Viking - 25: Midgard and Mankind, Fanfare for the Common Man! Mankind and the Old Gods
"At a feast the fool chatters, or stares and stammers. As soon as his cup is full ale unveils his thoughts".
The world of the gods on a memorial stone
Realm of Midgard
The likes of the nobility and the warrior class were 'taken care of' by the gods Odin and Tyr, they'd be taken to the feasting hall of Valhol on their death in battle, taken by Freyja's handmaidens the Valkyries to drink, eat and carouse. The likes of 'thee and me' looked to Thor for their safety and livelihoods. It was Thor the commoners looked to to fight their corner. The life-blood of the world of men, sailors, fisher-folk, artisans, traders, free men and land workers all lived by their hands or the skill of the salesman to bring in the yield.
We all listened to those who could talk well - irrespective of accent - and could knit words together. These were the poets, the 'skalds' who told of the deeds of great warriors and kings. They were not looked after by the war gods or the god of the slain, unless they were warrior-poets (that will be the nub of another Hub). They would also give their dedications to Thor before embarking on a major task, a lay in favour of a great king or long-gone hero loved by their audience. One poorly-chosen word was enough to secure a swift departure!
Below the free men were the freed men and thralls, their wives and offspring. They too had their beliefs, as had they also their station in life - not altogether safe, but they were not to be picked on. It was unworthy of a warrior or noble to humble a man whose place under the sun was already darkened by his lack of prospects, although there were bullies (there always will be bullies).
Just as the nobles came down from one forebear, so also did the peasants. There were different levels of peasant stock, from those at the top who drove the oxen with their ploughs to those at the bottom who looked after the household animals, the swine and the sheep. They had no weapons aside from staffs to drive off wolves or bears, but woe betide their wives and offspring if they died defending the sheep. Homelessness was as common in Scandinavia as anywhere else due to many factors beyond a peasant's control.
Well, down to the nub of this Hub, the forebears and the foremost:
AFI (Grandfather), Forebear of peasants and peasant-kind;
AI (Great-grandfather), Forebear of serfs and serf-kind;
AMMA (Grandmother), Forebear of peasants;
AESK (Ash), First man made by the sons of Nor from a fallen tree (early instance of recycling);
BERSERKIR/BARESERKIR (Bare-chested, un-armoured), Warriors who went into a frenzy before battle and fought clad in animals skins, not chain mail - It is believed ODIN gave them special protection;
BILLING'S DOTTIR/DATTER (Daughter), Human-kind who resisted ODIN'S advances, snubbing him into the bargain;
EDDA (Great-grandmother), Forebear of serfs and their kind;
ELLI (Old Age), Crone who wrestled with THOR in the court of UTGARD-LOKI;
FATHIR, Forebear of the nobly-born;
KARL (Ang-Sax: Ceorl), Forebear of the race of serfs;
LIF (Life), Man who will hide in YGGDRASIL, outlive RAGNAROEK and father children to further mankind on LIFTHRASIR (Eager-for-life), the woman who hides with LIF;
LODDFAFNIR, Man who found his way to the Well of URD and ODIN's hall and learned wisdom from the gods and goddesses;
MIDGARD (Middle Stronghold or Middle Earth), World of mankind;
MOTHIR (Mother), With Fathir, forebear of the nobly-born;
MUNDILFARI (Turner), Human father of MAAND and SOEN (Moon and Sun);
OTTAR, Freyja's human lover disguised as the boar HILDISVINI - Offspring of the Germanic folk-hero SIGURD;
SNOER, Forebear of the race of peasants;
THIR (Drudge), Wife of THRALL, Forebear of thralls (slaves);
THRALL, Son of AI and EDDA, Forebear of thralls with THIR;
Well, there it is. Mankind summed up in a few words - little enough about us mere mortals. But don't forget for one minute, man created gods to look up to. The world could be a lawless wilderness without gods and laws to govern their fellow men. Those who rose to power as chieftains were the ones who fought harder... They in turn passed on their standing to their sons. Not at first, it took many generations before the notion of inherited nobility took root, and many further before kingships could be passed on from father to son or nephew... or niece.
In the early days a king was a sacrificial figurehead, 'king for a day', feasted, doped - and slaughtered like a fatted calf. Now kings are no more than figureheads again, unlikely to be sacrificed with a sharpened blade, unlike Charles I who found out just how sharp the axeman's blade was. That was where the king's powers began to be trimmed. In the heyday of the Vikings the king's powers were growing, centralising ... and in Norway on the verge of Christianising. King Harald 'Harfagri' (Fair-Hair) began the process of Christianisation at the time Aethelstan fostered his son Hakon. Until Harald Gormsson's reign in Denmark the kings there had been pagan, like Godred and his son Gorm. Before then there had been a long line of pagan kings amongst whom was Hrolf Helgisson, nicknamed 'Kraki' (Tree Trunk). The Svear (Swedes) were the last of the Germanic peoples in Scandinavia to accept Christianity in the 12th Century.
Kingship still rested largely on a man's skill with the sword until the Renaissance and 'The Age of Reason' changed all that. After that the king generally stayed at home, with the exception of characters such as Gustav Adolph, King of Sweden and champion of the Protestant faith in the 17th Century during the Thirty Years' War. James II of England and William III didn't want their freedom to wage war curtailed, either. They slogged it out in Northern ireland until James withdrew to France. His son 'Bonnie Prince Charlie' led the Stuart faithful from Scotland to Derby and back again, to be defeated in a last gasp attempt to revive the doomed Stuart cause at Culloden. Heorge II, the King of England no longer went to war himself and sent his younger brother William, Duke of Cumberland to deal with the rebels. Queen Elizabeth II's grandson Henry/'Harry' has been in Afghanistan, just as his uncle Andrew was in the South Atlantic campaign in 1982. Britain's present royals are the last to follow the path of their bloodline ancestor Harold Godwinson - not connected by blood to the Saxon royal Wessex line but by marriage into Knut Sveinsson's Danish royal line.I
Look up to Asgard, realm of the gods...
... And remember your kings and great leaders in the Poetic Edda, your heroes and fellow men in the Prose Edda... mankind's 'bibles'
There was the Poetic Edda, and there was the Prose Edda. The first would be relayed by word of mouth in the halls of chieftains, jarls and kings. The skalds, or hall poets, who told it to all those gathered therein would be rewarded with silver and maybe more. The skalds themselves may well have been warríors, gifted with words and with the blade. They would tread the boards of Valhol with their paymasters and be spoken of proudly by fellow wordsmiths.
Heimskringla: Seen through the eyes of the Norsemen themselves, their world, their philosophies, their kings and warlords. What is man if in years to come, his deeds will be forgotten unless he has done great things?
"Be a hero my boy, it might be the quick way to an early grave, but at least we'll remember you with awe!"
And there was the Prose Edda, to be told in the great rooms of merchants, free men or minor landowners - those the chieftains relied on to build and fill their ships to go raiding in 'the season', those whose corpses paved the way in battle for the great and good.
John Haywood's book has it all: gods, kings, men and villains in ample proportion. What he hasn't included in this compendium of personalities and places is hardly worth writing about. Begin with a picture in words of how the Norsemen were depicted in literature and music, an introduction to the root causes of Norse expansion and a series of maps to show the extent of their voyaging and trade, then begin your exploration of the book with Adam of Bremen.
May your gods go with you...
© 2012 Alan R Lancaster