Egil Skallagrimsson is one of the most interesting individuals written about in the Icelandic Sagas. He is a ruthless Viking warrior, and a berserker as well. He is a sorcerer, who knows how to use the runes to make people sick, or to cure their ills. His magic protected him on several occasions, including shattering a cup that contained poison that was poured for him. This ruthless warrior, who drank to excess, also could write some absolutely wonderful poetry, and skaldic verse as well. The best way to describe Egil, I think, is to say that he was a hard drinking, hard fighting, son of a bitch. But I love to read about him, and I am proud to honor him every December 9th.
One of my favorite passages that he wrote is :
None should write runes
Who cannot read what he carves.
A mystery mistaken,
Can bring men to misery.
I saw cut on a curved bone
Ten secret letters,
These gave the young girl
Her grinding pain.
Of course he kind of forgets to tell us that he carved the letters while trying to make a love spell !
Egil composed his first poem, we are told, at the tender age of just three years. At the age of seven this same poetry writing boy took an axe, and split a boys head in half for cheating him in a card game ! Do you see what I mean by a son of a bitch ! But this is the great contradiction of this great....... anti - hero's life. His poem Eirik's drapa actually saved his life, when after being shipwrecked in Northumbria he was condemned to death by King Eirkr. When he recited this poem before the king, Eirikr, who was moved by it, relented and allowed Egil to leave his land without killing him.
Egil also angered several other powerful kings, and Queens. Eirik Bloodaxe, and Queen Gunnhildr were incensed when Egil killed Barthr, a retainer of the two. Queen Gunnhildr even went so far as to put a spell on Egil which made him feel anxious and depressed. Egil then in turn cursed the royal couple by putting a horse's head on a Nithing Pole, and carved magical rune letters on it cursing them !
After years of fighting in battle after battle, and participating in many Viking raids, Egil Skallagrimsson returned home to his family's farm in Iceland, at the Borg. Here he lived into his eighties. Probably sensing his own mortality, he buried the silver treasure he had obtained in his raiding years at Mosfellbaer. He then murdered the servant who assisted him in hiding his wealth so that no one would ever find it. Egil did not die a warriors death, he died an old man of an illness. He was blind and feeble at the end of his life, but to live into your eighties in Medieval Iceland is quite an accomplishment unto itself .
One disturbing fact about Egil is that after his death a Catholic church was built on his farmstead. His misguided son, he had 5 children with his wife Asgerthr Bjornsdottir, had his body exhumed and re - buried near the altar in the church. Egil was no Christian and this was a disgrace to his father' s memory.
Egil to this day is still very popular throughout modern day Iceland. The Myrar Clan claims to be descended from him. We in the Asatru religion honor the great warrior - poet for his great, and daring, exploits and adventures. His life, well spent, has won him, what Odin in Havamal calls " fair fame " and for this we honor him every December 9th.
Hail the great warrior - poet Egil Skallagrimmson !!
Egil engaging in a holmgang ( duel ) with Berg - Onundr , painting by Johannes Flintoe.