Sunday, November 27, 2005

Viking Funeral

Viking Funeral

Viking Funeral (2005)

Here's a new one to send your Thanksgiving weekend sailing off in flames. Were the turkey a bit overcooked and the dressing dry? Here's why.

You probably have an image of Viking funerals -- burning ships drifting away on fog-drenched fjords? But maybe you aren't being festive enough...or dutifully walking like an Egyptian? From House Shadow Drake, here's an abridged account from a "Viking Chieftain's Funeral on the Volga" (921-922 AD) as recorded by Arabian envoy Ibn Fadhlan:

When a chieftain dies, slaves and servants are asked who will die with him. The one who volunteers cannot alter the decision. In this particular case it was a woman who was treated with great courtesy while the burial was being prepared. On the day of the funeral the chieftain's ship was drawn up onto land and people walked around it and said words. A beir was placed on it and loths and cushions laid on it by an old woman called the Angel of Death. She was responsible for the preparations. The dead body which up to now had been laid in a grave was taken up and dressed in special garments made for the occasion. He was seated among the cushions in the tent on the ship, with alcoholic drink, food, aromatic herbs and all his weapons. Then a dog, two horses, two cows, a cock and a hen were killed and placed in the ship.

The woman who was to die went round to each tent in the camp and had sexual intercourse with its owner. After this she performed various other rituals. She was raised three times above something which looked like a door frame and said: "I see my master sitting in paradise, and it is beautiful and green and with him are men and slaves and he calls me. Lead me to him." Then she killed a hen, and was taken to the ship, took off her jewelry, drank two beakers and sang, and was finally taken into the tent to her dead master by the Angel of Death. Six men followed her into the tent and had sexual intercourse with her, and then she was killed. The closest relatives of the deceased now lit the firewood under the ship. Others threw more burning brands on the fire and within one hour everything was burnt. Then they built a mound on the spot and raised a pole at its center with the name of the chieftain and his king on it, and went away.

Maybe it's just my jaded 21st Century mindset, but I'm not sure that volunteering to accompany the chieftain to the afterlife is the best gig. Is this your idea of going sailing?

If you can't stand the heat, stay out of the boat.

"He that will not sail till all dangers are over must never put to sea" (Thomas Fuller).
[Funeral of a Viking (1893) by Sir Frank Dicksee]

But, apparently, the Vikings did prefer scorched boating into the next life. Even the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Norway bears out the burial detail described above:

At the time of burial, the ship was drawn up on land and placed in a pit. A burial chamber was constructed behind the mast, where the deceased was placed to rest in a bed, dressed in finery. Copious provisions were placed in the ship, dogs and horses were sacrificed, and a large burial mound was piled on top of the vessel.

An Arab travelling in Russia at the end of the 9th Century happened upon a group of Vikings who were in the process of burying a chieftain in this manner. Ibn Fadlan made note of his observations, and his journal has survived. The deceased chieftain's ship was pulled ashore, and valuables were placed aboard. The corpse was dressed in fine clothing and placed on board in a bed. A slave woman, who had chosen to follow her master in death was sacrificed along with a horse and a hunting dog. The ship with its contents was burned, and a burial mound was constructed over the ashes. We have finds of cremated ships graves in the Nordic countries and in Western European Viking sites, but the large graves along the Oslofjord were not put to the torch. In the Gokstad ship a man was found, and the Tune ship probably carried a man a well. However, two women were buried with the Oseberg ship. The skeletons are of a 50-60 year-old and a 20-30 year-old. We can only speculate as to which was the companion and which was the noblewoman.

Unfortunately, these arcane customs do not always translate well when applied to contemporary living. From the Northwest Indiana News:

Barbara Garcia told jurors Friday she rolled her husband's body down a hill toward a pond in Illinois because she wanted to give him the "Viking funeral" he always wanted.

But she denied killing him.
Viking Funeral Stopped By Fire Department (Hampshire, England):
A family who held a Viking-style funeral for their missing son had their tribute disrupted when the fire department turned up to put out the blazing memorial.

After all, if city ordinances forbid leaf burning, then this

Yeah, this is the last year that I go to the Burning Man festival...

[Artwork by Zakas]

voyage to Valhalla activity will probably further prod your neighbors to call and report you.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thor's Rebuke

A billion voices ruffle feathers beneath
Fame's wings, garbling each other out.

They swarm and hum like buzzing critics
Paid to sting and slay the heart.

There is always a penalty for talent
Whose funeral goes unnoticed.

Whose are a horse and a hunting dog
And a mad woman flung upon the pyre?

Nobody lives there any more, inside
My brain when lightning strikes.

Here we may write freely, because
Indifference will muffle all sound.

Dr. Mike

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