Friday, November 28, 2003

Moving on to learn about more of the gods that the Vikings believed in, I have decided to learn a little more about Loki (just as I promised in an earlier blog). Loki was half god and half fire spirit and was viewed as an evil giant. He represented evil and was smart yet devious and manipulative. According to belief, he was indirectly responsible for the death of Balder, who was the god of joy and light. It was also believed that he, teamed with Hel, the goddess of the dead, would unite to lead the evil forces in the last great battle against Odin and his band of slain warriors. Hel, goddess of the dead and the underworld, lived underground, and was the daughter of Loki and a giant named Angerbotha). It was said that Odin cast Hel into the realm of cold and darkness, which was also known as Hel, making her the chief authority.
I find that the more I read about their gods, the more I want to learn (and try to understand). The family tree in the gods' families is complicated to follow, which is why I chose to research a few of the gods. I found Else Roesdahl's The Vikings, to be very helpful in understanding this. Also the website www.viking-z.org/vikg.htm was helpful as well.
Now I have decided that in order to truly understand the Pagan Vikings, I need to know a little more about the gods that they though so highly of and today my readings have taken me on a journey to meet Odin and Thor. In my readings, I have discovered that the Vikings did believe that their gods were more powerful than man, but the gods were not all-powerful and all-knowing. Their gods had many humanly characteristics. The gods would fight and could be deceived and feel jealousy, but what sets the Viking religion apart from Christianity is the fact that the Pagan's gods could die. In this case, the world would die and be reborn, thus continuing the cycle.
According to Else Roesdahl's: The Vikings, there were two families of gods, the Aesir and the Vanir, the Aesir being the larger of the two families. One of the most important gods (if not the most important) was Odin, the one-eyed king of the gods. Odin was the god of war and of wisdom, poetry and magic. It was believed that Odin only had one eye, having given up his other in order to drink from the fountain of wisdom, Mimir. He was wild and unpredictable, always carried his spear and had an eight-footed horse named Sleipner, two ravens named Huginn (Thought) and Muninn (Memory) that gathered information for him. He resided in Valhalla (the Hall of the Slain) with warriors that were killed in battle. In the afterlife, it was said that they still fought as they would have on earth in order to prepare for the great battle with evil. The Vikings believed that one of the only honorable deaths was to be killed in battle.
Odin has three wives, all whom were earth goddesses. With Jord, one of his wives, he produced a son, Thor, who was the god of thunder. The Vikings believed that the thunderous noise across the sky was Thor riding his chariot. Like his father, Thor carried a weapon, his hammer, called Mjollnir. It was used similarly to a boomerang and helped protect the gods from the evil giants. To make a connection to Christianity, the Vikings wore the hammer symbol as one of Christian belief would wear the Cross. Now days were are still using the name Thor. Do you think there is a similarity between Thor and Thursday?

Monday, November 03, 2003

The Viking attacks and raids paint a picture of how I have always portrayed the Vikings as I'm sure others have thought of them that way as well. Their raids are broken into phases by year. The first phase lasted until around 834. Raids at this time were uncoordinated and small fleets of ships (up to a dozen) were used. Raids were mainly along the coastline of Britain, Ireland, Frisia, and Francia and they rarely went inland more than a few miles. The Vikings used their mobility and speed of their ships to their advantage. Also, in the first phase, raiding was a seasonal activity for the Vikings, raiding throughout the year but heading home in time for winter. In 1930, civil war broke out in the Frankish empire, which weakened their coastal defense and in turn gave the Vikings reason to take advantage of them. This leads us into the second phase of the Viking raids that lasted until 865. This phase was more intense. Viking fleets grew to about 30-35 ships and over 100 by the 850's.
They also sailed farther inland along rivers that could be navigated, ramsacking important towns. In this second phase, raiding was no longer seasonal. They began to spend the winters in western Europe so they could begin their raiding earlier in the year. Permanent settlements were even made in Scotland and Ireland. Third phase of the Viking raids began in 865 and was characterized by conquest and settlement. This phase started when a large Viking army attacked East Anglia, in turn shifting the focus of Viking activity to England. During the 870's, settlements were made in eastern England and also in Iceland. The Viking phases came to a close in 896 when defenses in England, Francia, and Ireland proved to well organized against the Vikings. From 896 to 954, there was a gradual decline in Viking activity. Some Vikings were given land to work and live on by the Seine River. This was given to them in return for them keeping other Vikings out of the area. After these phases, the Vikings did take a break for a while but in 914, they attacked Ireland and ended what they had called the "Forty Years Rest." The Vikings greatly impacted the Europe with their attacks. I find their time line fascinating because these people truly has no fear or remorse about what they were doing and continued raiding for many many years. I think that I am going to research this particular topic a little more because you cannot study the Viking without having an understanding of their raiding activity.

Thursday, October 30, 2003

The question that I asked myself and geared this particular blog around is "how do we know about the Vikings?" I realize that the Vikings did not write books about their lives and so I was curious as to how we know anything about them aside from archeology factors. Many writings were done by "neighbors" of Vikings who encountered them on their travels. These records do usually reflect only one encounter and so it is a judgment made by only one person about the Vikings and their character. In AD 922 and Arab diplomat named Ibn Fadlan met a group of Vikings whom he called the Rus. He recorded his meeting and described them to be violent, sloppy, and sexually aggressive (which is how I have pictured them until I began studying them). He did note their burial practices for their dead and taking possessions into afterlife. Another historic account came from the records of King Alfred of Wessex who was visited by a Norwegian who described the geography and the ample wildlife of Norway. He noted their agrarian lifestyles. This in turn helps to understand some of the trade economy and how they survived. What the Vikings did leave of their own were called runestones. These were inscriptions that were carved on wood and on stone. Their alphabet was similar to that of the roman letters but had straighter lines which was probably to make it easier to carve. This made researchers to believe that this was a way to display status and social standing. There have also been runestones that commemorated women, which like the Oseburg (in my last blog) proves that women were an important part of Viking society.

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

I am still keeping my interest in Viking religion and religious practices, but I have a feeling that there is so much information out there that I am going to have a hard time sticking to one endeavor. Playing around on the internet and reading our books, I have been finding some information about their ships and how they were built, but most importantly (to me at least), are the ship burials that they believed to be important in their afterlife. This search has now lead me in another direction... In Norway, archaeologists excavated three earthen mounds that were found to be whole ships which are called the Oseberg, Tune, and Gokstad. There are many aspects to this find that reveal information about the Viking Age. Religious beliefs and ship construction are obvious revelations, but what I found interesting is that it also reveals a lot of information about the women of that time. The Oseberg ship, which is an extremely ornate and eloquent ship with elaborate carvings was not buried alone. Buried with the ship, excavators found objects such as beds, 4 sleds, a cart with 12 sacrificed horses, buckets of food, wood carvings, chests and embroidered tapestries, but most importantly (and most interesting) is that all of this stuff that is so important for afterlife was for 2 females. Archeologist believe that one may have been an important leader, possibly with religious powers as well. The Oseberg ship along with the Tune and the Golstad prove a lot. First it confirmed the Vikings religious practice and that being buried with goods and possessions makes for a better after life and it also gives information about ship construction (obviously) and about their culture art and social structure. Not to mention, it proved that women during the Viking age could gain respect and authority in what seemed to me to be a male dominated time.

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

I have finally figured out this blogging ordeal and am finally on my way to discover more about the Vikings (and record what I am learning). I have started reading all of the books(I get bored easily) and have found a wealth of knowledge on-line. I have discovered that I am very interested in the Vikings religious beliefs and practices. I am excited to branch my research out to learn more about their pagan religion and especially more about their gods. It was interesting to me that their practice of religion was based on their performance of sacrifices, festivals, and rituals rather than on personal spirituality. Most religions, even those that are rarely practiced have a strong basis on spirituality and "godliness" in order to have a good afterlife. I am eager to learn more about their god, Loki, who was a "cunning, witty mischief-maker, whose schemes were always getting the gods and himself into trouble." I grew up in a Christian home where I learned at a young age about heaven and hell and God and Satan but I also know that everyone has a different interpretation of religion so I want to trace this religious history back a little so that I can have a better understanding of why and when their practices came about.
The Viking's religion and the importance of their practices for their gods are something that I will farther pursue, and I'll definitely let everyone know how it is going. Until next time!

Thursday, October 09, 2003

We are trying a test

Tuesday, September 30, 2003

I'm trying again to see if this will work

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