Translation: From the fury of the Northmen deliver us, O Lord.
The first Viking raid upon the British Isles occurred in 793 C.E., during the reign of King Beorhtric of Wessex. Simeon of Durham recorded the grim events:
“And they came to the church of Lindisfarne, laid everything waste with grievous plundering, trampled the holy places with polluted feet, dug up the altars and seized all the treasures of the holy church. They killed some of the brothers; some they took away with them in fetters; many they drove out, naked and loaded with insults; and some they drowned in the sea.”
Norse mythology has long been my favorite of the old world regions. Partly because it was one of the last to survive the rapid Christian and Mohammedan expansions across Europe during the first millennium A.D. And also of the “low fantasy” voice in which they were told. The gods were not supreme beings, but mortals who had through toil, cleverness, and the pursuit of knowledge and sorcery gained immortality for themselves and could still be killed by the blade, poison or mischance.
One of the most frustrating things for me so far is the research itself. I don’t recall if I ever made the choice consciously to do historical fantasies in our world and universe (although somewhat skewed) over building one of my own. If I did at some point, I hope that it was not because I thought it would be somehow easier–nor do I think the creation of ones own universe is easier, but each presents its own unique issues along with the ones they share.
Oh yes, the research… In addition to the old adage, the more you learn and know, the more you learn you don’t known, what we know of the Scandinavian peoples before their first raid on the monastery at Lindisfarne is constantly debated, written down, argued about, and written about again by someone with a conflicting opinion. Then some new archeological evidence surfaces and proves them all wrong, and the process starts all over again. In addition to the controversy and constantly changing view of who the Norse people really were, there is virtually no material from the day on they’re religious believes and practices, and their views and believes on the use of runes and sorcery, only brief mentions in texts written by the Christian descendants two or more generations removed from their pagan forefathers. One interesting tidbit that is well documented is that sorcerers were nearly always women who would use their arcane powers to supplement their men’s physical prowess both in battle and in life at home.
So. The greatest hurdle for me at the moment in fleshing out the world in which I intend to write this series of stories is learning more of what the Norse believed and practiced relating to religion and sorcery rather than what their decedents remembered of them after more than a century of Christianization. The only work I’ve found that promises to reveal any specific research on the subject is The Viking Way: Religion and War in the Later Iron Age of Scandinavia, 2nd Edition by Neil Price. I am, however, still not-so-patiently awaiting its release.