as payment for fighting a duel against Kola the Crafty. Asa is fine with this and even sends Sturlaug to her foster-mother Vefreyja for help in defeating Kola. The saga has magic weapons, sorcery, shape-shifters, battles and a quest for the horn of the auroch and then the story behind the Horn’s creation. The treasure is “fair as gold to look at” but must be handled with care since it is “full of poison and sorcery.”  You should definitely check it out.

Posted by Mark Neumayer

5 Sources for Learning About Norse Myths

Part of writing is doing your research. Not that long ago this would have meant hours spent searching through dusty shelves and traveling to different libraries. Luckily we have the internet now and some great resources are brought right into our homes. This week I wanted to share some of the online resources I used while I was writing my novel Valda & the Valkyriesand it’s forthcoming sequel Valda Goes Through Hel.  This isn’t meant to be an exhaustive list ( I have over 3 dozen links in my Norse reference bookmark folder) but it is certainly a great place to get started in your own studies.

The Viking Answer Lady
While there is information on this site about Norse mythology, the majority of it deals with various day to day information about the lives of the Vikings. Lots of good details to be found here about old Norse food, clothing, agriculture, warfare and more. Typical pages lay out solid information and give you a listing of resources where you can dig for more.
This web site has a lot of information about the Norse runes. But, to quote them “The runes are inextricably bound to Norse mythology. One who aspires to be a user of runes needs a working knowledge of the mythology and writings of the runic era.” So what this site has done is put together an incredibly comprehensive listing of god, goddesses, giants, dwarves and wights. But they don’t stop there, going on to list different kennings and references and just tons more good stuff. They break it down into an alphabetical listing starting here.
This web site covers many different mythologies with a healthy dose of attitude. If you prefer a little snark and sass with your Norse research is a good place to find information on over 102 gods, goddesses and various other creatures from the Norse mythos.

While there have been questions from time to time about the accuracy of entries on this site, there is no argument that Wikipedia is the go-to site for online encyclopedias. So it’s no surprise that they have a lot of information on the Norse myths. The articles are generally well-written and close out with further reading suggestions and links. There is artwork referenced in many of the articles and those from Wikimedia Commons are even in the public domain and available for use.
There is nothing like going straight to the source for your information. On this website you can find English translations of the Prose and Poetic Eddas along with many other sagas. Storytelling has not really changed that much over the centuries and the works found here are entertaining as well as educational.

Feel free to add any links that you’ve found useful in the comments!

Posted by Mark Neumayer

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