I’m battling a virus, which means resting indoors most of the time. Gets boring after a while so yesterday I decided to take a walk and do some vikingspotting. When you grow up in Sweden you grow up in a low level viking buzz you seldom give a thought, you just get slowly imbued with viking stuff. I guess it’s the same for people in Norway, Denmark, Iceland and every other country were vikings made their imprint. Untill recently I didn’t consiously make any efforts to gain knowledge in the matter, mostly it just… amassed. This is me trying to show you how.
Let’s start with the glaringly obvious
I can almost hear you say ”What? It’s just a branch over water!” Well, in Sweden almost every trickle of water have been sailed by the vikings. What you see above is the Fyris river, still broad enough to be sailed by a ship. When I was seven we moved to an freshly built suburb called Kista – nothing in it was older than a few years. Apart from the vikings. My school was named after a brook running through the neighbouring fields (Igelbäcken – means Leechbrook). The brook was no more than one meter / three feet wide in most places. Yet the vikings had sailed it, because it was wider in the viking age. This was our first lesson in isostatic uplift – and viking daily life.
Next picture, another glaringly obvious thing
Forgive me for using an old picture; the virus limited my reach yesterday. This an iron age burial field with several cuddly mounds (the graves). I used to play in similar fields when I was a kid. Some of the graves were actually from the viking age, most were older. There’s a kind of blind spot in Sweden when it comes to this; anything moundy has to be viking age, especially if it’s big. There are excellent signs and lessons on how the mounds of Uppsala really are from the same time as Sutton Ho, and deep down we know that, but it’s much more fun to hold viking markets – so that’s what we do…
For the last glaringly obvious thing I had to borrow from Mararie on flickr (thanks for creative commons marking your pictures!).
This is one of the runestones dug from the foundations of Uppsala Domkyrka (one of the few misspelled ones too if I’m correct), that’s my home parish. I grew up and live in one of the most runestone dense areas in the world. My nursery school took us on picknicks to The Runestone (I have no idea what it looked like – can’t remember the actual stone), when I went to school we passed a runestone when we went to the local 4H-farm (not the only one in the area), in the upper levels we were dragged to Jarlabanke’s road (read more below), when I did my ministry training my first trainee period was in a church were the runestone in the foundation displayed the first rhyme in the swedish language – and I was dragged out to see the judges cirkle, a cirkle of stones where the thing meetings had been held in older times. I’m actually surprised I didn’t find one on my route yesterday, because the stones are everywhere.
Why? Well, apparently having a runestone or two around was cool – a novelty like having the latest car or the fastest computer. For some reasone two groups (families? villages?) started overdoing each other with the best collection of stones. Kind of a reverse flame war in sloooooooooow motion. As a result very few stones says anything interesting. Most are rememberance plaques over dead relatives lost in foreign land. And when the groups ran out of people to remember, they started to invent reasons to erect a runestone. Anything was up for grabs. Don’t believe me? One of the stones comemorates a woman’s wish to go on pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Not that she had been there, only her intentions. Like your neighbour should erect a statue over his wish to go to church on Sunday.
Then Jarlabanke showed up. I’d like to think he said
and ended the runestone war by building a long road and lining the entire thing with stones (that’s the one they dragged us out to see). But I have a feeling the two groups continued to outstone each other untill one of them died out or runestones went out of fashion.
Anyway, vikings shows up in less obvious places. These are two bridges I passed on my walk.
Let’s take a closer look at their names.
These are the Idun footbridge and the Edda footbridge. Quite new the both of them, and apparently someone thought it’d be a good idea to name them after the godess married to Bragi (Idun) and the major source material we have about the norse gods (the poetic and the prose edda). Of course they’re not the only things in Uppsala with these kind of names – the entire norse pantheon have given names to the streets in the suburb close to the Uppsala mounds. Yes, the mounds are the same age as Sutton Ho, but vikings are more fun…
Even so, the vikings have a lot of competition. Things have happened during the thousande years or so after the viking age.
You can’t expect us to forget Linneus just because of vikings… The signpost are pointing to three hiking trails in the area. The top one is a mundane one following the river, the bottom one is pointing to the path Linneus and his disciples took when they went on wild herb picking excursions (the herbationes), and the middle one marks the pilgrim path to Old Uppsala church. For reasons unknown to me the swedish church have chosen a badge with a cross quite similar to those placed on christian runestones (you can never be sure with the church, this can be an old badge reused from an altar or a piece of clothing too).
I took went into a foodmall to look for viking named items. A few of the things I expected to find wasn’t there, perhaps because the mall was a small preppy one. Viking Fiskarsmorning is a good shoeshine / leather protector, but not flashy. And when it came to stuff named after local history it turned out we have a lot of things fitting for food that are not vikingy (imagine that). And there are reasons that we are a bit hardpressed to use viking names. This is one of them
Few are vikinghuggers like the nazis, and their picture of the Big Strong Viking Man and his Free Woman did for a long time taint almost anything with vikings unless it was deeply scholarly and academical – like a bad aftertaste you can’t get rid of. It’s less so now, but it’s still a scary correlation between a surge in interest in vikings and nazi activities (despite the fact that most interested in vikings are fiercly anti-nazi). The small sign on the door says ”This area is kept nazi free”. The area in question is Ungdomens Hus, a house for youths youths are managing themselves. It’s food for thought that this sign is needed, and even more depressing that we can’t put it on our government.
But the biggest stopper on naming something with a viking name is that it is old fashioned – something people did in the nineteenth century. Perhaps that’s why Slottskällan, a local brewery, chose this path
Healthfood, on the other hand, doesn’t need this concerns since when you get on the far scale of healthy you’re always out of fashion.
Friggs is a brand of health food named after Frigga. What you see are a few of their herbal teas, but they sell green tea and roibos as well as rice cakes, vitamines and prunejuice. They’re kind of the main health tea provider in Sweden, so omniprecent I actually missed that ”Friggs” was for Frigga for a very long time. My prejudice on a brand founded in 1968 was that it should chose a name from some exotic god – like a staff wielding chinese monkey…
With the younger generations there’s a change in perception of the viking names. Passing through the shopping center I found this one.
Idun again. Idun was the godess carrying the rejuvenating apples the gods ate to stay young. Her name means rejuvenator. Naming a brand of makeup after her is rather clever.
Other things aren’t named with much thought to the vikings or the norse gods. It’s just that some words slosh around merging into the general knowledge untill their origin are almost lost. This is a sign pointing to a hairdresser.
”Hårfager” or if I translate it ”Fairhair”. I’m not sure the one who named the shop remembered Harald Fairhair, the first king of Norway. To make a girl impressed he swore not to cut or clean his hair before he had united the entire country. Took him several years, and when he finally was done he looked so good in his new hairdo he was promptly named Fairhair by the people around him.
Oh, and Gyda Eiriksdatter married him too.
Svavagallerian is named after the block. The block was named after a valkyrie, Svava, somewhere around the 19th century. This place is now a ”food shopping center” with a food mall and a multitude of restaurants – you can eat at Moe Joe’s juice bar, Espresso house, have an italian or a persian meal or buy thai food at an asian food market. Since I was hungry I went to the tiny paleo fastfood joint and had some pulled pork – the most vikingy I could find. (It’s mentioned in the prose edda that the norse gods once cooked a wild ox by burrying it in a cooking hole for three days, which gets you rather close to pulled beef.)
But, what did the vikings eat? I ended my spotting tour at the county museum where they’ve put up lifelike models of meals through the ages. Turns out a viking meal could look like this.
Here we have blodpalt (a kind of black pudding) wurst, boiled chicken and fermented turnips. Bread and egg as sidedishes and mead as beverage. Looks almost modern, and is not far from what my grandparents ate. But I have to admit I’m gratefull for internationalism and the stuff it brings, potatoes, spices, internet and a lot of things that aren’t runestones…