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




The Christening

Joy reigned at the house of Biarne Herjulfson, for a little son had been born to that bold and hardy Norseman. At his great house, or boer, as it was called, all the retainers, maids-of-waiting, and fighting men went about with smiles upon their faces, and whispered to one another:

"The Nornir have left a message in the chimney that they will be with us to-morrow evening, and they said that the little one will have an adventurous life and will be a credit to our master."

"Thor, himself, who is the foremost of the gods, could not have had a more lusty voice when he was a stripling," spoke one of the serving men. "In truth, my good friends, I believe that the youthful heir to our house will be a great singer some day." Then all laughed with good humor, for there was a feast in store for them in commemoration of the joyful event.

It was believed by Norsemen that the future life of every child was shaped at its birth by the Fates, or Nornir, who seemed to have control of the gods themselves. There were three of these: Urd, the past; Verdandi, the present; and Skuld, the future; who lived at the foot of Urd's well, situated at the bottom of a large ash-tree, whose roots they watered with their wisdom and experience of the past, and where they spun the threads of fate at the birth of every child.

So, when the word was passed around that the Nornir had left a message in the chimney, that the new-born would have a great career, even Biarne Herjulfson, the rough, old father, smiled and chuckled with glee.

Next morning all the family and servants gathered in the great hall to witness the christening of the little son of the house. He was placed upon the floor and was left there for some time without being touched by any one. Then an old retainer, called Gormanud, walked forward, picked up the little Norseman, and placed him in the arms of his father, who held out his cloak so that it covered the body of his new born heir.

It was a custom of the Norsemen to look at a child two days after he was born and decide whether he should be placed outside upon the ground and left to die, or should be allowed to live. This was as the old Spartans used to do and was certainly a brutal custom, although these wild people seemed to think nothing of it. So, after old Biarne Herjulfson had received the child in his arms, he looked at it very carefully, so as to decide, from its appearance, whether its fortunes would be good or bad, and whether it would or would not be a great sea rover.

"Thou wilt be a bold and hardy warrior," said Biarne Herjulfson. "Thou wilt be a brave adventurer and wilt see great hardships and perils upon the sea."

He then walked to a large bowl in which was some water, dipped in his hand, and sprinkled it over the body of the young Norseman, who was very quiet, and was gazing about him with wide, staring eyes. This was a religious rite called the Ausa Vatni.

Now it was time to give a name to the young Norseman; a custom which was called nafnfesti, or name-fastening. Consequently, an uncle of the child, called Thrudvangar, walked up to him, and, laying his hand upon the baby's head, said: "Little one, I christen thee Biarne, the second. I also give thee a sword, a helmet, a cuirass, and a spear, hoping that you will find good use for them in your life. I also present thee with a gold ring, which I trust that you will wear when your hand is of sufficient size to fill it. May you lead a brave and noble life; may you be a credit to your noble father, your good mother, and to all your family."

At this all of the servants and guests cried out:

"Hail! valorous Biarne!"

Large casks of ale had been rolled into the great Sal, or hall, in which this interesting event had taken place, and, after these were opened, great goblets of horn were dipped into them and were handed around among the guests. Two men with strange-looking fiddles, called gigja, came into the room, and also a harper with snowy-white hair, and a harp of gold. The sweet strains of music now arose above the hum of the voices of the guests, and all laughed loudly as the little Norseman—still in the folds of the cloak upon his father's arm—cried out with loud and vociferous tones.

But what was this?

Suddenly a hush fell upon all the guests assembled; the music ceased; and even the wails of young Biarne were stilled. At the far end of the room a strange figure was seen approaching. Clad in a long, black cloak was a woman with flowing gray hair, a thin, cadaverous face, and a large helmet upon her head, from which two great eagle wings extended into the air.

"It is one of the Nornir," whispered a lady-in-waiting. "It is Urd, the past!"

"No," whispered another. "It is Verdandi, the present!"

But the strange visitor looked neither to the right nor to the left. Stalking onward, she walked to where the long-bearded father was holding his little son in his arms, and, raising a thin arm above him, in a sort of benediction, she said, in deep, sonorous tones:

Viking blessing

'I, SKULD, GIVE YOU MY BLESSING.'


"Youth: Thy fate will be an auspicious one. Thou wilt wax strong and brave, and thou wilt go to far countries and wilt discover a land teeming with wild grapes. Thou wilt be a credit to thy parents and to thy country. But I, Skuld, do tell thee one thing which thou must remember: do not trust to one who passeth as thy friend, but who is not really such. Do not put your faith in a red-bearded man with a scar upon his forehead. I, Skuld, give you my blessing."

Suddenly, as if by magic, the strange figure disappeared. All looked aghast, for the apparition had vanished into the air.