Thursday, May 26, 2016

What Do Völva, Yggdrasil, Buddha, Oseberg Ship, and Constantinople Have in Common?

At 6:11 a.m. this morning I opened up my revision notes for my latest manuscript (working title: Vika and Grímr's story), and the first note for the day (after having left off on this revision yesterday), was a note about doing a bit more research on the Norse völva or spaekona.

So... off I went on another journey around the internet. My first stop sent me here, where I became curious about learning more about the Yggdrasil, which, according to Wikipedia, is "an immense mythical tree that connects the nine worlds in Norse cosmology," so I then went here.

The norns Urðr, Verðandi, and Skuld beneath the world tree Yggdrasil (1882) by Ludwig Burger.

Then on and on from there---in other words, I've gone down quite a rabbit hole! Three hours later, and forty-one websites later, I have learned a bit more about the life of the female shamans in Norse society, but I've also learned a tad more about a host of other intriguing pieces of Norse history.

For example:

Did you know that a Viking ship was excavated back in 1904 at the Oseberg farm near Tønsberg in Norway which held the skeletal remains of two women have been thought to be either Queen Åsa of the Yngling clan, mother of Halfdan the Black and grandmother of Harald Fairhair and her lady's maid, or a very important and renowned völva and her daughter?

Oseberg ship during 1904 excavation.
The Oseberg ship on display at the Viking Ship Museum, Oslo, Norway.
Drawing: Items excavated at Oseberg.
Or that the reason that one woman is considered to be higher ranking than the other is that she was wearing a red woolen gown of a lozenge-twill pattern weave, which was considered a luxury item for the time (c. 834 AD)?
broken lozenge twill
Lozenge-twill pattern

The women's remains were ignored initially, as the archeologists and museums were much more interested in the remaining "horde" discovered within the ship---and the ship itself, of course.

Although there were many items excavated that fascinated me, the one that really captured my imagination was the "Buddha Bucket." The bucket has an ornament of a buddha-like figure seated in a traditional lotus-style position on both sides of the handle, with a cloisonné enameled front in a very traditionally Indian svastika design.

"Buddha bucket" (Buddha-bøtte)

There is a very similar, contemporaneous Buddha-like figure that was excavated in Norway as well called Myklebostad. I've seen it mentioned as the "Myklebostad hanging bowl," but have not been able to find further specifics on this item, as every site I've found links back to a museum site in Norway that will not open for me at present.

There is some speculation regarding both figures that they were actually products of the British Isles, but I am more swayed to believing their origin to be India at present.

This connection to the east and middle east sent me on another journey on the 'net. And via those clicks I found out the following:

That the Norse Vikings were frequent visitors to Constantinople
That Istanbul was called Constantinople into the 20th Century (and evidently still is by many Europeans), and that Constantinople was called Istanbul at least by the 11th Century by the Turks.

Well, I hope this post sends you on your own journey down an even more fascinating rabbit hole!

Image Sources:
  1. Norns under yggdrasil:
  2. Oseberg Ship Excavation: (originally from 
  3. Oseberg Ship on Display:
  4. Drawing of items found at Oseberg: 
  5. Lozenge-twill pattern:
  6.  Buddha bucket:
  7. Myklebostad:

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