I have been doing a “Saga Saturday” tag for quite while, but I have never been very organized about it. So, perhaps it is time to start taking it more seriously.
Something I would really enjoy seeing is more people interested in the Sagas. Of course, many of you already read them (some of you have read even more than I have), but I also know that a good portion of my ‘Thingmen’ (all of you followers) have had little exposure to them. I would like to change that, but I will need all of your help to do so!
What is “Saga Saturday?”
It is a day to appreciate the “Art of the Saga.”
What is a “Saga?”
A Saga is typically a medieval Icelandic tale, written in narrative prose, of family conflict and daily life. They tells tales of marriage, love, battle, raiding, heroic feats, kings, feuds, old age, strong women, and much more. They are far more than dull, historical tales. They are vividly painted stories that illustrate a deep and rich culture that followed the infamous “Viking Age.”
Why should I bother reading “Sagas?”
If you are fascinated with Vikings and their way of life, you will instantly find yourself taken away. Although these stories mostly reflect the culture of later medieval Iceland, they held a deep admiration and curiosity for their “Viking” ancestors. Many characters go abroad and raid, behaving as “Vikings” would. However, you gain much more that just the raiding. You get insight into cultural patterns and ideals. These Sagas are the window into their society and way of life. With these sagas, you are able to begin peering into aspects of everyday life, which is far more valuable than the actions of rulers alone.
Where would I begin?
If you want to gather a taste for the tradition, I recommend one of three sagas: Njal’s Saga, Egil’s Saga, or Laxdæla Saga. The best part about these is that you can already read them for free on The Icelandic Saga Database! This way you don’t even have to spend money to enjoy the lives of the medieval Icelanders. Just keep in mind that the translations are free because they are old. If you enjoy reading them, I suggest looking into the modern translation available on places such as Amazon. Here are this major sagas and their summaries:
“Written in the late thirteenth century, Njal’s Saga is the most popular and powerful of all the great Icelandic Family Sagas - a compelling chronicle of a fifty-year blood feud. Blending dark dreams, strange prophecies, sexual slander, violent conflict and fragile traces, it is at once heroic and deeply human. Throughout, memorable characters struggle with their passions, including Gunnar of Hlidarendi, a great warrior with an aversion to killing, the complex and villainous Mord Valgardsson, and the wise and prescient Njal. But as they search for honor, they remain dominated by perennial man-made problems: failed marriages, divided loyalties, the law’s inability to curb human instincts, and ultimately the terrible consequences when decent men and women are swept up in a tide of violence beyond their control.” (Summary from Njal’s Saga - Penguin Edition)
“Egil’s Saga tells the story of the long and brutal life of the tenth-century warrior-poet and farmer Egil Skallagrimsson: a psychologically ambitious character who was at once the composer of intricately beautiful poetry, and a physical grotesque capable of staggering brutality. This Icelandic saga recounts Egil’s progression from youthful savagery to mature wisdom as he struggles to defend his honor in a running feud against the Norwegian king Erik Blood-axe, fights for the English king Athelstan in his battles against Scotland and embarks on colorful Viking rain across northern Europe. Exploring issues as diverse as loyalty, the power of poetry and the relationship between two brothers who love the same woman, Egil’s Saga is a fascinating depiction of a deeply human character, and one of the true masterpieces of medieval literature.” (Summary from Egil’s Saga - Penguin Edition)
“Gudrun is headstrong, proud and the most beautiful woman in Iceland. the tragic story of how she comes to betray than destroy the only man she has ever truly loved lies at the heart of this forceful family saga, which traces the passions and blood feuds of three generations of strong women, wise leaders and hotheaded warriors. Written around 1245 but telling of earlier centuries, when magic rites and sorcery closed with the presence of Christianity through a rapidly changing Viking world, this tale of revenge slayings and sacrifice, desire and regret, is one of the best-loved works of Icelandic literature. The accompanying sequel tells of Bolli Bollason, Gudrun’s adored son, and his fortune-seeking exploits.” (Summary from The Saga of the People of Laxardal and Bolli Bollason’s Tale - Penguin Edition).
Some words of Advice…
There is one thing to be wary of when reading these sagas: they are not meant to be taken literally. By that, I mean to say that they do not exactly reflect the period they claim to represent. They reflect the culture that wrote them, that of later medieval Iceland. They should be read understanding that concept, if possible. But, most of all, enjoy them! I study them academically, but you do not have to be so critical, as I am. They are wonderful tales of medieval heroes, you need not fret over their historical role.
The Goal of Saga Saturday:
So, with all of that being said, the goal for this “project” is just to have a day where people can enjoy sagas (if they so decide to). You do not have to read them, but if you are interested in Norse culture and history, I highly encourage you to enjoy a few Saga Saturdays, when possible. We will discuss them and feature them occasionally. In the end, it is an opportunity for awareness and appreciation surrounding the saga-world.
Another goal, or ideal, of this “project” is to bring together a community of Saga-lovers to discuss the material, resurrecting these tales from their dusty, historical shelf. We shall see what becomes of this, though.
I know that not all of you are “saga-lovers,” and, of course, you do not have to feel obligated to become one either. Still, I think many of you have a “saga-lover” dwelling inside of you, if you are following my blog already. Nevertheless, it is up to you all to decide whether “Saga Saturday” should continue to strive forward. If so, I will continue to discuss the sagas in more detail and provide sources for the continuation of enjoyment in the “Art of Saga-telling.”
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“Never forget what you are, for surely the world will not. Make it your strength. Then it can never be your weakness. Armor yourself in it, and it will never be used to hurt you.” ✨
Fun Viking facts!
1. Viking women could inherit property 😉
2. Vikings were some of the most hygienic people of their time. 👍
3. William the Conqueror was a descendent of Vikings. 🇬🇧
(Photographer: @taylordlanier Hair and makeup: @tiffanynicoleperea 💕🙌🌿)
My Viking photo shoot featuring runes by lykosleather ( lykosleather.com and on etsy)
Archaeologists working in Trondheim in Norway are amazed by the discovery of a human skeleton in the bottom of an abandoned castle well. The skeleton provides evidence that confirms dramatic historical events mentioned in the Sagas.
The location and contents of the well are mentioned in Sverre’s Saga, a chronicle of one of the kings of Norway, and one of very few historical manuscripts describing events in the Norwegian Viking age and medieval period.
Scholars have questioned the chronicle’s trustworthiness as a historical document. But now, at least one part of the saga seems to hold truth – down to the tiniest detail.
“This is truly astonishing. As far as I know there is no known example of the discovery of an individual historically connected with an act of war as far back as the year 1197. And the fact that this actually corroborates an event described in Sverre’s saga is simply amazing“, says lead archaeologist at the site, Anna Petersén. Read more.
Very Rare Viking Elfshot Amulet, 9th-12th Century AD
This silver-gilt and banded stone pendant was worn as a magic amulet to protect against ‘elfshot’, which was thought to be an arrow or dart attack perpetrated by elves. These elf attacks were believed to be responsible for many painful human and animal maladies, the causes of which were still of course unknown at that time in history.
Elfshot was described as a sudden shooting pain, like the pain one would experience with rheumatism, arthritis or muscle cramps. Belief in elfshot persisted into the 20th century in rural areas, and as proof, country folk would sometimes find small arrowheads (the remains of Neolithic or Mesolithic flints, or naturally-occurring spear-shaped stones) that were believed to be the magical weapons that caused the afflictions. The belief in elfshot begins in the Pagan Germanic period and this amulet is a very early and rare example.