The Shape of the Soul: The Viking Mind and the Individual

In this lecture:

  • Viking funerals and burials were dramatized stories.
  • Viking gravestones were memorials to the dead that told stories.
  • Viking graves linked the dead to the land.
  • Viking gravestones were updated with new details from family stories.
  • Viking graves reflected Viking halls.
  • Viking halls were the center of Viking life.
  • Beowulf is set in Scandinavia.
  • Valhalla = the home of Odin = “the hall of the slain.”
  • Asgard = home of the gods.
  • Bogs and wetlands were offering places in the Viking World. They were considered portals between worlds.
  • Animals were sacrificed around sacred trees. Churches were later built on top of these sites.
  • Sorceresses were buried with metal staffs, drugs, charms in special costumes. Often had Silver headbands, nasal piercings. Ate pills made from cremated dead.
  • Magic is used by gods and humans in the Viking Age. Primarily by women to cross borders between worlds.
  • Magic performed on burial mounds at night, under the bodies of the hanged.
  • Spells and charms made of animal body parts were used to see the future.
  • Shape of the Viking soul: each person has four components. Hamr = your outer form or physical body. The things that contains everything else. Hamingja = your luck. The phrase “your luck running out on you” comes from Viking Age. Hugr = your essence. Attila the Hun often mentioned in Viking tales. Described as having a wolf’s hugr. Fylgja = your follower. A female being separate from you that appears in dreams or trances and helps you. A kind of guardian angel. Guardian spirit of the family is inherited and passes through families.
  • Viking Age was fundamentally a world of lost stories and storytellers. The Viking Mind was shaped by stories and narratives.
  • Ragnarok = Twilight of the Gods. The destruction of all worlds, forever. Everything is destroyed in a huge battle. Gods fight giants. Everything dies.
  • Vikings are one of the few world cultures that did not have a permanent afterlife. Going to Valhalla was part of preparing for the final battle. It was temporary.
  • Oral culture that sustained itself through sharing stories.
  • Vikings had an essentially fatalistic outlook. Focused on the brevity of life.
  • Important to do things in life to be remembered in stories passed down through the ages.

The upshot of this trilogy of lectures is how little we know about the Viking World because so much of its oral culture has been lost or was only recorded centuries later by Christian writers.

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