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/

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Child Rearing in the Viking Age

The Clan



Introduction

Raising children in a modern sense is one of the most time-consuming and maddening experiences I have ever engaged in. It is also amazingly rewarding, and so worth it when you get things right. The truth is that if you take even a small glance at the internet, you will see hundreds and thousands of different approaches to how to raise children to be well adjusted successful adults. The one prevailing truth, no one actually knows. We each do our best and hope that we impart more wisdom and love than damage.

Practice time!
How did things work historically? Did ancient man spend their time worrying if they had messed up by not celebrating their child’s first birthday? Did medieval farmers share concerns over ale that they had messed up by not providing memorable experiences for their children? Probably no;  by everything I’ve seen, it looks like the main goal of parents was to make sure that children were healthy and prepared to be adults. Now, I imagine that parents wanted their kids to be happy, but when the choices are help on the farm or everyone starves, it puts things into perspective.

For this blog post, I’ll take a look at my own parenting style, as well as how things would have been done in Norse times. The reality is that we don’t know very much about what a Norse child’s life was like during the Viking Age. We can see in runestones and in the few mentions in the sagas that the children were loved, but their raising (like many day-to-day things) was left out. There was no ancient What to Expect When You're Expecting, so to rebuild their life I’m taking a look at what toys we have found, and the little bit we have seen mentioned in the sagas. All this means is that there will be a fair bit of conjecture and guessing based on what I understand about the culture and my own experiences as a father.

Genders for Viking Children

Modernly, it's difficult to discuss raising children without getting into the idea of gender and how gender roles affect the decisions we make as parents. In the Viking Age, gender was also important, as it would determine the rights of the child based on their age and what skills they would be taught. While women in the Viking Age did have a fair bit of freedom in what they did with their lives (Which you can read about in my previous blog post: https://ulfhedinnjourney.blogspot.com/2019/05/womens-rights-in-viking-age.html), there was still a divide in what was considered masculine arts and feminine arts. I'll get more into which skills children might learn below.

Laws were one of the main differences between how boy and girl children were handled. Boys were considered adults at the age of 16. Girls on the other hand could inherit at 16, but were typically considered adults when they married or turned 20, whichever came first. Girls were eligible to marry as young as 12, which meant that a young girl could be the woman of her house before a boy was considered a man. 

Ancient Norse Playtime

We know that the Norse of all ages enjoyed playing games and having fun. There are plenty of
My three girls. Thrudr, Aeta, and Merida.
Circa 2012
examples in the sagas of sport games and board games being played. I wrote a blog post on Knattleikr a few weeks ago  (
https://ulfhedinnjourney.blogspot.com/2019/07/knattleikr-norse-ball-game.html), one of the many field games we hear about being played in the sagas. It would seem that, like many other cultures, field games were often battle analogs, promoting activity and strategic thinking. Games of all types have often been used as training tools, whether it’s teaching children math with Monopoly, or perfecting strategy with Hnefatfl. 

The majority of toys that we have found keep along with the same idea that play was meant to emulate adults and give children a sense of what they’d be doing when they grew up. We have found wooden ships and weapons that could be used either for pretend or training, and even the wooden tops we have found have been thought to have taught the finger skills needed for weaving and other fiber arts. We have also found dolls and other wooden figures that would allow children to play pretend in a variety of ways no different than the Playskool figures that children play with today. It is most interesting to me to see the parallels in the way children have played for millenia: in almost every age, we have found very similar toys, things that represent the imagination and allow kids to recreate the world around them as they see it. When my kids were younger, they used their toys and recreated a farm, complete with parents, children, and paddocks. When I was a kid, I did the same thing. I can see the same games going back all the way to the Norse times, with those kids having a much better idea of what goes on a farm, since they are actively living on one!
Examples of toys from the Viking Age

Education in the Viking Age

Education (at least structured education as we understand it in modern times) is a very recent change in the way we handle children. Even 200 years ago, children had some learning at a school house, but the majority of their education would be at the hands of their parents. In the Viking Age, nearly all teaching would be done by the parents. Essentially, they would raise their children to take their place in society or assist them in what they did, whether this was a craft or simply running a farm. This would include social lessons as much as practical ones. Parents would teach their children what the law was and how they were expected to behave within their culture. The practical lessons, however, would take up the majority of children’s time, and would take up more and more as they grew older. 

As near as we can tell, children were expected to assist around the home as soon as they were old enough to complete any given task, meaning babies and toddlers were left to play but as soon as they were more capable, they were given simple tasks such as gathering eggs or similar. As their capacity grew, so did their responsibilities until they were a fully functioning member of the homestead. In the cases of the children of crafts people, if the child wanted to continue the trade, they did have somewhat of a choice, and would help out around the shop and learn by watching their parents. This would give them the needed skills to take over the trade or expand the shop to be able to handle more work as they came of age. 

Merida and Aeta practicing sword and shield.
When I had my game store, I did something similar with my girls: they were expected to help out within their abilities. The youngest would help by sweeping, the older two by helping cook or ring up customers, which gave them experience that most kids their age don’t have. They already have a leg up when it comes time to apply for a retail job in a couple of years. Those same skills help them out at home when it comes to helping their mom and me maintain the house.

Now what about children who didn't want to follow the family trade, or perhaps the shop was already full? There are tales in the sagas that discuss fostering and apprenticeship. Fostering would be the act of sending one of your children to the home of another family to learn from them. This was less often about learning something different and more about connecting two families in a similar fashion to marriage. It creates a bond that is useful in a time when it was important to be close to people around you for mutual support and defense. Apprenticeship was a way for a child to learn something beyond the family trade. Your parents would make a deal with a craftsperson to take you on and teach you their trade. In some cases of apprenticeship, the child would move in with their teacher until they came of age. 

Beyond their basic education in society and future trade, there were also martial arts, which modernly conjures images of Eastern Martial arts, but includes the fighting styles of the West as well. The Viking Age was a brutal time where it was important for all people to be capable of defending themselves. Towards this end, parents would train their children in the ways of fighting. I imagine it wasn’t gender controlled, but that girls were only taught if they wanted to learn, while for
Thrudr practicing Archery
boys it was an expectation that they had to fulfill. The actual manners of how they trained their children didn’t survive, since they were an oral culture, but with the records of how combat happened in the Sagas we can have an idea of how the Norse fought. The Hurstwic Institute has put a ton of work into recreating the Viking fighting styles and train people to fight in the way that they might have a thousand years ago. 

Conclusion

The most interesting thing I’ve learned in doing the research for this post is that even as technology changes, the basic way children play hasn’t too much, or at least not in our house. We use play time to pretend and use our imaginations, whether it's about what the girls will be when they grow up or something entirely different (we are playing a Mandalorian Star Wars RPG at the moment!). The major change is that the home is no longer the family business, and much of their education takes place at school. I make it a point to teach them our culture, and the moral lessons that are important to me, and between my wife and I we teach them how to maintain a house: all the things they will need to be functioning adults when the time comes for them to go out on their own. I also train with them in Viking Martial arts, as it gives me sparring partners at home, and it creates tiny shield maidens that can hold their own!

If there are any aspects of Child Rearing the Viking Age you think I missed or glossed over, let me know! If there is anything I got wrong or you would like to hear more about in a future post, let me know that too! 



Sources 
REPRESENTATIONS OF CHILDREN IN THE ICELANDIC SAGAS by Anna Hansen- https://publikationen.uni-tuebingen.de/xmlui/handle/10900/46195

Monday, July 22, 2019

Skaldic Poetry

Introduction
The epic saga: the retelling of stories of brave heroes who have overcome monstrous odds and come out victorious or lost and taught us a lesson. For many Northmen and women, being remembered in a saga was a dream goal. Towards that end, poetry encompassed a decent portion of the lives of the Nordic peoples: it was how you heard your history, your myth, and in some cases your laws. The wide variety of uses meant that there were also many different styles of poems, from the slightly freeform fornyrðislag, or song like ljóðaháttr, to the rigid dróttkvætt or courtly style.

I have been working on somewhat understanding Norse alliterative poetry for a handful of years, and have never made much progress on it. I will read and research a bit and then try my hand at a poem, then I will remember that English is a difficult language and that alliterative/rhyming poems in a language with no internal consistency is a pain. This blog post is the most concerted effort I have ever invested to really get into the idea of the rules of the dróttkvætt, which really helped me understand the others better as well. In each of the sections below, as I describe the styles, I will share my attempts at recreating them.

Different Formats
Before getting into the specifics of the three forms I address in this post, I want to discuss alliteration, one of the key factors of Norse poetry. When I first started, I understood alliteration as the first sound of a word, such as bed and beat, which have a strong B as the first sound. In Nordic poetry, I found that they want the stressed syllable to alliterate, which took me forever to understand. I still don't quite get it, especially since in English the stressed syllable is a little unclear to me.

Ljóðaháttr
Count Takamatsu Sadamitsu no kami Tadayoshi
This is a poetic form known as the ballad style. Now, some of the places I search said the ljóðaháttr meant song or ballad. That doesn't quite add up with what I have seen, but I will leave direct translations to people who actually speak the language (future goals!). From what I can tell, Ljoda means poetry or poem, and Hattr means way.

The rules for this are relatively free-form as far as line length, but the lines were clustered into 4-line stanzas. Each line should have two to three alliterations. Charging Tiger was my attempt at this form of poem.

Charging Tiger
Westward we go to war, Seas and Star
A past-prime first-time fighter I was.
Reaching the ravine, amassing our armies.
Scarred soldiers speak, laughing loudly at youth’s yearning.



Joining the joy, my unmerited mirth, my Jarl jokes to his man:
“You are young!’ ‘Are you sure?’ ‘Very, join the van’
‘Yes my Jarl!’ Helm on head and testing my knee,
I survey terrain ahead: rough ground, loose leaves, many many trees

Reckless Rookie at my side, grinning greatly
Sighing, shield raised. Surely I can do this safely.
No time to be weak, neither for friends or foes
Horns howl; avalanching armies close

Speed belongs to Spring, Wisdom to Winter.
Carefully chosen path meant I kept up with the sprinter.
As we approached; shields up, slowing down
Almost arrived, claiming ground.

Bolt of blue blasting past; Old Samurai gave us the lead
Helm howling with a laugh, still surpassed with his speed.
Protecting the point, spear ready for warring
Enemy army stutters seeing an old tiger roaring.

A hero held them at bay, as our shields locked into place.
A great knight with bravery and speed, a grin always on his face.
He held the point, it would not fall,
Banzai Y'all.

This was written earlier this year and was inspired by one of my favourite stories from my first war, Gulf Wars XXIII: during the Ravine battle, I was told to run full-tilt as soon as the horns were sounded. I was very concerned about this because I’m not an overly fast runner and even less in full armour, but I was determined to give it my all. As I was running full tilt I was passed by a blue blur: none other than everyone’s favourite Southern Samurai, Sir Takamatsu. Taka passed suddenly two years ago and I miss him dearly, but I will carry him with me anytime I charge down that ravine ready to take a point.


Fornyrðislag
This is the most common form of Norse poetry that we have found. It is slightly more rigid than ljóðaháttr, but less rigid than dróttkvætt. As near as I can translate, fornyrðislag comes from the words “forn” meaning old, “ord” meaning word, and “slag” meaning path, so Way of the Old Words.
It also has several sub styles which change things like the number of unstressed syllables and the total number of syllables per line.

The Fyrby Runestone in Sodermanland, Sweden
like many runestones this one has writings which
are in verse.
The basic rules of this form are two to three alliterations of the stressed syllables in each line, with stanzas being 2-8 lines. This is different from Old English poems like Beowulf even though they share a similar metre. Ulfkarl is my attempt at a málaháttr version of this form.

Ulfkarl
Horns Howl, Heroes Answer
Hard Hirdsmen, who have no fear
Axe, Armour, and Ardent loyalty
Worn wielded, warriors all

Defense, Duty, Death
Daily done, Dangers faced
Hersir, House, Hallowed Land
Wolves working, they shelter sheep

Nine Noble Virtues
Each Echoing, explaining
What warriors would be
Extolling exact expectations.

Honour, honing hearts,  Discipline
Builds body, brings Self-reliance.
Hospitality, homes handed over.
Works wrought with sweat, pitfalls
overcome. Overt Industry, outright Perseverance.
Courage comes calling. Defiance,
fueled from Faith, found in Truth.

Ulfkarls under brothers banner
Heathens who fight for family
Glory given glory gained
Ancestors watching.

Dróttkvætt
Dróttkvætt is the most complicated and rigid of the forms that we have seen for Norse poetry. The word comes from Drótt meaning ruler, and kvætt meaning poem, and known as the courtly metre because of this. I dont think I was overly successful at my attempts in following the rules overall, but I came up with a decent attempt that got my feelings across. I’ve heard it said that the rules were so difficult that some skalds would include a side by side narrative to make it easier to follow.

The basic rules for this form are 8 lines per stanza each with 6 syllables. Odd numbered lines would have alliteration between two syllables and the even lines would rhyme with a stressed syllable from the line above.

Two Wolves
Moons ceaseless movement means
Seas rise, Tides fall. Time moves
a crawl. Ticking rules all,
thrall, freeman, sheep, or tree.
Fate’s skein ours to design.
Drawing of the Sigtuna box showing the runes,
the runes are a verse in Dróttkvæt.
Twine wound with end unfound.
Roads unfollowed. Paths Walked.
No one knows which is right.

Our heart plays hearth to twins,
Apart. Wolves strive to thrive.
Bête noire et bête blanche, each
set to win. Vice and sin,
Virtue and ideal. Two
true wolves biting, fighting.
Eternal their  battle,
lest harmony leave me.

White wolf armed just right with
Tight discipline makes might.
Courage steels and anneals.
Real honor, faces
peril with feral grit.
With Truth and Faith we stand.
Band of brothers among others.

Labour builds for neighbors,
Or all suffer lack of hall.
Hospitality, host
homes to those who roam far.
Eight before create, the
greatest self-reliance.
Theses traits men emulate,
great, noble, low, and humble.

Dark beast, on evil feasts,
Stark cowardice and vice.
Blood red wrath fills its head.
Flooding resentment bent,
Pride to tarnished ego. Lies
banish trust, punish faith,
Till all honour falls, breaks
shaken down into dust.

Two wolves this much is true,
such their battle, it rattles
quakes, and nearly breaks us.
Years pass and the fight lasts.
Moons set and wounds heal,
ordeal begins, but who wins.
The white wolf? the black wolf?
Right and virtue? Vice and blight?

Grandfather, understands
Hand to heart, each day starts,
with simple choice, which voice?
Which path we walk? Which wolf
we will choose to feed. For
see who wins is up to me.
Evil wins when good men
would do nothing. Bring good.


This was a retelling of the story of two wolves, Cherokee fable that I have always loved. This is the second time that I use it as a basis for a Norse alliterative poem, but the first one was before I really understood the rules at all.

Two Wolves (First Attempt)
Moons motion means,
time still turning
My devise is the two wolves, also represents
Skol and Hati.
Twin wolves working, within
a struggle for a soul

White wolf working with:
Courage calmed, cold kiln
Truth tells all things
Fidelity found in friends

Discipline driving forth
Honour Odin’s own
Industriousness not idle
Self reliance, self made

Perseverance paving my path
honed by hospitality, a hearth, a home
The Nine Noble
a warrior’s way

Black wolf brings vice
dishonor darkens long dead
Cowardice a clear path to
Helheim's hollow halls

Wrath reduces righteous thought
ego entangles
falsehoods founder
Greed’s great hunger harms heroes

resentment, jealousy, and
entitlement earns a fool’s gold
roads well traveled
man’s many mistakes

Which wolf will win?
a black beast, a white warrior
fed from our own actions
Which wolf will you feed?

Hear their howling
grandfather gave me good advice.
Follow, feed, fight for
the wolf which you want to win.

I think I did a better job of alliteration in the first attempt, but only because I alliterated nearly everything, which isn't how it was done!

Why is this Important to me?
“I thought this was a blog about fighting and Knighthood!” Well yeah sort of, but it's also a research blog for all things regarding my persona as a 10c Kievan Rus/Norseman. As I said at the beginning, poetry was a part of daily life for these people. It’s seen in grave markers and would have been recited at Allthings. It would be how children are taught their history, and how ancestors are remembered. Beyond any of this, it would have been one of the main forms of entertainment in a time before TV or even written books. Some of my favourite SCA moments have been sitting around the campfire and telling stories, or going to bardic circle and listening to them ply their trade.

You guys have also heard me say before that to me being a knight means so much more than just being a hot stick: it means being a well-rounded example that others can follow. If the only thing I can teach is combat, I can’t keep the society alive and I can’t help newcomers find their interests. Balance in all things, martial arts and actual arts!

Conclusion
Thank you all so much for getting all the way to the end through my attempts at working out Norse poetry. It was actually a ton of fun even though it was really difficult. It has inspired me to go ahead and learn more about the language, which will give me more insight into the culture overall.

If any of you have tried your hand at this kind of verse, I’d love to see some examples. If you have any ideas on how I can improve my poetry, that would be awesome to hear also.

As always if you have any topics you would like to see covered in a future blog post I am always up for suggestions, and be sure to follow so you don’t miss any of my updates!

Resources
Viking Answer Lady- http://www.vikinganswerlady.com/meters.shtml
Skaldic Project- https://skaldic.abdn.ac.uk/m.php?p=doc&i=621
Husrtwic- http://www.hurstwic.org/history/articles/literature/text/Skaldic_Poetry.htm
English to Old Norse Dictionary- http://www.yorku.ca/inpar/language/English-Old_Norse.pdf
(Note about translations the dictionary isn’t complete and I sometimes look to modern Icelandic to find word meanings)

Monday, July 8, 2019

Knattleikr- Norse Ball Game

Introduction

In the SCA, we’re always looking for new scenarios to test ourselves, and to keep combat entertaining both for the participants and spectators. This has led to dozens of different melee and tourney formats. One that was always a fan favourite was Dogball, or Jugging, a scenario based on the 1989 Rutger Hauer film ‘Blood of Heroes’. In a post-apocalyptic future, jugging is the blood sport of choice. I’ll admit right now that I’ve never seen the film and so I can’t comment on it directly, but what I have gathered is that teams of 5 fought against each other while trying to score points by placing a dog skull in the opponents goal.
Jugging in Blood of Heroes

In the SCA, the game was recreated as teams of 5 each armed in a different fashion. The actual equipment used seems to vary from Kingdom to Kingdom as do the specific rules, but the important part was that it led to a dynamic, fast-paced battle where the crowd had plenty of action to watch and the players had no shortage of violence to inflict.

What does this have to do with history, Vikings, or knattleikr which, the observant amongst you might have noticed is the title of this post? Well, that’s exactly one of the biggest issues we see with dogball: it lacks any historical reference. It’s something that was taken from a movie during the early times of the SCA and just sort of stuck, similar to ring belts and calling everyone -crat. Now, this is all well and good and there’s nothing wrong with wanting something like dogball, but 1989 is sliiiiightly out of period.

Knattleikr

Towards this end, I have been looking at the old Norse game Knattleikr, a ball game about which we have only limited information, but seems like a good place to start for several reasons. First, it’s mentioned in several different sagas (links to the sagas and chapters in the bibliography below), meaning it was a relatively common game. Second, among the equipment used to play were wooden bats which I imagine wouldn’t be too far off from the rattan we use as weapons in the SCA. Third, in the sagas it mentions that play could get bloody and heated.

The game has seen a recent resurgence in popularity in New England due to the research of Dr. William Short and the Hurstwic institute in Massachusetts. Hurstwic is known for their detailed readings of the sagas to bring the Viking age to light. With the hard details on knattleikr being so sparse, there’s a ton of guesswork and speculation in the creation of the game. In the links below, you can see how Dr. Short went about recreating the rules for Knattleikr.

Our rules will be slightly different, since they will be combining the SCA heavy combat rules, and be a slightly more aggressive version of the game played by the people at the Hurstwic Institute. The main focus of the game will still be scoring and running the ball, but fighting will be encouraged as part of the game rather than just a side effect of competition.

Final rundown of the facts that we have about the game from the sagas:
Players at the Hurstwic Institute enjoy Knattleikr
Game was played by teams.
There was a ball which was hard enough to break skin.
There were bats which were sometimes used to swing on the opponents.
Players paired off (although its uncertain if this is just like lining up in football).
The ball could go out of play.
The game was played on a field (some people say the field was marked, which would make sense since the ball went out of play)

What we don't know:
How do you score?
Was hitting frowned upon?
How many players per team?
How long would the game last?
What was the size of the field?

Proposed Rules for SCA Knattleikr

Two evenly matched teams: I am suggesting 5 to make it easier to get two teams.


A ball: I am open to suggestions on this one, but I’ll suggest a softball or similar until something better is found.
Possible design for a period appropriate ball

To score, a player must place the ball in the opposing team’s basket.

Equipment: each player will be armoured in the standards of SCA Heavy Combat, and armed with a single sword.

Blows and Resurrections: Only blows to the head or body will count. As always, these will count as a kill and the person struck will need to go to their goal to resurrect. In Dogball, pinning was allowed, which I think would slow the game down. When you are killed, you must immediately drop the ball if you have it.

Game will end when one team has 10 points.

Play begins with one team serving the ball to the other, sort of like a kick off. To serve, a player will toss the ball in the air and then strike it in the direction of the other team with their bat. The serving team can not touch the ball until it has been claimed by the receiving team or it has come to a full stop without being claimed.

Once the ball has been served, play continues until a team scores with the ball able to change possession depending on kills and/or being dropped.

If the ball goes out of play, the team that was not responsible for it leaving play can throw it in from the sidelines (like soccer).

Field should be about 28.5mx15.25m, the size of a basketball court. (This is one of the things that will require the most testing)

Optional Rules

Dogball weapons- Instead of being armed with a single sword, players can be armed in any fashion in which they’re authorised, except long spear. No two players on a team can be armed the same way. Anyone with weapons in both hands or a two handed weapon can not handle the ball.
Pinning- A player can, after killing an opponent, leave their weapon against them preventing them from walking to their goal.
Crowd throw-ins- Rather than either team throwing the ball in when it leaves play, a spectator can do so.

Conclusion

Hurstwic Player
The truth is that, because of all of the conjecture, these knattleikr rules are only slightly more historical than dogball. I can say that I did my best to keep the spirit of the game intact, and work with what we understand from other games. The biggest hurdle is combining what we see in the sagas with the rules we already have in place in the SCA to keep us safe.

That being said, it isn’t overly unreasonable that knattleikr could have been a combat ball game. We see examples in other cultures around the world; Buzkashi, a game in the Afghanistan region in which riders strike each other with whips is a good example. It’s also supposedly one of the inspirations for dogball. The Mayan ball game is also an example of a combative ball game on a court. We may never know exactly how the ancient Norse played knattleikr, but what we can do is take their example and create a fun game for ourselves.

The goal right now is to play a couple of games to see how the rules work, and if it is as fun as I imagine. If you get the chance to play let me know how it works for you!


Bibliography

Grettir’s Saga - https://www.sagadb.org/grettis_saga.en (Chapter 15)
Egil’s Saga - https://www.sagadb.org/files/html/egils_saga.en.html (Chapter 40)
Eyrbyggja Saga - https://sagadb.org/eyrbyggja_saga.en (Chapter 43)
Hurstwic Recreatoin of Knattleikr - http://www.hurstwic.org/history/articles/daily_living/text/knattleikr.htm

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Workout Routine


Nearly ten weeks ago, things started to stabilize a fair bit in my life. I found myself with the drive once again to set out on finding my fitness. For those of you who have been following the blog for a while, you will know that I am very big on balance. As a warrior, you can only be at your best when mind, body, and spirit are in balance and strong. I spent about two years where none of these were strong and everything was out of whack. Thankfully, in April I was able to start finding myself again. I came back to my blog to get my mind and spirit on track, and I started working out every morning to get my body back to fighting fit.

When I began the workouts, I was really concerned; I have always been a decently active person, but the last two years had seen me at my absolute worst. I had no idea what to expect, but I knew the most important thing was to just get started. I was more than a little bit scared that I wouldn't be able to do almost any exercise at all, and I wasn't too far from the truth. Thankfully, I chose to start off slow and let myself build up. The first two days, all I did was basic cardio and strength building (literally the Cardiio app on my iPhone). After that, I added Warclubs and 10lb curls. I have been focused more on endurance across the board rather than strength training, so all my working out has been based on repetition of low weight, or body weight exercises.

While I was prepared for how far off I had been, I was surprised at how good it felt to start again and how quickly my body responded to the workouts, and I was able to increase my counts for almost everything daily. After ten weeks, I’m feeling amazing. Consistency and discipline were the most important to me, which is why I’ve waited so long to write this post. I didn't want to write it and then abandon the work out a short while later.

Time for brutal honesty: I missed 5 of my workouts completely, and 6 times I had to replace the normal workout with something else because of life circumstances. The days that I had to replace the normal workout, I did laps in the pool while I was playing with my kids to make sure I stayed active and kept the muscles aware that things needed to be done.

Cardiio
A few years ago, my wife introduced me to a pretty awesome little app called Cardiio: it’s a handy program that takes your pulse either through your finger or facial scan, and it includes a seven minute workout routine that you can follow along. It’s comprised of 12 exercises for 30 seconds each, with 10 seconds of rest between each one. The routine is pretty full body, and it helps by being short enough to cram into even a busy day.

  • Jumping Jacks
  • Wall Sit
  • Push-Ups
  • Crunches
  • Step Ups
  • Squats
  • Plank
  • Tricep Dip
  • High Knees
  • Lunges
  • Rotational Push-Ups
  • Side Plank


Most of the exercises were pretty easy for me, even being out of shape. The only things that gave me a hard time were the push-ups, rotational push-ups, and side planks. My first day, I failed to even do a single clean push up in the thirty seconds; I had to bring myself down to the ground to be able to get up again. By the end of the first week, I was doing 3, and as of today I’m doing 8 without any problems. Rotational push-ups, for those who may not know, are push-ups where once you get to the top you swing one arm out and up, then come back down to complete the push up; then on the next push up you do the other arm. When I started, I couldn’t do any, but at the end of eight weeks I am able to do three. It’s a bit difficult because it’s just about the last exercise, so I’m good and tired by the time I get there. I believe that's also the reason the side planks are so hard as well, but I am not yet successfully completing those.

I am looking forward to continue growing stronger in each of the exercises over the coming weeks. Once I get to the point where all 12 are easy, or at least reasonable, my plan is to stop using the app and move to one minute for each of these 12 as I am I doing with the other portions of my work out.

War clubs
Indian War Clubs have always been a favourite exercise tool for me, ever since a good friend introduced me to them years ago. This is a strength building exercise that also increases mobility throughout the range rather than the very limited motions you get with most strength exercises. I have found that warclubs also translate well to SCA because of the fact that in addition to normal warclub drills, you can also do SCA drills with them. I added them to my work out after a week of the Cardiio and Curls, which allowed me to continue building upper body strength and start working on the muscle memory that is used in SCA combat. My current war club routine is three exercises for one minute each.

  • Alternating Windmills (Also Called Backstroke and Front Stroke)
  • Two Hand Internal Rotation Circle
  • Pell Drills

My Pell drill is simple enough: just a combination of 4 strikes as I step forward. In one minute, I throw just over 100. Right now, I’m focusing more on footwork and technique than speed. The strikes are serving shot, offside, and then left handed serving shot, left handed offside.

Currently I am using 1lb clubs because it’s what I’ve got, but I’m looking to upgrade to 5lb clubs in the not too distant future. I also want to add another exercise when I upgrade, possibly forward swings or external rotations. I had some shoulder injuries a few years back so my right shoulder is weak; I’ve heard it said that war clubs help strengthen the rotator cuff, which is another reason I am using them.


Curls
Simple enough gym favourite, I am doing alternating curls with a 10lb dumbbell for one minute. Again the goal is more endurance and form rather than strength training. I need my body to be conditioned to long periods of activity rather than maxing out on short sets of max weight. The curls have been easy enough, and I am hoping to acquire some 15lb or 20lb dumbells over the coming months to upgrade this workout as well.

Suicide Sprints
This is my least favourite of the exercises on my current list. They’re exhausting and I feel like I’m about to die when I’m done. For those who may not know, a suicide sprint is a running exercise in which you run to a mark, then run back to start, then to a farther mark, then back to start, then to an even farther mark and back to start. In my case, the marks are at 6yd intervals making the farthest mark at 18yds. Currently I am running the course 3 times, which leads to a total of 216yds. My current run time is around 1:35 seconds.

These sprints help you build explosive energy and acceleration. The hope is that I’ll be able to translate that into closing distance quickly in tourneys, and run on the war field when
needed. Thus far, it gets my heart rate up and hopefully gets me used to bursts of activity.

Conclusion
What are my next steps? I want to continue growing the workout. Right now the total workout is about 21 minutes, which is good for maintaining my current shape, but I am wildly out of shape and I need to get much better. This week, I’m starting a new job which is going to change my routine, and it has also opened up a gym I can use. This means I’ll be getting to work with heavier weights, and most importantly, add my favourite exercise: rowing. In a few months, I’ll check in on my work out and how I am feeling, and we can see what progress has been made.

This past weekend, I got in armour and just about died after just 11 passes. I couldn’t even lift my arms; I’ve never felt so out of shape in the SCA before. I’m hoping it was just the heat and the length of time that has passed since my last time in armour. Because of the change in my schedule from the new job, I will have weekends free after three years, which should allow me to get into armour and attend practice at least twice a month now.

What do you do for workouts? Got any suggestions for how I can improve