Working within the framework of Old Norse society (Guest Spotlight)
*A Blog Post for Adults Written by: Guest Author, Stephen B. Pearl
Formatted by: Jennifer Hartman
Hi, Stephen B. Pearl here, author of the Bastard Prince Saga - a Norse Historical Fantasy book series set in the Fate of the Norns, Ragnarok RPG universe. Being an eclectic writer, I do a range of things from Science Fiction to Historical Fantasy and all points in between.
One of my great joys is to take a problem or issue from the present day and explore the ways it could be handled. This is something common to the science fiction genera, but I have found that it is also quite applicable to the Norse.
A fundamental principle is that folk are folk. At a basic level, we all need to eat, sleep, drink, breath and go to the bathroom. This results in the same problems and issues coming up in all human societies. How we deal with those problems and issues is what makes a culture.
The Norse cultures had some novel solutions to the problems of being human, some of which could inform today’s world.
One example is a controversy that is rather hot now as extremists on both ends of the spectrum square off - and most people in the middle shake their heads disparagingly. I touch on this in part two of the Bastard Prince Saga, The Mistletoe Spear. The book should be out already but Covid-19… you understand. In 'The Mistletoe Spear', I introduce the character of Jolnir. Jolnir is a Stalo, a highly skilled, precision fighter, who lives as a man but was born a woman. This is not as farfetched as it appears. In Norse culture, gender was largely defined by how you dressed and the jobs you did. For example, if a man wanted to learn Seith magic, he would have to dress and live as a woman for the duration of their training. Even Odin, all-father of the Aesir Gods, had to do this. If a woman chose to go a Viking, she would have to live and dress as a man for the duration of the mission. When you think of people jammed onto a small vessel, it probably saved a lot of problems.
Note: Viking is a verb that means 'to go raiding.' Calling Norse men 'Vikings' is like calling Englishmen pirates. There were English pirates, but they were a small subset of the total population. The same can be said of Norse and Vikings.
There are many examples of women’s bodies interred with worriers’ tools. I suspect that if it were not for our cultural biases there would have been graves where male bodies were interred with women’s grave goods cataloged.
The long and short of it is that the Norse had their own unique way of addressing the issue of transsexualism.
In generating the Jolnir character, I chose to make him a stalo because it is a fighting style based on precision and agility. The simple truth is women, on average, have less upper body strength than men. Don’t kill the messenger; it’s how nature designed it.
Women, on average, also have better oxygen utilization, eye-hand coordination and, as a personal observation, are sneakier than men. As such, I chose the stalo to accommodate these weaknesses and strengths. So at least in my story, I tried to focus on the realities of the situation.
Personal note: Years ago, I sword fought in the SCA, Society for Creative Anachronism, and there were any number of woman fighters that could clean my clock with ease. Truth is truth.
Of course, the Norse also had highly restrictive culture norms regarding work tasks defined by gender. A man would not work a loom or a quern grinding stone, A woman wouldn’t mend nets. By in large, the restrictions fell on both genders maintaining balance in the society.
The Norse also viewed the union of two men or two women, as defined by their clothing and actions, as shameful. You look at a culture as a whole and this was part of the Norse way.
Another aspect of the Norse was marriage and divorce. From what we know, a woman could very easily divorce her husband by calling a group of the women from the village together and declaring herself divorced. She might have to return the silver she received as a bride price from her husband’s family, but the cattle she received from her family as a dowry she kept as her property.
Men apparently had a harder time of it in divorce. Now when it came to infidelity, men were more or less given a free pass while the punishments for an unfaithful wife could be severe; Thus, another example of them doing things in a different way than modern western culture that still has a kind of balance and symmetry to it.
My own thought is that it had a lot to do with men trying to ensure that the children were of their lineage. This is a seldom admitted truth, but until recently, men had to accept it on faith that their children were their children. It made some guys paranoid.
The upshot is, I found working within the framework of a Norse society quite fascinating. Here was a culture that met human needs but was just a step removed from what I was accustomed to. There are numerous examples, such as the ‘Thing’ (basically the Norse court system), but it was a council that reviewed the case and not a jury forced to sit mute while two lawyers hold a popularity contest.
The division of property in a marriage. The woman owned the house, and the man owned the boat. A funny fact was Leif Erikson, Leif the Lucky, the great explorer went exploring because he had a fight with his wife and she would not let him in the house. Since he was sleeping on his boat anyway he figured why not go exploring, in hopes that by the time he got back his wife would have cooled off and would let him back in the house.
A quick dive into Norse culture reveals many such examples that wove together to make a society that worked. Of course, we are also talking about nearly a thousand years of history spread over a vast area so not all things applied to all areas, but as a rule, there is enough consistency to recognize a cohesive culture.
About Horn of the Kraken
The sun and moon have been devoured by the cosmic wolves Skoll and Hati. Fimbulwinter has enveloped the world in cold and darkness.
he sun and moon have been devoured by the cosmic wolves Skoll and Hati. Fimbulwinter has enveloped the world in cold and darkness. Men prey on each other to survive. Amid the chaos, in the struggle for the throne, comes a war between brothers.
Hakon, illegitimate heir to the throne of Norveig, has obtained a horn that can summon a terror from the depths of the ocean. This monstrosity has been sinking the vessels of his half-brother, Jarl Erik Bloodaxe. Erik sends a company of untried heroes to infiltrate Hakon’s stronghold and steal the horn.
As with all things political there are other agendas. Fjorn, the leader of the team, is Erik’s half-brother who could challenge Erik for the throne. Erik's wife Gunnhild is a powerful sorceress with her own ambitions- could her goals derail the heroes?
In life, sometimes a Jarl wins, and other times a Jarl wins.