Heathen Pilgrimage

This one has been kept a bit secret for awhile but in traditional fashion I would like to write here a little about my recent foray into the world. This time on a self styled heathen pilgrimage though the whole of Scandinavia, from Iceland to Faroe Islands, Denmark onto Sweden and Norway, Gotland and Finland. This will be the first part of a several chapter diary of my experiences through some of these countries, some will remain only spoken in the oral tradition to those I meet along the way, for I see no purpose in documenting every minute detail. The focus of this trip is to visit sacred sites, cultural landmarks, Runestones, Viking settlements, ancient ruins, and Iron/Viking age museums, to learn and experience as much as I can.

On the Danish chapter, my heathen foray began in Copenhagen as do most trips, I stayed with some old acquaintances along the canal. I was to meet an artist at a local tattoo parlor for a tattoo of the runic futhark, but this fell through, so I was not in the city for long. The next day I traveled to the open air museum in Lejre. Here volunteers lived in different periods re-enacted villages, from the Stone Age to the Iron Age, and Viking period. A traditional lifestyle was brought to fruition in the open heath of the countryside. This was set near a few ship barrows and the burial mound of the Egtved girl.  It was fascinating to be standing on the grounds that this young girl was once buried, her body now lies in the Copenhagen museum. Several modern rune and pagan stones were carved in the landscape. A farm with traditional livestock like heritage pigs and boar also existed here. I met a father who was teaching his young son the art of smithing, and met other modern day Vikings who travel to different villages like myself.

From here I took a train to Slagelse and Hyllinge to walk at the Trelleborg Fortress on the island of Zealand. This was ordered by Harald Bluetooth in 980 to be constructed. The circle fortress would have kept 16 longhouses within its bounds, and it is the best preserved of the other Trelleborg that exist in Denmark and Sweden. It has been fully excavated, so I had the chance to see the relics of the foregone place, lain in the ground for hundreds of years. Seeing the skeletons of actual Vikings that lived, raided, farm, and loved is something I can barely wrap my head around, seeing their weapons and ships is another thing but their bodies, and for that matter, those of their animals is a truly connecting experience. In the higher mounds, horsemen were found, while there may have been Christian influence in the smaller graves. One woman carried pearls, game stones, a wooden casket and a bronze bucket. Several domestic items were also found like whetstones, utensils, combs, scissors, needles, locks and keys. It only shows, that our lifestyle is not so different. Some of the men in the graves were even from what is now Poland! This Trelleborg was known as a stop of Ibn Fadlan on his journey out of the east, and naturally marked a place of extreme curiosity for me since readings Ibn’s account of the Russiyah.

The Roskilde fjord was my next sojourn, but before this I took a side journey to Faxe, a place known for it’s brewery and lime quarry, but less know for the mythology behind the name. In Norse mythology Faxe means the horse’s mane, while Skinfaxi and Hrímfaxi are the horses of the day (dagr), and they pull the chariots of the day, while his mane lit up the sky and midgard. The name of Faxe comes all the way back from a poem called Vafþrúðnismál, but I digress, there was no Viking presence in this town that I know of, but I spent one night at a lime quarry before getting back to Roskilde. During the afternoon, I met some of the tradesmen working in the boatbuilders guild who were re-constructing the Viking ships at the harbor, then I was able to go out into the fjord on a sailing in a replica clinker built ship, seating fourteen, while rowing and gaining some experience about working the mast. The museum located here also housed five original Viking ship remnants, the infamous Skuldelev’s, which were sunk into the fjord to prevent access from a raid on Roskilde. There are 9 other ships ranging from the Iron age and medieval age found in further excavations. They were ranging from the clinker war ships, cargo boats to simple fishing skerries. Roskilde was of course a Viking trade town in league with other Scandinavian cities and foreign ports like Birka, Trelleborg, Ribe, Bergen and Dublin.

This marked the first part of my Danish adventure in the island of Zealand, but I am dreaming up further travels in Odense and western Denmark for the future, to visit such towns like Jelling, Jutland, Aarhus, Ribe and Hedeby. Next time I will talk about my travels in Uppsala and Skane in Sweden.

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