Saturday Night Swing

 The first two are fun to watch, too.

Níðstöng Poles

An old custom is showing a revival in Iceland. 
Nithing poles such as this have been popping up in Iceland more and more over the last few decades. Anna Björg, CEO of the Museum of Icelandic Sorcery and Witchcraft in Hólmavik, says nithing poles are “pointed against someone you want revenge on” and considered deeply personal. She explains that it’s more serious when directed at an individual as opposed to a larger entity, such as an industry or the government. Björg says, “People take it like a death threat.”

It is, approximately. The word is a cognate of “nothing,” and is a declaration that the cursed is considered no better than nothing in the eyes of the one issuing the curse. Just to call someone that verbally was a punishable offense under the old laws, requiring you to pay a portion of their wergild. Apparently current Icelandic law handles it exactly like issuing a threat against someone’s life, if it is pointed at a person instead of an organization. 

The most famous example is from Egils saga Skallagrímssonar

Master of Magic and Occult Studies

So I saw an article about this program that the UK's Exeter University is offering, but they're really burying the lede here:
The new post-graduate program will be housed within the university’s Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies. The placement will help students understand “the Arabo-Islamic cultural heritage back where it belongs” with “decolonisation, the exploration of alternative epistemologies, feminism, and anti-racism…at the core” of the program....

Emphasis added. I can't imagine any place more likely to receive such a program with intense interest, especially the attempts to "place the Arabo-Islamic cultural heritage back where it belongs... with... feminism... at the core." Adding in actual witchcraft is going to make for an exciting time down at the Islamic Studies department!

Even in the much more staid University of Georgia, the Religious Studies program generated more complaints than any other department according to the officer from the Civil Rights department I spoke with some years ago. 


I went to see GWAR in Asheville. It was cartoonishly violent and profane, much akin to a heavy metal Looney Toons as influenced also by He Man (the band originated forty years ago!) and Hong Kong cinema. 

The concept of the band is that they are barbaric space mercenaries, who engage in battle on stage as they play rock music. Sprays of blood are spewed out from the wounds created by rotary saws, swords, spiked hammers, and the like. There were many occasions for multicolored blood to spray across the audience: fights to the death, executions, murders, and vivisections were all luridly portrayed. 

It was, without doubt, the most amazing spectacle I have ever seen at a concert. At one point they chopped up Vladimir Putin, to the howls of the crowd; later, they beheaded Joe Biden, and the laughing citizens of Asheville danced in the sprays of his blood. 

The Days of High Adventure

A short retelling of the story of Guthred, whose tale has similarities to that of the famous Cimmerian.
Simeon wrote that a local abbot was visited, in a vision, by Cuthbert, an Anglo-Saxon Saint (who had once resided at the monastery on Lindisfarne). Holy Cuthbert advised the monk to seek out a slave who had been sold to a widow....

What can be historically verified, thanks in part to financial records, was that a Guthred was acquired by what appears to be an Anglo-Saxon nobleman named Æthelstan. Legend has it that this nobleman recognized young Guthred's leadership potential and set him free. 

Whether Æthelstan had received any visits from a monk with a bizarre tale of a saintly vision, or if we take Æthelstan's kindness at face value is hard to gauge centuries after the fact, but it appears that Guthred was indeed set free coinciding (coincidentally or not, we may never know) with the toppling of Halfdan from the throne of Northumbria.

Aside from gaining his freedom, Guthred soon, through a combination of his apparent charisma and hard work, gained the trust and support of the local community. In fact, in little more than a year, he had filled the large void in the kingdom by ascending to the throne. 

It seems that Cuthbert's foreshadowing had come to fruition, and a former slave became the second Viking King of Northumbria.

High Color

This is the same location as a week ago, but now at the height of autumn. 

The afternoon sun is golden at this hour this time of the year, adding to the glory of the display. It’s the most beautiful moment of the year. 

Firgive vus sinna vora sin vee Firgive

A Scottish form of Norse called "Norn" long existed, especially in the Islands. The last native speaker died in the 19th century, but it survives in many place names. It was replaced by Scots, not Gaelic nor English. A form of the Lord's Prayer in the tongue survives, and you can read it at the link: at least some of the words will be decipherable to you.

What is the Norn language?

Originally known as Norrœna, Norn is an extinct North Germanic language that was a variant of Old Norse. It was mostly spoken in the Northern Isles of Scotland in Orkney and the Shetland islands but was also found in the Scottish mainland in Caithness.

Vikings who came from West Norway first started building settlements on Scotland’s archipelagos around 850 AD and this is seen as the startpoint of the Norn language evolving from Old Norse. Scottish place names with Old Norse motifs can be found scattered throughout the entire country but the “amount of place names with a Norn element” in regions like Shetland reflect how such regions were heavily colonised by Norsemen.

"Norrœna" also happens to be the name of a society that was founded by the kings of Sweden and Norway for the purpose of “resurrecting, reproducing, collecting and collating or indexing every thing that pertained to the early history of the Anglo Saxon, Celtic, Teutonic, and Scandinavian races—to furnish the people of Northern Europe with their own vital history.” The wide-ranging interest is well-captured by this Norrœna Library edition of their collection that we inherited from my wife's mother's family, who had it in Alaska in the middle of the 20th century.

My set is 15 volumes, but there were sets with a 16th on early American history.

Saxo Grammaticus wrote on early Denmark; the Volsung (Völsunga ) Saga was discovered in Iceland but is clearly related to the Medieval High German Nibelungenlied; the Heimskringla is a history of Norse (chiefly Norweigan) kings.

Again, Iceland, Iceland, two general collections of folklore widely sourced, and Sir Thomas Malory of England drawing on French sources.

It is lushly illustrated; here is a plate from the Völsunga Saga.

It's actually quite difficult to tease apart the history of the "Anglo Saxon, Celtic, Teutonic, and Scandinavian races," especially in the British Isles. The Normans who conquered and ruled (and intermarried with) both Anglo-Saxons and Celts were originally Scandinavian before they came to France; the Celtic-French collaboration we call the Arthurian cycle was later adopted by the Normans as their especial favorite mythology because it provided ancient warrant for a kingdom both in the British Isles and the French-speaking continent. 

All of this heroic Northwestern European literature was fodder for the Norrœna Society, as it is for we ourselves. 

The Collective vs. the Individual in "Nordic Philosophy"

Recently I was explaining to a college man studying history seriously for the first time the facts of the Enlightenment and the rise of what we once called political liberalism. Medieval political philosophy, I explained, often likened the society to the human body; sometimes it likened subsets of society to a body, which gave rise to the word "corporation" from the Latin word corpus meaning body. As a member of society (or such a society), your duty was derived from your function as related to the collective: just as the eye's function is to see so that food can be found, and the hand's function to grasp so that food can be obtained, the teeth, stomach, blood, etc., all have individual functions -- but they are all ordered to the common good of the whole. An eye that decided not to perform its function in a way that led to the good of the collective could be said to be diseased (is so said, by Aristotle and the Medievals who followed him). Your duty was thus defined by your function relative to the collective, so that a knight fought by right and duty, and a peasant labored by right and duty; your liberties were defined by your position in the social order, and aligned with the duties you had to fulfill. 

Liberalism inverted the idea that the individual was defined by his assigned place in the collective, and instead had a sort-of equality of rights and duties (allowing for individual differences in abilities, etc). Thus the Founders here spoke in the Declaration of Independence as later in the Bill of Rights of the rights of individuals that the collective had no legitimate power to transgress, and indeed existed wholly to ensure. Similarly, the French Revolution sat down and concocted the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen shortly after defeating the king's attempt to restore his power over them, and to reduce them back from the sort-of equality they had gained into members of his collective with each their assigned place.

Strikingly, I finished this discussion, both of the modern reactions to liberalism -- communism and fascism -- attempt to restore the collective's priority over the individual. Mussolini explained fascism as a sort of 'corporatism,' drawing on the same Latin as above; all the people belonged to all the institutions, but all of the individuals and all of the institutions were to be ordered to the good of the state which was the collective whole. Communism, of course, establishes a collective which claims the sole right to own property -- no individualist ownership is permitted, nor is your work to give rise to any self-improvement of your station because 'from each according to his abilities,' but 'to each according to his needs.' 

I was thinking about this the other day when I came across this article on the "Nordic philosophy" of Jante, which is built around variations of the rule that “You’re not to think you are anything special.” The article praises the concept as helpful in building better workers; i.e., the worth of the concept is judged from its usefulness in adapting individuals into being better servants of the collective.

How different from that earlier "Nordic philosophy" embodied by Rögnvald Kali Kolsson, Earl of Orkney from 1129 to 1158. You might be inclined to reason that the Viking age was made up of pagans rather than humble Christians, but this is not the case: he was a Christian, and in fact went raiding against the Saracens in Spain and as far as Jerusalem. I own a copy of the book of his poems reviewed there (Crimsoning the Eagle’s Claw by Ian Crockatt), and it is striking how they are so often built around celebrating exactly how this individual is special. The review gives two examples that are on point, one a self-description:
Who’ll challenge my nine skills?
I’m champion at chess,
canny recalling runes,
well-read, a red-hot smith –
some say I shoot and ski
and scull skilfully too.
Best of all, I’ve mastered
harp-play and poetry.
The second is praise of another very special person, a lady of beauty and charm.
Who else hoards such yellow
hair, bright lady – fair as
your milk-mind shoulders,
where milled barley-gold falls?
Chuck the cowled hawk, harry
him with sweets. Crimsoner
of eagles’ claws, I covet
cool downpours of silk; yours.
The other two examples -- and most of the poems not sampled in the review -- are of the type. He praises his crew's special prowess; he praises his ship's special sleekness. He praises his extraordinary journey, unique and special, in traveling from Orkney as far as the Holy Land. 

These two philosophies are ironically placed: the Medieval Norse poet is celebrating individual specialness in the era of collective politics, whereas the Danish workers are celebrating non-specialness and collectivism in the era of liberalism. Perhaps both are in some sense needed, and the reaction of the individual in the corporatist era matches the desire for a collective in an individualist time.

The workers are said to be 'happier' according to the collective philosophy, but perhaps that is so only in comparison to other 20th century workers to which they are compared. The Viking seems to me to be happier than both.

Men of Harlech

This recording is apparently of the Royal Regiment of Wales Band, sung on the 120th anniversary of the Battle of Rorke's Drift, in the church at Rorke's Drift.

Alas, for fans of the movie Zulu, it is unlikely this was sung at that battle. The regiment was not renamed the South Wales Borderers until two years after that battle, the regimental march at the time was "The Warwickshire Lads," and while there were a number of Welsh soldiers there, it seems likely that the majority were English.

Still, a rousing song for an army defending its people from murderous invaders.

By Wolf Lake

A Medieval Tattoo

A Chi-Rho with Alpha and Omega has been discovered on preserved flesh from a burial at the Medieval Christian site Ghazali in Africa. It’s thought to be early Medieval, when the Chi-Rho was a popular Christian symbol: the earliest accounts of King Arthur have him using one on his shield, not the Crusader crosses that became popular centuries later and are more commonly pictured in Arthurian art.