Category Archives: Uncategorized

I have a Carl Martell moment*

The figure above, with the strange hair and the tree growing out of his head, is your humble servant. In my hand is a genuine, authentic 1,100-year-old Viking sword, from the Ewart Oakeshott collection.

As I announced, I was at the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis on Sunday, as part of a Viking “encampment” in connection with their “The Vikings Begin” exhibition. Among the exhibitors was The Oakeshott Institute, also located in Minneapolis. They offered the unrefusable opportunity to actually hold a Viking sword — if you wore cotton gloves.

(Only the blade is original, by the way. Some collector in the 19th Century added the guard, hilt, and pommel. Which is why they don’t mind people picking it up. With proper protections.)

I talked to the Oakeshott representative, who told me that Oakeshott himself, an Englishman, gifted his entire collection to his friend Chris Poor, a noted swordsmith here in Minneapolis — mostly to spite the British Antiquities nazis. I need to learn more about this organization. Oakeshott was The Man when it came to medieval swords. (I’ve read his book.)

It was a good day, though a wintry rain kept us indoors. Sold a good number of books — and book sales are no longer gravy for me. They’re part of my bottom line.

But the sword is what I’ll remember.

*Obscure reference to a novel written by a forgotten author.

Norwegian stuff

Today is Syttende Mai, Constitution Day, Norway’s foremost national celebration. I have my Norwegian flag flying at my house, as is my wont when the weather permits on this date. There are rumors of rain, but so far so good.

If you’re in the Twin Cities area, and longing for a chance to look on my kindly visage (now that Grumpy Cat has left us), there are a couple opportunities coming up.

This Sunday I’ll be at the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis for the Vikings Family Day. It was supposed to be outside, but it’s looking like weather will drive us indoors. I’ll have books to sell, if you can find me. 12:00 to 5:00 p.m.

And on Saturday, May 25, I’ll be at Fort Snelling Cemetery for the dedication of the new memorial to the 99th Infantry Battalion (Separate). The time will be 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m.

‘Meet, Write, and Salutary’

Got a nice plug for The Elder King today from Mary J. Moerbe of the Meet, Write, and Salutary blog (for the unenlightened, that title puns on a line we all memorized from Luther’s Small Catechism). I’m not entirely sure whether she’s read the book, but she talks it up through general praise of its author.

It absolutely set me off daydreaming. Lars Walker has written, what, nine books now? (Sorry, but this is going to get into some of my personal neuroses.) That’s a lot of books for a mom with young children to read—these are books I’ll want to read back to back! Possibly multiple consecutive times. Knowing that Lars Walker offers quality reading, awesome viking material, rigorous research, and rich insight makes me want to have quality time with each of his books!

Read it all here.

Viking deeds

Here’s a famous scene from the 1958 film The Vikings, where Kirk Douglas runs on top of the oars along the side of his ship.

I wonder how many people know that this scene was pulled directly from a passage in Snorri Sturlusson’s Heimskringla. Snorri writes of King Olaf Trygvesson:

King Olaf was in all bodily accomplishments the foremost of all the men in Norway of whom we are told. He was stronger and more agile than anyone else…. One of these is that he climbed the Smalsarhorn and fastened his shield on the top of the mountain; and another that he helped down one of his followers who had before him climbed the mountain, and now could get neither up nor down…. King Olaf could walk along the oars outside the Serpent [his ship] while his men rowed. He could juggle with three daggers, with one always up in the air, and he always caught them by the hilt. He wielded his sword equally well with either hand, and hurled two spears at the same time.

You may have noted that Kirk Douglas did not quite match Snorri’s account of Olaf, as he had the men hold the oars horizontal and rigid while he ran, while Olaf (reportedly) did it while they were rowing. I’m pretty sure that latter thing is impossible, though, and what we see in the movie seems more likely.

Kirk Douglas turned 102 years old last December. Whenever I see a picture of him today, I think of this scene, in which he seems the epitome of physicality and masculine vigor.

And I’m not getting any younger myself.

Viking news, and Erling’s grave

Archaeologists in Vestfold county, Norway, recently discovered what they’re pretty sure is a Viking Age ship burial.

A burial site featuring what seems to be a complete viking ship has been discovered in the Vestfold county in Norway. Many spectacular finds have been unearthed in the region over the years, including the famous Oseberg and Gokstad ships now housed in Oslo’s Viking Ship Museum. The latest discovery of the grave in Borreparken was announced at a press conference in the Midgard Viking Center in Horten.

“The data clearly shows the shape of a ship, and we can see weak traces of a circular depression around the vessel. This could point to the existence of a mound that was later removed,” said a spokesperson for cultural heritage in Vestfold county. Researchers will now carry out detailed investigations to assess the size of the find.

Read the rest here.

It’s interesting that the article says nothing about any plans to actually excavate the ship. All the work so far has been done by georadar. That’s cool – it’s definitely a conservative (conservative is always good) way to prevent damage to the site. But it seems to me they’ll want to actually look at possible grave goods at some point. Don’t expect to see the ship resurrected like the ones in the museum in Oslo. Those were very special cases, where the vessels were buried in anaerobic (I think that’s the right word) blue clay, which prevented rotting of the wood. Most Viking ships found in modern times are pretty much decomposed, and you recognize them from the way the iron rivets are distributed in the earth.

Vestfold has always been an important part of Norway – it has good agricultural land and it’s close to the shipping lanes. The king of Denmark generally considered himself the rightful ruler of Vestfold (and often of Norway as a whole) in Viking times. Cultural development and foreign influences were both rich in Vestland.

I hope they dig it up in time. I’m not like Native Americans; it doesn’t offend me if somebody excavates my ancestors’ graves. Especially if they find cool stuff.

In case you’ve ever wondered about Erling Skjalgsson’s grave, it’s never been identified. A history of Sola which I read related a local legend: During a period of hard times, when erosion had stripped much of the topsoil in the area, the farmer at Sola decided to dig up an ancient mound on his property, and distribute the dirt in his fields. Rumor said that he came into sudden wealth at that time. Some suspected he’d found a rich Viking grave, and sold off its treasures.

However, if the story’s true – which is questionable in itself (we had a not dissimilar legend about the farm where I grew up in Minnesota, and it was also dubious) – there’s no reason the grave would have been Erling’s. As a Christian he would have been buried in the churchyard, not in a mound, and with minimal or no grave goods. It would be more likely to be his father, Thorolf Skjalg’s – or that of any of a number of other powerful ancestors.

Logos Theatre steals Past Watchful Dragons

Dwight Longenecker talks about a remarkably good theater group based in an unlikely university that has produced some marvelous Narnia plays.

This is because plenty of religious people have as their true foundation materialistic/secularism and plenty of non-religious people instinctively believe in the reality of the supernatural. . . . I am speaking of the modernists who wear ecclesiastical costumes and spout religious and liturgical language, but whose worldview is materialistic and regard religion as no more than an extension of their preferred ideology or political party but with the sugar icing of religiosity.

The secular materialist (both the religious and the non religious variety) are the most vigilant of watchful dragons, for they breathe withering fire on any sign of the supernatural. When contemplating these dragons, I realize I have more in common with the follower of any other religion that is rooted in a supernatural worldview than I do with many of my fellow Catholics.

“Christianity Comes to the Vikings”

Below, my lecture at Union University, Jackson, TN — in case you’ve been longing to spend an hour with me. It opens with a short introduction by none other than Dr. Hunter Baker.

I was a little disappointed that my PowerPoint slides are out of shot; on the other hand, I didn’t always synch them well (my remote clicker didn’t always get through for some reason).

Probably best for me not to comment on the short portion I’ve personally viewed. I’m generally incapable of objective self-assessment. So judge for yourself.

And then make it viral.

My Tennessee Waltz

Photo credit: Ray Van Neste

My first order of business is to express my sincere gratitude to Dr. Hunter Baker, Dr. Ray Van Neste, and all the wonderful people at Union University, Jackson, Tennessee, for making me so extremely welcome for the last couple days. It was a tremendous experience for me. I hope it was enjoyable for innocent bystanders as well.

I flew in to Memphis, courtesy of the school, on Monday. Dr. Hunter Baker met me, in two senses. He’s one of those people I’ve known online for years, but we’d never actually been in the same physical space before. He took me out for pizza (very good), and then back to the school for a short tour. That’s when I also got to meet Dr. Ray Van Neste, another online friend and the co-conspirator in my invitation.

They’re both deans. When you’re a dean, you can get away with spending institutional funds on marginal literary figures.

Tuesday was the most intense day I’ve experienced in a long time. It’s hard to describe. Hunter told me I wasn’t like he expected, based on my self-descriptions on this blog. And he was right. I was in a different reality on Tuesday. I was “on,” as in performing. Like when I used to act.

In retrospect, I’m not at all sure why I decided it would be a good idea to wear my frock coat, vest, and tie when I visited classes on Tuesday. Especially when I pulled out my monocle for reading, it must have made me look distinctly bizarre. But it somehow made sense to me in my altered state of consciousness. I sat in on Hunter’s Modern Political Thought class that morning, discussing medieval political thought. Seemed to go OK. In the afternoon I joined a writing class, and that was quite a bit of fun – or at least the alien intelligence possessing my consciousness thought so.

All day I was in performance mode, and people enabled me by asking me questions on subjects about which I had something to say. These elements combined to make me appear to be an extrovert. The real me just hung on for the ride.

Lunch that day was one of the best hamburgers I’ve ever had, at a local place, and for dinner we joined another dean (whose name I’ve forgotten, I fear) for a memorable meal at the nicest place in town. My alien possessor handled this well, I believe.

Then in the evening, I did my big presentation on “When Christianity Came To the Vikings.” I am pretty much unable to tell you how it went, because my grandiose half thinks it was awesome, and my neurotic half thinks I messed it up completely. The truth, no doubt, falls somewhere in between, but where on a scale from one to ten, I can’t tell you. They inform me the video will be posted, and I’ll share it with you. But I will never have the nerve to watch it.

I do know I knocked my water bottle off the podium. Could have used that water.

There were a number of questions afterward (always a good sign), and one fan who wasn’t a student or faculty member drove a distance to be there (nice to meet you, Steve).

Then I returned to my guest room and crashed, feeling as if I’d gone nine rounds with a prizefighter.

And Wednesday I flew home. It was a perfect spring day in Tennessee, and in Minneapolis we were having a snowstorm.

And that’s my latest adventure.

It’s good to be a celebrity.

New Viking Exhibition in Oslo

It’s pretty much all Vikings, all the time for me this week. A family member sent me a link to the following video, about a brand new Viking exhibition in Oslo:

You can read more about the exhibition in this article from medieval.eu.

Due to unforeseen reparations being carried out at the Museum of Cultural History in Oslo, the opening of a new Viking exhibition has been rescheduled. End of March – hopefully – visitors will be able to enjoy a bonanza of the more spectacular archaeological finds from the last ten years; add to this a selection of some of the highlights from an earlier time, and visitors may expect an enjoyable tour of the Norwegian Viking past. Later in 2025, when the new museum opens at Bygdøy, the treasures will be transferred there, supplementing the finds from OsebergGokstad, and Tune. Perhaps finds from the newly discovered Viking boat in Østfold – as yet not excavated – will join the older treasures

Lots of cool stuff here. I’m pleased that the video maker, who rejoices in the extremely Norwegian name, Bjorn Andreas Bull-Hansen, is not entirely convinced that women warriors existed, like me. I think I’ve been in this museum, if it’s the one I’m thinking of.

Your Viking news update

My reading pace is a little slow just now. Had some translation to do on Monday, and now I’m working hard on preparing for my lecture at Union University in TN next Tuesday.

So here’s some Viking news, courtesy of HisTecho:

While Norwegian archeologists in Trondheim’s city, excavated the market area, they stumbled upon a curious discovery.

It was 13 feet long, and while the wood had been destroyed over time, evidence such as nails and rusty lumps indicated that it was a boat. The boat dates from the 7th to the 10th century, a time when Vikings wandered the seas, raided and explored, according to the initial analysis.

Inside the boat, burial goods such as bronze, a piece of a spoon, and a key to a small box were discovered, alongside 2 long bones.

The DNA testing is yet to prove if the bones are human or provide any details that might bring more information about the person possibly buried in the boat.

The article indicates that scholars are surprised by the age of the find, but I don’t find it surprising that there would be human habitation, and burials, in Trondheim before the turn of the millennium. Trondheim didn’t become really important until Olaf Trygvesson’s time (around 1000), but we’re talking about arable land in a soil-poor country. Trondheim is a nice spot, with a good port. I’d be surprised if somebody wasn’t living there.

A short pause for the Long Ships

Today I got a little translation work to do. Not a lot, but there are reasons to hope things may pick up a bit.

And I did a little housework.

And I have nothing to write about. I’m blank. In lieu of an actual intellectual contribution to the world wide web, I offer the opening titles from a truly mediocre Viking movie, The Long Ships, with Richard Widmark.

This film, beyond its general inaccuracy and implausibility, commits the great sin of being unworthy of its source material — the fine novel The Long Ships, by Fran Gunnar Bengtsson.

You may note that the ship’s rudder is (properly) on the starboard side in some shots, and occasionally on the port side. This is the result of a cheat on the film editors’ parts. They just reversed the print. For some reason.

I owned a 45 rpm vinyl disc of this song — a cousin had it and didn’t want it, and she gave it to me. I think I listened to it once — somehow I left it sitting a car window and it melted.

Only the first of many disappointments connected with this movie.