Importance of Poetry in the Viking Age


Such a lovely day outside Wouldn’t you agree Mr. Thorstein? ah! fack the lot of you! eh? WHAT?! Lovely day, right? Oh, just an average summer in Scotland Yes a bit weepy Days like these just make me think about, I don’t know… that I’m just sitting around losing my true potential You ever feel like that? like what? like you are not fully expressing your true potential oh no, huehuehue I never had any potential to begin with ofcourse Listen, why are you still wearing that horned helmet? just to annoy some people You remember that one time when youjump off the ship and you lost your pants? What? You seen something you liked? Don’t flatter yourself peewee O! You little devil! The water was cold! I bet those horns are to compensate for something You bastard Hello friends. How are you? I hope I find you in good health. I’m Arith Härger and today I’m going to talk about Poetry and its importance and what was it for in the Viking Age Society? This was a video suggested by one of my patrons ms. Anne Logston, Thank you so much madam to understand Old Norse poetry perhaps we should start with the figure of the Skald and his role in the Viking society so… Let’s start from there Vikings had a professional class of individuals whose lives were dedicated to poetry and storytelling before the written word and the technology to put it to parchment many ancient societies had individuals that carried the history, the literature and mythology of their cultures inside their heads To the Norse such people were called Skalds During the Viking Age, legends, myths stories, sagas were not passed around in written form rather the history of the Iron Age and Viking period Scandinavians and the stories of the divine Cosmology, symbolic narratives and traditions were simply memorized and told around This is precisely why it’s quite difficult to fully understand the Norse myths and any other… Mythological accounts of ancient cultures because they have been passed around generation after generation for over a millennia and much is lost and altered in oral tradition and when such accounts are finally put to parchment There is a lot missing obviously, many contradictions but above all many alterations to fit into the reality of the period when such accounts were finally written down Generally a Skald is a poet who performed at Scandinavian courts for leaders chieftains, Nobles and kings during the Viking Age and scandinavian Middle Ages and I’ll take the opportunity to say that there are actually no concrete evidences that Skalds incorporated in their performances any musical instrument that idea probably comes from Comparing the Skald to the Bard Skalds were responsible for memorizing and composing the poems and stories You see the Skald’s work wasn’t to just maintain the memory of oral traditional alive The Skald also made his own works It wasn’t just the Christian Skald that made alterations to the stories of the Gods Already during the pagan times Skalds were already composing their own versions of the myths Skalds held a great portion of the Viking culture in their heads and Pre Viking traditions of the past, of course Without Skalds I doubt there would have been enough material to Write anything of the sources of the Middle Ages about Old Norse mythology that reached our days Much of the Skald’s works were Testimonies of heroic deeds, great battles, the life and history of kings and so on and so forth Skalds became the main source of Icelandic and Norse history and culture as it was the Skalds who learned and shared oral history, even the deeds of the gods themselves Skalds progressively gained prominent positions in the Norse Society Wealthy patrons needed a Skald in their courts constantly not just to perform at a certain occasion Entertain at the mead hall Mostly it was to record, or rather Memorize every little detail of the history of his patron Mostly kings, to ensure that the legacy of that person lived on So the Skald’s profession is much closer to that of an historian, only that instead of writing down events Skalds kept everything in their heads Skalds indeed made a living due to their patrons Just as my patrons Greatly contribute so I can continue to acquire resources and make a thorough work of investigation to provide these videos This little assessment was quite subtle anyway The first Norse written artifacts come from Skalds They knew how to read and write, and because of this some Skalds became clerical workers recording laws and all sorts of things belonging To the government’s actions Some Skalds were even elected to the Þing or the Alþing, the sort of Parliament of the Old Norse society so… You can clearly have that perception how rapidly the figure of the Skald became Well… an important figure in the Norse Society and occupied positions of power Skalds indeed played an important role in the Viking society and were both honored and feared and why were they feared? Because Skalds could compose sarcastic poetry about specific people that could have a huge negative impact on that person’s reputation but anyone could say something bad about anohter person So why fear the Skald in particular? This is where the importance of poetry comes into the panorama It’s quite obvious, right? It’s about rhythm and rhymes Old Norse poetry Has many metrical forms, obviously But the first poems we know of, mostly the material from the poetic Edda and also skaldic poetry The metre is simple The word order is usually straightforward and there are a lot of kennings, frequently used by the Skald which is a- a Style or a form of figurative language to refer to something indirectly But using images of the traditional lore people are familiar with to designate something Which helps people to remember Sort of key-words to associate with the original noun not only all these characteristics but also the fact that most Old Norse poems are a narrative so a story really is being told It’s a handful of rules and specific orders to compose the structure of an Old Norse poem that not only helps the Skald himself to memorize it but also those- It helps those who listened to it to memorize it as well And whatever good or bad is being told the keywords are memorized, so Skalds were both honored and feared Their poetic compositions could greatly enhance someone’s reputation or completely shatter it But mostly, however, Skalds praised their lords and were well rewarded for their efforts Through their poems and stories poetic narratives Skalds transmitted essential information about how to behave in a society The Hávamál is a very good example of that Probably the most famous Norse mythological poem of the Viking Age most neo-pagans practitioners or followers of some Germanic neo-pagan branch are quite familiar with it. I assume So this is precisely why poetry was very important In the Old Norse society. It was a living tradition passed on from generation to generation The Main way to keep the old traditions alive and the stories of the Gods The main way to remember the very basic notions of the religious life Because mythology isn’t fantasy Mythology is the entire cultural code of a society mythology is the Composition of human existence and the reflections of the human mind of a particular culture or civilization Their role models, their social behavior, rules, laws, the very perception of reality of a society mythology is all that encompasses the identity of a culture and it’s obviously important to memorize it, down to the last detail, and it was the Skald’s work – through poetry through the spoken word to keep the tradition alive Going forward from generation to generation Circulating never to let it die keeping the identity of a people alive and as previously said if you find an intelligent way to put into words Something quite complex, but easy to remember it is an art worth protecting Old Norse poetry was- is – an art the art of transforming the complexity of the identity of a people into words that are easy to understand and to match and identify and associate with the traditional lore With Skalds people learned about their history During the Viking Age all poetry was oral. None of it was written down, neither were the stories or histories It was precisely with the Transition from pagan to Christian that the late Viking society started to write down the information of their oral tradition Again, this is why poetry was so important because through it, through the ability of memorizing the past Due to the very structure of poetry itself the Old Norse tradition survived until the time it was possible to write it down for future generations we are able to enjoy the traditions of the old Scandinavian peoples precisely because of poetry and the Skalds that composed such works and kept them alive in oral tradition of course with the transition of the religious reality it has its downsides Skalds also started to work with churches to record the lives and miracles of saints along with passing on the ideals of Christianity Skalds became the main agents of the Christian culture when they began glorifying and passing on Christianity over the old pagan beliefs for instance, the poetic Edda is a compilation of oral poems which have been in the Norse oral tradition since times immemorial, but when they had been put to parchment it was done by Christian Skalds and even before that when such poems still belonged to the oral tradition They had already been tampered with by Christian Skalds Before Catholicism became the official religion in Scandinavian regions many Vikings already knew about Christianity and many had already converted to it or incorporated certain aspects of the religion into their own pagan religion Christianity was already known in Denmark at least since the sixth century So of course certain Skalds who had embraced- Christian religious perspectives altered many aspects of the oral tradition, but not just that you see… Kings had been the first ones to adopt Christianity and for a Skald to have success in court even if he was a pagan, the Skald had to put aside pagan beliefs and so the poems changed a lot so Skalds were quite important because it’s because of them we know much about the Old Norse societies But at the same time they made things difficult by mixing non pagan traditions and beliefs to their poems Which makes it even harder to identify the real pagan mind of the Old Norse societies Still, poetry without a doubt was the key to preserve a lot of the identity of a people The Vikings recognized the very skill in poetry as being a gift bestowed by the god Odin Odin is perhaps one of the oldest deities of the Germanic Pantheon. I believe he is a representation of the Divine even before indo-europeans because as the figure of the “old wise-man” he fits perfectly into the religious perspectives of pre-indo-european religious expressions And of course Odin being this figure of a wise man this figure didn’t quite disappear with indo-europeans and proto-germanic peoples so Odin became the god of inspiration and in the long process of the evolution of this deity he was finally linked to poetry during the Viking period It’s precisely during the Viking period that Odin becomes one of the most famous gods Accompanying the importance of poetry itself Odin became the main god of poets people relied on Skalds to memorize The histories and legends, heroic deeds and sagas, as well as the very stories of the gods and Odin became the patron god of Skalds – of poets the most orshipped deity among Scandinavians was Þór Thor perhaps second only to Freyr Odin gained more prominence during the Viking Age the God of the elite, of nobility Very much praised in the court precisely where the poets made a living Just as poets – Skalds Started to rapidly gain power in the Viking Age court so did Odin Odin became the god of the nobility and patron of Skalds – of poets and precisely because Odin was the patron of Skalds, the god of inspiration and poetry Skalds honored Odin constantly and included the God in their works, which is why we have a tremendous amount of mythological accounts about Odin It’s indeed quite possible that much of the accounts Involved other gods and the deeds of other gods but through Skalds, Odin replaced those gods and took “credit”- for all those fantastical deeds But this just makes you wonder the great majority of mythological accounts are either about or involving Odin and/or Loki could Loki have been secretly praised by Skalds as well? given the amount of written sources involving this deity? Perhaps Perhaps the characteristics of Loki, being a cunning God who speaks his mind are the characteristics praised by the Skalds because indeed they had the power of the spoken word and they could either praise or criticize figures of great power in the court the Skald had the entire attention of the court and in his words lied the power to enhance or destroy the reputation of even the most powerful Kings Just remember, for instance, the poem lokasenna in which loki just enters the scene and Accuses the gods of a variety of things and no one is able to shut him up or simply kill him They take the offences and they are quite enraged and offended because loki touches the hidden truths of each deity present there they take his words very seriously and are quite embarrassed and disconcerted I think Lokassena- perfectly portrays the figure of the Skald and the fear people had of the Skald’s words precisely because through poetry Whatever the Skald utters can easily remain in the memory of those who hear it Which again can either have a very positive effect or a totally chaotic outcome Skalds praised Odin, for he was their patron God but Skalds talked about Loki a lot because I think Loki became, in certain aspects, the personification of the figure of the Skald and the neutral attitude of the Skald whose words Can either create or destroy and let’s not forget that in the myths Loki just like Odin Both gods are capable of great things both beautiful and terrible, but as long as they gain something with their actions just like the Skald I do not believe that It is a coincidence that most mythological accounts involve either Odin or Loki This was the work of Skalds, and this might be one of the reasons Why in lokasenna it is mentioned that Odin and Loki are blood brothers Lokasenna is the only source in which this particular factor is mentioned Perhaps it might be the junction of both the gods in the figure of the Skald inspirational poetry – Odin and the ability to speak one’s mind – Loki But what we can truly take from this is that poetry was so important that it was linked to a God To divine power, divine gift, not just Odin but also Bragi But that’s the interesting part. Bragi wasn’t originally a God There are no evidences in the archaeological record of Bragi nor in place names There’s nothing to suggest that Bragi was ever worshipped as a deity Bragi was in fact a real person. Bragi Boddason, the oldest skald whose works we know of He composed his poetry in the ninth century this famous skald was already celebrated during the Middle Ages as being the first of the skalds His works of poetry were so good and people praised him so much that just a hundred years after his death He became a mythical figure Bragi is the only God we know of to have been an actual person. Who was deified and became the god of poetry So this is the measurement- or how far the importance of poetry went in the Viking Age mentality to the point that a great Skald, a great poet, poet of all the poets was raised to the category of divinity Which is nothing unheard of, this was typical in pagan societies Mortal heroes, people of great renown who’s outstanding deeds went beyond all expectations were turned into gods Bragi is a perfectly good example that shows us the importance of poetry within the Viking Age society to the point… That a great Skald was turned into a god on this video I haven’t spoken about kvasir and the mead of poetry because I want to develop that subject on another video But indeed it’s important to point out that kvasir is regarded as being the wisest of gods Kvasir is the god that holds the wisdom of everything Because he was made from the spittle of all the gods which means he is the combination of the divine powers, the knowledge of each divine entity which makes kvasir all-knowledgeable the wisest of the Gods For he contains within himself all the knowledge of each deity He is killed. His blood is drained. In older narratives he was probably dismembered But it’s from his blood or body parts that the mead of poetry is made Kvasir’s remains are turned into the stuff of poetic composition the mead of poetry Odin steals and drinks and thus he becomes powerful, wiser, and he becomes the god of poetry So by the figure of kvasir alone, we really have the perception how important poetry was and how important those who mastered it – the skalds Kvasir is the Skald of Skalds, the entity that contains all the knowledge of the divine entities This is the extent of the importance of skalds and poetry in the Viking Age Society The skald was equated with kvasir with obtaining and keeping the knowledge of the divine the great quantity of information of secret knowledge, hidden knowledge that comes from the divine and the skald speaks the words transmits the divine knowledge because the skald is able to memorize a great quantity of information in great detail and provide even more information create more, pass on the wisdom of the divine we can really have this- metaphorical perception equating kvasir with the figure of the Skald as the embodiment of deep wisdom Able to answer all questions and provide all sorts of knowledge it’s very poetic and let’s not forget that skaldic poetry usually told a story and sometimes indeed The primary purpose of poetry was to transmit spiritual mystery or hidden knowledge It’s no coincidence that Galdr The power of speech was a very important – if not the main action – within Nordic traditional magic itself Galdr is “spell” incantation, performed in combination with certain rites in a chanted form Mostly related to talismanic magic as well, to imbue an object with power not just through the writing of runes in the objects themselves, but through speech Reciting the words, the incantations, to imbue the runes with power Some incantations were composed in a special meter named galdralag Which was quite similar to the most frequently used forms to elaborate skaldic poetry in the first place Odin not only is the god of poetry but the God of the runes Odin in certain aspects is the personification of the deep inspirational state in the composition of poetry itself Odin is the god of inspiration and poetry is the projection of inspiration better still poetry is the articulated composition and projection through speech of inspiration itself so indeed, the importance of poetry is well reflected in the myths themselves and Related to divine power after all Poetry and those who composed it were perceived as the only means of maintaining the old ways alive maintaining the identity of a people alive the memory of the people That’s it. Poetry was the memory of the ancestors Recording the great deeds of the past so future generations won’t forget and might get inspired to continue on with the legacy never letting the identity of their people be forgotten and never to be idle because such powerful inspiration makes us all want to achieve great deeds as our forefathers once did and so we too might remain in the living memory of poetry Poetry is eternal inspiration for as long as we have a voice to sing the ancestral memory All right, my dear friends, thank you so much for watching I hope you have enjoyed this video and that it was useful and very special Thanks to ms. Anne Logston, my patron who suggested this subject and of course a very special thanks to all of my patrons and everyone who is watching my videos again Thank you so much for watching See you on the next video and as always tack för idag!
(Thank you for today!) You

23 thoughts on “Importance of Poetry in the Viking Age

  1. I think your acting skills are the most overlooked thing on your channel. SKALD

  2. Ok so I'm going to lay it out people.
    I hate Broomers – Wiccans or other pagans or new age type ppl – who try to paint Heathenry in a universalist type light. Basically "All of your entities, spiritual and cosmological concepts, ect. are the same as everyone else's – all gods are the same in every culture, ect.". And they try to make up their own facts from history concerning the Germanic tribes and what they believed.
    I would explain further but I'm tired.
    Broomers are cancer.

  3. Anyway, it's nice seeing you again Arith, and I can't wait for more videos – I know you'll have goodies next month for Yule and everything 🙂 You are my #1 teacher at the moment.
    Have a good day.

  4. Arith is now a staple part of my life's learning, and entertainment! Keep em coming Arith 😉

  5. I loved to see and hear this dear Mr., Mr. Thorstein !!!!

    Today will be a better day! Thank you, Mr. Arith! A good day to you too!

  6. Great presentation Arith!
    Thank you and keep the good knowledge coming brother👍🏻
    Skal!

  7. Wonderful video! here in Italy we always had something really close to "skalds" which are "jesters" they were wise men, full of knowledge at king's service…their speeches were both praised and feared due to the power they have to influence other people thoughts

  8. Thanks for the new video. Still a happy moment when i see a new post from you.

    I still loved listen to stories all my life. These a precious and in a way magic moments where we connect with our history, past, but also our community. I told also still lot stories to my kids when they was little, and we still have our own keenings in the family. This is also a bound, a way to belong to, a confort zone in a way. 😉

    And i could listen to you for hours.

    Tack för idag !

  9. I enjoyed very much this talk Arith thank you ! it was also great to see Mr Thorstein pop his head up 🙂 It is no wonder that Odin and Loki are seen as blood brothers as one is the God of inspiration and the other of Enlightenment , when one is inspired by something one also usually gains enlightenmant I have often wondered if Loki and Odin are just two sides of one coin …….

  10. Thank you for your knowledge. Arith, have you considered taking these videos, and condensing them into written volumes?( you probably have)You have a few books here… I know I would buy it! I love your videos, make no mistake…but you should be published! Your knowledge needs to be preserved in multiple formats….my genius friend!

  11. Pretty sure in the UK it was the Gregorian mission
    where we saw the pope order pagan sites and poetry to have saints replace old pagan names and references. so it makes you wonder with some poems if there were older versions. made me think if ref of cain and abel in some texts like Beowulf was a re-write of pagan divine twins fighting but we'll never know. another mention of loki as odins brother is Odins saying his other name is Helblindi (which is lokis brother)

  12. Arith I love your channel you have helped me so much in my study and finding my pagan path. I want to ask why have you stopped making videos on the runes? I loved them!

  13. Welcome Mr T! It's really good to see you again. For many moons I have been pondering the relationship between yourself and the boy and now he has (almost) told us. You are his skald and the reason he hides you away is because he is afraid that you might ruin him. It also explains why your discussions with him are highly editted, so he can put words in your mouth.
    Anyway it is always good to see you with or without the boy.

  14. I remember hearing they use to have poetry fights akin to rap battles, could you elaborate on this?

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