Viking Women in Old Norse Literature and Pop Culture<br />By Gracy Castleman<br />Warning: Music Contains Adult Language<br />
Let’s begin with the major Norse goddesses<br />
Frigg<br />The wife of Odin and the only one, other than her husband, who can sit on his thrown and watch over the universe. She is the patron of marriage and motherhood, because of this, women prayed to her for a healthy pregnancy and safe delivery. Frigg is said to be able to foresee the future and everyone’s destiny but will never reveal it.<br />
Freya<br />She is often the most famous of the old Norse goddessesruling over love , sex, fertility, and pleasure. She is also sometimes associated with battle, death, and magic. Freya is the most beautiful and desired of all the goddesses. She has three different types of animals associated with her: two cats who pull her cart, a golden-bristled boar worn on top of helmets, and a mare, which was associated with the night and unbridled sexuality. Since Frigg is the goddess of motherhood, which comes about from sexual intercourse, some say Freya is just a different form of Frigg. <br />
What They Can Teach Us About Viking Civilization<br /> The Fact that old Norse mythology has a head goddess who can sit on the thrown of her husband and rule the universe shows that Viking women weren’t treated like they didn’t matter. Men understood women’s importance but the difference between Frigg and Freya is represented in a theme that runs all throughout Viking and Old Norse literature: Love, sex, and women’s beauty only bringing trouble. Odin’s wife represents how a woman is perceived after they have given birth: Equal to her husband in her ability to care for their children. Freya, on the other hand, represents the dangers of falling in love. She is a beautiful blonde haired, blue-eyed seductress who distracts the men from their destinies. In Viking literature we are taught that a woman’s love only causes danger which comes into play in the Volsunga Saga with Brynhild. <br />Statue of Viking Woman in Stockholm, Sweden<br />
The Saga of the Volsungs<br /> In the beginning of The Saga of the Volsungsthere is one major female character called Signy. In a very quick summary: she had ten brothers, nine of which were killed because of her new husband who she was forced to marry to create a bond between two tribes. Sigmund was the surviving brother who she utilized by disguising herself and having a child with. This child was called Sinfjotli who was a “berserker,” meaning he was a crazed young man who had no problem killing. Signy used Sinfjotli and Sigmund to wreak revenge on her husband for murdering her family after they were married. They easily killed him and when the castle was burning down Signy decided to enter the flames as well, understanding the evils she had done. <br />
Continued…<br /> In second half of the Volsunga Saga there are three women: Grimhild, Gudrun, and Brynhild. Brynhild is a Valkyrie cursed in a castle surrounded by burning flames. She is betrothed to Sigurd, a very handsome Viking, but the sorceress Grimhild wants her daughter Gudrun to marry him. The sorceress gives Sigurd a drink so that he forgets about Brynhild and marries Gudrun. Still in the tower, Brynhild is tricked into marrying Gunnar, the son of Grimhild, because Sigurd disguises himself as Gunnar and rides through the flames to save her. After a time, Gudrun and Brynhild get into a fight where each is trying to prove that her husband is better. Gudrun reveals that it had actually been Sigurd who rode through the flames. Distraught with heartache and vengeance, Brynhild tricks Gunnar into having his youngest brother kill Sigurd and then she murders Sigurd’s three year old son. At Sigurd’s funeral she throws herself onto the burning pyre to die along with him. <br />
What they can teach us…<br /> In the two parts I have separated the Volsunga Saga into, you can see two characters who are very alike. Signy and Brynhild both were betrayed by their men, forced or tricked into an unfavorable situation, filled with revenge and sadness, were crafty in their plotting, and burned at the end. The most interesting similarity between these two characters is that they met their end through love. Signy experienced an incestuous relationship with Sigmund and Brynhild had loved Sigurd but turned into a murderer when he betrayed her. This speaks to the Freya theme of love and lust being dangerous, and mostly turns up in the story of Brynhild. Sigurd had loved Brynhild but met his death because of it. He let down his guard and a revenge filled woman got the best of him. <br /> These are stories warning men against women they lust and love after but they are also examples of how Vikings believed their women shouldn’t act. Although people were killed, the women committed suicide after realizing the horrible things they had done by throwing themselves in fire, which is a symbol of purification. Signy and Brynhild were cunning women of patience and planned their revenge skillfully who met violent ends just like another character I know from Beowulf. <br /> Interpretation of Brynhild and Gudrun<br />
Grendel’s Mom and what she can teach us…<br /> Contrary to the movie BeowulfGrendel’s Mother wasn’t <br />Angelina Jolie, she didn’t have sexual relations with Beowulf <br />or have a baby by him or Hrothgar. In the epic poem Grendel’s<br />Mother was like her son. Though we don’t know for sure <br />exactly what she looks like we do know that she was like <br />Signyand Brynhild in her plot for revenge. After Beowulf <br />tears Grendel’sarm off his mom comes and murders only one <br />person, Hrothgar’sloyal advisor Aeschere. Though she isn’t noted for being beautiful like Freya, she accomplishes revenge just as Signy and Brynhild do by not just killing who hurt them but by making them suffer. Grendel’s Mother chose to murder someone who would cause Hrothgar pain. She is another example of how women were sometimes viewed in Viking culture. If men weren’t paying attention, women were capable of hurting them in way that would cause suffering, not just spilt blood.<br />
Minor Women Characters in the Prose and Poetic Eddas<br /><ul><li>Giantesses: they are, at times, described as beautiful, are sometimes mothers, can posses prophetic abilities, and are most likely dangerous.
Priestesses: rarely mentioned but if they are they can be guarded like Menglod whose holy place of living is guarded by Odin.
Witches/Sorceresses: just like we know fictional “witches” and “sorceresses” today. They are like Grimhild in the Volsunga Saga; they have the ability to conjure things and usually use spells/potions for their benefit, may it be good or evil. Some say “The Volva” in the Poetic Edda is a sorceress but we know very little of her. She does introduce and conclude the epic with prophesies. </li></ul>Interpretation of Volva<br />
Summary of Viking Women in Literature<br />Women were capable of being equals to men.<br />When there was description, most were depicted as beautiful.<br />Were seen as an evil sort of diversion and men were warned to stay away.<br />They were intelligent<br />Often had powers like prophecy and magic. <br />Should not have been angered because they would exact revenge in a way that would make others suffer.<br />
In today’s world, whenever we hear the term “Viking” and it refers to women we have a stereotypical character pop into our heads. It’s a character that we have seen time and time again. <br />She is beautiful with womanly curves while brandishing a weapon and an attitude that would be to cut your head off and eat it for supper.<br />
Viking Women in Movies<br /> Though there are stereotypical female Vikings, there are those who don’t look like them but have the same type of attitude. <br /> For an example, in the movie Juno when the sixteen year old character Juno decides to keep her baby her step mother refers to her as “a little Viking.” Why? Because Viking women today are characterized as strong, warrior women. Even under pressure they remain stubborn and head strong. In essence, they do what they want.<br />
In The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers and Return of the King, Eowyn is another Viking woman character. She knows how to wield a sword while still being beautiful. She also represents another characteristic we identify with Viking women: she is extremely hard to tame. Even when she is told to stay behind she dresses as a man and rides into battle. Then, in the face of death she is able to slay the Witch-King of Angmar (with help from Merry). In the screen play the Witch-King says that no man can kill him and Eowyn replies“I am no man.”<br />
Other Videos…<br />On the webpage I have a few selections of videos with analyses you can check out! <br />
How to Tell if it’s a “Viking Woman”<br />There are many strong female characters throughout literature and films to the point where it’s hard to tell which is meant to be “Viking” or not. Here are the characteristics set out by literature and popular culture…<br /><ul><li>IF she’s a warrior then she’s going to be beautiful.
There are women who aren’t warriors and still considered “Viking,” though very few, but in films they aren’t going to be as attractive.
IF she’s a warrior then she will be wielding a sword, axe, spear, etc. while most likely wearing scarcely clad clothing made up mostly of fur and leather.
She has no “Prince Charming” coming to save her; she will be saving herself and sometimes other men as well.
Though she is beautiful she is usually larger than the average woman. An example is when the “Viking Queen” is fighting “Wonder Woman” in the video, she is much larger than her opponent.
She will have a personality fitting a warrior. Basically, a strong male equipped with all the bonuses of a female physique.</li></li></ul><li>How Literature and Popular Culture Viking Women Compare Freya is the most beautiful goddess who is all about procreating which aids to the idea of the intense sexuality and attractiveness of Viking women. Many of the women characters have special powers with ways of coming upon revenge which is skillful, well thought out, and vicious. This aspect has evolved to our idea of them being warriors, physically strong, and have an attitude that matches. It isn’t much of a jump to create a character who is very similar to those in the stories then throw on a fur-lined bikini. Remember, this is only if you look at what women were like in literature and pop culture. If you take a closer look at the real Viking women this isn’t always the case, which makes the Romanticized version a reason to not take the Viking women seriously all the time.<br />
Now that I have covered the romanticized idea of Viking Women let’s take a brief look at thedReal Viking Women…<br />
ClothingIf you think about how the Viking women were in the real world they wouldn’t be wearing bikinis in a blizzard. They would have worn warm clothing while tending to the house, children, and the farm if their husband or father was away at sea. The clothing became especially modest when Christianity was introduced, which was near the end of the Viking Era. There is a new archeological find which shows that the women would sometimes wear scarce clothing and small gold discs over their breasts aiding to our romanticized idea of Viking Women’s sexiness. They may have worn less clothing while inside their warm houses, but I hardly believe this is the truth when it comes to going outside in freezing weather. Like today, women are proud of their bodies and why couldn’t women have dressed scandalously back then? If you were to believe this is all that they wore try to keep in mind that not all of them were extremely sexy or fit. This idea of a scarcely clad, beautiful, warrior woman is one we romanticize today. <br />
Women as WarriorsWe all like the idea of the Viking women being warriors and some of them possibly were. There have been female graves found with spears buried along with the corpse. This could be a sign that some women were trained to use weapons and were possibly warriors. This, however, doesn’t give proof to the Viking women going and saving the men like in the movie The Saga of the Viking Women or acting vulgar like in the YouTube video called “Dating Viking Women,” (there are clips of both on the webpage). These are characteristics from our own interpretations<br />
If you want to learn more about the characters I have discussed in this presentation…Go read the books and don’t watch the movies, no matter how hot the women turn out to be!<br />