HOTW #004

Today’s excerpt will focus on the concept of legacy, fame, and reputation:

75. Cattle die and kinsmen die,
thyself too soon must die,
but one thing never, I ween, will die,
fair fame of one who has earned.

76. Cattle die and kinsmen die,
thyself too soon must die,
but one thing never, I ween, will die,
the doom on each one dead.

It is interesting to note this excerpt is present in a similar form in another text called the Hákonarmál – a poem by the 10th century Norwegian skald (poet) Eyvindr skáldaspillir. The poem depicts the fall of the King Haakon the Good at the Battle of Fitjar and his reception in Valhalla. The passage is as thus:

“Deyr fé,
deyja frænder
eyðisk land ok láð.
Síz Hákon fór
með heiðin goð,
mǫrg es þjóð of þéuð.”

“Cattle die,
kinsmen die,
land and sea are destroyed.
Since Hákon left
with heathen gods
many people are oppressed.”

While the convention has been to attribute originality of the stanzas to the Hákonarmál, there is the possibility that the Hávamál may have first had this phrase, or that the Hákonarmál and the Hávamál both drew from the same, third-party source. This is difficult to assuage, primarily because the only surviving copy of the Hávamál is the one contained in the Codex Regius, which does not tell us much about the origins of each individual phrase and their dates.

In the context of the Hávamál, these verses refer to the immortality of legacy. The first two lines of each stanza – “Cattle die and kinsmen die, // thyself too soon must die” – refer to the inevitability of death with all mortal things. Here, cattle refers not only specifically to livestock, but individual wealth, as much of wealth was reflected in the number of certain cattle you could purchase, or already owned. This is evident in the rune “Fehu” and its meanings (illustrated below):

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Image Source: Runesecrets

The rune initially meant “cattle”, but over time began to represent “wealth, money, fee”, which shows us just how important cattle was as a measure of wealth in Germanic society. [1]

People were not exempt from death and the eventual fade into obscurity either. This is evident in “…kinsmen die, // thyself too soon must die.” which serves as a grim reminder that nobody is immortal.

Wealth and your physical being was considered fleeting. The only way to preserve some semblance of immortality was therefore, through your deeds, whether they be positive or negative. Fame, or notoriety, was achieved through sometimes extreme methods, as is evident in other literature.

Behaviors were considered on a scale of drengskapr (honor) to níðr (shame). The actions of a drengr would be emulated and praised, while the actions of a níðingr would be avoided and reviled.

Some traits of drengskapr include bravery, nobility, magnanimity, a sense of fair play, respect for others, the strength to do what is right, a sense of honor, and self-control.

On the other hand, some traits of níðr would include cowardice, treachery, shameful acts such as killing defenseless people, and breaking one’s oath. A níðingr would essentially be treated as an outcast of society. [2]

The emphasis on character and reputation may have been what caused hypersensitivity to any insults or feelings of dishonor. Such dishonor could usually only be corrected by death, which lead to a great many duels. Some examples of dueling methods include einvígi, or single-combat duels, or the holmgang (hólmganga) which sometimes took place on deserted islands so as to reduce the possibility of interference, and prevent duelers from running away.

A law from 13th-century Sweden dictates the rules for a holmgang:

“If someone speaks insults to another man, they shall meet where three roads meet. If he who has spoken comes and not the insulted one, then he shall be as he’s been called: no right to swear oaths, no right to bear witness, may it concern man or woman.

If the insulted one comes and not he who has spoken, then he shall cry “Niðingr!” three times and make a mark in the ground, and he is worse who spoke what he dared not keep.

Now both meet fully armed: if the insulted one falls, the compensation is half a weregild; if he who has spoken falls, insults are the worst, the tongue the head’s bane, he shall lie in a field of no compensation.”

– Hednalagen, or Pagan Law, 13th Century Sweden

Very strict rules were laid out and observed in order to preserve a “just” duel. This reflects the severity of insulting one’s honor, and the often deadly consequences that followed.

Yours in service,
Lady Mathilde Huldsdotter, AoA

Resources:

[1] “Viking Pets and Domesticated Animals.” Viking Answer Lady. Web.

[2] Short, William R. “Hurtswic: Honor, Dueling, and Drengskapr in the Viking Age.” Hurstwic. Web.

Tablet Weaving Techniques

In my previous post, I very briefly explained the history of tablet weaving. In today’s post, I will attempt to shed light on how tablet weaving works, and present some of the available techniques.

In regular weaving, we have two sets of threads going in two directions, up and down and side to side. These are called warp (up and down) and weft (left and right) threads.

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Illustration of warp and weft threads in regular tabby weave. Image Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Weaving

Similarly, tablet weaving also utilizes warp and weft threads. The warping threads are set up during the set up phase, and you thread back and forth across the warp threads, between the shed, with your weft thread.

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Illustration of cards, and warp and weft threads in tablet weaving. Image Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Weaving

Just as in harness looms, tablet weaving changes the color that is visible by turning the cards. These cards can have 2 to 8 threads threaded through each card, and by turning or flipping the cards, you also create twist.

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Twisting of cards. Copyright © 2003 Shelagh Lewins. (http://www.shelaghlewins.com/tablet_weaving/TW01/TW01.htm)

This accounts for the diagonal slants in tablet weaving, compared to horizontal and vertical lines in textiles weaving or inkle loom weaving. This also means that it is important to note how you thread the cards in the initial set up, and the two different threading methods are referred to as S threading, or Z threading.

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Threading of cards. Copyright © 2003 Shelagh Lewins. (http://www.shelaghlewins.com/tablet_weaving/TW01/TW01.htm)

Turning patterns for the cards can go from extremely simple Forwards 4, Backwards 4…to very complicated patterns where each card is turned or flipped a different direction in every turn. Some simple patterns include chevrons (or arrows) and diamonds…

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Chevron trim in wool that I wove for a friend.

…and Thor’s Hammers.

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Thor’s Hammer trim, woven by myself.

Another technique is referred to as Double-Face Weave, where two colors are used to create an inverted effect on either side of the belt or trim.

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Squire’s belt woven for a friend. Note the inverted red and white pattern.

Sometimes, you may only choose to thread 3 of the 4 holes on a regular weaving card, creating interesting swirling patterns.

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Woven by stolte. Image Source: https://stolte.wordpress.com/tag/tablet-weaving-experiment/

Another popular method of weaving is called pebble weave, and is frequently used to create a speckled look.

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Andean pebble weave. Image Source: http://www.weavolution.com/project/evelyn/andean-pebble-weave

As you can see, there is a lot that can achieved with tablet weaving. For beginners, I highly recommend Shelagh Laewins’ website; she has a very well written out section on “Getting Started”. I ended up borrowing some pictures from her website, because they were just so well-illustrated.

Yours in service,
Lady Mathilde Huldsdotter, AoA

HOTW #003

Today’s excerpt will focus on friendship and generosity:

40. Let no man stint him and suffer need
of the wealth he has won in life;
oft is saved for a foe what was meant for a friend,
and much goes worse than one weens.

41. With raiment and arms shall friends gladden each other,
so has one proved oneself;
for friends last longest, if fate be fair
who give and give again.

42. To his friend a man should bear him as friend,
and gift for gift bestow,
laughter for laughter let him exchange,
but leasing pay for a lie.

43. To his friend a man should bear him as friend,
to him and a friend of his;
but let him beware that he be not the friend
of one who is friends to his foe.

44. Hast thou a friend whom thou trustest well,
from whom thou cravest good?
Share thy mind with him, gifts exchange with him,
fare to find him oft.

This is kind of a long excerpt, but I chose to group these stanzas together because they provide a good outline for what the Old Norse considered proper etiquette among friends.

Stanzas 40 to 42 refer to one of the most important virtues in Germanic cultures, generosity. Generosity, reciprocated, meant the continuation of alliances and relationships, and ensured that everybody was rewarded in some way or other. This is evident in several other pieces of literature, including an Old Norse proverb…

Gjöf sér æ til gjalda

A gift always looks for a return.

…excerpts from the Prose Edda and Beowulf…

…þeir menn, er hersar heita. Kenna má þá sem konung eða jarl, svá at kalla þá gullbrjóta ok auðmildinga…”

“…those men, who are called hersar (lords) can be referred to like a king or a jarl, by calling them gold-breakers and wealth-bountiful ones…”

Prose Edda

“He beot ne aleh,
beagas dælde,
sinc æt symle.”

“[King Hrothgar] did not leave unfulfilled his oath:
rings he dealt out,
and treasure at the ale-feast.”

Beowulf

…and known practices, such as the open distribution of spoils of war by the ruler to his war-band.

“All of the treasures and favors which the retainers receive come directly from their lord, even though they have originally won these treasures in battle themselves…Generosity towards his retainers is, along with prowess in battle, the most important virtue which a lord can possess, and is the quality most praised in Germanic heroic poetry.” [1]

This generous relationship would not be restricted solely to rulers and their followers, but was also applicable between men of equal rank.

Stanza 43 explains that a friend of a friend will always be considered a friend. It also cautions against casual affiliation however as on the contrary, a friend of a foe will be considered a foe. Abiding by this would have ensured a small, but strong and loyal bond between people, which would have outlasted any pact of friendship made on a whim. This would also ensure against any internal conflict and strife between allegiances.

Stanza 44 returns to the idea of generosity between friends, and supplements that with the notion of openness and honesty. In essence, if you wish to keep a friend you trust and admire a lot, be generous, be open and honest, and he will stay with you.

Further information on Viking culture can be read at The Viking Answer Lady.

The Havamal can be read in its full and complete text here.

Yours in service,
Lady Mathilde Huldsdotter, AoA

 

Resources:

[1] Cherniss, Michael D. Ingeld and Christ: Heroic Concepts and Values in Old English Christian Poetry. The Hague: Mouton, 1972. Print.

A Brief History of Tablet Weaving

One of the activities I like to partake in for historical reenactment is tablet weaving. Used extensively in the Viking Age for decorative and functional purposes, tablet weaving has been around for centuries all over the world.

The origins of tablet weaving were initially attributed to the Ancient Eyptians. This was based off the discovery of a woven belt that was dubbed the Girdle of Ramesses, for the inked cartouche of Ramesses III on the artifact. This theory was further supported by the publication of the book Le tissage aux cartons et son utilisation décorative dans l’Égypte ancienne (The tablet weaving and decorative use in ancient Egypt) by Gennep and Jéquier [1]. That would have meant that tablet weaving existed circa 1180BC, if not earlier!

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The Girdle of Rameses. Image Source: http://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/wml/collections/spotlight/rameses_girdle.aspx

However, this theory was dispelled when structural analysis by Peter Collingwood proved that the girdle could not have been created by tablet weaving methods. [2]

In any event, tablet weaving is still an ancient method of textile production. Archaeological evidence points towards bands made during the Bronze and Iron Ages in the Scandinavian region. They were usually used in conjunction with warp weighted looms used for textile production, and were mostly used to create borders and edges on woven fabrics. [3]

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A warp weighted loom. Image Source: http://awanderingelf.weebly.com/blog-my-journey/warp-weighted-loom

There are numerous techniques one can employ when tablet weaving, and in the area of Birka (arguably one of the best Viking dig sites uncovered), there have been excavated countless tablet woven bands employing a brocade technique (more on that in a later post). These bands were most likely used as edges for garments, and to provide decoration.

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Band 2 from Birka Grave 824. Image Source: http://www.shelaghlewins.com/tablet_weaving/Birka_twine/Birka_01.htm

Other bands have been found all over Scandinavia, such as the Snartemo band found in Norway, dated to the 5th Century.

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Reproduction of Snartemo band by altikh. Image Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/altikh/2064956045/

Unfortunately, because of the design elements of swastikas, Snartemo bands really aren’t doable in the SCA context.

I will be posting in a few days the technical aspect of tablet weaving, as well as an introduction to some of the techniques available.

Yours in service,
Lady Mathilde Huldsdotter, AoA

 

Resources:

[1] Gennep, Arnold Van, and G. Jéquier. Le Tissage Aux Cartons Et Son Utilisation Décorative Dans L’Égypte AncienneNeuchatel, 1916. Print.

[2] Collingwood, Peter. The Techniques of Tablet Weaving. McMinnville, Or.: Robin & Russ Handweavers, 1996. Print.

[3] Gleba, Margarita. Textile Productions in Pre-Roman Italy. Oxford: Oxbow, 2008. Print.

HOTW #002

Today’s excerpt will focus on dealing with problems:

23. The unwise man is awake all night,
and ponders everything over;
when morning comes he is weary in mind,
and all is a burden as ever.

This stanza is very personal to me, as it is something I am guilty of doing on a regular basis. A foolish man frets and worries all night over his problems, but in the morning, he is only exhausted and his troubles still remain troubles. This is reflective of what the Vikings perceived as ideal character, one that is not afraid to take his troubles and actually do something about them. Nothing is accomplished from wringing your hands and losing sleep, but by doing something about it, something can be done.

For instance, say that a close friend of yours has betrayed you. Maybe they’ve gone behind your back and said something or done something to damage your reputation, maybe they’ve done something more blatantly obvious than that. You could sit and worry on your own for days about what you should do, going through every possible outcome with microscopic scrutiny. While you do that, the issue will weigh heavily on your conscience, souring any future interactions you may have with this acquaintance and even other people.

Or…you could make up your mind, and do something about it. You could confront them directly about it, hear their side of the story. You could tell them that you are no longer friends. You could do a multitude of things, and all of them will have different and completely unpredictable consequences. But once the deed is done, everybody can begin moving on from the issue, and only then can you achieve some form of closure.

The Havamal can be read in its full and complete text here.

Yours in service,
Lady Mathilde Huldsdotter, AoA

Överhogdal Tapestries

The Överhogdal Tapestries are a group of extremely well-preserved textiles discovered in Överhogdal, Sweden. While it’s not exactly close to Gotland (where my persona is from), it is from approximately the same period, and I like to use this as a basis for some of the motifs I use when tablet weaving. The tapestries are unique, in my opinion, because they depict both Christian and Norse mythology, reflective of the prominence of both religions in that era.

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Image Source: http://www.medievalhistories.com/viking-textiles-from-overhogdal/

The tapestries were found in the Överhogdal Church vestry in 1909, though they have been dated to between 800-1100AD by radiocarbon dating tests. The majority of the tapestry is made of a combination of hemp and flax, though the figures are embroidered with dyed wool.

At the bottom portion of the tapestry, you can see a small building embellished with crosses, representing Christian churches. The small rectangles of two colors represent people, worshiping Christ.

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Norse symbolism is also clearly visible, in the many eight-legged horses, representing Sleipnir, Loki’s child by the horse Svaðilfari, and Odin’s steed. In the center of the bottom portion of the tapestry, Yggdrasil, or the World Tree, is prominently displayed in a stylized manner.

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There are also portions of the tapestry that depict Viking longships, again packed with rectangular figures that represent people.

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Previous theories of what this tapestry could be depicting range from a march towards Yggdrasil, to the Christianization of the region Härjedalen. Most scholars now seem to agree that it most likely depicts Ragnarök, the series of events that would eventually lead to the destruction of the old world and the renewal of life with Líf and Lífþrasir, two human survivors.

Analyzing artifacts in their historical and iconographic contexts is important to learning how to accurately replicate anything. The motifs from this tapestry can give us an idea of what was aesthetically the “norm” during the period, and can mean the difference from good, accurately constructed reenactment, and one that is well, not so good. I personally don’t think I’ve gotten to that level yet with my garb, but I hope with the research I am currently doing, I will eventually get to that point where I can fully embody the traits of somebody from that period, because isn’t that what true historical reenactment is?

Yours in service,
Lady Mathilde Huldsdotter, AoA

 

Resources:

[1] “Viking Textiles.” Medieval Histories. 19 Oct. 2013. Web.

Indigotin – A Tale of Two Dye Plants

One of the most commonly and frequently used colors in Viking Age textiles was blue, derived from a plant called woad. While wool fabrics absorbed most colors readily, that was not the case for linen, which could only dependably dye blue, and sometimes red (madder). The Vikings were not the only civilization to utilize this blue in their articles of clothing, as we will explore below.

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Various shades of indigo dyed fiber. Image Source: http://www.studiokotokoto.com/2012/05/27/capturing-the-brilliant-hues-of-indigo-the-artistry-of-rowland-and-chinami-ricketts/

Woad, the plant that the Vikings used to produce blue were found as far back as the Neolithic, having been found on shards of pottery in the Iron Age settlement of Heuneburg (now Germany). Analysis of cloth wrappings have also concluded that the Ancient Egyptians used woad to color their fabric. [1][2]

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Kerchief found in Tutankhamun’s embalming cache, dated to ca.1336-1327BC. Image Source: http://www.metmuseum.org/collection/the-collection-online/search/548833?rpp=60&pg=1&ft=indigo&pos=27&imgno=0&tabname=label

Woad (Isatis tinctoria) is one of the many plants that produce Indigotin, the chemical compound that creates the color blue. However, woad is not the plant with the highest concentration of the dye compound; indigo from eastern parts of the world actually have a higher concentration of indigotin than the woad that was traditionally grown in Europe.

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Vasco da Gama, Portuguese explorer who opened up trade routes with the Orient. Image Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vasco_da_Gama

In 1498, when Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama opened up direct trade with India, woad growers and merchants in France, Germany, and England worried about how this new indigo plant would negatively impact their business. This was because the new dye from the East was superior, providing deeper and more colorfast dyes than their European counterparts. So began a propaganda campaign which purported that indigo was a dangerous product, the devil’s food, drug, color, and dye, and that it would rot the wool. This led to prohibitions against the import and usage of indigo, enforced by steep fines and even imprisonment and death…

“Whereas of late years there hath been brought into this Realm of England, from beyond the seas, [indigo]…and the colors made from the said stuff is false and deceitful, and are not onely sold and uttered to the great deceit of the Queens loving subjects, within this realm of England, but also beyond the Seas, to the great discredit and slander…of the Merchants, as the Dyers of this Realm…be it ordained, enacted, and established, that all such [indigo] in whose hands soever shall be found…shall be forfeited, and openly burned by the authority of the Mayor…and upon pain that the Dyer of every thing so dyed, shall forfeit the value of the thing so dyed…and the party offending…to remain in prison without bail…till he have satisfied the same value.” – Prohibition against the use of indigo and other exotic dyes in England by Queen Elizabeth I, 1581 [3]

Even with prohibitions and bans in place, the flow of indigo trade could not be stemmed; by the late 17th Century, indigo had become the preferred dye for the color blue, which was evident with the economic impact; the German woad industry collapsed, and a large population who depended on woad for their livelihood, was plunged into poverty. [4]

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Dyers at work, from a French translation of “De proprietatibus rerum” by Bartholomeus Anglicus, 1482. Image Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dye

Since woad was the predominant source for indigotin and blue dyes in Europe for my relevant time period, I will be doing some experiments with woad dye vats. I will be consulting a research paper, published in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, titled “Searching for blue: Experiments with woad fermentation vats and an explanation of the colours through dye analysis”. This will be part of an A&S submission, where I will spin period-accurate sheep fiber using a drop spindle, dye them using historically appropriate methods, and weave a tablet-woven belt based off of one of the dig site finds. Hopefully the weather will warm up so that I can get a fermentation vat going soon.

Yours in service,
Lady Mathilde Huldsdotter, AoA

 

Resources:

[1] Melo, J. Sérgio Seixas De, Raquel Rondão, Hugh D. Burrows, Maria J. Melo, Suppiah Navaratnam, Ruth Edge, and Gundula Voss. “Spectral and Photophysical Studies of Substituted Indigo Derivatives in Their Keto Forms.” ChemPhysChem 7.11 (2006): 2303-311. Web.

[2] Lucas, A., and J. R. Harris. Ancient Egyptian Materials and Industries. London: E. Arnold, 1962. Print.

[3] Hurry, Jamieson B. The Woad Plant and Its Dye. London: Oxford UP, 1930. Print.

[4] Arsenault, Natalie, and Christopher Rose, Allegra Azulay, and Rachel Meyer. Explorers, Traders & Immigrants: Tracking the Cultural and Social Impacts of the Global Commodity Trade. Austin: Hemispheres, 2007. Print.