( Some in our religion and culture call this day Leif Eirikkson's Day, but I prefer to honor all our great explorers not just the best known. )
On Monday October 13th we honor our great explorers for their daring exploits of discovery, and achievement. When we think of our great Scandinavian / Germanic heroes our minds are immediately propelled to such men of action as Hrolf Kraki, Beowulf, Sigurd, and Arminius. Few if any Asatruar would come up with historical figures like Leif Erickson, Eric the Red, Bjarni Herjolfsson, or Thorfinn Karlsefni ! These men, in my opinion, are just as important to us as our warrior heroes we honor so much, and were just as brave as well. They sailed across uncharted, or barely charted, oceans, in small one sailed , but sturdy ships, with only their courage, and each other to battle the elements, and to boost their morale. Well they did have their faith in their (our) great Gods and Goddesses as well ! On calm days they would have to row these heavy boats, an arduous task, just to make a few miles along their journey . For days on end all they would see was the rolling ocean on every horizon. They must have felt very small, and very alone in their small craft. A little like the astronauts must feel in space these days. They were men of uncommon valor, and deserve to be called heroes and legends in our religion, and our culture.
The first of the recorded explorers, though by accident, was Bjarni Herjolfsson. In 985/986, on his way to Greenland to visit his father, he was blown off course and saw what would later be called Vinland. Later when Bjarni went back to Norway he told his tale in the court of Earl Eirik. This is where Leif Erickson first heard of these wonderful lands where the trees came right down to the beach. Bjarni it is also said sold his boat to Leif so that he could make a return voyage to this new and unexplored world.
Leif ran into difficulties at sea during his voyage, but finally reached lands that he had never laid eyes upon before. In the Vinland Sagas he describes seeing fields of wheat, Vines and Maple trees. Leif went ashore and set up huts there, that would remain and even be used by later voyages, and took back with him samples of everything that he found to show everyone at home. Leif of course named this land after the grape vines he found in this new world.
Leif then gave his ship to his brother Thorvald, so that he could explore further this new land of vines and thick forests. Thorvald, with a crew of thirty, sailed to the new world and found the same white beaches with forests that stretched almost down to the shore. They explored the coast, but when they killed several Skraelings, ( Native Americans ), the natives retaliated and in the ensuing battle Thorvald was hit in the armpit, or the groin, ( There are two different versions ), by an arrow and later died. He was buried in Vinland.
Leif's sister, Freydis Eiriksdottir, along with two merchants named Helgi and Finnbogi, were next to make the perilous voyage across the Atlantic Ocean. This voyage was surrounded in mystery and intrigue. The brothers landed first and took over the huts left by Leif which infuriated Freydis, who insisted that her brother had given her sole possession of them. She later had the brothers killed with all their men allegedly because they would not switch ships with her. When her men would not kill the women she herself took up an axe and killed them. Leif later found out but said, " I do not have the heart to punish my sister Freydis as she deserves" !
The final player in this drama of exploration was Thorfinn Karlsefni, who actually made the voyage several times, and even peacefully traded, at first, with the Native Americans. Later however, he fought with them and finally after some time realized that there could never be peace between the two peoples, and knew that a settlement there was not feasable, so he left for good.
Leif Eriksons' father, Eirik the Red was also an explorer, but his exploring was more out of necessity than a sense of adventure. His " indescretions" got him banished from both Norway and Iceland, so he had no choice but to find a new place to settle. Eirik the Red explored Greenland in 981, and colonized it in 985/986.
I would also like to give a quick mention to two modern day explorers: Roald Amundsen and Vitus Bering. Roald Amundsen was involved in what was as tight of a race of exploration as our moon landing program was with the Soviet Union. He just barely beat out Scott to reach the Pole, but was better prepared than Scott who did not survive the ordeal. Vitus Bering was a Dane who explored the waters between Russia and America that now bear his name, The Bering Sea. The fact that these two events took place in a semi - modern setting does not detract from their bravery or what they accomplished. They are heroes in every sense of the word !
I raise my horn in honored tribute to these brave and heroic explorers of old and new. For they knew the seas, currents, waves and winds better than most modern sailors do today. But then again they had to ! Their very lives depended on their knowledge and their skills. Hail to the Viking age explorers ! Hail to the modern day explorers ! May a little of their adventurous spirit remain in all of us !!