If anyone out there is a Viking enthusiast like myself, and take particular interest in the archaeology side of pre-European culture, you will probably agree that much of the relics we have preserved in our museums from the Viking age are either weapons, or tools. This is because the Viking peoples (both men, women and childen Vikings, not only the masculinized version of our model barbarian), but real Vikings lived in an aricultural age. Yes they had to fight, and had well established warrior bands, governed by the Kings, but the people of 793-1000 circa. Scandinavia were fundamentally a farming society. The warrior band depended on the peasant blacksmiths for the best forged swords, and their tunics and birkas were woven by the huswife, from hand washed lanolin merino sheeps wool, all the food in the cabins on the clinker ships would have to be from their locality, of a small part of a fjord coast, somewhere not too far from a port, but with optimal climate for growing vegetables. With only limited means of preservation like root cellars, and cool rooms for keeping produce from going bad, the Vikings would have chosen to go on their raids between harvest time and the winter when the crop was abundant, and big game was in full season. The Jarl’s roving warband could not fight and raid as they did for long distances over the sea without this surplus. This is also attested to in some of the sagas like Eric the Red’s saga and the Greenlander saga. For the Viking age, and other agrarian cultures of this era to be successful, there central tenet of farming had to exist, as a means of survival, but also as a means of lifestyle.
To reiterate this information in a different cultural accent, living in todays world, that is highly industrial/technological, we no longer fully depend on traditional farming the way it was done in the pre-millenial age. The vast majority of the worlds farms are no longer organic or tradition preserving in any way, they are monoculture, big business owned, and globally providing, which introduces an entire slew of different operation methods, machines, techniques, marketing, and ultimately failures. Gone are the days when one goat was worth 50 pounds of potatoes, and items could be traded fairly between different countries, without having to worry about the quality of the product being given. What I am getting to come around here is to ask the question what it meant to be a farmer in the Viking age?
A boy in the Viking age, let’s say around the age of 13 was very quickly introduced into his father’s way of life. Around this age he was taught to fight, and protect his siblings and his mother, he was taught how to take care of the goats, sheep and horses on his othal land, and given responsibilities, modern families today would not introduce into their household until ones young adulthood. At a little older he may be given his first sword, and taken on a raid. It was Leif Erikson that was a mere 19 when he sailed to Iceland and was given his own fleet of ships, then discovered Vinland in his twenties. Before this, Leif probably served his own time on a farm, like most Vikings did. This intitation of a boy becoming a man is aspiring to me no matter which way you cut it. A man could not be separated from his farm, when he returned from a raid in England filled with loot, and scars, he went back to the tilling and toiling of his precious soil.
In my life, I have my own set of dreams of persuance. One of these is to own land, and a farm, take care of animals, and provide a small tribe of people with healthy food, and a communal off the grid lifestyle. All of this was more or less a given in the Viking Age, there were no pre-requisites or degrees required to work the land. If your father spoke highly of you to another, then you may earn yourself some money making hay, or shearing sheep. This is what I am largely attracted to from this time period, is the governance not by authority but by reputation and idrottir (skills). The Vikings did not have to ask themselves whether what they were growing was 100% organic, fair trade, localized, and devoid of animal cruelty. Their livestock were treated as family members, their vegetable harvest was down with hand tools, and if their food came from Norway, and sold in Sweden, you can assure it was literally shipped, as is, from the ground to the hands of the buyer, without the standardized over-safe quality control on global food marketing. I am using the term Viking to be synonymous with the word Heathen in this respect because I am contuing to reference specifically the age of the pre-christian Northern peoples.
The Heathen Vikings worshipped Frey before the harvest, and Frigg for the bounty. They kept their domestic life to the country and their business life to the villages. Thus heath-en, the world going back to the meaning of heath-dweller, or referencing one who lived in the country, the utangard of the hustle and bustle of the commerce centres. A Heathen in that age was someone who went against the grain of the infringing imposing society, in this respect, the Christian King’s rule. Many Viking age farms have been found just in the last century, we know they grow very certain species of plants, and even knew the tricks of producing different cultivars of the same genus of plants. They also grew medicines and product producing crops, like hemp and flax. The Vikings knew how to plant the seeds of their livelihood, and tend to them all the way through, with the sovereign help of the Germanic spirit. This is something I wish to cultivate in my own life, which I feel compelled to speak further on..
I desire to re-instigate a new curriculum of heathen oriented farming techniques, indiginous to a landscape that I can call my own othal homelands. Using hand tools to cut, till, toil, plant, reap, groom, tend, and harvest. The heathen method would use ancestrally native animal species for meat creation, wool harvesting, milking, food production, work, comaraderie, and creating a biodynamic relationship with the earth. A heathen approach to farming is something I have been gradually experimenting more and more with on my wide travels and varied farmstays, and I can say I have experienced the gamut of different techniques used through lower Scandinavia, upper Scotland, the English isles, and the coasts of Vinland, ranging from inorganic monoculture to fully traditional , non-chemical, hand worked, and communaly provided permaculture. A fully heathen farm, would take the time to acknowledge the spiritual, and the personal. Freyr, Thor, Frigg and Jord would take immediate involvement in the cycle of the seasons (ᛃ) The runes of man would work through the day, teaching him the way of the soil, the animals, the weather, and the land. All work in the field, fells and mountains would not be directed for the gain of the individual profit, but for the tribal whole. An accomplishent much greater and sacral, passed on through gildship and traditional teaching, tracing back to our own forefathers long before us. The Vikings were an independent people, Sjálfstætt fólk, but they were also a whole, every aspect of their lives was integrated together.
But this is not a re-enactment of a way of life, temporally bound in experiment and demonstration. It is a continued and growing mode of being, an ancient memory, that is NOT lost on us yet. Does this already exist in the contemporary world? I believe the closest thing we have is the rising permaculture movements throughout greater Europe and North America. Why is this? It is because it is ᚾeeded. Our world is calling for it, and certain groups are choosing to remember that the ways of yore actually worked quite well for us, and our modern methods of living with the earth, animals, air, and water is not going to sustain us. The modern day farmer must be Heathen in order for the Tribe to survive. We must not ‘start’ but continue to nourish a praxis known to our elders, for our blood, and our soil to thrive.