Our Little Viking Cousin of Long Ago - C. H. Johnston

Some Lessons in Viking Beliefs

No sooner had the bright beams of the sun penetrated the room in which Eric and Biarne were sleeping upon some bear skins, than both boys leaped to their feet and began to splash into their faces some water from a big stone jug which was in a corner of the chamber. Breakfast was soon over, and then Thorwald told the boys that a famous Skald, or poet, named Lothair, was coming that morning to instruct them in the Norse religion and also to recite some of the sagas or songs of the Vikings.

The boys were delighted to hear this, and when a tall man with a long, brown beard, came into the house, they ran to him and eagerly asked if he were Lothair.

"Yes, I am Lothair the Skald," said he, laughing. "And I have brought my harp with me so that I can sing to you boys after I have finished telling you about the Valkyrias."

"Who are they?" asked both of the boys, almost with the same breath.

Lothair seated himself in a big chair, after saying "good morning "to Thorwald, and began to speak:

"My boys," said he, "you must know that away up in the heavens live the gods who watch over all of us. Thor is the foremost of them all, and he lives at Thrudvangar, 'The Plains of Strength,' in a hall of five hundred and forty rooms, called Bilskirnir.

"Each of us is watched over by a guardian spirit. Each of you boys has a guardian spirit who, though unseen, is always near you, and whose hand you can clasp in right good fellowship, although he is not visible to you."

"That is nice," said Eric. "I hope that I can see my guardian spirit some day. Some day when he is off his guard and needs company."

Lothair laughed.

"I am afraid that you will never see him," he answered. "But, when you are older and go into battle, I am sure that you will see some strange maidens near you. These are sent from Valhalla, the home of the gods, to determine the fate of battle, and they are called the Valkyrias. They can ride through the air, and also over the sea. Sometimes they ride upon the shafts of lightning, which are rays of sunshine coming from the face of the gods. Often they ride upon fiery steeds, clad in glittering armor, and they bear with them long spears, sharpened either for victory, or for death.

"At first, my boys, there were only six Valkyrias; but, as the years passed onward, there were nine. Once, indeed, twenty-seven of them were seen on a battle field; for an old poet has sung:

"There were three times nine maidens,

But one rode foremost

A white maiden under a helmet;

Their horses tremble,

From their manes fell

Dew into the deep dales,

And hail on the lofty woods."

"Although these maidens nearly always live in the Heavens, at times they come to dwell upon the earth; and, upon one of these occasions, they were discovered by three royal princes.

"These princes were sons of one of the Kings of Sweden and used to spend much of their time running about upon snowshoes, for there was much snow in their country. They also hunted wild beasts, and killed many a large wolf and shaggy bear.

"One day the three young men came to a lake hidden deep in the forest, and they liked the place so much that they tarried there and built a house, where they lived for some time. Going down to the edge of the lake, one early morning, they beheld three beautiful women, who were spinning flax. The princes knew that they were Valkyrias, for nearby lay the swan-skins in which Valkyrias usually disguised themselves. It could be plainly seen that they had been caught unawares.

"The three brothers spoke gracefully and courteously to them and asked the Valkyrias to go home with them. The maidens consented, and lived seven years with the young men. But they were not happy; for, hearing afar the sound of battle, they were restless. One day they disappeared, never to return. In vain the princes sought for them. The sisters were soon amidst the din and carnage of war, and the brothers never saw them again!"

"What a nice story," Eric interrupted. "And do you think that we will see these sisters when we are men and can use sword and javelin in battle?"

Lothair laughed with great good humor.

"I've no doubt that you will, my son," he replied; "for the Valkyrias always hover over a battle-field, and look after those who are in trouble and distress.

"But never forget that only the valorous, and those who have done great deeds, shall be welcomed in Valhalla, 'The Hall of the Slain.' It has five hundred and forty doors, and each door is so wide that eight hundred warriors can pass through it at the same moment.

"Death should have no terror for you, for it is good to be welcomed to the glad halls of Valhalla; to sit down to feast at the festive board; and to welcome the brave in the halls of the gods. Death you shall not fear; but shame you must always dread, and this can only come to you if you flee before the foe. The greatest thing that a Viking can do is to win fame,—fame that will live in the sagas of the nation and will be handed down from generation to generation."

Both of the boys listened to him with the greatest attention. Already they had determined to stick manfully to their lessons so as to become strong men and noble warriors.

"Now, boys," Lothair continued, "I will tell you the story of Bjorn, a son of one of the Kings of Norway. Bjorn's own mother had died when he was a baby, and he had a step-mother who did not love him. Therefore, one day, she struck him with a bearskin glove, saying, as she did so, 'Thou shalt become a fierce bear, and thou shalt eat no food save thy father's cattle. So much cattle shalt thou kill that all men shall hear of it, and never shalt thou escape from this spell.'

"As she finished speaking, a great bear ran out of the courtyard, and Bjorn was never seen or heard of again.

"The King, who was very fond of his son, sought for him throughout the realm, but it was in vain. No signs of him were ever seen. But, from the day that Bjorn vanished, it is said that a fierce, gray bear was often to be seen prowling around among the cattle of the King, until the numbers grew less and less.

"So you see, boys," said Lothair, "that you can change your form into that of an animal. And, if you but eat the flesh and drink the blood of some wild beast, you will become as strong and fierce as the animal of whose blood you have partaken."

"Then I shall drink wolf's blood," said Biarne. "But how is it that you are not fierce, Lothair, as you are a great huntsman?"

The Skald laughed with much good humor.

"My boys," said he, "I am a singer, and singers are not fierce, for their souls are softly tempered by the music which they play. Now, if you wish, I will sing to you to the music of my harp."

The boys sprawled out, full length, upon a big bearskin rug, while Lothair took his harp and sang to them a song of the valorous deeds of the Vikings. Thus were they instructed in the history of their forefathers and were told of the great battles which had been fought both on land and upon the surging ocean.