Monday, November 25, 2019

SCA Camping 101: Our Home Away from Home

Introduction

In my last post, I went over the basics of SCA camping and provided a quick-start guide. For this one, I want to get into the specifics of what I have been using as well as share some of the advice and responses that I received from readers of the other post. A couple of things first: these images are a couple of years old and they are from before our canvas tent was destroyed. Our furnishings are essentially the same, but we have a modern tent again (something I will be remedying in the near future, ancestors willing). Secondly, it took us 3-4 years, during which the SCA was our primary hobby and where we were spending our extra money, to get our tent to this point. There isn’t a rush or a race to get to any step; take your time, build at your own pace, and have fun. Finally, this tent was less a period accurate encampment than either my wife or I wanted when we first started, but because of financial limitations and the differences in personas, this is the direction we were going. To follow Taka’s example, it’s neither one period nor the other, it’s an SCA camp.

Furnishings

As I said before and likely will say again, the details are what make things come together. In the case of your camp, it’s your furnishings and decorations. When picking furnishings, you also need to consider function as well as form. It is important to have things that you like the look of, but they need to serve a purpose, otherwise they are a lot of work to be transported without need. All that being said, sometimes looking good is its own purpose.

At the time of these pictures, we were still using a queen-sized air mattress of the extra thick variety. This worked great because it gave us enough height to sit on the bed and put on shoes, but sleeping on a giant cushion of air was murder for my wife on cold nights. To make up for this, we had a ton of blankets including a faux fur to try and stay warm. The changes in temperature also meant that no matter what we did, the bed would deflate somewhat through the night. We changed the mattress to a full-size futon, both to save space inside the tent and to keep us a little warmer. Getting an actual camp bed frame is now high on the list, since the futon is on the floor. These camp frames are also useful because, if planned right, you can store things underneath them.

A lovely friend of ours, Lady Sabine de Saintes, built us this amazing closet. It flat-packs and gives us shelvings. This was a huge step in organizing our space and having our clothing readily available. The closet also worked really well to split the space up, essentially giving us a front room and a bedroom.

In our front room, we used a plastic folding table as our main flat surface. Usually, this had snacks and drinks on it, but inevitably it also gathered baskets and purchases throughout war. The good thing
about these tables is that they are tall, so we could easily tuck our plastic drawers underneath. Our
plan had been to get a large table cloth to cover the table and drawers which would have helped the overall look somewhat. In the bedroom we have small folding tables, serving as valets to hold our accessories and what not when we were not wearing them. We also had two more of the same type of tables that acted as nightstands.

Seating is one of those things that, no matter what you do, it always feels like you do not have enough. At the time of the pictures, we were still using folding camp chairs; these chairs have served us well for years and we still take two with us to events. However, our big upgrade was that Southkeep’s own carpenter extraordinaire Cian Mac Cullough helped us out by making us each a chair accurate to our personas. For Bea, that was a very pretty Tudor-style chair (it folds for easy transport!), and for me it was a nice low three legged stool. These chairs are amazing, doing a great job of showing who we are and gussying up our living spaces nicely. Both chairs were built so they could pack easier, which is also really important when trying to get to events.

Decorations

You will see that nearly every inch of floor in the pictures is covered with a rug. This is because the floor is plastic, and rugs are pretty. Having a fully appointed tent with rugs, to me at least, is immediately transportative. It's a small touch so different from modern camping, and in many cases
even modern homes. It's one of my favourite things that we were able to acquire, through luck at Goodwill and family gifts. The only other decorations we wanted to add were coverings for all the modern furniture as I said above, and some lanterns to hide modern lamps.



Tips from Readers

  1. Make sure the stakes you have are for the ground you are going to be camping on. Tents usually don’t come with good stakes; in Trimaris with our sandy ground and windy weather, this is particularly important. Also be sure to drive the stakes deep enough.
  2. Always lay down a ground tarp underneath your tent. Even if it doesn’t rain it helps keep down the wear on the tent itself. It's much easier to replace tarps than to replace a tent. This is actually something I do that I forgot to mention in the other article. The ground tarp also has the added benefit of being the tarp I use to cover the cargo in the bed of the pickup.
  3. Here is a great source for more information on packing: http://caidwiki.org/index.php?title=Packing_for_Events
  4. Extension cord. If you need electricity, never assume that it will be close to you. This is particularly true of people who need CPAP machines and similar. 
  5. Take into consideration the incline of the area when choosing tent facing and bed placement. It sucks to get into your tent after the first day of an event and realize you have set your bed up at an angle. 
  6. The SCA subreddit r/sca is a great resource with plenty of people happy to answer questions. Many of the tips on this list came from there.



Conclusion

By reader request, I’ll be going more in-depth in the near future on specific items for Norse campsites. Things like chairs, six board boxes, and even kitchen set-ups. If there are any topics you would like me to touch on in particular, let me know! I am always looking for requests.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

SCA Camping 101

Introduction

Working with the SCA, especially as a Seneschal or Hospitaller, you will be asked many questions as people get situated and find their place within the group. One of the questions I get asked the most is: What do I need to bring camping? Veteran SCAdians will tell you it's not a straightforward question. What you bring entirely depends on what you do, who you are, and what you want to have with you at camp.

I know people who don't leave home without their keg and tap because their campsite is the site of many a late night party. There are others who bring only a hammock and a bag of clothes and toiletries. Neither person is wrong, they just have different needs. This is why the question is such a personal one. When I am asked this question I give a list of basic essentials that I have always found useful. I then tell them as they camp they will find things that they need which they should add to the kit, and things they don't need which they can leave at home. This article is both to address your basic needs and give newbies ideas on how to make their campsite have a little more period presence.

The Basics

This is the list of basic essentials that I tell people they should get together to make sure they don't have any nasty surprises on their first camping trip.


  • Tent
  • Garb (1-2 outfits for a weekend event)
  • Toiletries
  • Air Mattress or Cot
  • Towel (Don't Forget Your Towel)
  • Snacks
  • A Small Cooler for your drinks
  • Feast Gear
  • Blankets and Bed Linens (amount and thickness depending on weather)
  • First Aid Kit
  • Change of clothes in a waterproof container


I also like to add a trenching tool and a hatchet to the basics, just in case. With these basics, you should be able to enjoy your even without worrying about minor inconveniences. From here, I suggest people add storage and minor furnishings to keep your tent organized and your possessions safe from leaks, and anything else that might happen. As a fighter you should add an extra change of clothes (that you fight in), your armour kit, and your basic repair kit. For more information about what I carry as my armour kit, check out my old blog post (https://ulfhedinnjourney.blogspot.com/2014/10/what-is-in-your-armour-bag.html). I went over some of the things you need for field repairs. For longer events like war you may want to take a more robust kit, because an armour malfunction can put you out for the week.

One of our first events, with Nikola and Augustine.

...And the Kitchen Sink

The next big question is: what is over preparation, or what is too much stuff? My rule of thumb is what you can comfortably carry and set up on your own. While the SCA is full of helpful people, I am a big fan of self reliance. What I mean by this is that your tent and your load should be something that you can handle on your own. This way, if you get help it’s a bonus and not a requirement.

The exception to this rule is if you are in a household or camping as a group and you  split the additional gear amongst the whole, or you are the camp cook or similar post. These things obviously will have you packing more than your needs, and your group should help you unpack.

Like your needs, ‘how much is too much’ is something that you will find organically, and it will vary wildly from person to person depending on their vehicle and capabilities.

My wife and I fill a full-size pickup truck up just for our things. It's a big part of why we have the truck in the first place. This is our comfort level, and truth be told if we could afford and store a trailer we would probably use one! I'll get more into our set up a little further down in the blog.

Home is where the heart rests

You'll notice the first thing on my list is the tent. While I know many people who only see the inside of their tent long enough to change into the next outfit and possibly catch a nap between activities, for most people the tent functions as your home away from home. In the Trimarian rain, there have been times we have spent a fair bit of time just wanting for a break. The wife and I tend to have a tent large enough that we can host company in the front area, making even the worst weather a chance to indulge in hanging out with friends. During Gulfnado a few years back, we actually ended up with a largeish group taking shelter in our tent while we waited for the worst to pass.

When picking the right tent there are three main factors to take into consideration: size, price, and weather. Size has to do with what you are comfortable setting up and what your space needs are. I always suggest that you pick a tent that you can stand up in or close to it. Getting dressed in a crouch, especially in some period clothing, is a pain in the butt. I am also going to remind you that the tent sizing guidelines (sleeps x people) are about maximum floor space, not necessarily actual space. We have had three different tents, the third was the same tent as the first bought again. In each case, we have bought a tent large enough where we can fit all of the furnishings we take as well as be able to split the space into various areas. In the case of our current tent, it's actually broken down into three 8x8 rooms. This is very convenient for us as far as comfort and how we set our things up. Essentially the first room is our main living area: armour, snacks, and seating all there. The second room is where we get dressed, and the third is our sleeping quarters. Set-up for modern tents tend to be easy enough that even larger ones can be set up by one or two people without much difficulty. This only really becomes a concern on large period tents.

The next two factors when it comes to tent are weather and price. Price is an easy enough one to understand. Buy a tent that you can afford, no need to go bankrupt. The only thing I will add to this is that if you are even moderately active in the SCA you will spend a lot of time every year in your tent. Before I opened my store and slowed down my activity, Bea and I were averaging about 30 nights a year in the tent. Keep that in mind when deciding your budget. I have a very good friend who went very cheap on her tent, and decided she hated the SCA because she tried camping in August in
One of my Dream projects is to make a tent like this one.
Central Florida in a tent that she couldn't stand up in and had no windows. Which brings me to weather: different areas have different needs when it comes to weather. Do you need a tent that will keep you warm? Something that will keep you cool? Is your area very windy? Keep all these in mind when you go to pick yours out, and don't be scared to ask questions, either of other local SCAdians or, hell, if nothing else shoot me a message on here. I’d much rather help out than you have a bad experience.

I am going to touch for a moment on period style tents vs modern tents. Period tents are prettier and they add to the Dream we are all working to build, but they are difficult to set up, difficult to store, and much more expensive. If given a choice, I will always pick the period tent, but that's because I have a pick up truck to transport the large poles and a partner and household willing to help set up. That being said, we spent $1300 on a period tent, and it served us amazingly well. No weather affected us, it wasn't hot, it wasn't even particularly bad to set up. It was, however, a huge headache to dry after events, and eventually because of storage issues during one of the rain storms here in Miami, water got into the tupper with the canvas and completely ruined it. We haven't had the money to buy a new canvas tent, but when we do, I am going to make an oilcloth bag for the canvas, even if it is in a tupper, in hopes of stopping this from happening again.

Where do we sit?

Drawings thought to be the original designs for the
Fields of Cloth of Gold Tent.
In period, especially the later periods, nobles camped essentially with an entire house worth of furniture and a wagon train of servants, the most over-the-top example being Henry VIII and his Fields of Cloth of Gold. In the SCA we don't quite go that far (although some campsites at war are amazing!), but we do expect a certain level of comfort from our homes away from home, which normally means at least some furniture. For some, this is as simple as some camp chairs and large tupper containers for their stuff. For others, it’s a chance to flex their woodworking skills and their research on what is accurate to their persona. The details are what really completes the picture, whether we are discussing garb or a campsite.

The SCA is a hobby where one builds upon their experience year to year, and it is no different when it comes to your camp. Figure out the things you need the most first and then work from there. Most of the time it will be seating first, and then storage. While it is easy to get a camp chair, and they can be comfortable, with just a little more effort you can get a chair that is period appropriate for you. A fauldstool for example is a quick build (or cheap option) that has existed throughout most of known history. This gives you an option that is easy to carry and adds to the overall look of the camp. Another option is to do things in the Viking way. A six-board box gives you storage space and doubles as a stool. This is easy enough that anyone can make it with a little bit of time. His Lordship Kelvin Alistair MacGowan in Trimaris often teaches his six-board class both in the Kingdom and at war. There are also a ton of good tutorials online, this one is based on an extant piece (http://www.angelfire.com/wy/svenskildbiter/Viking/vikchest.html). Six-board boxes also cover the next major piece of furniture most people need: storage. Simple chests work really well as a manner to carry your things to events and keep them organized when you are there, and they also have the added benefit of being stackable and as such easy to store!

Once you have gotten over these first two simple steps, the next one is completely based on your needs. I have seen amazing camp beds, closets, cabinets, and full camp kitchens. It's just a matter of what priorities are for you and what you have as a skill set.

Decorations

This is a topic that I am only going to touch on in brief detail because while the others have things that sort of stitch together many personas, decorations are as personal as it can get. A 10c Norseman and 16c courtesan would have very different ideas of what an appropriate camp decoration is. What I will suggest is some sort of heraldic display as appropriate to your persona to let people know whose camp it is. Not only will it give you a chance to display the heraldry you worked so hard on, but there is very little as inspiring in my mind as a campsite full of fluttering banners.

Conclusion

Hopefully this post gives you guys an idea of how to get started on your camping equipment, and how to expand it to enhance the Dream. When I get out to my next camping event, I will do a small follow-up on to show off Bea’s and my setup. While it isn't as period as I would like, I can make it about what I have now and the upgrades I am hoping to do in the future. Our campsite is particularly challenging because of the 600-year gap in our personas!

What does your campsite look like? What tricks do you have for camping events? Let me know in the comments below!

Friday, October 25, 2019

Tattoos in the style of the Norse

Introduction

Baldur from God of War
Odds are that when you picture a really bad ass viking person, they’re covered in runic and knotwork tattoos. This image has become ingrained in our heads as clearly as it was thought a couple of decades back that they had horned helmets. You can find tattooed vikings in almost every form of media, from video games to movies and tv shows. It’s an intrinsic part of how we view this culture, and how many people try and create a connection to the culture modernly. This means that they have become quite common on people trying to appear tough. They’re starting to become the new barbed wire tattoo. This is just my opinion, mind you, and I say this as a person with a Valknut tattoo and a few more planned.


My opinion on tattoos, regardless of inspiration or stye, is that they should mean something to the
wearer. I have never been a fan of picking something off the wall. That isn't to say that I don't understand the idea of just wanting to have a cool design on your body, just that it isn't my way of doing things.

In this article I am going to talk about two somewhat separate topics within the broader umbrella of tattoos: what do we know about tattoos historically? And what are some good sources for inspiration for Norse tattoos?

What we know, what we don't know, and what we don't know we don't know


Tattoo from Ukok Princess
Tattoos are drawn onto skin, not a medium designed to stand the test of time. When we have proof of tattoos in any culture it comes from two sources: being lucky that a body was preserved in such a way that the skin remained intact such as bog mummies or Otzi the Iceman, or secondary sources like writings and art. In both cases it is difficult to determine the reason for the tattoos, and sometimes even the image itself is lost to time. However, there are exceptions: the Ukok Princess and other bodies found in the same area all have their tattoos amazingly well preserved. They show us examples of the art used by those cultures, and placement of tattoos. I find it interesting that throughout all the intervening years, we still put tattoos more or less in the same places. Certain things don't change, even after 2500 years.

Now with the idea that proof of tattoos is difficult to find, what proof do we have that the ancient Norse used them? Hard proof: none, I have not managed to find a single reference to a Nordic Viking-age body with tattoos. While discouraging, it isn't the end of the search. We have to then move onto other source: artistic depictions and writings. In both these sources, it is difficult to know if the images on the body were tattoos or body paint. We know there is some evidence that the Norse used body paint, check out my blog post about that (https://ulfhedinnjourney.blogspot.com/2014/04/warpaint.html). This makes it quite a sticky wicket. The main source of writings about the Nordic peoples having tattoos is our old friend Ahmad Ibn Fadlan; his writings in regards to the interactions he had with the people of the North are a great source because so few written accounts exist. Ahmad had this to say about the Northmen when he met them:

Each man has an axe, a sword, and a knife and keeps each by him at all times. The swords are broad and grooved, of Frankish sort. Every man is tattooed from fingernails to neck with dark green (or green or blue-black) trees, figures, etc.

It could be warpaint, it could be tattoos. The Viking Answer Lady made a good point that what he was describing as trees could simply have been art in the Nordic style, the lines and knots are often difficult to identify. This is the best secondary source we have. I am willing to use this as evidence that it happened in the cultures that I study.

Skarby Runestone


Next, I’d like to look at cultures that the Norse had contact with that also had tattoos, which would allow us to have a pretty solid idea that they were exposed to it even if not directly. We have direct evidence of Celts with tattoos; so much so, that Britannia comes from the Latin for Land of the Painted People, and the Picts were the Painted People. We also have evidence of Bronze Age tattoo needles throughout Europe including Byzantium, where we know the Norsemen spent a lot of time. Essentially, it’s very unlikely that the people of the Viking Age didn’t have exposure on many fronts to this process.

As an interesting aside, traditional tattooing methods remained more or less unchanged for millenia. It wasn't until the tattoo machine came about that the process was revolutionized. Even still in many places with long standing traditions, tattoos are done the old way: with patience and needles.

Designs

Now that we have determined the feasibility of tattoos for the Norse, let's discuss what we all want, which is getting tattoos modernly that show off the culture we are trying to emulate. I have said it many times on this blog when looking for designs for anything: the best source for Norse art styles are the Runestones. There are hundreds of them: look at them for inspiration, take them to the shop
you are getting your tattoo done, work with your artist to see what they can do.

Dwarf Ancestor Face
Another option that is very popular are bindrunes, both ancient ones and new ones that people create for themselves. I imagine that these would have been popular since the runes contain magic, and a bindrune is almost a prayer or ward for a certain affect. It is up to you how you combine runes to get the look and meaning that you want. I may do a future blog post on constructing bindrunes.

The next idea is one that is at least partially fantasy inspired even though it did exist in Norse art: ancestor faces. Similar to the Sutton Hoo mask or any of the idols we have seen of the gods, these ancestor faces can be images of the gods themselves or ancestors whose guidance you would find particularly helpful. You can find inspiration for the art style, and create your own with the help of an artist. In addition to ancestors, you can also use the tattoo to bring you closer to animal spirits that you want to get closer to.

Sutton Hoo Helmet
The last thing I am going to get into as far as design work is a touchy subject: religious symbols. These are things like the Valknut, Thor’s Hammer, Tyr's Rune, etc. These are likely good examples of things that the Norse would have gotten tattooed on themselves, but in many cases modernly they have been taken over by white supremacist groups. I am not saying don't get them, I have a Valknut tattoo. I am saying be prepared to clear up any misunderstandings that might happen. For inspiration in these designs, I again suggest looking at runestones and extant pendants. There are lots of good silver examples.


Conclusion

That about covers everything I have for tattoos. As always, these things are just my opinions based on what I have read and studied. If you want a tattoo off the wall, go for it! Your body is a temple, decorate it however you like! If you have any questions or comments please let me know down below! Also if you have any suggestions for future topics I could use them!


Sources

Smithisonian- Tattoos History- https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/tattoos-144038580/
Siberian Times- Siberian Princess Reveals her 2500 year old tatoos- https://siberiantimes.com/culture/others/features/siberian-princess-reveals-her-2500-year-old-tattoos/
Viking Answer Lady- Tattoos-http://www.vikinganswerlady.com/viktatoo.shtml
Hurstwic- Health and Medicine- http://www.hurstwic.org/history/articles/daily_living/text/health_and_medicine.htm

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Every Day Carry





When away from home one should always keep their
weapons close at hand. You can never know what troubles
you might encounter on the open road
~Havamal Stanza 38

Introduction

Let’s do something different for the first blog post of October: a look at a modern habit through the lens of our ancestors and the Havamal, the Every Day Carry (EDC). You can find hundreds of articles online discussing everything from tactical to gentlemanly EDC. Each philosophy caters to its own set of needs and what the writer thinks is most important for what one should have on them at all times. I’ll be writing about three different EDCs: my personal one, SCA events, and what I believe might have been the likely EDC of a Norse traveller in period.

Before I get into the actual nitty gritty of what each of these sets of items are, I would like to touch a little on why this is so important to me. You guys have seen me discuss the Nine Noble Virtues in the past (https://ulfhedinnjourney.blogspot.com/2013/11/nine-noble-virtues.html); one of the most important to me is Self Reliance (https://ulfhedinnjourney.blogspot.com/2016/02/nine-noble-virtues-self-reliance.html). Without it, the rest become much more difficult: if you’re constantly asking for help or searching for the right tool, it is difficult to be industrious. If you lack the confidence that being prepared brings you, it can be difficult to be courageous. I very much feel like preparation and self reliance are a good place to start on any journey.

My EDC

I split what I carry on a day-to-day basis into two groups: what I have on my person and what I carry in my truck. The first are portable items that I might need on a moment’s notice, and the second are things that would be good to have without having to go to the store. Between the two, I’m prepared for a wide variety of emergencies and situations. This split reminds of Role Playing game character sheets, where you specify what's on your horse and what your character actually has on them.

On Me

  • Pocket Knife- I carry a largeish pocket knife on me. This multi-function knife can be used for
    Many of my EDC items were gifts from my wife
    the Credit Card Knife was no exception
    opening boxes, cutting tape or rope, and more. I find myself using it several times a week, and have a hard time understanding how people get by without one. I am so much in favour of carrying a knife at all times that it is a common present from me.
  • Wallet knife- In my wallet I carry a credit card knife. This is just in case something happens to my pocket knife, or someone needs a knife while I am using mine. 
  • Pocket Ninja- This thing seems gimmicky as hell: it's essentially a credit-card-sized multi-tool. It's got a can opener, a saw, screwdriver, wrench, and a few more gadgets. I have actually gotten a fair bit of use out of this. Obviously having a real screwdriver is better, but this works great in a pinch.
  • Hair ties- I have long hair, so I carry two hair ties on my key carabiner.
  • Bandana- I keep one in my back pocket, as it works great to keep the sweat out of your eyes, or as a rag in a pinch.



Truck

  • Hatchet- I’ve had one in the truck for years now, and it has actually gotten used more than I really thought it would. It has been used to help clear brush at camping events, and to clear fallen tree limbs after a hurricane. 
  • First Aid Kit- I keep a small first aid kit in the truck with basic supplies, which I’ve been lucky enough to never need. If there is an interest, I can do a post on survival supplies where I go more in depth into what I’ve put in the kit.
  • Rope- I carry 50ft of rope in the truck at all times, with the full understanding that it will likely need to be cut and replaced when needed. 
  • Cargo Net- I find this an ideal way to strap down large loads of cargo, better than fussing with a dozen tie-downs.
  • Tie Downs- Of course, the above doesn't mean I don't carry tie downs. Some ratcheting and some bungee cords are always good to have on hand.
  • Basic Tool Box- A couple of screwdrivers, a hammer, a pair of pliers, box cutter, and a small saw.
  • Auto care necessities- Jumper Cables, Spare Tire, Cross Tire Iron, Jack, etc




With these items on me and my truck, I can handle a wide variety of emergencies. I don't expect myself to need the stuff in the truck often, but when I do, it has made all the difference in the world to have them available, and it has definitely saved a ton of time and made things easier on me. The carrying and maintenance of the kits is a small investment for the benefits they provide: I gathered my supplies and stored them, and feel ready for anything within the normal scope.

SCA 

In the SCA, you spend a ton of time wandering around and on the move. I won’t be going into our camping supplies here; instead, keep an eye out for a future post on what I bring to events. This will just be what I carry on my person during an SCA event, with the idea of being able to tackle a variety of issues that might arise while I am about.


  • Small Knife- ALWAYS CARRY A KNIFE. Seriously, they don't take a ton of space. They
    were absurdly common in period, and there's always something (maybe even someone?) that needs to be cut. 
  • Hair Ties- Still have long hair. Carry two. Murphy’s Law says one will break. 
  • Wallet- This includes the pocket ninja and the wallet knife.


In the SCA, I am surrounded by people who are also prepared for a wide variety of emergencies. I also have my campsite close by, which is essentially a home away from home as far as supplies. This means that aside from the absolute basics, I don’t need to carry very much on my person to be ready for things.

A Traveller in Norse times

A person travelling during the Viking Age would’ve had to carry with them everything they needed to keep them going along the road. This would include weapons, camping supplies, food, clothing, and more. In previous blog posts, I have discussed the weapons and armour that were required to be considered a warrior in the later armies of the Nordic regions, I’ll leave that part out of this. Instead, I’ll discuss what we have found as grave goods, or seen discussed, that would count as your everyday travelling needs. As always, these are my theories based on what I have seen and read, and my basic understanding of what a person needs to camp.

To survive a distant journey, one would need to carry enough food, or be able to hunt or fish for your own food. We have evidence that shows that the Norse hunted using bows; in fact, that was the primary use for them at the time. It would also be a good idea to carry rope for setting snares when making camp for the night, as this would be a good passive way of getting more food.

On their person, a traveller might carry a small knife, and we have found many examples of utility
Extant Blades fromYork.
knives in grave goods (SEE? KNIFE!). We have also found firestarters and small grooming kits, which would make sense for people to carry. I’ve seen it discussed that the items that needed to stay dry would be carried in seal skin or some kind of treated fabric to ensure protection from the elements.

For camping, we know that the Norse liked to use A-frame tents. I have some difficulty seeing how that might be carried on a horse due to the large size of the ridge poles, but it would be quite easy to use the fabric from an A-frame to set up a lean-to, which would allow them to not carry so much bulky lumber.


Conclusion

EDC is not a new concept, even if the term as “trending” is pretty new. We have always had the idea, historically, that we need to have certain things with us at all times to be ready for whatever might come our way. Modernly, this has somewhat fallen by the wayside as the convenience of stores and cell phones makes us feel like any help we need is within easy reach. While this isn’t entirely wrong, it’s also very easy to find yourself in a situation where those modern conveniences no longer work. A dead zone of cell service with a car problem, or a power outage caused by a hurricane are situations that can happen even in “developed countries”. My family and I spent over a week without power in a recent hurricane, and after the hurricane passed, large portions of my EDC were put to use clearing roadways in our HOA. My pocket knife finds use several times a week: need to open a box? Got it. Need to mark lumber or cut rope? Done. Would it be life changing to have to go and find a tool to do these things? No, but it does slow me down. That limits my industriousness.

What’s your EDC? Is there something you never leave home without? Let me know in the comments below!


Monday, September 16, 2019

Heraldry for Vikings

Introduction

For many of us, the first images that come to mind when we think of tournaments and knights are brightly-coloured shields and devices on tents and banners. When the SCA was first founded, it was this high medieval ideal that inspired much of what was done. Each person wanted their own device, and for their shields to be recognized across the field. Towards that end, the SCA College of Heralds was formed and codified the rules which we use today for the registration of names, badges, and devices.

To go along with the Artuhrian high medieval ideals of chivalry and knights, the College decided upon the French rules of heraldry, which are the most common and widely used. This gave everyone a good basis to start with, and fit the needs of the majority of personas. With the passing of time, we have seen that sometimes the rules make it difficult for people to make a device that truly fits them. The good thing is that we allow a ton of artistic license for people who are creative enough to work within the rules to develop something that matches their persona. I have seen some really well done Japanese mon that were based on the blazon of European device. In this blog post, I’ll be discussing the best ways (in my opinion) to create a device that matches a Norse persona during the Viking Age.

Before getting into the nitty gritty of how to make a device, I would like to talk about the application process. As a Herald, I always tell applicants that a perfect application with no issues takes about nine months, but that a year is a reasonable timeline for one in which nothing is rejected. The reason for this long process is because every submission to the College of Heralds has to go through at least two different commentary stages, each of which is about a month long. The steps in your normal submission process are: application to your local or kingdom Herald, internal commentary (commentary from other Heralds within your Kingdom, which isn’t done every month, so it might take a little bit for yours to be commented on), external commentary (from all the Heralds in the Knowne World), and finally, if it has passed both of these steps, it will be placed to review by the College of Arms for final decision on the submission. Each of these steps can take 6-10 weeks.

You might ask why we go through so many steps and commentary periods. The answer is a short one: submissions can be very complicated, and no one Herald knows everything about everything. The commentary periods allows other Heralds to catch mistakes and conflicts that might otherwise have been missed. Each person’s device or name is important to them, and it is the job of the College to make sure that it is unique to them and follows the period patterns for the submission.

SCA Rules 101

I am not going to delve very far into the specifics of the SCA rules; this is just a quick review of things that you should know as you start your design process. A great introduction to the rules can be found in this primer https://heraldry.sca.org/armory/newprimer/h4f.shtml, and most local groups have a Herald as an officer that can help you with your questions. I am also happy to answer any questions you might have in the comments section below.

When creating a device, it is best to think of it as a photoshop project with multiple layers. This will help you understand some of the rules that we will discuss as we continue. For example your device can have a maximum of three layers. If you stack more than three things, it will automatically be
Alejandro de Leon
A great example of simple design that is recognizeable
returned to be redesigned.

Tinctures
Tinctures are the different colours that can be used in devices. We use the term ‘tincture” because we actually split the 7 that we use into 5 colours and 2 metals. The colours are Blue (Azure), Green (Vert), Purple (Purpure), Black (Sable), and Red (Gules). The Metals are White/Silver (Argent), and Yellow/Gold (Or). The reason for this split is to make it easy to create rules that will help create devices that have good contrast and visibility. Even modernly, these rules are followed in an unwritten sense by graphic designers and marketing gurus. Certain colours are just easier to see, or stand out more when paired with others.

This brings us to our next rule from what we call the instabounce list: when layering, you can not have a colour on a colour or a metal on a metal. This means that if the background of your device is a colour, then the charge you place upon it must be a metal and vice versa.

Charges
Charges can be best described as the objects you place upon the field of your device, which can be animals, shapes, or things. Usually when people think of a device, the first thing they picture is the charge. Whether it's the gold Fleur de Lis of France, the Lion of England, or the White Tree of Gondor, they tend to be the meat and potatoes of the device. Please check out the primer above for a good list of how charges can be placed on fields.

Alejandro's device above is a good example of charge groups. The primary charge is the red bar (called a bend sinister) and the white dots are the secondary charge (called plates).

Complexity
Devices, as they are used in the SCA and as they were used in the 14c and 15c, are meant to be easily identifiable at a distance. They need to let people know who you are at a glance. Towards that end,
Beatrice Whitcombe
they can not be overly complicated otherwise the details get muddied. To facilitate this, the College of Heralds has the rule of complexity: no device can have a complexity higher than eight. Complexity is calculated by counting each tincture and different charge.

For example, my wife’s device is 3 bees on a gold field with a black border. She has two charge types (the bees and the border) and two tinctures (gold and black), which gives her a complexity of four.

Conflict
One of the main things being searched for throughout all those commentary periods is conflict. The Heralds are looking to make sure that your device is unique, and doesn’t conflict with any of the other devices that have been registered. A device is considered to be free of conflict if it doesn’t come within two steps of difference from another similar device. Conflict can be a very difficult thing to understand, since certain types of charges are considered to be close enough to conflict even if they are different. A good example is hounds, wolves, and foxes. These are all different animals, but at a distance they can be easily confused. As a good rule of thumb, minor differences are things like positions of charges, secondary charges, and tinctures, which can be used to differentiate between devices that are similar.

Norse it Up!

All these rules are great if you are looking to do a 14c or 15c persona along the style of a crusader or an English knight. The real question here is how do us pre-heraldry personas get to join the heraldry fun so people know who we are!

First off, it's important to know that your device -no matter how you design it- will have to be submitted in a 14c art style. Don’t be discouraged! You are allowed to change the art style after it has passed, as long as it is still recognizable as what you have blazoned. That is to say any changes you make to the art style are not so drastic as to change what the description of the image would be.  At the end of this section,I will share my device both as submitted and how I display it now.
Tullstorp Runestone showing a wolf.

Second, let's talk charges! Like I said before, it’s the meat and potatoes of the device and as a culture
that believes in the spirits of things, charges could be almost like a totem. This lets you have a good reason for rallying under a certain banner. When it comes to choosing a charge for a Viking Age device, first consider things that actually existed during this time period, and were important to them. Another good starting point is to look at the rune stones and other surviving art from the period to see what possible charges were depicted. For animals, the easy ones to think of are wolves, ravens, bears, and dragons, but don’t forget that the Norse were known for using kennings (poetic phrases used to describe people or places), which means that a small person could easily take a rabbit or squirrel as their device, with squirrels having the bonus of representing Ratatoskr who lives in the world tree. Large or slow people could take an aurochs or turtle. These are just some examples for how a device can be used to represent either a part of you, or a trait you wish to embody. This is different from later heraldry, where it tended to be passed down, and as such was more about the lineage and family rather than the individual.

Next step, art styles! We are fortunate that the runestones depict so many different things, and allow us a good look into the art styles of the time period. With a little research and creativity, you can take any charge you can think of and redraw it in an art style that would fit in during the Viking Age. Word of warning: not all knotwork is the same; there are differences between the Book of Kells and Runestone art. Both are beautiful, but they come from different cultures.

At last, you have done your research, designed both your submission and the Norse version, and it has passed! What do you with your awesome new piece of heraldry? Why, display it of course! There are tons of ways to use your new heraldry on camp that go just beyond painting it on your shield. In period, the sails of a ship were thought to have been used as canvas for tents, and what’s more intimidating than a ship with the device of the person that is coming to raid you prominently displayed on the sails?! You could also craft yourself a banner in the Norse style. Both of these are good ways to let people know who’s camp they are seeing. These types of touches also go a long way towards improving the overall period appearance of a campsite, and allow us all to dive a little deeper into the Dream.

Conclusion

As always, it is important to note that this is just how I do/see things. Heraldry is a part of the game, but it is not required for most aspects of the game. In the SCA, you can always participate as much or as little as you want. This is also my opinion on how to take something that would be out of period for most Nordic folks and bring it somewhat in line with their styles and appearance. You can do your heraldry any way you want; the most important part is that you are having fun and it looks good to you!


If you have an example of an SCA-approved heraldry that has been converted to Norse, please share it in the comments!


Here are mine!
The original submission in a 14c style.
Yes, it is missing the roundel that was added later.

Edit: Two important things were pointed out to me.
1- The Viking Answer Lady has a great article where she goes very deep into the art and extant Viking Age shields. She also has a handy chart of charges. Check it out at: http://www.vikinganswerlady.com/vikheraldry.shtml

2- Many people want to put a shield boss on their device since their shield will have one. You make your device without the boss, and if you want design around the idea it will be there. However it makes no sense to try and add it to the actual art.
The design I currently use on my shields and banners.
Wolves based on the Tulstorp Runestone.

Monday, September 2, 2019

What is Asatru?

Introduction

First things first: disclaimer time! This post is about my beliefs and my spirituality. Part of what makes Asatru and most pagan/heathen traditions different than the large organized religions is that each person finds their own path. We each honour the gods, and our ancestors, in different ways. We might even disagree on certain core tenants. This post is to help me answer the questions that often get asked when people find out I am a heathen. The history of heathenry is accurate as I understand it, but the rest are my opinions on what it means to be a heathen, and how my clan and I follow the traditions of our ancestors.

History of Heathenry


Heathenry and Asatru is the modern worship of the ancient Norse/Germanic gods, which includes ancestor worship; the gods themselves are actually said to be the ancestors of humanity. There is proof of the ancient Germanic religion’s roots dating back to 1CE, but the stories at that time give the impression that it is much older. The proof we have from this time period are depictions of Wodanaz and Tiwaz, who would later develop into Odin and Tyr respectively. These traditions were followed as the primary religion of the Nordic people throughout the Iron Age, and what is called the Migration or Viking Era. The decline of the Viking Age begins with Harald Hadrada unifying the Northern Kingdoms, and it is considered to come to a close with Olaf Oathbreaker and the Christianization of the Nordic peoples in the 11c.

For 700 years, if anyone kept the old ways it was done in secret and hidden places to avoid the persecution of the Church. It isn’t until the 1700s that we see a resurgence of interest in ancient Norse/Germanic culture during the period of Germanic Romanticism, which led to renewed study of the faiths of that region. We see new groups pop up that research and honour the old gods. This is when the seeds of Folkism are planted, an era where much of the hate in Heathenry traces its roots to, people who used the old gods as an excuse to claim their heritage was pure and better than others. In the 1930s, these were the groups that created some of the culture of the Nazi party, and it is the reason many pagan symbols are associated so strongly with hate groups: runes like Othala were corrupted by the hateful ideologies of that time, and used on their banners.

Sveinbjorn Beinteinsson
First High Priest of the Ásatrúarfélagið
In the 1970s, we see a rebirth for nature-based religions throughout the Western world. Among those that return is Nordic Paganism, now called Heathenry, and in some groups Asatru. The word Asatru is a compound Norse word from “Asa” meaning god, and “Tru” meaning way: Way of the Gods. In the early days of the Neopagan movement, the divide between the Folkists and Universalist Asatru was already there. Some groups limited their members to only those who had the blood of the Northern Europeans, while others allowed anyone who would honour the gods and the traditions a seat in their hall. In Iceland, the old ways never fully died, and many cultural aspects had remained in place. Sveinbjörn Beinteinsson was the founder of the Ásatrúarfélagið, the Asatru Association, in Iceland in 1972 and served as the High Priest for over 20 years. In Iceland, there are nearly 5000
people who call themselves Asatru, which represents 1.5% of the population and is the largest group per capita in the world. Today, it is estimated that there are between 8,000-20,000 Asatruar in the United States, but it’s difficult to get an accurate count due to the non-structured nature of the religion and the different terms people use to describe them.


How did I find my Way?

I was very young when I saw that Christianity wasn’t for me. I was raised in a Catholic family, but my grandmother taught me to ask questions, which caused issues: there were so many things that didn’t make sense, or went against what I felt in the core of me. The final straw came at a sleep-away camp when I was around 8 or 9 years old: we were in our circle group, and the Youth Leader went around asking if people had questions. My cousin, who also attended the camp, knew I wasn't a devout Catholic and suggested that I ask and see if it helped any. Bad idea. Standing up, I asked the leader if animals went to heaven, something important to me as my dog had recently passed and I was very close to her. The Leader took a moment to think on my question and then answered that since animals don't have souls, they couldn’t go to heaven. He went on to say that Jesus Christ had died for our sins, so the Kingdom of God was promised only to his followers, and that an animal can’t accept Jesus as their Lord and Saviour. This shook me to the core —the idea that living and feeling creatures were believed to not have a spirit that would be preserved beyond death— and it was the end of my association with the Christian faith in all its many flavours. I still occasionally go to events at the Church since my family is Catholic, and I want to make it clear that I don't hate Christianity or the Abrahamic faiths, they just aren’t my faith.

Common symbols associated with Asatru
Odins Ravens and Wolves. The Tree of Life. Mimirs
Well.
This started a 15 year long journey during which I studied different belief systems and read voraciously, trying to find an answer that felt good in my heart. In the early years, I called myself agnostic (yeah I was a weird kid), because I had no exposure to non-Abrahamic faiths. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe there was a god, just that the one I had been shown wasn't mine (#notmygod). I did try out Judaism and even attended classes with my cousin preparing for her Batmitzvah, but it didn’t quite fit. Finally when I was 14 or 15, I found paganism: at first, generic Wicca and then, Celtic Druidism. Each of these called to my spirit in different ways, but the basis in nature was crucial. I also had strong feelings about warrior cultures and the idea of a strong code of behavior based on that. This lead to me calling myself a Druid throughout my late teens and early 20s. It still didn't fit perfectly, but it was very close. I focused my worship on Cuchulain, the Morrigan, and Herne, the deities that called out to me the most. The idea of a polythiestic religion appealed to me, because at my core I am a pantheonist. All gods are the same god, and we use representations of them to be able to better commune with the facets of this supreme being that best correlate to who we are and what lessons we are working on learning. Finally in my early 20’s I reconnected with an old friend, Sergio (currently the clan’s Goði) who had found Asatru, and it clicked on all facets. A strong martial tradition, with a pantheon of deities, mythologies as a teaching tool, shamanistic roots, it resonated within me and I knew that at last my search was at an end. Now began the actual study!

Who are the gods?

In ancient times and in modern Asatru, there are two tribes of gods:  the Vanir and the Aesir. There are also countless spirits and other beings that make up the mythologies and the world of the gods. In this post, I am not going to go into heavy detail on any of the gods, or the cosmology of the worlds, because that can be several separate blog posts by themselves. The basic idea is that, in the time before history, there was a war in the realms between the Aesir and the Vanir, which ended when the Vanir surrendered and gave the Aesir two fosterlings as hostages. Since that time, there has been peace,  but the Aesir are the principal deities of the Norse faith.

The Aesir

The Aesir are the clan of Odin the All Father, the warrior deities. They encompass a wide range of portfolios and belief systems, and are typically the most well-known of the Norse deities.

Odin- The All Father, the principal of the Aesir. Odin is known as the god of War, Wisdom, Magic, and Secrets. He sits upon his throne and looks out over the world using his ravens, Hugin and Munin, to learn all that is happening. He spends his days preparing for Ragnarok and the end of the cycle.

Frigga- The All Mother, wife of Odin. Frigga is the goddess of the Home and Hearth. Prayed to by wives and mothers, she is known for her spinning and as a powerful seeress. Like all Norse women, it is Frigga who runs the house of the gods and among her symbols are keys.

Thor- The Red Bearded Thunderer. Wielder of Mjolnir, Thor is the protector of Asgard. He is physically the strongest of the gods, but is often seen to be of short temper and easily fooled because of it. He rides a chariot pulled by two goats, Toothgnasher and Toothgrinder, who can be eaten and brought back to life.

Tyr- The One Handed God. Tyr is the god of sacrifice and justice. He is the impartial one who does whatever is necessary for the good of all. It was he who sacrificed his hand to bind Fenris until the time of Ragnarok. He is looked to by warriors and those who must sacrifice for the good of others.

There are many other Aesir, but this gives a good idea of some of them. Among the others are Baldr the Beautiful One, Forsetti the God of Judges, Idunna the Keeper of the Golden Apples, and many more, each with their own myths and legends.
Statues of some of the Gods

The Vanir

The Vanir are the second clan of the gods. During the War, their leader was Mimir, the Wise One or the Rememberer. At the end of the War, he was decapitated and his head was placed alongside Mímisbrunnr, the well of wisdom from which Odin drank after sacrificing his eye.

Freyja- The Lady of the Slain. Freyja is the most well known of the Vanir, and along with her brother, were the two fosterlings sent to Asgard at the end of the War. She is the goddess of Magic, Sex, Fertility, Love, and the Slain. It is her Valkyries that bring the honoured dead to Odin, but only after Freyja gets first pick!

Freyr- Lord of the Harvest. Freyr, brother of Freyja is also a fertility god, but of the fields. He is also known as the god of prosperity and the land. He is associated with horses and is a great warrior in his own right, defeating Jottuns even after giving up his sword, a magical blade that could fight on its own.

Njord-  Lord of the Fishers- Njord is the Norse god of the Sea, although in my readings it seems he is the god of the sea close to the shores: those seas that are friendly and welcoming, where the bounty of fish feed the people. He was married to Skadi, the Goddess of Winter and Wolves. Often they are called upon for a peaceful divorce. Njord rules over his hall, Nóatún.

Ullr- Guardian of Skiers- Ullr is a hunter god, patron of skiers and archers. He is the son of Sif, and stepson of Thor. He is often associated with Skadi, Njord’s ex-wife, the goddess of winter.

As with the Aesir, this is only a small list of deities that I find interesting to share with you guys. If you want to know more about either of the tribes, let me know, and perhaps I can start doing some regular posts speaking about individual gods and spirits.

The Ancestors

There is one more parallel aspect to Asatru: worship and honouring of the ancestors. In ancient Norse culture, who you were and where you came from was enormously important. This is a tradition that is kept alive even today in the continuing use of patronymics by some Nordic people. A patronymic is a name that says who your father, and sometimes mother, is. Ex: Hafthor Bjornsson’s father is named Bjorn. Part of the reason for this is that it was believed that your ancestors watched over and guided you in life, much in the same way the gods might. This means it is important to also bring honour and glory to your line and behave in a manner that would respect those who came before you. It also means that those that come after you have to deal with your legacy —positive or negative— and so you have a duty to them as well.



Vincent Enlund (Heathen Artist, Owner of http://longshipstudio.com/) wrote:
My name is not my own,

It is borrowed from my ancestors,
I must return it unstained.

My honor is not my own,
It is on loan from my descendants,
I must give it to them unbroken.

Our blood is not our own,
it is a gift to generations yet unborn,
We should carry it with responsibility.


I think this sums up the idea of the spirit of our line stretching back to the dawn of time, and forward
Comic from Humon Comics(They are great!)
showing traditional clothing for Godi.
to the end of time perfectly. These familial ties are part of the reason that Asatruar as so community-oriented: we are all in this together, and if you go by blood, we are tied back to the gods.

Traditions

Each person makes their own traditions, their own way to interact with the gods, the ancestors, and the world around them. Sometimes, those traditions grow into a group of people who practice the same way, and sometimes one remains an individual practitioner. Neither way is better than the other, they each have their benefits.

Personally, I have a large group of chosen family who, while many aren't Asatruar or even pagan, they join me when I follow my traditions, whether at Yule feast or the ceremony for my marriage. I am very fortunate to have my clan.

For the sake of space, I am only going to give two examples of my personal traditions, and without much detail. The two major holy days that I celebrate are Yule (the Winter Solstice), and the Feast of the Einherjar. I did a blog post years ago on the Feast of the Einherjar (https://ulfhedinnjourney.blogspot.com/2013/11/we-raise-horn-to-einherjar.html) that goes a little bit into what it means to me and what we do for it. Yule is actually going to be a future blog post (probably around Yule!), but the basic idea is a large feast where we gather as a clan and celebrate our victories over the last year and boast of our deeds for the coming year. We also play games and compete to see who will be the champions for the new year. These two events, I think, are really endemic of what Asatruar rituals are like. They involve food and merriment, but also honouring the gods and traditions of old. We also work hard to build up the members of the clan so that everyone can move forward.

Several times in this post, I have discussed worshiping or honouring deities or ancestors: how does that work for Asatruar? It depends on each individual person. For me, I honour the gods and the ancestors with my actions and trying to live my life based on the lessons they have taught me. I will also make a sacrifice on holy days to them (a drink or a plate of food), as a thank-you for the guidance and strength that they give me throughout my life. This isn’t too different from Christian worship; the main difference is typically Asatruar don’t ask the gods for something: instead, we ask the gods for the capacity to acquire it. Our faith teaches us that we must be self-reliant and that we must hold ourselves up. In fact, hard work and self-responsibility are two of the Nine Noble Virtues, traits that were codified from the Havamal and other works when Asatru first emerged in the 70s. Here is my post about them in specific. (https://ulfhedinnjourney.blogspot.com/2013/11/nine-noble-virtues.html)

Asatru and the SCA

Oddly enough one of the things that confuse people the most when they meet me is that they think the SCA and my faith are intertwined, that everyone in the SCA is Asatruar, or that my religion is part of the reenactment.

To me, the SCA serves several purposes. First, it allows me to meet people with similar interests in history and Western Martial Arts. Second, it allows me a path way for my research into the lifestyles of the ancient Norse; I use this research to better understand and honour the Ancestors. Finally, the SCA allows me to hang out with my friends and family in what I consider a very positive atmosphere where people respect honour, chivalry, and loyalty, virtues which often feel like they have started to die out in the world.

So, the SCA is not part of being Asatruar, but I feel like it does help me become better, both in my religion and in my day-to-day life.

People have tried to turn Asatru into a bastion of white supremecy
we arent going to allow that.

A Warning Against Folkism

There are many people in the Asatruar community who say that they follow the path of the gods, but then hate on those that are different from them; who use the colour of someone else’s skin or their ancestry as a means to block others from joining this community. This is bullshit. It’s prejudiced, it’s hateful, and it doesn't follow anything that we know about the ancient Norse. Our ancestors travelled the world, they interbred and interacted with cultures as far east as India, and as far west as North America. Along the way, they met and traded with many people. We have no records anywhere, in any of the massive tomes of history from this period, that says they had issues with people of different races. Erik the Red had a Black viking on his crew called Thorhall the Hunter, and this is just an example we can find easily in the sagas. Asatru has no place for racism. If you see a group acting in a questionably racist matter, do not feel like you need to just accept it because it's part of the religion: it is not, and never should be.

Where can I learn more about Asatru?

There are tons of resources out there for people to learn more about Asatru. We live in a time when there is a wealth of knowledge at our fingertips.

Here are some helpful links to get you started on your journey.

The Asatru Community- http://www.theasatrucommunity.org/intro-to-heathenry
Asatru Alliance- https://www.asatru.org/aboutasatru.php
Essential Asatru- https://www.amazon.com/Essential-Asatru-Walking-Norse-Paganism/dp/080654029X/ref=asc_df_080654029X/?tag=hyprod-20&linkCode=df0&hvadid=266178720949&hvpos=1o14&hvnetw=g&hvrand=16760556980759262997&hvpone=&hvptwo=&hvqmt=&hvdev=c&hvdvcmdl=&hvlocint=&hvlocphy=9051839&hvtargid=pla-594717014608&psc=1


Conclusion

Hopefully, this has addressed some of your questions the modern rebirth of an ancient religion and why I follow it. If you have any other questions at all, please feel free to ask me directly, or ask in the comments below. I am happy to answer anything I can, or point you in the direction of someone who can. Also, if you have any topics you'd like to see me cover in the future, let me know! I am always looking for new things to delve into with my research.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Good Eats in the Viking Age

Introduction to Norse Cuisine

As with many things about the Viking Age, we have few records of the day-to-day life. In the case of food, many of the records we do have actually date from a long time after the end of this era, which makes our written sources a little questionable as to what the Norse actually ate. However, we can cross-reference the written record with archeological finds such as garbage pits and middenheaps, which can give us a solid basis that we can use to confirm the written record as much as we can.

Cooking is a big part of the SCA, so trying to figure out what might have been used in period is often a large area of study for some SCAdians. I know of more than one Laurel who earned their title due to their acumen in the kitchen, which included both the research of period methods and the meticulous redacting of recipes. My wife and I were able to use some of the information already gathered by these titans of the kitchen and the information we have on Norse Cuisine and plan a feast for Tourney of the Three Ships (Southkeep’s Local event, here is my rundown of one a few years ago!https://ulfhedinnjourney.blogspot.com/2014/02/tourney-of-three-ships.html). She did all the cooking along with her incredibly helpful kitchen staff, and I did the research. Our feast will be included at the end of this post.

Before we get into the what the Vikings ate, I think it's important to get an idea of how they ate. As near as I can tell from my readings, the ancient Norse ate two meals: dagmál (day meal) and náttmál (night meal). These were likely only the large meals of the day, one to break their fast in the morning and one at night after the work is done. As someone who has done physical labour, I find it difficult to believe they wouldn't have some sort of snack while out in the fields, but there is no record of that. These two meals would’ve had to have been very high in calories to keep them full and ready to work throughout the day. Dr. Short and Dr. Short at Hurstwic did a really great dietary analysis based on their findings for what would have been eaten, and  calculated that on the lower end, the Norse would’ve consumed around 3000 calories to maintain their energy levels, which (given the foods that were available) would have been immense quantities! It's no wonder they were famous for their feasting!

Now onto the tasty parts!

Meats- Viking-age Grilling

Sadly, it doesn’t seem like grilling or even roasting was the main way to prepare meats during the Viking Age. It appears the meats were boiled, which makes sense given that they wanted to stretch what meat they had, and stews with root vegetables are a great way to do that. Boiling would also be a good idea for game meats and tougher meats like goat, all of which made up a large portion of the diet for the Norse. Aside from the preparation of fresh meats, the Norse ancient and modern, are known for pickling and fermenting meat so that it keeps longer. Surstromming and Hakarl are uniquely Nordic treats that are made from fermented herring and shark respectively. These continue to be eaten even today!

The meats that would be eaten fell into three major groups: seafood, livestock, and hunted game. The majority of the protein most likely came from seafood based on our research, with livestock being
Reenactors with a Viking Age Kitchen set up
second, and hunting being the least. This is because of the environment and the fact that the Norse were such a seafaring culture.

The fish that were eaten in ancient times continue to be a major part of the modern Nordic diet, and a rich source of trade for those countries. The main fish that you could expect to see as far as saltwater would be haddock, cod, smelt, and mackerel. Freshwater would also give them access to plenty of salmon. We also know from historical record that some shellfish and mollusks were eaten. As we said earlier, most meats would have been boiled, and Beatrice made an awesome fish stew as one of the courses in our meal out of haddock.

In addition to fishing, we also know from the histories that the Norse were whalers. While we don’t believe that going out and harpooning was the most common way of doing so except in the island nations, we do know that hunting whales was a major source of food and other resources. It’s very likely that whales were either driven to ground, or hunted by being driven into inlets where they could be more easily killed. Whales would provide meat, blubber, and bone to early hunters.

We also know that the Norse kept animals, and even in the Eddas there are stories that discuss the keeping of goats, chickens, cows, and pigs. These animals would have been the second largest portion of the protein eaten by the people of the North. Based on studying and what I know from farm life, beef would have been eaten the least due to the amount of land it takes to raise a herd and that a cow is worth more for its milk than its meat. Goats and pigs, on the other hand, are exactly the types of animals that are easy to raise on a small amount of land, and also reach eating size rather quickly allowing them to be raised and eaten within a year.

Were the Norse great hunters? We don’t have a ton of evidence to say that they ate hunted meat often, but we do know that they hunted elk, deer, and fowl. I would imagine that these would have been supplemental meat for the average Viking-age person, unless they lived far from the beaten path and were hunters by trade. Unlike many cultures, the fowl that the Norse would have interacted with often would have been seabird like puffins, who are still hunted in Iceland today, and the Great Auk, which is now extinct. These birds would have been sources for additional meats, as well as wild eggs.

Fruits and Vegetables- Did Vikings eat their greens?

From historical records, we have seen that the ancient Norse had a decently varied diet, including many different proteins and plants. Like the meats, we aren’t totally sure how these would have been prepared, but we do know that the most common method of preserving vegetables and herbs would have been drying.

Stones that would have been used in a handmill
When it comes to leafy greens, they weren’t doing bad at all. No kale or lettuce, but they did have spinach, cabbage, and endive, all of which go great in stews or eaten as a salad. We do know that the Romans and Greeks, and by extension the Eastern Romans ate mixed green salads. This means it's not too much of a stretch to say the Norse could have as well, given their interaction with those cultures. They also have a love of vinegar and oils that would make sense with salads, at least in a modern idea.

The majority of the other vegetables that were eaten would have been roots or bulbs like carrots, beets, onions, etc. These all lend themselves to that stew-pot cooking that we know was common in the time period. Grab a haunch of meat, throw in whatever vegetables you like, add spices and herbs as you go, and eat at dinner time. It's the ancient version of set it and forget it! Sadly for my Cuban heart, none of the foods eaten were really tubers, which means no puré de malanga or mashed potatoes. I guess those come later.

Fruits were slightly less varied because of the climate, with the majority of what was eaten being berries. Bilberry is one of the more interesting ones, as it is unique to Iceland and almost always mistranslated as blueberry. This would lead to some confusion in recipes, I’m sure. Other common fruits would have been apples, and plums. Again as with the vegetables, drying would have been the best way to make sure the fruits stayed edible for prolonged periods of time. We aren’t sure what other preservation methods were used, but we know in later period, preserving in honey had become common.

Breads- Great Norse Bake-Off!

Grain production in the North was a difficult task, and it wasn't until the middle ages that we saw these areas really start to produce rye. Barley was the most common grain, although there was some wheat. This lead to mixed grain breads, barley and whatever other grain they were cultivating. As rye gained popularity, rye bread became more common. The breads that we have discovered seem to be small, flat, biscuit-type breads. The flour could be mixed with nuts or honey to make other flavours of bread and improve consistency. The grains could also be used to make porridge.
The Hurstwic Insitute making bread

The Big Cheese- Dairy in the Viking Age

Our historical record and the sagas show that the Norse were really big on dairy. Whether it was milk, cheese, or the Norse yogurt called Skyr, dairy products made up a decent portion of the ancient Norse diet, and this makes sense. We know that they needed to eat a huge amount of calories to keep up their energy levels, and meat and vegetables alone can’t make it up. However, throw some butter in there, or have a portion of skyr with honey and you really start stacking those calories on! Skyr and goat cheese are both very high in protein, which add to muscle growth. I have seen some historians theorize that skyr and the leftover whey, called mysa, which was also drunk, might have something to do with the large size the people of the North grew to.

Skyr is actually seeing a huge resurgence in popularity even outside the Nordic countries, and it’s now possible to buy some at many grocery stores. It's also pretty straightforward to make, if a little time consuming. Here is a pretty good recipe that brings you through the process. https://icelandmag.is/article/make-your-own-skyr

Preparation- How did the Norse cook their foods?

We actually have discovered a wide array of cooking tools from the Viking Age. We have spits for roasting, soapstone pots for boiling, cheese tablets, and so many more. It’s from these that we can get a rough idea of how the food was prepared at the time, and how we have come to our conclusions about how things were cooked. One of the most interesting points to me was the lack of pottery, and it turns out it's because the type of clay used for pottery just wasn't common in the North. This is why we have found so many soapstone vessels. Soapstone also had the benefit of being easy to repair, but it is much heavier.

When it came to indoor cooking, we know that there was a separate fire for light/warmth and cooking. The cooking fire was called the Maledr and was sometimes even in a separate room to keep those activities from the main hall. I can only speculate on the whys of this, but as someone who grills often I can imagine you don't want the main fireplace full of animal fats and other things that could cause the entire home to smell.

There is some evidence to show that sometimes meat was roasted on an open fire in a pit, and it’s actually what inspired us in how we did our slow-roasted pork for the feast at Three Ships.

An SCA Viking Feast

Normal SCA feasts are divided into removes and we weren’t any different in the set up for our Norse inspired feast.

Spinach Salad with walnuts and goat cheese
Haddock Stew with rye bread (Plokfisk)
Roast Pig with a honey mustard crust and root vegetables
Apple and lingonberry tarts (lingonbrauð and epilbrauð)

We wanted our menu to be both historical and palatable to a modern taste. This gave us a couple of small concessions such as roasting the meat rather than boiling it, and a nice risen rye bread.

Our first course was the greens! A nice spinach salad with berries and goat cheese. For the dressing, we used a mustard based vinaigrette, since we know mustard was a common spice in period. The salad actually went over very well, and people thoroughly enjoy the crisp and light flavours. In the future, it might be better to start with the fish stew and then do the salad to get a light course between the stew and the roast.

After the salads, we went on to our seafood course, something that is missing way too often in feasts. For this stew, Bea prepared a smoky broth made with milk and haddock, which gave it a very nice
Hurstwic Kitchen
salty flavour with a creamy texture. It was paired with a rye bread baked in cast iron pans, to dip while eating the stew. This was actually the most successful course, surprisingly enough… we ran out and people were still asking for more.

Next came the star of the show! Roast pork shoulders covered in a coarse mustard and honey crust! These shoulders were slow-roasted the entire day, and when it came time to serve, they just fell apart and were served shredded! They tasted amazing, and again we tried to focus on flavour groupings that would be somewhere between the historically accurate and the modernly tasty. The pork was served with an heirloom carrot medley coated in honey and sea salt. It could have really done with some potatoes, but alas those are way out of period for us.

Finally, we had some amazing individual tartlets. These were crusts filled with lingonberry or apple compote. In period, these would have more likely been frittered or some similar presentation, but for the sake of getting them to the table in a timely manner, we went with baked tarts.

Overall, this was one of the feasts I have seen with the least leftovers. We had some salad and a few tartlets, but for everything else the cupboards were bare. I had a blast helping my wife with the research, and the whole feast crew knocked it out of the park with preparation and timing!

Conclusion

All in all, the diet of the ancient Norse doesn’t seem that off-putting to my modern mindset, and the flavours are pretty good. I prefer grilled meat to boiled, but that's just nitpicking. Are there any Norse recipes you know? Share them in the comments! Did I miss an important piece of information? Share that too! I love getting comments about other points of research.



Sources
Viking Answer Lady-http://www.vikinganswerlady.com/food.shtml
Hurstwic(Be sure to check out the dietary analysis)- http://www.hurstwic.org/history/articles/daily_living/text/food_and_diet.htmThe National Museum of Denmark- https://en.natmus.dk/historical-knowledge/denmark/prehistoric-period-until-1050-ad/the-viking-age/food/