To any confused students:
With my Professor Morgan's recent retirement, there may be some slightly confusing references to her in the lesson. I solely serve as the temporary steward for this course as I am well versed in many of its topics. In the meantime, you may see some of the references disappear in order to diminish the amount of work the new professor will need to do.
If interested and qualified, see the application for the position here:
Lesson 7) The Norse Sea Kings
The students enter the Ancient Studies classroom, quickly ducking their heads as dozens of miniature Viking ships dart to and fro above them as if caught in a tempest. Professor Morgan stands at the front of the room directing the dance of the ships, and gently brings them to rest at the side of the room as the students finish finding their seats.
And that, my dears, is exactly why you need to keep up your Charms studies!
An Introduction to the Norse and a Brief History
Before we jump into our next culture of the year, there is one point I need to make. While we will generally refer to this group of people as the Norse, much of the literature refers to the same group as the Vikings. Both are correct, and I myself may even switch between the two terms. When it comes to your assignments on this topic, both Norse and Viking are acceptable. Please note that Norse is both the singular and plural term, while the plural of Viking is Vikings. Now on with our history!
Viking expansion and raids (Wikimedia Commons)
As you can see from the map I have provided for you, the traditional homeland for the Norse people is in modern-day Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. The territory expanded over time to include areas of modern-day United Kingdom, as well as parts of France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, and pretty much anywhere else in Europe close to a major body of water. The Norse were not called the Sea Kings for no reason! Their sailing skills and boat building technology were second to none at the peak of their civilization.
The Norse civilization began as groups of nomadic hunters. Their nomadic tendencies waned approximately 8000 years ago when they began to have permanent settlements and semi-permanent camps. These semi-permanent camps all but disappeared around 4000 BCE when agriculture emerged in the civilization.
After the advancement period of the Iron Age (500 BCE to 1 CE approximately), the Norse entered into what is commonly referred to as the “emergence of the Viking period” between 1 and 800 CE. This period is typically what we study when we are looking at the Norse civilization; however, that process is made difficult as not much was written down by the people during that time period.
The peak of the Viking age began at the end of the 8th century CE. During this time the Norse people expanded their civilization via their long-range sailing skills and comitatus, that is, the war bands that raided the coasts of Europe, as well as Iceland, Greenland, and even Newfoundland and Labrador in modern-day Canada. This warrior culture was quite prevalent, and Norse society was divided between the free and slaves. The slaves were mostly acquired from raids, but were also claimed from the poorer classes.
Introduction to Norse Magic
As was fairly common prior to Christian influences in Europe, magic was considered to be a normal aspect of everyday living for the Norse. Their practitioners focussed on working with the basic principles of the cosmos to enact the changes they wanted. Much of their magic was based on altering the course of destiny through prophecy, blessings, and curses (divination and charms).
Some of the greatest magical practitioners of the Norse people were the Volur (singular: Völva), which translates as “wand carrier” or “carrier of a magic staff”. These predominantly female practitioners were held in high esteem in Norse culture, and mythologically were consulted even by the gods looking for assistance. They were wandering practitioners, going from settlement to settlement and were paid well for their services. The Volur were closely associated with the Norse goddess Frejya (love, war, and magic were her domain), and practiced a form of magic called Sei∂r (or Seidr).
As mentioned above, the focus of Sei∂r was to alter the course of destiny. That process was achieved through re-weaving part of the web of destiny. Now, don’t look confused. Yes, actual weaving was certainly part of what the Völva did; however, their weavings were part of a concentration method - meditation, if you will - to focus their magical spells and enchantments. Other foci for their magic were through incantation (as we typically use now) and dance, but they also used other forms of magic such as auspicium (using auguries) for divinatory magic.
So what changes in destiny were they working on? Well, isn’t every choice we make a change in destiny? If you turned left instead of right, would you have run into your best friend on the day they needed your help? Every choice has a consequence - something of which the Volur were acutely aware. Some of the magic they worked with was quite common and typical for the time - they were the buffer between man and the gods, and so they worked to placate or win over the will of the gods. Mostly, magic was worked to enhance crop growth, increase fertility (both in livestock and in humans), find love, and secure success in battle. There was certainly some herbology work practiced as well, mostly in terms of healing magic. Skeptical? Think about this: cleaning a wound with dittany helps keep it devoid of germs and heal it properly. If not used, the wound could fester and turn septic, ultimately leading to the death of the patient. Is not this simple healing magic a change in the course of destiny? I thought so.
You may be wondering about the male half of magic practitioners in the Norse civilization. Were there male Volur? There certainly were some male practitioners of Sei∂r; however, they were generally frowned upon, as the magic was tied to a female goddess to be practiced by females. That being said, it does not mean that there were not a significant number of male practitioners of magic - let’s not forget about runes! We will speak more about runic magic during our next lesson.
And that concludes our discussions for today. During our next class we will discuss some famous Norse magical practitioners, as well as further our discussion on Norse magic with a guest lecture from an Ancient Runes expert and former professor here at Hogwarts, Professor Stevens. You will have a quiz today, as well as an optional creative assignment to complete. Until next time!
Semi-permanent camps: generally rotating settlements based on seasonal conditions and/or animal migration patterns.
Haywood, John. 1995. The Penguin Historical Atlas of the Vikings. Penguin Group, London.
Poertner, Rudof. 1975. The Vikings: Rise and Fall of the Norse Sea Kings. St. Martin’s Press, New York.