HOTW #001

I thought it would be nice for me to intermittently interrupt our regularly scheduled fiber-related posts with some period literature, to provide further insight into the culture and mindset of the Scandinavian people during the Viking Age. This would happen maybe once a week, hence the title of the post; Havamal of the Week.

And that is exactly what we’ll be starting off with! The Havamal is my favorite of the Viking Age texts, as it is said to be attributed to Odin. It was also supposed to be regarded as a code of conduct, and instructed people on proper behavior and etiquette. Also, the work has more than 150 stanzas, so there is plenty of material to cover.

Currently, the only surviving source for the Havamal is the Codex Regius, an Icelandic codex containing numerous Old Norse poems. It is thought to have been written in the 1270s, but contains stanzas from as early as the 9th Century, including those from the Havamal.

Today’s excerpt will focus on the idea of hospitality:

2. Hail, ye Givers! a guest is come;
say! where shall he sit within?
Much pressed is he who fain on the hearth
would seek for warmth and weal.

3. He hath need of fire, who now is come,
numbed with cold to the knee;
food and clothing the wanderer craves
who has fared o’er the rimy fell.

4. He craves for water, who comes for refreshment,
drying and friendly bidding,
marks of good will, fair fame if ’tis won,
and welcome once and again.

While modern depictions of Vikings may portray them as a fierce, barbaric warrior culture, that was not their only manner of conduct. Hospitality was important, even if only for the survival of the population; where the winters are cold and harsh, hosts were expected to provide travelers with much needed supplies and respite, lest they be subjected to the same difficult conditions. Even if the host was of no great financial status, they were expected to provide at least food and shelter, and passersby were expected to be polite and respectful, and compensate the host for their troubles in some form of material goods or services.

Another reason that the Vikings would be more than eager to offer travelers hospitality was because of the gods. Odin, one of the most important Germanic gods, was said to wander down to the realm of men frequently, often in the guise of a traveling old man. He would test people’s hospitality, and reward those who were kind, and punish those who weren’t.

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

Yours in service,
Lady Mathilde Huldsdotter, AoA