Touchwood ( Hnjoskr )
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A Follower Of The Old Ways
( Formerly An Independent Asatru )
Touchwood ( Hnjoskr )
Vikings used a unique liquid to start fires. Clean freaks though they were, the Vikings had no qualms about harnessing the power of one human waste product. They would collect a fungus called touchwood ( hnjoskr ) from tree bark and boil it for several days in urine before pounding it into something akin to felt. The sodium nitrate found in urine would allow the material to smolder rather than burn, so Vikings could take fire with them on the go.
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Bäckahästen or bækhesten (translated as the brook horse) is a mythological horse in Scandinavian folklore. It has a close parallel in the Scottish kelpie.
It was often described as a majestic white horse that would appear near rivers, particularly during foggy weather. Anyone who climbed onto its back would not be able to get off again. The horse would then jump into the river, drowning the rider. The brook horse could also be harnessed and made to plough, either because it was trying to trick a person or because the person had tricked the horse into it. The following tale is a good illustration of the brook horse:
A long time ago, there was a girl who was not only pretty but also big and strong. She worked as a maid on a farm by Lake Hjärtasjön in southern Nerike. She was ploughing with the farm's horse on one of the fields by the lake. It was springtime and beautiful weather. The birds chirped and the wagtails flitted in the tracks of the girl and the horse in order to pick worms. All of a sudden, a horse appeared out of the lake. It was big and beautiful, bright in colour and with large spots on the sides. The horse had a beautiful mane which fluttered in the wind and a tail that trailed on the ground. The horse pranced for the girl to show her how beautiful he was. The girl, however, knew that it was the brook horse and ignored it. Then the brook horse came closer and closer and finally he was so close that he could bite the farm horse in the mane. The girl hit the brook horse with the bridle and cried: "Disappear you scoundrel, or you'll have to plough so you'll never forget it." As soon as she had said this, the brook horse had changed places with the farm horse, and the brook horse started ploughing the field with such speed that soil and stones whirled in its wake, and the girl hung like a mitten from the plough. Faster than the cock crows seven times, the ploughing was finished and the brook horse headed for the lake, dragging both the plough and the girl. But the girl had a piece of steel in her pocket, and she made the sign of the cross. Immediately she fell down on the ground, and she saw the brook horse disappear into the lake with the plough. She heard a frustrated neighing when the brook horse understood that his trick had failed. Until this day, a deep track can be seen in the field. (Hellström 1985:16)
A very old tree (often a linden, ash or elm) growing on the farm lot could be dubbed a "warden tree" (Swedish vårdträd), and was believed to defend it from bad luck. Breaking a leaf or twig from the warden tree was considered a serious offence. The respect for the tree was so great that the family housing it could adopt a surname related to it, such as Linnæus, Lindelius and Almén. It was often believed that the wights (Swedishvättar) of the yard lived under the roots of the warden tree, and to them, one sacrificed treats to be freed from disease or bad luck.
Lyfsteinn ( Healing Stones )
In chapter 57 of Laxdæla saga, Eiður says that a wound inflicted by his sword Sköfnung would not heal unless rubbed with the sword's healing stone (lyfsteinn).
And in Kormak's Saga : " Bersi worked hard at the swimming, breasting the water, he was wearing a healing - stone round his neck. Steinar lunged at him and tore the stone from him along with the pouch it was in, threw it in the water and spoke a verse " :
A long time I lived;
I let the Gods take charge;
never did I have
hose of moss brown hue;
never did I bind
a bag to my neck,
full of herbs, however,
I have my life still.
- Kormak' s Saga ( 37 and 38 )
Obviously healing stones were important in Viking times, and they are still believed to be useful in healing to this day.
- Glenn ( Ravensheart )
A Heathen Temple During The Viking Age
" He had a large temple built in his hayfield, a hundred feet long and sixty wide. Everybody had to pay a temple fee. Thor was the god most honored there. It was rounded on the inside, like a vault, and there were windows and wall-hangings everywhere. The image of Thor stood in the center, with other gods on both sides. In front of them was an altar made with great skill and covered with iron on the top.
On this there was to be a fire which would never go out—they called it sacred fire. On the altar was to lie a great armband, made of silver. The temple godi was to wear it on his arm at all gatherings, and everyone was to swear oaths on it whenever a suit was brought.
A great copper bowl was to stand on the altar, and into it was to go all the blood which came from animals or men given to Thor. They called this sacrificial blood [hlaut] and the sacrificial blood bowl [hlautbolli].
This blood was to be sprinkled over men and animals, and the animals that were given in sacrifice were to be used for feasting when sacrificial banquets were held. Men whom they sacrificed were to be cast into a pool which was outside by the door; they called it Blótkelda (Well of Sacrifice)."
"The Saga of the People of Kjalarnes" (translated by John Porter)
Völur ( Plural ) practiced seiðr, spá and galdr, practices which encompassed shamanism, sorcery, prophecy and other forms of indigenous magic. Seiðr in particular had connotations of ergi (unmanliness) and therfore was practiced almost exclusively by women, usually the elders of the village.
Historical and mythological depictions of völur show that they were held in high esteem and believed to possess such powers that even the father of the gods, Odin himself, consulted a völva to learn what the future had in store for the gods. Such an account is preserved in the Völuspá which roughly translates to "Prophecy of the Völva". In addition to the unnamed seeress (possibly identical with Heiðr) in Völuspá, other examples of völur in Norse literature include Gróa in Svipdagsmál, Þórbjörgr in the Saga of Eric the Red and Huld in for instance Ynglinga saga.
Odin speaks to a völva
The Battle of Örlygsstaðir was a historic battle fought by the Sturlungar against Ásbirningar and the Haukdælir clans in northern Iceland.
The battle was part of the civil war that was taking place in Iceland at the time between various powerful clans (Sturlungaöld - The Age of the Sturlungs), and was the largest battle in the history of Iceland.
The Battle of Örlygsstaðir was fought on 21 August 1238 between Sighvatur Sturluson (brother of Snorri Sturluson), his son Sturla Sighvatsson on the one hand and Kolbeinn ungi, Gissur Þorvaldsson (later Earl Gissur) on the other. The latter were the victors. Over 50 men were killed on that day and five others, includingÞórir Jökull Steinfinnsson were executed by beheading following the battle. The names of those who perished on that day are recorded in the Íslendinga saga which is included as a part of the Sturlunga saga.
In 1988 a memorial was raised on the site of the battle, which describes the battle.
In Sweden and Norway, it is called Baldr's brow, but in Iceland, it is the close relative Sea Mayweed (Matricaria maritima) that carries this name.In Gylfaginning, Snorri Sturluson explains that the name Balder's brow comes from the plants' whiteness:
The second son of Odin is Baldr, and good things are to be said of him. He is best, and all praise him; he is so fair of feature, and so bright, that light shines from him. A certain herb is so white that it is likened to Baldr's brow; of all grasses it is whitest, and by it thou mayest judge his fairness, both in hair and in body. He is the wisest of the Æsir, and the fairest-spoken and most gracious; and that quality attends him, that none may gainsay his judgments. He dwells in the place called Breidablik, which is in heaven; in that place may nothing unclean be.
Ostara ( Eástre )
Ostara, Eástre seems therefore to have been the divinity of the radiant dawn, of upspringing light, a spectacle that brings joy and blessing, whose meaning could be easily adapted by the resurrection-day of the Christian's God. Bonfires were lighted at Easter and according to popular belief of long standing, the moment the sun rises on Easter Sunday morning, he gives three joyful leaps, he dances for joy ... Water drawn on the Easter morning is, like that at Christmas, holy and healing ... here also heathen notions seems to have grafted themselves on great Christian festivals. Maidens clothed in white, who at Easter, at the season of returning spring, show themselves in clefts of the rock and on mountains, are suggestive of the ancient goddess.
But if we admit, goddesses, then, in addition to Nerthus, Ostara has the strongest claim to consideration. The heathen Easter had much in common with May-feast and the reception of spring, particularly in matter of bonfires. Then, through long ages there seem to have lingered among the people Easter-games so-called, which the church itself had to tolerate : I allude especially to the custom of Easter eggs, and to the Easter tale which preachers told from the pulpit for the people's amusement, connecting it with Christian reminiscences.
- Jacob Grimm ( Teutonic Mythology )
The blood eagle was a method of execution by torture, that is sometimes mentioned in Nordic saga legends. It was performed by cutting the ribs of the victim by the spine, breaking the ribs so they resembled blood-stained wings, and pulling the lungs out through the wounds in the victim's back. Salt was sprinkled in the wounds. Victims of the method of execution, as mentioned in skaldic poetry and the Norse sagas, are believed to have included King Ælla of Northumbria, Halfdan son of King Haraldr Hárfagri of Norway, King Maelgualai of Munster, and possibly Archbishop Ælfheah of Canterbury.
The historicity of the practice is disputed. Some take it as historical evidence of atrocities fueled by pagan hatred of Christianity. Others take it as fiction: heroic Icelandic sagas, skaldic poetry and inaccurate translations.
It should be noted that the Stora Hammars stones are believed to date sometime between the 8th and 11th centuries BC, before Christianity existed. Further, since the alleged execution of Christian Kings all date between the 8th and 11th centuries AD, it would be incorrect to assume that the Blood Eagle was developed in retaliation to Christian practices.