Viking Hoodoo — Who Knew?

Who knew the old Norse were into runic candle magic? Not me.

All right, you should not judge a museum exhibit by what is in the gift shop. It’s just that the designers of the Vikings: Beyond the Legend traveling exhibit, chiefly from the Swedish History Museum, if I understand correctly, took great pains to lay waste to “the one-dimensional stereotype of bearded barbarians with horned helmets.” And then you see for sale something that I am pretty sure is non-historical.1)What does the Lore say about about magic candles? Too bad. Syncretism for the win.

In fact, the exhibit explains multiple times that Norse fighters did not wear horned helmets but that those originated with a 19th-century opera costumer’s designs for Wagner’s Ring cycle.2)If you stop to think about it, horns make poor tactical sense. If an opponent’s downward blow struck the projecting horn, it might knock off your helmet, if you had no chin strap. If you had a chin strap, then it would give you a neck-crunching twist — bad news either way. Better to have the blow slide off.

The show is in Denver now, but apparently, like Cirque du Soleil, it has multiple versions on the road, one being now in Salt Lake City. 3)If it were truly like Cirque du Soleil, one exhibit would have a permanent home in Las Vegas. Instead of runic hoodoo candles, Valkyrie showgirls!

A Norse reenactor prepares to demonstrate how to spin woolen thread with a weighted spindle. I bet the original home lighting was never so good.

And since I am unlikely to visit Scandinavia soon, I will accept well-crafted replica ships rather than the real thing.

Exploration and settlement is rather down-played in favor of life in the homelands, since the focus is not so much on “going viking” but on trying to get by as Iron Age farmers and fisherfolk, raising little cows and sheep (by our standards) and chickens the size of “Cornish game hens.”

And there is definitely a Norse Paganism 101 component with interactive exhibits about the Aesir and Vanir.

See Vikings: Beyond the Legend if you can. And pick up a T-shirt and some candles.

Notes   [ + ]

1. What does the Lore say about about magic candles? Too bad. Syncretism for the win.
2. If you stop to think about it, horns make poor tactical sense. If an opponent’s downward blow struck the projecting horn, it might knock off your helmet, if you had no chin strap. If you had a chin strap, then it would give you a neck-crunching twist — bad news either way. Better to have the blow slide off.
3. If it were truly like Cirque du Soleil, one exhibit would have a permanent home in Las Vegas. Instead of runic hoodoo candles, Valkyrie showgirls!

4 Comments

  1. Medeina Ragana says:

    In 1942 Denmark in the Viksø area two horned helmets were found, but they date from the prehistoric period. (See: http://en.natmus.dk/historical-knowledge/denmark/prehistoric-period-until-1050-ad/the-bronze-age/the-viksoe-helmets/)

    I always thought that those had to be ceremonial in nature.

    I wonder if Wagner costumer got his (probably a guy!) idea from pictures of other horned helmets from reliefs on the Arch of Constantine. “Depicted on the Arch of Constantine, dedicated in 315 AD, are Germanic soldiers, sometimes identified as “Cornuti”, shown wearing horned helmets. On the relief representing the Battle of Verona (312) they are in the first lines, and they are depicted fighting with the bowmen in the relief of the Battle of the Milvian Bridge.” (from Wikipedia).

    Like you, the idea of wearing a horned helmet, or even the kind of helmets the Greek and Roman military leaders wore (with those “shop brooms” on the top of the helmet) always struck me as an invitation to have your head decapitated!

    • Those Viksø helmets are interesting, but they don’t look like combat gear to me. No doubt they are “ritual objects,” as archaeologists say when they don’t know what to make of something.

  2. Pitch313 says:

    Maybe the post-modern current in today’s Craft favors operations over cultural wholeism. Candle magic in this way enables investigation of various cultural resources using a common means. Tyr, Orisha, Ganesha, Come To Me, and such. Mix of powers and deities, all burning to some effect.

    I can see practitioners doing something along these lines.

    Or the Tyr and similar candles are more commemorative items than magical, like the t-shirts.